The New Normal and the Boisterously Silent Coup

Is the rise of Trumplandia the reflection of a “new normal” in American politics? Or, does it rise, as Rebecca Solnit suggests in a remarkable new piece on the Literary Hub website, to the level of a de facto coup that has already occurred? Has the Trump gang already, if not so skillfully, moved to clandestinely transform our constitutionally framed effort at representative democracy into a de facto authoritarian regime? After all, this sitting president is now directly interfering with the independent investigations of the nation’s highest law enforcement institutions that may well lead to his own downfall.

The Coup

Solnit asserts that, “Sabotage of national institutions, laws, standards, and the greater good has been accepted as part of the new normal, which is staggeringly far from normal.” She summarizes the vast array of diverse forms and sources of evidence that have surfaced since Trump began his initial Fake-Run [i] for the presidency. In addition to the myriad personal scandals, an international complex of illicit deal making adds up to a partnership of plunder between the Putin bossed Russian mob of oligarchs, the American pretender to Mob-Boss status and his gang of thugs and fixers of questionable competence and unbounded hutzpah, and just about any unscrupulous politician, here or abroad, who will pay to play.

As Solnit puts it:

Acts that would have been shocking if committed by previous administrations are overshadowed and crowded by equally transgressive acts that pile up into something that would like us to forget that this is not normal.

Solnit argues persuasively that the coup has already happened and that the only question now is what we are going to do about it. Given the damage already done to institutions, climate action, public health and safety, international relations, and above all the already precarious U.S. political culture, it seems that little time and a narrowing range of options remain.

Decades in the Making

One commenter argued that the coup began decades ago, listing a series of political actions by every administration and congress since, supporting the position that the coup was a long slow process of destroying democracy while elevating an increasingly open kleptocratic authoritarian corporate state. He argued that with Johnson’s resounding defeat of Barry Goldwater in 1964 the authoritarian right realized that electoral politics must be undermined to achieve their autocratic goals. Another asserted that the coup began with the assassination of John F. Kennedy. In any case, several scholars have documented the efforts of powerful business interests to suppress democratic control of government and the economy since the imposition of controls on the financial elite under the New Deal.

Unfortunately, as is so common in such venues, much of the commentary devolved into typical political bickering over which politician held more guilt, bad faith and evil. The usual dose of ad hominem admonitions and rigid either/or ill-logic circulated around the claimed offenses of Bernie versus Hillary, entirely missing the point of the article in service to internal partisan anger among Democrats.

The Republican Party has devolved into a state where its only principle is to win elections by pandering the alt-right base so effectively exploited by Trumpery. Genuine conservatives have nowhere to turn. The Democratic Party national apparatus, the DNC, remains unwilling to free itself from the corporate and financial elites it serves while hypocritically mouthing old liberal rhetoric. Its disingenuous cultural liberalism and avoidance of the deep issues of rising global and national crises have turned main street Democrats and independents away from the party. Electoral politics seems a long shot, in both substance and time. The convergence of catastrophic crises of ecosystem destruction and climate chaos, as well as global economic and political instability, is well underway. The crisis of American democracy is now. What is a citizen to do?

Precarious Prospects

Solnit finds herself distraught with the prospects, as well anyone who looks at the facts should. However, her recommendations offer little hope:

We still have an enormous capacity to resist the administration, not least by mass civil disobedience and other forms of noncooperation. Sweeping the November elections wouldn’t hurt either, if that results in candidates we hold accountable afterward. Or both.

Solnit seems to believe that we can rescue American democracy and respond effectively to the converging crises of climate chaos, ecological destruction, impending global financial failure, and imminent societal collapse by protests in the streets or by the so-called “centrist” democrats capturing the mid-term elections. Making such assumptions shows little sense of timing or even a deep understanding of the nature of the coup that has suppressed democratic institutions for decades.

The answer is nearly as difficult, but at least possible. Mass mobilization at the local level for resistance in place by turning away from the “inverted totalitarian” regime and its new “strong man” is extremely difficult to achieve. It would require forming new democratic institutions where we live that would become diffused forms of resistance by their very existence. Widespread resistance by withdrawal and replacement could not be stopped by troops in the streets or by bluster from the man who is “the empty clown suit.”

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[i] Mark Danner, “The Magic of Donald Trump,” New York Review of Books 63:4(May 26, 2016) quotes Stephanie Cegielski, Trump’s “Top Strategist-Turned-Defector,” to the effect that initially there had been “no thought of actually winning.” Rather, the goal was to bolster Trump’s celebrity prominence. That, of course, is consistent with Trump’s history of seeking celebrity attention and adulation above all else, aside from money of course. Winning the actual election bolstered his celebrity and profits beyond even the narcissist’s unbounded imagination.

