We’ve Reached Peak Political Absurdity
American telescreens broadcast an endless theater of the politically absurd. Take, for example, the ongoing saga over the government shutdown and President Donald Trump’s border wall that has been playing out on screens across the nation for weeks.
Recently, news channels showed Trump telling reporters he can empathize with 800,000 federal workers struggling to pay their bills thanks to the government shutdown he ordered on the pretext of a “national security” crisis on the United States’ southern border.
“I can relate,” Trump said. “And I’m sure that the people that are toward the receiving end will make adjustments. They always do. … People understand exactly what’s going on.”
According to CNN, the government even gave unpaid workers sample letters “explaining the situation” to creditors.
The telescreens showed Trump threatening to declare a “national emergency” over a “national crisis” of “illegal crossings” at the U.S.-Mexican boundary. We saw Trump and his press secretary claim that U.S. authorities had recently interdicted many “terrorists” (including “Islamic” ones) from crossing the border.
We learned that the president threatened via tweet to end “birthright citizenship”—the national citizenship granted to all persons born in the U.S. under the Constitution’s 14th Amendment—through an executive order.
The following weekend, Trump made another appearance to offer Democrats a “deal” he claimed would end the shutdown and “the humanitarian crisis at the border.” His “proposal” (a non-starter before it aired) combined billions for the border wall with some short-term and partial protections for the “Dreamers” (the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival [DACA] recipients who were born to parents without legal status). Calling opponents of his wall “open-border extremists” who would render the country defenseless in the face of a criminal invasion of drugs, gangs and violence, he also attributed the nation’s widespread drug crisis to our “open border policy.”
“The radical Left,” Trump bizarrely intoned during his speech, “can never control our borders. I will never let it happen. Walls are not immoral. In fact, they are the opposite of immoral.”
His entire proposal was absurdity in its purest form for a number of reasons. To begin with, contrary to what the president would have Americans believe, border crossings have been dropping for years and are now at historic lows. There is also no evidence of anything remotely akin to a terrorist (“Islamic” or otherwise) influx at the U.S.-Mexico border. It’s actually Trump’s draconian policies, replete with the vicious mass-internment of asylum-seeking families and children from Central America, which are the main causes of humanitarian horror unfolding at the border.
Moreover, drugs enter the U.S. primarily via air, water and legal points of entry. They will not be stopped by physical boundaries along the southern U.S. border.
When it comes to “illegal immigrants,” most of the people labeled as such are those who overstayed their visas, not people who crossed the southern border. Mexican and Central American immigrants, both documented and undocumented, are also less, not more, prone than naturalized U.S. citizens to commit violent crimes in the U.S. The young people known as Dreamers do not need or want another maddening deferral of the resolution of their situation.
And as far as revoking birthright citizenship goes, a president cannot undo a Constitutional amendment with an executive order (or a tweet).
There is naturally no evidence of significant federal worker support for the president’s preposterous decision that they should go without paychecks. It’s worth remembering that a strike occurs when workers collectively withhold their labor to try to compel their employer to make changes in pay and/or working conditions. To describe federal workers’ involuntary loss of payment at the command of their boss as a “strike” is ludicrous to a degree that would make George Orwell blush.
While he’s at it, Trump might as well send out a tweet claiming to resolve the problem of “essential” federal workers’ unpaid status with an executive order abolishing the 13th Amendment and designating them as slaves.
The president’s claim that “the radical left” is a threat to “control our borders” is just as bizarre, not to mention a prime example of red-baiting
Equally ridiculous is any assumption that federal workers can forego pay for an extended period. Like their working- and middle-class counterparts around the nation, many government employees live from paycheck to paycheck with slight savings. You can’t buy gas or groceries with a letter from your dysfunctional employer, even if he is the president of the United States. And profit-hungry financial institutions aren’t going to tolerate long-term non-payment because people have a deadbeat boss.
Can Trump “relate” to the workers whose paychecks and benefits he’s suspended, as he claims? The president’s net worth is $3.1 billion. Though he continually claims he didn’t inherit his wealth, a detailed New York Times investigation last fall showed that he got his start and otherwise benefited significantly from his father’s real estate fortune. “By age 3,” the Times reported, Trump “was earning $200,000 a year in today’s dollars from his father’s empire. He was a millionaire by age 8. In his 40s and 50s, he was receiving more than $5 million a year.”
The millionaire’s ability to “relate” is evidently so strong that he couldn’t say anything about the plight of 800,000 unpaid federal workers during his speech to the nation last Saturday afternoon—not one word.
A president of the United States proudly proclaiming his readiness to cripple essential national services like air-traffic control, coastal protection, food safety inspectors and much more is nearly as outrageous as the U.S. Coast Guard telling its workers to take dog-walking and babysitting jobs and have garage sales to pay their bills. Or expecting air-traffic controllers to focus properly on their stressful and momentous duties while worrying about making their next rent or mortgage payment.
