Tag Archives: politics

2016 Election Ennui

Post-election ennui is a foregone conclusion for most sane people (like junk food is for the intestine, there’s a limit to how many bumper-sticker slogans and dimwitted soundbites our collective psyche can handle before the floodgates open).  But the results are finally in:  Donald Trump will be inaugurated as the next US President come January, and the Republicans will hold a majority of the seats in both the Senate and the House of Representatives.  To say that some segment of the American public is caught off-guard is an understatement.

A year ago I wrote a post on Trump that summarized my views on him, vis-a-vis the average American voter:

Simply put, the man is an asshole, and people can better relate to assholes than straight-arrows.  They forget about the fact that nothing about Donald Trump is actually relatable to them personally.  You weren’t born rich.  You don’t get to walk away happily from one bankruptcy after another, after another, after another, and still be called “financially savvy”.  You don’t get to insult people on a deeply personal level, and still be seen as anything other than a sour old crank.  You are, in every way imaginable, living in a different reality than Donald Trump.  And, no, by associating with his name–his brand–you will not be granted access to it, either

To some members of the public Trump is a vicarious personification of how they wish that they, too, could behave (as they please, without fears of consequences).  To this segment of the population no deeper reason really needs to exist to convince them that Trump is the man to lead the nation.  There are a multitude of other reasons people voted for Trump, of course (worries over immigration trends, worries over big government, distrust or dissatisfaction with Democratic policies, etc.), but a too-thorough analysis really isn’t necessary since–whatever the underlying reasons are–Trump managed to actually appeal to enough members of this society to sell himself as the worthy candidate.

This brings me then to the losing side.  With the many confusing factors that made up the 2016 election, explaining why Hillary Clinton never enjoyed mass appeal is the easiest thing to pinpoint.  Again, allow me to re-post what I wrote last year:

In the past decade and a half, [Clinton] has been foolishly hawkish when she backed the Iraq war for as long as public opinion could stomach it; she currently speaks out against corporate greed, yet seems to forget that she sat in government, not proposing or supporting a single piece of legislation that might have curbed the coming market crash in 2008, or reformed the financial sector in this country in any way whatsoever; she has never given more than passive support for the rights of gays, low-income families, the labor class, or anybody else for that matter, until she was absolutely sure that such stances polled favorably with the electoral public.

In short, the conundrum that faces the Left in this country when it comes to electing Hillary Clinton is similar to the one that faced them in the 90s with the first Clinton.  Namely, the Clintons have no ideology, political or otherwise, to propose, stand, or even fall on: the sole purpose on which any Clinton campaign is fueled by is strictly the unyielding need to get elected.  All other concerns are secondary, if nonexistent to this guiding purpose.

The gamble the Democratic Party played was the hope that the American public would look past these obvious flaws in Hillary Clinton’s character, and instead galvanize around the fact that Donald Trump is an incompetent, thin-skinned, pompous, insulting, crybaby, bloated simpleton, wrapped up in a narcissistic package of a special kind of clueless buffoonery.  The problem with this line of thinking is that it blatantly illustrated a disregard for their own potential political allies (i.e. moderate and liberal Americans), as if they hoped for the average Democratic voter to be too stupid to realize when a candidate (and her entire Party leadership) were unwilling to afford them the due respect to at least acknowledge the gaping flaws surrounding their candidate’s record, and just rely on the flaws of the opposing candidate to carry them through to the finish.  While there may have been a time not long ago when this was true of political campaigns, it simply isn’t any longer.  Technology has afforded us too much access behind the veil, too much data at our fingertips, for any perceived lack of sincerity to be brushed aside as irrelevant (Trump may very well have lied about everything he said during his campaign, but the Clinton campaign’s history of trying to downplay any blemish in her political record is what disenfranchised people who may otherwise have been inclined to vote Democratic).

