Wednesday, November 16, 2016

The Wisdom of the People

As I continue to reflect (or have nightmares) about the results of the presidential election, what keeps coming up is that truism one hears all the time: the wisdom of the people. We are told this continually as elections draw near: Democracy puts its trust in the wisdom of the collective, the people together, and it or they can always be trusted. Now the American people have spoken, and their collective wisdom has delivered the most powerful nation in history into the sweaty hands of Donald Trump—a man who has never held public office, a man who has been a huckster (real estate developer) all his life, a man whose training for the office of President amounts to his training in reality TV, a man who expressed shock and a bit of awe when, in his recent meeting with outgoing President Obama, he was given some hint of how very much detail being President of the United States involved. That it was a really big job seems never to have occurred to him; nor, apparently, did it ever occur to him that he would have to replace all the current workers in the West Wing with his own staffers! This emotional/ intellectual adolescent thought he would simply inherit the current staff from Obama. And for his first picks—someone must have told him he’d have to choose his Chief of Staff and a policy advisor—he selected that shining beacon of intelligence Reince Priebus (recently head of the Repugnant National Committee), and for chief strategist, Steve Bannon, the CEO of the slash-and-burn website, Breitbart News. This last appointment is particularly notable, because though Drumpf made no secret of his authoritarian and even fascistic tendencies in the presidential race, many hoped that as president-elect, he’d moderate his style. That he’d try to be the “president of all the people,” rather than the president of the lunatic fringe that elected him. Not a chance. Bannon is an unabashed white nationalist of the so-called “alt-right,” who has attacked even ideologues like Bill Kristol of the Weekly Standard (hardly a liberal rag) as “a renegade Jew.” He has been for a long time devoted to positions advocating racial separation on the basis of the most rabid stereotypes. Even Glenn Beck compared Bannon to Hitler’s infamous propagandist, Joseph Goebbels (pretty interesting for a leader of a group that makes no secret of its anti-semitism). As to Breitbart’s manufactured news scandals—like the one that promoted the supposed selling of fetal body parts by Planned Parenthood, or the fake scandal that took down ACORN—see the recent piece by Adele Stans on Alternet (, Aug. 19, 2016) to get an idea of their stock in trade.
            So we come back to the ‘wisdom of the people.’ What do we say about the approximately forty-two percent of women who voted for Drumpf rather than the first female candidate for president ever, Hillary Clinton? Was this their display of wisdom? I heard one of these wise females interviewed recently, and what she said baffled me: “Oh we don’t take those things he said (grabbing women by the pussy) seriously; no one’s perfect; we can see his basic goodness beneath it all.” Good grief. You of the moral majority, you fundamentalist Christians who take the Bible literally, you who weep and wail over the death of aborted ‘persons’ (but not grown-up persons who are starving)—you don’t take the confessions of a serial groper seriously? What, pray, do you take seriously?
            Which is the real question here. What does engage the wisdom of the people, what do they take seriously? Judging by the man they voted for (and white men, in despair over losing jobs and industry in the Rust Belt, voted for a billionaire who said he was on their side?), they don’t take information seriously. They don’t take facts seriously. They don’t take logic seriously. They don’t take consistency seriously. They don’t take experience in government seriously. They don’t take what a candidate actually says seriously. What the hell do they think elections are about? Apparently, they think it’s all about “telling it like it is.” Which is to say, slamming the poor, the weak, the undocumented, the city-dwellers, the ones with different hair or skin color or head-dress or costume or housing or anything that doesn’t conform to the trim, white-fenced way of life they are nostalgic for. And we are supposed to imagine that people who think like this—if they can be said to think at all—are repositories of wisdom and should be taken seriously. Should be relied upon.
            Well, I’m sorry. We’ve tried that one a few times too often recently, and what have we gotten? Morons in the White House. Casual lying and war in the White House. Ronald Reagan, the B-grade actor who knew how to sell refrigerators for GE (though at least he had a stint as Governor to hone his cruelties on) running a secret war with Nicaragua. And George W. Bush, the C-student at Yale who scorned any book-learning that wasn’t a fundamentalist bible, but who had ‘gut feelings’ about the things that mattered—like the WMD allegedly hidden in Iraq. And now, this new moron, Donald Drumpf, who listens only to the sound of his own voice, and sometimes, apparently, to the voice of the racist supremacist Jew-baiter, Steve Bannon.
            And what’s really too bad, is that if the people would only shut up a bit and listen to the real wisdom with which they are endowed, they might actually be trusted. Yes, people really do have innate wisdom. It’s not always easy to access; it’s rarely obvious; and it doesn’t always have to do with their conscious judgment of products or politicians. But if you listen carefully, if they could listen to themselves quietly and without prejudice, they really would, most of them, find the difference between what’s important and what isn’t. What’s real and what isn’t.
