Blog Credo

The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed (and hence clamorous to be led to safety) by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary.

H.L. Mencken

Monday, June 27, 2016


I've seen a fair number of pieces like this one from Glenn Greenwald, where the rise of Trump and the triumph of Brexit are demonstrations of people turning on elite opinion.  To that point, this is correct.  Greenwald, who has always been better at lobbing bombs than building solutions, elides is whether or not elites have a point.  He just assumes they don't because Iraq.  And Libya, I guess, though I remain convinced that the action to stop Qaddafi was legitimate.  What came next was a clusterfuck.  Certainly, the twin disasters of 2003 and 2008 legitimately call into question some elite opinion.

However, not all elites believe the same things.  And not all of their opinions are wrong.

Brexit was supposed to be about trade agreements, but ultimately became about bigotry.  And it certainly appears that those elites that Greenwald and others decry are going to be right about Brexit's effect on the very working class people that vehemently objected to continuing in the EU.  What we are seeing from the developed world working class is sense of outrage over relative decline.  In many, many ways, life is better for the working class.  But it's SOOO much better for the elites.  The Republican strain of neoliberalism that pushes wealth upwards and guts social service is unsustainable, and certainly a large part of Brexit was tied up in the folly of austerity.

So, in the sense that Brexit was a response to austerity and a relative decline among workers, then it represents a legitimate response to poor elite decision making.  Of course, Brexit itself is unlikely to remedy any of those problems.

That is the critical problem with Greenwald's argument.  He gives away the game here:

The solution is not to subserviently cling to corrupt elite institutions out of fear of the alternatives. It is, instead, to help bury those institutions and their elite mavens and then fight for superior replacements.

OK, yes, elite institutions are not always right and certainly not always moral.  There needs to be more accountability.  But burying elite institutions is not the way to affect real, positive change.  Greenwald wants MORE tantrums, not less.  He's right that economic elites are largely unaware of the pain at the bottom and do so very, very little to alleviate that.  He is fundamentally wrong when he says that Clinton is simply another Wall Street jackal intent on feeding on the bodies of the poor.

Greenwald falls into the Sandernista purity trap, where the fact that - for instance - Obama can't raise the minimum wage because Republicans won't do it, is proof that Obama is a corporate sellout.  Look at this statement and see if you can spot the whopper:

Brexit — despite all of the harm it is likely to cause and despite all of the malicious politicians it will empower — could have been a positive development.

I mean, what the everloving fuck?  Brexit will be bad, but....unicorns!

The problem is not elite rule, necessarily.  I don't want a medical student doing my brain surgery, much less my barista.  Elites become elites through some demonstrated ability.  Too often there is an advantage of wealth, so we need to address creating more true meritocracy, especially in the US.  Barriers to decent health care are falling, but we still need to do more to reduce barriers to better education.  We need to lift the bottom and restrain the very top.

And you will hear Clinton say that very thing from now until November.

That will be followed by people like Greenwald and the Bernie or Bust crowd saying she's lying because it suits their narrative that everything must be torn down.

Be very careful when you start indiscriminately tearing things down.  The rubble will almost certainly wind up falling on you.

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