Yes, we do live in an Orwellian society – increasingly so. In the final analysis, all this trouble, uncertainty, fear, hate, has been caused by inequality, poverty and class division. How? Sections of the middle-class see their world and position threatened and crumbling, and are fearful of it; the society which once served them so well is now failing; they ask “who is to blame?”, “what is to be done?”. The wealthy corporate class suggests “if only taxes were lowered, we could create more jobs, and our wealth would eventually trickle down to ordinary people”. The Government asks itself, “but where shall we collect the revenue needed if we have to reduce corporate taxes? – We’ll cut welfare and public service spending, we’ll increase taxes on ordinary people”. Many middle-class people are hit harder and working-class people suffer even more. The working-class proclaim they have nothing more to give, they have nothing to lose. This system offers them nothing. The middle-class, angry, demands that more power is given to the powerful in order to maintain the system which has given them, so-far, a comfortable living. The powerful then target those they are threatened by – the working-class, feminists and minorities who have begun to fight back and stand up for their rights. More extreme candidates, like Trump, stand forward on behalf of the powerful, gain political power, and begin to enforce the reaction, to create the kind of society Orwell wrote about and fought against.
In my previous post, I wrote about how much of the American working-class, in general, reject the ideas of both Clinton and Trump. Where, then, does Trump’s support come from? In an earlier post I also wrote about how the middle-class is generally more conservative when it comes to things like inequality and climate change, and so members of this class are therefore more likely to be Trump supporters. The following passage from a recent Guardian column by Sarah Smarsh confirms this:
Earlier this year, primary exit polls revealed that Trump voters were, in fact, more affluent than most Americans, with a median household income of $72,000 – higher than that of Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders supporters. Forty-four percent of them had college degrees, well above the national average of 33% among whites or 29% overall. In January, political scientist Matthew MacWilliams reported findings that a penchant for authoritarianism – not income, education, gender, age or race –predicted Trump support.
These facts haven’t stopped pundits and journalists from pushing story after story about the white working class’s giddy embrace of a bloviating demagogue.
Mainstream media is set up to fail the ordinary American
Based on Trump’s campaign rhetoric and available data, it appears that most of his voters this November will be people who are getting by well enough but who think of themselves as victims.
The column is well worth reading in full.
From the two most prominent runners for US President, we could perceive that “anyone can be President – even one of these two”. You may understand where this kind of argument comes from. The fact that Trump and Clinton are the forerunners for the Oval Office is surely a perversion of the concept of American freedom? Hasn’t this concept become stretched and twisted and distorted? It is surely positive that anyone can campaign to be President, but these two, making it all the way through that great American democratic system? Surely this is a sick joke taken too far? Is this an absurd level of democracy? Too much democracy? Are we to blame, or is it the stupid half of the country? America, the land where anyone can be President – it’s the American Dream, right? And it is reality for Clinton and Trump, in front of us now, in its fantastical magnitude.
Conversely, this so-called race between Clinton and Trump is an example of how unlikely it is for anyone to become President, let alone be able to campaign for election.
Poor people, ordinary working people, and even moderates who fight for the needs of ordinary people may find it nigh impossible to campaign effectively for Presidency. Even the mildly left-wing Bernie Sanders was swimming against the much stronger establishment current; With all that has happened to the US and its economy in the past few years, the establishment still had no appetite for Sanders. Of course, millions of people actively supported Sanders in a movement not seen in the US in recent history, but the lives of those activists and supporters, their needs, ideas and voices are of little concern, and the media did not air them.
The central point here is that although anyone can run for President, the main discriminating factors are not intelligence, truth, ethics; They are wealth, power, and ruthlessness, with a dedication and loyalty only to people and institutions who share these traits and the system which encourages it. Anyone who does even slightly differently, like Sanders, is instinctively expelled by the system itself.
Alas, Sanders was betrayed by his own party whose interests are always corporate, and thus, were choking politically and financially on the very moderate policies Sanders espoused. He should have known – others did. Sanders was as bad for the Democratic Party as Trump was for the Republican Party, even if it was for opposite beliefs. Better, then, for the media to portray him as a crazed radical (or,at least, misguided, during kinder moments) who may have had good intentions, but was not the sensible choice. Ordinary Sanders voters were not coaxed though. Unlike Sanders in his defeat, his movement of followers remain convinced that Clinton is not a genuine alternative. Her being the lesser-evil to Trump is not a point the many newly politically mobilised people find endearing . They can think for themselves – now more politically sophisticated and experienced than ever. And they’re talking to each other and convincing each other. Many thousands of them actually transferred their allegiance from the Democratic Party to Jil Stein and her Green Party.
The resultant argument and movement against voting for the “lesser evil” is the most pervasive I have yet witnessed from the US, and it may not merely be because of visibility on social media (though social media likely helps); In 2008 social media was awash with support for Obama, including from my naive self – there was very little talk then of a third alternative to combat capitalistic trends; Now, social media is awash with confusion and enlightenment in equal quantities firing off in every direction. This (like everything) is of course potentially very good and bad, and contains the ingredients for social effusion; Disillusion; Revolution; Reaction. Let’s wait and… no. Let’s discuss, and read, and write, and protest, and see.
If we were to generalise the American middle class, we could say that it behaves in a way such as a spoilt teenager might, who causes their parents grief because they do not get their own way all of the time. The fact that global warming is a major concern for the whole planet, or that poverty and inequality increase as a result of current and past American economic policy, shouldn’t get in the way of a middle-class American’s pursuit of wealth, or, indeed, of their delusion of being able to become wealthy. And utlimately, that’s what it all is, delusion. Any scientific findings that contradict their illogical perceptions and dreams, are to be ruthlessly fought and suppressed.
