Populist Unity and its Problems
Americans on the margins and fringes of political life have long known that the two major parties that take turns governing the United States agree on far more than they disagree. If the public at large has the opposite impression, it is only because these parties and their media machines have done a good job at blowing up their actual differences out of proportion.
Recent events, however, have made this task more difficult. America is witnessing a convergence between the left and right wings of its establishment/elites that is more explicit than it has ever been in the past; a failure on the part of populist activists to likewise converge will ensure that the problems both sides acknowledge – namely corporatism, the police state and the empire abroad – will continue along their dangerous trajectories.
As an example of one the more disturbing manifestations of elite convergence, the Obama administration is beginning to use the once exclusively left-wing goal of full social acceptance of homosexuality and transgenderism to justify what is associated with right-wing politics: an imperial and Russophobic foreign policy.According to Vice-President Joe Biden, all U.S. agencies have been instructed to “make the promotion of gay rights abroad a priority,” a directive that will clearly be used to pressure and isolate Russia geopolitically given Obama’s previous statements. There is also a planned vigil at the Martin Luther King memorial to add “four words” to the 1964 Civil Rights Act (“sexual orientation” and “gender identity”).
The vigil is not merely limited to transforming U.S. law, but is also explicitly directed at the entire planet. It almost calls to mind the Council of Clermont of 1095 on the eve of the Crusades, though we may note with some irony that the plight of homosexuals has moved our modern crusading elites while the contemporary persecution of Christians in the Muslim world has been a top concern of Vladimir Putin, their sworn geopolitical enemy. History repeats itself as a farce.
It is also known that Republican elites connected to Wall Street would rather see the supposedly left-wing Hillary Clinton in the White House than someone like Rand Paul, a critic of both interventionism abroad and limitless fiat money domestically. The real “nightmare scenario”, as one Wall Street insider put it, would be a contest between Rand Paul and Elizabeth Warren, scions of the populist right and left respectively.
This is because both candidates are committed to policies that would harm the interests of Wall Street; Paul would force them to compete and remove the safety net of trillion-dollar bailouts, while Warren would tighten regulations.
There are some positive signs that a left-right populist alliance may emerge, though it will face serious obstacles in any event. David Brat’s victory over Eric Cantor in the recent Virginia primary for the U.S. Senate has been described unanimously a historic upset; Brat, with only a few hundred thousand dollars, defeated Cantor’s multi-million dollar political machine in a race no one expected him to win (including Brat himself).
He did so by running as an explicitly anti-Wall Street, anti-corporate candidate from the libertarian right. Brat’s rhetoric and focus were even favorably compared by at least some on the left to that of the aforementioned Warren’s. At the same time Ralph Nader, a long-time left-wing anti-corporate activist, has written a new book calling for the populist left and right to unite against the corporate state.
Can this actually happen in the context of the ongoing “culture wars”? The most recent Pew Research Center political typology report indicates that America is polarized but that there are also many “islands of agreement” among the populace. Partisans of the left and right, i.e. those more knowledgeable about politics and more likely to be politically active, despise each other with more intensity than ever before.
At the same time there is clear anti-establishment overlap: the size and power of corporations, the erosion of civil liberties and the failures of US foreign policy are matters on which large numbers of those of the left and right agree. What will it take for people who agree on these key issues to cooperate?
The answer lies in the approach that Rand Paul has taken towards divisive issues such as same-sex marriage, abortion and marijuana laws: let the states decide. The United States was founded on the principles of popular and local sovereignty, both of which are embodied in the 10th amendment of the Bill of Rights.
All powers that are not delegated to the federal government by the Constitution are held by the people and the individual states. Thomas Jefferson referred to this amendment as the foundation of the Constitution, beyond which the federal government was not justified in taking a single step. Since the passage of the 14th amendment, which guarantees all citizens of the United States equal protection under the laws, the 10th amendment has been whittled away through a massive transfer of power from the states to the federal government.
Because the federal government acted against the states to abolish unjust racist laws, the principles of the 10th amendment have suffered from a negative stigma in recent years. Even if the issue has nothing to do with race, such as gun rights, drug laws, or even food regulations, the champions of federal supremacy invoke racism to delegitimize strong assertions of local rights.
It is beyond the scope of this piece to explore the legitimacy, or lack thereof, of comparisons between the black civil rights movement and the contemporary movement to legitimize homosexuality and transgenderism. What is indisputable is that the latter are being used to drive a wedge between people who might otherwise cooperate against the empire.
If the trend of history is for same-sex marriage and transgenderism to triumph everywhere, this would be expressed in the democratically-decided laws of the states. Just the opposite is occurring, though; federal judges have overruled the democratic will of the people (including a majority of non-whites) in several states by striking down their same-sex marriage bans, while our imperialist federal government wishes to do the same on a global scale to other sovereign nations. Whatever the merits of legalized same-sex marriage, surely they are not so pressing and urgent to justify the eradication of local democracy and the expansion of empire.
It is likely a waste of time to convince today’s LGBT missionaries of any of this. Intoxicated with their rapid cultural and legislative successes, they appear to hold the same view of their opponents that Pope Pius IX held of his: error has no rights. By the logic of events they have been completely integrated into the empire and serve as its dutiful pawns. And yet for the moment, they have earned the sympathy and support of a slight but increasing majority of American citizens – many of the same people who are opposed to one or more facets of the empire.
The extent to which these sympathizers are willing to support blatantly anti-democratic and reckless imperial efforts to impose the LGBT agenda is not yet decided. It is to them that the appeal must be made: let error have its rights, at home and abroad. The toleration of views one finds abhorrent was built into America’s cultural DNA before the United States even existed; it was in the colony of Maryland that the Western world’s first real experiment in religious toleration was achieved.
Today this toleration is an imperative not simply for its own goodness, but because it is a prerequisite to anti-establishment collaboration. Meanwhile if Rand Paul actually does win the GOP primary, or even polls at a close second, it will signal that contemporary conservatives are willing to abandon any notion of a federal imposition of their own moral and religious views.
The further both sides move from the alluring but fatally toxic program of cultural triumph through federal supremacy, the closer they will come to one another. As an added bonus, the stronger local and state governments become, the more frustrated and inept Washington D.C. will become. It sounds simplistic, but much of what must be done is a simple agreement to disagree. From there the possibilities for a meaningful resistance to corporatism and empire are bountiful.