John Steppling — Counter-Punch Dec 23, 2016
Plantagenet, I will; and like thee, Nero, Play on the lute, beholding the towns burn.
Shakespeare, Henry VI
A number of writers and critics have noted the astounding smugness and outsized indignation of white liberals during this election season. The Clinton supporters, basically. And I think it is useful to examine the relationship between the media and the Clintons. For no political mafia has ever penetrated Hollywood and NY media to the extent the Clintons have. Shows such as Madame Secretary and House of Cards could well have been scripted by the Clinton inner circle. Hell, by Bill himself. And outlets like Huffington Post and MSNBC and CNN operate as the press outlets for the DNC.
But the real nadir of media capitulation and bad faith was the response to the brutal murder of the Russian diplomat Andrei Karlov in Istanbul, on video, at an art opening. The western press spun this as a freedom fighter attacking the brutal Russian empire and defending Allepo. Almost nothing was said about the family of the slain Russian, or about terrorism. I guess terrorism doesn’t exist if its directed at the enemy du jour. The celebrations on the streets of Aleppo seemed to have been erased by western TV and print editors, too. And all of this is in line, of course, with Hillary Clinton’s (and her advisors) pathological and obsessive hatred of Putin. And with the Clinton imprint on mainstream media.
So, back to those white liberals. Every single person (save one) that I once knew in theatre and in Hollywood, are liberal and none of them really do much in the way of research or political reading. All of them are arch Democrats. And never before, I don’t think ever, has an election so starkly revealed the stratification of classes and sub classes, even, in the U.S. I have found a just amazing, almost surreal level of wilful and intentional blindness on the part of liberal america to the crimes of the Clintons, and to the basic corruption of the Democratic Party. One can say over and over and over and over and over that Clinton orchestrated a neo nazi fascist coup in Ukraine, a fascist junta in Honduras and an illegal assassination of a foreign leader in Libya. You can say this again and again and I guarantee you will get no response. The stunning silence of white liberal America to the crimes of the Clintons stands as the most profound element in the entire scenario of this election.
The propaganda against Russia, culminating in the truly grotesque coverage of Karlov’s murder, has been pitched at levels that I’ve personally never seen or heard before. And then there is a strange sort of cognitive dissonance regarding the *fake news* issue, launched, of course, by Obama. And this was the lame duck Obama, a figure that actually the public has not seen before, or seen very little. The urbane repressed buttoned down lawyer is being gradually peeled back and an oddly callused cruel figure emerges. A borderline sadist even. And while we know for certain that Hillary is a sadist, I think Obama is at least her equal. But of late Obama has exhibited a curious if not unsettling lack of proportion between his comments and his relaxed manner and style. It is the relaxation, one must say, of a sociopath. I don’t say this glibly. But during the fake news remarks I felt as if this must have been how detectives felt interviewing Ted Bundy. All smiles, winks, and good natured charm. But he was discussing a new open war on dissent. Obama initiated drone assassination and discussed it in the same tone as he discussed his vacations. In fact he joked about drone killing at the Correspondent’s Dinner a couple years back. There is, in this lame duck version of Obama, the sense of letting his character armoring slip just a little. And it reveals just another layer of armoring. There is such an empty core to this man that I think he made the perfect chameleon. He was the black Max Headroom. I am reminded of the Book of Job…Though wickedness be sweet in his mouth, though he hide it under his tongue.
That the economy is now a disaster cannot be hidden. In fact, 90% of Obama’s new jobs were part time. Women were hardest hit during his eight years.Traditional fields for women workers in medicine and education were the biggest losers. Full time employment, the traditional 9 to 5 secure fixed job is all but extinct. There are fewer of those jobs today than during the great depression. But this is not anything that really affects the haute bourgeoisie, the affluent white liberals from Connecticut, Long Island, or Westchester County, or Bel Air, the Pacific Palisades, or Westwood. Or Menlo Park and Mill Valley. The educated classes. They don’t work day gigs. They don’t punch time clocks. They inherit and their family helps find them managerial positions or something akin. These are the people disproportionately visible in media. They don’t live paycheck to paycheck. And this is the point. The stratification of classes. And the markers for these class divides are becoming more fixed. If you use public transportation, for example, you are part of the lumpen masses these days. Nobody rides a bus to work at NBC or SONY pictures or Time Warner. Except maybe the kitchen staff.
Now, Trump is obviously, if we can judge from the last six months, a very thin skinned and rather terrified man. The son of a slum lord and a man who constantly seeks attention, and who wanted to be the biggest swinging dick in the house…well, once the Casino, now the White House. But he knows he’s not. And that can be a very dangerous personality flaw for someone with power. Trump’s eldest sons, Don Jr and Eric are perhaps the greatest indictment against Trump. I keep finding myself thinking of Roger Ballen’s famed photos of the Plattland farmers in South Africa; in particular Dressie & Cassie, the unfortunate twin brothers of the Transvaal. Don Jr and might well think, ‘there but for fortune’. But I digress.
