Abraham Lincoln’s admonition that “You can fool…… some of the people all the time….” seems a fitting description of today’s America. And I am not speaking of Trump voters. I am referring to a much larger segment of society who, through ignorance, denial or both, refuse to consider coloring outside the lines of the American political system, despite the fact it has been increasingly brutalizing them over the last 40 years.
During that period, the US has been under the control of an unelected wealthy elite, know variously as the oligarchs, the plutocrats, the corporatists or the 1 percent. There are many concrete indications of this, not the least of which are conveyed through the public’s own responses to survey questions having to do with such things as how well Congress does its job; how much faith they have in the integrity of elections; is Congress representing them or the interests of others; opinions on wealth distribution and which economic group Congress seems to favor.
The pattern of results indicates that the public is quite critical of government and how it performs its role serving them. Nevertheless, that public does not take its dissatisfaction to the level of formulating a coherent explanation for themselves as to the cause or causes of government’s failures. As it turns out, this should not be surprising. Our schools do not prepare students for citizenship. The news media does not inform us, on the contrary, it serves as an uncritical megaphone for Official Washington, as well as a propaganda machine for corporate and right-wing forces.
With the help of the oligarchs, the Democratic and Republican Parties have essentially merged, forming a political duopoly that has successfully frozen out any competition from alternative political viewpoints that are not compatible with those of their corporate patrons. The duopoly protects itself and the unelected rulers, and the rulers protect them. Elections have become irrelevant to the Parties’ ability to remain in power.
Even though more voters consider themselves independents than either those affiliated as Republicans or Democrats, too many voters still play by the rules set forth for them by the duopoly. They continue to vote for one or the other party, even though that has been a failing strategy for decades. The adage about the irrationality of doing the same thing repeatedly and expecting different results fits this situation well. One would expect some learning to occur, some realization that elections come and go, but nothing of importance to the people changes. Millennials as a group, seem to have a greater awareness of this contradiction than older voters. They left the Democratic Party in large numbers following the 2016 primary and election. Many have joined third party movements.
The loyalty of those among the 99 percent still faithful to either party is undeserved. It is tempting to explain their devotion using terms like beguiled and entranced because it is so irrational. The representatives that the people elect, as a group abuse the people that put them in office, yet are repeatedly reelected. The observation of many Democrats, in their fervent, yet likely futile effort to reform the Party is revealing. They recognize that their Party is following the openly corporatist Republicans down the road to hell, but believe the Dems are simply misguided, mistaken, suffering temporary insanity or some other rationalization. They fail to recognize, or refuse to admit to themselves, that the Democratic leadership has chosen that path with both eyes wide open.
On the Republican side, similar self-delusion among the public is occurring, only it has more selfish origins. Those that align with the party of wealth harbor fantasies of becoming wealthy themselves. They have naively bought into the belief that in the “land of the free, home of the brave”, anything is possible. In addition, I believe there is a touch of Identification with the Aggressor going on. The Republican Party invented the brutality now being unleashed upon the people (and which the Dems have now become a partner in). The racists and bigots in their base get vicarious jollies from the misanthropic policies of the party. These factors appear to obscure the damage they themselves are sustaining at the hands of the party they support.
Creating polarization along class, race, ethnicity, religion, gender AND party lines is a tactic used by the powerful to keep us at each other’s throats, and off theirs. The Democratic and Republican Parties pretend they stand for different things to create an artificial divide among us. And they have been very successful. However, when it comes to the most critical issues, such as the economy, foreign policy, military spending and wars and even social programs, they are very much on the same page.
When virtually everything we see and hear via the 24/7 news cycle supports the message of the duopoly and the oligarchs, it is no wonder that so few people can make an objective critique of the system we live under. The remarkable consistency of the dis- and misinformation makes it hard to challenge. That highly paid media personalities and politicians can repeatedly lie wholesale to the public without serious backlash or consequences is extraordinary. All this suggests that the public has been strategically prepared to suspend disbelief and accept whatever is passed along through “legitimate” news sources. Noam Chomsky has called this the “manufacture of consent”.
In a literal sense, this is thought control. Not through devious or arcane methods, but simply through near-total control of the information we have ready access to, by corporate media conglomerates who serve only their own interests and those of the other members of the ruling class. As long as that tight control over information content and distribution remains in place, widespread, objective knowledge of the actual goings-on within politics, government and economics will not be available, and the thought control will continue.
Independent news media exists on a small scale and is growing. Probably the most widely distributed independent news program is Democracy Now! with Amy Goodman. Nearly 1,400 hundred television and radio stations broadcast the daily (M-F) one-hour program worldwide. According to Quantcast.com “democracynow.org reaches over 395K U.S. monthly people” in the period 2016–2017. Additional international and podcast listenership can only be guessed at, true for all such media, and is likely to be significant. Democracy Now!, all the online journalism organizations such as The Intercept, and the many regional investigative journalism efforts that have established themselves as newspapers have shut down their IJ departments, together have only a fraction of the exposure of the corporate media.
PBS and NPR used to offer publicly supported objective journalism that served as a modest counterweight to managed corporate news. That is no longer the case. Politicians and corporate underwriters have managed to bring influence to bear even in this space, once off-limits to them. The Washington Post’s slogan, “Democracy dies in darkness” is correct, however, it is a hypocritical assertion in their hands because they do not actually live by it. American democracy has been dying for several reasons. Key among those is the enforced darkness imposed by the corporate media. Americans desperately need massive infusions of honest, objective journalism if they are to have the knowledge and tools to restore their democracy and protect it from further attacks by the plutocrats and corporatists.