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      Week-end Wrap – Political Economy – March 19, 2023 by Tony Wikrent   Global power shift China Leads A Successful Middle East Summit Ian Welsh, March 16, 2023 Something which has slipped past most people’s radar is that China recently acted as the intermediary for peace talks between Iran and Saudi Arabia. The two countries have been at each other’s throats f […]
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All things visible and invisible

I have a point. Bear with me.

As many of you know, I’m a Tolkienista. Some of the best people are. Tolkien writes about the power of mythology and how it can illuminate truths in our everyday lives. It makes sense given that he was originally a classics major but I don’t want to get too deep in the weeds.

Tolkien is comfort food to me. I always feel better after I read him. Lately, I’ve been revisiting parts of the Lord of the Rings like looking up Bible passages. And I keep coming back to the character of Sauron. It’s because Sauron himself keeps coming back. He keeps making trouble and the various peoples of middle earth keep falling for him over and over again because he keeps changing his appearance.

I’ve written before about how Tolkien drew from Plato’s story about the Ring of Gyges when he wrote the LOTR. In the myth, Gyges is a poor shepherd who discovers a magic ring after an earthquake reveals a tomb where it had been hidden. The ring makes Gyges invisible and he uses his invisibility to take what he wants, riches, another man’s wife, a kingdom, because no one can pin the crimes on him. No one can see him.

It reminded me of the Trump years because didn’t he get away with murder (probably) when his party refused to see what he was doing? You can’t hold a man accountable for misdeeds if no one can see him. Or the Trumper would say in reverse, he wasn’t found guilty therefore he did nothing wrong. But really, when we break it down, it’s just a matter of willful ignorance, of turning ones face away.

Sauron gets away with his deceptions partially through invisibility. He eventually gets caught in every instance but the fact that he gets so many chances is because his targets don’t recognize him when he returns. Each time he returns to prey on another group of people, he’s got a new name, a new physical appearance and a new con game. His targets are duped every time. And the reason he gets additional chances us because his targets don’t finish him off when they have the opportunity. Well, eventually they do. But they have multiple chances and they seem to prefer an “out of sight out of mind I’ll worry about that tomorrow” attitude to actually taking care of the problem once and for all.

That’s the kind of thing I worry about at night. We hacked the ring off of Trump’s hand but he’s still out there, searching for his ring of invisibility or new physical manifestation. He’ll come back in a new body, a different name, some better arm candy. We will always need to be on our guard, ready to force him or her into revealing who they are.

But there is hope that we can hold people accountable.

If it weren’t for the bystanders who recorded George Floyd’s death, Derek Chauvin might have gotten away with it. He was counting on his cloak of official invisibility to shield his actions and maintain his power. Those recordings stripped him of that and laid bare his actions for all to see.

The character of a person is determined by whether they give in to the temptation to wield power over others and exploit them if they think they can get away with it. The Trumpers would say that only a fool passes on opportunities like that.

We have a nation where roughly one third of our citizens see other people as prey, resources, wealth, and a source of ego fulfillment. They’ve been conditioned to think it is ok to treat the rest of us as easy marks or terrorists or weak. And they’ve gotten away with a lot of bad because that 30% pretend to not see what they’re doing or somehow benefit from it or believe it’s a dog eat dog world.

But not this time with Derek Chauvin. This time we saw the nature of what unlimited, unchecked power is when it is directed at a vulnerable person. The country was horrified by it and accountability finally happened.

Just because you don’t see the hurt, the pain, the ruination and destruction doesn’t mean it hasn’t happened. And just because one bad cop got caught doesn’t make the exploitation and inequality visited on so many vulnerable people somehow more tolerable.

We all know how to set things right. Even the 30% knows right from wrong. There’s no excuse for pretending to not see.

“Both Sides”

I think I get to read one New York Times online article a month for free, and I must have read one, because I cannot access Nate Cohn’s piece which is drawing a good deal of heat. I am not against paying for online newspaper reading, but I am not inclined to want to pay the NYT for it, certainly not after their unforgettable twin headlines a few days before the 2016 election. “New emails jolt Clinton campaign in final days.” (There were no new emails). “Investigating Donald Trump, FBI sees no clear link to Russia.” (a lie pushed by the SDNY section of FBI which was loyal to Giuliani, and despised Hillary Clinton. All sorts of top people in the FBI saw clear links to Russia). There is a lot more that the NYT has done wrong in the last four years, though occasionally there is good journalism there, just not enough of it for saving this country from totalitarianism. So I do not pay for it, and thus I missed Mr. Cohn’s column, apparently about how hyperpartisanship is making it impossible for America to move forward. Cohn is quite good on polling and demographic issues, but like his colleague Nate Silver, he likes to opine on larger matters.

So he gives us a truism: hyperpartisanship is not good. But the implication is that “both sides,” Republicans and Democrats; the Right and the Left, are to blame. As one commenter on Cohn’s Twitter page suggested, it is like saying that the Nazis, and the people who fought the Nazis, were both partisan, and thus both at fault. Cohn of course did not mean that, but his essay does highlight how “both sidesism” is pervading opinion media.

We’ve heard a good deal about this over the last several years. It appears to be the fallback position of much of the political media. Why is that? Most obviously, because they and the corporations which employ and pay them, do not want to offend either “side.’ The Right Wing has spent about forty years attacking “the liberal media,” which has predictably caused the media, mostly owned by very rich Republicans, to tend to favor the Right Wing side. A sports fan would call this “working the refs.,” complaining so much about every call against them, that the officials consciously or unconsciously start making calls against the other team. In this case, it would be consciously..

