The 2016 elections: American democracy in shambles


21 October 2016

In the aftermath of the final presidential debate on Wednesday, the US media is in an uproar over statements made by Republican candidate Donald Trump that he might not recognize the result of the November 8 election.

Asked by debate moderator Chris Wallace from Fox News whether he would “absolutely accept the result of this election,” Trump replied that he would “look at it at the time,” and would “keep you in suspense.” On Thursday, Trump climbed down on his remarks somewhat, saying that he would “accept a clear election result.” However, arguing that Clinton “is the most corrupt and dishonest person ever to seek office,” he added that he would reserve the right “to contest or file a legal challenge in the case of a questionable result.”

Trump’s comments at the debate are in line with previous statements that the election is rigged by the media in favor of Clinton, and his assertions, which clearly have racist overtones, that millions of Americans, particularly in urban centers, are voting illegally. He is pitching his appeal to conditions that will develop after the elections, seeking to channel social anger and hostility to the entire political system in an extremely right-wing direction.

From the media and dominant sections of the political establishment, the response has been universal condemnation of Trump for besmirching the purity of American democracy. The Washington Post proclaimed that “respecting the will of the voters has since the end of the Civil War allowed for a peaceful transition of power that has made this country the envy of the world.” The New York Times added that Trump has turned from “insulting the intelligence of the American voter to insulting American democracy itself.”

Republican Senator and former presidential candidate John McCain issued a statement declaring that a concession to the victor in an election is “an act of respect for the will of the American people, a respect that is every American leader’s first responsibility.” And Vice President Joe Biden, donning the mantle of sanctimonious outrage, said in a speech on Thursday, “If you question, if you assert that a democratic election is fixed, you are attacking the very essence of the notion of whether we have a democratic system.”

These statements from newspaper editorial boards and leading politicians reek of hypocrisy. They also express a nervousness whose causes extend far beyond the comments of Mr. Trump. The political representatives of the ruling class are rushing to the defense of a political system that is increasingly seen as illegitimate by broad sections of the population.

From a historical standpoint, it must first of all be pointed out that until the middle of the 20th century every election in the United States was “fixed,” insofar as large portions of the population were barred from voting. Women were only given the right to vote in 1920. The systematic disenfranchisement of African Americans in the South—through poll taxes, Jim Crow segregation and other measures—was only ended in the mid-1960s, a byproduct of the immense social struggles of that period. And it was only in 1971 that the age of eligibility for the franchise was lowered from 21 to 18. Until then, young men could be drafted to fight and die in wars at the order of a commander-in-chief they could not vote for.

For the past four decades, democratic forms of rule have been under systematic attack, in line with the extreme growth of social inequality. A turning point came with the campaign to impeach Bill Clinton over a sex scandal in 1998 and 1999, followed by the theft of the election in 2000. To the extent that the 2000 elections are mentioned at all in the present discussion over Trump’s comments, it is to praise Al Gore’s “respect for the process” in accepting the Supreme Court decision to hand the election to George W. Bush.

In fact, the 5-4 decision by the highest court in the country to halt the recounting of ballots in Florida installed in office an individual who lost the popular vote and, if all the ballots had been fairly counted, the electoral vote as well. In one of the decisions culminating in this travesty of democracy, the Supreme Court asserted that the American people have no constitutional right to vote for the president of the United States. The rigging of the 2000 election was carried out, not in the back room of a county courthouse, but by the highest court in the land.

In early December 2000, in advance of the decision in Bush v. Gore, WSWS editorial board chairman David North noted that the decision would reveal “how far the American ruling class is prepared to go in breaking with traditional bourgeois-democratic and constitutional norms.” In the end, the blatantly political action by Supreme Court was met with no serious opposition from the Democratic Party and Gore, or from the media and political establishment as a whole. The outcome, as the WSWS wrote at the time, “revealed the lack of any significant constituency within the ruling elite for a democratic adjudication of the presidential election.”

The ruling class has demonstrated its contempt for democracy through its actions over the past decade and a half. The attacks of September 11, 2001 were followed, under Bush and then Obama, by a raft of anti-democratic measures justified by the “war on terror”: the Patriot Act; warrantless mass surveillance; indefinite detention without trial; torture and “extraordinary rendition”; drone assassination, including of US citizens; the establishment of the Department of Homeland Security and the Northern Command, a military jurisdiction to oversee the increasing domestic use of the military. To this list must be added a militarized police force that kills more than 1,000 Americans every year.

As for the electoral process, Supreme Court decisions have undermined the Voting Rights Act and sanctioned state laws requiring photo IDs and other restrictions aimed at disenfranchising poor, elderly and minority voters. Some 6 million citizens (one out of every 40 eligible voters) are barred from voting due to previous felony convictions. The Citizens United decision in 2010 abolished restrictions on big business financing of candidates and their political action committees. It is estimated that more than $7 billion has been spent on the 2016 elections, all told, twice what was spent in 2012.

Everything is done to prevent independent and third-party candidates from having their names appear on the ballot, including requirements that they gather tens or even hundreds of thousands of signatures. Many states will not even count write-in votes. Meanwhile, the media works to ensure that the official “debate” remains safely confined to the narrow framework acceptable to the ruling class.

“American democracy” is a hollowed-out shell, overseen by two parties that are controlled by the financial oligarchy and the military. The experience of the Obama administration—which came to power promising “change you can believe in”—has only demonstrated to millions of people that their vote has no impact on the policies of the ruling class.

The protracted decay of American democracy has culminated in the election of 2016, a contest between a millionaire scion of the Clinton dynasty and a billionaire real estate speculator and reality television star.

Trump himself is a product of a diseased social and political system, the legitimate heir of the “war on terror.” As for Clinton, she is merely another expression of the same disease, running her campaign on the basis of the same scandal-mongering used by the Republicans against her husband, combined with McCarthyite smears that have a long and noxious history.

