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The Sane and the Belligerati

Published by marco on

Katie Halper had a show just about a month ago that had three separate interview sections. The first was with Chris Hedges and Gerald Horne; the second with David Sirota (writer for Jacobin); the third was with Arun Gupta.

This show is separate from her Useless Idiots weekly show with Matt Taibbi, of which I am a regular listener. I only learned of her from that show and am impressed with the nuance and balance and insight she brings to all of her shows.

Chris Hedges & Gerald Horne + David Sirota on Amy Coney Barrett + Arun Gupta Live in Portland by Katie Halper (YouTube)

Hedges and Horne: A Class Act

The first interview is highly recommended, although Hedges and Horne didn’t say anything I hadn’t already heard from them before. Perhaps the most salient was that, historically, Biden has been much deadlier and more damaging than Trump has been, to date. That is, the effects of all of his policies sum up to a much higher body count and amount of suffering. Even if Biden isn’t solely responsible, he regularly brags about being the architect of the Patriot Act, every crime bill in the last 40 years, and was essential to herding the Democrats into voting for the Iraq War.

Even Trump isn’t solely responsible for the ills attributed to him. It’s hard to reconcile his obvious incompetence with the immense and sweeping societal changes with which he’s attributed. Just like Biden, though, he likes to take credit, and either doesn’t realize or doesn’t care that he trumpets about having done deeply immoral things. When you brag about having done evil things, the more competent you are, the more liable.

And even if you haven’t actually done what you claim you have, it still says a lot about you that you’re willing to brag about it—or that you think it will elevate your standing. It’s like the buffoon in school who brags about having lain with a particular lady. We’re encouraged to think that he’s pathetic if he hasn’t actually done so, but he’s actually boorish and stupid for thinking that having done so would imbue him with worth.

So, even if Biden and Trump are lying about their so-called triumphs, they’re terrible for thinking that they are triumphs instead of feeling any shame.

Insights from David Sirota

I thought David Sirota had some good things to say and found him to be a better interview than a writer, actually (something I’d already noticed in his interview on Useful Idiots). In his writing at Jacobin, he often seems a bit hurried and a bit enamored with reporting the latest trend. His interviews, though, draw on a long career participating in and observing the political process in America.

For example, his discussion of primaries vs. general elections was insightful. He and Katie agreed that Bernie Sanders winning the Democratic primary would have been a much larger accomplishment than winning the general election. That is, the general election would have been easier because Bernie had a much harder battle convincing the democratic establishment than the people of America.

Americans were on Bernie’s side—he just couldn’t get invited to the dance because he and his ideas were too dangerous to the establishment. He was not controllable in the classic sense that Joe Biden, of course, very much is. Joe is perfect because he doesn’t really seem to have strong convictions, so it’s not hard for him to adjust when something he believes conflicts with the requirements of the paymasters. Bernie would clearly have been more difficult.

Later in the conversation, Sirota explains how amorality is a requirement in U.S. politics with a story about the end of the 2020 Democratic primaries, where most of the Democratic candidates still in the running were basically ordered by the party to drop out and back Biden. He explains why they didn’t have a problem with doing that—because they’re amoral and there is no personal downside. The choice was simple.

I’ve partially transcribed Sirota’s soliloquy below.

“You know, all of those candidates dropping out and endorsing Biden, they all knew that if it was a gambit that didn’t work, they’d be well-remunerated career-wise, future-political-run-wise, like, that was not a risky gambit.

“Pete Buttigieg—a former McKinsey exec—going in with Biden at the last minute…Pete Buttigieg, at McKinsey, all he did was analyze risk. [He’s thinking] I’m being paid by McKinsey, now I’m going to run for Secretary of State […] and now I’m gonna run for mayor and now I’m going to run for President … it’s all ROI. It’s all, like, now I ran for President and now I’m going to go with Joe Biden and, even if Joe Biden loses, I’m going to go with all of his donors. It’s all, like, that’s how these people think.

“And I’m not even ripping on Pete Buttigieg in any special sense. He’s just, like…that’s a very typical thing. So, all of the people that dropped out and endorsed Biden … Beto … dude, it’s like, awesome, you’re just like everybody else. Congratulations. You’re like everybody else and, like, … so, like, your [Katie’s] point about fair game? I don’t judge it on fair or not fair. That’s just what this disgusting system is.

