Sunday, July 23, 2017

The Great Walls of America

In the Age of Trump, the word "wall" immediately conjures up the image of a 3,000 mile-wide monolith protecting America the Pure from hordes of immigrants and terrorists eager to steal our jobs and murder us in our beds. That this wall is and always will be just another Trumpian con job means absolutely nothing to his dwindling but loyal base of fans. You see, it's the thought that counts. It makes the dispossessed feel safer, just knowing that their renegade leader is mouthily gung-ho for yet another barrier between Us and Them.

Not to be outdone in the paranoia department, though, the Democrats and their neocon associates are also trying to sell us on a wall. Their version is a barrier in cyberspace that would keep out all the disinformation which, they say, emanates from Russia and its co-conspirators in the independent American media. Absent a democratic social agenda that would improve the lives of ordinary people, the Democratic Russophobes warn us to ignore our own lives and our own lying eyes. We should just admit that our brains have been infected by "fake news" so insidiously and for such a long time that we finally committed the ultimate atrocity: we unwittingly denied the presidency to Hillary Clinton. 

If this all sounds disturbingly Kafkaesque, you're not being paranoid. You're facing the reality that we live in a country where gas-lighting is now the default governing strategy on both sides of the Duopoly. Franz Kafka, who creatively used metaphor and parable to warn of the totalitarianism knocking at the European door almost a century ago, was a big critic of walls and barriers of all kinds. He probably wouldn't be too surprised that the same thing is now happening in the United States.

  Not for nothing did his last novel - Amerika - remain unfinished.

But in his posthumously published short story, The Great Wall of China, Kafka combines the very best fantastical formulas of both Trump and the Democratic Neocons. Notwithstanding their theatrical campaign of insulting tweets and counter-tweets, these two entities are disparate only on the surface. They actually complement each other in the core agenda of diverting our attention from our own worsening quotidian problems.  Despite opinion polls showing that people are more concerned about their own health care than they are about the avalanche of tiny pebbles clumsily posing as blockbuster scoops from the New York Times and the Washington Post, the media-political complex is relentless in warning us we should worry more about the "constitutional crisis" of the rolling palace coup than about scrounging enough money together for next month's rent or insurance co-pay.

A new Bloomberg survey shows that although only six percent of the population is primarily concerned about Russia-Trump, the mainstream media is devoting more than half of all news coverage to McCarthyite scare-mongering. 

Our "official" menu choice has thus devolved into two flavors of paranoia: Muslims and Mexicans entering the country, or the Russian takeover of our democracy. In other words, they're building a wall separating people from their own thoughts as well as from each other.

The main efficacy in the selling of a wall, Kafka observed, is that it is always a work in progress. It always has gaps. Holes are necessary, because not only do they create even more fear and paranoia, they engender a sense of purpose and national/party solidarity. If these dream walls ever did get finished, we'd end up feeling too safe for comfort.... for the comfort of our rulers, that is. 

For them to maintain permanent control, they extend their walls' purpose to not only to keeping the Enemy out, but in dividing and conquering those who actually labor on the project The lowly workers are kept far away from both the middle managers and the elite architects who do the actual planning and thinking. And if something goes awry, guess who gets the blame?

Kafka explains how class structure as a method of control and fear is built into the human psyche from childhood:
"I can still remember quite well us standing as small children, scarcely sure on our feet, in our teacher's garden, and being ordered to build a sort of wall out of pebbles; and then the teacher, girding up his robe, ran full tilt against the wall, of course knocking it down, and scolded us so terribly for the shoddiness of our work that we ran weeping in all directions to our parents."
It doesn't get any better when these educated young people grow up and can't find a decent job paying a living wage. Kafka accurately described the cutthroat world of neoliberal meritocracy as the class-based division of labor - since time immemorial, we are either the designing few, or we rank among the many servants of the builders and designers.

The challenge to the elite rulers, therefore, is to be seen as keeping their promises, merely by keeping up the spirits of the people on the receiving end of their lies. This is the sweet spot where hope is invoked. Kafka describes how "piecemeal" wall-building is used as a ploy to keep those who toil for the elites both enthusiastic and pliant.

 When people are exhausted and losing faith in the system, rulers will throw them a crumb and then a deflection. The following passage in Kafka's story mirrors the media-hyped euphoria surrounding the signing, and subsequent successful defenses, of the extremely limited kludge known as Obamacare. It's also apropos of the falsely-touted (fake news) withdrawal of American troops from the still-occupied and ever more destroyed country of Iraq:
"Accordingly, while they were still exalted by the jubilant celebrations marking the completion of the thousand yards of wall, they were sent far, far away, saw on their journey finished sections of the wall rising here and there, came past the quarters of the high command, and were presented with badges of honor, heard the rejoicings of new armies of labor streaming past from the depths of the land, saw forests being cut down to become supports for the wall, saw mountains being hewn into stones for the wall, heard at the holy shrines hymns rising in which the pious prayed for the completion of the wall."
If there's anything that rulers require, it's the unity of the populace who must be taught to settle for "piecemeal" solutions as they wave the flags and watch a lot of TV and attend many sporting events. No matter that our two establishment political parties appear to be falling apart at the seams; they were only populist fronts for the oligarchy in the first place. They'll happily subsist on the gold dust of their destruction until such time as they rise and thrive again.