The Democrats’ stock response to any question about leaked emails exposing Clinton’s ties to Wall Street is to change the subject to the completely unsubstantiated claim that it is all the handiwork of Russian President Vladimir Putin. While Trump has said that he might not accept the election as legitimate, if Clinton is defeated the Democrats will declare that it is the result of Russia’s interference in the electoral process.

Behind the whole rotten process, the fundamental issues are covered up or ignored. The reality of American “democracy” can perhaps be summed up in the fact that, three weeks before November 8, the American military has launched a massive military escalation in the Middle East, and there is no significant discussion about the consequences in an election that is supposedly the principal means through which the population can affect policy.

The crisis of democracy is a product of the decay of American capitalism, overseen by a ruling class that is determined to advance a policy of war abroad and austerity at home—a policy that requires ever greater attacks on democratic forms of rule. Whatever happens on November 8, it will resolve nothing, and only set the stage for a protracted political crisis that can be resolved only through the independent intervention of the working class on the basis of a revolutionary socialist program.

Joseph Kishore

Capitalism Is Doomed — Without Alternatives, So Are We

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‘Though it appears as if rumors of capitalism’s imminent demise have been greatly exaggerated,’ writes Johnson, ‘there is good reason to believe that its remarkable ability to adapt and evolve in the face of frequent (self-induced) shocks has reached a breaking point.’ (Image: OpenClipArt)

In 1946, George Orwell pondered the fragility of the capitalist order.

Reviewing the work of the influential theorist James Burnham, Orwell presaged several concepts that would later form the groundwork for his best-known novel, 1984.

“Not only is the best of capitalism behind us, but the worst of it may lie just ahead.”

In his book The Managerial Revolution, Burnham envisioned, as Orwell put it, “a new kind of planned, centralised society which will be neither capitalist nor, in any accepted sense of the word, democratic. The rulers of this new society will be the people who effectively control the means of production.”

“The real question,” Orwell adds, “is not whether the people who wipe their boots on us during the next fifty years are to be called managers, bureaucrats, or politicians: the question is whether capitalism, now obviously doomed, is to give way to oligarchy or to true democracy.”

While Orwell was wary of Burnham’s worldview and of his more specific predictions, he agreed that the relationship between capitalism and democracy has always been, and always will be, a precarious one.

“For quite fifty years past,” Orwell noted, “the general drift has almost certainly been towards oligarchy.”


Pointing to the concentration of political and economic power in the hands of the few and acknowledging “the weakness of the proletariat against the centralised state,” Orwell was far from optimistic about the future — but he was quite certain that the economic status quo would eventually give way.

Recent events, and the material circumstances of much of the world’s population, have prompted serious examinations of the same questions Orwell was considering seven decades ago. And though it appears as if rumors of capitalism’s imminent demise have been greatly exaggerated, there is good reason to believe that its remarkable ability to adapt and evolve in the face of frequent (self-induced) shocks has reached a breaking point.

Widespread discontent over stagnant incomes and the uneven prosperity brought about by neoliberal globalization has, in 2016, come to a head in striking fashion; Donald Trump, Brexit, and the rise of far-right parties in Europe have many questioning previously sacred assumptions.

“Is the marriage between liberal democracy and global capitalism an enduring one?” asked Martin Wolf, a formidable commentator in one of the world’s leading business papers, the Financial Times.

This was no rhetorical softball; Wolf is genuinely concerned that the winners of globalization have grown complacent, that they have “taken for granted” a couple that was only tenuously compatible to begin with. He also worries, rightly, that they have downplayed the concerns of the “losers.”

Wolf concludes that “if the legitimacy of our democratic political systems is to be maintained, economic policy must be orientated towards promoting the interests of the many not the few; in the first place would be the citizenry, to whom the politicians are accountable.”

Not all members of the commentariat share Wolf’s willingness to engage with these cherished assumptions, however. Indeed, many analysts have reserved their ire not for failing institutions or policies but for the public, reviving Walter Lippmann’s characterization of the masses as a “bewildered herd” that, if left to its own devices, is sure to usher in a regime of chaos.

“It’s time,” declared Foreign Policy‘s James Traub, channeling the sentiments of Josh Barro, “for the elites to rise up against the ignorant masses.”

Apologists like Traub and Barro — just two among many — speak and write as if the leash previously restraining the “herd” has been loosened, and that the resulting freedom has laid bare what elitists have long believed to be the case: To use Barro’s infamous words, “Elites are usually elite for good reason, and tend to have better judgment than the average person.” They point to the rise of Donald Trump as evidence of an intolerable democratic surplus — evidence, in short, of what the masses will do if granted a loud enough voice.

Aside from being conveniently self-serving, this narrative is also false.

Far from loosening the leash, elites have consolidated power to an unprecedented extent, and they have used their influence to undercut democratic movements and hijack public institutions. The resulting concentration of wealth and political power is jarring, and it puts the lie to the farcical notion that elites are a persecuted minority.

But, in the midst of these anti-democratic diatribes, fascinating and important critiques of a rather different nature have emerged.

“Far from loosening the leash, elites have consolidated power to anunprecedented extent, and they have used their influence to undercut democratic movements and hijack public institutions.”

Instead of urging us to align Against Democracy, to use the name of a recent book by the libertarian political philosopher Jason Brennan, many are arguing that it is capitalism, and not the excesses of the democratic process, that has provided figures like Trump a launching pad.

In his book Postcapitalism, Paul Mason argues that the rapid emergence of information technology has corroded the boundaries of the market; “capitalism,” he insists, “has reached the limits of its capacity to adapt.” And its attempts to reach beyond these limits have fostered an economic environment defined by instability, crippling austerity for the many, and rapid accumulation of wealth for the few.