“And so, you know, Pete Buttigieg and [garbled] and Beto and so on, they’re just amoral actors in an amoral system. And amorality is going to be amoral. And they’re not anomalously amoral, they’re not like sort-of super-villain amoral

“You know, the thing that made Bernie stand out was that, Bernie, he’s exceptionally not amoral and the actual question that remains unanswered—or, answered in this depressing way—is: can you win high office and not be completely amoral? You know, he got to the senate. OK. Can you become president and not be completely amoral? I got no answer for you—other than a negative one. (Emphasis added.)”

Arun Gupta: The Problem with the Left

The final interview was with Arun Gupta, who has a decidedly different take than Hedges, Horne, Halper, and Sirota. They may have their flaws, but this guy is militantly adamant that anyone who doesn’t agree with everything he thinks in every detail is not only wrong, but actively evil and racist. He starts in by establishing that everything is Trump’s fault.

“Trump basically took class issues and forced them through this racial, ethnonationalist lens. Because people were suffering…”

He acknowledges that people have been suffering for a long time. Why doesn’t he care that only Trump somehow manages to appeal to them? Is it because the Democrats don’t try? Or that people watch Biden and co. hand—and continue to hand—people like Trump a quiver of arrows against the already downtrodden? Is it not legitimate to wonder how helpful it is to vote authority’s handmaiden’s back into power?

Gupta would back off on blaming only Trump sometimes, but he kept circling back to it. He would pay lip service to the possibility that Joe Biden has severe failings, then upbraid anyone who thinks that those might weigh more than he, Gupta, thinks they should.

This guy can’t hear the irony of how a “racial, ethnonationalist lens” is literally what progressives stand for right now. It’s also questionable what sort of empathy he brings to the table when he talks about how he “went to the Midwest” and found that “People, particularly men, were bad at managing their money”, which is just kind of a shockingly insensitive and wrong-headed way of starting a conversation about the poor in America.

He makes it pretty clear that he thinks only the colored poor in America deserve attention — his story about white poverty starts off by victim-blaming, which is deeply ironic, considering his entire political stance. It’s also not surprising because this is exactly the mistake that everyone left of Trump makes—which is why Trump and his ilk pick up votes (they’re the only ones who even pretend to listen or understand).

This explains a lot about why Trump wins those people over. There’s this adenoidal know-it-all telling them that they failed to exercise their privilege and that they should get behind reparations … or, there’s the adenoidal Trump telling them he’s going to help (even though he doesn’t do that).

Gupta also focuses on disproportionality, that minorities are dying in higher numbers than they should be … but the absolute numbers are overwhelmingly white people … and white people know that. So if 14% of the population is black and 60% is white. A disproportionate death tally would be 24/50 … but the 50 is still thinking that there’s a problem, no? How do you make any headway telling the people watching 50 of “their own” die that those people don’t matter as compared to the extra 10 that died “on the other side”?

I’m obviously not arguing that should ignore the disproportionality and fix things for white people first, but that you have to frame your arguments more diplomatically if you’re at all in interested in gaining allies.

Spoiler alert: Gupta and others like him have clearly completely given up on gaining allies. They are instead engaged in a project of purging even those who would be in alignment on most issues. The purity test is alive and well.

The sides exist in America; if you’re at all interested in bridging the gap rather than chiding, excoriating and writing off everyone who doesn’t already believe what you believe at the beginning of the discussion, then your chance of success is nil. The incorrigible are the loudest, but they’re a minority (on both sides, actually). Many people who Gupta considers the enemy are just vastly misinformed, not irredeemable.

Gupta also called anyone not voting for Biden or voting for a third party a “deluded idiot”. He thinks that his skin color makes him better than white people, and so can dismiss out-of-hand the opinion of any old white man like Chris Hedges, whom he calls “terrible” (I thought he was joking at first, but he apparently sincerely believes it). So, essentially, Chris Hedges is the enemy and isn’t active politically and is useless and terrible. Ok, thanks, Gupta.

