The Consortium Calls It

Friday evening a friend wondered “Are they gonna call the election in a Friday news dump?” I laughed, and had been musing on the same question earlier in the day. Though the notion amuses, the alternative carried out today by “they” is much richer.

Saturday, Nov. 7, 2020 concludes a week which is a microcosm of contemporary America:

  1. Political debate has conceptually been devoured by a sectarian/race war
  2. Bad rules thwart the majority from doing anything effective about the above, or about the bad rules, or about much of anything
  3. In this dysfunction, power defaults more and more to corporate capital
  4. For ordinary people, conditions get worse, intensified by a dangerous natural phenomenon which could easily be controlled by a functional modern civilization, but which in this case is largely allowed to burn as it will because that’s the option most suited to short-term corporate profits
  5. Meanwhile few people even give much notice to any of this, because our information and conceptual infrastructure is hopelessly misaligned with what’s really going on, owing to a combination of senescence and sabotage

The above picture came together as I watched days of “count every vote, the results will take time, we need to be patient” go flying out the window all at once, because the AP, CNN, etc. “called” the election for Joe Biden. Public officials literally raced to say “it’s official,” as they joined the general stampede to embrace these “calls” as the formal conclusion of the presidential election. In a very real sense, a corporate consortium has taken up the role of determining presidential election results, and this is out in the open and society is going right along with it unquestioning.

As signs go, it doesn’t get much more in-your-face obvious than that, despite which as usual I seem to be the only weirdo who even sees something here.

Most of the above five points are familiar territory, well explored here already. I will have more to write about this presumed-result later, but to emphasize the first point, I don’t see any way to explain completely the durability of Republicans without recognizing that millions of people are in essence voting for their side in a sectarian/race war and the prevailing agonies about events, policies, facts, etc. are mostly fucking irrelevant. Item four on the list is a reference to COVID-19 as the preview for the climate crisis, obviously.

I think there’s something to the “CNN called it” item three, however, in combination with item five which I have been developing throughout the year.

Corporate capital really is where vast amounts of power are, at this point, and the proportional notice given to that power is negligible, and this is a key part of the dysfunction which prevents the majority from accomplishing effective influence on policy.

Arguably this is a pattern which shouldn’t need that much explaining. Any readers I may have are probably very receptive already to the idea that America is an oligarchy. But it’s worth noting that, besides the arguably trivial and symbolic announcement of the next president by media corporations, this week included two other notable examples of oligarchy at work.

One: Trump’s presumed defeat, itself. I have a notebook full of omens and portents which did or did not prove accurate, but right now I recall multiple signs of corporate media abandoning Trump. When Trump pre-announced that he was going to declare victory, Tuesday evening, the oft-accommodating media made it clear that they were not going to support that play; even Facebook declined this time, reportedly.

Two, also this week, Uber and Lyft basically succeeded in buying an antiworker unreformable California law for $200 million. You can read the details elsewhere, but Proposition 22 is terrible (except for corporate capital), it includes a clause essentially preventing elected government from ever amending or repealing it, and it passed courtesy of vastly lopsided spending.

Again, none of this is going to shock too many people. So perhaps a third comment on the past week can help explain why I feel like there is something to be learned, nonetheless: this past week demonstrated the incapacity of prevailing strategies and tactics to take on this oligarchy.

From a progressive, humanist perspective, I think the 2020 election results represent a combination of astonishing defy-the-odds accomplishment and dispiriting failure. But the dispiriting failure, if only part of the story, is not something anyone should ignore. Particularly because it isn’t an isolated failure. It’s one more example of effort and resources seemingly intended to promote at least relatively progressive policy failing to do so.

