Fear and Uncertainty: the Foundation of Political Power Today

It is the fear of the nation state as a democratic force that underpins the neoliberal project. In the 21st century the myth of the market hinges on the illusion of a supposedly natural order in the economic realm. For the individual, John Locke (1632-1704) wants each of us to use reason to search after truth rather than simply accept the opinion of authorities or be subject to superstition. On the level of institutions, it becomes important to distinguish the legitimate from the illegitimate functions of institutions and to make the corresponding distinction for the uses of force by these institutions. The ‘pursuit of happiness’ as envisaged by Locke was not merely the pursuit of pleasure, property, or self-interest (although it does include all of these).  It is also the freedom to be able to make decisions that results in the best life possible for a human being, which includes intellectual and moral effort. We have the power and freedom to change the rules.

Globalists and neoliberals will repeatedly recite their belief in the ‘free market’ and in ‘free trade’. But the freedom that really motivates them is not freedom from state intervention, rather freedom from the intrusion of politics. In the end this comes down to freedom from being answerable to the people. The main goal of protecting capitalism from popular intrusion, and ultimately from popular insurrection, is what necessitates the globalist desire to curb the potentially disruptive effects on market processes of national democracy. Neoliberalism constructed a system that not only benefits the upper class but also effectively justifies this outcome – the political and social domination of the upper class are presented as normal outcomes of the functioning of the free market. Citizens are defined as customers, and competition as the defining characteristic of human relations. It maintains that the market delivers benefits that could never be achieved by planning.

Neoliberal capitalism has nothing to do with democracy as justice is now linked to a market logic that divorces itself from social cost. To ensure the policy of minimal taxes and regulations remains unchanged, plutocrats control what you think through proxies who control the information and communication supporting deregulation of the government and the environment, and through their lobbyists who influence what most of your politicians believe. Through this mechanism they perpetuate the fear of change – if taxes are raised on the rich unemployment will rise and existing jobs will disappear. The economic elite manipulate the media and control the politicians (in the present) to ensure messaging that creates fear of change to such ideas as turning to a system with emphasis on stability, social conscience and regulation.  As a citizen you become more compliant, more willing to surrender your rights for vague promises of safety. As an employee you are less demanding, less willing to take risks.1

America is divided on such issues of economic policy, social policy, foreign policy, race, privacy and national security – while clustered into groups that compete against each other in a zero-sum game where negotiation and compromise are perceived as betrayal. Partisan gerrymandering render the House of Representatives so polarized that most lawmakers now fear a primary challenge from the right or left more than they fear losing to the other party in a general election. They have no incentive to compromise. This cries out for non-partisan redistricting commissions to redraw the lines and make House members more accountable to people other than the extremes of each party. The influence of wealthy donors has only gotten more pronounced over the years, and the Supreme Court’s 2010 ruling in the Citizens United case only tilted the scales even more in the direction of corporations and billionaires. It is necessary to overturn Citizens United and fully adopt public financing of elections.

Are Republicans afraid of Trump? Actually, no – he’s destroying democracy and they love it. But these actions of the president are possible only with the craven acquiescence of congressional Republicans. As a group, they are pushing towards replacing democracy with a system where a powerful minority holds disproportionate and borderline tyrannical control over government and blocks the majority of Americans from having meaningful say over the direction of the country. No, Republicans clearly feel empowered by Trump. He frees them to reveal their darkest desire – which is to end democracy as we know it, and to cut any corners or break any laws necessary to get the job done. Like their leaders, Republican voters are feeling done with democracy and eager to follow Trump into a new world, where the majority of Americans who vote for Democrats are kept out of power, by any means necessary.

