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The Stench of Fear: Buttigieg, Democrats, Trump & Political Crisis

No one can now deny that the Sanderistas have successfully infiltrated the Establishment’s perimeter. Regardless of what many say, and in spite of my allergy to conspiracy epistemes, The Democratic Party neoliberals have coordinated a . . . “strategy” . . . to defeat the existential threat posed by the Sanderista movement.

This Establishment “strategy,” however, has been revised more than once, and is quickly approaching a chaotic bifurcation—one that’s occurring in a dynamic system in which a steady state is suddenly destabilized by what appear to be small initial changes.

“Professionals” and“experts” flounder when paradigms shift.

Politics has been thoroughly professionalized, to the detriment of democratic aspirations. But there’s no Star Chamber, no Illuminati. There are people and institutions who act as an informal (formal, in some cases) steering committee on messaging. Though, because psychological manipulation of the public is central to that now-oft-revised grand plan, these message-managers have needed to make two abrupt azimuth corrections in the last month as their grasp of the situation has became increasingly tenuous.

First, they flocked to Elizabeth Warren when it became apparent to all but the most self-delusional that Biden didn’t have a snowball’s chance in hell of beating his Democratic opponents—and even less of a chance against the Trump campaign when it comes after him with meat axes.

Warren herself has been signaling the DNC that she is available for compromise. Her own strategy in this case, to deal with the left shift in the Democratic electorate and the demographic time bomb of young voters, was to portray herself to the DNC as the stealth anti-Bernie, who’s willing — Hillary style — to talk left in the Primaries and tack right in the General.

The problem was that Warren herself was called on the carpet by the left — who she needs, and which is building an impressive independent communications network. We don’t think she’s trustworthy on Medicare for All, and M4A is the only issue mobilizing the growing left-liberal electorate as passionately as climate change. The left, for example, has been challenging Warren’s weasel-wording on M4A. She began calling it a “framework” and our warning lights lit up even more when she waffled on the tax question during the last debate.

Meanwhile, The DNC/media Establishment held its breath in gleeful anticipation of the death of the Sanderista rebellion when its titular leader landed in the hospital with a coronary embolism — concern-trolling us with fake empathy about this poor old man who was in over his head, after all.

However, then the pressure increased from the center’s chieftains — the insurance and pharmaceutical industries — who fund every cable network that was giving Warren a jillion dollars-worth of free media. The swamis have now reasserted their prerogative.

“Cease and desist with all talk of single payer health care.” The brushfire is getting a little too close for comfort.

Snapping to attention and rendering crisp salutes, the networks turned to the next strategic modification . . . based on their own deluded belief in the transient polls they themselves had pushed.

They were initially convinced that these polls actually did mean that Warren was on the fast track to the nomination, and concomitantly that Sanders was a busted flush.

It’s never a good thing for an organization — even that plasma-like webwork that constitutes ruling class consensus — to start believing its own bullshit. Because — in my army idiom — operational plans are predicated on intelligence and, if your intelligence is faulty in key respects, there’s a very good chance your plan will turn into a blue ribbon goat-fuck. (Switching off army vocab — now.)

We all saw what happened in Iraq and Afghanistan when George W. Bush’s apparatus was making up its own intel, then treating it like it was real. This is more than an analogy. This is the actual history of neoconservatism — a term that went out of fashion when Obama was elected and Democrats decided it was okay to love war again — a history of horrifying failure. This is pertinent because the very same neoconservative bunglers who perfected the art of the SSS, the serial sanguinary screwup, have migrated into the Democratic establishment. MSNBC, the “liberal” channel, constantly features security/surveillance-state neocons like David Frum, Bill Krystal, and even Nichole Wallace, who has her own daily show now.

Nothing says uh-oh quite like a coalition between the architects of the Iraq War and the Hillary Clinton presidential campaign.

The old center, you see, is being hollowed out. But the Democrat-Republican rivalry is not what’s notable about the beginning of this “strategy.” What’s notable is that the whole initial anti-Trump strategy was based on leaks from the security services. The Resistance™ included security/surveillance state institutions — from FBI to CIA — that make the left’s hair stand up on the back of our necks.

Bear in mind, however, that as evil as these security/surveillance state agencies have been in the past, the public’s impression of their insight and competence is inflated. Their true history is littered with epic fails. Great plan, y’all, that Russia thing. You really showed ’em.

