“The slow-motion civil war: America’s three-way fight” The Korea Times

The Korea Times

“The slow-motion civil war: America’s three-way fight”

February 10, 2018

Emanuel Pastreich

We are so accustomed to a functional political system in the United States that sets standards for the world that in this transitional period it is quite difficult for many to conceive that massive institutional decay is taking place in Washington, D.C. , that will only accelerate and, if not handled well, risks both global war and domestic conflict far beyond what we have seen so far.

That means we had better get serious about an accurate interpretation of current events in the U.S.or risk having events overwhelm us.FullHouse_Trump

First, we must move beyond the simplistic opposition between conservatives and liberals in American politics. We have to stop trying to shoehorn the contradictory information that we observe into this meaningless dichotomy. The Trump administration is a radical, not a conservative, political movement and its opposition, in that it exists in Washington, is not liberal.

We are witnessing a “three-way fight” in the U.S. that defies assumptions about politics over the past 70 years. A complex battle has reached a peak and it is what has allowed Trump to become president, and to remain in power thus far.

The term “three-way fight” in contemporary politics finds its origin in a fascinating article by Matthew Lyons titled “Defending My Enemy’s Enemy” that was published on the blog “Three Way Fight” on August 3, 2006. Although Lyons’ analysis has a certain leftist bias, his analysis is pretty much on target.

Here is what Lyons says,

“Instead of an essentially binary struggle between right and left, between the forces of oppression and the forces of liberation, three-way fight politics posits a more complex struggle centered on the global capitalist ruling class, the revolutionary left, and the revolutionary right. The latter encompasses various kinds of fascists and other far rightists who want to replace the dominance of global capital with a different kind of oppressive social order.”

I use the term “globalists” to refer to the “global capitalist ruling class,” “anti-globalization left” to refer to “the revolutionary left,” and “anti-globalization right” to refer to “the revolutionary right. ” I feel that both “capitalist” and “revolutionary” are ambiguous and ideologically loaded terms that mislead as much as they inform.

You might say that we witnessing a “civil war in slow motion” right now in the United States, but there is a serious risk that the domestic conflict will speed up and that it may bring with it more substantial military conflicts, even if the Trump administration did not have such intentions originally.

Americans are struggling to make sense of the conflicting narratives they have been fed by the mainstream media. Most have no other sources of information even while they know it is flawed.This problem is made worse by the contempt shown toward working-class people by educated upper-middle-class liberals. Working-class people, especially whites, are dismissed as “ignorant” or “racist” by liberals, without any effort to communicate with them or to understand the world they live in.

As a result, working-class whites often feel that the anti-globalization right cares about them more than the globalists who may be African American, but who have no connection with working-poor people.

The Globalists

The globalists are ideologically neither progressive (in that they do not embrace restrictions on capital or regulations aimed at supporting local control) nor are they conservative (in that they have little interest in Christian values and may very well be extremely open-minded in terms of who they invite to their mansions in terms of race, ethnicity or sexuality).

The globalists are most concerned with global finance and the stock exchange. For individuals, whether banker or politician, liberal or conservative perspectives on institutions are a result of family upbringing, or audience, and are not central to their concerns. As long as you embrace a global perspective and you do not want to interfere with certain key features of global finance (such as the free rein of commercial banks and the measurement of success in terms of interest rates, inflation and GDP) you too can be a globalist.

Hillary Clinton was clearly the candidate of the globalists. Jeb Bush and Ted Cruz were also globalists, but they used the iconography of the right wing. The globalists do have certain fracture lines, and there are rivalries between factions — occasionally enough to encourage flirting with political enemies. But for the most part, the globalists want the subject of trade and finance to be off the table, and to focus on identity issues.

The “conservative” flavor of globalists basically speak the same way when they meet behind closed doors with Goldman Sachs or Lockheed Martin, as do the left wing globalists (like Clinton, or for that matter Sanders). But their appeal to ordinary citizens is different. The conservatives stress Christian values, patriotism, a strong defense and law and order. The liberals like Clinton speak to their audience more in terms of “diversity,” “opportunity” and “innovation.”

Conservative culture demands that the Republican candidate appear to be strong and confident.Such iconography is offensive to most Democrats. Democrats have to look like they are participatory, and ethnically diverse, and not just leaders barking orders like a lieutenant, or lecturing like a preacher. Such images do not mean a fundamental difference in organization.