According to Oxfam, the global 1 percent now owns as much wealth as the bottom 99 percent. CEO pay has continued to soar. And though post-crisis reforms have carried soaring promises of stability, the financial sector is still far too large, and many of the banks harmed by the crash they created are back and nearly as powerful as ever.

Mason summarizes: “According to the OECD, growth in the developed world will be ‘weak’ for the next fifty years. Inequality will rise by 40 per cent. Even in the developing countries, the current dynamism will be exhausted by 2060.”

“The OECD’s economists were too polite to say it,” he adds, “so let’s spell it out: for the developed world the best of capitalism is behind us, and for the rest it will be over in our lifetime.”

Sociologist Peter Frase, in his new book Four Futures, implicitly agrees with many of Mason’s key points, but he then takes up the task of looking further ahead, of contemplating possible futures that hinge largely upon how we respond to the crises we are likely to face in the coming years.

For Frase, not only is the best of capitalism behind us, but the worst of it may lie just ahead.

Central to Four Futures are what Frase calls the “[t]wo specters…haunting Earth in the twenty-first century” — “the specters of environmental catastrophe and automation.”

Rather than attempting to predict the future, Frase — guided by Rosa Luxemburg’s famous words, “Bourgeois society stands at the crossroads, either transition to socialism or regression into barbarism” — lays out potential, contingent scenarios. And while Mason’s book exudes optimism about the advancement of information technology and automation, Frase is more cautious.

“To the extent that the rich are able to maintain their power,” Frase writes, “we will live in a world where they enjoy the benefits of automated production, while the rest of us pay the costs of ecological destruction—if we can survive at all.” And, “To the extent that we can move toward a world of greater equality, then the future will be characterized by some combination of shared sacrifice and shared prosperity, depending on where we are on the other, ecological dimension.”

It comes down, in short, to who wins the class struggle. “I am a very old-fashioned Marxist in that way,” Frase remarked in a recent interview.

None of the futures Frase maps out are inevitable, the result of historical forces that are beyond our control. He is contemptuous of those who cling to “secular eschatology”; capitalism’s collapse, he notes, will not likely be the result of a single, revolutionary moment.

In expressing this view he aligns with Wolfgang Streeck, who has argued that capitalism is “a social system in chronic disrepair,” and that while “we cannot know when and how exactly capitalism will disappear and what will succeed it,” we can know that a system that depends on endless growth and the elimination of all restraints will eventually self-destruct.

The disappearance of capitalism, though, as Orwell understood, does not necessarily imply the emergence of an egalitarian society, one in which resources are shared for the benefit of the many. But while few agree on precisely how to establish the framework for such a society, there are, Mason and Frase argue, policies that can move us in the right direction.

Both, for instance, support the idea of a universal basic income, which, in Frase’s words, would “create a situation in which it possible to survive without depending on selling your labor to anyone who will pay for it,” making automation a path to liberation, not destitution. And Mason rightly argues that, in order to avert catastrophic warming, we must radically reduce carbon emissions.

But the usual political obstacles remain, as does the fact that the “winners” are not likely to hand over their gains, or their positions of power and influence, without a fight. We cannot, then, passively rely on amoral forces like technology to bring about the necessary change.

“Technological developments give a context for social transformations,” Frase writes, “but they never determine them directly; change is always mediated by the power struggles between organized masses of people.”


The future is necessarily disobedient; it rarely conforms to even the most meticulous theoretical anticipations, to say nothing of our deepest desires or fears.

But one thing is clear: The future of capitalism and the future of the planet are intertwined. The health of the latter depends on our ability to dismantle the former, and on our ability to construct an alternative that radically alters our course, which is at present leading us toward catastrophe.

“One thing is clear: The future of capitalism and the future of the planet are intertwined.”

Whether the path to which we are ultimately confined is one that leads to a utopian dream or a dystopian nightmare is contingent upon our ability to connect the struggles that currently occupy the left — those fighting for the right to organize are confronting, at bottom, the same forces as those working to prevent the plunder of sacred land.

There are reasons to be both hopeful and pessimistic about the prospects of these struggles.

The campaign of Bernie Sanders, and the movements that emerged before it and alongside it, revealed that there is a large base of support for social democratic changes that, if enacted, would move us in the right direction.

The obstacles, however, are immense, as is the arithmetic: As Bill McKibben has noted, “The future of humanity depends on math,” and the climate math we face is “ominous.”

But, as Noam Chomsky has argued, the debate over the choice between pessimism and optimism is really no debate at all.

“We have two choices,” he concludes. “We can be pessimistic, give up and help ensure that the worst will happen. Or we can be optimistic, grasp the opportunities that surely exist and maybe help make the world a better place. Not much of a choice.”

Jake Johnson is an independent writer. Follow him on Twitter: @wordsofdissent

US Social Security Administration announces effective cut in benefits


By Fred Mazelis
20 October 2016

The US government announced this week that Social Security beneficiaries would receive an insulting 0.3 percent cost-of-living adjustment in their monthly checks for 2017, amounting to about $4 for the average recipient, a cut in real income.

The $4 monthly increase is less than a round trip bus or subway fare in many major cities. It follows no increase at all for 2016. For the years 2010 and 2011, there were also zero cost-of-living adjustments, based on official claims of no inflation. As the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare said in a statement, “Over the past eight years, the current COLA formula has led to average increases of just over one percent” annually.

The average annual benefit for the 65 million in the US currently receiving Social Security is less than $15,000. The notion that the cost of living for these recipients has increased by only 1 percent per year for the past period is preposterous on its face. In New York City, for instance, the cost of a subway or bus fare has risen by more than 20 percent since 2009 ($2.25 to $2.75). Rent-stabilized apartments in New York have seen increases averaging significantly more than 1 percent annually, even after zero increases in the past two years.

