by James Corbett
January 28, 2014
From education to the environment, business to banking, housing to health care, it seems that there is no issue in the world that the industrialized western democracies cannot reduce to a simplistic paradigm of “liberal” vs “conservative.” In fact, this point has been so hardwired into the modern political system that it has been distilled into a childlike shorthand: political positions are “left” or “right,” “blue” or “red.” These convenient, color-coded political choices infantilize the political process, making the public little more than spectators at a sporting event, rooting for one team or another without even having to understand the issues being debated.
Nowhere has this process of simplification become so refined as it has in the United States of America, sometimes laughingly referred to as the “leaders of the free world.”
This inane lowest-common-denominator reduction of all political thought has taken its toll on the public. Many are now unable to conceive of what a political movement that is not attached to one or the other ends of this so-called “spectrum” would look like. Yet, interestingly, this is precisely what has emerged in the past several years, not once, but twice, and not on one side of this left/right divide or the other, but both.
In the past five years we have watched the rise of two distinct movements expressing popular outrage at the political status quo in the US. Both movements decried the nexus of power that has developed in the fascistic relationship of big banks and big government. Both movements believed that the bought-and-paid for politicians have robbed the people of their rights and even their ability to participate in the political process. Both movements believed in mass protest as a way of effecting change in the system. And yet, we are asked to believe that these movements are not only incompatible, but diametrically opposed.
According to the corporate press, the tea party is a fringe Republican movement that arose out of a desire to move the Republican party further toward the “hard right.” Never discussed in mainstream coverage of the group is its actual origins in disgust at the Bush Administration’s 9/11 cover-up. The first “tea party” event was held in Boston in 2006 and involved throwing copies of the whitewash 9/11 Commission Report into Boston Harbor. The movement took off in 2008 in the wake of the Lehman Brothers collapse and the announcement of trillions of dollars of stimulus being directed into the pockets of the Wall Street banksters and their political cronies.
Similarly, the Occupy Wall Street movement motivated scores of Americans to actively protest the financial oligarchy and their growing ensnarement of the political machinery of the US government for their own enrichment. People sick of being asked to “tighten their belts” while banks continued making record profits, backed up and bailed out by debt that the public is being asked to underwrite, drove people into the streets for mass protests and confrontations with the so-called authorities across the country.
At their core, these movements sprang from remarkably similar origins: increasing public frustration with the money power dominating the American political process, and the dwindling space for public engagement in that system. It did not take long at all, however, before both movements were spun into the left/right political process, with the Republicans effectively capturing the tea party movement and steering much of their base into an officially sanctioned Tea Party Inc. The Democrats, meanwhile, managed to ignore the Occupy Wall Street protests while the political provocateurs and change agents steered it toward cultural irrelevance.
Those who have studied history should perhaps not find it surprising that the political outrage that is felt so keenly by people on all sides of the political “spectrum” should be controlled by spinning them off into partisan politics. Nor should they be surprised to see how effective this technique is. After all, the strategy of keeping the people pitted against each other instead of against their oppressors is one of the oldest political strategems known to human civilization.
The phrase “divide and conquer” is attributed to Julius Caesar and has been used by emperors and would-be tyrants ever since. In the age of empires, divide and conquer was used to keep the empires’ subjects from rebelling against the emperor. The Romans used it to keep their conquered neighbours competing with each other rather than their foreign occupiers. The British used it to keep their colonies squabbling along religious, ethnic and sectarian grounds so that the Queen and the British East India Company could more effectively exploit them.
In the age of the nation state and with the advent of republican democracy, the strategy necessarily took on a different form. The idea of a “left” and “right” wing in politics stems from the earliest days of the French Revolution, when the National Assembly divided into supporters of the king on the President’s right and supporters of the revolution on his left. The notion of competing parties within the government was quickly transplanted to the American context, where supporters of Alexander Hamilton united under the Federalist Party, causing Thomas Jefferson to form the Democratic-Republican party.
The creation of political parties was greeted with uneasiness by many, including George Washington himself, who warned of the potential for despotism under such a system in his Farewell Address:
“The alternate domination of one faction over another, sharpened by the spirit of revenge, natural to party dissension, which in different ages and countries has perpetrated the most horrid enormities, is itself a frightful despotism. But this leads at length to a more formal and permanent despotism. The disorders and miseries, which result, gradually incline the minds of men to seek security and repose in the absolute power of an individual; and sooner or later the chief of some prevailing faction, more able or more fortunate than his competitors, turns this disposition to the purposes of his own elevation, on the ruins of Public Liberty.”
Whatever the intentions of the original creators of the Federalist and Democratic-Republican Parties, by the 20th Century the American system, supposedly the beacon of democracy for the world, had become hardwired into a two-party duopoly: the Republicans and the Democrats. This was not the result of mere happenstance, but a concerted plan to effect a divide and conquer strategy on the population by the money interests that benefit from having the public pitted against each other.
The thinking behind this two-party system that was engineered by the banking and financial interests was documented by famed Georgetown historian Carroll Quigley in his landmark work, Tragedy and Hope, published in 1966:
“The argument that the two parties should represent opposed ideals and policies, one, perhaps, of the Right and the other of the Left, is a foolish idea acceptable only to the doctrinaire and academic thinkers. Instead, the two parties should be almost identical, so that the American people can ‘throw the rascals out’ at any election without leading to any profound or extreme shifts in policy.”
Late last March I had the chance to talk to independent news commentator Charlie McGrath of Wide Awake News about this strategy of divide and conquer and how it functions to keep like-minded people apart on so many issues.
The situation would almost be laughable if it were not so tragic. Having been immersed in the left/right facade their entire lives, many have begun to see the world and those around them through that prism. Either someone is on the same “side” as they are, or they are the enemy. There is no room for nuance, no subtle distinctions to be made, no room for alliance or cooperation on matters of great import. Perhaps most devastatingly, there is now little room for any analysis of the powers behind the political throne, the oligarchical financial interests that could care less whether this or that President has a “D” or an “R” next to their name, whether a Prime Minister is “Labour” or “Conservative,” whether an MEP identifies with the “left” or the “right.” Deprived of this understanding of the real nature of political power, the public is truly powerless to identify the real problem at the root of today’s political crisis, let alone even begin to address it.
It is perhaps ironic, then, that at the end of the day the supposedly serious commentators, analysts and talking heads that are paraded in front of the public to comment on this system are little more than buffoons and court jesters, keeping the public entertained and distracted, while some of the most insightful political commentators of our day have been the comedians who have been bold enough to expose this system for what it really is.
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