The fundamental interests supporting both sides are basically the same. Neither side would suggest that retirement funds should not be tied to the stock market (although many progressives and conservatives would make that argument). The difference is rather that the Democrats take more money from Hollywood and from the mainstream media, from hospitals and high-tech ventures, and from specialized investment banks. By contrast, the Republicans take more from fossil fuel companies, defense contractors and retailers like Walmart.


The anti-globalization left

The anti-globalization left has a vision of creating a more equitable society and it works under the assumption that the state, if run by the right people, is capable of bringing about such changes.There are several layers to the anti-globalization left and there are bitter rivalries that make cooperation difficult. Moreover, many leftists fighting globalization are new to the field, having only entered politics recently. Although their numbers and their networks are growing rapidly, many espouse socialist ideals that have been outside of mainstream politics since the 1940s.Building networks and support groups is slow, but it is accelerating.

The astonishing number of people willing to support Bernie Sanders in his campaign, and come out for his events, suggests that there is broad support for such a leftist movement, and we will see the next generation after Occupy Wall Street and Sanders soon.

There are many anti-globaliation leftists who look at the mild statements of Sanders with distain. Because Sanders cannot even articulate a critique of American imperialism and foreign wars, they suggest, he is nothing more than a stooge.

Although the critique may seem a bit harsh, the truth of the matter is that the more strident news outlets of the anti-globalization left, like WSWS (World Socialist Web Site) and Truthdig have, for all their ideological bias, completely surpassed the New York Times in terms of the quality of their reporting. Many CIA analysts secretly read these publications for real analysis of current issues (and they probably contribute to them as well).

The anti-globalization left is growing stronger, but that shift is nearly invisible because they have been entirely blocked out of the mainstream media. Their critique against the establishment is powerful and their total rejection of the entire system has a broad, if covert, appeal. Their essential doctrine is revolutionary, not progressive. They describe a political culture that is so corrupt that literally nothing can be accomplished. Such radical demands for change are much more common than was the case even five years ago.

There is a substantial part of the left that thinks that Sanders has betrayed them and they are not coming back to the Democratic Party. They watched how the last progressive movement to address real economic and social issues, Occupy Wall Street, was brutally suppressed by illegal police action and they have had enough. They saw how the 2016 prison strike, the largest in U.S. history, was entirely ignored by the so-called progressive media and they are disgusted.

These anti-globalization revolutionary leftists are not well organized precisely because of their anti-institutional bias, but they may well come together again soon in an effective manner.

Sanders picked up many of these people during his campaign, so much that Democrats were deeply worried he might rock the boat. Sanders was most effective in speeches that drew on direct reference to class and concentration of capital, words that recalled politics of the 1930s. His campaign represents a major development in the U.S. and we have not seen the end of that movement. Yet his decision to fold without a fight before the Democratic Convention drove his revolutionary followers out of the Democratic Party. The betrayal was deep.

The anti-globalization right

Donald Trump has become the idol of the anti-globalization right wing and they are increasingly the most motivated ethnic group in the U.S. The dispossessed whites, with their strong ties to law enforcement and to the military, have been able to dominate the discussion on class issues (which Democrats are afraid to touch), on political conspiracies (ditto) and on the question of massive institutional corruption. Whereas liberal politicians speak about corruption as the result of few bad apples, of selfish and thoughtless people, the anti-globalization right assumes from the start that the system is broken beyond repair. They are closer to a universal critique to the far left than they are to the mainstream Democrat or Republican.

Anti-globalization right websites like Prison Planet and others have grown a loyal following beyond the far right because they disclose classified information and they discuss larger corporate conspiracies in detail. The fact that many of those discussions are diluted with fictions that keep the listeners from fully comprehending what exactly is happening does not detract from the broad impact of these broadcasts.

In the 1930s, blaming the Jews was an extremely effective way to diffuse explosive critiques of the contradictions of capitalism. The complete ignorance of most citizens of how they themselves were part of a cannibalistic economic system could be preserved by finding a scapegoat. But because the far right spoke out about real issues the media ignored, it had an appeal to the common man and they felt revolutionary. So also the calls of Trump followers to throw out the blacks and Muslims (a call that will extend eventually to Jews and Asians) feel like real action, as opposed to hot air for many poor whites. They are not repulsed by Trump’s aggressive behavior, but rather inspired. When Trump calls  other nations “shitholes,” his popularity only increases.

The anti-globalization right prefers a simple narrative that is easy to follow and it appeals to working-class people who are alienated from elite institutions like Harvard that are uncritically embraced by the left. Trump is able to attack the entire system and still survive politically because of the depth of alienation. Many of these anti-globalizations play major roles in local politics in rural America and must be taken seriously because the structure of elections discriminates against urban dwellers.