In addition to keeping Social Security increases below the actual rate of inflation, the upcoming 0.3 percent increase will be entirely eaten up by increases in the Medicare Part B premiums (currently $104.90 for most Medicare beneficiaries) that are automatically deducted from Social Security checks.

The new premiums have not yet been officially announced but are projected as significantly more than a 0.3 percent hike. According to a “hold harmless” rule, which forbids an actual cut in Social Security benefits, however, the increase in Medicare premiums will be capped for about 70 percent of the 56 million people receiving Medicare. These relatively “lucky” beneficiaries will see their Social Security frozen while living costs continue to go up.

For about 30 percent of those on Medicare, however, premiums will go up much more. These include those eligible for Medicare for the first time, those enrolled in Medicare but not receiving Social Security, and those subject to Medicare surcharges because they did not enroll in the first year of their eligibility. These millions of recipients will see an absolute reduction in their net income for 2017.

In addition to the Medicare premium increases, Medicare trustees have also projected a sizable jump in the annual deductible before recipients can begin receiving their benefits. This is now $166 for the year and is projected to increase to $204. This increase alone is nearly as great as the average cost-of-living adjustment of about $48 annually.

Finally, the Social Security Administration has also announced a rise in the ceiling on wages subject to payroll taxes for Social Security, from the current level of $118,500 to $127,200. This change, at first glance not unreasonable, will in fact hit many working class two-income families where after-tax earnings do not leave much left over after mortgage and car payments, college tuition and other major expenses. The super-rich and the upper middle-class layers, who have incomes well into the six figures, will easily absorb what is a very small increase in their tax liability.

The continuous chipping away at retirement benefits is no small matter for the great majority on Social Security. Millions have already been forced to remain in the workforce well past the expected retirement age because their benefits do not begin to cover basic necessities. Now, those who face a modest increase in rent of $50 a month, for instance, will have not a penny in increased Social Security to meet the added expense. They will have to find some other way to cut their already meager standard of living.

The official Consumer Price Index (CPI) understates inflation by allocating a far smaller percentage of costs to such items as housing, medicine and transportation. Some advocacy groups call for the use of CPI-E, an experimental index that increases the weight of such items as housing and health care. Even this would leave most retirees far short of an adequate income.

The latest attack on the working class and especially on its most vulnerable sections highlights the grotesque character of the 2016 election campaign. The issue of Social Security never arose at the first two presidential debates between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. The candidates were too busy dealing with sex scandals and the importance of getting tough on Russia to discuss working class living standards.

According to a report in the Huffington Post, in fact, a retired government worker in North Carolina submitted a question to the Open Debate Commission for the “town hall” debate format at the second meeting between Trump and Clinton. According to Huffington Post, “Ellen Pleasant…struggles to make ends meet on her monthly check of $996 and a monthly state pension benefit of $299. She has declared bankruptcy twice in recent years, because she was not able to make her mortgage payments and ‘do the things I need to live.’”

Pleasant’s question about whether the candidates “support expanding, and not cutting, Social Security’s modest benefits…was the third most popular question based on readers’ votes, but the debate moderators never raised it.”

Both Trump and Clinton have issued vague promises to defend Social Security. Clinton’s more detailed proposals have been advertised as strongly supportive of the program, but a New York Times editorial on October 19 praises the candidate for “allow[ing] for compromise with Republicans who favor cutting benefits to keep the system viable.” Clearly, no matter which candidate wins on November 8, attacks on Social Security and Medicare will escalate.

Is the US election rigged?


18 October 2016

The US media and political establishment have been consumed over the past two days with denunciations of Republican candidate Donald Trump’s allegations that the presidential election is “rigged” in favor of his rival, Hillary Clinton.

There is an increasingly racist and fascistic character to Trump’s charges, which combine attacks on the media for pushing allegations of sexual abuse with sweeping claims of vote-rigging, particularly in minority neighborhoods. Trump is urging his supporters to turn out en masse to “monitor” the polls, creating the possibility of violence on Election Day.

As always, Trump’s statements are a mixture of half-truths and lies. While there is no doubt that the media establishment has lined up behind Clinton, Trump is using the “rigged election” claim to lay the basis for declaring the election to have been stolen. He is preparing to use the “stolen election” as the rallying cry for the development of an extra-parliamentary, far-right movement after November 8.

This does not, however, lend the slightest credibility to the self-righteous and hypocritical response of the Democratic Party and the political establishment in general. Their indignation over any suggestion that something could be amiss with the pristinely democratic American electoral system is absurd.

Trump’s charges resonate well beyond the relative minority of his supporters who respond to racist agitation because his claims correspond to the bitter experience of broad masses of people with what passes for American democracy. This is, after all, a country that had a stolen election. The US Supreme Court shut down a vote recount in Florida and awarded the 2000 election to George W. Bush, who had lost the popular vote to Democrat Al Gore.

This was followed by the 2004 election, when George W. Bush was reelected based on disputed voting in Ohio and widespread charges of voter suppression.

The question, however, goes far beyond vote-rigging. Even by the standards of other major capitalist countries, the electoral system in the United States is among the least democratic. The two-party system is institutionalized, enforcing a political monopoly of two right-wing parties entirely beholden to the financial aristocracy—this in a vast and diverse country of 320 million people!

State ballot access and election laws impose prohibitive requirements, including the collection of tens of thousands of signatures, making it virtually impossible for “third party” and independent candidates to mount an effective campaign.