The core lesson that should be gained from this election is the fact that Americans no longer just believe that the political system is corrupt, but that corruption is an innate part of the system.  And when these same people say they demand change, rather than settle for hogwash establishment rhetoric, they will go out and choose whatever real change they can find–given the option, they will even choose bad change over the same old “business-as-usual” candidates.  Whether this is a lesson that the Democrats learn remains to be seen, however.  Lest we forget that the shallow brilliance of political minds lies in the infinite depth of their stupidity when it comes to deducing the reality around them.  And if you disagree with that, consult the accuracy of the political experts and pollsters leading up to this election, then revisit how my previous sentence hardly went far enough in explaining their ineptitude.

The Bittersweet Irony Caused by Brexit

Great Britain is leaving the European Union.  A referendum was held recently, and the British voting public has decided that they no longer wish to be a member of the EU, and urge their government to withdraw from the union as soon as possible.  Of course, when I say as soon as possible, I mean as soon as it’s deemed convenient for the politicians in Britain who have been most adamant that their nation’s interests lie separate–if not, in opposition to–the rest of the European continent.  Personally, I find it strange that the people who have spent weeks on end arguing about how it is of the utmost urgency for the UK to get out of the EU, lest it risk having its national integrity superseded by an undemocratic superstate (with implied nefarious long-term intentions), are now calling for everyone not to get ahead of themselves and to not be too hasty in actually biting the bullet on this whole thing by doing what they campaigned to do: leave the EU, posthaste.   I’ve always been of the opinion that once you identify a recognizable danger to your person (which the Brexit crowd has clearly and repeatedly claimed the EU to be), you’d want to take actions to step away from said danger as speedily as you can. But, then again, I’m not English, and perhaps this is just one of the many cultural quirks of the English character that elude me, and make total sense to those within the culture.

Notice I exclusively said English at the end there, and not British.  The reason for that is that it is predominately the English (and the Welsh) who voted in favor of leaving the EU (in particular the middle-aged and elderly crowd in those areas), while the majority of Scotland (and a large portion of Northern Ireland) voted in favor of remaining in the EU.  The significance of this will be shown shortly.

First, let me just say that, as someone who was brought up in continental Europe, within the EU zone, I have a bit more familiarity with the functions of the economic union than the average person residing in the United States.  To me, as a fellow European, the criticisms leveled against the EU (i.e. concerns regarding its role in relation to the sovereignty of its member states, and the dynamic between its more economically affluent members and its less well-off members) are perfectly fair points to consider.  And while I am of the opinion that improvements can (and should) be made, and laws and policies must be adjusted and amended as circumstances change and develop, to attempt to point to the EU as some sort of unmanageable mess that reaps no benefits for its member states is nevertheless a terribly disingenuous line of argument.  However, even though I have always regarding the existence of the EU as a general net positive for Europe and its citizens, I also wholeheartedly respect any member’s wishes to not be a part of it, if they so choose.  Of course, this includes England’s vote to withdraw from the EU, and I wish them well in doing so, and ultimately hope it turns out to be the right decision for its citizens.

With all that out of the way, let us get to the irony part of this news event, referenced in the title of this post.  It would be ironic enough to point out that a nation that gained its influence in the global scene by subjugating over a quarter of the rest of the world under its crowd at the height of its power, is now complaining about having its national sovereignty undermined by an authoritative state (of which it is an active member).  It is equally salient to mention how ironic it is for a nation that readily accepts and operates under a government that does not directly elect its Prime Minister, nor the de facto head of its armed services, and completely lacks a codified constitution, has deemed the bureaucratic (and, at times, mundane) political structure of the European Union as too undemocratic for its liking.  However, none of these are  of immediate interest as the key ironic bit that has come out of this referendum.  No, the true irony relates in the way the vote on the referendum split between the member states within the United Kingdom itself.

As mentioned, Scotland predominately voted to remain in the EU.  Now that England has set the precedent that a member state of an active political/economic union can declare its separation from said union, because it no longer feels that its sovereignty and interests are being properly represented by remaining a member of this same union, by what right can London argue for Edinburgh to remain in the United Kingdom if the Scottish citizenry decides that its interest are better served by remaining in the EU instead?  Any move by England to keep Scotland in the United Kingdom, if they formally proclaim their intent to depart as a member of Great Britain, will reveal the British government to be the very over-imposing political structure that the Brexit crowd was claiming to be saving Britain from by voting to leave the EU in the first place.  Hence, the great irony is that if Scotland (as well as Northern Ireland) decides that it would prefer to remain in the European Union, and as a result decides to formally leave the UK, it would signal the dissolution of Great Britain in its current political integrity, brought about directly by the same people–the Brexit crowd–who were so adamant about the need for the UK to leave the EU, because they feared that staying in the union would lead to the eventual destruction of the British state; a definitely possibility right now, with the potential departure of Scotland and Northern Ireland from the UK, as a result of Brexit.

