Collected Thoughts

February 2016
February 2, 2016

I have wanted to like Hillary Clinton. I have wanted to support her campaign for the presidency. I have sympathized with her over the false and vicious attacks Republican mad dogs have launched against her and her husband. Yet for all that, reading more about her has caused any sense I had that she is primarily committed to the well-being of the American people to fade away.

Her repeated claim that she knows how to work the system is exactly what scares me about her.

If one is deep inside a basically corrupt system, the poison of it begins to seep in through osmosis. One may tell herself that she’s trying to work against the system, but if she’s proud of knowing how to work the system that indicates she’s already a part of it.

I wish all American citizens could read Simon Head’s essay, “The Clinton System,” which appeared in the New York Review Daily on January 30th, think carefully about what it reveals, and then ask whether Hillary is the person we need in the White House. The amount of money Clinton has raked in from gigantic banks and other corporations, as campaign donations, contributions to the Clinton Foundation, and outright personal payments is staggering. These organizations, which are working every day to deepen the financial inequality between themselves and most Americans, don’t give hundreds of millions of dollars away for nothing. Wealthy people pay vast fees just for the privilege of standing on a stage beside Hillary. Why?

You can’t work to be wealthy beyond all measure, and genuinely be dedicated to seeing that financial security is spread among all citizens. One or the other will dominate. The one that’s first will reduce the other to futility.

Consider just two little facts: since 2001, the Clintons have been paid 125 million for lectures, and the donations for Hillary’s campaigns have mounted to 712 million. Who has the money to pay that much to hear lectures, and why are they willing to spend it in that way?

I know more about Hillary’s rival than I do about her. I have been in the same room with Bernie Sanders numerous times. I have encountered him walking down the street and exchanged a few words with him. He has slipped into a booth where I and a few friends were having coffee, and chatted with us a quarter-hour or so. I have never, once, known him to say anything counter to what he is saying on his campaign now. It’s clear to me that he’s an honest man and cares about what he says he cares about. Furthermore, I have followed his political career since he was first elected mayor of Burlington. In every political position he has held he has been shrewd and effective. He can work with the system, but he works with it from the outside and doesn’t use double-talk to make people think he’s an insider. Those who say that Hillary has more political experience than Sanders has have a skewed perspective of what politics is.

It’s clear to me that if the voters of the United States knew the actual records of these two candidates, Sanders would win the Democratic nomination in a landslide. But then, there’s all that money to ensure that voters don’t get the actual records; there’s all that money spent to make people believe something that has been concocted rather than actually lived. Furthermore, there are mountains of money ready to be deployed to keep the actual story of government functioning away from the general population.

It remains uncertain whether the people of the United States will rouse themselves enough to insist that their government work for their benefit. But if they want to do it, they have an opportunity over the next ten months. And who knows how long it will take to give them another chance if they squander this one.

February 3, 2016

It has taken me a very long time to learn something fundamental about my country. And that is the people who control it don’t see me as actually a part of it. And if you’re reading this it’s very unlikely they see you that way either. Neither I nor you are viewed by the controllers as intrinsic elements of the country. Rather, we are the raw materials they use for their purposes. It’s not just that they consider themselves the rightful directors of the nation, it goes farther than that. In their own eyes they are the national reality; they are the part of it that counts.

In these essays over quite a few years now I’ve asked what people mean when they say things such as, “I love my country,” or “I’m always ready to sacrifice myself for my country? What is it, precisely, that they love? What is it they’re ready to sacrifice themselves for? Most people, of course, don’t begin to think about an answer to those questions. The country looms in their minds as some sort of spiritual entity that seeks a good of its own, independent of any good that might be visited on any of its residents. And what is this national good? If you put that question to the average person, he wouldn’t have much of an answer. But if you put it to the controllers, their answer would be clear. The good of the country is power, enough power to control the whole world. Until the country is in control of everything on earth, the country hasn’t been adequately served. And, of course, those who labor to put the country into that position deserve to be rewarded with vast wealth. That’s what the country offers, an opportunity to scramble into the ranks of the controllers and thereby acquire greater wealth than most people ever imagine. That has become the national definition of success.

