The Last Wave


In a pretty good piece on Brexit and Trumpism, in Salon, Ben Norton writes:

Liberals smugly blaming the Brexit vote on stupidity, making fun of working-class Leave supporters for (falsely) googling E.U. after the fact and actively downplaying the serious economic concerns behind the vote only further plays into right-wing hatred of elites.

It also conveniently absolves establishment liberals of responsibility for supporting policies that fueled the rise of the far-right.

We live in an incredibly dangerous moment. It is not hyperbolic to say Europe is going through political changes similar to those of the post-Depression 1930s, when fascism was on the rise for the first time.

Brexit is a big victory for neo-fascist forces throughout the West — actual neo-fascist parties and politicians. And there is no sign that the far-right will decline anytime soon.

Demagogues like Trump in the U.S., or Marine Le Pen in France, or Geert Wilders in the Netherlands, may lose the upcoming election, but there will be many more elections after that, and the far-right will only continue to gain strength — unless it faces a real challenge.

The problem is that neoliberals already know this – and don’t care. Austerity creates misery which in turn creates populism. Populism grows and splits into its left and right hemispheres, which buys the neoliberals more time (every moment of austerity makes them money, ratholed away in a Costa Rican bank). Eventually they will get their populist comeuppance, but all the neoliberals care about is from which direction; they’d of course like to never endure populism of any sort but they damn sure won’t tolerate it from the left.

Sanders was constantly smeared, roadblocked, cheated by the neoliberal centrists — and still almost won. Corbyn is getting the same treatment; his fate is unclear. Neoliberals consider populism of the left more dangerous than of the right, crushes or cheats it, allowing right populism to take root or even triumph. With Sanders out and Clinton’s victory in the general election highly likely, neoliberals have their preferred Worse Case Scenario: the only populist who could win is Trump, who is often described as a neo-, proto-, or crypto-fascist. It would be a major upset and neoliberals wouldn’t like it on cultural grounds, but they will make their deal with him and keep their precious low tax rates. Their bourgeois Lifestyle Liberal publicists in the media will be livid and histrionic, declaring every stupid-asshole thing Trump says the start of a pogrom, but they will get over it; after all, for the donor class these people are just the hired help.

Misery will deepen no matter who wins in November. Trump is a supply-side Reaganite with perhaps insincere Buchananite protectionist tendencies; HRC is a woke version of Thatcher, a warmongering austeritarian monster. Neoliberal economy will triumph either way. And the longer it continues, the uglier people will get. More and more will fall out of the middle class into poverty; more people will rob and steal from the remaining middle class just to make ends meet. More suicides, drug addiction, mass despair. Scapegoating, tribalism, and racism will be more extreme, widespread, mainstream. Terry Eagleton, a while back in The Guardian, described Zizek’s take on the same dynamic, though the context for them was the failed/thwarted Arab Spring revolutions:

One lesson of the Egyptian revolt, Žižek argues in Trouble in Paradise, is that if moderate liberal forces continue to ignore the radical left, “they will generate an unsurmountable fundamentalist wave”. Toppling tyrants, which all good liberals applaud, is simply a prelude to the hard work of radical social transformation, without which fundamentalism will return. In a world everywhere under the heel of capital, only radical politics can retrieve what is worth saving in the liberal legacy.

The neoliberal elite likes its cheap domestic immigrant help and social liberalism. They like the financial windfall from austeritarian policy more. They’d like to keep both and with HRC they will, but if they have to keep just one, their choice is obvious. And the people in another five or ten years of such conditions? Then will come the fascism, without any mitigating prefixes, nothing quasi about it – if, that is, we haven’t already all been killed in a war by then.

How Do You Dooley?

I’d never heard of Mr. Dooley, “a fictional Irish immigrant bartender created by American journalist Finley Peter Dunne,” before but ‘he’ was the subject of the wikipedia article of the day, so I clicked. I’m glad I did.

Apparently Dooley didn’t much care for the late-Gilded Age plutocrats who reigned during the Cleveland administration:

Commerce from the Columbian Exposition had helped shield Chicago from the gloom of the economic Panic of 1893, which enveloped much of the rest of the nation, but after the exposition closed, the winter of 1893–94 saw much unemployment, suffering and starvation. As Irish immigrants were disproportionately employed as laborers, and had less education than other ethnic groups, Bridgeport was hit especially hard by the depression, and this was reflected in the columns. Dunne’s anger especially focused on George Pullman, whose wage cuts for his workers (while not cutting the rents of their houses, which his company owned) helped provoke the Pullman Strike of 1894.[28][29] In his column of August 25, Dunne wrote,

Mr. Dooley swabbed the bar in a melancholy manner and turned again with the remark, “But what’s it all to Pullman? When God quarried his heart a happy man was made. He cares no more for them little matters of life or death than I do for O’Connor’s [bar] tab. ‘The women and children are dying of hunger,’ they say, ‘will you not put out your hand to help them?,’ they say. ‘Ah, what the hell,’ says George. ‘What the hell’, he says. ‘James,’ he says, ‘a bottle of champagne and a piece of cranberry pie. What the hell, what the hell, what the hell’.”

