Tag Archives: fundraising

Demonic Optimism: Biden’s State of the Union Address

18 Feb

I was especially struck by some words following the habitual long litany of presidential achievements, which was for much different reasons also selected by Democratic Party fund raising machine that is never idle. Here is their version of the passage, conveyed the next morning as a private message from the President himself to me:

I’ve never been more optimistic about the future of America, Richard. I mean it. We’re a nation with a strong soul, a strong backbone, and a strong people. We just have to remember this and remember who we are. There is nothing beyond our capacity if we do it together.”

I listened to these words, presumably inserted for their inspirational impact on a gullible citizenry, with stunned disbelief. I long wondered how such inauthentic sentiments could have slipped by the entourage of previously reliable self-censoring staffers who apparently fine tune every prepared word that emanates from the White House. I was further perplexed and disturbed despite understanding better the mercenary intentions underlying this supposedly uplifting coda when I came to realize that this follow up was one more appeal in an endless succession of daily pleas from Democratic leaders for money to support the Democratic Party, including the listing of proposed pledge amounts that we sheep might contribute.  

These most offending words drawn from a long presidential address still came as a surprise, overriding in effect many genuine domestic achievements of the Biden presidency.  Maybe the funding prominence is a prelude to the 2024 campaign for a second term, and should be interpreted as nothing other than a rallying cry that deliberately suppresses the grim realities facing America offering in their stead more ‘bread and circuses,’ in effect,  a promise that Nero will keep fiddling.    

If I had been a person of color, an indigenous survivor, or just poor, I might have wondered whether this inappropriately optimistic message could be more purposely rephrased: “I’ve never been more pessimistic about the future of America. We’re a nation tainted by a weak soul, a racist, patrioteering backbone, and seemingly forever love affairs with guns, war, and militarism. We could do far better for ourselves and others around the world, if we try finally to acknowledge the sins of the past and failures of the present.  In the spirit of long overdue and solemn remembrance, I call upon all citizens to take steps to soften these national memories of who we were by transferring some future expenditures from future annual military budgets to a reparations trust fund for the benefit of past and present victims of slavery, ethnic cleansing, and official forms of racism directed at native Americans and African AmericansIf we as a nation want to be serious about overcoming this tainted past of our country we must also become more positively engaged in the wider planetary struggles for justice and species survival. It would be an embrace of futility and folly to pretend that we can currently meet these challenges by acting collectively when we cannot even cooperate at home on behalf of national public wellbeing, much less internationally, for the global common good. If I were to indulge in the luxury of speaking honestly to the leaders of country, I would have to admit that we seem currently able to act together only when it comes to waging war or preparing for war with real or imagined adversaries.

In other words, not only was this latest SOUA out of touch with the experience of most Americans, but it seemed somewhat oddly incomprehensible to preach national unity while soliciting funds claimed to be needed to ensure that Democrats stay in control of the government. Certainly not the Republican opposition nor indeed the party whose achievements Biden praises have the slightest intention of resting the future of America on “our capacity” to act together. Biden, or at least the party officialdom clearly understands the depth of polarization, reinforcing their pitch for funds with these standard partisan words: “And we need to elect more Democrats to get more done.” I find it significant that only these words are bolded in the funding appeal I received from party headquarter, apparently highlighting their sense that the core idea of the presidential address was that only by donating money to the good guys can virtue prevail given the intensity of national antagonisms being that are being expressed in the clash of ideas about how to shape the future. It is hard to predict from the standpoint of the present whether Biden’s future biographers will pause to take note of such a gross contradiction, and if so, explain this tension in approach as habitual hypocrisy or mercenary opportunism, or some combination. Reckoning with the past is almost as uncertain as predicting the future. What does seem clear is that only corrupt apologists would suggest that Biden’s words of extreme optimism were expressions of genuine beliefs, given their detachment from the vivid daily reminders of various forms of wrongdoing that dominates the country’s past and present behavior. 

One cynical possibility is to point to the occasion as one in which the national leader by tradition and habit only dwells on the positive, with no concern about whether it depicts reality or not. Yet the times are too dangerous to be content with such an lame excuse for false witnessing, for which is what I indict Biden and the party leads.

By wrapping this appeal for contributions in an unbridled sense of optimism about the future of the nation and its people is more puzzling because no accompanying effort, however flimsy, is made to give reasons for such reckless disregard of the array of national and global menaces that daily and obviously darkly cloud the country’s future as never before. It suggests a provocative question-Can we truly distinguish Biden’s outlook from Donald Trump’s primetime slogan so often held in liberal contempt—‘Make America Great Again’? Maybe this unlikely convergence of outlooks reflects a perverse and unconscious inner belief that indeed we are coming together. To gain an upper hand in the face of my taunt, Biden might respond to the similarly phrased Trumpist claim by an insistence that America is already great, and so there is no need to make it great, especially if that involves following Trump’s regressive path to greatness. But this would be to dwell even more obviously in a delusional comfort zone.

