Kamala Harris Flaunts Her Autocratic Bona Fides on CNN

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The popular enthusiasm for Kamala Harris isn’t quite as timid as it is for Joe Biden—and one may inquire what on earth could be—but it is almost certainly even more dishonest. Harris embarrassed herself as a presidential candidate, squandering the assiduous support she enjoyed in the corporate press (including an article in Politico that effectively declared her the Democratic Party nominee two years in advance) as well as more than forty million dollars in sponsorship money. The former allowed her to escape scrutiny for her autocratic record as the Californian Attorney General despite Lara Bazelon’s best efforts to expose it; the latter evaporated when Tulsi Gabbard relayed part of this bloodstained history to a broader audience and Harris could not even attempt to answer for it. Officially, she shuttered her campaign in December of last year, but it had been a dilapidated heap for several months since, and she was wise to junk the machinery before it failed to collect a single delegate. Her protracted fall from grace is all the more impressive if we accept her self-description, spoken at the start of her downswing, as a “top-tier candidate”.

None of this reads as the description of a viable vice-presidential nominee, but in the current year, when the will of the people is wholly foreign to the democratic process as well as the government to which it gives rise, perhaps it is appropriate for Harris to stand beside Biden, another byproduct of institutional power, and lead the Democratic Party’s presidential ballot. The Party has just eight weeks more to persuade the electorate, the same electorate that abandoned Harris one year ago, to accept her as the second-best possible shepherd of this weary American flock. When we frame the task in these terms, it actually appears to be pretty straightforward, even feasible. Accordingly, the Party is doing everything in its power—of which it possesses plenty—to complicate this effort. To this end, it has selected the most simplistic of all possible endeavors: to make Kamala Harris even more unlikable than she naturally is.

Harris took several meaningful steps in that direction on Sunday, September 6th, when she chatted at some length with Dana Bash of CNN. Admittedly, I don’t watch CNN as often as I should, as I tend to believe I see enough neoliberal propaganda on Twitter; however, this interview will inspire me to pay more attention to that network in the future, as it presents an uncommonly unobscured view of the world as experienced by the bourgeoisie. Consider Bash, whose ex-husband served as the Chief of Staff not only of the CIA but also of the Department of Defense, walking the ghostly lawns of Howard University and having a cheerful conversation with Harris, who sits on the Senate Intelligence Committee. Although they are walking outdoors, completely alone in an environment that has been vacated due to the coronavirus, still they are wearing face masks and maintaining a conspicuous distance. The abundance of messaging, instruction, and fearmongering in the opening frame alone could inspire one to make a dangerous drinking game.

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Traitors of Journalism: Zachary Cohen and Marshall Cohen, Party Propagandists and Censors

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On the sixth of August, 2015, the same night that Donald Trump participated in his first Republican Party Presidential Debate, the final episode of The Daily Show with Jon Stewart played before an American electorate who were about to forsake their political innocence. In a nation that had long since replaced any semblance of culture with electronic media—and with television in particular—propagandizing the public through mass communication ought to be a most straightforward task. The insouciant Stewart, though, had a decidedly rosier perspective of this American vulnerability: “Bullshitters,” he said in his valedictory speech, “have gotten pretty lazy, and their work is easily detected, and looking for it is kind-of a pleasant way to pass the time.” In one sense, not only was he right, but prescient: the underground media, defined by its relentless assault on the neoliberal-neoconservative charade, has flourished in the Trumpish Age. It has run parallel to the corporate media, whose humiliating descent into neo-McCarthyism and hysterical fearmongering have made for easy satire and critical assessment.

However, we the underwriters often preach to the choir for reasons that Stewart inadvertently reveals: “Bullshitters have gotten pretty lazy,” he says, implying correctly that the mainstream media’s misinformation used to be more detailed and practiced than it is today. Unfortunately, one could not observe this qualitative decline without first having some familiarity with the media of yesteryear. A person coming into form intellectually today would be incapable, at least initially, of telling the difference. It is this manufactured ignorance that troubles me: although it most likely can be overcome through traditional reading and research, there is always the remote possibility that sustained experience in an environment of intellectual suffocation will inflict lasting damage on one’s cognitive faculties. At the very least, it is one additional and unnecessary layer of manipulation to smother the mind, a few more degrees of inclination added to what is already an arduous uphill climb. Perhaps, as Stewart claims, the mediocrity of the system, accentuated by the omnipresence of the system, will be its undoing, and in optimistic moods I am tempted to agree, but I have known and been convinced by darker visions, too.