Honestly, all politics aside, Joseph Heller himself couldn’t have written a better story of bittersweet irony.

 

Straining the Plank: Why Occupy Wall Street Failed

The Tea Party movement began as a set of right-wing protests following the election of President Obama in 2008.  It’s original intent was to institute financial reform, by way of reducing government spending and lower taxes across the board.  Subsequently, it began to add more and more elements from the conservative end of US political spectrum, largely by way of influence from the evangelical Christian right, to the point that the two political movements became synonymous with each other by its latest incarnation (thereby alienating the strong libertarian and moderate capitalist wings that may have been inclined to support its original message).

Similarly, Occupy Wall Street was a serious of protests that launched in late 2011, whose stated goal was to address the economic inequalities brought about by crony capitalism, and called for system-wide economic reforms to be instituted within financial and political sectors.  (That was the focus of the movement from the beginning, and it was articulated very clearly for those who were willing to listen; despite several media outlets repeatedly claiming confusion on what the goals of the Occupy protesters were from the time of the first sit-ins in Zuccotti Park).

What made Occupy Wall Street (OWS) unique was the fact that it wasn’t organized like a rally (like most protests of this nature usually are, including the aforementioned Tea Part protests), but a sit-in, with tents and separate “tent-communities” being set up for what most people there expected to be an indefinite stay.  The protests lasted for months (some would count it in years) after the initial sit-in in NYC, and it’s even been argued that fragments of it are still going on, and have expanding into several cities and countries around the world.  The message is slightly different from region to region, but the main points (it is argued) remain the same.   Yet, I would argue that from very early on a vital shift in focus (or loss in focus, as I would put it) doomed the movement before it really gained real traction.

Like the Tea Party rally, early in its development OWS started adopting several social issues to its already ambitious platform.  And like the case with the Tea Party, I personally think this was an unwise move on the part of whoever makes up the ranks of the main organizers for these things (yes, there is always a core group of organizers in these things, otherwise nothing would ever happen).

The central theme of the current financial system needing serious reform is a cogent message to the majority of people who might potentially support your activism.  People will disagree about the methods and phrasings, but the basic desire for change will be heard.  The problem is that as any movement gains a following, social interests groups will naturally gravitate to them in hopes of bringing attention to their own concerns and issues.  Though seemingly a benign move (and I have no reason that it is in any way motivated by malice), it can have the inverse effect of drowning out the original message, which attracted the majority of attention to begin with, spiraling the whole discussion into irrelevancies that only appeal to a select minority of participants.

It’s what I call straining the plank, where too many issues are put on one surface, causing it to eventually bend and break from over-extension.  This is not to say that the social interests advocated for aren’t worth promoting, individually.  It does mean that if you allow every seemingly worthwhile concern to be heard under one tent, at the same time, almost no one’s interests are going to be addressed due to the fact that everyone sees her or his pet-issue as the rightful focus of the discussion.

By far the most valid criticism that can be targeted at my occasional posts on sociopolitical matters is that, while I spend a great deal of time writing polemics against other people’s ideas and reasoning, I offer little to nothing as an alternative to the (in my opinion) faulty thinking I’m so fond of ranting against.  Fair enough, and allow me to break this annoying cycle today.

If I was a more politically active person (the sort that starts and supports social movements; in other words, someone completely unlike me), and I was setting out to reform the global financial system, I would focus on reforming the global financial system.  If, for example, in the midst of my efforts I was approached by an environmentalist group, or a social liberties group, or any other sociopolitical activist group whose affiliation with financial reform is only tangential at best, looking to incorporate their message in with mine, I would greet them, give them the number to an already established organization that caters to their specific interests, wish them well, and telling them that if their group’s interests ever directly correlate with financial reform, to give me a call.  But not before.