Biden should be ashamed of such expressions of optimism about our national future when hardly a day has passed without a mass shooting at a school or public social setting such as a dance hall or public cultural event; over 200 mass shootings in the first two months of 2023. In addition, recent reports suggest that suicide rates in America are again on the rise among veterans, persons of color, that teen misery has never been higher, and that the large number of citizens who struggle to earn enough to provide health, food, and housing for their families makes a mockery of Biden’s boast about economic recovery during his tenure. For more detailed documentation of such bleak generalizations visit these websites <gunviolencearchive.org><cdc.gov>

Biden is misleading the public when bloody manifestations of gun violence and acute depression are disproportionately much higher in America than in comparably industrialized societies. And what is in some ways worse than the tragedies themselves is the societal inertia that has followed, that so little of what could be done is even proposed and debated, much less undertaken. Such whitewashing of national wrongdoing should induce remorse rather than evasive denial. In no other country in the world, not currently afflicted by severe internal strife or large-scale combat do parents worry that they might never again see their children alive if they fail to return home from school at the expected time. And yet not even a whisper is heard about repealing or at least recast the Constitutional right to bear arms, as set forth in Article II, and interpreted very permissively.

Should our leaders keep hiding from the citizenry the bad stuff about poverty, racism, gun culture, encroachments on academic freedom, and global militarism (higher annual military expenditures than the next nine countries, highest international sales and profits of corporate merchants of death, hundreds of overseas bases, rejuvenation of military alliances, predatory behavior with respect to natural resources)? As citizens should we not be entitled to hear about some ways forward that will involve struggles against these regressive features of the policy landscape? If these ugly truths begin to be acknowledged by those who manage governance, then the foundation might begin to exist enabling positive action, and give rise to hopes that it is at least possible to be cautiously positive about the future of the country. It may seem naïve to seek American leadership at this shrill time that exhibits humility, transmits truthful messages to citizens, and leaves audiences with a sense of overall urgent concern. It is certainly an appropriate moment for grandiose expressions of national pride and the downplaying of threats to the future quality of life in the country and throughout the planet. The national situation is far too deeply challenged for us to be content with presidential bromides. What is most needed are policies and practices that embody compassion, and are dedicated with the fullness of being to responding to the imperatives of human security as all levels of social interaction and natural habitat from the local to the planetary, even the cosmic.

The Bipartisan Demise of American Democracy

16 Sep

There are several fissures in the democratic fabric that exhibit the domestic facets of imperial decline. The Republican Party contempt for liberal American values, traditions, constitutionalism, the findings of science and truthfulness, became routine features of the presidency of Donald Trump. This radical style of right-wing politics became more flagrant during the long aftermath of Trump’s defeat in the November elections, going to bizarre lengths of trying to foment a violent insurrectionary event in the U.S. Congress on January 6, 2020 after a series of legal challenges of the election results in state courts on the basis of ‘stolen votes,’ ‘conspiracy theories’ and ‘warped fantasies’ of fraud. Such pervasive posturing by demagogic leader should scare the anti-fascists among us, especially as almost half of Americans voted in favor of such an sustained assault on democracy. Shamefully, most Trumpists have yet to abandon this unprecedented threat to the political identity of the country.  

And yet the alternative mainstream vision of democracy, while a relief, is disappointing, especially as it tries to appeal for support on the issues and in statewide elections. The Democrats offer the citizenry such a demeaning, tedious, and dangerous sense of an alternative political style as to demobilize all but diehard liberals and movement radicals. Is it any wonder that the Democrats are poised to do poorly in the 2020 midterms despite this dark long shadow of Trump hanging over the future of the republic. Trump, part demagogue, part entertainer, at least while President kept us politically attentive, if only to wonder what would be his latest mishap or to learn about fabrication of the day. With the Biden presidency, we switch channels out of boredom, even when his sentiments are decent and compared to what passed for leadership in the preceding four years, seemed mostly sensible. But being ‘sensible’ compared to Trump is hardly an achievement. I attribute this dramatic downturn in the quality of American democracy mainly to the interaction between the elite political structures of the two main political parties, its removal from the needs and desires of the citizenry, and a distorted sense that it is money, not ideas, that wins elections. The effect of this incessant badgering for donations for the sake of political ads is to reduce the electoral process to cash on hand.

