A Cup of Crap


By Michael Albert
Dec 24 2000


Bush lost the popular vote. Bush lost the Electoral College (or would have by a fair Florida count). But Bush owns the White House. Cheney was our Gulf War Secretary of Defense. More than merely military-entwined, Cheney is a war criminal. But Cheney will soon run the White House. Powell is an ex-General. Powell wouldnít mind wearing a perpetual uniform. And Powell is another Gulf War criminal. But Powell heads State. And then there is Schwarzkopf. This Gulf Warriorís warrior also campaigned hard for this outcome. Who knows what heíll end up with.


How did it happen?


They incarcerated and disenfranchised large swaths of the electorate. They obstructed Black voters on the way to the polls. They manipulated and denied diverse constituencyís votes. They likely tanked many ballots. But even with all that and with Goreís pathetic campaign, their cheating fell short of producing a Bush victory. No problem. The highest court played piper. The Supremes sounded the final charge. They gaveled to submission even our feeble democracy.


Not just a sullied election, this was a hijacking. The military straddled the driverís seat. The kiss-ass law crawled across the floor. The Supremes pumped the breaks and gas. They are headed back to the last millennium. Whoa -- whoís going to the inauguration?


Heretofore, regarding the election I have mainly argued that translating Naderís momentum into lasting left commitments is our movementís main task. And so it is. But there is another election topic that is attracting almost no attention, even on the left. It is not the chads. They were done to death. It is not the election rip-off. That should get more attention, but is getting quite a lot. It is not even the racist reversal of intent of the Black and Latino electorate. Even that has gotten some of the attention it merits, as has the highest hypocrisy of the Supremest Court.


No, what I see as basically ignored is the mindset of Tom, Dick, Harry, Sue, Sarah, and Sally. In short, where is the anger in Des Moines, Phoenix, Portland, Mobile, Toledo, and Buffalo? Where is the irrepressible outrage at this abominable election?


Do you know the method of argument called reductio ad absurdum? First we assume some claim. Then we show that the claimís truth implies expectations confounded by reality. Finally, if we donít see the outcome the claim implies, we conclude that the claim itself must be false and reject it.


Suppose we assume that the population of the U.S. broadly believes what our textbooks tell us: that the U.S. is a democracy, that the law is unbiased and sacrosanct, and that choosing a President is a hallowed responsibility. Surely people who believe this would be mighty upset at having it taken away. Wars are ostensibly fought to avoid such freedom-theft.


But in full color 3D, with nary an obstructed view in sight, and so explicitly that even the most obtuse observer had to comprehend the events, democracy was beaten into oblivion. So where is the anger?


This election should look to the presumed patriotic public, like a vile, duplicitous power grab undertaken to attain reactionary control of government. Even mainstream newspapers report that with a Florida fair count Gore wins.


Is the absence of major reaction because most people like the outcome? Come on. Less than 25% of the voting age population wanted Bush in the White House and plenty of those thought only that he was nicer, more honest, or less pedantic than Gore.


Is it that outrage was blunted by a lack of prior learning that precluded people seeing the truth? Not at all. In fact, too much prior education facilitates rationalization and denial. In our society a good general rule is ďthe less the education the better the insight.Ē (An even better rule, my favorite, aptly demonstrated in the election, is ďgarbage rises.Ē)


If people sincerely believed before this election that we live in the worldís foremost democracy, then they would be irate, it seems to me. But people are not irate so we have to conclude that most folks donít really believe this is the worldís foremost democracy, or even a democracy at all, and therefore didnít see anything usurped during this election that wasnít already in the outbox.


Most folks knew the score before the election and still know it after the election. Within the defining institutions of the U.S. -- the government, the market, the corporations -- the deck was and is horribly stacked.  Power and wealth 83, freedom nearly nothing.


But the publicís passivity about the vile and transparent duplicity in Jeb Bushís police state, about the vapid campaigns, about the Courtís almost comical hypocrisy, and about the mediaís moronic manipulations, isnít apathy. Instead, virtually nobody sees a good reason to militantly react. It isnít that folks donít care about their future. It is that folks believe (however wrongly, if we account for serious activism) that the future is beyond their reach.


Real democracy, remember, means that people have both information and means to impact outcomes. But in our society, unless we have a lot of time to find and read obscure sources, we have little if any honest information bearing on major decisions. We lack ways to develop meaningful political preferences. We canít significantly impact low-level superficial matters such as deciding who should be president, much less more serious matters such as what the president will do in office, what the government will do, what corporations will do.


U.S. elections are a sham. And it now turns out that even the sham is a sham. And the new revelation piled on top of that is that everyone knows it. Letís get this side-show over with, people think. Itís boring. Itís embarrassing. Letís go back to school, to work, to our households, or to wherever else we can get some modest pleasure and consistency. Letís congregate where reality is at least partly what it appears to be. Letís express preferences where outcomes are at least somewhat subject to our desires. Letís go home, or perhaps to the mall, or maybe to read the sports pages, the only honest ones in the newspaper.


This attitude doesnít change the world, itís true, but it's not crazy or apathetic. 


Envision someone in prison. He or she tries to get the best out of the allotted work-out room, library, TV-room, or commissary, however meager the attained pleasures may be. Such prisoners certainly donít methodically research all the limitations their cells impose on them. They donít daily protest those limitations. They turn the other cheek and get on with their (limited) life. Unless and until prisoners see a way out, they cautiously seek to create a viable existence. It only looks like apathetic acceptance.


Our electoral system. Our government. Our markets. Our private ownership. Our corporations. Our divisions of labor. Our institutional racial and ethnic persecution. Our familial and organizational sexism, misogyny, and homophobia. These imprison us. And everyone knows that pretty much everything is broken. But no one is going to do much about it, not even be outraged much less struggle about it, until they believe two things. (1) That life could be much better. And (2) that we can get from where we are to that much better place if we work hard enough.


No one over eight years old and not in complete denial truly believes in 2001 that our U.S. system is honorable, worthy, or just. Those at the top know the system serves them and have decided that thatís just dandy. Their morals are toast. The rest of us know the system sucks. We try to make do.


Yes, many people intone favorable words about democracy and freedom and don appropriate rhetorical garb to get through the day. But no one really believes the myths, not deep down. Folks donít enlarge their doubts into full critiques nor adopt associated protest agendas, it is true. But this isnít because they believe in ďthe system.Ē It is partly for want of time after working, caring for their kids, and sleeping. It is partly because they donít see any congenial avenue for dissenting. But it is mostly because they doubt that dissent matters.


Without believing in new institutions and an accessible path to attain them, protest seems to them like hopeless whining that leads nowhere. Most folks look away. The bad guys get even worse.


So my Christmas and New Yearís query is why donít we radicals we put more mental and organizational energy into creating widely shared vision and strategy? That's what differentiates having enlightened, committed, and effective movements, from having good critiques but minimal movements.


The big irony about the election, by the way, is that other than the very few rich folk who vote their real interests and care avidly about doing so, the half of the population who actually goes out and votes are not significantly more involved or concerned than the half who donít vote. In fact, I submit for your consideration that U.S. voters who vote do so largely because to not vote would violate the assumptions and protocols of their communities and their superficially held personal mythologies. Not because they sincerely believe they are exercising an influential democratic responsibility. And I submit that U.S. non-voters who stay home do so for pretty much the same reason. They abide their communityís norm, which is ďwhy vote given that the candidates are two heads a single corporate party that remorselessly screws me?Ē


So the truth is out. And deep down, virtually everyone knows. Our societyís defining institutions are nearly all a cup of crap: the elections, and the rest too.