Let’s torture three expressions used, recycled and abused in journalism and public discourse that rose to high putrefaction in the recent election cycle in which this country finally threw its pretenses down the sewer.
We have to get them out of our vocabulary. After this article, anyone who uses them or accepts their validity from politicians or the chattering classes is in a new identity box – the political Left Behind class.
NOLAscape has to find its way back to local stuff. Has to. But for these weeks, we (NOLAscape’s vast research, social media and admin staff – can you see them back there? – and me) have been choking on the extended nightmare of the election aftermath, which doesn’t look like it is going to end anytime soon. What we used to call Western Civilization, or at least the American branch, is charging cheerfully into a new Dark Age. We have good seats to watch the show, but we don’t know whether it is a farce or a Jacobean tragedy. An incursion of baboons into the columned imitation Roman palaces of the Empire’s Washington ganglion might be a clue. A big league clue.
Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.
I have to write Trump and his creep-out family and zombie entourage out of my system. Get it written, corrected, edited, printed and stashed in the bottom drawer, so we can get back to important stuff, like sleaze in the HDLC, bicycle theft and Mayor Teflon’s Olde-Time Extravaganza of Illusiion.
That’s In the Coming Attractions. I am still in a Groundhog Day trap: watching for Trump’s cheap shot of the day. You can’t finish anything, because the next distraction is being pecked out on on the twitter-phone as your fingers tremble over the keyboard. It won’t stop, because that is what our co-citizens elected: a noisy non-stop fountain of crazy, a barnyard ringmaster trying out a bigger farm with more chickens to pluck. In the gentle words of Samantha Bee, “An oddly tinted compilation of psychiatric symptoms.”
The fun has ramped up now. As a ratings-grab alternative to intelligently shutting his gob for once, the looper-elect picked a fight with the CIA about Russian influence on his election “win.” (He lost by 2.6 million votes so far, so stole the office. He’s used to that sort of thing.) So the CIA is leaking carefully worded “secret” reports suggesting that the Buffoon-in-Chief is Putin’s man in Washington. I don’t think his pick for head of the agency, Pompeo, will be able to do much about it. The CIA has a deep bench of career guys whose job has been to spy, dissimulate, undermine and assassinate, trained for the international long game. All part of the error you could see in Trumps’ campaign: he thought if he won, people would be afraid of him, and follow his orders.
If Tillerson gets past the Senate, Trump may try to dump his Russian problems on him. That may draw the fire of some of his loyal voters and the entourage, but it won’t deflect the spy establishment. He may already be in the crosshairs. I can see a movie where Betsy De Vos gets her brother’s mercenary army to try to protect Trump from the CIA’s remaining drone controls while he is trying to swat away impeachment for violations of the emoluments clause and some state warrants for abuse and financial stuff that the CIA’s hackers, as good as the Russians, will leak to Democratic governors.
I will try to find something original to say in the righteous struggle to flush this gang down the sewer soon. First, I have to start a new feature: cleaning up our language. Getting rid of political band-aids on boils on the bum of progress. The noble task of recovering meaning. Here are the three for now:
“People of color.”
Let’s do “working families” first, a political euphemism that fogs discussion and reality (what’s left of it) derailing political discourse and holding Americans back from engagement with international political discourse.
Unfortunately overused by Tribunes of the People Bernie Sanders, the “avowed socialist” who should know better, and Elizabeth Warren, inadvertently undermining their constituency, this flaccid expression dumbs us down.
The working class has been a concept in economics and political science since Marx and Engels published The Communist Manifesto in 1848, just as a series of revolutions in Europe were getting ripe, then analytically reinforced by the publication of Capital in 1867.
“The history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles. Freeman and slave, patrician and plebeian, lord and serf, guild-master and journeyman, in a word, oppressor and oppressed, stood in constant opposition to one another, carried on an uninterrupted, now hidden, now open fight, a fight that each time ended, either in a revolutionary reconstitution of society at large, or in the common ruin of the contending classes.”
But we of the Land of the Free could not be trusted with real language. Starting with Woodrow Wilson and the first Red Scare, then into the HUAC and McCarthy periods of social terror, Americans allowed their cultural evolution to be stunted by the elected, appointed, unappointed (and disappointed) censorship class treating us as children, who can be trusted with guns but not ideas. You could have been busted for saying “class struggle” in the wrong room. When I was a kid, we were taught that the Soviet Union imposed and brutally enforced strict censorship and fed the Russian people propaganda – unlike us, the free society, the free people. It took us – well, me, anyway – a few decades to work out that we were growing up in the most sophisticated system of propaganda, censorship and manufactured consent in the world. The objective was not to resolve the mutating social struggle, but to obscure it to protect status quo – in other words, the exploitative players, the ruling class behind the political oppos. It worked; about 50% of United States voters now vote against their own material interests. “Values voters.” We’ll find a way to explore what that means.