The Deeper Deep State

The “Deep State” is deeper than you think. I first ran across the concept when I read an essay by former senior analyst for congress, Mike Lofgren on Bill Moyers’ website, posted in 2014. Lofgren was apparently the first to use the term. He spent many years working for Congress, the last sixteen as a senior analyst on the House and Senate Budget committees. He knows the federal government from the inside. The essay and interview with Bill Moyers evolved into a book, titled The Deep State: The Fall of the Constitution and the Rise of a Shadow Government, published in 2016. That was all before the extreme right Trumpists appropriated the term to attack all but the most authoritarian elements in the federal government.

Deep.State.book.jacketLofgren’s use of the term “deep state” referred to the complex web of coordinated entrenched interests both inside the US government and outside, especially on Wall Street and in Silicon Valley, that profit heavily from congressional “defense” and other major budget decisions. Despite their appropriation of the term, the Trumpists support many aspects of the “deep state” as Lofgren describes it. Lofgren argues convincingly that the U.S. has become an oligarchy in fact if not in name.

The idea of a deep state, as Lofgren deployed it, is very similar to the phenomenon of “inverted totalitarianism” that Sheldon Wolin describes in his heavily documented study, Democracy, Incorporated: Managed Democracy and the Specter of Inverted Totalitarianism. Wolin, a highly respected political scientist, argues that American democracy has morphed into a strange hybrid consisting of a shell of democratic formality surrounding a core of bureaucratic totalitarianism. He distinguishes between the traditional notion of totalitarianism, which involves overt authoritarianism by a dictator, and the emergent bureaucratic form that involves a complex merging of corporate economic interests and the entrenched powers of the state. Others may call this complex the “corporate state.”

Lofgren experienced the corporate state from the inside; Wolin examined it from the outside. Both conclude that the result is a fundamental loss of democracy. Now, the appropriation of the term, “the deep state,” by the extreme white nationalists and neo-fascists aligned with the Trump administration, is a political propaganda tactic used to attack any element of government that serves the public interest instead of the interests of the oligarchic elites that Trumpists serve.

The Trumpist use of “the deep state” is an element of the demagoguery that attempts to turn the public against any element of the government or the media that does not serve their interests. Any accurate reporting of Trumpist dissembling or destructive executive orders he deems “Fake News.” Notice that Trump’s appointments to his cabinet and agencies such as the Environmental Protection Administration, the Department of Energy, and the Department of Education, are all politically opposed to the very mandates of those departments and agencies. These neo-fascists are not so much interested in destroying the deep state as in taking it over.

The overwhelming majority of appointments to key posts Trump has drawn from Wall Street, the Military, and far-right politicians. He has attempted to turn the intelligence agencies into political operations. The deep state has become an even deeper penetration of oligarchic interests into the center of federal government operations. The deep state is now much deeper and more corrupt than before. Corruption is the essence of destroying democracy.

Delusions of Democrats Continue: Denying Bernie

Anyone who challenges the prevailing orthodoxy finds himself silenced with surprising effectiveness
~ George Orwell

Vermont is a rather independent state. Its outspoken independent senator, Bernie Sanders, is the only politician I know of who has been able to attain office without prostituting himself to the powerful. His independence extends beyond party affiliation. It is not just that he is a registered independent; he is viscerally independent of party politics and corporate influence. The political class will try to silence Bernie’s challenges to the politics-as-usual of the corporate state, but how effective will they be?

Most Democrats can be described as “Corporate Democrats” since their financing comes mostly from corporate campaign contributions and is reflected in their voting. Whatever their “liberal” rhetoric, they vote primarily in the corporate economic interest. That includes their support for military adventurism around the world, cutting public investment in health, education, and viable employment and maintaining the corporate strangle-hold on the American political system. Their “liberal values” usually do not extend beyond rhetorical abstractions. Their automatic affiliation with Hillary Clinton’s campaign for the presidency reflects the same corporate affiliations she and her husband have built and maintained over decades. It is the source of their wealth and political power. In that sense, Bernie Sanders is a consummate outsider, challenging the prevailing orthodoxy of the pseudo-liberal Democratic Party.