This political duopoly is reinforced by the unrestricted role of corporate money in US elections, corrupting the entire process to a degree, and with a brazenness, unmatched by any other major industrialized country. It is estimated that campaign spending by presidential and congressional candidates this year will hit a new record of more than $7.3 billion. For all practical purposes, to win high office in America one must either have billionaire backers or be a multi-millionaire oneself.

The corporate-owned media does its anti-democratic part, depriving coverage to alternative parties. In this election, Gary Johnson of the Libertarian Party and Jill Stein of the Green Party, who are respectively polling 7 percent and 3 percent nationally, are excluded from the televised presidential debates, not to mention Jerry White, the candidate of the Socialist Equality Party.

The result is a political system that is increasingly unviable because it is unable to address any of the concerns of the vast majority of the population. The fact that barely half of the electorate bothers to vote is a devastating commentary on the US electoral system.

The bitter experience of the Obama administration, brought to power on a wave of popular hatred for Bush and revulsion over his wars and attacks on working class living standards, has further convinced tens of millions of people that neither their needs and concerns, nor their votes, have any impact on the policies pursued by the government. The candidate of “hope” and “change,” mistakenly believed to be an agent of progressive change because of his ethnicity, continued and deepened the policies of war and corporate plunder of his predecessor.

In the current election, the internal rot resulting from decades of economic decay and political reaction, presided over by both parties, has erupted onto the surface, placing a question mark over the survival of the two-party system. One measure of the system’s bankruptcy is the fact that an election cycle in which millions of people cast votes for a candidate who claimed, falsely, to be a socialist and opponent of Wall Street, Bernie Sanders, now presents the people with the “choice” between a billionaire quasi-fascist and a corrupt stooge of Wall Street and the military/intelligence establishment.

The transcripts of Hillary Clinton’s speeches to Goldman Sachs, released by WikiLeaks, show the real relationship that exists between the politicians and Wall Street. They are the paid servants of the financial oligarchs who run the country.

The fundamental and gigantic fraud that dominates the election is the total disconnect between the populist claims of both candidates and the reality of the programs they intend to implement. The real agenda, regardless of which one wins in November, is war, austerity and repression.

Is the election rigged? Of course it is—to produce an outcome acceptable to the ruling class. The entire political system is rigged and fundamentally undemocratic because capitalism is a system of class exploitation in which real political power is concentrated in the hands of a corporate-financial oligarchy.

Barry Grey


In secret Goldman Sachs speeches, Clinton explains why the rich should rule


By Tom Carter
17 October 2016

In one question-and-answer session on October 24, 2013 at Goldman Sachs, with CEO Lloyd Blankfein in attendance, an audience member asked the current Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton the following question: “And Mike Bloomberg had 30 billion other reasons than to take office. Do we need a wholesale change in Washington that has more to do with people that don’t need the job than have the job?”

Clinton’s answer was revealing. “That’s a really interesting question,” she said. “You know, I would like to see more successful business people run for office. I really would like to see that because I do think, you know, you don’t have to have 30 billion, but you have a certain level of freedom. And there’s that memorable phrase from a former member of the Senate: You can be maybe rented, but never bought. And I think it’s important to have people with those experiences.”

Clinton’s response is an open defense of the aristocratic principle: the rich should rule. By virtue of being very wealthy, the rich have the leisure time to pursue a political career. Moreover, they supposedly have immunity from being bribed, since they are already so wealthy. Finally, they have the “experience in business” necessary to preside over a social system that benefits the social layer which appropriates all the profits from business and finance. These are sentiments that any 18th or 19th century aristocrat would recognize and embrace.

Clinton merely echoes, in a more crude form, the patrician arrogance of Robert Gascoyne-Cecil, 3rd Marquess of Salisbury (1830-1903), whose views were summed up by historian Barbara Tuchman:

He did not believe in political equality. There was the multitude, he said, and there were the “natural” leaders. “Always wealth, in some countries birth, and in all countries intellectual power and culture mark out the man to whom, in a healthy state of feeling, a community looks to undertake its government.” These men had the leisure for it and the fortune, “so that the struggles for ambition are not defiled by the taint of sordid greed… They are the aristocracy of a country in the original and best sense of the word… The important point is that the rulers of a country should be taken from among them,” and as a class they should retain that “political preponderance to which they have every right that superior fitness can confer.”

Clinton’s argument that her own wealth entitles her to govern America is an argument also made repeatedly by Donald Trump, who touts his own billions as a reason he will remain immune to “special interests.”

The “former member of the Senate” to whom Clinton was apparently referring was John Breaux, a Louisiana Democrat who held office from 1987 to 2005. Considered one of the most conservative Democrats ever to take office, Clinton’s role model went on to pursue a lucrative lobbying career at the firm Squire Patton Boggs. His name is synonymous with Washington’s corrupt “revolving door.”

On Saturday, WikiLeaks published the transcripts of three lavishly paid speeches given by Clinton at gatherings held by Goldman Sachs, dating from June 4, October 24 and October 29, 2013. All three feature a mix of groveling before the financial malefactors who hired her to speak and gloating over her own wealth.

In one of her secret Wall Street speeches, Clinton frankly admitted that she has a “public position” and a “private position.” The private position is expressed in “backroom discussions,” while the “public position” consists of the lies she tells to the rest of the population.

The fact that Clinton addressed the notorious investment bank in the first place highlights the extent to which the American corporate, financial and political establishment is drenched in corruption and criminality. In April 2011, the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations released a report entitled “Wall Street and the Financial Crisis: Anatomy of a Financial Collapse.” This report exhaustively documented that the financial crash of 2008 and the recession that followed were the product of fraud and illegality on the part of mortgage lenders and banks such as Goldman Sachs, with government regulatory bodies as well as credit rating agencies serving as accessories.