In producing their pap so sloppily, the corporate journalists betray a glacial self-assurance, as if to say they know their readers demand nothing better. CNN published an especially perfunctory piece eight days ago, one which was swiftly lost amidst relentless coverage of the Democratic National Convention. Written by Zachary Cohen and Marshall Cohen, the former of whom is prestigiously christened “CNN National Security Reporter”, the article touches on the cadaver of a failed scandal in the doomed and desperate hope of resurrecting it. “Trump Retweets Russian Propaganda about Biden that U.S. Intel Agencies Say is Intended to Influence 2020 Election”, the essay’s prolix title awkwardly informs us, with the superfluous and mildly insulting reminder that “propaganda about Biden”, a presidential candidate, presumably would be “intended to influence” the current election. This also happens to be the only informative section of the entire document, as neither Cohen finds it necessary to explain what the propaganda is.

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The Tyrannical Television

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On the eve of the twenty-first century, Tyler Durden told a roomful of the most implacably resilient of useful idiots: “Our great war is a spiritual war. Our great depression is our lives.” Twenty-one years later, the existential abyss of les enfants américains has been filled with, or at least covered by, an inexorable process of proselytization, though their temperament is so much worse for wear. The interminable war between Left and Right, the details of which are broadcast via the electronic medium of their choosing, claim every moment of their cognitive leisure. Nothing exists unless it can be contextualized, an eerily mechanical euphemism for “consumed by the political obsession”. We speak of the political obsession because everybody shares it, even if only involuntarily: there is not one American left who has not apprehended the hyperpolitical transfiguration of the national culture, and who has yet to develop some opinion thereof.

How should we define this phenomenon? Is it a nightmarish manifestation of the Hegelian social substance, or perhaps the demoniacal evolution of the zeitgeist? Neither of these terms is ethereal enough to convey the vapidity of American culture, a culture that selects the television as its hollow cornerstone. For the record, large sections of the mainstream Internet, including social media, are a democratized extension of television, the entirety of which has been necessarily affected by this process of hyper-politicization: if even one component had been spared the permeating influence, then one couldn’t claim accurately that the culture had been conquered completely. We will define “politicization” as a partial process and “hyper-politicization” as a comprehensive takeover—and in both cases, it is the full range of the electronic media that is, or that are, being affected.

Much of the media was apolitical, to a greater or lesser degree, until the sixteenth of June 2015. A significant shift, both in content and in tone, occurred on that day, when reporters voiced distinctly personal alarm at Trump’s comments about Mexican rapists. The initial tremor was instantaneous, but it didn’t reach its pique intensity for another seventeen months, by which point the pulse, if not the shock, was palpable at every corner of the media: even if a particular program or outlet wasn’t covering Trump and the outrage he inspired, one couldn’t browse the local listings without noticing a fair number who did. While it was not impossible to evade this story, there was no conceivable way to be ignorant of it. We could destroy our television and our smartphone, if we liked, but our odds of overhearing a passerby’s political discussion or debate would still be overwhelming. The media was no longer operating as a feature of the culture; instead, the culture was swiftly becoming a byproduct of the media, and of the politicized media particularly.

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Surviving the Democratic National Convention: Nights 2-4

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None of these people were willing to speak to me in defense of Julian Assange, but all of them are more than happy to appear on national television and speak in defense of Joe Biden.

Democracy is anachronistic in a hyper-politicized culture. It is impossible to plea subserviently to the much-mythologized “power of the people” and the good that will come of its rapid realization without simultaneously accentuating the grotesqueries of the past—a past romanticized for its civic engagement. The reverse is true, too: Trump pledged to make America great again, suggesting—perhaps unwittingly—that America was great, once upon a time, and that, if she resumed the habits of yesteryear, then she would swiftly recover her greatness. He has been deservedly castigated for pirating that vacuous motto from Reagan, who, like Trump, appeared to pay homage to the faded glory of the 1950s. The natural conclusion is that America has been amateurish—the dictionary’s chief antonym for great—for the better part of sixty or seventy years. And because the politicians have, we are told, produced this jackleg culture—another recommendation by Merriam-Webster—then perhaps it is truly amateurish to try to vote our way out of this quagmire.