We must fear the coming scourge of socialism (no matter that Trump himself so often advocates command-and-control-style economic policies). Trump likewise stokes public anxiety over “a Market Crash the likes of which has not been seen before” if “anyone but me takes over in 2020”. The reduction of regulations and of progressive income and corporate taxes by successive administrations from Ronald Reagan, both Bushes and Bill Clinton to Mr. Trump have contributed to a new Gilded Age with yawning income inequality and harsh attitudes about social legislation. The courts, packed with reliably conservative justices, have abetted a long-term assault by Republican state and federal administrations on labor unions, labor policies and legislation protecting worker rights and interests, leaving the U.S. with the lowest minimum wage among advanced nations. So-called “fiscal conservatism” and the ostensible pursuit of balanced budgets through tax cuts have gutted infrastructure, public education and social services.

The Democratic Party is a loose coalition of interest groups, but the modern Republican Party is dominated by “movement conservatism,” a monolithic structure held together by big money – often deployed stealthily – and the closed intellectual ecosystem of Fox News and other partisan media. And the people who rise within this movement are, to a far greater degree than those on the other side, apparatchiks, political loyalists who can be counted on not to stray from the party line. But, it’s not just the courts. Even as Trump and his allies spin fantasies about sabotage by the “deep state,” the reality is that a growing number of positions in government agencies are being occupied by right-wing partisans who care nothing, or actively oppose, their agencies’ missions. The Environmental Protection Agency is now run by people who don’t want to protect the environment, Health and Human Services by people who want to deny Americans health care.2

Overwhelming evidence proves Trump has no intention of obeying US laws, nor no real intention of devolving power back to the people. He is oblivious to his treason. Despite impeachment, Trump will continue to undermine the Constitution and threaten national and world security unless he is removed from office. The prevalence of “fake news,” the assaults on journalists and the free press, Russian cyberattacks and the profusion of lies by Trump and Republican colleagues is a planned strategy that is undermining American democracy. This is what Trump’s critics have warned about all along: that he’s an authoritarian who would use the office of the presidency to destroy norms (like his attempts, as in the Fox interview, to undermine the independence of the Department of Justice). And in destroying those norms, Trump undermines American democracy itself which, in turn, supports the neoliberal project.

Neoliberalism is the rationalization for the tyranny of the power elite. Following the philosophy of Ayn Rand, and propagated by right-wing pundits; an attitude developed among many people that one’s economic position is always their own fault. The super-rich believe that freedom means the ability to gain unlimited amounts of wealth without accountability; this belief has trickled down such that now this is how most conventional political thinkers also view freedom. The present political system is controlled by neither conservatives or liberals, rather controlled by a tiny ruling circle, whose agenda isn’t to advance the traditional definition of conservativism or liberalism, but to protect their own wealth or power. America’s culture is in a crisis of empathy where people are encouraged to only think of their own interests while ignoring the circumstances of those who are different from them. In reality, these institutions drive cynicism in the population, which is very corrosive to democracy if left unchecked.

A little more than a year after America rebelled against political elites by electing a self-proclaimed champion of the people, Donald Trump, its government is more deeply in the pockets of lobbyists and billionaires than ever before. A Princeton University study notes: “The preferences of the average American appear to have only a minuscule, near-zero, statistically non-significant impact upon public policy.” But so long as the system worked for them – so long as they were wealthier than their parents had been and could expect that their kids would be better off than them – people trusted that politicians were ultimately on their side. While cynicism is fear to believe, at the other end of the spectrum is blind faith where one is afraid to question. In between cynicism and blind faith, one finds skepticism that promotes no fear for either questions or hope. One must be skeptical of why the courts refuse to reign in open-ended campaign spending to reduce the influence of money.

1 Phil Mullan. (22 March 2019) The truth about neoliberalism. https://www.spiked-online.com/2019/03/22/the-truth-about-neoliberalism/

2 Paul Krugman (23 Dec 2018) Opinion: How the GOP is undermining our democracy https://www.ajc.com/news/opinion/opinion-how-the-gop-undermining-our-democracy/qsr3gG9SEgNpmejCFqeTKK/

This entry was posted in Uncategorized and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.