Killing Democracy…or Not

From the perspective of the political class, Bernie’s battle for the Democratic nomination will be a naïve uphill battle, as difficult as the agents of corporate power can make it. All the powers that be will continue to oppose him, mostly by trying to keep him out of any public debate. The corporate media will continue to ignore him as much as they can or dismiss him as a quaint crazy. He will get no support from corporate donors – indeed, he does not want any. He wants the support of the public.

When Bernie gains significant public attention, we will begin to see a new wave of “red-baiting” not unlike that of the era of Joe McCarthy in the 1950s. After all, he is an independent “democratic socialist.” But the word “socialist” has lost a lot of its fear mongering power as American political structure has moved closer to total corporate control – what used to be called fascism. The “Deep State” of integrated political and economic elites [1] has reached such an extreme level of oligarchy, that Sheldon Wolin’s description of its “inverted totalitarianism” [2] is right on the mark.

But despite being an unknown to much of the population, the initial response to the announcement of his candidacy was a robust set of small donations. Regular citizens who hear what he has to say agree with most of his positions. But what Bernie stands for, the “liberal” political class gives only vague lip service to and acts in quite opposite ways. Classic liberalism is dead, but progressive ideas are not.

The decline and fall of actual political liberalism since the surge of the liberal economic reforms of the New Deal during the Great Depression of the 1930s is well documented. [3] The “Reagan Revolution” and the blatantly racist denial of the legitimacy of Barrack Obama’s presidency by the “Congress of No” have pretty much finished the job. Obama’s prodigious rhetorical skills allowed him to fully exploit national progressive sentiments. With a moderately progressive congress, Obama might have been a liberal-centrist president. But with the extremely reactionary congress seated, he vainly attempted to appease those Radical Regressive Republicans he should have recognized as his enemies. Even Obama’s embarrassingly naïve attempts to compromise with the extreme Republicans were summarily denigrated. Bill Clinton’s destruction of welfare programs for the poor had been facilitated by corporate Democrats as well as Republicans. The corporate takeover of the Congress of the United States of America is nearly complete as Barrack Obama carries forth the Bush neo-conservative imperial agenda of endless wars and Hillary attempts to step in and continue the neo-conservative project in pseudo-liberal clothing. But then there is Bernie.

Save the Planet, Save Democracy

Bernie Sanders is one of a small number of senators who openly acknowledge the urgency of taking action to curtail climate disruption. He also takes several other blatantly “progressive” positions. While some talk obliquely about inequality having gone too far, Bernie simply states that the billionaire class has bought the political process and must be stopped.

It is not surprising that the powerful corporate media try their best to ignore Bernie Sanders in hopes that he might thereby go away. But social media may be a route for frustrated Americans to express their support for policies in the public interest instead of the special interests of the corporate state. We must wonder how much latent progressivism can be found within the Democratic political machine and might creep into the convention. Mainline Democrats don’t know what to do about Bernie. He resonates with rank and file Democrats. That is because he is an viable spokesman for the interests of the American people.

Bernie Sanders is an articulate outspoken critic of the powerful corporate, financial, and military interests that try to frame the politics of fear and the policies of the power elite as if they were in the public interest – but are not. Even if he is elected there may not be enough members of congress voting in the public interest to move the nation away from the brink of climate catastrophe and social-economic collapse. Whatever the odds, Bernie Sanders seems the last great hope for a presidency that serves the public interest. If you are worried about Bernie’s chances, consider the dangerous business-as-usual alternatives.
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1 See Bill Moyers interview with Mike Lofgren, a 28-year veteran staffer with the powerful House and Senate Budget Committees on the “invisible labyrinth of power” where “elected and unelected figures collude to protect and serve powerful vested interests. http://billmoyers.com/episode/the-deep-state-hiding-in-plain-sight/. See also, Lofgren’s book, The Party Is Over: How Republicans Went Crazy, Democrats Became Useless and the Middle class Got Shafted. New York: Penguin Books, 2013.
2 Sheldon S. Wolin, Democracy, Incorporated: Managed Democracy and the Specter of Inverted Totalitarianism. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2010.
3 See Chris Hedges, Death of the Liberal Class, (New York: Nation Books, 2010) for a fiery denunciation of the hypocrisy of those politicians who still call themselves “liberal” and use liberal rhetoric while representing the interests of the power elites against the interests of ordinary citizens. Historian Kim Phillips-Fein, Invisible Hands: The Businessmen’s Crusade Against the New Deal (New York: W.W. Norton, 2009) provides detailed documentation of the decades-long campaign by the titans of industry to destroy the liberal agenda of the New Deal. They won.