“Socialism never took root in America because the poor see themselves not as an exploited proletariat, but as temporarily embarrassed millionaires”.
That quote may have been erroneously attributed to Steinbeck, but there is nonetheless an element of truth to it. Its truth increases if you replace “poor” with “middle-class”. Some of the American petit-bourgeoisie sure do “love that smell of the emissions”, as Sarah Palin once so bluntly put it. “Adolescent America” is now personified through awful Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton – their vacuous bickering, throughout what is supposed to be the highest forum for debate in the US, the Presidential Elections – is starting to look like the last great tantrum of the bourgeois baby boomers. The politics of American capitalism has certainly reached its crisis.
Credit must be paid, though, to the American working class, who have fought as tirelessly and as determinedly as any working class around the world. They backed Bernie Sanders, and fought for him against all the odds, and although Sanders capitulated to Clinton in the end, that hasn’t caused the core of the American working-class (educated and energised as it is) to capitulate to the promises of Clinton nor the rhetoric of Trump.
Disclaimer: Friends, this is a quick piece on my personal observation and contact with media reportage in Ireland over the past few months regarding Syria. I am open to criticisms here (as always), but I’m fairly sure I’ve got it somewhat right – in the ballpark – though obviously, my references are not as thorough as I would like. I wrote this on the spur this evening in regard to some contradictory comments I saw, coming from people of the same political background.
Some socialists and leftists on Facebook are saying that the media has ignored the catastrophe in Syria, to report instead on the catastrophe in Gaza, other leftists (in my feed, literally the very next person) saying the exact opposite – that the media have ignored catastrophe in Gaza to report on Syria. One leftist claimed the lack of reporting on Syria is because the “wrong side” is winning there – Russia. Comments on the situation hardly get more confused or sickening than that. A bomb coming through a family’s home is a bomb, whether it’s delivered with compliments and best intentions from Russia, the US, al-Assad, or ISIS.
Actually, there is now quite a lot of reporting in Ireland on the disaster being caused by Russian bombing (including a front page on today’s Irish Times). The current issue of National Geographic also dedicates its cover story to Syrian refugees and others from the Middle-East. But is it the right kind of reporting? Is it clarifying things in any way beyond repeating “official reports”? That being said, Irish media has comparatively ignored the US bombing of innocent civilians in Syria (including one which killed up to 73 people and another bombing of a Medicins Sans Frontieres hospital). In truth, there is no “who is worse” argument to be made here, and this despicable
In truth, there can be no “who is worse” argument to be made here, and this despicable nationalistic type of argument should not be made. But it is nonetheless very difficult for people to understand what the hell is going on. The confusion is, if anything, worsened by Irish news reports. This is a failure of journalists in Ireland at least, in particular, RTÉ who are leaders in the obfuscation and, (one could speculate) pro-US imperialist propaganda. It seems in Ireland, if you want relatively decent news, you have to turn to Britain’s Guardian newspaper, but even that is seriously lacking. Objectivity in all of this is increasingly hard to come by, and it is a significant cause of the continuing suffering and dying.
A thought terrifies me. There is a person standing in front of me, and I’m desperate to make him understand. I’m vulnerable, and I am dependent on his mercy. He doesn’t know me, and his attitude and actions towards me are compelled by a system, by society, by his own preconceptions, or a mixture of the above. I don’t want to cause harm, I just want to live quietly and get along like everybody else. Whether I can or not, is up to him.
It is awful to think that people can become so anonymous to each other. Ordinary individuals, with all of their aspirations, can care so little for other individuals in our everyday environment. Through various forces, otherwise decent, ordinary people have been led to believe that vulnerable people are the problem, and not the powerful few who egg us on.
It can happen to any of us, that we suddenly find ourselves at the mercy of others due to circumstances beyond our control.
Many of us experience relatively minor forms of bureaucracy which frustrate our everyday lives; the clerks at the banks, post office, welfare office, the hospitals, insurance company workers, solicitors, politicians, HR managers, and, perhaps most often, our bosses and colleagues at work.
But what about more extreme forms? Refugees fleeing war, innocent children whose homes are bombed, homeless people searching for shelter to sleep and money for food – what happens when these innocent people come up against the “rules” of an apathetic all-powerful system perpetrated and perpetuated by us on behalf of the powerful and privileged? For the victims, these “rules” take the human form of a customs official, an airforce pilot, a police officer. Pervading bigotry among other ordinary people, encouraged by the media and the economic-political system at large, exacerbates the whole mindless situation and intensifies the horrible downward spiral.
Leo Tolstoy wrote on this subject regarding a character who was faced with the prospect of execution before firing squad:
…obsessed with a single thought, a simple question: who had condemned him to death? Who was it?
It wasn’t the men who had interrogated him at the first session; clearly none of them had wanted to, or had the authority… who was it, then, who was punishing him, killing him, taking his life… with all his memories, yearnings, hopes and ideas? Who was doing this? And [he] felt he knew the answer: no one was.
…It was some kind of system that was killing him… taking his life, taking everything away, destroying him.
‘But who is doing it? [The soldiers of the firing squad are] all suffering like me! Who is it? Who?’
They’re like trophies, each one in line on the shelf marks a personal achievement; each one a destination I have reached, and I remember the experience as I glide my finger across their spines.
Well, this is how one may think of the books one has read.
The books I have yet to read are the places I have yet to visit. Theirs is a journey I have yet to embark upon.
Looking at the shelf, with its novels, compilations, philosophies, histories, short stories, I reflect on how pleased I am to have visited all these places and to have had these experiences. Many of them have given me a view of the world that I may never have had. How would my outlook differ without the experience of even one favourite book?
Honestly, other books were not as beneficial, but now I know what lies within them too, and that is at least worth knowing. It’s worth knowing what is wrong as well as what is right.