In other words:  Do the environmentalists wish to promote their cause?  Great, give them the number to Greenpeace, and continue to focus on financial reform.  Gay rights, you say?  Absolutely, I believe GLAAD would be more than happy to have your time and contributions, while we continue to focus on financial reform.  Anti-war?  Women’s reproductive rights?  Separation of Church and State?  All wonderful and worthwhile causes, all very important, but if our focus is financial reform, then our focus is financial reform, and it is the cause we have decided to promote at the moment.  Period.

This might sounds heartless and elitist to many, but I see it as being focused on the task that’s been set out.  Strength in numbers only works when everyone pulls in the same direction.  100 different hands, placing pressure in 100 different directions just creates stagnation, and deforms the shape of the original platform.  The problem with wanting to do or reform everything in one go, under one banner, is that you will undoubtedly end up doing and reforming nothing of long-term value (biting of more than you can chew in one sitting, so to speak).  Resulting in the possibility of finding yourself part of a movement that either dead on arrival, or–worse yet–whose stated goal(s) has become unrecognizable to you.

What Occupy Wall Street failed to understand is that there is nothing compromising about picking one’s battles, one at a time, and not being distracted by 50 other equally pleasing objectives.  In fact, if real political change is your goal, I would submit that it’s pretty much a necessity of the game.

The End of Revolutionaries

A century ago, if someone was referred to as a revolutionary, there was nothing obscure about the character of the person being talked about.  Sure, the cause for which he or she was dedicated to may vary anywhere from the far left to the far right of the political spectrum, but there was no doubt that the individual revolutionary was a person who had drastically altered public consciousness (for better or worse).  Moreover, a revolutionary was an individual that had usurped (or at least had attempted to usurp) an existing political order, in favor of a fresh one; in short, a revolutionary was one who actually took part in revolutions.

Nowadays, the original implications of the term have completely been lost on us.  Revolutionary has become a filler word, utilized for both derision and adulation.  A clear example being the 2008 election of Barack Obama.  Right-wing pundits made headlines comparing it to some sort of Bolshevik takeover (when, in reality, if there was a Bolshevik regime in charge you would already be either silenced or dead), while left-wingers hailed it as the dawning of a revitalized new era in American history (when, in reality, the political system was entirely unchanged, occupied by the same individuals, the same groups, with the same interests as always).  The problem is that we use the word revolutionary, when we actually mean transitional.  A transition is simply a modified carry-on from what preceded, while a revolution is a wholehearted discarding of the previous order.

The confusion is made worse by the large number of individuals who see fit to assign the revolutionary label to satisfy whatever narrative they wish to present.  A year ago, I read a horribly self-aggrandizing book called The Broken Compass: How British Politics Lost its Way (a work I cannot in good conscience recommend even as a tool of torture against my worst enemy), within the book the author refers to himself as having once been a revolutionary in his youths.  But this is clearly nonsensical by any conceivable measure.  What actual revolution had he personally taken part in?  None.  What revolution had he influenced?  None.  So, how does he fancy himself a revolutionary?  Apparently, because in his youth he identified as a Marxist, and yearned for some fanciful social uprising that he couldn’t be bothered to actually lift a finger to bring about.  In America, we have a word for such a person, poser (though, failure would also be quite appropriate).  It is possible to be a failed revolutionary (such as Guy Fawkes, whose idiotic plot literally blow up on him before it went anywhere), but many of those in history who have been pinned with the revolutionary label are not failures in this sense, but complete nonstarters.  Take for instance Emma Goldman, held in high regard as a revolutionary figure by the extreme left.  Goldman spent all of her active years living in America, contributing written works promoting anarchism (among other social causes).  Last I checked, the government functioned through her life unharmed by her “revolutionary” prose, so in what way is she really a revolutionary?  None that I can see.