As Kafka recounts in his parable, the elites are even able to absolve themselves when their ill-conceived Tower of Babel, built as it is on the ill-conceived Wall, is also never completed. It's definitely not their superior intellects which are to blame. After a thorough investigation by the designated experts, not only is nobody held accountable, they have the chutzpah to praise themselves for their insights.
"... The tower failed and was bound to fail because of the weakness of the foundation. In this respect at any rate our age was vastly superior to that ancient one. Almost every educated man of our time was a mason by profession and infallible in the manner of laying foundations.... How could the wall, which did not form even a circle, but only a sort of quarter- or half-circle, provide the foundation for a tower? That could obviously be meant only in the spiritual sense."
 This is creepily reminiscent of John McCain insisting, after the financial system crashed in 2008 and millions of people lost their jobs, that "the foundations of our economy are still strong." It's eerily similar to former Fed Chairman Alan Greenspan airily explaining away the Wall Street-generated subprime mortgage crime spree as "irrational exuberance." It faintly reeks of Barack Obama excusing war criminals by "looking forward, not back" and praising CIA sadists as well-meaning "patriots" who suddenly were trapped into "torturing some folks." When Donald Trump then babbles incoherently in compulsive tweets and opines that he has the right to pardon himself, it's not really all that extreme, once you stop and think about it.

There are other examples too numerous to mention of the boilerplate official excuse that "mistakes were made" to explain away such atrocities as aggressive war, torture and mass incarceration. There is never a lack of experts and pundits to roll out one Kafkaesque explanation after another to absolve the criminals residing in the very highest echelons of public/private power. Thus are we chided by the president's apologists never to take Trump's tweets literally, and by Democratic apologists to believe that 30 million uninsured Americans still enjoy universal "access" to health care, along with the promise that building walls against any number of Others will make our lives a happy, serene heaven on earth.

It's no surprise that Woody Guthrie's famous protest song "This Land Is Your Land" has been bowdlerized into a feel-good patriotic anthem taught to American schoolchildren. This supplements the teachers who are increasingly forced into toppling young people's towers of creativity and independent thought via for-profit standardized testing and curricula designed by corporations.

Here's what the Kafkaesque "High Command" doesn't want you to hear or sing or think:
"There was a big high wall there that tried to stop me;
Sign was painted, it said private property;
But on the back side it didn't say nothing;
That side was made for you and me.

In the shadow of the steeple I saw my people,
By the relief office I seen my people;
As they stood there hungry, I stood there asking
Is this land made for you and me?

Nobody living can ever stop me,
As I go walking that freedom highway;
Nobody living can ever make me turn back
This land was made for you and me."


Jay–Ottawa said...

"It faintly reeks of Barack Obama excusing war criminals by "looking forward, not back" and praising CIA sadists as well-meaning "patriots" who suddenly were trapped into "torturing some folks." When Donald Trump then babbles incoherently in compulsive tweets and opines that he has the right to pardon himself, it's not really all that extreme, once you stop and think about it."

Somewhere near the end of Obama's second term, writers who keep track of such statistics announced that Obama, at least up to that point, had not resorted to the presidential pardon as much as his predecessors, or as much as he should. This was a howler. Because Obama has set a record for presidential pardons, paperless but with as much force as any document, and he did so in the earliest days of his first term.

With that "looking forward, not back" meme President Obama pardoned hundreds of criminals on Wall Street and just about everywhere the Pentagon's tentacles reach. The laws to throw frauds and war criminals in the slammer were already on the books, but the lawmen were told to stand down and look the other way, somewhere in the direction of "forward." That was curious because it is in the nature of prosecutors to look backward.

Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder announced they had no intention of going after the frauds who ran the big banks and financial houses that toppled the economy, which the CEOs did not by honest error but by bold fraud that stripped away billions of dollars from the savings accounts and home values of millions of Americans. In effect, Obama gave a blanket presidential pardon to those financiers and allowed them to remain where they were, free to do it all over again.

As already mentioned by Karen, Obama also pardoned the war criminals of the previous administration, those who wore dark suits as well as those who wore pretty ribbons on their uniforms. Think about it: Cheney, the closest thing we have to a Darth Vader, got a full pardon when Obama decided to have his "look forward" policy finesse all the laws against war crimes.

I understand Cheney doesn't do much international travel because the protection provided by his virtual presidential pardon only has force in the Homeland. Who knows what a backward-looking prosecutor in a nation of laws might attempt in order to earn his fifteen minutes of fame before getting double tapped out of existence.

If ever Obama's deeds catch up with him in court––I allude to the many drones that executed his Tuesday Kill Lists––he may be grateful to Trump for finding a way for a president to pardon himself. If a selfie presidential pardon doesn't quite pass the smell test in law schools or the Supreme Court, there's always the established precedent of one president dependably forgiving his predecessor, no matter the political party, just as Ford pardoned Nixon and Obama in effect pardoned Bush himself, Bush's handlers and his legal enablers for their trampling of national and international laws by "looking forward."

stranger in a strange land said...

@Jay: Because Obama has set a record for presidential pardons, paperless but with as much force as any document, and he did so in the earliest days of his first term.

Yep, the gloves have been off for a while. The biggest silver lining of the Trump presidency: it's all laid even more bare!

Folks seem to lack the attention span and willpower to do much about it.

From the recent Depeche Mode single Where's the Revolution:

Come on, people. You're letting me down.

Bill Sprague said...

Brilliant. I skype with a guy I went to junior high school with who is now a rabbi (after working for the Fed for 30 years) and we were just this morning talking about the shill that Obama was and the foolishness of healthcare for all. Instead of lots of reading of Thoreau, who was just a common schmuck from Concord (which is still a rich man's paradise today as it was 150 years ago) I'll read lots of Kafka instead.