Government of and by Cliches
Sometimes I think the frustration which surrounds American politics leads to a desperate search for rationales, after all people may dismiss what happens in Washington as a charade and a game, but deep down nobody denies the overall importance politics plays in our daily lives. The anger expressed at a game has neither the passion nor the lengthy bitterness engendered by political events. Being witness to the Trump administration provides all the evidence needed for confirmation. While the Dallas Cowboy may lose on Sunday, by the following Tuesday or Wednesday the anger and bitterness has gone. What we’re witnessing today is an inability amongst many people to let go of the anger which surrounds politics; it has become a constituent part of their being which instead of fading as political election seasons end, has instead become a 24/7 phenomenon which seems to be progressively inundating all aspects of society. What is not realized by most is that the charging up of politics has nothing to do with politics itself and has everything to do with the retreat of politics from the political arena, instead being replaced by non-political ideals from the market.
It would be interesting to quiz the members of Congress regarding their knowledge of history and philosophy. I would wager that most of them have barely skimmed the surface of some of the great authors of Western Civilization; men such as Plato, Aristotle, Hegel; I can almost guarantee your elected representative would fail to explain to you the basic premise behind each of their philosophical systems. I bring this up because more often than not the assumption held by the public is that they’re being scammed by some very clever people in Washington who are very stealthy at enriching themselves at the public’s expense, behind this assertion is the idea that the thieves are clever enough to get away with it. What’s being ignored when looking under the surface is not that we’re dealing with geniuses but we’re looking at the functioning rationale of a society which has come to be defined by the marketplace, where its ideals and institutions represent nothing more than commodities which function within the context of supply and demand.
Look at the professions of our elected representatives, what you’ll see is individuals who before coming to Washington were lawyers and businesspersons. People unconcerned with what’s Right and What’s wrong, or with ethics and values, but on the contrary dedicated to undermining those values. Both lawyers and businesspersons operate in cutthroat industries, where in the case of the former it’s imperative that they sell themselves, and the latter a product, in reality the same fundamental dynamic is at play, the preservation of a business by the expansion into a marketplace at the expense of someone else. This is the mindset and attitude these people bring to Washington, they aren’t geniuses with hidden agendas. They are what they are, and they’re fulfilling the role they’ve been playing out all their lives, and we tacitly acknowledge that role when despite corruption scandals, both moral and financial we continuously elect the same individuals to power repeatedly.
The political class, coming from where they do are going to emphasize what they know and we as individuals operating within a market society are going to react how we are accustomed to react. Our lives are composed of little segments where we receive inputs of information, from our drives into work, the few minutes we take for breakfast and lunch, and the sophistry which passes for meaningful dialogue at our place of employment. Our lives are composed of the functional equivalent of 5-second soundbites. The connecting thread through all of this hustle and bustle is the absence of anything meaningful and genuine. Our relationships are shallow and meaningless, what we do is done more often than not through inertia and the maintenance of social respectability. When our political system is built upon the same capitalist principles: the ideas of the State, general will, and public good, ideals which animated the political class at one time are pushed to the side as they have no place in a society dominated by the marketplace. Imagine a potential candidate for public office speaking of the philosophical rationale for the State. What you perceive is most likely what you would get, blank faces, and stares accompanied by an emptying speaker’s hall. This is not the fault of the public; they operate within the same context as everyone else. Being overworked and tired the idea of picking up a book after work and studying a serious piece of literature, while being a reward in itself is also hard work and in a society which fails to prize those ideals it appears as much more rewarding to pick up a video game controller and become immersed in world of fantasy. What is more the political class are also victims of this system, lacking the training and knowledge necessary to conduct the affairs of State they use the tools at their disposal, which come from the world of business. Operating under the constraints of a system which necessitates participation every two years in progressively more expensive elections the politician can only maintain himself by either already having enormous sums of wealth at his disposal or by becoming the functional equivalent of prostitute, promising favors for moneyed contributions.
