‘Public Safety Is None of Your Business’
World peace is none of your business You must not tamper with arrangements Work hard and simply pay your taxes Never asking what for Oh, you poor little fool Oh, you fool
World peace is none of your business Police will stun you with their stun guns Or they’ll disable you with tasers That’s what government’s for Oh, you poor little fool Oh, you fool
World peace is none of your business So would you kindly keep your nose out The rich must profit and get richer And the poor must stay poor Oh, you poor little fool Oh, you fool
Each time you vote you support the process.
Each time you vote you support the process.
So crooned British rocker Morrissey in a haunting song recorded four years ago. It’s a melancholy ode to the pathetic irrelevance of the commoner, the everyday citizen, the popular majority, in what historian Noam Chomsky calls “RECD, short for ‘really existing capitalist democracy,’ pronounced as ‘wrecked.’ “
So what if we vote, all us “poor little fools”? Who cares? Our majority opinion doesn’t matter much when popular democracy has been blown to bits by concentrated wealth that is always concentrated power, and we’ve all been trained to restrict the expression of our purported popular sovereignty to candidate-centered, big money, big media, major party, electoral pageants once every two or four years.
“Money talks, and bullshit walks,” as my steelworker uncle, Chick Luhtala, used to say. My Finnish and socialist aunt, “Red Mary,” said the same.
Think that’s just some working-class complaint from the bad old days of industrial capitalism, industrial unions and socialist parties? Think again. As political scientists Benjamin Page (Northwestern University) and Marin Gilens (Princeton) showed in their expertly researched book, “Democracy in America? What Has Gone Wrong and What We Can Do About It”:
“[T]he best evidence indicates that the wishes of ordinary Americans actually have had little or no impact on the making of federal government policy. Wealthy individuals and organized interest groups—especially business corporations—have had much more political clout. When they are taken into account, it becomes apparent that the general public has been virtually powerless. … The will of majorities is often thwarted by the affluent and the well-organized, who block popular policy proposals and enact special favors for themselves. … Majorities of Americans favor … programs to help provide jobs, increase wages, help the unemployed, provide universal medical insurance, ensure decent retirement pensions, and pay for such programs with progressive taxes. Most Americans also want to cut ‘corporate welfare.’ Yet the wealthy, business groups, and structural gridlock have mostly blocked such new policies.”
We get to vote? Big deal! Mammon reigns in the United States, where, Page and Gilens write, “government policy … reflects the wishes of those with money, not the wishes of the millions of ordinary citizens who turn out every two years to choose among the preapproved, money-vetted candidates for federal office.”
Thanks to this “oligarchy,” as the authors call it, the United States ranks at or near the bottom of the list of rich nations when it comes to key measures of social health: economic disparity, intergenerational social mobility, racial inequality, racial segregation, infant mortality, poverty, child poverty, life expectancy, violence, incarceration, depression, literacy/numeracy and environmental sustainability and resilience.
It’s a vicious circle. “When citizens are relatively equal [economically],” Page and Gilens note, “politics has tended to be fairly democratic. When a few individuals hold enormous amounts of wealth, democracy suffers.” As in previous eras, savage inequality and abject plutocracy are two sides of the same class-rule coin in the current New Gilded Age.
Some political scientists have argued that regular elections that generate competition for citizens’ votes are all that is required for a nation to be considered a democracy. But “elections alone,” Page and Gilens note, “do not guarantee democracy.” Majority opinion is regularly trumped by a deadly complex of forces in the U.S. The list of interrelated and mutually reinforcing culprits they examine is extensive: the campaign financing, candidate-selection, lobbying and policy agenda-setting power of wealthy individuals, corporations and interest groups; the special primary election influence of extreme party activists; the disproportionately affluent, white and older composition of the voting electorate; the manipulation of voter turnout; the widespread dissemination of “distracting, confusing, misleading, and just plain false information”; unrepresentative political institutions (the Electoral College, the unelected Supreme Court, the overrepresentation in the Senate of the predominantly white rural population and “one-party rule in the House of Representatives”); constitutional and related partisan government gridlock; and the fragmentation of authority in government.
“You had your input,” our masters tell all us poor little fools. We got it the last time we had our chance to go into a voting booth for two minutes and choose from a narrow roster of “preapproved, money-vetted candidates.”
World peace is none of our business. Neither is corporate welfare, jobs, health insurance, pensions, the environment, tax policy, the drawing of voting districts, campaign finance, the distribution of wealth and income, the structure of work and the labor process, wages or labor rights.
And neither is the freedom of ordinary people—all us poor little fools and our poor little foolish children—to not be massacred by sociopaths armed to the teeth with military-style weapons in our streets, schools, workplaces, concert halls, churches, shopping malls, lecture halls, movie theaters and parks.