“I heard two died yesterday,” said Mr. McKenna. “Two women.”

“Poor things, poor things. But,” said Mr. Dooley, once more swabbing the bar, “what the hell.”[a]

Dunne brought this column into the Post’s composing room to be set in type. When he returned later to check the proof, the typesetters began to drum their sticks on their cases, and then burst into lengthy applause, an experience Dunne described as the most moving of his life.”[30]

This is also good:

Although [Dooley] applauded….acts of individual charity, Dunne through Dooley denigrated charitable organizations, wondering that “a man can square himself with his conscience by giving one thousand dollars to a policeman and telling him to distribute it! Why don’t they get the poor up in a cage in Lincoln Park and hand them food on the end of a window pole, if they’re afraid they’ll bite[?]”

Plus ca change, plus c’est la meme chose. Or, All This Has Happened Before; All This Will Happen Again. The problems, critiques, solutions, and fake solutions (eg, charity is bullshit) of their Gilded Age are the same as those of our own. But I’d rather not wait another thirty to forty years for a new New Deal. To countermand a phrase from the monster who hijacked it: faster, please.


Brad DeLong yesterday on twitter, mourning how establishment Republicans used to be all like:


It’s not like that faith is gone with the wind. Someone still vehemently believes in all those classic Chamber of Commerce GOP things, plus trade deals and outsourcing (with social liberalism, too, in a minor difference); someone still hates the economic left with religious and eliminationist intensity; someone still praises business, growth, deregulation with sunshiney Reaganite enthusiasm and in total denial of the persistent corruption, failure, and moral bankruptcy of same; and that someone is the current neoliberal Democratic Party elite, of which Brad DeLong is a prominent member.

This 2004 General Glut post is evergreen:

The Republican “grown-ups”, aka “moderates”, which [Reihan Salam, Kevin Drum, and Brad DeLong] long for left their Party a while back and took over the Democratic Party — which is now the Party of Moderate Republicanism. Compare John Anderson’s 1980 platform to the Dems of today and get a micrometer to measure the differences. The Drezner types and their admirers in the Democratic Party are upset because they fit into the Democrats’ corporate flank very nicely but feel uncomfortable cozying up to the working class. But they don’t like the cultural conservatives in the GOP, either. Poor boys!

Why not start their own party? They could all gather together and call it Sensible Cosmopolitan Elites for a Technocratic Future.

And here’s Norman Mailer making a similar observation, casting the migration of elites from Rs to Ds in terms of hostile/covert takeover and sabotage:

The Republicans said to themselves, ‘we’re in terrible trouble, they’re on to us, we’ve….got to send a few of our best people into the Democratic Party and get them to run it’ sort of as undercover people all these years. And I think they’ve succeeded. Look at the results.

The postelection corporation coddling, trade dealing, and labor crushing, with attendant austerity intensification program, in which the remnants of the American working and lower-middle classes’ wealth will be effectively transferred up to the global elite with a bit thrown down to the Chinese and Indian bourgies, will feel like classic, soul destroying, technocratic Rockefeller Republicanism because that’s what it basically is – cold stagflation style neoliberalism, carefully stripped of any national interest, but with a smiley, inclusive, mass migration-welcoming, diversity reflecting, human face. (The postelection hippie-punch from Clintonoids to Sanders supporters that DeLong himself telegraphed a few months ago, however, will be a GOP throwback of a different sort: pure Nixonism.)

Like Zizka told me years ago, Brad DeLong himself is the good Republican he’s always looking for. When DeLong mourns the old ‘respectable’ GOP it’s a gesture of piety in front of a mirror.


“What are words for?,” the pretty lady who never got enough credit wearily asked. As usual, the cynical and correct answer is deception, for wealth and power. A fart by any other name should smell just as rancid but our ADHD addled species overvalues novelty, and so old poisons are rebranded as new elixirs and old problems are rebranded as new solutions – and people passively believe the lie or worse, have become so apathetic they no longer care that they’re being lied to. Blame? “Name”! Game. A paradox: empty, disposable words, full of fraud and menace; Big Lies, ever bolder and louder, falling on an ever more deaf and distracted populace. Blah blah blah. What were you saying? Nevermind. Cf.

Jonathan Meades, ‘On the Brandwagon’:

[Regeneration is] the greatest of contemporary gravy trains; it’s a bandwagon. The bandwagon has been rebranded; the bandwagon is now a brandwagon. Rebranding is a euphemism – for ‘euphemism.’ Call this [holds shovel] a hallmark diversifier and it becomes something entirely different.

Regeneration is an ad hoc-ulation of enterprises, of PFIs, of blusty thinking, traction triggers, helicopter views, round ovalling, meme trepanning, brain swoffing, crisis tablet alerts.

Anyone can jump aboard the brandwagon; clothes designers, record producers, pop singers are all busily regenerating themselves through regeneration.

