How the Ruling Class Sabotages Class Consciousness

Democrats and Republicans campaign like they’re fighting for the average person, but they’re on the same side — and it isn’t ours

art courtesy Heblo via Pixabay.

The average American might think Barack Obama, Donald Trump, and Bernie Sanders have little in common, but what unified them and formed the passionate base of their energetic campaigns was the calculated deployment of populist rhetoric. Populism — a form of politics that represents the interests of ordinary people — is here to stay. The appetite for an outsider to fight for the “little guy” will only increase as flip-flopping administrations fail to improve life for average people. The problem is that the major parties aren’t really trying to, but they still grasp the power of this weapon.

Populism, the ruling class’s favorite weapon

Congress has been historically unpopular for most of the time I’ve been alive. With so many people having a negative opinion of the capability of the federal government to get anything done, the nation is endlessly primed for populist rhetoric. If things are always bad, change is always good.

In 2004, Obama, then a first-term senator from Illinois, campaigned for the presidency as a youthful outsider unmarred by the typical corrupt games played by D.C. insiders. His signs read, “CHANGE.” When Trump ran in ’16, he easily portrayed Hillary Clinton as a dishonest, corporatist insider — a task made easy because it was true — and stumped on the campaign trail rallying working-class conservatives with his promises to “drain the swamp.” Progressives might fondly remember Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) making an appearance on Fox News back in April of 2019 where he earned enthusiastic cheers from the Fox crowd by making the simple case for Medicare For All and other policies that would materially improve their lives.

Average people want to have their lives improved. Go figure.

When it comes to U.S. electoral politics, the people always lose.

Part of the reason for populism’s enduring persuasiveness is that worsening income inequality has gone unaddressed by either major party for the last several decades, and on multiple occasions it’s been actively accelerated. Beyond this, various anti-working class stances by people seated in the Oval Office have become a desensitizing norm. Your average millennial has seen wars instigated by President Bush, bank bailouts from President Obama, tax cuts for the rich by President Trump, and a Biden administration that stumbled out of the gate by reneging a promise on the immediate dispersal of $2,000 relief checks (which was not enough aid to begin with). When it comes to U.S. electoral politics, the people always lose.

The American public: a sleeping giant

The worst possible situation is for the American people to become numb to this and to make excuses for those in power, to think less abuse is the same thing as progress, and to see a lesser evil as a form of good. It’s also the situation we’re currently in.

Obama remains a beloved figure among most Americans despite his administration being a standard fare expression of neoliberalism and all its incumbent failures. Trump followers remain incensed, an empowered cultural revival of the people that still fly Confederate flags, a testament to the enduring power of white nationalism. Served with a buffet of out-group options to blame their genuine economic struggles on (immigrants, caricatures of feminists or SJWs, ‘anarchists’, people that don’t want Black people to be shot, and so on), masses of mostly working-class white people have been duped into thinking rich Republicans are looking out for them.

Remember when the data came out about billionaires making a killing during quarantine while the masses suffered? Last year should have taught everyone this lesson: chaos and pain are for the working class, and because it is profitable for capitalists, those running our corporate-owned institutions — which includes our literal government — will amplify that pain for their personal gain. This idea is yet to take hold with the average person, and the material conditions of the pandemic failed to radicalize the people en masse. What a nightmare, and what a testament to the grip on the people’s imagination corporate media and the government currently wield.

The ruling class’s misinformation arsenal is aimed at getting you to disbelieve that this kind of class warfare is happening at all.

At what point do people start to view these happenings not as failures but as predictable outcomes of a for-profit government? The bipartisan, historical norms for Washington feature endless war, exploitation of workers, mass incarceration, systemic racism, homelessness, medical bankruptcy, and inaction on climate change. What all of these atrocities have in common is that, to somebody with more leverage in government than you or I, they’re profitable. The other thing they have in common is that they screw over average people and make life worse for already marginalized communities. Political violence is indirect. It’s comparatively subtle to the violence we think of when it comes to the popular conception of murderers or thieves. That doesn’t make it any less real.

To say these problems can’t be easily fixed even as control of the White House flip-flops between parties is to acknowledge the existence of an ideologically unified ruling class. The ruse is in getting the average person to think Democrats and Republicans represent opposite ends of the political spectrum. It couldn’t be further from the truth, but most don’t see it that way.