The protests in the street, the agitation around counting ballots, and the open charges of treason — this is the stuff of a Capra movie on acid. It’s a strange dystopic vision. (And as ridiculous in its way as the catered sit in for gun control earlier this year, also courtesy of the Democratic Party leadership). And all in service of somehow getting Hillary Clinton elected. As, I guess, these people feel was ordained by a higher power, and hence their sense of the world coming apart at the seams. Why has god forsaken them, one can almost hear such screams in the night. Honestly, the degradation of electoral politics has hit bottom. It has to be clear, to even the most indoctrinated, that the voting system is broken. The problem is, for all the Diebald troubles and hacking claims and the electoral college; the real problem is simply basic inequality. Period. There are a fair number of people with relative wealth and there are a shit load of people with nothing. People who have no savings, and who live week to week, even with a family. People who pay rent, use food stamps if they can get them, and who if they get sick, stay sick. Or die. People who, if their children get seriously ill, will borrow themselves into lifetime debt to save their child. A debt they cant hope to ever crawl out from under. People who count pennies to buy their Copenhagen or Skoal — and weigh that against another tin of coffee. This is the America who didn’t vote. They didn’t because they are busy surviving. And the average liberal heaps scorn on these people as apathetic or selfish or whatever. The truth is, the average professional class white liberal has no fucking idea what poverty feels like. None. And the poor know what the affluent liberal does not. And that is that Hillary doesnt give anymore of a shit about them than the Donald.
The obvious take away from this has been touched on by several writers; Diana Johnstone wrote
“The entire Western establishment, roughly composed of neoconservative ideologues, liberal interventionists, financial powers, NATO, mainstream media and politicians in both the United States and Western Europe, committed to remaking the Middle East to suit Israel and Saudi Arabia and to shattering impertinent Russia, have been thrown into an hysterical panic at the prospect of their joint globalization project being sabotaged by in ignorant intruder.”
and Jonathan Cook noted…
“Much more significantly, the systematic deceptions perpetrated by corporate media for many decades have left swaths of western publics distrustful and cynical. Social media has only added to widespread alienation because it has made it easier to expose to readers these mainstream deceptions. Trump, like Brexit, is a symptom of the growing disorientation and estrangement felt by western electorates. But the claim of “fake news” does usefully offer western security agencies, establishment politicians and the corporate media a powerful weapon to silence their critics. After all, these critics have no platform other than independent websites and social media. Shut down the sites and you shut up your opponents.”
And Andre Damon summed it up best, however…
“There is not an ounce of democratic content in the positions of either faction of the state and intelligence apparatus and nothing to choose from between the arch-reactionary Trump and the veteran warmonger Clinton. However the disputes are resolved, the result will be a massive escalation of war abroad and the attack on the working class within the United States.”
Indeed. And again, the leaked emails were real, the content was real, just as were those strange connections between Clinton’s top aide Huma Abedin and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. The Clintons have long had close ties with the royal family and never once have either of them made mention of the gross human rights violations of the monarchy. Obama, too, has said nothing critical of the Saudis. These politicians all answer to the same people and places. (read Hillary’s speeches to her Wall Street backers!).
Now a recent poll indicated, interestingly, that almost 70% of Americans didn’t buy the Russia hacking claims. And half of America doesnt trust either party. And why should they? The new star of the DNC appears to be Keith Ellison of whome Bruce Dixon wrote… “Ellison is black. He’s the first Muslim elected to Congress, he’s smart enough and telegenic. He votes infallibly to support the apartheid regime in Israel, and he says if it were up to him there’d have been a no-fly zone (and possible shooting war with the Russians) a long time ago.” In other words, Ellison is another pro-interventionist, a friend of foreign war profiteers, and a man who has done everything in his power not to offend anyone. You don’t get to the top tier of the DNC without following the script.
The anger of the bourgeoisie then is about something else. Its not really policy, its about their own entitlement. Its about their sense of affront and insult. This is what I keep seeing and reading. They are insulted and hurt. I’ve never seen such hostility and anger on social media. Never. I see a constant stream of insults directed at Trump. I see his wife insulted, and his children. And while it is easy enough to hate and even fear aspects of Trump (and his taste and vulgarity) the real anger seems directed even more acutely at anyone who disagrees with their demand for the coronation of Clinton. The underclass in the U.S. has been brutalized by an increasingly militarized domestic police apparatus, and by a nakedly racist judicial system. They have seen whatever small safety net they once had be reduced to almost nothing. And they are right to fear Trump’s appointments. Just as they would have been right to fear Clinton’s. This is now an institutional machine of control and domination, and in many ways it is running on auto pilot now. The stand off at Standing Rock was representative of the ruling elite’s strategy. If it becomes a big enough nuisance, then just adjust course and get what is wanted another way. The resistance at Standing Rock was important, however. Perhaps mostly symbolically, but important nonetheless. For it demonstrated a level of awakening for many. Anytime the underlcass organizes, they achieve victories. And this is because the great giant is actually very weak.