Babylon 5 Season 3 Episode 4 “Voices of Authority”:

[Nightwatch Commissar Julie Musante]: “All right, so you have some concerns. But there are ways of expressing these concerns which won’t cause problems for our leaders back home…
[Captain Sheridan]: “Lurkers are our version of the homeless. In many ways we have the same problem Earth does.”
[Musante]: “Earth doesn’t have homeless.”
[Sheridan]: “Excuse me?”
[Musante]: “We don’t have the problem. Yes, there are some displaced people, here and there, but they’ve chosen to be in that position. They’re either lazy or they’re criminal or they’re mentally unstable.”
[Sheridan]: “They can’t get a job.”
[Musante]: “Earth Gov has promised a job to anyone that wants one. So, if someone doesn’t have a job, they must not want one.”
[Sheridan]: “Poverty?”
[Musante]: “It’s the same.”
[Sheridan]: “Crime.”
[Musante}: “Yes, there is some but it’s all caused by the mentally unstable. And we’ve just instituted correctional centers to filter them out at an early age.”
[Sheridan]: “Prejudice?”
[Musante]: “Hmm? No, we’re just one happy planet….Well, all right, there’s the Marsies but that won’t change until they stop fighting the Earth rule.”
[Sheridan]: “And when exactly did all this happen?”
[Musante]: “When we rewrote the dictionary. Captain, you’re a good man, you’re a fine soldier, a leader. You understand that sometimes, before you can deal with the problem you have to…redefine it.”
[Sheridan]: “But you can’t deal with problems by pretending they don’t exist.”
[Musante]: “There’s no need to embarrass our leaders by pointing out the flaws in our society that they’re aware of and dealing with in their own way. Some people just enjoy finding fault with our leaders – they’re anarchists, they’re troublemakers, or they’re simply just unpatriotic – none of which describes you, now do you want other people thinking otherwise? These are the areas I want to help you with. I want to feel like I’m needed, that I’m doing my part to help bring the Earth gov back in to the hands of the decent, hard working people that created it. I am here to protect you. I admire your honesty and your record and your attitude and I don’t want to see anyone use those things against you…”

The power to name or rename is the power to do anything but create; it is the power to own or, at least, to lord over, to subdue, transfer, consume:

And out of the ground the LORD God formed every beast of the field, and every fowl of the air; and brought them unto Adam to see what he would call them: and whatsoever Adam called every living creature, that was the name thereof. And Adam gave names to all cattle, and to the fowl of the air, and to every beast of the field[.]

Thomas Szasz:

The struggle for definition is veritably the struggle for life itself. In the typical Western two men fight desperately for the possession of a gun that has been thrown to the ground: whoever reaches the weapon first shoots and lives; his adversary is shot and dies. In ordinary life, the struggle is not for guns but for words; whoever first defines the situation is the victor; his adversary, the victim. For example, in the family, husband and wife, mother and child do not get along; who defines whom as troublesome or mentally sick?… [the one] who first seizes the word imposes reality on the other; [the one] who defines thus dominates and lives; and [the one] who is defined is subjugated and may be killed.

Socialism Vs. Neoliberal Identity Politics

Zizek in the video above beginning at about 9m30s, is righteous:

Post-political society, where social-political life or state rule, is more and more reduced to rational administration. Like, we don’t debate about economy. As Peter Mendelson put it nicely two, three years ago (of course I disagree with him…) but he said, “let’s admit it: we are all Thatcherites in economy.” So the only thing we can do is – you know, when I was young we were still dreaming about ‘socialism with a human face’ — his point was, all we can do is ‘global capitalism with a human face.’ You know, we change a little bit – more tolerant laws, more rights to this/that, more social security – but you accept the rules of the game.

In this state of things, all conflicts are politically neutralized, they are no longer perceived as political economic conflicts; they are restated as cultural conflicts – in this sense, they are naturalized. And of course with cultures – different ways of life – all you can do is tolerate. The solution of the conflict is not ‘I will make you disappear or you will kill me’ but ‘let’s tolerate.’ A nice example is here in Mexico I read how Mexican poor farmers, they try to formulate their fight as exploitation of poor farmers. Nobody was interested. You know, the moment you complain in this way, there is always some neoliberal guy who says ‘yes, but sorry [this is a nice word] structural readjustments are necessary.’ So there is some intelligent manipulation; they reformulated their struggle as the struggle of indigenous people against the Spanish cultural imperialism. All of a sudden, they became much more popular. A nice example but for me a rather sad example of how to be heard at all you have to culturalize your predicament.

When exploitation is normalized by definition no one gives a shit. Only when the exploited can tie their predicament to some kind of social bigotry can they have any hope of remedy – and even then the compensation is less about return of resources and more about an empty recognition of the struggle by the creative upper middle class (“dignity”). Of course the problem is that exploitation and bigotry need not – and increasingly often do not – coincide. In fact the world is run by a veritable Benetton advertisement of a transnational, multiracial, religiously ecumenical neoliberal elite that is quite happy to exploit anyone it can, regardless of color or creed. Exploited groups incentivized to frame their plight as a result of historical bigotry rather than of contemporary economy in turn incentivize other exploited groups to do same in reaction and competition all of which further atomizes and particularizes working and middle class society into tribalist conflict – meanwhile, exploitation intensifies. This is our world, and it sucks.