Forty percent of the 639-page report, or some 240 pages, were devoted to the fraudulent and deceptive practices of Goldman Sachs. The report presented documents, emails, internal communications and other evidence showing that the largest US investment bank had sold billions of dollars in subprime mortgage-backed securities to investors, vouching for their value, even as it was betting that the investments would fail. Goldman made billions and CEO Blankfein and other top executives pocketed millions in bonuses by accelerating the collapse of the financial system.

Michigan Senator Carl Levin, the chairman of the Senate subcommittee, famously described how the investigation had uncovered “a financial snake pit rife with greed, conflicts of interest and wrongdoing.”

“Using their own words in documents subpoenaed by the subcommittee,” Levin said, “the report discloses how financial firms deliberately took advantage of their clients and investors, how credit rating agencies assigned AAA ratings to high-risk securities, and how regulators sat on their hands instead of reining in the unsafe and unsound practices all around them. Rampant conflicts of interest are the threads that run through every chapter of this sordid story.”

So when Clinton was hobnobbing with Goldman Sachs CEO Blankfein in 2013, while investigations of wrongdoing by Goldman and the other Wall Street banks were still ongoing, she was consorting with a man who belonged in prison. In 2011, Levin had recommended that the Justice Department criminally prosecute Blankfein for his fraudulent and deceptive conduct, and the Senate subcommittee charged that he had perjured himself in testimony in 2010 regarding his bank’s role in the financial crash. Nevertheless, no charges were brought, and in 2013 Clinton was accepting upwards of $225,000 per speech from Blankfein’s firm.

Hillary and Bill Clinton have accumulated a total of $153 million in speaking fees since Bill Clinton left the White House. Only the very naive could believe that these vast sums were paid for the speeches themselves. They were payment for services rendered to the American financial aristocracy over a protracted period.

Clinton’s Wall Street speeches deserve to be widely read. They provide an invaluable first-hand education in the sheer cynicism of the American ruling class. While the Obama administration publicly insisted that the Dodd-Frank reforms of 2010 were “strict regulations” that would ensure that the 2008 crash would “never happen again,” Clinton privately told her Goldman audience not to worry, that these cosmetic reforms had to be passed for “political reasons,” to provide the appearance that the government did not “sit idly by and do nothing” as people lost their jobs, homes and life savings.

When Blankfein snidely asked Clinton how, should he decide to run for president, he should conduct his campaign, Clinton responded with her own cynical joke. “I think you would leave Goldman Sachs and start running a soup kitchen somewhere,” Clinton replied, to the merriment of the assembled guests.

The response to the publication of these speeches by so-called “socialist” Bernie Sanders exposes the utterly fraudulent character of his entire presidential bid. While he postured during the Democratic Party primaries as a proponent of a “political revolution” against the “billionaire class,” Sanders now functions shamelessly as a sideshow for the Clinton campaign, browbeating his (now much smaller) audiences with admonitions to vote for the preferred candidate of the “billionaire class” he claimed to oppose.

During his run for the Democratic nomination, Sanders repeatedly called on Clinton to release the transcripts of her Wall Street speeches, which she refused to do. He charged that the speeches would show her subservience to the bankers. Now, transcripts have been leaked to the public, completely substantiating his accusations. His silence only underscores the depth of his political treachery and dishonesty.

Meanwhile, emails published by WikiLeaks to and from Clinton’s campaign chairman, John Podesta, reveal the consummate cynicism with which Hillary Clinton sought to portray herself as a champion of “everyday Americans,” small businesses, unionized workers, minorities and women. Having no connection whatsoever to any popular movement or any policies that have benefited the bottom 90 percent of American society, Clinton relies on a network of “community leaders,” union bureaucrats, academics, celebrities and media “surrogates,” who use empty demagogy and identity politics to market her brand to voters.

In one particularly Machiavellian email, one of Clinton’s aides discussed adding a “riff” of demagogic statements against Wall Street in a speech to Deutsche Bank in 2015, “precisely for the purpose of having something we could show people if ever asked what she was saying behind closed doors for two years to all those fat cats.”

“I wrote her a long riff about economic fairness and how the financial industry has lost its way,” the aide wrote. “Perhaps at some point there will be value in sharing this with a reporter and getting a story written. Upside would be that when people say she’s too close to Wall Street and has taken too much money from bankers, we can point to evidence that she wasn’t afraid to speak truth to power.”

In another email, Podesta frankly noted that Clinton hated the phrase “everyday Americans,” but Podesta urged her to use it anyway. “I know she has begun to hate everyday Americans, but I think we should use it once the first time she says I’m running for president because you and everyday Americans need a champion,” Podesta wrote.

The cynicism of Clinton’s campaign knows no bounds. Her staff actually worked to help Donald Trump secure the Republican nomination, believing that Clinton would have a better chance of defeating Trump in the election than a more conventional Republican candidate. The media was encouraged to “take him seriously,” and Clinton was urged to single Trump out for criticism in order to “help him cement his front runner status” among the Republican primary candidates.

Around 11,000 out of 50,000 emails obtained by WikiLeaks have been published. The Clinton campaign’s response to these exposures has been to blame Russia, in line with the Obama administration’s campaign of saber-rattling against the Putin administration. In an interview last weekend on Fox News, Podesta suggested that the emails were not authentic, while simultaneously (and inconsistently) arguing that the emails were acquired by “the Russians,” who are supposedly attempting to deliver the election to Donald Trump.

On Friday, Podesta taunted WikiLeaks editor Julian Assange with a picture of a number of uniformed chefs preparing a luxurious private dinner for the Hillary Victory Fund. “I bet the lobster risotto is better than the food at the Ecuadorian Embassy,” Podesta wrote as the caption to the photograph on Twitter, referring to the fact that Assange has been a de facto prisoner at the Ecuadorian Embassy in London since he sought asylum there in June 2012. Assange immediately replied, “Yes, we get it. The elite eat better than the peasants they abuse.”


