America, it’s often said, has a two-party system. But it’s not true. In fact, it has a zero-party system for the simple reason that the Republicans and Democrats are not political parties in any proper sense of the term. A political party is a group of citizens who band together to fight for a common political program. Whether your goal is socialism, free marijuana on demand, or free markets, the point is to win others over to your perspective and ultimately take over the government. But the Dems and GOP are not citizens’ associations. One can’t march down to one’s local Democratic Party office, take out a membership, pay dues and then participate in weekly or monthly meetings to plan activities and debate party policy. These are things that a Green or Social Democrat can do in Germany or a Laborite in the UK, but not a Republican or Democrat in the US. Indeed, if you ask an elected official to point you to the nearest meeting of the Republican or Democratic rank-and-file, he’ll look at you as if you were speaking Greek. There is no meeting. The concept doesn’t exist.
The upshot is millions of people saying millions of different things, but with zero freedom to organize debate along more coherent lines. Argument is vociferous but de-ideologized thanks to the absence of anything resembling a party structure. But this is not to say that it’s entirely formless. To the contrary, order is imposed from without by capitalism and its political-constitutional apparatus. If the system wants war, the great American herd of independent minds will move to a pro-war position. Instead of debating war itself, debate will be limited to which pseudo-party is the more dutifully militaristic. We are, say the Dems. No, we are, says the GOP. When voters go to the polls, they’re thus free to choose between competing militarists who may disagree on a few particulars but otherwise adhere to the same fundamental point of view.
All of which is a roundabout way of discussing a fire-breathing editorial that ran in last Friday’s New York Times. Entitled, “Finally, Trump Has Something Bad to Say About Russia,” it was a comment on the White House’s decision, under congressional prodding, to impose sanctions on nineteen Russian individuals and five Russian organizations “for spreading disinformation and propaganda” during the 2016 presidential election. It coyly suggested that “Mr. Trump, for reasons that have never been made completely clear, has until now resisted a congressional mandate that he expand the penalties.” But the Times knows perfectly well what those (alleged) reasons are since, along with the rest of the corporate press, it has spent the last year and a half shouting from the rooftops that he’s a puppet who can’t resist Russian aggression because he’s basically on the Kremlin’s side. But while the sanctions were nonetheless a good start, the editorial went on, they “need to go further, subjecting Mr. Putin’s wealthy cronies and their families to sanctions like travel bans and asset freezes that would put even more pressure on the Russian leader.” It concluded:
“Mr. Putin, an authoritarian leader who is expected to be re-elected easily to another six-year term on Sunday, has paid little or no price for his aggressions, including annexing Crimea, destabilizing other parts of Ukraine and enabling President Bashar al-Assad’s regime in Syria. He won’t stop until he knows that the United States will stand up to him and work with its allies to impose stronger financial and diplomatic measures to rein him in.”
So Trump’s problem is that he isn’t confrontational enough and therefore isn’t taking the measures necessary to put a stop to Putin’s misdeeds, which include opposing a US-backed, Nazi-led coup in the Ukraine, saying yes to the Crimea’s overwhelmingly Russian population when it sought Russian protection against American-sponsored anarchy, and helping the Syrian government resist a takeover by ISIS and Al Qaeda, both heavily armed by the US and its Arab gulf allies. (For more on the US and Saudi origins of ISIS’s weaponry, see a recent report by a Swiss and EU-funded group known as Conflict Armament Research, which I wrote about in Consortiumnews.) What Trump should do to roll back such aggression is not specified. But clearly it involves ratcheting up the bellicosity to who-knows-where.
Pause for a moment to let this sink in. Trump is a reactionary blowhard who has threatened to incinerate North Korea, who maintains a growing military presence in Syria, who has cheered on an invasion by Turkey, and who has armed neo-Nazis with sophisticated anti-tank weapons against pro-Russian forces in the eastern Ukraine. Yet according to the Times, he isn’t confrontational enough. Democrats are attacking him from the right, the entire corporate press is joining in the chorus, while congressional Republicans wring their hands nervously on the sidelines. Of all the idiotic things that Trump said on the campaign trail, his bourgeois opponents have managed to zero in on the one thing that made a modicum of sense, i.e. the need to lower tensions with Russia and put off the campaign to depose Syria’s Bashar al-Assad. After more than a year of chaotic debate, the choice has thus come down to a demagogue who engages in sword-rattling against a growing number of targets and a liberal war party that wants even more. If you want to know what democratic breakdown is like, look no farther. It’s right there under your nose.