I’m not suggesting that the heads of gigantic banks, corporate CEOs, directors of intelligence agencies, and major media conglomerates don’t tell themselves that they care about all Americans. But anyone who has followed the history of politics knows that rampant self-deception is a strong feature of the political game. What we the people need to do is not to listen to the economic establishment’s professions but rather to follow its actions. They’re what will teach you what the wealth and security mongers are all about. Their loyalty goes not to the majority of U.S. citizens, but to the control and power of the inner government, a government that feels free to ignore the Constitution whenever it’s to their advantage to do so. Even if they do something so egregious the judicial system can’t ignore it, the plutocrats need fear no personal retribution. Their organizations are fined, usually ten to twenty percent of what they got from their illegal actions. Who would mind being fined a dollar if he gained five dollars from the supposedly impermissible act?

They get away with their deceptions for two reasons. First they have mounted the most ubiquitous propaganda campaign in human history, proclaiming, incessantly, how glorious the nation is -- and glorious precisely because of its stupendous leadership. Second, the people have slipped into intellectual lethargy. They can’t see that anything they do, say, or support makes any difference so, mostly, they give up and turn their heads away from the plunder that’s going on around them.

Propaganda and lethargy are dragging us ever closer to widespread corruption and degraded living conditions for major sectors of the U.S. population.

Is there any way to get off this downward slide? I can’t say, for sure, that there is. But I continue to hope that a large enough percentage of the people will wake up to be able to engage some of their somnolent fellow citizens. That’s what the Bernie Sanders campaign is calling a revolution. And it would be a genuine revolution if a majority of American voters came to recognize how thoroughly they’re being duped.

The question of what this revolution would be seeking is pretty simple. The answer is democracy. The United States has never been as complete a democracy as it has claimed to be, but over the past three decades it has slipped even farther away from anything that can reasonably be termed a democratic republic. Sure, every four years the controllers allow two people to contend for the presidency, but since those in charge wield their wealth and power to screen out anyone who would try genuinely to upset their happy system, they don’t have to worry a great deal about which one wins. Besides, the big show the corporate media make of the presidential race is another source of profit for those on the inside. The Congress poses even less a threat. It has been bought up even more completely than the president has.

So this is the pickle we find ourselves in. However, nothing in human affairs is inevitable. The insiders believe they’re safely in charge, but there is now a greater stirring than there has been for some time. There may even be an opportunity to flip significant portions of the government back into the hands of the people. Millions of people under the age of thirty seem to be facing up to the lives they and their children will have unless there are major changes. But at the moment we remain in uncertainty, with the odds continuing to favor the current ruling system.

February 5, 2016

I regret that the contest between Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton has become contentious, with sharp exchanges between them. But I also think it was inevitable. They do, after all, stand for quite different things. It’s not that they differ only in tactics; they also differ with respect to ends. The country that Sanders wants is not the country that Clinton wants.

She wants a nation where conditions are pretty much as they are now, with some ameliorative changes that will make life for those at the bottom of the financial heap less painful. He wants a nation in which everyone has the decencies of physical life and a genuine opportunity for intellectual growth. Yes, both of them are separated by a chasm from every Republican candidate, and that constitutes a kind of similarity. But it doesn’t take away the contrast of visions.

I’ve noticed in the political debates lately a term that is used more often than it ever has before -- “corporate Democrats.” It denotes people who are convinced that corporate control is the inevitable future of the United States, and who want to steer that control towards being as generous as possible. Their basic political argument is that any effort to break free of corporate control not only will fail, it will also make corporate leaders more surly than they are now and therefore more cruel to ordinary citizens. These people call themselves realists, or as Hillary Clinton puts it, a progressive that gets things done. She doesn’t bother to add that they’ll be fairly little things.

Some people argue that little things are better than nothing. They’re right about that. If that’s all our masters will let us have, we might as well work to get it -- a small batch of little things, that is. But then, there are other people who argue we shouldn’t have corporate masters. They don’t think there’s anything inevitable about corporate rule, and that the reason we have been inveigled into accepting corporate dominion -- which can just as well be called big-money dominion -- is that we haven’t opened our eyes to what’s being done to us and how propaganda has been used to shape our attitudes. In short, they argue that we should free ourselves from the money power and live our lives as we want to live them.

Then, there’s this ancillary factor, which is not inconsiderable. Many people who have somewhat kindly attitudes towards those who are unfortunate still want for themselves the privileges and luxuries of the corporate class leaders. They may not strive mightily for billions, but they do want their millions and tens of millions. In other words, they have a foot in both camps.