Trump’s campaign also attacked free-trade ideology in a manner that no progressive Democrat was capable of doing. Party loyalty forbids any Democrat from suggesting that free trade is by its nature destructive. But Trump had not such limits on his rhetoric. He gained much support among working-class whites who have suffered terribly from free trade when he suggested that automobile imports should be stopped by tariffs.

If you look at Trump’s background, he is clearly more of a globalist, but his main skill is not policy, but rather the ability to respond quickly to the needs of his audience. His policies evolved as a reaction of those who followed him.

Trump learned to appeal to these anti-globalization rightists, and white nationalists, but he is not originally one of them. Trump has very close ties to Israel (which both the anti-globalization left and anti-globalization right dislike). Many of his right-wing supporters are extremely hostile to Israel. Even as Trump moves to embrace Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, attacks on Jews from the far right are increasing.


How do the factions ally with each other?

We find a constantly shifting set of temporary alliances on a case-by-case basis in a three-way fight: the globalists will pair up with the anti-globalization left on occasion, but with the anti-globalization right at other times.

The anti-globalization right also can team up with the anti-globalization left, a phenomenon that has little precedent in our memory, but which is becoming quite prevalent.

The globalists team up with the anti-globalization left

Many important figures at global financial institutions like Goldman Sachs come from cultured families and they, and their families, have bought into a tolerant, multi-cultural world view. They are happy to have anti-globalization leftists giving talks at their events, and will even make donations to outfits like Democracy Now or Green Peace, as long as those players do not present a systematic strategy for taking on Wall Street’s absolute domination of the American economy.

To put it bluntly, globalists support humanitarian projects and welfare policies, as long as they are “progressive” and not “revolutionary. ” That is to say, incremental changes are introduced, not fundamental shifts in how the economy and the well-being of the nation are assessed.

Moreover, globalists and the anti-globalization left have an agreement on climate change. Globalists are seriously concerned about climate change (as long as the response does not affect their bottom line). And there is much cooperation in this respect — even to a flaw as the anti-globalizations have bought into the globalist’s carbon trading scheme. Finally, the anti-globalization left is urban and small in number (large in the number who sympathize, but small in the number of heavy hitters). It does not have the churches and other institutional networks of the anti-globalization right and stumbles when it tries to get its message to the larger audience.

Many leftist intellectuals find themselves at a greater distance from working-class people than from millionaires. They would find it easier to collect money from the super-rich than from factory workers. That disconnect is significant and it results in profound distortions. The liberals, and the so-called progressives, are often caught in a bubble and that is why the right wing so easily attacks them as elitists even when they try to do good.

Globalists team up with the anti-globalization right

When the globalists reach out to the anti-globalization right to support their battles, they pose their arguments in terms of “rights” or of “freedom. ” They find that the right wing is more flexible, more open to contradictory or even hypocritical deals and willing to speak in terms of money.

The old agreement, until Trump, was that the anti-globalization right would get support from the Republican globalists on their pet issues like federal money for Christian organizations, prohibitions on abortion and draconian crime legislation, in return for the right supporting the globalist Republican Party in its relentless pursuit of free trade and financial deregulation (both issues that the anti-globalization right dislikes). So also the anti-globalization right was willing to put up with the Republican embrace of Israel, even though at the local level it is far more hostile to Israel, and to Jews as a whole, than any part of the left.

The anti-globalization right also has a strong interest in the military and the police. Their members have close ties to the military and they model their organizations on military culture. They may not like the many foreign wars, but they admire the military’s strength and discipline. Moreover, jobs in the police, in the military and in prisons are extremely valued by rural white communities. The privatization of the prison system has resulted in a direct money exchange as a result of the harsh enforcement of laws in urban regions with large minority populations. A young black man may not be able to find a job or make a significant contribution to the local economy because of the decimation of factories. But if he is picked up on a doubtful charge and sent to prison (which are almost always in rural white communities), he can be forced to work producing products for next to nothing and the prison will supply high-paying jobs to many in the community. The prisons have in many cases become the biggest employer in the region.

Unspoken alliance of the anti-globalization left and the anti-globalization right

The most interesting part of this equation is the teaming up of the anti-globalization right and the anti-globalization left, which is increasing as the U.S. government shows signs of advanced decay.The far right and far left often have much in common with regards to international trade and finance, both of which they want to limit dramatically. They are both at war with the deep state, even if they define it in slightly different ways. Both sides suggest that the current government of the United States lacks the legitimacy to govern — both sides are, in essence, revolutionary, and not progressive or conservative.