Trump’s appointments are actually pretty predictable. No president in fifty years has not chosen from the banking elite, and the upper echelon of the military, and over the last twenty or so years from the corporate CEO class. And since Bill Clinton the very worst millionaires that can be found were put in positions of influence, and certainly since Bush/Cheney the neo-con group has retained considerable power. There is an inexorable drive toward purely authoritarian policing of what is now viewed as a disposable population. It is happening regardless of who is elected. There are no jobs and there won’t be any jobs. There is an environmental crisis and pollution crisis, and none of that would have been made any better under Clinton. One cannot keep hawking military hardware, fighter jets, and battleships and be at all green. The desire for this ruling cabal is global hegemony. That is the delusional dream of the U.S. ruling political class of both parties. Hence the over 4 billion dollars a DAY spent on defence. The U.S. leads the world in weapons sales. We sell to Saudi Arabia first so they can destroy the poor and helpless nation of Yemen. And in fact, the U.S. sent advisors directly to Riyadh to help coordinate the vicious bombing of that small country that left a half million children starving (liberals compassion is more concerned with public restroom choices). The U.S. helps sell to ISIS, too. And to Israel. There is nobody we won’t sell to in fact. Business is business and war is the biggest business in the world. So all the chatter about the Paris climate talks, and all the health care cut backs that are coming, and the intensification of this war on free speech — all of that was in the cards either way. The attacks on minorities, women, the LGBT community is coming under Trump — it was going to come, but in another fashion, under Clinton. AGAIN THEY BEHEAD GAY PEOPLE IN SAUDI ARABIA. And Clinton is basically underwritten by the House of Saud. Women have suffered hugely in places like Haiti and Honduras and Libya and Ukraine from Secretary of State Clinton’s policies. And nothing is going to help climate change except a radical and total change in living. And the death of Capitalism, frankly.
The authority structure is afraid. They are afraid of China and Russia and they are even more afraid of the unhappy and now more and more desperate American working class. And the poor. The U.S. has the largest prison population in the world. And its growing. And it is reaching a kind of maximum limit. It is a gulag of made up of the poor, primarily black and brown, and it is a place to which the rich are never invited. How many people exactly can the system keep in containers? We may well find out. Jeff Sessions will want as many as possible, thats for sure. Trump is an ignorant man and no doubt it is dawning on him just how over his head he is now, and since I actually believe he began this with no desire to really win, he is probably in a state of near panic right now. His advisors, people like Steve Bannon, sense their own lack of ability to run a country, too, I would guess. Recent photos of Bannon reveal that deer caught in the headlights look.
The thing that will become the signature of Trumps first 100 days is going to happen at the nuts and bolts level. I suspect things, daily bureaucratic things are going to grind to a halt. This is the 100 days of incompetence in the most basic operations of government. Trump will escalate his twitter output, though, and perhaps the eventual Trump library will all be tweets. And built in Vegas.
What comes from all this depends on people deciding to emulate the small symbolic victory of Standing Rock. It does not come from an entitled elite petulantly demanding their war loving sociopath replace the other parties vulgarian and authoritarian clown. This is 21st century post modern fascism. Its only which style code you feel best with. Reject this binary world view. Reject any candidate who endorses U.S. Imperialism and 800 plus military bases throughout the world. Stop all U.S. intervention and stop believing the manufactured narratives on Syria, about Russia, about Castro, and about China. Most everything MSNBC tells you can be turned on its head…and it will be closer to the actual truth. The U.S. is far more guilty of everything it charges other countries with doing. As such Samantha Power deserves a special seat in hell. The U.S. commits more war crimes, more human rights violations, more interference in the affairs and elections of other countries, than anyone else. And we prosecute dissent more ruthlessly, and are the least transparent of any country in the world save maybe Uzbekistan. We have intelligence agencies fighting proxy wars with other of our intelligence agencies. The U.S. is now a massive societal dinosaur. To go the way of the Great Auk or Woolly Mammoth might not be such a bad thing for the planet.
John Steppling is an original founding member of the Padua Hills Playwrights Festival, a two-time NEA recipient, Rockefeller Fellow in theatre, and PEN-West winner for playwriting. Plays produced in LA, NYC, SF, Louisville, and at universities across the US, as well in Warsaw, Lodz, Paris, London and Krakow. Taught screenwriting and curated the cinematheque for five years at the Polish National Film School in Lodz, Poland. A collection of plays, Sea of Cortez & Other Plays was published in 1999, and his book on aesthetics, Aesthetic Resistance and Dis-Interest was published this year by Mimesis International.