Politics of the absurd

Today, the media is celebrating its bi-annual circus, the national elections.

Many of us know it’s a scam, a shadow-play intended to assuage our sense of powerlessness, a pretense at belonging to some “national community” that doesn’t exist (except as presented in dumb-show by the media).

Indeed, most of us, I suspect, understand that our economic policies are determined on Wall Street; our foreign policy relations with other developed nations is determined by multinational financiers; our foreign policy relating to underdeveloped nations is determined by the intelligence community and the military. That really only leaves social issues – e.g., gay marriage, abortion, marijuana, etc. – to vote on, and unfortunately the electorate is frequently conflicted on such issues, many of which have to be decided in courts rather than the voting booth, anyway.

We also know that Americans have a perverse will to vote against their own interests – and the social issues only make that will stronger. Most Americans want a higher minimum wage; but if they are sore about gay marriage or abortion, they will likely vote some fire-breathing hypocrite who denounces these social innovations, while working against any increase in the minimum wage.

Elections are, for me, a time to reflect on the ability of seemingly intelligent people to be guided to a wall to bang their heads against. I don’t urge people not to vote; on the contrary, I usually urge them to vote the lesser of the two evils likely to win (Democrats); but I also remind them that they will get evil nonetheless, because, frankly, the fix is in. I sometimes think of this country as an oligarchy; I suppose one could think of it as a ‘representative’ oligarchy, but I couldn’t even guess how one could construct a theoretical model for that. Let’s just say that it is a functioning oligarchy of wealth, with a sliver of public interest tossed to the populace to vote on.

What will change in Washington following this election? well if the Democrats hold their own, precisely nothing. The Republicans adopted a game plan when Obama was elected, and they have rarely strayed from it. But if the Republicans win the Senate and more seats in the House? Then nothing will change in foreign policy, little will change in economic policy (the GOP won’t get rid of ‘Obamacare,’ but they will make it more market-friendly), social issues will pull first here then there in a tug of war, and the House will likely pass articles of impeachment.

So that’s really what you’re voting on today: A) nothing changes, or B) not much changes but Obama gets impeached.

Unfortunately, again, the American electorate rarely has any clear idea – let alone an informed idea – what they are really voting for – they ‘vote with their ‘gut’ (i.e., ‘I’m so scared, but this guy says he’ll keep away the bad thing I’m afraid of!’) So there is a good possibility that we will see not much change in Washington, but Obama will be impeached.

Will he then be removed from office? No, the GOP are well aware of the potential backfire from that. However, it’ll make good show, with many an opportunity for sound-byte and photo-op. It just won’t be as much fun as Clinton’s impeachment, which at least had the stained handkerchief and the fantasy BJ everybody could be entertained by.

Remembering the excitement and the sense of collective engagement from when I was growing up in the ’60s, I confess myself often depressed with what now constitutes ‘politics’ in America. Part clown-show, part soap-opera, almost entirely detached from our actual daily lives, and no threat whatsoever to the ‘powers-that-be.’ We’ve fallen a great distance (although some would argue that we were never as ascendent as we like, nostalgically, to remember). Still, one of the consolations of being a secular Buddhist, and something of (I hope) a philosopher, is that, while I am still here as a participant, I can detach from the general show, and reflect on it for greater wisdom. (Someone once said, he trusted persons – individuals, but not people en mass. I feel more that way every year.)

I would like to leave on a positive note; but contemporary politics is the one issue I have grown completely cynical about, and about the future of that politics, I am completely pessimistic. The social architecture of control for the status quo is simply too firmly in place to see much change to it possible in the near future. (But the future frequently surprises, so – who can tell.)

There may be a larger discussion on that at a later date. All I can do in closing is to suggest the reading of Morris Berman’s trilogy on the decline of the American empire; and to urge you to vote the lesser evil (but the fix is in; you will still get evil, nonetheless).


2 thoughts on “Politics of the absurd

  1. I think there is really not much difference. If the analysis of the political compass (http://www.politicalcompass.org/index) can be believed the Democrats and Obama are in the right authoritarian quadrant just like the Republicans. I think back in 2008 Noam Chomsky said so, that there was not much difference. I think the US is really some kind of rich people’s oligarchy. As a European, I am maybe not in the position to judge this, but this is the impression I get from over here.


  2. I basically think Chomsky is right, but there’s no doubt that things have gotten worse since I was young. Americans are poorly educated and poorly informed politically; government business and media all share the same bed; and the parties lean slightly left or right (mostly right), but no longer disagree on the foundations of policy. Yeah, it looks like a duck, it quacks like a duck – I think it’s an oligarchy, too.


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