Stalin was the bogeyman back then. Few of us realized that we had been trained to thought-police ourselves, and many or. even most of them would not say it out loud. You can argue that it was better than jackboots and the gulag, but freedom of thought it was not. We the people, the citizens beyond class of the self-appointed Greatest Country on Earth – we let guns be cast as our defense of illusory liberty, while clear thinking, good public education and the tools of economic and social awareness available to our European co-civilizationists were denied.
The exemplary legislators of HUAC, J. Edgar Hoover, McCarthy, that promising young political personality Richard Milhous Nixon and the Ministry of Magic protected us from ourselves. If we accidentally said the secret words without being locked up or losing our job, union members would burn down the Ford factory and we would all live in the Soviet Socialist Republic of Amryka. “Working class” was airbrushed out of the conversation. We were all captains of industry temporarily marking time on the assembly line, waiting for the moment to make our move. Eventually, Ronald Reagan weaponized dreams and visions to disable social democracy here and in several other countries. Saying “working class” might magically disappear the social mobility that we were told the US uniquely had – upwardly mobile to the aspirational two car garage and daily commute. (Don’t laugh – the American suburbanization explosion was a huge driver of the comfortably segregated prosperity of the 50s, which is probably the model for the “AGAIN” on Trump’s hat.)
Back in the days of grainy black and white news, the obscene McCarthy’s sidekick, the even slimier Roy Cohn (who, after cynically managing one of twentieth century America’s most shameful fits of internal oppression, eventually became Trump’s lawyer and legal evasion teacher) and the acquiescent classes protected us from the Red Menace with blacklists, betrayal and loyalty oaths. Keep those reds under the bed.
Keep those tactics in mind; we may see their like again soon.
Now, they keep us safe from Radical Islamic Terrorists. Keep America Safe Again.
There are three pillars of analysis in economics: Adam Smith, John Maynard Keynes and Karl Marx. An economics student does not turn you into an “-ist” any more than e=mc2 turns a physicist into a nuclear warrior. But you can guess which one’s work has been almost absent from American universities.
“Working families,” the current politician’s euphemism for the proper economic descriptor, makes subliminal reference to “family values” and all that hokey Americana, mixing Evangelism with apple pie. It strokes the soft underbellies of Republicans of both parties. Currently near the head of the list of terms used to confuse us with approved duopoly messaging, working families reeks of condescension. The image is of desperate people focused on an illusion. Some of our best pols, like Elizabeth Warren, dig it deeper: working families that play by the rules.
“Working families” suggests a silent, slow, passive demographic who missed the boat. Standing sadly on the shore watching it sail away, they really wanted to be players in the capitalist meritocracy, but they just didn’t have what it takes.
Republicans and Trumpists hear that as the condescension it is. They know that the smarter cookie, like their grotesque hero, ignores rules and norms, rips people off, spends his money on bad taste bling, and surrounds himself with lawyers to keep him out of jail.
The working class, though, is a tougher, more dangerous kettle of fish. Since 1848, working class does not generate an image of the cubicle-compliant Dilbert class. The core of the working class is there because they want to be. They wanted work that ends at five o’clock, that supports a family and leaves enough at the end of the week for a couple of pints down the pub. Before the dumbing-down, they had theatre and literature, political and scientific discussion. They are workers, not left-behind bosses lamenting their diminished lot. But they do not want to be unacceptably exploited to the point of oppression either. The real working class does not want or need to be fed bullshit by the political and middle management sycophants of the oligarchy.
They’re still out there. The Reagan delusions changed their name and pulled their claws. Let’s use the right words and bring them back.
The working class looks the state in the eye and says: Keep this robbery up and we will put you down. The working class knows which end of the pitchfork has the sharp points. Working families suffer in silence, waiting for a savior. (It probably comes from the evolution of American Christianity, but that is for another NOLAscape.)
And why do you have to be in a “family” anyway? Single people work.
(And why do you have to work? That’s a question for the advanced class.)
Most cops and soldiers come from the working class, whose real name we are giving back. I don’t know if they tell the elected politicians, but the Deep State knows from watching East Europe in 1989 that American cops might shoot into a Black Lives Matter march, and maybe lash out some injury at the DAPL protests, but it is uncertain whether they will shoot into a crowd that might contain their parents, children and friends.
They know that when the police and the soldiers put the safety on and holster the guns, it’s over. Erich Honecker lasted barely seven days after the East German police refused to shoot into crowds of civilians.
They know that empires can fall over fast. The Roman Empire dwindled slowly over hundreds of years, until all that was left was Byzantium, finally conquered by the Ottomans in 1453. But empires can also go down fast. The Soviet Union declared itself over December 26th, 1991, after a few decades of officially sanctioned alternative reality. Signs are, Americans have a higher BS tolerance than Russians, so might hold out longer when the curtain is pulled away and the kleptocracy is live on TV.
Ditch “working families,” a soggy term that draws a picture of a disordered mush of passive, sad, silent screwees. Bring back the working class. It will make the disintegrating neoliberal consensus and Trump’s menagerie squirm in their seats, and tell aspiring saviors to keep it real.
So scare the fish: working class, not working families.
Next: “avowed socialist” to be struck from the list of approved political terms of obfuscation.
© NOLAscape December 2016