“If you’re making an argument that no-one should vote for the Democrats or that people should vote for third-party candidates in battleground states […then you’re the enemy]”

Basically, anyone who disagrees with Gupta is insignificant and doesn’t have “skin in the game” (an expression favored by his counterpart zealots on the right) and “just bitches at home” and “they’re just white people and people of color who think like white people” and “I don’t give a shit what these people do; they’re irrelevant.”

Honestly, anytime you basically call people race-traitors (as above), it’s time to look in the mirror, ya damned racist.

It’s terrible because this kind of attitude is exactly what will get Trump either a second term or help elect someone even worse than Trump after Biden’s catastrophic failure. I suppose people just can’t accept that there’s no good answer. Or people see that there’s no good answer and settle for the petty satisfaction of feeling like they’ve made the right choice anyway.

He ends with “if you are arguing that people in swing states should not vote for Biden, then you are an enemy of everything that is just and progressive and good.”

I honestly can’t tell anymore if he knows what Biden is, or if he’s actually claiming that Biden stands for “just and progressive and good” things. It doesn’t matter because that statement is going to age like milk. It’s going to be more like a shift-change at the rape factory. Just like when Obama was elected.

So, to sum up, only Gupta knows how bad Trump is. If you don’t agree with him, then you’re deluded and have no idea how bad the next four years will be. And Trump is a fascist dictator who must go and anyone disagreeing is an enemy.

He really doesn’t think that “white people” (a phrase he used often) can tell him anything because he knows everything better and has come to all the conclusions for you already. Basically, if you’re white, you’re a racist moron and should sit down, shut up, and let POCs run things. Because that’s freedom and progressive and anti-racist. Arun Gupta is an absolutely terrible advocate. He can only preach to a choir because he burns a bridge to anyone who disagrees with him.

Malcom X did it better (of course)

This isn’t to say that race isn’t relevant, but that being racist against whites doesn’t magically solve racism against POC. As I read somewhere online: they want to bring back separate drinking fountains, but switch the signs. These people are ideologically dangerous and always have been. Malcolm X expressed more disdain for liberals than conservatives

“The white liberal differs from the white conservative in one way. The liberal is more deceitful and hypocritical than the conservatives. Both want power. But, the white liberal has perfected the art of posing as the negro’s (sic) friend and benefactor.

“The American negro is nothing but a political football and the white liberals control this ball. Through tricks, tokenism, and false promises of integration and civil rights…,”

He was also savvy to media in a way that is still highly appropriate today.

“If you’re not careful, the newspapers will have you hating the people who are being oppressed, and loving the people who are doing the oppressing.”

Self-styled progressives have unfortunately lumped everyone in together and hate the people who are oppressed (poor whites) and love the people who are doing the oppressing (the Democratic party).

Biden’s Mandate

So what’s going to happen If Biden wins in a landslide? He’s going to scream “mandate” and try to push his awesome program through, whatever the hell that happens to be: there are the programs outlined on his web site, those in the DNC platform, and the programs he mentions when he knows that’s what people want to hear. These views diverge wildly and often conflict.

Which is the real agenda? Hint: it’s probably a mix, but Biden’s history does not bode well. He would basically have to rule nearly completely differently from everything he’s actually stood for and fought for in order to be a passable leader.

Biden has already caused more harm than Trump, but the argument is that he will be less dangerous in the upcoming term. I think that’s debatable. Trump talks a lot, but fails to act in the large to the degree that Biden has been able to. Trump’s damage comes less overtly and more through negligence and incompetence.

Trump’s “team” (for lack of a better word) will let the nation fall apart. It’s possible that Biden’s would be better here (esp. with regard to COVID-19). It’s also possible that Biden would begin to repair the damage Trump has done to the American Empire, which would be a loss for the world.

The article Joe Biden and the Possibility of a Remarkable Presidency by Bill McKibben (New Yorker) is more hopeful,

“Taken together, a big victory and a transitional attitude [Biden indicating he’s a one-term president] might let a politician whose career has been marked by compromise and caution throw both to the wind. ”

I know McKibben is just trying to put a nice spin on it—throwing some Sriracha on the shit sandwich—but even he has to admit that it’s just pure speculation: “As I said, there’s no real reason to think that this is how Biden views the world.”

Some of the essay is just flat-out wrong as well, as when he writes that “[Biden’s] biggest virtue is the dull (if welcome) one of decency.” So he’s making the same argument as people made for Obama’s taking the reins from Bush (the last absolutely evil Republican, if you’re old enough to remember), but this time about a man who’s spent a career proving he’s not really a decent guy.

