Collected Thoughts

April 2016
April 1, 2016

As some of you may have noticed I haven’t posted here for a while. Now that April’s here, I’m going to start posting again more regularly.

The latest meme on the political talk shows is that Bernie Sanders is doing well of late, but he’s too far behind Hillary Clinton to have a realistic chance of catching up. There is no need for evidence to support this meme because it has become lodged in the brain of the establishment. And what the establishment thinks is true has to be true because, you know, it’s the establishment.

Robert Reich had a good column just yesterday -- titled “They’ve marginalized Bernie at Every Turn” -- explaining how this works. You can’t say there’s some kind of conspiracy against Bernie at work, says Reich. The mainstream media is incapable of concocting a conspiracy. Rather what happens is that “the national media exist inside the bubble of establishment politics, centered in Washington” and, furthermore, “the bubble of establishment power” is centered in New York. So, we have two establishment bubbles which determine how people who are important think. They can’t think any other way if they’re going to be important, and being important to them is far, far more desirable than consulting evidence or finding truth.

Many people have difficulty imagining that I actually mean what I’m saying here. But I do. I am saying that if a person is among the group Mark Halperin used to call “the gang of 500,” he or she is very unlikely to be able to hold in mind the possibility that the establishment could be mistaken. And this inability prevails despite the establishment’s having been shown to be mistaken over and over again. It doesn’t matter how often they have been wrong. They are going to be right now. It is impossible for them not to be right.

This is how a bubble mind works. If something is not pronounced to be indubitable within the bubble, then it simply has no chance of existing.

Last fall, when the Democratic primary race for the presidency got underway, Hillary Clinton was announced as the inevitable nominee. She would be able to raise far more money than anyone else and thereby sweep aside any supposed rival. Bernie Sanders had no access to big money, and without keys to the big money doors, no one had a chance to mount a creditable campaign. Besides, no one had ever heard of him, whereas everyone had heard of Hillary. And as everyone knew, name recognition was the second most important asset in winning a national race, and it was impossible to acquire one between the fall of 2015 and the spring of 2016. Everyone who counted knew that and, therefore, everyone who was in the establishment knew it. Bernie Sanders’s campaign was nothing more than a joke.

Tens of thousands of persons signed on with Hillary Clinton for those reasons alone. They didn’t bother with how her views accorded with the views of the citizenry because it was assumed the citizenry didn’t have any views which would actually influence how they voted.

A third reason for Hillary’s invulnerability was her experience. She had more than anybody else. It didn’t matter what her experience was. It didn’t matter what her experience would lead her to do. It didn’t matter what kind of abilities her experience would provide her. She had it, and simply having it was the thing. Bernie Sanders, by contrast, had virtually none. He had been in government as a long as she had. But all the things he had done in government didn’t count as experience. Very few cared much what it did count as. That was because they didn’t think about it. In bubble mind, of course, experience means simply one thing: having had your picture on television a great deal. In bubble mind, no one asks what a person has learned from his or her experience. No one asks if one is capable of learning. The experience has occurred and the testimony to its occurrence is a great many hours of exposure on television, and, especially, many hours of exposure on mainstream network television. Experience is frequent exposure on a certain sort of TV. That’s it, in bubble mind that is.

It is hard to exaggerate the degree to which thinking as other people think guarantees that one is right in the mind of the establishment.

So here we are now, in April 2016, in a situation the establishment would have told you -- in fact did tell you six months ago -- was impossible. But it’s having become possible does not, in any way, shake the establishment’s pure faith in its own omniscience. That’s because omniscience is the permanent feature of the establishment -- by definition.

The main reason I want Bernie Sanders to become the Democratic nominee is I’m confident that he, as president, would do more for the well-being of the American people than any other candidate. He is stronger, steadier, more dedicated, and more knowledgeable than any of the other contenders. But I’ll also confess that a second reason is that I would enjoy immensely listening to the establishment explain how they remain omniscient, even though they assured us that it was impossible for Bernie Sanders to carry out a creditable and successful campaign against Clinton.

I would not expect to hear the establishment acknowledge they had been mistaken in any way. Yet you have to admit that hearing them defend their inevitable rightness would be a lot of fun.