Donald Trump: The Dress Rehearsal for Fascism

Posted on Oct 16, 2016

By Chris Hedges

  Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump speaks at an event hosted by the Republican Hindu Coalition in Edison, N.J., on Saturday. (Julio Cortez / AP)

Americans are not offered major-party candidates who have opposing political ideologies or ideas. We are presented only with manufactured political personalities. We vote for the candidate who makes us “feel” good about him or her. Campaigns are entertainment and commercial vehicles to raise billions in advertising revenue for corporations. The candidate who can provide the best show gets the most coverage. The personal brand is paramount. It takes precedence over ideas, truth, integrity and the common good. This cult of the self, which defines our politics and our culture, contains the classic traits of psychopaths: superficial charm, grandiosity, self-importance, a need for constant stimulation, a penchant for lying, deception and manipulation, and incapacity for remorse or guilt. Donald Trump has these characteristics. So does Hillary Clinton.

Our system of inverted totalitarianism has within it the seeds of an overt or classical fascism. The more that political discourse becomes exclusively bombastic and a form of spectacle, the more that emotional euphoria is substituted for political thought and the more that violence is the primary form of social control, the more we move toward a Christianized fascism.

Last week’s presidential debate in St. Louis was only a few degrees removed from the Jerry Springer TV show—the angry row of women sexually abused or assaulted by Bill Clinton, the fuming Trump pacing the stage with a threatening posture, the sheeplike and carefully selected audience that provided the thin veneer of a democratic debate while four multimillionaires—Martha Raddatz, Anderson Cooper, Clinton and Trump—squabbled like spoiled schoolchildren.

The Clinton campaign, aware that the policy differences between her and a candidate such as Jeb Bush were minuscule, plotted during the primaries to elevate the fringe Republican candidates—especially Trump. To the Democratic strategists, a match between Clinton and Trump seemed made in heaven. Trump, with his “brain trust” of Rudy Giuliani and Chris Christie, would make Clinton look like a savior.

A memo addressed to the Democratic National Committee under the heading “Our Goals & Strategy” was part of the trove of John Podesta emails released this month by WikiLeaks.

“Our hope is that the goal of a potential HRC [Hillary Rodham Clinton] campaign and the DNC would be one-in-the-same: to make whomever the Republicans nominate unpalatable to the majority of the electorate. We have outlined three strategies to obtain our goal …,” it reads.

The memo names Ted Cruz, Donald Trump and Ben Carson as candidates, or what the memo calls “Pied Piper” candidates who could push mainstream candidates closer to the positions embraced by the lunatic right. “We need to be elevating the Pied Piper candidates so that they are leaders of the pack and tell the press to [take] them seriously.”

The elites of the two ruling parties, who have united behind Clinton, are playing a very dangerous game. The intellectual and political vacuum caused by the United States’ species of anti-politics, or what the writer Benjamin DeMott called “junk politics,” leaves candidates, all of whom serve the interests of the corporate state, seeking to exaggerate what Sigmund Freud termed “the narcissism of small differences.”

However, this battle between small differences, largely defined by the culture wars, no longer works with large segments of the population. The insurgencies of Trump and Bernie Sanders are evidence of a breakdown of these forms of social control. There is a vague realization among Americans that we have undergone a corporate coup. People are angry about being lied to and fleeced by the elites. They are tired of being impotent. Trump, to many of his most fervent supporters, is a huge middle finger to a corporate establishment that has ruined their lives and the lives of their children. And if Trump, or some other bombastic idiot, is the only vehicle they have to defy the system, they will use him.

The elites, including many in the corporate press, must increasingly give political legitimacy to goons and imbeciles in a desperate battle to salvage their own legitimacy. But the more these elites pillage and loot, and the more they cast citizens aside as human refuse, the more the goons and imbeciles become actual alternatives. The corporate capitalists would prefer the civilized mask of a Hillary Clinton. But they also know that police states and fascist states will not impede their profits; indeed in such a state the capitalists will be more robust in breaking the attempts of the working class to organize for decent wages and working conditions. Citibank, Raytheon and Goldman Sachs will adapt. Capitalism functions very well without democracy.

In the 1990s I watched an impotent, nominally democratic liberal elite in the former Yugoslavia fail to understand and act against the population’s profound economic distress. The fringe demagogues whom the political and educated elites dismissed as buffoons—Radovan Karadzic, Slobodan Milosevic and Franjo Tudman—rode an anti-liberal tide to power.

The political elites in Yugoslavia at first thought the nationalist cranks and lunatics, who amassed enough support to be given secondary positions of power, could be contained. This mistake was as misguided as Franz von Papen’s assurances that when the uncouth Austrian Adolf Hitler was appointed the German chancellor in January 1933 the Nazi leader would be easily manipulated. Any system of prolonged political paralysis and failed liberalism vomits up monsters. And the longer we remain in a state of political paralysis—especially as we stumble toward another financial collapse—the more certain it becomes that these monsters will take power.

Fascism, at its core, is an amorphous and incoherent ideology that perpetuates itself by celebrating a grotesque hypermasculinity, elements of which are captured in Trump’s misogyny. It allows disenfranchised people to feel a sense of power and to have their rage sanctified. It takes a politically marginalized and depoliticized population and mobilizes it around a utopian vision of moral renewal and vengeance and an anointed political savior. It is always militaristic, anti-intellectual and contemptuous of democracy and replaces culture with nationalist and patriotic kitsch. It sees those outside the closed circle of the nation-state or the ethnic or religious group as diseased enemies that must be physically purged to restore the health of nation.