We see the results of this system daily as certain slogans and clichés which appeal to the heartstrings of powerful voting blocs are used repeatedly to keep them engaged in the political process. One of the most common has become that “we are a nation of immigrants;” that any opposition to what basically amounts to open borders is tantamount to hypocrisy, since assumedly we are personally benefiting from the ability our ancestors had to emigrate to this country. Let us look at what is being said here and we’ll see the inherently shallow nature of this statement. Due to at one time this country having a policy which strongly encouraged immigration from abroad and that supposedly a good number of living Americans today are the beneficiaries of this policy we must now maintain a policy of what basically amounts to open borders. Continuing on this road we can break it down further and assert that any policy or groups of laws once adopted by this country and having a material benefit for a large group of people must never be changed, that once being a fundamental American value, it must always be a fundamental American value, any attempts at revision or change amount to hypocrisy and should be resisted upon a moral basis. Obviously ignored here is an issue such as slavery, which at one time was practiced in most states in the Union, and if some economists are to be believed slavery was a key ingredient in America’s economic growth during that time period, so that would imply a large number of people were material beneficiaries of human bondage and it would amount to hypocrisy to oppose this fundamental human value.
Now, this is complete nonsense, but this is the logical rationale of the cliché governing style we live under. A large percentage of the population does not judge the merits of immigration policy on the economic and spiritual effects it has on society. They believe that borders are despite their actual existence, an artificial imposition, something immoral used by the ruling classes to keep workers separate from each other, basically a fundamental human value. When debate is framed in this manner rationale discourse and progress becomes impossible, as fundamental values don’t exist to be changed. Debate over the merits of immigration become shouting matches where nothing can be accomplished, isolated instances of abuse are portrayed as being prevalent within the system. What started out as a dishonest cliché meant to keep certain groups engaged now evolves into a series of back and forths meant to portray each opposing side as being the fundamental opponent of what is good and right. Systems operating under these premises do not work; they cannot work. They are not working. However, it has come to define how government functions in a liberal democracy; it is the give and take of different interest groups the founders had in mind.
The Right is equally guilty of contributing to the dysfunction which passes for politics in Washington. “One of the most common heard is in reference to tax cuts, “tax cuts let people keep more of their own money.” At an integral level, this is meant to justify tax and spend policies which reduce government size and action to their bare minimum. Much like we did with the Left, let us break down this overused cliché. If all income belongs inherently to the individual who earns it through his place of employment then there can be no such thing as mandated taxation, for taxation to be consistent with morality governmental income would have to be done in a voluntary manner, any actions coercive in nature would be considered theft. Not only does this delegitimize taxation as a governmental function but also government itself becomes delegitimized. On the surface, to average Americans the reality of what’s being said often appears differently. The idea of not having a government appears ludicrous. However, what most people don’t realize is that the modern Republican Party is ideologically derived from Libertarianism, a group of people who didn’t and don't believe in government. Reflections of the extreme way conservatives go about implementing this ideal is reflected in states where they have significant control over state governments. What happened in Kansas over the last few years is a good example as an already low tax state was subject to even further decreases in their tax base by Republican Governor Sam Brownback. What ensued was a loss of revenue which caused significant closings of Kansas schools. Despite the obvious correlations between the tax cuts and the school closings Republicans in the state rationalized the reduced revenue by blaming every conceivable problem other than the tax cuts. It was only after a long struggle that the taxes were slightly raised to plug the gap in the state budget. The conservative belief in an ideal completely unrealistic, that government is an illegitimate institution as we saw causes dishonesty and paralysis as a search for resolutions centers around the “government bad” ideal and alternatives which question that ideal are dismissed.
Both the Left and Right have their clichés mirrored in the states they govern as solutions are centered around ideology, and not genuine resolutions. The insidiousness of this state of affairs though isn’t centered around the content of the cliches but in their power to shape further discourse and ideas. As society becomes more stratified the symbols and ideas representing this stratification will become even more significant and come to shape the identity of their adherents; both those at the top and those on the bottom. However, and if there is a silver lining it has to be this; systems built upon closed ideals, unresponsive to changing needs and environments are not sustainable. As the material and spiritual needs of the people continue to not be met, life becomes unlivable and alternatives arise, whether those in power want them to or not.