I don’t know exactly what the Clintons’ net worth is, but it’s pretty clear it’s in multiple millions and perhaps tens of millions. You don’t get that kind of wealth without chasing after it as an end in itself. Bernie Sanders net worth is about $450,000. The comparison tells us something important about candidates; they are not chasing after the same things. Every poll I’ve seen tells me that people think Sanders is far more honest than Clinton is. If the people’s perception is valid it means that Clinton dares not be fully honest about her personal goals, whereas Sanders can be because he has nothing to lose by it.

The ongoing campaign will clarify further differences that have just begun to emerge. We will see that the goals of the two differ markedly. The country that one wants to come into being will not be much like the country the other is pursuing. And we will have a clear choice.

I hope this won’t require either a dirty or a nasty campaign, but it will require a spirited one. And it will push ordinary voters to ask themselves fundamental questions about their own social desires. Do they wish to live in a society where most people have the means for decently comfortable lives, and, thereby, can pursue individual goals, or do they want a society in which moving into the privileged economic classes remains the overweening definition of success?

You can’t have both, and the debate between Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton may make that more understandable than ever before.

February 13, 2016

If we had to reduce the race for the Democratic presidential nomination to two words, they should be glory versus decency.

Hillary Clinton is a long-time member of the Washington power elite. When she considers the good of the country she is thinking mainly of the power of the national government. And in her mind that power is seated in two conditions: vast wealth and virtually unlimited military hegemony. These are the sources of true glory. These are what bring forth the thrill when crowds view flapping flags accompanied by marching military bands. These are what it is noble to sacrifice lives for. These are what led her to associate herself, recently, with Henry Kissinger, which may have been one of the biggest mistakes of her campaign. Kissinger views power in the same way she does. He has demonstrated that he’s willing to kill millions for it.

Clinton has an agile, quick mind but not a deep one. There is no public evidence that she has ever had a philosophic thought. Her thoughts are concentrated on clambering to the top and pulling the nation to that elevation along with her. If one were to ask her how she defines the “top” she would probably respond with quizzical surprise.  This is not to say that she lacks any secondary motives of a humane nature. She doubtless is concerned about the health and safety of children, and their education, in a fairly conventional job-preparing mode. Still, there is little question of where her primary ambitions lead.

Bernie Sanders, by contrast, cares nothing about national glory. He dare not say so during a political campaign and he’s wise to observe that caution. But you’ll notice he stays away as much as he can from talk about U.S. international dominance, and particularly from discussion of military dominance. He says, outright, that the United States should not view itself as the world’s police force.

Sanders is devoted to the well-being of the mass of ordinary citizens. By well-being he means a healthy diet, comfortable housing, ready access to competent medical care, publicly supplied higher education, and an environment that is not being constantly degraded by corporate rapaciousness. Sanders would be satisfied with a population that contained no billionaires. He knows that money is a form of power, and that when anyone has vast supplies of it, he has the ability to do vast harm. Just as you would not rest easy if you had a neighbor down the street with an atomic bomb in his basement, Sanders can’t rest easy with fellow citizens who can buy whatever they want, regardless of its effect on other people, and he particularly won’t rest easy with those who can buy the government. He thinks the government should belong to all the citizens and not just to those who can pay huge sums to control it.

Sanders is not so much a philosophic thinker as he is a philosophic being. He is philosophic by nature, and this marks his most distinctive difference from his opponent.

Choosing between them shouldn’t be at all difficult. It doesn’t involve much of what’s being discussed by the political pundits. It’s not a matter of which is more realistic. That’s one of the phoniest issues ever put forward. It’s not about who knows how to get things done. Each is pretty good at getting done what he or she wants to get done. It’s not about which is more experienced. Each has had more than adequate experience to know how to address the problems of occupying the White House.

What the campaign is about is the kind of country you want to live in. Which do you want more, a decent country or a glorious country? You should take care not to delude yourself that you can have both in full degree, especially given how “glory” is currently defined. What do you want for your child, a long and complex life capped by a gratifying old age or a hero’s death in some far away war whose purpose can never be clearly explained?

Most basic is whether you see your country as a gigantic power-based organization which exists for its own renown, or a population pursuing thousands of distinct aspirations which can be satisfied only through personal development? Answer that question and you’ll have no trouble answering how you should cast your vote.

©John R. Turner

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