Many of these ideological elements are already part of our system of inverted totalitarianism. But inverted totalitarianism, as Sheldon Wolin wrote, disclaims its identity to pay homage to a democracy that in reality has ceased to function. It is characterized by the anonymity of the corporate centers of power. It seeks to keep the population passive and demobilized. I asked Wolin shortly before he died in 2015 that if the two major forms of social control he cited—access to easy and cheap credit and inexpensive, mass-produced consumer products—were no longer available would we see the rise of a more classical form of fascism. He said this would indeed become a possibility.

Bill Clinton transformed the Democratic Party into the Republican Party. He pushed the Republican Party so far to the right it became insane. Hillary Clinton is Mitt Romney in drag. She and the Democratic Party embrace policies—endless war, the security and surveillance state, neoliberalism, austerity, deregulation, new trade agreements and deindustrialization—that are embraced by the Republican elites. Clinton in office will continue the neoliberal assault on the poor and the working poor, and increasingly the middle class, that has defined the corporate state since the Reagan administration. She will do so while speaking in the cloying and hypocritical rhetoric of compassion that masks the cruelty of corporate capitalism.

The Democratic and Republican parties may be able to disappear Trump, but they won’t disappear the phenomena that gave rise to Trump. And unless the downward spiral is reversed—unless the half of the country now living in poverty is lifted out of poverty—the cynical game the elites are playing will backfire. Out of the morass will appear a genuine “Christian” fascist endowed with political skill, intelligence, self-discipline, ruthlessness and charisma. The monster the elites will again unwittingly elevate, as a foil to keep themselves in power, will consume them. There would be some justice in this if we did not all have to pay.

Neoliberalism is creating loneliness

Illustration by Andrzej Krauze
Illustration by Andrzej Krauze

There are plenty of secondary reasons for this distress, but it seems to me that the underlying cause is everywhere the same: human beings, the ultrasocial mammals, whose brains are wired to respond to other people, are being peeled apart. Economic and technological change play a major role, but so does ideology. Though our wellbeing is inextricably linked to the lives of others, everywhere we are told that we will prosper through competitive self-interest and extreme individualism.

In Britain, men who have spent their entire lives in quadrangles – at school, at college, at the bar, in parliament – instruct us to stand on our own two feet. The education system becomes more brutally competitive by the year. Employment is a fight to the near-death with a multitude of other desperate people chasing ever fewer jobs. The modern overseers of the poor ascribe individual blame to economic circumstance. Endless competitions on television feed impossible aspirations as real opportunities contract.

Consumerism fills the social void. But far from curing the disease of isolation, it intensifies social comparison to the point at which, having consumed all else, we start to prey upon ourselves. Social media brings us together and drives us apart, allowing us precisely to quantify our social standing, and to see that other people have more friends and followers than we do.

As Rhiannon Lucy Cosslett has brilliantly documented, girls and young women routinely alter the photos they post to make themselves look smoother and slimmer. Some phones, using their “beauty” settings, do it for you without asking; now you can become your own thinspiration. Welcome to the post-Hobbesian dystopia: a war of everyone against themselves.

Is it any wonder, in these lonely inner worlds, in which touching has been replaced by retouching, that young women are drowning in mental distress? Arecent survey in England suggests that one in four women between 16 and 24 have harmed themselves, and one in eight now suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder. Anxiety, depression, phobias or obsessive compulsive disorder affect 26% of women in this age group. This is what a public health crisis looks like.

If social rupture is not treated as seriously as broken limbs, it is because we cannot see it. But neuroscientists can. A series of fascinating papers suggest that social pain and physical pain are processed by the same neural circuits. This might explain why, in many languages, it is hard to describe the impact of breaking social bonds without the words we use to denote physical pain and injury. In both humans and other social mammals, social contact reduces physical pain. This is why we hug our children when they hurt themselves: affection is a powerful analgesic. Opioids relieve both physical agony and the distress of separation. Perhaps this explains the link between social isolation and drug addiction.

Experiments summarised in the journal Physiology & Behaviour last month suggest that, given a choice of physical pain or isolation, social mammals will choose the former. Capuchin monkeys starved of both food and contact for 22 hours will rejoin their companions before eating. Children who experience emotional neglect, according to some findings, suffer worse mental health consequences than children suffering both emotional neglect and physical abuse: hideous as it is, violence involves attention and contact. Self-harm is often used as an attempt to alleviate distress: another indication that physical pain is not as bad as emotional pain. As the prison system knows only too well, one of the most effective forms of torture is solitary confinement.

It’s unsurprising that social isolation is strongly associated with depression, suicide, anxiety, insomnia, fear and the perception of threat. It’s more surprising to discover the range of physical illnesses it causes or exacerbates. Dementia, high blood pressure, heart disease, strokes, lowered resistance to viruses, even accidents are more common among chronically lonely people. Loneliness has a comparable impact on physical health to smoking 15 cigarettes a day: it appears to raise the risk of early death by 26%. This is partly because it enhances production of the stress hormone cortisol, which suppresses the immune system.

Studies in both animals and humans suggest a reason for comfort eating: isolation reduces impulse control, leading to obesity. As those at the bottom of the socioeconomic ladder are the most likely to suffer from loneliness, might this provide one of the explanations for the strong link between low economic status and obesity?

Anyone can see that something far more important than most of the issues we fret about has gone wrong. So why are we engaging in this world-eating, self-consuming frenzy of environmental destruction and social dislocation, if all it produces is unbearable pain? Should this question not burn the lips of everyone in public life?

There are some wonderful charities doing what they can to fight this tide, some of which I am going to be working with as part of my loneliness project. But for every person they reach, several others are swept past.

This does not require a policy response. It requires something much bigger: the reappraisal of an entire worldview. Of all the fantasies human beings entertain, the idea that we can go it alone is the most absurd and perhaps the most dangerous. We stand together or we fall apart.