Barbara Plett Usher holds the undeniably Orwellian title of “State Department Correspondent” for BBC News. Her designation is especially discomfiting in this time of presidential transition, as the Biden Administration prepares to implement its technocratic agenda in the post-Trump world. If the new administration’s emphasis on conformity and surrender to neoliberal authority has not yet been made sufficiently clear, then it should be upon completion of Usher’s most recent article. The piece in question is titled “Antony Blinken: Who is America’s New Top Diplomat?” We can state with regretful certainty that Usher did not watch Dack Rouleau’s presentation of Antony Blinken’s imperialist political philosophy, which was made available on the Overwritten YouTube channel more than two months ago. If she had, then she would have found her own question answered for her—and with any luck, she would have been too embarrassed to pen his hagiography in digest.
Usher and her peers in the mainstream media have reported with uniform joy each of President Joe Biden’s federal nominations and appointments. Their insouciance contrasts sharply and purposely with their reflexive skepticism of each of President Donald Trump’s selections, even when—as Usher inadvertently acknowledges midway through her assessment of Blinken—their ideologies overlap. The establishment encouraged, and frequently demanded, merciless criticism of Trump’s federal government; but eventually, the state must revive the public’s confidence, lest the potential for civil unrest be realized on the rabble’s terms. While the inauguration of Joe Biden is hardly the most inspirational event, it is all that the elites were willing to arrange, and now, writers like Usher must do their part to effect the patriotic renaissance.
One of her first assignments is a profile of Antony Blinken, the newest Secretary of State. As stated previously, Overwritten covered Mr. Blinken’s militaristic bent in November of 2020, and we will proceed with the assumption that the reader has already viewed the aforementioned video, to which we have included an embedded link above. This is necessary if one is to grasp the crude absurdity of Usher’s portrait, which conceals Blinken’s bloodlust beneath a gloss that is as glamorous as it is vacuous. Usher begins by describing Blinken’s entrance into the Harry S. Truman Building in Washington, D.C., observing that “the lobby was nearly empty because of COVID protocols, but the absent presence of the diplomatic core was infused with a sense of relief”. I must confess, I do not know what an “absent presence” is, but in mentioning the “sense of relief”, Usher seeks to play into the redemptive mythology of the Biden Administration. For the last three months, the writers of the mainstream press have depicted Biden as the (white) savior who will deliver us from evil, the unrelenting evil of the Trump Administration. This was a bold and audacious prediction for a president who had yet to take office, and the certainty of its brutal disappointment calls to mind the grand expectations for President Obama twelve years ago.
Perhaps it is to obviate, or at least to mitigate, that terrible letdown that Usher seeks to find reason for delight in Blinken’s mere assumption of his office in the State Department. Blinken’s goal, she tells us, is to “restore trust and morale” in the federal government, but trust and morale are ethereal elements that have naught to do with policy and surprisingly little to do with action. His failure to distinguish himself in any substantive regard from his predecessor, Mike Pompeo—whom Usher describes as a “relentless Trump loyalist”—is all too harmonious with Biden’s inability, twenty-two months removed from the start of his presidential campaign, to provide a credible contrast to Trump. In the absence of legitimate political progress, or at least separation, the mainstream media must attempt to create the illusion of difference.
Certainly, this journalistic subterfuge is not unique to the present circumstances: Obama’s unsettling ideological affinity to George W. Bush presented its own set of challenges, its own need for masking. The establishment press responded by minimizing coverage of the problems Obama was expected to solve, such as the ongoing American destruction of Iraq. Put simply, the goal was to distract the masses—not just from the problems, but also from Obama’s failure to solve them. The only alternative was to repeatedly remind the masses of Bush’s mistakes in a feeble attempt to excuse Obama’s lack of success, but this routine grew tiresome rather swiftly. Alas, writers like Usher are seeking to reintroduce the latter strategy to convince the masses that Biden is improving the country solely by virtue of being a different person than Donald J. Trump. The prospects for this effort are doubtful, at best: while Trump’s influence in the popular culture was much larger than Bush’s, the masses’ desire to rid themselves of Trump’s influence and “return to normal” will conflict with this.
In the meantime, Usher is trying her best to glorify Blinken as one of the apostles of Savior Biden. She describes the redecoration of the Truman Building—“photographs of Pompeo at work replaced by pictures of a variety of secretaries of state”—as if demons were being purged from a place of worship. In a future essay, we will have occasion to revisit the quasi-religious element of the politicization of American culture; but in the meantime, we will contemplate the superficiality of this supposedly monumental transformation of the State Department. What impact, if any, does the interior decoration of the Truman Building have on the well-being of the American masses? Is this meant to undo the catastrophic economic damage inflicted by the government’s response to the coronavirus? Does this replace or even repair our destructive health care system? We will recall that Usher is a State Department Correspondent whose task is to portray Blinken’s administration in an unnaturally flattering light, but if this empty gesture is the best she has to work with, then the prognostication is unfavorable, indeed.
Usher goes on to write a rather nebulous summary of Blinken’s “foreign policy”. In the mainstream media, the term “foreign policy” is a euphemism for “military aggression”, but unlike in the 2000s, when the neoliberal bourgeoisie desired an end to American imperialism in Afghanistan and Iraq, the modern left is consciously vengeful and bloodthirsty. Blinken appeals to this warped mentality by promising “a harder line in response to Russian cyber-attacks and election meddling”. Usher never troubles herself (much less Blinken) with questions as to what a “harder line” entails, or if a “response” is even feasible, four years removed from the alleged “election meddling”. Similarly vague is Blinken’s call for “an end to support for Saudi airstrikes in Yemen”, an issue that escaped the popular consciousness more than two years ago. He also promises “a review of the Trump administration’s decision to designate Yemen’s Houthi rebels as a terrorist organization”, but what does he hope to accomplish with “a review”? How many Americans are even cognizant of the existence of the “Houthi rebels”, and how many of them can speak intelligently on this subject? The relevance to the lives of the American masses is persistently elusive, and the vacuity of it all consistently telling.
Perhaps the most embarrassing piece of Usher’s article is the statement that, at Blinken’s first news conference, “journalists asked how allies could trust the US after such stark swings in administrations”. Such a question, which Usher seems to take completely seriously, is predicated on deliberate ignorance of American “foreign policy”—which, contrary to the mainstream media’s continuous insistence otherwise, did not change at the direction of the Trump Administration. The homogeneity of American “foreign policy”, and the futility of asking the next president to change it, are never acknowledged in the mainstream press. On the contrary, Usher perpetuates the myth, the lie, that the United States acquired a different relationship to other nations under Trump; and by extension, she deceives her readers into believing that Biden will “restore” those relationships.
If only she were familiar with her own terminology, she might have perceived the inanity of this argument. Usher describes Blinken as a “technocrat”, borrowing (in a manner reminiscent of a good publicist) the term that he himself frequently uses in self-description. I cannot think of a more troubling term to employ, especially with pride, in the modern political climate. As Theodore Roszak explained decades ago, the technocratic philosophy is one of unconditional and unthinking submission to the rationalizations of authoritarians. In propagating that term under Blinken’s instruction, Usher begins the work of familiarizing the masses with the word and its meaning, and of teaching them that it is something to be respected and revered. The consequences could be devastating, and it is for this reason that we continue to keep our eyes open in these pages and others.