A 2019 report by the Economic Policy Institute showed that “The real value of the federal minimum wage has dropped 17% since 2009 and 31% since 1968… [t]his has happened even as labor productivity has essentially doubled over the last 50 years: The amount of goods that can be produced (or services that can be provided) in an hour of work has grown to twice what it was, yet workers’ pay has not.”

People are working harder than ever, and the profit you produce is being stolen. That’s one way invisible class warfare played out over the last 50-odd years. That the average person isn’t talking about this or maybe is unaware of it is not a coincidence. That wasn’t overlooked.

Tidal waves of propaganda

Every corporate news station you tune in to, whether it’s MSNBC or Fox News, is an extension of the wealthy ruling class. These stations form the propaganda arm of the disease coursing through America’s veins. They keep the people, who would otherwise function as our nation’s immune system, in the dark about the damage being done. A democracy is only as effective as its electorate is well-informed.

By having intense debates between two parties with similar ideological positions, these news stations limit the range of acceptable opinions. By simply dominating the framework of the nationwide political conversation, they can make meek reformists like Bernie Sanders look like radical leftists just by agreeing about it and repeating it enough times. Bernie is a somewhat adorable social democrat that wears mittens and is down to increase taxes on the rich. Yeah, good. Ok. He makes a good meme, but a radical leftist he is not. His positions only look radical in this corporate wasteland, and you shouldn’t accept the frameworks acted out by millionaire news anchors on outlets owned by billionaires. If Sanders is a radical, what the hell was Fred Hampton?

The ruling class’s misinformation arsenal is aimed at getting you to disbelieve that this kind of class warfare is happening at all. They don’t want you to perform systemic critiques or see the big picture, because it would cause you to see that the strongest power you have is indeed collective action, only it isn’t expressed solely at the ballot. They want to push the false idea that the U.S. is a functioning meritocracy, that poverty is a product of laziness, that legislation that would secure the basic well-being of our citizens is at best pie-in-the-sky idealism and at worst the beginning of a slide into an authoritarian dystopia.

Good morning, reality

All of that is bullshit.

The U.S. is not a meritocracy. Seriously — not at all. Social psychologists like Dr. Devon Price are correctly proclaiming that laziness isn’t even a real thing. People aren’t poor because they choose to be through inaction. They’re poor because poverty is profitable.

My point with this article is to show you that the real battle lines aren’t drawn between Democrats and Republicans, no matter what the average corporate-owned news station blasts into the airwaves. The real battle is class conflict between the haves and the have-nots, and it always has been.

This dynamic is expressed by the interests of the wage-earning masses and other marginalized communities (dignity, human well-being, ownership of the profit that our labor produces) conflicting with the interests of massive corporations and the ultra-wealthy (profit stolen from others’ labor hoarded to sociopathic extremes and normalized so the process can continue without complaint from those exploited). Our elected officials are essentially middlemen in all this, useful actors in a political theater played out by Democrats and Republicans in an age-old bullshit bonanza that manages to capture most of the public’s imagination. This is both to our disadvantage and to the utter delight of the obscenely rich, who profit from a working class distracted by infighting and rendered unable to organize collectively.

The death of the American imagination is a welcome byproduct of ruling class political theater. If regular, wage-earning people fixate on the team sport of Blue Donkeys vs. Red Elephants, taking sides and getting fired up about it and believing its electoral outcomes hold the fate of the country, they’ll never realize those in charge of both parties are already united in ideology against the working class. Neither Pelosi nor Trump are losing any sleep if you lose your job and access to healthcare. Chuck Schumer isn’t kept up at night thinking about justice for Breonna Taylor, and neither is Mitch McConnell. Do you think Mike Bloomberg gives a fuck about whether unions will see a resurgence in membership apart from how it might affect his bottom line?

These people are not allies of the working class. They are the middlemen who run the scheme that exploits the working class.

The American dream is a myth for the privileged. All we have now is a nightmare of late-stage capitalism, and it’s time to wake the hell up.

i write love letters from the void. editor of The Anticapital, bylines @ LEVEL | P.S. I Love You | The Writing Cooperative

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