I decided to write this post as a way of organizing my own thoughts and hopefully educating people who might not share my viewpoints, if even a little bit. In any case, I would like this to be my first and final post about politics.
My political bias will probably be obvious by the time you finish reading all of this. I’ll try to keep things as objective as possible.
Much of this post will focus on American politics, though the broader ideas i present are not necessarily tied only to American politics. The political situation in America has become so cartoonishly exaggerated that it makes for a good case study. A strong understanding of American politics is vitally important given that America has been the de facto leader of the global order for quite some time now. What happens in America ripples to the rest of the world.
Your consent is being manufactured
In order to properly discuss politics we first need to understand the nature of our political ecosystem, which most importantly includes mass media. I would argue that the Chomsky model of propaganda is likely the most vital tool for making sense of contemporary politics. Here’s an entertaining short video that summarizes his book:
If you understand the role of corporate media in the greater political ecosystem, it makes it much easier to see that your consent is being manufactured. Those talking heads on television are not your friends. They don’t work for you. It would take you multiple lifetimes to amass the money these people make in one year. It’s a big club… And you ain’t in it.
There was a time where the media could have been considered the fourth estate, a neutral (or at least less biased) observer with a duty to inform the public. Nowadays, roughly 90% of the media you see daily is produced by 5 mega-corporations.
- NBC, MSNBC, CNBC, and Telemundo are under NBC Universal and owned by Comcast, one of the most hated companies in America.
- ABC is owned by The Walt Disney Corporation. They also own ESPN, Marvel, Disney Studios, and A&E networks.
- CNN is owned by Turner Broadcasting which is owned by Time Warner. They also own HBO and Warner Brothers.
- Fox News is under 21st Century Fox (renamed from News Corp) and controlled by Rupert Murdoch. They also own Sky News and National Geographic Partners.
- CBS is owned by the CBS Corporation but the majority control is owned by National Amusements under owner billionaire Sumner Redstone.
That’s not to say that all of these news outlets broadcast nothing but lies. They stylize reality and inject their own flavor of bias into the information they present. It’s important to understand that all content these outlets produce has been filtered, chopped, screwed and scrutinized under a microscope so that it’s advertiser-friendly, brings in viewers, and doesn’t stray too far off message.
Good journalists with functioning moral compasses still exist, though they are few and far between.
The generational divide
The internet is slowly beginning to disrupt the propaganda system in place. Televised news is becoming less and less influential, at least with young voters. This is a double edged sword. Fake news, pseudo-intellectual dreck, and extremism are on the rise now.
The generational political divide has never been more obvious:
Based on this recent poll, over 80% of democrats aged 30 and younger voted for Bernie Sanders in their state primary. This massive difference is likely due to several factors.
Younger people are generally less reliant on traditional news media for their information. The indifference (or in some cases, outright hostility) that these media institutions show for Sanders doesn’t reach these voters. If they aren’t indoctrinated, it becomes that much easier for them to notice the often outrageously biased content these media networks produce. This is probably an unintended side effect of the internet (i’m sure these media conglomerates are not happy about their declining influence), but it has created a fractured voter base.
This isn’t the only reason young people support Sanders.
The younger generations know better than any other that the economy is becoming more and more oppressive. Companies are offering less competitive salaries at entry level positions, unpaid internships are becoming more commonplace, and the rich continue to get richer. Trickle down economics began with Reagan and never stopped. We are seeing the result of decades of austerity and corporate welfare. The social safety net is extremely underfunded, infrastructure is crumbling, and public institutions like schools are starved for funding. Healthcare is a distant dream for many who can’t afford insurance. Families are balanced on the edge of a razor blade, only one expensive bill away from bankruptcy.