There was no great American democracy for Russia to supposedly subvert in 2016. Saying that Russia subverted our “democracy” is like me saying that Russian basketball players have undone my chance of being a starting point guard in the National Basketball Association.
I was reminded of Morrissey’s song and the Page and Gilens book—one of many fancy volumes (including one of my own, well to Page and Gilens’ left) showing that my working-class relatives had it right—by the aftermath of the latest gun massacre to disgrace the nation: the assault-weapon slaughter at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla. Despite the National Rifle Association, after this bloodbath, longstanding majority support for gun control spiked to 68 percent, its highest level in 25 years.
Even the orange-tinted authoritarian in the Oval Office seemed to notice. At a televised gun summit at the White House, NRA ally Donald Trump was briefly moved to sound like a leader of that sane supermajority.
And then it all went poof. Gun money talked, and lethal bullshit walked.
The rich, powerful and frankly proto-fascistic NRA went to work, calling Trump’s liberal gun moment “surreal” and denouncing gun control as part of the “European socialist” conspiracy to “destroy freedom.” The NRA’s chief personally reminded the president that he could ill afford to lose voters among a small but so far durable group of white “heartland” Americans (between 32 percent and 40 percent of the U.S. populace, depending on which poll you consult) that has backed him no matter how idiotic, dangerous and clueless he has shown himself to be.
It worked. NRA leaders triumphantly tweeted that “POTUS & VPOTUS support the Second Amendment, support strong due process and don’t want gun control.” Our armed madhouse will clearly march on; the clock is ticking until the next revolting massacre that everyone knows is coming.
Was El Presidente chastened, perhaps? Trump doesn’t like that feeling! He needed to feel strong and loved again. “Hey,” he thought, “didn’t I campaign as—what did Bannon call it?—an economic nationalist, telling all those forgotten white ‘heartland’ workers that I was going to make America great again by bringing back the manufacturing jobs we lost to evil China with the help of bad Wall Street?”
The political policy course was clear. “David Dennison” could move the news cycle off the loser gun issue (and the rising Stormy Daniels scandal and ever more threatening Mueller investigation) and reclaim action-hero manliness by slapping some ill-conceived, fake-protectionist tariffs on steel and aluminum! His staff went back into full-scramble mode, trying to keep up with the president’s latest impulse.
But the kids—those leading the remarkable movement for elementary public safety sparked by the latest attack on U.S. soil—won’t let the issue die. Last week, Trump shrugged as he said that “there’s not much political support” for increasing the minimum age for purchasing an assault weapon. (He also somehow managed to chide Congress for being scared of the NRA.)
Think about that. More than two-thirds of Americans back the very modest, elementary gun control measure of raising the minimum age for purchasing assault weapons from 18 to 21—but Trump says, “There’s not much political support” for such a measure.
Translation: there isn’t any potent, money-backed and electorally strategic political support for a measure (along with many other gun reforms) backed by a preponderant majority of the “poor little fools” who make up the citizenry in the open plutocracy that calls itself the homeland of global democracy. The policy change would be widely approved. But the money-drenched federal government, disciplined by the awesome lobbying and campaign-finance (and fire-) power of the NRA, is committed to keeping the nation a heavily armed, open-air asylum where there is a mass shooting-defined as four or more people shot in one incident, not including the shooter-every nine out of 10 days on average.
Gun control is none of our business. Freedom from gun violence in our communities is none of our business. The gun manufacturers and gun-sellers must profit and get richer. The populace must be mortally weaponized against itself, encouraged to crouch further into atomized self-defense units, carrying concealed and open means of mass homicide to justify the emergence of an ever more fascistic police state and keep the commoners too divided and scared to join hands for the common good.
The rich don’t care about the firearm savagery in the streets, schools and public squares. They don’t care about our danger and fear. They live in gated, heavily guarded, luxurious compounds, protected from the ricochets outside and below. The political system they sit atop and profit from isn’t about democracy. It’s about something very different: It’s about capitalism. If they thought widespread gun ownership among all us poor little fools was a threat to that system, they’d use the enormous political power that flows from their wealth to rein guns in. But they don’t.
Capitalism careens in the direction of fascism, which always leaves the masters of capital in control.
But notice the kids this time—the remarkable and inspiring new wave of Parkland-inspired youths who are hitting the streets, demanding basic humanist reform and elementary public decency and safety beyond the endless state-capitalist election cycles that are sold to us as “politics,” the only politics that matter: the candidate-centered, major-party electoral politics that always bring despair to all us poor little fools, who need to understand that world peace and so much more is none of our business.
The comfortable, retired, baby-boomer Democrat who sits near me over a computer in the coffee shop is planning her and her husband’s next globetrotting, planet-cooking vacation to some remote and, she says, “delicious” corner of the planet. How grand. She votes, and, in Iowa, caucuses. The voting takes two minutes. The caucusing takes two hours. She takes the time for this once every four years. She marched against the Vietnam War half a century ago.
