It’s all quite surreal at times. Orwellian. It may be best to avoid the papers.
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?’
‘The Will of the People’ would be nothing more than the whim of the tyrant mob, the most blind and ruthless tyrant of all’ – Father Kane
‘All hail, then, to the mob, the incarnation of progress!’ – James Connolly
Business owners and establishment politicians are often represented as the “incarnation of progress” in modern society. The public is often portrayed as a mass or “mob”, unworthy of making decisions or of the responsibility to change history. In 1910, James Connolly eloquently and passionately conveyed how it was and is the public – ordinary people together in force and solidarity – who have made the significant changes and improvements in society throughout history.
In 1910 James Connolly wrote Labour Nationality and Religion in response to a discourse against Socialism by Father Kane in Dublin. Father Kane referred to the will of the people, essentially, as the will and rule of the ‘mob’. Connolly embraces the word mob and uses it to encapsulate the positive role it has played throughout human history.
I thought it would be interesting to share this ever-relevant discourse here, starting with Father Kane’s impression of the public, and then Connolly’s response to it.
Father Kane on socialism and the “mob”:
In Socialism there could be no healthy public opinion, no public opinion at all except that manufactured by officialdom or that artificially cultivated by the demagogues of the mob. There could be no free expression of free opinion. The press would be only the press of the officials. Printing machines, publishing firms, libraries, public halls, would be the exclusive property of the state. We do not indeed advocate utter licence for the press, but we do advocate its legitimate liberty. There would be no liberty of the press under Socialism; no liberty even of speech, for the monster machine of officialdom would grind out all opposition – for the monster machine would be labelled, ‘The Will of the People’, and ‘The Will of the People’ would be nothing more than the whim of the tyrant mob, the most blind and ruthless tyrant of all, because blindly led by blind leaders. Brave men fear no foe, and free men will brook no fetter. You will have thought, in your boyhood, with hot tears, of the deeds of heroes who fought and fell in defence of the freedom of their fatherland. That enthusiasm of your boyhood will have become toned down with maturer years in its outward expression, but mature years will have made it more strong and staunch for ever, more ready to break forth with all the energy of your life and with all the sacrifice of your death in defiance of slavery. You may have rough times to face; you may have rough paths to tread, you may have hard taskmasters to urge you toil, and hard paymasters to stint your wage; you may have hard circumstances to limit your life within a narrow field; but after all your life is your own, and your home is your own, and your wage is your own, and you are free. Freedom is your birthright. Even our dilapidated modern nations allow to a man his birthright – freedom. You would fight for your birthright, freedom, against any man, against any nation, against the world; and if you could not live for your freedom, you would die for it. You would not sell your birthright, freedom, to Satan; and I do not think that you are likely to surrender your birthright, freedom, to the Socialist. Stand back! We are free men. Stand back, Socialist! God has given us the rights of man, to our own life, to our own property, to our own freedom. We will take our chance in the struggle of life. We may have a hard time or a good time, we may be born lucky or unlucky, but we are free men. Stand back, Socialist! God has given us our birthright, freedom, and, by the grace of God, we will hold to it in life and in death.
After you have done laughing at this hysterical outburst we will proceed to calmly discuss its central propositions. To take the latter part first, it is very amusing to hear a man, to whom a comfortable living is assured, assure us that we ought to tell the Socialist that “we will take our chance in the struggle of life…
How can a person, or a class, be free when its means of life are in the grasp of another? How can the working class be free when the sole chance of existence of its individual members depends upon their ability to make a profit for others?
The argument about the freedom of the press – a strange argument from such a source – is too absurd to need serious consideration. Truly, all means of printing will be the common property of all, and if any opposition party, any new philosophy, doctrine, science, or even hair-brained scheme has enough followers to pay society for the labour of printing its publications, society will have no more right nor desire to refuse the service than a government of the present day has to refuse the use of its libraries to the political enemies who desire to use those sources of knowledge to its undoing. It will be as possible to hire a printing machine from the community as it will be to hire a hall. Under Socialism the will of the people will be supreme, all officials will be elected from below and hold their position solely during good behaviour, and as the interests of private property, which according to St. Clement are the sole origin of contention among men, will no longer exist, there will be little use of law-making machinery, and no means whereby officialdom can corrupt the people.
This will be the rule of the people at last realised. But says Father Kane, at last showing the cloven foot, “the will of the people would be nothing more than the whim of the tyrant mob, the most blind and ruthless tyrant of all, because blindly led by blind leaders”. Spoken like a good Tory and staunch friend of despotism! What is the political and social record of the mob in history as against the record of the other classes? There was a time, stretching for more than a thousand years, when the mob was without power or influence, when the entire power of the governments of the world was concentrated in the hands of the kings, the nobles and the hierarchy. That was the blackest period in human history. It was the period during which human life was not regarded as being of as much value as the lives of hares and deer; it was the period when freedom of speech was unknown, when trial by jury was suppressed, when men and women were tortured to make them confess crimes before they were found guilty, when persons obnoxious to the ruling powers were arrested and kept in prison (often for a lifetime) without trial; and it was the period during which a vindictive legal code inflicted the death penalty for more than one hundred and fifty offences – when a boy was hung for stealing an apple, a farmer for killing a hare on the roadside. It was during this undisturbed reign of the kings, the nobles, and the hierarchy that religious persecutions flourished, when Protestants killed Catholics, Catholics slaughtered Protestants, and both hunted Jews, when man “;made in God’s image” murdered his fellow-man for daring to worship God in a way different from that of the majority; it was then that governments answered their critics by the torture, when racks and thumbscrews pulled apart the limbs of men and women, when political and religious opponents of the state had their naked feet and legs placed in tin boots of boiling oil, their heads crushed between the jaws of a vice, their bodies stretched across a wheel while their bones were broken by blows of an iron bar, water forced down their throats until their stomachs distended and burst, and when little children toiled in mine and factory for twelve, fourteen and sixteen hours per day. But at last, with the development of manufacturing, came the gathering together of the mob, and consequent knowledge of its numbers and power, and with the gathering together also came the possibility of acquiring education. Then the mob started upon its upward march to power – a power only to be realised in the Socialist Republic. In the course of that upward march the mob has transformed and humanised the world. It has abolished religious persecution and imposed toleration upon the bigots of all creeds; it has established the value of human life, softened the horrors of war as a preliminary to abolishing it, compelled trial by jury, abolished the death penalty for all offences save one, and in some countries abolished it for all; and to-day it is fighting to keep the children from the factory and mine, and put them to school. The mob, “the most blind and ruthless tyrant of all”, with one sweep of its grimy, toil-worn hand, swept the stocks, the thumbscrew, the wheel, the boots of burning oil, the torturer’s vice and the stake into the oblivion of history, and they who to-day would seek to view those arguments of kings, nobles, and ecclesiastics must seek them in the lumber room of the museum.
In this civilising, humanising work the mob had at all times to meet and master the hatred and opposition of kings and nobles; and there is not in history a record of any movement for abolishing torture, preventing war, establishing popular suffrage, or shortening the hours of labour led by the hierarchy. Against all this achievement of the mob its enemies have but one instance of abuse of power – the French reign of terror – and they suppress the fact that this classic instance of mob fury lasted but eight months, whereas the cold-blooded cruelty of the ruling classes which provoked it had endured for a thousand years.
All hail, then, to the mob, the incarnation of progress!