In the wake of the chaotic, confused spectacle of the presidential election, we find ourselves presented with two contradictory images of the world, both products of this frenzied display of rationalized madness. In a daze, we stumble around, grasping for points of reference. The ritualized demolition of the old political reality has birthed a new monstrosity, but it seems eerily familiar…
The first image is that of the neoliberal establishment in retreat in the face of a newly ascendant Right. The old sociocultural consensus has been torn apart, and ultra-nationalist extremism is on the rise. The curtain has been drawn back, the masks have been torn off, the lights flicker to life. The failures of the Democratic party have led to the end of their rule, and now they lie broken at the stairs of the Capitol. The liberal elite have been defeated by their own mistakes.
The second image appears to be completely at odds with the first. A vision of the continued dominance of liberalism within the public discourse persists. Across the country, people raise their voices in scornful howls, proclaiming their continued resistance to Trump, tripping over each other to denounce the latest hateful tweet. Celebrities and television hosts deliver impassioned pleas for unity in the face of hate, for together we can surely bring about a victory for love and acceptance. Articles skewering our new president and his goons are shared ad nauseum. Looking around, it seems impossible that the election could have ended in such a result, since everyone appears so loudly opposed.
What is happening? Which portrait is an accurate representation of our reality? Is this a new era of politics, or do the same old patterns remain?
Why not both?
The Left and Right are not so far apart as they like to claim. They both grow from the same twisted tree, two separate branches that often find themselves intertwined. Taking a step back, it is not difficult to find the point at which they both emerge from the trunk. As with all political formations, they both represent a tendency towards reconciliation, a rapprochment with the status quo. In fact, the nature of their apparently hostile relationship is what contains any movement within a set parameter. Presented with this binary choice, we become limited in our ability to see things as they are.
(In the context of American politics, the “Left” is often a category applied to liberals, but to a large extent we could include the “anti-capitalist” milieu in this analysis, as it too often mirrors the liberal establishment. An example close to the central point of our inquiry would be the unity we see in anti-Trump actions. Whether you call yourself a socialist or a Democrat (or both), you will probably find yourself marching downtown to chants of “not my president!”.)
We are led to believe that we are facing a terrible tragedy in the outcome of the presidential election. The ascendance of a new faction of the ruling class to power should terrify us, our former overlords say. The only responsible thing to do would be to work ourselves into a hysteric fit over the demise of our once great nation.
The victory of the Right can be attributed to an array of factors, one of which is the decline in confidence in the Democratic Party among working class voters. A backlash against neoliberal economic policies has produced this latest wave of nationalistic and protectionist sentiment. The continued intergration of global markets has led to the decay of sections of American society, namely those attached to industry. Lost in this post-industrial reality, many found themselves looking for someone to blame. It appears that a signifcant number of people have found such scapegoats in immigrants, providing an opportunity for the Republicans to take advantage of the situation. This, combined with the general inability of the Democrats to inspire, contributed a great deal to the present state of affairs.
Nothing has really changed about capitalism, of course. Not as a result of the election, anyway. We remain caught up in the machinery of living death, steadily grinding away towards the death of the planet. The essential nature of our collective predicament is still the same. But that’s boring, and we seek the thrill of political escapism. We want to believe that things are changing, and that we have a say in it. Yet, whoever the new management is, they’re still the management.
In the face of political defeat, liberalism has adapted to the new climate, manifesting itself in the role of Opposition instead of Ruler. Against authoritarianism, against the Russians, against plutocracy, the old order has returned as a resistance to the new. It retains dominance as an ideological force through its own perceived retreat. The power of nostalgic progressivism is now in full effect. No doubt, we will have to put up with incesssant whining about missing good ol’ Obama for the next four years.
Even the so-called revolt within the Democratic Party, led by left-populist Bernie Sanders, has subsided. In the aftermath of the election, it appeared that the party was on the brink of ruin, due to internal and external pressures. But their own defeat has given the Democrats a rallying point, an opportunity to re-establish unity. It is clear that they have taken full advantage of this. Even our “socialist” friends have joined this new popular front. Former divisions have disappeared in the wake of disaster, and it would seem the only pre-requisite for membership in this motley alliance is not outwardly or explicitly hating oppressed groups.
Liberals now see themselves as the brave resistance to all that is wrong in America, the focal point, of course, being a certain individual of an orange hue. There is a paradoxical combination of hysteria and aloofness that manifests itself in the forms taken by this “resistance”. Our brave freedom fighters chide the ignorant fools who have chosen to vote “against their own interests”, they ramble on about the end of the world, and every once in a while they take to the streets to signal their disapproval with signs and chants. Of course, after a few hours they’ll disperse, to shake their heads disapprovingly at the news from the comfort of their homes.
Protest politics are a dead end, a conjuration of hollow images that inevitably drift off into an empty void. They do the system a service by providing a harmless medium for people’s frustrations. Yelling at nothing doesn’t accomplish much, but that’s the point. “Taking to the streets” in such a way applies no real pressure to the state, as with all other theatrical displays.
The new Ruler of our central political institutions is abhorrent, and should be resisted, but mounting such a resistance is not possible within the system that produced it. The two major political players in America work in concert to maintain faith in this system, as they both mantain power through their eternal struggle against each other. Those desperate for guidance in this times of need shall look to the Democratic Party, flocking to its tattered banner. In doing so they will feed the cannibalistic machine of capitalist democracy, which devours itself to remain alive.
Let us consider another solution, perhaps a more sensible one: give up. The nature of politics make it impossible to use them in an emancipatory way. The horrors of capitalism will not lessen with the adjustment of the mode of governance, for it is governance itself that presents the problem. The ideal of a paticipatory democracy may initially appear to be quite attractive, and yet it is merely another ideological trap. Whether or not we vote for our masters, they will still exploit and oppress us for their own gain. Let us reject the instituitions that seek to ensnare us with promises of empowerment, for they are nothing but empty shells. Political games only mask the brutal reality of capital, and are themselves expressions of the tyranny of economy.
The system is not corrupt, and it has not failed. It is working exactly the way it should, and that is the problem. As long as we refuse to admit this simple truth to ourselves, we will remain a captive audience to the unending spectacle of electoral politics.
Not everyone seems to have gotten this yet. Many continue to seek hope in political institutions, clamoring to have their voices heard by politicians who will smile and nod, and then proceed to fuck us over. One especially relevant quote comes from Madonna, one of the many celebrities who have coalesced into a new vanguard of “resistance”. At the Women’s March in Washington DC, she told us: “Yes, I’m angry. Yes, I am outraged. Yes, I have thought an awful lot about blowing up the White House. But I know that this won’t change anything. We cannot fall into despair.”
It’s time to fall into despair.