Russia faded into a triumphal Republican joke and, as the calendar pages fell, the existential threat of the Sanderista rebellion reared its head. The Establishment went Joe Joe Joe, then Kamala Kamala Kamala, then Joe Joe Joe, then Beto Beto Beto, then Joe Joe Joe, then aw shit Warren Warren Warren, and now . . . after the fourth debate? Pivot again, this time away from Warren Warren Warren — who has now been caught between the left’s profound distrust of her and the insurance lobby’s recalcitrance — to Pete Pete Pete.

Pete Buttigieg. Because he’s young and handsome. Because he can weaponize his identity in the quest for Firsts. Because he’s a veteran. Because he speaks 59 languages and can break dance on the wing of a flying plane. Because he will obey the Masters of Capital and perform credible joy and enthusiasm while he does it.

And so came the fourth “debate.” (These so-called debates make me want to drink Drain-O) Pete was declared the winner on the networks. Not one single independent media outlet agreed, but . . .

For two days after the last “debate,” the media fawned on him. Why? Because during this burlesque he parroted insurance industry anti-M4A talking points like a string doll. He made his war face, too — ooooh, impressive! — and spoke his lines assertively. War face with assertive tone — five points.

They don’t do good research, these people.

Buttigieg is justifiably regarded by Black people — who Democrats need for any victory — as an arch-racist based on his actual racist history as mayor. And today (October 19, 2019), the big Buttigieg story is how he has to apologize and return contributions from the lawyer who tried to conceal the video of the police murder of Laquan McDonald . . . drawing attention to another even higher-profile racist, the former Democratic Mayor of Chicago, Rahm Emanuel — the Gríma Wormtongue of the DP.

“WTF? Damnit!,” you can hear from the denizens of Dupont Circle. They’ve lost the plot. The Democratic establishment is desperate. This is the judder in that old, half-broken table saw right before it starts hopping around the shop floor, throwing sparks and smelling like burnt beans.

How does all this relate to the Donald Trump and the American political crisis?

First, let’s briefly define the political (or constitutional) crisis

(a) The Executive Branch refuses to comply with precedent and law. That’s pretty big.

(b) The opposition can’t refuse to recognize — in the formal legal sense — the authority of the Executive Branch without burning down its own house. That’s baffling to many, but also pretty big.

Now, the danger: © The security/surveillance-state apparatus — which has now sided provisionally with the Democrats — can play the role of national savior, whereupon the re-emergent Democratic establishment, now joined at the hip with the security/surveillance-state, can accomplish a slow, quiet . . . shhhh (coup).

See Matt Taibbi’s piece on this, We’re in a Permanent Coup. I disagree with him about impeachment in this case, but his analysis of how the security/surveillance-state is creeping into position inside the Democratic Party is sound—and revealed all the time in their own partisan media.

Is it dangerous, as Matt Taibbi suggests? Damn skippy it is!

Is the idea of overthrowing Trump attractive to many of us, because . . . well, Trump? Hell yeah!

A 73-year-old private-school adolescent with the intellect of a dung beetle has access to nuclear launch codes . . . so yeah.

Has that blinded many to the dangers of the FBI, CIA, et al? You betcha!

Does that mean we are marching toward a re-consolidated security/surveillance state under new Democratic control? I’m not so sure, but I acknowledge it’s a concern.

My provisional disagreement with Matt Taibbi, whose work I respect immensely, is based partly on my belief that impeachment hearings can’t be controlled once in motion (which I see as a good thing, and will get to later). That doesn’t negate my complete agreement with him that the Democratic establishment is becoming Neoconservatism 2.0 with latent culturally liberal tendencies. Its embrace of the security/surveillance-state will inevitably strengthen that security/surveillance-state . . . but this process has been in motion for decades.

Trump, with no advantage apart from his Caligula-like self-regard and his unpredictability, has inadvertently weakened the security establishment. The fear — which I can’t totally dismiss — is that Democratic centrist managers will restore and enhance security apparatus power with this impeachment gambit, and that power can then be turned on us—the left.

As an aside, I don’t write a lot about “rights” or “equality” or even “civil liberties” because I have too many philosophical reservations about these liberal notions to repeat them uncritically. I do tend to obsess, however, about power, so I’ll let the rights-folk shake this through their own sifter. In terms of power, I’m opposed to marginalization, domination, and violence. These are things that liberal philosophy and law facilitate in their own sly way, by pretending that economic activity is immune to marginalization, domination, and violence.

When it comes to power, the security apparatus of the state, especially the U.S. state, is specifically designed to sustain the (1) dominating position of the U.S. on the world stage (with all its economic inflows) and (2) the political hegemony of the rich at home.