But Trump and his party do not have a monopoly on the political absurdity that stalks the cable news.
Top Democrats’ claim to find Trump’s wall “immoral” is a case in point. Their party’s leaders have long championed expensive and draconian “border security” measures, including fencing. Wall-building at the border increased dramatically under Bill Clinton, who feared an influx of Mexican farmers displaced by his arch-neoliberal North American Free Trade Agreement. Fence construction also continued under the record-setting “deporter-in-chief” Barack Obama.
One recent morning, I tuned into “liberal” MSNBC, the cable news headquarters of “progressive neoliberalism,” that curious mixture of corporate-financial allegiance and metropolitan identity politics that holds sway atop the Democratic Party. There I beheld morning MSNBC host Stephanie Ruhle speak passionately against the human costs of Trump’s “ridiculous” shutdown. Ruhle mocked the president’s pretense of empathy with unpaid federal workers. Then, right before a swath of drug commercials, she said that her next segment would turn to “Wall Street, my favorite place.”
That’s right, the same Wall Street that has been screwing over working-class people of all kinds (federal workers included) in service to the nation’s unelected dictatorship of capital for as long as it has existed.
MSNBC talking heads can cry all they want about the plight of working people and the poor. Their network, most of its hosts and the top Democrats they support are every bit as allegiant (if not more so) to that dictatorship as Fox News and the Republicans.
Ruhle wasn’t kidding about the world’s leading financial district being her happy place. Before entering the corporate media universe via Bloomberg Television, the MSNBC host spent six years in global hedge fund sales. Ruhle was vice president of Credit Suisse First Boston, where she “became the highest producing credit derivatives salesperson in the United States.”
“In 2003,” her Wikipedia page boasts, “Ruhle joined Deutsche Bank as a credit salesperson covering hedge funds. She ended her eight-year career there as a managing director in Global Markets Senior Relationship Management.”
With a fortune built on financial weapons of mass destruction that helped ruin working-class lives, Stephanie Ruhle enjoys a net worth of $5 million and receives $1 million a year from MSNBC. Evidently she feels for working people while inhabiting a lavish $7.5 million townhouse on Manhattan’s Upper East Side.
Now that she’s lost her Senate seat, the right-wing corporate Democrat Claire McCaskill should fit into her new position as a regular commentator at MSNBC, where neoliberal centrism privileges the servicing of corporate sponsors over social justice and even over the winning of elections by Democrats.
Along the way, “MSDNC” talking heads join not-so-progressive neoliberal brethren at CNN (where liberal hosts regularly invite and applaud anti-Trump commentary from former top national spymasters and generals) in doing their best to manufacture consent to the American Empire. As Glenn Greenwald notes, MSNBC has become “reflexively pro-war in the name of stopping President Donald Trump, and [is] now the prime propaganda instrument of the War Machine’s promotion of militarism and imperialism.” Thanks to what Greenwald calls “NBC/MSNBC’s all-consuming militarism”:
An entire generation of Democrats paying attention to politics for the first time is being instilled with formerly right-wing Cold Warrior values of jingoism, über-patriotism, reverence for security state agencies and prosecutors, a reckless use of the ‘traitor’ accusation to smear one’s enemies, and a belief that neoconservatives embody moral rectitude and foreign policy expertise has long been obvious and deeply disturbing. These toxins will endure far beyond Trump, particularly given the now full-scale unity between the Democratic establishment and neocons.
How ridiculous: A cable news network commonly said and thought to represent the positions of “the Left” functions as perhaps the leading propaganda organ of the War Party, opposing Trump on the grounds that’s he’s bad for the supposedly noble U.S. global empire.
Sadly, as Greenwald observes, Democrats are now more globally interventionist and imperial than Republicans. MSNBC and CNN’s relentless promotion of the national security state and the military-industrial-complex in the name of #Resistance played no small part in the party’s transformation.
An MSNBC roundtable last Sunday morning ended with a “Democratic strategist” offering curious commentary on what’s happened to the right- and nationalist-leaning U.S. and Europe over the last two years. Things were going great, the strategist said, under the leadership of Barack Obama, who embodied the best of enlightened Western civilization. Then Vladimir Putin came along and single-handedly ruined it all by passing Brexit, electing Donald Trump and fueling “populism” across Europe.
The suggestion begs a darkly interesting question regarding the nation’s reigning “corporate-managed democracy,” as Alex Carey calls it. Who’s more absurd: those who blame corporate-ruled America’s continuing systemic decline on a mythical invasion of Mexican and Central American rapists or those who point the finger at the supposedly all-powerful president of Russia?