Mar 8, 2014
Zombie Politics: Dangerous Authoritarianism or Shrinking Democracy - Part II
Posted on May 4, 2012
By Henry A. Giroux, Truthout
Moreover, by giving corporations and unions unlimited freedom to contribute to elections, the recent Supreme Court decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission provided a final step in placing the control of politics more firmly in the hands of big money and large corporations. In this ruling, democracy—like everything else in American culture—was treated as a commodity and offered up to the highest bidder. As a result, whatever government regulations are imposed on big business and the financial sectors will be largely ineffective and will do little to disrupt casino capitalism’s freedom from political, economic, and ethical constraints. Chris Hedges is right in insisting that the Supreme Court’s decision “carried out a coup d’etat in slow motion. The coup is over. We lost. The ruling is one more judicial effort to streamline mechanisms for corporate control. It exposes the myth of a functioning democracy and the triumph of corporate power ... . The corporate state is firmly cemented in place.”
In light of his conservative, if not authoritarian, policies, Obama’s once inspiring call for hope has been reduced to what appears to be simply an empty performance, one that “favours the grand symbolic gesture over deep structural change every time.” What once appeared as inspired rhetoric has largely been reduced to fodder for late-night television comics, while for a growing army of angry voters it has become nothing more than a cheap marketing campaign and disingenuous diversion in support of moneyed interests and power. Obama’s rhetoric of hope is largely contradicted by policies that continue to reproduce a world of egotistic self-referentiality, an insensitivity to human suffering, massive investments in military power, and an embrace of those market-driven values that produce enormous inequalities in wealth, income, and security. There is more at stake here than a politics of misrepresentation and bad faith. There is an invisible register of politics that goes far beyond the contradiction between Obama’s discourse and his right-wing policies. What we must take seriously in Obama’s policies is the absence of anything that might suggest a fundamental power shift away from casino capitalism to policies that would develop the conditions “that make it possible for ordinary people to better their lives by becoming political beings and by making power responsive to their hopes and needs.” In Obama’s world, cutthroat competition is still the name of the game, and individual choice is still simply about a hunt for bargains. Lost here is any notion of political and social responsibility for the welfare, autonomy, and dignity of all human beings but especially those who are marginalized because they lack food, shelter, jobs, and other crucial basic needs. But then again, this is not Obama’s world; it is a political order and mode of economic sovereignty that has been in the making for quite some time and now shapes practically every aspect of culture, politics, and civic life. In doing so it has largely destroyed any vestige of real democracy in the United States.
I am not suggesting that in light of Obama’s continuation of some of the deeply structured authoritarian tendencies in American society that people should turn away from the language of hope, but I am saying that they should avoid a notion of hope that is as empty as it is disingenuous. What is needed is a language of critique and hope that mutually inform each other, and engagement in a discourse of hope that is concretely rooted in real struggles and capable of inspiring a new political language and collective vision among a highly conservative and fractured polity. Maybe it is time to shift the critique of Obama away from an exclusive focus on the policies and practices of his administration and develop a new language, one with a longer historical purview and deeper understanding of the ominous forces that now threaten any credible notion of the United States as an aspiring democracy. As Stuart Hall insists, we “need to change the scale of magnification” in order to make visible the anti-democratic relations often buried beneath the hidden order of politics that have taken hold in the United States in the last few decades. It may be time to shift the discourse away from focusing on either Obama’s failures or urging progressives and others to develop “the organizational power to make muscular demands” on the Obama administration. Maybe the time has come to focus on the ongoing repressive and systemic conditions, institutions, ideologies, and values that have been developing in American society for the last thirty years, forces that are giving rise to a unique form of American authoritarianism. I agree with Sheldon Wolin that the “fixation upon” Obama now “obscures the problems” we are facing. Maybe it is time to imagine what democracy would look like outside of what we have come to call capitalism, not simply neoliberalism at its most extreme manifestation. Maybe it is time to fight for the formative culture and modes of thought and agency that are the very foundations of democracy. And maybe it is time to mobilize a militant, far-reaching social movement to challenge the false claims that equate democracy and capitalism.
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