The children inheriting the insanely armed and ecocidal nation she’s helped leave in her socially and generationally privileged wake are walking out of school for the sake of their own lives and those of others.
I don’t have all that much generational ground to stand on myself, but I do want to counsel the kids to beware of something. The Democratic Party election and candidate addicts and operatives always try to wrap themselves around any grass-roots social movements. The idea is to channel the elemental popular energy into the standard, “elite”-coordinated path of an endless get-out-the-vote operation on behalf of some shiny, new, fake-resistance, hope-and-change-promising Democratic contender.
These major party parasites are already dogging the gun sanity kids with voter registration cards and candidate websites and other electoral seductions that have long made the Democratic Party the “graveyard of social movements.” Their fake AstroTurf resistance must be resisted.
“If voting made any real difference,” the old anarchist saying goes, “they’d make it illegal.” That’s a bit strong for me. I don’t agree with Morrissey that you necessarily support the system every time you vote. It depends on how you approach the messy and absurdly mythologized business of voting and elections. You don’t have to treat the ballot box like a coffin for the common people. There’s nothing wrong, in my opinion, with taking the very brief time required to vote without illusion.
Still, it’s always good to keep the “cynical” anarchist maxim in mind. As historian Howard Zinn noted in an essay on and against the “election madness” he saw “engulfing the entire society including the left” the year of Barack Obama’s ascendancy:
“Would I support one candidate against another? Yes, for two minutes—the amount of time it takes to pull the lever down in the voting booth. But before and after those two minutes, our time, our energy, should be spent in educating, agitating, organizing our fellow citizens in the workplace, in the neighborhood, in the schools. Our objective should be to build, painstakingly, patiently but energetically, a movement that, when it reaches a certain critical mass, would shake whoever is in the White House, in Congress, into changing national policy on matters of war and social justice. … Historically, government, whether in the hands of Republicans or Democrats, conservatives or liberals, has failed its responsibilities, until forced to by direct action: sit-ins and Freedom Rides for the rights of black people, strikes and boycotts for the rights of workers, mutinies and desertions of soldiers in order to stop a war. Voting is easy and marginally useful, but it is a poor substitute for democracy, which requires direct action by concerned citizens.”
We deserve and should demand an electoral and party system worthy of our passionate participation and attention. The one we have now is no such thing—not even close. “Our” rigged political order and the broader class and imperial power and oppression system of which it is a part tell us again and again that world peace, social justice and livable ecology, indeed prospects for a decent future, are none of our business; that the management of the common good is properly the purview of the wealthy few and their trusted professional classes—the business of big business and its well-trained servants. (This goes way back in U.S. history and has nothing to with “Russian interference.”)
We must tamper with those arrangements, to put it mildly.
Postscript: When I went to YouTube to listen to the Morrissey song lyrics I quoted at the top of this essay, I was forced to listen to two NRA commercials whose angry and imposing spokeswoman, Dana Loesch, practically threatened assassination to liberals and leftists in the public sphere. In the first commercial, Loesch told “every lying member of the media” that the NRA has “had enough.” Against an ominous guitar track, she came onscreen dressed in black, an hourglass at her side. “We have had enough of the lies, the sanctimony, the arrogance, the hatred, the pettiness, the fake news,” she said, concluding with a menacing promise:
“We are done with your agenda to undermine voters’ will and individual liberty in America. So to every lying member of the media, to every Hollywood phony, to the role model athletes who use their free speech to alter and undermine what our flag represents, to the politicians who would rather watch America burn than lose one ounce of their own personal power, to the late night posts that think their opinion is the only opinions that matter, to the Joy-Ann Reids, the Morning Joes, the Mikas, to those who stain honest reporting with partisanship, to those who bring bias and propaganda to CNN, The Washington Post and The New York Times … your time is running out. The clock starts now.”
Then Loesch turned the hourglass before the screen went black.
In the second commercial, Loesch targeted those who dare to protest in the streets:
“They use their media to assassinate real news. They use their schools to teach children that their president is another Hitler. They use their movie stars and singers and award shows to repeat their narrative over and over again. And then they use their ex-president to endorse the resistance. All to make them march, make them protest, make them scream racism and sexism and xenophobia and homophobia and smash windows, burn cars, shut down interstates and airports, bully and terrorize the law abiding—until the only option left is for police to do their jobs and stop the madness. … And when that happens, they’ll use it as an excuse for their outrage. The only way we stop this, the only way we save our country and our freedom, is to fight this violence of lies with the clenched fist of truth. I’m the National Rifle Association of America and I’m freedom’s safest place.”
That, my fellow poor little fools, is what American-style fascism sounds and looks like in 2018.Wait, before you go…
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