On any given day I get upward of a hundred emails soliciting funds to support candidates or legislation that Democrats favor, and are generally deserving of support. But the approach adopted in these electoral pleas are so cheaply demeaning, disingenuous, and even degenerate as to be alienating. Instead of support, I find myself pushing the delete button frustrated and disgusted with the tenor of the appeals. First of all, I don’t like being called by my first name by automated strangers; this faux intimacy is a definite turnoff, especially when it is followed by admonishing tone—donate, or else. It is, as well, a metaphor for a cynical politics of manipulation.

Secondly, our attention is grabbed by idiotic exaggerations such as ‘STUNNING update-Amy Klobuchar just broke McConnell’s heart,’ ‘H.R. 1 Miracle—We’re weeping with joy,’ ‘Richard, humbly asking,’ ‘HUMILIATED Arizona—Donald Trump CRUSHES Mark Kelly,’ ‘desperate plea—Rep. Val Deming is in BIG trouble,’ ‘Rush a donation now to TANK the filibuster and pass H.R. 1,’ ‘Shocking Report—Obama SLAMS McConnell..YES RICHARD,’ and on and on. The uniform bottom line for these urgent inflated appeals has to do with pleas for donations. Typical of the hyped rhetoric: If we don’t hit our $100,000 goal by midnight, we’ll never have the resources we need to fight McConnell’s Filibuster, which is RUINING H.R.1’s chances of becoming law. Can you chip in just $100 now to help us make our next ad payment?”’

It is true that the Democrats are more dependent on grassroots funding than are the Republicans who can rely on super-rich donors and big ticket fundraising extraganzas to finance their campaigns to a much greater extent. Yet this does not validate the cheapening of the political process as the Democrats have done where their hysterical language about the ups and downs of their candidates or legislative projects. Although ‘the system’ is primarily to blame, and needs fundamental reforms, in the meantime politics in America seems destined to be stranded indefinitely at low tide.

We can assign some blame to social media for making it seductively easy to do mass messaging, symptomatic of the wider phenomenon of the overall dumbing down effect of the digital age. Digital successors to the sinister, cynical mavens of Madison Avenue are now using crude algorithms to bend our thoughts, empty our wallets, and deprive many of sovereignty over their own mind. It is rot at the core of American political life that unapologetically equates politics with money. We are made to think that ideas, character, and past performance matter less than fundraising acumen. The corrupting impression is powerfully implanted in the citizen that the side with more bucks deserves to get the win.

Of course, the messaging is about power, and this means that mainstream media and social platforms reflect the wishes of Wall Street and the Pentagon as much for Democrats as for Republicans. Pacifying the citizenry so that markets and militarism can continue their dirty work is an assignment accepted by both political parties, and backed up by the most influential media platforms. As the infrastructure of the country falls to new lows, the bloated military budget remains sacrosanct. Billionaires roam the solar system as if planning their getaway from a failed planet, exploring new terrains as they peer down on an overheated, burning planet unwilling to risk their fortunes for the sake of species survival.

My objections to this ultra-materialist and hyped style of political campaigns can be summarized:

1-elections for Democrats have become primarily about fundraising capabilities, not qualifications, values, ideas, performance;  

2-hypocritical gestures of intimacy in this monetized culture of political appeals are deemed necessary to induce in ordinary citizens the illusions of ‘participation’ and even personal access to the candidates;

3-Beyond the hypocrisy, secondary efforts seek to make recipients feel guilty because they have not contributed, or not responded to rhetorical requests for support or opposition; I find myself daily scolded for not responding or accused because of not donating of supporting the dreadful Republican alternative;

4-There is an impression created that only ‘winning’ and ‘losing’ matter, and thus devotion to one side should unconditional, and more or less unquestioning, although the Democrats are more naïve, preaching ‘bipartisanship’ and ‘national unity,’ which is the last thing the Trump extremists want.

Such a decline of democracy is strongly reinforced by the reactionary unwritten ground rules of mainstream media, which dutifully exposes the citizenry to a spectrum of opinion that stretches from the dead center to the extreme right. The progressive left, whether socialist or ecological, is erased, as if it has nothing to add to the marketplaces of ideas and interpretations. The media dominated by large corporations and billionaires is willing to self-censor to protect the capitalist consensus being eroded or just challenged.

Perhaps it is time to try something different, starting by ending the three-ring circus of private funding of political campaigns. Of course this will not happen until the Achilles Heal of capitalism and militarism are found and struck with decisive force, which would almost certainly be the result of an empowering nonviolent movement, which unlike its Pentagon variant, is genuinely over-the-horizon.