Trump would never have been able to get elected if there had not been a large number of people on the left who supported the manner in which he weakens the state, which they want to bring down. Trump made appeals to the far left repeatedly. In fact, during the election, many far-left organizations posted material on their websites attacking Hillary Clinton that were originally produced by right-wing groups. Many continued to post them even after complaints were registered, because they felt the content was true. Trump even hinted at support for Wikileaks during the campaign — a position he was forced to back away from once president.

Steve Bannon, who continues to be a force in the Trump administration, even if the militarists have blocked some of his access to the White House, made a declaration that is particularly helpful to us in understanding what is going on here in this anti-globalization hidden coalition of left and right.

He remarked: “We don’t believe there is a functional conservative party in this country and we certainly don’t think the Republican Party is that. It’s going to be an insurgent, center-right populist movement that is virulently anti-establishment, and it’s going to continue to hammer this city, both the progressive left and the institutional Republican Party.”

Bannon was suggesting a “third-way” strategy based on the fascists of the 1930s that has a broad appeal beyond the “conservative/progressive” discourse in that it is anti-elite and revolutionary.

Moreover, Bannon’s news agency, Breitbart News, has borrowed heavily from Lenin’s war chest, employing attacks on “global elites” and even suggesting that Barack Obama was a “parasite.”

This strategy was best expressed by Trump on the campaign trail in this manner: “The Washington establishment and the financial and media corporations that fund it exist for only one reason, to protect and enrich itself. The establishment has trillions of dollars at stake in this election. For those who control the levers of power in Washington and for the global special interests, they partner with these people who don’t have your good in mind.”

This statement, never followed up on in his actions, appealed to many voters. It went far beyond anything that even Sanders was capable of expressing. Trump was backed by the dark money of billionaires, and not dependent on the Republican Party, so he could say just about anything. That was the strategy.

A space emerged for Trump (and his inventors Bannon and Robert Mercer) to address the needs of workers in a manner that Democrats could not because of their dependency on corporations.Trump could give a talk in Detroit saying that he would stop the import of foreign cars as part of his “American first” economic nationalism. The appeal to workers was immense, but no Democrat would be allowed to say something like that because of the party commitment to “free trade. ” Democrats talk about ethnic diversity, but they do not touch on class issues and they have no connections with ordinary workers, black or white, preferring to work with the leaders of major workers’ unions.

The anti-globalization left thought that having Trump installed as president (with the help of the anti-globalization right) would mean that the false face covering up American imperialism would be torn off. Leftists thought that at least Trump would not start new wars, or expand wars in the Middle East. They were wrong.

Of course Trump made statements, probably sincere, that he wanted to eat a hamburger with Kim Jong-un and that U.S. policy in the Middle East since the invasion of Iraq in 1992 was all mistaken. But Trump was a political amateur and had no network at all in the military-industrial complex. It did not take long for him to be completely captured, reading off a script written up by the war hawks.

How did the left respond to the challenge of Trump? Look at the words of Jill Stein, the presidential candidate of the Green Party, who is certainly quite moderate among anti-globalization leftists,

“Donald Trump, I think, will have a lot of trouble moving things through Congress,” Stein says, ” Hillary has the potential to do a whole lot more damage, get us into more wars, faster to pass her fracking disastrous climate program, much more easily than Donald Trump could do his.”

Stein’s greater distrust of Clinton suggests a fundamental breakdown in American political culture.

Beyond the progressive vs. conservative Grand Guignol, institutional decay continues unabated.

The fight goes on

The three-way fight described goes far back in American politics and if I were writing a history textbook, I would add a few more chapters. The scale of its impact on American politics today, however, is unprecedented and suggests that there is a more profound decay of institutions, whether it be political parties, or the federal government, or corporations. All these organizations have been carved up for the use of small factions and interest groups and have ceased to serve a public good. Moreover, our privatized media has spent most of its time papering over, and rendering invisible, such institutional transformation, thus leaving citizens open to easy manipulation. We are led to believe that Trump is the source of evil, as opposed to the privatization of government, or the deregulation (legalization of corruption) of industry.

It is no surprise that citizens view political parties, and government itself, as hostile and threatening. Because our media, and our very approach to political analysis (not only on television, but in the classroom as well) hinges on a simplistic, one-size-fits-all progressive/conservative historical narrative, we have trouble comprehending the interference pattern created by the masked tug of war between three distinct groups who in alternation pair up or confront one another.


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