When we rehabilitate the security apparatus to go after Trump, and everyone is cheering like drunken football fans, as I stated before we already know that when they’ve dealt with the threat from the clown car, and become perhaps strengthened even more than they already are, they’ll turn their predator’s gaze on us. For this reason, in any form of (even bourgeois) democratic governance, security apparatuses — and I include especially the military and intelligence services, but also the police — must be placed firmly under outside (meaning civilian, or popular) control.

Here’s why. The security apparatus is a group of military and paramilitary outfits, and they generally obey orders without question. Any loon like Trump who can worm his way into the Oval Office can say to them, “go over there and eat those people”, and they will tuck their napkins into their collars and move out smartly.

Reminding us again — the whole fiasco of Russiagate was inaugurated via leaks from that very security/surveillance-state apparatus when Orange Donnie pissed them off. That was the first impeachment ploy, and it blew up handily in the Establishment’s face.

So the logic goes, since it failed . . . let’s do it again!

Ukrainegate begins with a security/surveillance-state whistleblower. That’s why this is okay with Democrats, but Pelosi’s posse hasn’t touched Trump on emoluments, bribery, abuse of power, incompetence, or serial sexual assault.

At least Ukrainegate is actually tied together with a straw of demonstrable technical criminality by Mango Mussolini himself . . . to which Trump’s people respond by refusing cooperation, or denying the legitimate powers of the legislature . . . and to which the Democrats have no response beyond interminable whining and finger-wagging.

Yes, they are abject cowards and compulsive CYA-ers, but they also have to legally recognize executive authority (which they helped increase during every Democratic administration). They have to recognize “the office,” but — and here’s where liberalism’s philosophical foundation is full of termites — they can no longer afford to separate “the office” from the person occupying it.

From FDR’s war apparatus, to Truman’s National Security State, to Eisenhower’s “police actions,” to LBJ’s escalations in Vietnam and Nixon’s bombings, to Carter’s failed Iran Raid, to Reagan’s war on communism, to Clinton’s “humanitarian wars,” to Bush I and Panama and Bush II in the Middle East, to Obama expanding Bush wars to seven countries and generalizing the use of unilateral drone assassinations, to . . . oops, who’s this? War is always a great excuse for strengthening executive power . . . unity of command and all that. And increasing executive power has been a bipartisan effort.

Trump’s threat — from the point of view of the Establishment — is that he is, through his own impressive stupidity, is exposing the rot at the center of the whole U.S. liberal enterprise . . . that would be a gendered, racialized capitalist enterprise. Such is this terrible impasse.

Impeachment, then.

Matt Taibbi probably knows this terrain better than me, but I don’t have much confidence that the Establishment can keep the process under its control. He notes in his article that he’s seen a couple of coups. That much we have in common. I was working through the U.S. Embassy in Guatemala City in 1983 when General Mejia Victores wrested the government from the Rios-Montt clique; and I was crawling over a panicked crowd to board a plane at Toussaint L’Overture Airport in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, when the U.S. military was kidnapping the democratically elected president, Jean Bertrand Aristide. Yes, coups can be chaotic, though in Guatemala the transition was pretty smooth and the public hardly batted an eye.

The current coup attempt, as I see it, is back-dropped by both an election and a swelling left/Social Democratic front that is prosecuting its own battle as an insurgent force inside the Democratic Party. Context matters, and new contexts carry a lot of unpredictability. I might also add that security services undermining a president is not new. I have no proof, but there is a lot of circumstantial evidence that a policy of undermining is what the CIA station chief organized in Haiti against Bill Clinton during something called the “Harlan County Incident,” when Clinton began to talk about returning Aristide (to the chagrin of CIA asset and Haitian coup-maker Emmanuel “Toto” Constant).

One of the fears many have — which I understand but question — is that Trump’s base, that immovable object that is like 37 percent or whatever, has expressed its willingness to start a civil war, making all kinds of doomsday prepper noises and sporting firearms at public events and buying really big trucks to compensate for their really flaccid dicks.

All that chest-thumping might scare some, but I’ve known plenty of these nimrods. Most Trumpers live in the suburbs, which means they have mortgages, if they’re still working. They should be careful they don’t throw off their cardiac rhythms during the war, and remember their pill organizers. When their average age — suburban and rural — is about 65 years old (I’m days away from 68), I doubt they’ll mount commando raids any time soon. So, I’m going go out on the limb that predicts they won’t inaugurate a civil war, though they may slap Confederate stickers on their oxygen tanks.

Neither we nor the security services will be facing the Fourth Reich.

The simple resolution, as far as I can see it, is to elect Sanders — handing him that Executive power; but that’s not where we are yet. Impeachment should happen — in my opinion — and I expect it will eventually, even with Pelosian foot dragging, because the public is burning up the phones in Congressional offices. My defense against the Taibbi warning (which, again, I understand) is that even if impeachment hearings are begun, there are enough dissident Congress-critters now to ensure these hearings veer into verboten territory.