April 11, 2016

The most significant political discourse of our time has to do not with the differences between the Democratic and Republican parties but rather with differences among groups who continue to call themselves Democratic. The most dangerous political group in the nation at the moment is neither the Tea Party nor the indignant yahoos supporting Donald Trump. Instead, it is that as yet unnamed foggy mass who wants to hold onto a reputation for decent morality while keeping the nation on a course that won’t produce results markedly different from the desires of the established center of either party.

“Wait a minute!” I can hear a critic gasping. “He can’t be saying he thinks there’s greater difference between Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton than there is between Clinton and Cruz/Trump.” And then I would have to reply, “Yes, critic, that’s exactly what I do think.”

I would be careful to acknowledge that there are some differences between Clinton and the Republican front runners, and even admit that those differences have importance. That’s why if I were forced to choose between Hillary and Donald Trump I wouldn’t have any difficulty in voting for her. If Clinton were president, everyday life for ordinary citizens would be eased somewhat. The insane economic inequality afflicting the country now would be diminished slightly. There would probably be a less frenetic resort to jails and prisons whenever some hyped-up threat raised its head.  And the overt racism infecting the nation’s criminal justice system would have to carry out its impulses less blatantly. The tone of the national discourse would appear more civilized, and that, after the floods of vulgarity we’ve been swimming in lately, wouldn’t be nothing.

Even so, when we consider the most serious difficulties the nation is facing, we need to admit that the treatment a Clinton administration would apply would be in the nature of band-aids, and would scarcely launch the kind of turnarounds necessary to transform the nation into a genuinely democratic society in which every citizen could rely on public policies designed to insure fair and honest response to basic human needs. We would remain a cruel society with a moderately more sympathetic face.

Whether it were President Clinton or President Trump, our foreign policy would remain essentially imperialistic. Our national treasure would be devoted more to military power than to quality of life for our citizens. Making sure that unchecked corporate development received stronger support than civil rights would continue to be the governmental norm. There would be no check on the growth of an intrusive surveillance state. American wars of aggression would be ever more loudly heralded as the principal feature of U.S. “leadership.”

In other words, the United States would slip farther away from a genuinely democratic republic. The goal of personal creativity would become less a feature of the American dream, replaced by the notion that vast wealth is the only measure of real success in the United States.

Thomas Frank’s new book, Listen Liberal: Or Whatever Happened to the Party of the People?, spells out succinctly how a professionalized elite, eager to call itself “democratic,” has challenged the old money barons as the true aristocracy of American society. And though money is not the whole meaning of life for this group, which likes to see itself as a meritocracy, money certainly is a key element of their self-identity. You can’t find more thorough representatives of this elite than the Clintons, who once they stepped out of public life began to pursue wealth with an avidity that shocks most people when they become aware of it. The stipends the Clintons receive simply for showing up at Wall Street shindigs and delivering a few remarks that require no more effort to put together than it takes the average school teacher to prepare a lesson strike the average wage earner as obscene.

Why do you suppose Hillary has been so steadfast in refusing to make public the texts of speeches for which she makes more than $200,000? As Les Leopold, Director of the Labor Institute in New York, points out, “those talks would show the side Hillary has trained herself to hide from the public.” She doesn’t want voters who work long hours for $20,000 a year to know who her friends, her supporters, and her friends, actually are. She wants, rather, for the general public to believe she understands and sympathizes with their problems because she has lived them. And that’s simply not the case. This is not to say that wealthy people can’t care about the problems of the middle class and the poor, and work to alleviate them. But it does tell us that Hillary Clinton and her associates want a world in which people like themselves can -- and do -- receive vast sums for small efforts. And such a world invariably produces societies in which large sectors of society will suffer financial inequities.

The difference between Sanders and Clinton lies precisely in their comparative understanding of how corrupt Western wealth has become. Sanders knows the corruption is vast. Clinton thinks it just needs a little tinkering around the edges to clean it up a bit. The difference in those viewpoints constitutes a chasm, one far broader than establishment thought has yet begun to face.

©John R. Turner

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