Of course, that won’t stop the Democratic Party—not to be confused with democratic theorists or any category of learned individuals—from returning to the ritual for old times’ sake. They are not yet willing to abandon the canon; hell, they have scarcely amended the script. The primary season was the longest on record, as well as the most pointlessly costly, but it ran in the same antiquated format to which we are accustomed. It even ended in the most traditional, or tastelessly predictable, conclusion that one could envision: the anointment of Joe Biden, a career politician (or a terminal politician) whom the electorate dismissed as a has-been when he last ran for president twelve years ago. Today, he is recognized almost universally as the bloodless afterbirth of an expired era, hence why the party bosses had to tilt the field until they almost flipped it, just to force Biden to tumble into the presidential nomination. The political atmosphere is so insufferably musty that an absentee ballot is considered innovative.

It won’t be counted until the night of the general election, a grim and joyless charade awaiting us at the end of the slog of the next eleven weeks. The countdown to the funereal finale commences on Friday, the twenty-first, in the groggy afterglow of the Democratic National Convention. Much like the presidential nominee, who is not really a person so much as an artifact, the convention is a creaky, shopworn model that should have been shelved some time ago. To force it to run in the time of the pandemic is patently reckless, yet the Party feigns delight as it goes through the motions and belches bronze smog in desperate performance. We hear tell of a “modernized” convention, a term the Party uses to congratulate itself for its ability to push the play button, but in substance as well as in appearance, it is indistinct from previous years. One could write an interesting, terrifying essay on the Party’s rather Sisyphean inability to escape the embalmment of the past, although one could argue that Trump did precisely that, albeit on Twitter, four years ago, and the Party learned absolutely nothing.

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Surviving the Democratic National Convention: Night 1

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The suicidal incompetence of the American government, federal and municipal, has extended from the political to the practical and palpable in the last five months of the so-called pandemic. We are no longer anticipating the downfall of the American economy as an abstract possibility, one which will be realized only in the distant future; today, we witness personally its active collapse, and we cannot help but see for ourselves the damage in department stores and supermarkets. The victims of this sadomasochistic neocapitalist scheme are no longer the anonymous, unknown characters in reports of far-off towns we will never visit; today, we can greet them at every intersection, where they silently beg of the employed. In the cities of New Hampshire, they panhandle in shifts: as one homeless man stands before traffic with his cardboard sign, another reclines in the adjacent shade, waiting for his turn to degrade himself before the comparatively well-off.

Such a scene, commonplace throughout urban America, ought to give even the most gullible and propagandized person pause, but in the United States, where psychological programming is more of a science than a sophisticated art, the people are uniquely impervious to proof. Americans have reached a point where they are no longer affected by manipulation, but evolved by them, reared to acquiesce to the informative demands that are placed upon them. Julian Assange, and doubtless a bevy of writers before him, warned of the credible possibility of a system of propaganda so precise and exquisite and detailed that its victims would be unable, and not just unlikely, to surmount it. I will stop short of describing America’s current system of propaganda in such terms, but how else can people disregard the bourgeoning homeless population as a momentary error in an otherwise impeccable process? How else can people maintain their insouciance when they are told that forty million more Americans, currently housed, are facing imminent homelessness, too? How else can they trust that the solution to these problems—if they consider them worthy of the significance of “problems”—will come from a disgraced institution like the Democratic Party?

As difficult (and disquieting) as it is to consider, the Democratic Party still enjoys broad popularity in the United States. More than sixty million people will vote for a moribund oligarch named Joe Biden in November, convinced as they are that some benefit, be it vague or voluminous, will result from such an action. I am reminded of Freud, who wrote of the idea of a benevolent, paternalistic religious figure: “The whole thing is so patently infantile, so foreign to reality, that to anyone with a friendly attitude to humanity it is painful to think that the great majority of mortals will never be able to rise above this view of life.” Nevertheless, the great majority is a very great majority, and is to them, the masses who preserve their faith in the American enterprise despite the inestimable evidence of its inherent failing, that the Democratic Party makes its crooked pitch. The Party does not need them to think; it needs them to vote. Ergo, it wisely declines to make them knowledgeable, lest it expedites their panicked departure.

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