The last point I want to make will be the most controversial one; namely, that to be a revolutionary one must by definition be unreasonably dogmatic.  No, revolutionaries are not critical thinkers, or clear thinking in any imaginable way.  They are uncompromising, and unwilling to reevaluate the positions and values they hold, blindly proclaiming their doctrine of ideology as infallible in the great scheme of history.  That makes them the intellectual enemies of all sensible persons.  I don’t care what ideology it comes from, a lack of self-scrutiny is an admission of idiocy.  And revolutionaries never self-scrutinize, which is why I’m glad that the word has lost all meaning in Western thought.  I welcome the mild, watered-down facade that has been erected in its place.  We’re better off for it.

Is Voting a Civil Duty?

Yesterday, I was faced once more with the most baffling bumper-sticker argument for the value of voting imaginable: “It doesn’t matter who you vote for, just that you vote.”  It’s baffling to me, because as it stand, this may very well be the best argument to convince a person not to vote.  Think about it, if it doesn’t matter which candidate you vote for, it is a blunt admission that the whole practice is trivial.  If it doesn’t matter who I vote for, then why on earth should it matter if I vote, since the whole point of the voting process is to make an informed decision on who is to represent me at the political level.  If it doesn’t matter to you, which candidate is elected to office, why do you care so much whether or not people are voting to begin with?  Obviously, if you’re politically active you will favor one candidate over the other, because if you don’t, you might as well not take part in the process.  And, if the individual uttering the above statement is serious in her/his nonpartisan stance about the election results, then there is no reason for her/him to insist that the process has any value either.

Now, it is often maintained that voting is a civil duty.  By definition, a duty is a moral obligation imposed on a person (either by oneself, or an external factor like community/society/family, etc.), and civil duties are particular obligations that citizens have to their state/government.  For instance, following the laws of the land is a civil duty; paying one’s taxes; serving jury duty when summoned; also, in some countries, mandatory military service is a civil duty.  But what about voting?  I can see how one can try to make the argument that voting is a civil duty, since the outcome of an election can have a great affect on the policies that one’s government might implement, therefore we are encouraged to select the candidate we reason will represent our interests best.  However, the individual who makes the statement, “It doesn’t matter who you vote for, just that you vote,” forfeits her/his right to employ that kind of reasoning, since to them the value of voting is a symbolic gesture, not an act that entails important consequences.

Another issue that needs to be addressed here is that whenever individuals discuss their ideas on why voting is an important part, that we must participate in, all too often their voice become reduced to little more than an emotive squeal against those who don’t vote.  Which almost always leads to either baseless tautologies (“voting is good, because it is good to vote”), or the laziest poison known to critical thought, a careless retreat to absolutes (“It is always good to vote, and it is always bad not to vote”).

I can personally imagine many good reason why concerned citizens should consider showing up on election day, but all of them are provisional.  And all of them are situation specific.  If you are a liberal in a predominately conservative state, then there is no practical reason for you to take part in the national election.  If you are a conservative in a liberal state, then there is no practical reason for you to take part in the national election.  (Local elections, however, are still a viable option.)  If you are truly apolitical, and honestly don’t care about the election results, then there is no practical reason for you to vote.  If you are uninformed about political issues, your ignorance will probably prove to have dire consequence, and your decision to abstain from voting could end up benefiting society more than your participation.   The simple fact is that roughly half of the people in America don’t vote (and my guess is that the numbers are similar in many other Western countries, but I can’t be sure), so one cannot simply state that voting is self-evidently right, or even a duty, one has to backup the claim with decent arguments.  Bumper-sticker slogans, like the one discussed in this post, are not decent arguments.

The Loose Meaning of Middle-Class

Just as “proletarian” once was to the communist model, “middle-class” has become a rallying term of endearment for a capitalist society.  Although frequently references, it exists nowadays loosely as a flexible term of political rhetoric, instead of any true economic bracket.  Election season demonstrates this better than most other times.  In the purview of political campaigns, I’m middle-class, and you’re middle-class; the guy cleaning the toilets at my work is middle-class, and the managers of major corporations are middle-class; just as the elected officials sitting in Congress are middle-class–sometimes it sounds as if everybody is middle-class, regardless of their actual earnings.  The reason for this is that the term serves as a nice label onto which one can project all things a society might deem as decent personal attributes.  Hence, giving skilled orators the opportunity to tweak its definition just enough to meet their specific agenda.  “We need to strengthen the middle-class!”, “I stand for the men and women of the middle-class America!”, “My plan is to help rebuild middle-class America!”  And, bit by bit, each tweak eventually brings us to an economic model where individuals earning $40,000 a year are placed in the same income group as individuals earning $140,000 a year, as if their interests and hardships can be addressed by the same universal platform.