Only one democratic candidate has consistently promised to actually deal with these issues. The problem is that his solution, however reasonable it is, conflicts with the goals of the powers that be. Medicare4All would mean that private insurers and the pharmaceutical lobby would become defunct overnight. Investing in infrastructure and erasing student debt would mean there’s less money available for the next round of corporate handouts. Re-instating the fairness doctrine would mean that corporate media would have more stringent guidelines to follow. Taking on the prison industrial complex and the military industrial complex means several other big players are at risk of losing their goose that lays golden eggs. Strengthening environmental regulations means the energy sector has more bothersome rules (and potential fines for breaking those rules).
These monolithic entities aren’t going to passively accept that Bernie Sanders, who threatens their business-as-usual, could seriously become the democratic nominee. The media narrative is carefully manipulated in subtle ways (though sometimes, if you pay attention, the mask slips off and it becomes very clear what their goals are). Sanders and his rallies are outright ignored most of the time. Many far-flung scandals, like the mythical “Bernie Bro”, are cooked up to stir controversy. If Bernie Sanders is mentioned on a network like MSNBC (something exceedingly rare), it’s often done in a way that downplays his policy positions and instead focuses on superficial issues, like how he sometimes seems grouchy. This has a profound effect on how Bernie Sanders is perceived by a large subset of the voting populace.
The notion of shared truths does not exist anymore. People live in different realities depending on the media they consume and their capacity for critical thought. This phenomenon isn’t only applicable to Americans who rely on Fox News for all of their information.
The manufactured window
The Overton window frames the range of policies that a politician can recommend without appearing too extreme to gain public office given the climate of public opinion at that time. In reality, often this window doesn’t actually coincide with public opinion. In America, roughly 70% of the populace agrees that Medicare4All would be a good thing. Why is it that every presidential candidate other than Bernie Sanders opposes it? Why is it that news outlets, regardless of political leaning, scaremonger about Medicare4All?
If consent is being manufactured and public opinion is being manipulated, then logically it follows that the Overton window is effectively being controlled. Even if public opinion is overwhelmingly in favour of a common sense policy like Medicare4All, the political discourse can be poisoned and the policy can be made to seem “radical” or “irresponsible”.
The discrepancy between the real Overton window and the manufactured Overton window in America helps explain why so many people have fallen for the “Bernie simply isn’t electable” argument. By making his policies seem outlandish and radical, it’s possible to convince many people that he’s simply not a viable contender even when the evidence points to the contrary.
Of course, the Overton window can shift both directions. Given the massive support for Bernie’s policies, it’s evident that he’s managed to broaden the window in the left direction (even if the political establishments and media conglomerates refuse to acknowledge it). At the same time, Trump has managed to do the same in the opposite direction. The difference is that Trump has been given a platform by those who control the dissemination of information in America, while Bernie is a political outsider that rarely receives coverage (let alone good coverage) from supposedly left-leaning outlets like MSNBC.
What does this all mean? It means that the Overton window in America will continue to slide to the right while progressive politicians will struggle to pull it in the other direction. Over time you can expect to see even more ideas and policies previously considered radical and outrageous (for good reason) becoming mainstream. Expect to see more and more voters, especially youth voters, becoming disenfranchised. If the American political establishments can’t indoctrinate them, they will outright ignore them and suppress their votes.
2020 and beyond
It is currently April 8, 2020. Bernie Sanders has just dropped out of the race and it looks like Joe Biden will become the democratic nominee. I am unhappy with this outcome but not at all surprised. Bernie went up against a machine designed to crush candidates like him, and he managed to become one of the strongest contenders for the nomination. It took an entire clown car full of democratic candidates coalescing against him before Super Tuesday with the aid of corporate media to blunt his momentum.
If I had to guess at who will win the 2020 election, my gut tells me it will be Trump again. He’s a sitting president, which history has shown to be an advantage. Joe Biden’s cognitive health is rapidly deteriorating and it’s looking like the democratic party may opt to replace him once he wins the nomination. This would be decidedly un-democratic since his replacement may be someone who never partook in the primaries or debates at all. If Biden is incapable of even debating Bernie Sanders, who lobs softballs at him, then how can he expect to go up against Trump? His rap sheet is near endless and his closet is full of skeletons. Many people only know Joe Biden as the VP from the Obama years, and this is the main reason he’s done quite well in the primaries thus far. Once Joe Biden actually faces real scrutiny, the reality will begin to sink in: democrats backed a losing horse… Again.
