The big losers in the recent NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist confidence polling (January 08-10-2018) are Congress, the two parties, and the media. Based on the poll, most people in the US have “not very much” or “no confidence” in the legislative body, corporate news and entertainment, or the Democratic or Republican parties. In fact, over two-thirds of those surveyed lack confidence in the media and nearly three-fourths show little or no confidence in Congress!
In light of these numbers, one can only wonder when the pitchforks are coming out. Clearly, dissatisfaction with major US institutions extends very broadly. Yet these results are not new. Nearly a decade ago, a similar Gallup poll showed that only 11% of respondents had a “great deal” or “quite a lot” of confidence in Congress. A Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll in 2014 showed that both parties earned a decidedly more negative than a positive image. That same poll put the approval rate for Congress at 12%.
Those pundits and political operatives who discount the depth of dissatisfaction and disregard the festering anger in the US are doomed to misread the meaning of past and most-recent elections. The mainstream media mock Trump’s “fake news” charges while blithely ignoring the negative sentiments of the population toward the news industry. Don’t media elites see that “lack of confidence” is, in fact, a scathing indictment of their own collective performance in delivering the truth?
Failure to recognize the widespread disdain for core US political institutions hinders the understanding that Trumpism is not merely a malignant political alternative, but the consequence of a long history of malignant political alternatives; Trump isn't the cause of the problem, he's the result of the problem. As much as Trump disgusts with his vulgarity, he openly expresses thoughts shared by other powerful people who voice them only behind the walls of their mansions or private clubs. As much as Trump attacks the living standards of working people and degrades their safety net, he stands at the end of a relentless, unrelieved half-century of assault on the gains won in the New Deal era. As much as Trump has embraced belligerence and aggression in his foreign policy, he has only belatedly and somewhat reluctantly fallen in line with the imperialist agenda crafted and executed by his predecessors in the post-Soviet era.
He has Defense Secretary ‘Mad Dog’ Mattis to remind him of the agenda. The Wall Street Journal tells us (January 19, 2018) that Trump recently proposed to call off joint ROK/US military exercises as a pacifying gesture to Kim Jung Un. Mattis stepped in and purportedly flattered him with “Your instincts are absolutely correct,” while cajoling him into betraying those same instincts and going forward with the exercises. Incredibly, Mattis is the figure that many liberals cite as the restraining force in the Trump White House.
“Making America Great Again” is the mark of an empire facing increasingly effective threats from imperialist rivals as well as anti-imperialist resistance. While the dream of a Pax Americana imposed on the world is now discredited, Trumpism clings to the illusion that robust, blustery nationalism is the answer to an increasingly fruitless globalism.
Last year, in his lengthy, candid valedictory interview with Jeffrey Goldberg in The Atlantic magazine, one will find many hints of Obama’s lost confidence in the aggressive reordering of the world that he inherited and that was represented in his administration by Clinton, Rice, Power, and Rhodes. Mattis and General Kelly play that same role of sabre-rattlers and war-instigators in the Trump administration despite the popular caricature of them as wise counsel to a wild man.
With Trump, the missionary mask, so long a feature of US imperialism, is cast off. The “humanitarian, human rights” pose used so skillfully by Clinton and Obama’s war makers is of little interest to Trump and his consort. Any renegade thoughts Trump may have of exercising his self-proclaimed “deal” skills or imagined “charm” in negotiating with rivals are quickly squashed by the two pillars of militarism (Mattis and Kelly) within the Trump administration.
In better times, one could count on a sizeable segment of activist liberals to stand with the anti-imperialist left against US militarism and aggression. But, today, they have been mesmerized by a phantasmagoric anti-Russia campaign framed to distract attention away from real issues and the chronically flawed democratic process.
Apart from the demonstrated thinness of liberal principles, the NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist poll explains exactly why RussiaGate could gain traction despite a lack of evidence. Behind the hysteria are two institutions that retain a great deal of misplaced confidence with the public: the FBI and the military. And behind that confidence is a glorifying and romanticizing of the two in popular culture, especially since the onset of the Mission Impossible-like War on Terror. Network and cable television feature drama of attractive, upright, and diligent FBI agents standing between the US public and chaos, night after night. Similarly, the military enjoys a heroic stature nourished by the media, the entertainment industry, and the chicken-hawk elites whose children never see the enlistment office.
Glenn Greenwald clarifies the self-deception lurking behind this cult of self-righteousness, while speaking in Santa Fe recently: “Every time Trump says or does something that is xenophobic, or bigoted, or militaristic, or threatening, people always say, ‘This is not what America is about,’... I always react to that by saying, ‘It’s not?’”
The RussiaGate mania is now runaway paranoia, perfectly suited to turn the populace from its real problems. Democratic Party operatives have crossed over to insanity, detecting Russia behind the announced candidacy of Chelsea Manning for US Senate. Neera Tanden, prominent head of the Center for American Progress, smelled a Kremlin plot behind Manning running against a corporate Democratic Senator. It may be a long wait for the soft left and the identity Democrats to render support to the heroic Manning. But then they wouldn’t comprehend the real heroism of serving jail time for exposing US war atrocities.
Emboldened by its success in fabricating RussiaGate from nothing, the FBI has turned its scrutiny on the People's Republic of China. Our intrepid spy hunters are casting their vigilance on Rupert Murdoch’s ex-trophy wife, Wendi Deng Murdoch, a prominent DC socialite. According to “sources” friendly to The Wall Street Journal, Ms Murdoch lobbied for a Chinese garden funded by the PRC at the National Arboretum. The FBI explained that the Arboretum was less than 5 miles from the White House and the Capitol. And, if that were not enough, the plan included a 70-foot tower that the FBI feared might be used for surveillance!
As if the Chinese could not rent a room in a six- or seven-story building in downtown DC to further their nefarious plot without spending $100 million on a Chinese garden.
So, we have a prominent figure who might have lobbied for a project that might have served PRC intelligence purposes by constructing a 70-foot tower that might have a surveillance purpose. But this twisted conspiracy tale goes further-- Ms Murdoch socialized with Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner! The FBI has a picture of them together! Of course, that is the point of this inane exercise: meddling in US politics. Let’s see if deranged liberals buy this, too.
And we have the NBC story that reports that a CIA agent who retired in 2007 has been arrested for collaborating with the PRC. But there is a hitch: “U.S. officials told NBC News they don't believe Lee ever will be charged as a spy, in part because they don't have all the proof they might need, and in part because they would not want to air the evidence they do have in a public courtroom.” A careful read of the NBC article might lead one to believe that the CIA is embarrassed because their PRC counterparts broke the secret communication system that the CIA used to communicate with their covert agents. One might further surmise that Jerry Chun Shing Lee is the patsy for this failure. But the uncritical, trusting media report the damaging charge even though sources admit that “...they don't have all the proof they might need…” A fine example of a responsible press in the age of Trump!
As the US empire undergoes further and further stress, more and more dysfunction, the search for scapegoats and distractions will only intensify, and the barbarism of apocalyptical conflict will grow even more probable.
It is not enough to take a small step or two back from the brink, as liberals and the compromised left would like. Delivering a world two steps from catastrophe is a feckless award to future generations.
An angry, disappointed public that has lost confidence in its institutions is searching for a new, more promising road forward. Isn’t it the time to bring the promise of democracy and social justice embedded in socialism before the US public?