It’s a remarkable thing to write about someone who has been involved in—and proudly declaims his hand in the provenance of—much of the most heinous legislation passed in the last 40 years. Patriot Act, Iraq War, Crime Bills, etc.

I think Sirota nailed it above: Biden is basically amoral. McKibben’s essay is a muddled and self-deluding paean to desperation.

That isn’t to say that Sirota himself isn’t susceptible to the allure of desperation (or maybe just punching the clock at his writer’s job). The article At the Debate Last Night, Biden Finally Distanced Himself From the GOP’s Austerity Talking Points by David Sirota (Jacobin) lends more weight to Biden’s (most likely temporary) shift away from austerity in the second debate than he’s probably due.

“During a discussion about the budget, Biden brushed off his old deficit hawk buddies, outright rejected GOP talking points, and instead made the point that the federal government must spend what it takes to rescue cities and states.

“[…] It is hard to overstate how big a shift this is for Biden. He was the guy who spent decades touting his work with Republicans trying to cut programs like Social Security in the name of budget austerity. Now he’s expounding on the need for countercyclical deficit spending. To use a Biden-ism, that’s a BFD.

“The question is whether or not Biden musters the fortitude to stick by the position he expressed tonight.”

The answer is “no”, and I’m basically citing David Sirota himself from the video above, who said, “they’re just amoral actors in an amoral system. And amorality is going to be amoral.”

What in God’s name makes you think that a last-minute change in espoused policy to score points during a televised debate has any bearing whatsoever on what Biden will actually do once in office?

Do you not remember the clip on Stephen Colbert’s show where Kamala Harris gut-laughed at Colbert when he asked her how she could support Biden so whole-heartedly when she’d excoriated him as a racist during the primary debates? She intoned that “It was a debate,” as if that made it abundantly clear that one just lies one’s face off to score points.

That’s obviously how politicians in the States work, for the most part, but Sirota seems to be lending import to their statements when he should know better.

Shut up and do what I say

It’s so tedious, though. Basically, the message is: get with the program we’ve designed without your input, no questions asked. Ask any questions and you’re written off as an incorrigible enemy. If you accept the program 100%, then you’re still the enemy because of your skin color (this time white). We’ve heard this all before (against POC). It wasn’t convincing then, either. This approach will fail because it’s not adapted to how people are; it’s not inclusive and not going to find broad support.

I’m all for a “shut up while the adults are talking” approach when you don’t actually need the people you’re dismissing. Otherwise, you’re sawing off the branch you’re sitting on.

Honest question to self-styled progressives: what do you think is going to happen to that 50% of America you’re dismissing out of hand? Are they supposed to throw themselves off a cliff? Are they even part of your country? Are they only allowed to come back in when they’ve learned to behave? How do you see this working?

I know that they misbehave; I don’t approve of them any more than I approve of you, but what do you plan to do with them if they don’t straighten up and fly right? It’s not like you can throw them out—they live here already. Nor do you have the right to do that, though that might come as a surprise to you.

They certainly won’t go quietly.

A lever made out of straw

Another big problem with voting in the Democrats and then pushing them to the left is: with what do people think they’re pushing? Imagine that they’ve handed Democrats the House, Senate, and presidency. The dream, right? Now we can finally get things done. What kind of things? Whatever the fuck the Democrats want. They will have everyone over a barrel because they know that people will vote for them no matter how shitty the candidate, no matter how meager the platform.

There will follow the old adage that ends in “we both know what you are, my dear. Now we’re just haggling over price.”

What are you going to do, progressives? Vote Republican next time around? Vote third-party? (In the voice of Kodos) “Go ahead; throw your vote away.”

Treehouse of Horror VII (S08 E01 from October 27th, 1996 (YouTube)

Voting out the Republicans or voting in the Democrats is only kicking the can down the road. They’re all useless and immanently dangerous. The Republicans claimed a mandate too. When the Democrats do the same, will it be to address climate change or health care or the pandemic? Of course not. What did they do with their last mandate in 2008? The ACA and $15 trillion of QE to Wall Street.

There is no good option. Put a fork in it.