It was obvious to me,and probably to most of us, that the corporate media wanted Trump to win in 2016. The NYT has hated Hillary Clinton for decades. How this started is best known by those closer to it, but I did read that someone who worked there said that hating Hillary was almost requisite if you wanted to be hired as part of the NYT political writing staff. The devastating headlines I noted above were just part of the endless bias against Hillary; and literally, or simply by logical result, for Trump.

After Trump won, it seemed, from what I could glean, that the NYT was bending over backwards to excuse or “understand” Trump, and his supporters. Maggie Haberman, whose mother works for Jared Kushner’s public relations firm, was the leader of that. The television media settled on this “both sides” approach to almost every story. It would be comical if it weren’t so important and dangerous. So whatever Trump or his cohorts did or said, they had to always toss in, “Democrats are also…’ Or, “But the Democrats also must answer for…” Or, “But what about Democrats doing….?’

It has become reflexive. The television media thrives on controversy, which they believe drives views and ratings. They may differ in approach. CNN would always put together panels which would consist of equal members of the Right and Left arguing with each other. MSNBC has some anchors who mostly have guests who agree with them, but other anchors want arguments. Fox is simply endless Far Right propaganda all day, and OAN and Newmax are the same.

And from what I read, since I no longer watch them, the Sunday news talk shows are the absolute worst in doing the “both sides” approach. In fact, my sense is that the guests of Chuck Todd always consist of two Far Right Republicans, one Democrat, and one “moderate” Republican, meaning anyone who is not off the edge. The big problem is that the stories which come out of the Sunday news cycle are essentially spun by the Right, which is why we inevitably read that “Democrats are going too far,”,or “have to answer serious questions,” while “Republicans are gaining ground via new voting laws, while Democrats contend that they are unfair.” We are seemingly always on the defense on Sunday, going into Monday, and it is because of these shows.

Cohn is apparently proposing to argue from higher ground. He is saying that both sides are so locked into intransigent partisanship, that there is no room to meet anywhere in the middle. Obviously, the word “middle” presupposes two extremes, and then a place where they could come together, if only they were not so hyperpartisan.

That may sound reasonable in the abstract, but it is absurd in the political and societal present. What is the middle ground to the insurrection at the capitol? What is the middle ground to the claims of the Republican Far Right that the election was stolen from Trump, and that Trump actually got more votes? You cannot compromise with fanatics. What was the possible compromise with the Nazis? Mussolini’s offer to broker a settlement between England and Germany, where England would stay out of the war and then of course would be invaded and conquered by Hitler? That was suggested to Churchill by some British members of parliament, who of course wanted to ignore the last part. Churchill completely rejected it, of course. We say, “You can’t negotiate with terrorists,’ Then how can you negotiate politically with a group which tried to overthrow our government, kill multiple members of Congress and police officers? That was not some kind of out-of-control mob, that is the base of the current Republican Party.

I guess the implied and extorted negotiation is that, “if we let Republicans pass draconian voting laws to insure that they will never lose elections, they will stop trying to overthrow the government by violent force.” This seems beyond ludicrous, but isn’t that essentially what the both sidesers in the media are saying, with the years of, “We have to try to understand what the Trump supporters want, why they are so angry and disaffected, so we must find them in diners, and have our NYT writers do article after article on them.”?

They might say, “You are showing your partisanship by condemning them, not looking for common ground, or meeting in the middle.” That is a circular and self-perpetuating argument. There is no middle with the current Right. There is no common ground. Occasionally, there might be a bill where the monetary amount can be negotiated, but there are very few of those now. Republicans basically oppose every Democratic spending bill; they come up with some much smaller figure, and do not budge. They cut the corporate tax rate from 35% to 21% under Trump, and now do not even want to go back up to 28%, they want 25%.

That is the monetary part. The rest of it is unnegotiable. Where is the middle ground on voter suppression laws enacted via “The Big Lie,” that there was massive election fraud, and so we must make it as difficult as possible for Democrats to vote? Not only is that an abhorrent lie, it makes it imperative not to negotiate; it would be like negotiating with someone who was robbing your house, as to how much they could take. Where is the negotiation to at least somewhat stop assault weapons violence, when the Right’s position is “no negotiation at all; everything stays exactly the same although there will of course be more weapons sold and more killings.”? Where is the negotiation on trying to at least arrest climate change, when the Right’s position is “no legislation at all.”?

One group, if we can even flatter it by calling it that, will not budge; and then the media demands that the other group try to understand them, or withdraw their own positions. Democrats were never hyperpartisan. Clinton was not, nor was Obama, certainly The hyperpartisanship always came from the Republicans, and has gotten far worse over the decades. Republicans try to block every Democratic bill. It is a sure thing that if the Republicans win the House in 2022, that will be the end of every single bit of legislation which President Biden would propose. If they do not take the House, but win the Senate, they will not bring any legislation to the floor, we have seen that as McConnell’s unyielding tactic If the Republicans take the Presidency in 2024, we will be living in in a Fascist/Evangelical nightmare.

Biden knows this and that is why he is trying to get everything he can passed before the next election. Our democracy is imperiled, not by “by both sides” hyperpartisanship, but by a political faction which seeks nothing less than to subjugate the country, and set up an electoral game where the dice and the wheel are so fixed, that they can never lose. So analysts and pundits who think that they are offering sober and reasoned assessments, with this ‘both sides’ idiocy, are actually playing right into the hands of the unrelenting Far Right, which now contends that every election they do not win is the result of fraud; and are stoking up racist and anti-semitic fury via their insane “replacement theory.” There is a time for war and a time for peace, the Book of Ecclesiastes and the Pete Seeger song tell us. But peace does not come from throwing down all your weapons, and just hoping that the other side will take some pity on you., or walking toward a nonexistent middle, to be mowed down by them.