Even with Sanders endorsing Biden and campaigning for him, the real issue is that Biden hasn’t budged an inch to draw in voters from the left. At best, voters can expect some sort of band-aid solution for ObamaCare. His campaign is bankrolled by billionaires and private interests so of course he is going to toe whatever line they draw for him. Bernie Sanders tried extremely hard to get some concrete concessions from the Biden campaign and it looks like he’s been given nothing to work with. As the saying goes, democrats fall in love and republicans fall in line. Expecting the left wing of the democratic party to go against their own morals back a candidate who is only marginally better than Trump on paper is ludicrous. It would, at best, be a short-lived reprieve from America’s constant slide to the right. If you’re given the choice between a turd sandwich and a turd sandwich with 50% less turd wouldn’t your gut reaction be to walk away? Why participate in such a pointless and demeaning exercise?
Surely the voters who have been pushed to the margins and ignored will circle the wagons when the time comes… Right? The scorched earth smear campaign against Sanders will be forgiven and forgotten… Right?
The most common argument I see in favour of Biden is that “he would get rid of Trump”. This argument ignores that Biden is a part of the reason we have Trump in the first place. If the political environment in America allowed for a crass reality TV show host to beat a career politician in 2016, what does that say about both parties? How has the bar been lowered so far down that people are willing to vote for a democrat with a terrible track record as long as they aren’t as bad as Trump? The republican party has managed to transform age-old norms and control the political narrative in America while the democrats limp along and offer nothing of substance to make voters interested in their ineffective brand of centrism. Party apparatchiks and “vote blue no matter who” partisans are completely oblivious (or just in denial) as to how truly worthless the Democrats have been as an opposition party. If the democrats are so fuckin’ smart, how come they lose so goddamn always?
Many people seem to forget this, but the reason Obama won in 2008 was that he built a grassroots movement that engaged with disenfranchised voters and gave people the impression that real change was possible (remember hope and change?). If you compared his 2008 campaign to the Sanders campaign in 2016 or 2020 you’d find a lot of similarities. The real issue is that once Obama took office, he quickly dismantled his grassroots network and then went about business as usual. By the end of his second term it had become clear that he wasn’t the revolutionary that people had hoped for. Obamacare was just a rebranded republican concept that didn’t go far enough, the criminals from the Bush era were let off the hook without even a slap on the wrist, drone bombings with many civilian casualties increased under his watch, Guantanamo Bay remained open, the PATRIOT act was renewed, the notorious cages for kids we hear so much about nowadays were built, and a deteriorating America remained unchanged. Obama had charisma and his public speaking was, in my opinion, unparalleled. Unfortunately these are tertiary traits that don’t really mean anything in the grand scheme of things. It’s lipstick on a pig.
If we ignore the dangerously lacking enthusiasm for Biden, there are still several other factors that will make a 2020 victory difficult. The electoral college should have been abolished ages ago. Many states use unreliable (and likely rigged) voting machines and engage in other undemocratic practices like purging voter rolls, gerrymandering, and so-forth. America has not been a functional democracy for a long time. Only a democrat that energizes people and brings voters out in large numbers can actually win anymore. To beat Trump you need to counter his brand of fraudulent populism with genuine populism and this is something only Bernie Sanders is capable of.
For many (myself included), Bernie suspending his campaign signalled the beginning of the end. A new generation of voters are demanding real progressive change and this is something the democratic establishment refuses to deliver, even partially. Ignoring a large subset of the democratic voter base in order to continue business as usual is a foolish short term gamble which hasn’t paid off (and likely never will). In the long term we will see democratic party rapidly lose relevance as progressive voters continue to become radicalized by their exclusion from the political process. Maybe the accelerationists, as batshit crazy as they may seem, were right all along.