It would be incorrect to ascribe middle-class as a word whose meaning has died, or is on the verge of dying.  Rather, it is a label that has become wholly undefinable, which makes its usage as good as dead from my perspective.  Literally speaking, there certainly exists a class of people whose earning wage places them in, or near, the center bracket of the population, and in that sense, it is fair to refer to such individuals as being middle-class.  However, the disparity between those on the high end of the “middle-class” spectrum has so drastically exceeded those on the low end, that to continually categorize the two within the same income realm seems to me as not just nonsensical, but incoherent.

Maybe it’s just me, but I think that something is clearly off when those making over three times more than your income are considered your class equals.

A further issue I have with the term is that it so easily serves as a smokescreen against enacting substantial reform needed to alleviate the plight of the lower working class, as well as the downright poor.  And, sadly, this is an offense committed by the political Left, which claims to hold the plight of the poor far more to heart than the political Right.  Because, while the Left will rightly dismiss trickle-down economics when it’s set-up on the fallacious belief that wealth will naturally distribute itself evenly amongst all sectors of society as long as the affluent top is given the economic means and versatility to prosper, much of this same Left will often wholeheartedly embrace the equally fallacious idea that by focusing on the interests of the middle-class, it will trickle-down aid to the lower-class sectors of society.  It hasn’t, it doesn’t, it won’t; namely, because the concerns of the former do not evenly align with the concerns of the latter, and benefits enacted to aid one class can (and often will) conflict with the interests of the other.  To pretend otherwise, and insist that elevating the concerns of the middle-class will also somehow elevate the plight of the downright poor (not those tightening their belts, or just getting by living paycheck to paycheck–the actual no-belt, no-steady-paycheck, forgotten-and-ignored poor-poor), is to be willfully ignorant and choose a one-size fits all solution to a problem that cannot have one quick fix.

And no amount of political rhetoric will change that, regardless of which side of the political spectrum it’s coming from.

ISIS hits Belgium

By now there is a good chance you’ve heard about the recent ISIS attacks in Brussels.  There’s an equally good chance you’ve heard everyone’s solutions to combat these sort of attacks.

The problem is that whenever this kind of attack occurs they always fit so readily into the viewpoints spectators and commentators already held prior to the attack.  If you support multiculturalism, this is a clear indication that we need to do a better job of assimilating foreign cultures in with our own; if you oppose multiculturalism, this is a clear indication that the assimilation of vastly contrasting cultures is not possible.  Do you blame unchecked immigration, or harsh immigration restrictions?  Do you place more blame on Western imperialism, or religious fundamentalism?  Is this a perversion of faith, or a reflection of faith itself?  Wherever you lie on these spectrums of choices, there’s a good chance you were there already prior to hearing about the attack, and this will further serve as evidence for your views.

I don’t know what the right political or social response is to something like this.  I grew up in northern Germany, and in many ways will always identify with the culture of my upbringing no matter where I am, so hearing about an attack like this hits very close to home for me.  My first instinct is to not give in to the temptation of calling for vengeance, and remember that if this is to be called an act of barbarianism, becoming barbarians ourselves will not solve the issue.  At the same time, the call for nuanced reasoning seems hopeless if the dialogue is one-sided, and little chance exists that the other side will abide by such decorum.

Right now, I think the most appropriate response that I can give is to remove my ego from the field.  And to remove those who have died and suffered directly from this attack (and those who have died and suffered from similar attacks hitherto) from the debates that roam in their names.  The victims of these attacks have no part in the political or ideological strives that claim their lives and/or cause their grief.  Regardless of what you believe the underlying cause for all of this is, we can all agree there is one group of people completely innocent here, and that is the civilians whose lives have been lost; in Brussels, as well as across the globe.

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