Friend versus enemy, faithful versus corrupted, good versus evil: choose your favorite dichotomy because it doesn’t matter which you pick. They’re all versions of the same lowest common denominator melodrama, designed to misdirect our attention (and our faith, our emotions) in dead-end rhetorical battles. Governments, corporations, institutions, vested interests, city halls, interest groups, lobbyist organizations: all use the same methodology.
Take the election circus. Competing forces appear locked in fierce debate over the vital well-being of the electorate. Frontline politicians argue diametrically opposing positions based on cherry-picked versions of the facts, driven by conviction they’re essential to fulfilling their own predictions of future triumph; or else doom. Party supporters work hand in glove with media local affiliates, regulating info flow, amplifying “loyal” pro-active useful content. The band had never expected its fan base to last so long.
So much energy, so much coverage, by so many people.
It becomes impossible for individuals like you and me to ignore; yet the entire paradigm is a waste of time. Every moment spent locked in the polarized tribal dynamic is a moment surrendered to a designed misdirection, energy better placed elsewhere but consumed by ephemeral ‘storm-in-a-teacup’ rhetoric.
Democracy is a much-abused concept.
It’s used to justify specific actions that affect a population, but for which no direct popular mandate exists. “Extended coronavirus lockdown is the democratic will of Americans,” say governors and government. This is patently nonsense since no election involving the coronavirus has occurred.
It’s used to misdirect an absence of democracy in the decision-making power dynamics of government. “The British electorate chose Boris Johnson as Prime Minister in 2019, therefore, because Boris Johnson wants the UK to become a deregulated cash-cow for a cabal of big capital corporate raiders, the government will declare that the British public wants to cut up the National Health Service for sale, grifting trillions of dollars in tax revenues into the hands of private business.” No voter voted for that.
The reality of universal suffrage in most modern democracies, especially those with a winner-takes-all electoral system, is soft-face authoritarian government by corporate political party monoliths.
America, Britain and most of Europe use versions of this corrupted democratic model. They’re saved from the most egregious extremes of totalitarianism (e.g. China, Russia, North Korea) by a slender drop of real democracy: every two, four or five years (depending on the country) the citizens may vote. Election day is the only day America and Britain can claim to be democratic societies.
The correct definition of democracy isn’t the vote. It’s the accountability.
Entrenched power uses misdirection to amplify the democratic moment – the election day – into its frontline tactic to keep the public narrative busy. It coerces public discourse to fixate on the voting day, dredging up arguments about electoral college, party tribalism, constituency boundaries, etc, to frame the ballot in the tried-and-tested polarized, oppositional terms. Same old, same old.
The correct definition of democracy isn’t the vote. It’s the accountability.
Contrary to whatever superficial ephemera is occupying the front pages of public debate, it’s the evasion of accountability that’s the fundamental agenda of government and “opposition” – of all power dynamics. Nothing else matters unless this accountability is ring-fenced away from the electorate; especially on voting day.
Democracy without accountability has become a ‘lie in the title‘ paradigm, and democracy without accountability has created today’s world. Election day IS a moment of risk, for entrenched power, but never one to miss an opportunity, the ballot gets appropriated into fuel for the engine of propaganda misdirection, i.e. an absolute mandate for the 364/365 days wielding power without accountability. Democracy in name only, a ‘lie in the title‘ paradigm.
We elected Donald Trump, President of the United States, in November 2016. Trump rhetoric has dominated the public face of politics in America ever since and it’s easy to get lost in the nonsense excess of his hyperbole. Sometimes it translates into policy, but often not. Most of the legislation enacted during the Trump first term has been bipartisan, kept away from public scrutiny (and therefore accountability). Trump is a useful cat’s paw for evasion of accountability.
It may be helpful to see the national conversation as an organically developing pantomime, set in motion decades ago. It’s populated by a comic-strip cast of self-serving professional salesmen and saleswomen, heading up a vast propaganda machinery, working for big capital and entrenched lineage corporate wealth.
The drop of democracy (election day) becomes a stamp of legitimacy, the consent of millions of faithful suckers, used as a robust modern-day stability mechanism built to sweep Americans from one election to the next; without having to account to them in any genuine sense. Keep the public busy. Keep the public away from interfering with the plans of entrenched power. So long as this continues, the unelected corporate aristocracy can run the country, exploit the public and grow in wealth (and power) with no meaningful check on their ambition.
But let’s say a group of like-minded, enlightened citizens wanted to affect these established power dynamics. Perhaps they want to help a demographic of poor, disenfranchised Americans. The task would be challenging.
Organised, entrenched power and its monopoly of institutional machinery of authority, including politicians, law enforcement and the media, can resist push-back from the population. Resistance, if there’s a threat, is aggressive and ruthless.
The enlightened citizens will have to compete with extant power in the arena of public propaganda. Focus will resolve into a battle on election day, if the enlightened citizens don’t get bought out or stamped out beforehand. The electorate will face media-curated versions of the citizens as insurgents, rebels, immoral, scandalous, faithless, whatever dirt that sticks.
On the other side will be the establishment candidates, advocated as safe, devil-you-know choices, backed by grand public-facing facades of political institutions and playing on ingrained conventions. Mistakes by the enlightened citizens get highlighted, transgressions punished by police enforcers and court-imposed letter of the law.
The structures of control, under the command of an authoritarian class, enjoy the implicit threat of standing military force. Don’t make the mistake of being lulled into a false sense of security by the feeble politician-salesmen. The establishment is not a weak setup. It is well-manned, well-managed, and it knows the territory intimately.
Meanwhile, with or without a non-establishment candidate on a particular election day, the atomized public remains perpetually mesmerized by arguments between manufactured tribes. Individuals get inevitably drawn into a team identity, kept in line by the respective team enforcers. It’s a lowest common denominator groupthink.
Options are limited. Long-term infiltration of established authoritarian structures by honest public servants is highly unlikely. Grift and in-group out-group tests will exclude the honest candidate as a likely disruption. All-out rebellion is implausible. It would be ineffective. The only workable point of push-back is that rare election day, if it offers an honest choice at all. It’s the only window of accountability.
Needless to say, party political activity reaches fever pitch around the election day, converging its considerable resources (media, influencers, politicians, party machines, local foot-soldiers, canvassers, etc) to nail down the desired result – if possible – but, above all, work in conspiracy with the established political establishment to resist accountability.
Good versus Evil tribalism is the frontline of entrenched power’s misdirection of the voter public. It’s the go-to dynamic for pushing an electorate into dead-end polarizations. It’s an inertia guiding debate into harmless internecine, propagated by media-friendly channels. It’s organic, sympathetic to the need for clickbait personality headlines – gossip fodder, engaging without needing to know anything – and a perpetual catalyst for personal flashpoints of conflict that quickly subsume the original disagreement and, in so doing, emphasize the tribal battle-lines. What a dirty, cynical dynamic; and difficult to resist.
Until a significant proportion of the electorate sees through the false polarization bullshit, throws away groupthink tribalism, and, instead, somehow holds public discourse steady on interrogating facts, exposing demonstrable details and above all apolitically imposing ACCOUNTABILITY, the current authoritarian exploitation of cannon fodder voter-millions will continue. Without end.
Welcome to the House of Fun.