The traditional activists’ toolkit—march, testify, write letters, “call your Congresscritter”—has less and less impact on policy. There are various reasons for this, but it’s true. The next stage of “vote them out” is also working poorly, and while there are reasons for this also, overall in 2020 one can not include among those reasons a weak grassroots organizing effort. Yeah, campaigns always want more, but compared with a real standard, volunteers crushed it this year. Overloaded ActBlue, sent a zillion texts, crushed the Vote Forward goal and even phonebanking. “I was just on a phone bank and they kept running out of lists. They said the national campaign is a little overwhelmed by the number of people making calls” is a real thing posted by someone near the close of this campaign.

As I considered this, even before Election Day I was thinking of World War I, and how every general was convinced that stalemate was a result of insufficient shells, insufficient men, etc., and that if they could only get all the resources they asked for, they would break through for certain. In reality that was completely wrong, and what they needed was a real strategy and updated tactics. Our “generals” got all the resources they could have dreamed of, this time, and this is the result. Not to pick on Swing Left, but their 2020 results page demonstrates how little all of this personal sacrifice accomplished.

Responding to this by saying well, can’t give up, we just have to persist is mad and frankly kind of offensive. I have noticed how much Democrats fetishize sacrifice for grassroots effort, but it is not actually heroic to sacrifice effort over and over to the same approach when it isn’t working. It’s actually lazy, dishonest, and convenient for the leadership figures who might potentially ask themselves tough questions about leaving the familiar and comfortable, but instead just go on praising efforts to push on a rope. To say nothing of the people first in line to be harmed by this inept effort in their defense.

Instead of internal discussions honestly confronting the problem of the majority’s inability to influence policy, the left keeps telling its members to go have tough conversations with the racist reactionary minority, as though there’s some real prospect of this eventually producing a big enough progressive supermajority to sweep aside all the obstacles. Bullshit.

If there is any hope at all of achieving a fairer future, I believe it will depend on a fresh, honest look at where power actually is and how it actually works, followed by reorienting organizing efforts away from pushing on a rope, and toward genuine pressure points.

The framework for this seems like it will have to be confronting corporate brand bullies more directly. Despite the concentration of power, many corporations are image conscious and can be pressured for now. Bad PR, labor organizing, or consumer pressure all seem like more promising targets than either phone-ins to Republican legislators, or peer-to-peer outreach to the brainwashed voters who will never vote blue no matter what.

If there’s any way to move Republicans, in fact, it’s probably by making corporate capital uncomfortable first. It’s true that e.g. Trump did various things which corporate capital did not want, most obviously his trade wars, and it’s true that other Republicans did little more than gripe. It’s also true that Trump seems to be on the way out of office and that other Republicans are quietly going along with that, too.

Compared with this, it seems important that so little of “resistance” organizing has been directed at the corporate capital role in this nightmare. The few examples seemed to be minor at their peak, and by one means or another deprecated, since. Nearly everything is directed at the same old combination of voting, voter registration, GOTV, peer-to-peer outreach, and activism directed at candidates, public officials, public opinion, anywhere almost except at corporate brands.

Honestly I’m not real hopeful, here, big surprise. Sadly, in a way, I think that corruption of Democratic leaders and institutions is less a factor here than the utter inertia and habit-dependency of most people and institutions.

But, I for one have to face facts at this point. “The status quo leads to disaster. Normal politics leads to disaster.” Relying on traditional strategies to overcome the failings of the status quo, and normal politics, wastes so many resources in pushing on a rope that—even if one imagines it will be effective eventually a long time from now and imagines that this dispiriting wastage can be sustained for that long—given the deteriorating larger situation, this also leads to disaster.

Whoever wants to avert this but has, like me, been counting on voting like we’ve never voted before as the most practical approach, however imperfect that has always been, needs to confront this. I don’t have the solution, either in detail or in broad outline. I think that it includes directing more organizing at the influence of capital. I also think it includes recognizing the powerful attachment people have to narratives which seem to provide them with answers, no matter what facts or even experiences may challenge those narratives.

But I am convinced that it’s going to be a big, offensive joke when would-be leaders come back instead with “okay new plan, same plan as last time but we just try harder, volunteer more.”

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