            And in fact, the more I think about it, the more it becomes clear that despite the short- term havoc that will surely come of it, this subterranean people’s wisdom actually functioned in the 2016 election. What I mean is this. The outcome of the election really isn’t about Donald’s big win, nor the big win of the Repugnants in the Congress and in State Houses, nor even the blunders of the Democrats. The outcome is about the underlying rage over the capitalist system that has resulted in what Bernie Sanders has recently referred to as the Oligarchy. Which means, simply, that the system is rigged so that those at the top get richer while all the rest get poorer. Those at the top get not only richer, but their wealth grows without their having to do any ‘real’ work other than leave it invested—in contrast to the poor slobs who have to work two jobs to keep up with their mortgage payments, if they still have a mortgage. And with that always growing wealth (unless you’re Drumpf, who has managed to go bankrupt several times) comes always growing political influence—which in turn makes it more inevitable that the wealth will concentrate and grow still more (see Thomas Piketty’s Capital in the 21st Century). That’s oligarchy: increasing concentration of wealth by the few, and power and political influence by the even fewer. This is almost inevitable in capitalism—as we’ve seen in the so-called ‘recovery’ since the 2008 collapse. Those with money invest and profit from the growth that capitalism needs to survive, which generates more money to invest. Profit is king, and growth is an absolute necessity. And those two things—profit and growth—work in tandem to exploit and degrade and destroy the conditions needed by most people and all other life forms to live.
            This, I believe, is what this election was about. People, even ordinary people, knew in their bones that something was wrong. And the representative of the system that was drowning them was Hillary Clinton—she whom Drumpf accurately described as having been in the system for thirty years, and never changed it. Not quite accurate: she and her husband as President did change it, but the change drove the Democratic party away from its traditional constituency, the working class, and always increasingly towards the moneyed class, Wall Street and the corporate and financial leaders who kept getting richer. That being the case, the sole avenue left for the increasingly desperate workers was towards Drumpf. Even though he himself has always been of the moneyed class? Even so. The only option for anyone who wanted to throw a monkeywrench into the workings of the existing system—even though few would have said that it was capitalism—was to vote for Drumpf. And I have to admit, that I, with my predilections for logic and reason, could not see it. Yes, I did vote in the primaries for Bernie the socialist for precisely the reasons given above: disgust with the capitalist system that appears to me to be rotten to the core and driving us towards armageddon. But when Bernie failed to win the nomination, I opted, first, to vote for Jill Stein because of my inability to stomach Clinton, but then opted to hold my nose and vote for Hillary because the danger of a Drumpf victory made that seem necessary.
So I didn’t at first see what the election was really about either.
            Only now, after having tried to write ironically about the wisdom of the people, do I see that the real issue in this election was not racism or sexism or xenophobia, though they’re all very much at work. The real issue, the deep issue has always been a popular uprising against a dinosaur of a system that is leading most people into poverty and powerlessness. And further, a system that is leading the planet into the catastrophe predicted by climate change (better expressed as ACD, anthropogenic climate disruption). As Naomi Klein noted in her recent This Changes Everything, capitalism in its current form cannot coexist with the natural environment. If carbon emissions driven by the power of fossil fuel keep increasing as they are now, we’re all cooked. And carbon emissions are, as Drumpf has demonstrated with his promise to unleash American coal and oil producers full bore, fundamental to capitalism’s unyielding drive for profits. What has blinded most of us to this truth is our focus on the surface. On the candidates. On what we can see they clearly intend. All the while, the real subterranean drive actually has little concern with the individual candidates. The real point was to subvert or destroy the system, change it, perhaps, to something more concerned with human thriving. Whether this will be socialism or a blend of capitalism and socialism as seen in the Scandinavian countries, or something entirely other, is beyond my powers of prognostication. What I am maintaining, though, is that the current system—the one that has brought us the obscene levels of inequality we now see in this nation and elsewhere—must fall, one way or the other. That, in my opinion, is what the wisdom of the people saw (though they didn’t have to consciously know it), and have now brought us. Or at least the first stage of. Sadly, having had to elect Drumpf, they will end up bringing us a great deal of pain before he’s done. For Drumpf is a blunt instrument, a vulgar instrument. The so-called dictator always is. But he actually, in the end, has little to do with it. He will go by the wayside, his adoring admirers will have had their fill of him very soon, and, unless I miss my guess, hang him by his thumbs. After that, we shall have to wait and see. But again, that is not the real issue. The real issue is capitalism and the ruling class and what will happen to both in the coming years. And whether, as it dies, it can change in  response to the crisis that is ACD, or not. Whatever the outcome, we all of us will be deeply involved in that outcome.  
            In fact, we already are. And it’s going to be a rough ride, with the blood of innocents paying for it as always. All we can hope (and work for) is that at some point, the movements that have been preparing us (Occupy, and Bernie, and Standing Rock) will survive and thrive and dismantle what has become so toxic and bring to birth something more humane and human-centered. And isn’t it an indication of how far we’ve strayed that “human” and “humane” should sound so radical.

Lawrence DiStasi

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