Empty language sent the message that politics doesn’t work and that working-people have no language to address having been written out of the script—so we turn to saviors and potential violence.
By RA Monaco
Until Senator Bernie Sanders campaigned for the presidency of the United States, working-people no longer had a language around which to explain an awareness that they had been written out of the script. Would Hillary Clinton have a mandate to govern without the language, platform and support of the Bernie Sanders constituency? It remains an open question as of this moment.
The question is functional too, in that it serves to channel the ascendancy of millions of voices willing to mobilize for economic justice, racial justices, immigrant rights and a more inclusive democracy, while explicitly critiquing capitalism and the market-driven ills of our society.
Social responsibility is seen as a burden and empathy isn’t a line item on the balance sheet of neoliberal economics. Our language has been so emptied out of any kind of moral and political substance that working-people and their well being are not part of the neoliberal construction of our society—those things are seen as pathology. Now, we find ourselves working within an ideology that says there is no correlation between any kind of activity and the social costs that it produces—morality doesn’t increase profit.
Without that language we turn to heroes; we turn to people who mobilize and hate; we turn to people who claim they’re going to make it easy, simple; we turn to the strong man, the savior. That is not a new script. In fact, it’s a very old script seen in Argentina, Italy, Chile and Germany. In the eyes of educator, scholar, public intellectual and culture critic Henry Giroux, America faces the most dangerous moment it has faced since the Civil War.
Our Republic Stands Threatened
Addressing the open question of having a mandate to govern, contemplates a range of individual responses and ideas that center around the current limits of self-governance. The most pronounced is the American reality of having to vote against our fears—commonly referred to as Lesser Evilism.
The driving force primarily pushing Hillary Clinton beyond her historically high unfavorable rating, is keeping the Boogeyman’s stubby fingers off the nuclear button. “The American Republic stands threatened by the first overtly anti-democratic leader of a large party in its modern history” laments Adam Gopnik, in his recent effort to explain the dangers of accepting Trump.
Beyond the many concerns that might accompany an autocratic narcissist like Donald Trump—say branding the White House with a sign of his name— many Americans remain unwilling to hold their nose and vote for Hillary Clinton because the problem is simply, “the ‘money changers in the Temple’ are still in absolute control,” a point Franklin D. Roosevelt once made to his treasury secretary, Henry Morgenthau.
Empty Language of Disposability
People are no longer worried about getting ahead. Now, they’re just worried about survival. Disposability no longer speaks to the margins of society—it has become so widespread that it speaks to workers, teachers, public servants, to the middle-class.
How is it that four hundred families control half the wealth in the United States? What explanation justifies the fact that whole segments of the American public don’t count anymore?
“That’s fascism—fascism with a different face,” says public intellectual Henry Giroux explaining that it was accomplished by removing two things: One, any form of ideological substance and two, the opposition that might be able to challenge it. In practice, it’s a “fascism that is rather subtle in its claim that it isn’t fascism, because it makes a claim to being democratic.”
Crediting Bernie Sanders with igniting a movement and giving working-people a new language tends to gloss over real questions which should concern us surrounding the Obama presidency. Masked by an abundance of hugs from Hillary Clinton, President Obama’s embarrassing discourse of hope and change, became a discourse of hopelessness that served the oligarchic interests of Wall Street—not Main Street. Worse, his empty language sent the message that politics doesn’t work and that working-people have no language to address having been written out of the script—so we turn to saviors and potential violence.
Beyond this election cycle, working-people need to commit to reforms at every level of political governance, not just during presidential elections. Working-people need to overcome the historical and social amnesia that has brought them to this moment and examine the empty political rhetoric that never gets to the heart of the problem, fragments and fails to challenge.
After forty years of listening to the establishment of both parties talk out of both sides of their mouth; after forty years of working-people having their wages stagnated, seeing unions destroyed, public schools eviscerated, turned over to private hedge-fund owners and government completely controlled by financial lobbyists, Wall Street and corporate interests, working-people have become weary.
Our Republic needs that language, movements and the collective momentum of working-people to push back with vigor and continued vigilance.
How Language Is Needed Most
We live in a culture that is the antitheses of what it might mean to be insightful—celebrity dominated and endless talk about performance, extreme sports and winners. That language has become so pervasive that it flattens the radical imagination and depoliticizes working-people by normalizing ignorance. To think is to be stupid and to be stupid is basically to be cool.