Like what?

My first choice — after violation of Posse Comitatus, kidnapping, reckless endangerment, and child abuse — just because it discomfits Democrats — is sex and scandal . . . not the merely salacious stuff, but the stuff that fuels the #metoo movement. Given the general dislocations already happening in the political semiosphere, what could shake things up more than the still unanswered questions about Jeffrey Epstein? At least . . . for starters.

Emoluments is my second choice — for which there is ample evidence, and has been for quite some time, along with naked nepotism.

Here’s the thing about investigations in the digital age, and this gets back to why I think impeachment gives the left an advantage. They can’t be contained. Media is no longer under the hegemonic control of the ruling class, much less the fraction of that class that has sided with the Democrats in this fratricidal war. Every new revelation in the course of a public investigation is now being dissected by a shadow army of the concupiscently curious. And any of them can find a publication platform. How many freelancers are ferreting around the country right now in search of Epstein material for their governing fantasy — the Pulitzer Prize?

Nassim Taleb coined a phrase once, the “black swan,” which has nothing to do with films or dancing or even swans. Actual black swans are rare, and so the term for “an event or occurrence that deviates beyond what is normally expected of a situation and is extremely difficult to predict.”

The September 11, 2001 attacks were a black swan. But more to the point, whereas black swans — the figurative kind — were rare in the past, there are a lot more sightings nowadays.

The Democratic Party is in a state of deep devolution; and this is masked by the deranged devolution of the Republicans, which is more fun to watch . . . in a dark, gallows-humor kind of way. There actually is a very serious political crisis right now — even as we stand on the cusp of another asset-bubble crash. Both are inevitable; and this political crisis is the outcome of a previous asset-bubble crash, by the way. But within this unstable ecology with two devolutionary parties, each of the parties has evolution emerging in the interstices left by devolution.

With Republicans, that evolution-within-devolution is an authoritarian, masculinist, and ethno-nationalist movement. With Democrats, what’s evolving within devolution is the left/social democratic pole. The right is developmentally ahead of the left right now in its ability to affect elections, but the left consistently and overwhelmingly mobilizes more counter-demonstrators than demonstrators during right-wing “actions.” In many respects, the Republicans nouveau electoral advantage is the vestigial remainder of decades of successful gerrymandering; but the left/social democratic front is growing, as more youth reach voting age and more of the Trump cult faces the decision of when to discontinue life support.

Technocrats (Clinton Clubbers) fear both poles, because each relies on the ability to mobilize popular power, to include the kind of power exercised in the streets. This is what they dismiss through the homogenizing abstraction, “populism.” In the end, Centrists share the economic world view of the right, but they have to justify it to a different base. They want Trump out, but their fealty to Big Biz stands firm.

The reason the American political center is disappearing is that more and more people across the board have lost all confidence in politicians. This is a justified reaction, because what both parties have been peddling for over thirty years is exactly what created 2008, which ended up creating Donald Trump . . . and Jair Bolsonaro, Lenin Moreno, Narendra Modi, Marine Le Pen, Viktor Orbán, Michał Marusik, and Nigel Farage.

It also gave us the Sanderistas, the Corbynites, a newly militant labor movement (see Chicago today), a revitalized Black freedom struggle, indigenous resistance, #MeToo, Climate Strike, Extinction Rebellion, and most recently, as social unrest is kicking off around the world, a popular checkmate of the Ecuadoran government and renewed struggles in Haiti (near to my heart), Catalonia, Egypt, Lebanon, and elsewhere.

Destabilization is already entrained. And the risks are there, whether we like it or not.

Impeachment will further destabilize the situation, and for those of us with less actual power . . . as my old Sarge personality might say . . . chaos is our ally if we have the tactical agility to make it so. Strategy has become the straitjacket of the Democratic Party and the Republicans. Let the hearings begin. And prepare to engage those targets of opportunity.

Stan Goff

Stan Goff

Stan Goff is a writer and activist whose first career was in Army Special Operations. He lives in rural Southeast Michigan with his partner Sherry and writes what he calls "gonzo social criticism," which includes books like Hideous Dream, Full Spectrum Disorder, Borderline, Mammon's Ecology, Smitten Gate, and Tough Gynes. A practicing, if heterodox, Catholic, he draws on that tradition as well as feminism, Marxism, Black nationalism, and deep ecology as interpretive frameworks. He is committed to nonviolence.
Stan Goff

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