Politics is a long con. The confidence game works because, as Mark Twain pointed out, “It’s easier to fool people than to convince them they’ve been fooled.”
No one likes to admit they’ve been had. It’s humiliating, especially in late capitalist imperial culture, because we are all about winning-success-accomplishment at the same time we’ve lost a great deal of our capacity to differentiate between reality and appearance. Winning-success-accomplishment-culture tells us that the appearance of winning is the same as winning; and winning is the only thing.
Once upon a time, long long ago in a universe far far away, there was admiration for the virtue of admitting when one was wrong, but nowadays it almost seems like “scoring points” in rhetorical bouts has completely displaced the idea of constructing then criticizing valid arguments. For some, being “bested” in a rhetorical feud is tantamount to a loss of personhood . . . or masculinity, if you’re one of the boys. Yet another layer of complexity.
On the other hand, history shows us that the long cons of politics have a shelf-life. They work, then they work again, then they work again, then . . . not so much. Then people begin to wake up.
I’ve seen those advertising pics of people waking up on their special mattress with smiles on their faces, but we all know that when we wake up, many of us actually wake up feeling quite irritable. In politics, when the long con fails, the wake-up can be closer to rage. Because while we were asleep, we were robbed and abused.
Since 2015 now, I’ve been tracking the polarization within the American political ecosystem. That’s been part of the wake-up. What we are waking up from is the latest act in the long con of America, now writ worldwide: neoliberalism. It worked, then it worked again, then it worked again, then . . . not so much. In 2007–8, we got a glimpse of the rot festering inside the whole confidence trick of capitalism. Then the hoodoo artists of capital returned to the neoliberal default.
They forced a centrist candidate onto the public; and they lost.
Polls and statistics see through the glass darkly, but what we can discern over the past few years is a realignment of US politics. The American political landscape is now divided into three major blocs: the neoliberal bloc is the combined residue of the Democratic and Republican Party, epitomized on television by MSNBC or CNN. Bush Republicans and Clinton Democrats have joined each other against both the fascistic Trump cult (mostly on aesthetic grounds) and the social democratic revolt on the left (which they hate and fear).
There is a generational aspect to this evolution. The proto-fascists are largely concentrated among older white folks, and the social democratic rebellion is rooted mostly among multi-racial youth — people 35 and under. The “center” that remains is older, and less exclusively white than the reactionaries.
As life would have it, older people (like myself) generally die sooner than young people, so as the reactionary bloc and the centrist bloc are attritted by time, the social democratic bloc is enlarged as more and more people reach their eighteenth birthdays. (There are a bunch of factors that modify this simple scheme, but its’ generally demographically true.)
So the question is — and polls and statistics repeatedly prove inadequate to the task of divining the future — when will the social democratic bloc gain more power than the other two? And how soon will the waking social democratic bloc stimulate the non-affiliated to wake up to, and admit to, having been conned themselves?
The election follies right now, as has been the case since 2016, are a kind of rough measuring instrument. They are a barometer of our power (yes, I identify as a social democratic ally from left of the social democrats). We can guess at these things in between times, but elections have concrete results. We are watching this play out in the upcoming Democratic Primary contests now.
Today, I am encouraged that more and more people are waking up to the con.
I take that encouragement from the fact that over the past week, we’ve watched the actions and reactions around a growing panic among neoliberals and their capitalist masters about Sanders’ steady rise in the polls, especially in early primary states. This rise is evidence of two things, more people joining the Sanderista movement . . . and effective organization — a form of organization that breaks with the tried and increasingly untrue tactics of neoliberal politicians. Power is mass, but it’s also organization, intelligence, and focus.
In particular, I watched the transparently coordinated attempt by the Warren-Media partnership to torpedo the Sanders campaign with (a tried and apparently less true tactic) sly innuendo and weaponized identity, by suggesting that Sanders is a closet-misogynist.
This exact same scam was perpetrated in 2016, with some effect. If you oppose Maggie Thatcher, you must hate women. Admittedly, the most credulous in the face of this fatuity were already among those “centrists,” especially but not exclusively among low-information voters. The Berniecrats proved incapable of overcoming the neoliberals, who were ably assisted by the Bernie-loathing media and a sackful of dirty tricks.
This time around, the media-assist and the dirty tricks are being amplified by the strategy to flood us with candidates and segment sufficiently to force a brokered convention, where they can fire the superdelegates like heavy artillery. I am encouraged because these tactics are proving far less effective than they were the last time out.
Yesterday, after the whole sordid Warren-Media gambit was played out, from the horseshit story in Politico through the hot-mike performance of Warren post-debate (or whatever that shit show was), it appears that Sanders not only got a phenomenal fundraising bump on the night of the “debate,” but he jumped in the polls . . . as Warren fell.
We have grown stronger, and along the way, more American voters have become willing to admit they’ve been fooled. More American voters are realizing — and it’s not a cheerful wake-up — that politics is a con job. We are transcending our humiliation at being conned. We’ve learned how to recognize a con job. And we’re kinda pissed.
Keep surging. They’ll come at us again; but we’ll come right back at them. We know their game now. We’ll begin measuring our strength in a few days.