It is enormously important at this juncture, to regain a language that allows people to think otherwise in order to act otherwise—that enables people to be self reflective and civically literate. How we name the world we live in, understand who we are, define our sense of agency and imagine the future is deeply rooted in a language capable of being self reflective—a language that travels, crosses borders, that’s analytical.
Violence can no longer be the central organizing principle of American culture—police cannot act with impunity and our president cannot indiscriminately kill people with drones and claim that somehow it was justified.
Politicians at every level must be continually held to answer the query: Why it is that some lives matter more than others in your community? We need to develop and use language that demands historical, political and social accountability, because there is no democracy without justice—social and economic.
Moving Beyond Abandonment
The energy and excitement activated in roughly 46 percent of the Democratic primary voters must look to build a united mass movement with new leadership, willing to stand up to the steady right push of the Republican Party which has for too long been helped by the Democratic Party.
As progressives gathered in Philadelphia, the anger was palpable at the idea of Bernie Sanders endorsing and even campaigning for Hillary Clinton. Our imagination for real alternatives and a genuine ideological reorientation cannot coalesce around the platform concessions made to the corporate-owned leadership of the Democratic Party. Sanders had a responsibility to lead and the trust of millions of dedicated, committed workers and young people, the fate of which, he handed off to corporate politicians which will become the legacy of his campaign.
The important take-away here for this new politically activated working-class is knowing that the powerful labor and socialist movements of the 1930’s that forced concessions like Social Security from Franklin D. Roosevelt, had leaders that did not capitulate—there was no concession of goodwill. The ruling elites at the time were forced to stave off the threat of even greater upheavals by the working class.
Gray Brechin, project scholar and founder of the Living New Deal Project at the University of California Berkeley recently explained that Franklin Roosevelt was no socialist he wanted to “save capitalism from itself.”
“We scarcely understand the language these people spoke,” explained Brechin while discussing the ethical language of the New Deal Public Works Projects. Labor leaders forced FDR to the left with the influence of people like Upton Sinclair in the counsel of Frances Perkins, Harry Hopkins, Harold Ickes, Mary McLeod Bethune and of course his wife Eleanor Roosevelt. The Work Progress Administration even had labor schools that taught labor rights—“can you imagine such a thing today,” asks Brechin.
“In many cases what the left has failed to do is to take this question of education and the changing of consciousness enormously seriously,” says Henry Giroux who faults the absence of an alternative language by which to understand what it might mean to challenge the lack of economic justice.
Discourse Without Distinction
The decline of the American working-class during the neoliberal assault of the last 40 years has left them using marginalizing rhetoric like middle-class instead of working-class. Without the language of resistance, the political discourse on inequality for example, glosses over the very important distinction about who, exactly, was paying the price.
Noted labor historian Steve Fraser believes that working-people traded any alternative to capitalism for “full citizenship” in the U.S. polity and society. In his recent book, The Age of Acquiescence: The Life and Death of American Resistance to Organized Wealth and Power, Fraser explains that the remnants of the working-class in contemporary America clutches to “fables” such as, “contract work is liberation.”
Despite the deeply felt rank and file rage against a political system rigged to serve the interests of Big Banks, Big Carbon and the rest of the corporate elites, the country’s principal labor federation—AFL-CIO—embraced the corporatist candidate Hillary Clinton. Long-entrenched big union leaders stripped of their capacity to respond had become a partner in the one sided social compact of the Establishment, ignoring her $5,000-a-minute closed door big-business speeches.
The New Deal Was Not Utopian
Hope for real change was reflected in a New York Times poll late last year which made clear that fifty-six percent of Democratic primary voters had a positive view of socialism. Millions are realizing that to improve the lives of all Americans and fix our rigged economy, the rigged racial injustice system, the rigged health care system, toxic fuel energy and other systems that have been captured by the billionaire class, we need to develop a language to strike at the root of an incremental political system that keeps working-people trapped.
The danger that looms in this election is that Americans will become demoralized and disaffected—even begin to see politics and self governance as an illusion that’s someone else’s problem. We need a new language to overcome that and mobilize against the unrelenting forces that have captured the political class.
People can be reminded that The New Deal “was not utopian—it actually happened and it left us an enormous amount of stuff that we use all the time,” says Gray Brechin. “It’s learning that language.”
While visiting a colleague in Norway, Gray Bechin asked why a giant granite statute of Franklin Roosevelt overlooked the Oslo Harbor. The Norwegian professor’s response was, “because he taught us how to have a decent society, but unlike you, we kept ours.”