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The Passionately Ignorant and The Passively Informed

The point is not to re-litigate past elections, but to show how the Democrats' reliance on corporations and the ultra-rich has fostered legitimate cynicism and apathy among potential supporters.

"Given the ubiquity of this split, the real question isn’t simply how can 40 percent of Americans be so ignorant of reality, but rather, how is it that they are determining who is in charge?"

"Given the ubiquity of this split, the real question isn’t simply how can 40 percent of Americans be so ignorant of reality, but rather, how is it that they are determining who is in charge?" (Photo: a.mina/flickr/cc)

Sixty percent of Americans understand that the Republican’s tax plan favors the rich.  Some would celebrate that degree of awareness, but as Paul Krugman noted in a recent column, the question is why 40 percent of Americans don’t seem to know it.

But this 60/40 split between the ignorant and the informed– or differences exceeding it -- rears its head over and over again in our current political arena, right up to the issue of the president’s job approval.  For example, one of the latest poll shows a little over 58 percent of the people disapprove of Trump’s performance, while a little under 42 percent approve. In fact, in study after study, Americans overwhelmingly poll left-of-center on an issue-by-issue basis, with the progressive positions often exceeding 60 percent.

Given the ubiquity of this split, the real question isn’t simply how can 40 percent of Americans be so ignorant of reality, but rather, how is it that they are determining who is in charge?  Because across the board, the 40 percenters are winning elections and have been for some time.  Oligarchs -- using a deadly blend of hate, fear, greed, blame, xenophobia, and bald-faced lies -- have conned the 40 percenters into voting for oligarch-supporting Republican conservatives who now control the Senate, the House, the Presidency, the majority of state legislatures, and state governorships.

So the real question is, why is it that the 60 percent majority doesn’t control the political system?

The answer is pretty simple.  There’s no one representing their interests.  Certainly not the Republicans, but not the Democrats either. Democrats support wage-depressing trade agreements; they favor relatively unconstrained markets; they’re on board with perennial wars; they solicit campaign money from corporations and the ultra-rich and repay them with fealty when elected; they cozy up to Wall Street, the big banks, the pharmaceutical interests, and big oil.

We can see why the 60 percenters don’t have much faith in the Democratic Party by looking at the last two Democratic administrations and at their last candidate, Ms. Clinton. The point of this is not to re-litigate the past elections, it is to show how the Democrats’ reliance on corporations and the ultra-rich for campaign funds – together with the compromises that demands – has fostered a legitimate cynicism and apathy among potential supporters.  And yes, it goes without saying that Republicans have been even less supportive of the average American, but when the Democrat’s only credible claim is “we may be bad, but they’re worse,” a large part of the rational, progressive majority opt to stay home on election day.

We can start with Bill Clinton. As Thomas Frank pointed out:

Clinton had five major achievements as president: NAFTA, the Crime Bill of 1994,welfare reform, the deregulation of banks and telecoms, and the balanced budget. All of    them—every single one—were longstanding Republican objectives.

The Telecommunications Act of 1996, in particular, was a free marketeer’s wet dream. Not only did it give away airwaves for free (sacrificing $100 billion annually in revenue), but it also removed any remaining meaningful constraints on the media designed to assure that it met its First Amendment responsibilities.

How about Barack Obama?  Well, remember hope and change?  Seems we forgot to ask hope for what, and change to what.

Here’s what we got: An administration that set up Goldman Sachs south in the Treasury, doubled down on domestic spying; expanded a drone policy that creates between 40 to 60 new terrorists for each one it kills; health care reform that was better than the status quo, but which rewarded corporate insurers as much or more than it did citizens; international trade agreements that favored corporate interests, while eviscerating domestic wages, scuttling environmental performance, and crippling US industrial infrastructure. It was so bad, they tried to negotiate it in secret … And of course, there was the “grand bargain” Obama agreed to which would have cut Medicare, Social Security and other social safety net programs. We were saved from this disaster only because Bohner couldn’t coral enough of his Congressional crazies to pass it. 

The list goes on and on, and so do the compromises.  Yet Obama was as close to a progressive as the Democratic establishment was capable of producing.

Apologists for the DLC branch of the Democratic Party will say Obama had no choice—he was constrained by Congress.  But he practiced a brand of preemptive capitulation that meant Democras always ended up carrying corporate water, and satisfying military imperialists while ignoring or discounting citizens’ civil rights and welfare.

Then there’s Hillary Clinton.  She claimed to want to address global warming but favored fracking, backed the XL pipeline, refused to put a price on carbon, and supported increasing exploration for fossil fuels on federal lands. She claimed to be tough on Wall Street and the big banks, but she privately expressed sympathy with the financial community and suggested that regulations were needed only for "political reasons."  She steadfastly refused to back a $15/hr minimum wage, while claiming to be a progressive who stood for the people. She was extremely hawkish, a bit of a deficit scold, and she advocated austerity budgets.  In short, other than social issues, there was little daylight between her and the Republican Party, and more to the point, she represented the interests of the elites, not those of middle class Americans and the working poor.

There you have it. Democrats may be better on the social issues, but when their only response to backing the interests of corporations and the uber-rich over the people’s interest is “they’re worse than us,” it doesn’t do much to generate support from the informed. Is it any wonder that a sizable portion of the 60 percenters stay home at election day?  No one is representing them.  And so the neoliberals in charge of the Democratic Party cede governance to the rabid 40 percenters who are motivated by fear, greed, hate, bigotry, jingoism and blame and the rest of us are forced to suffer the consequences of being ruled by the passionately ignorant.

This is the world we live in. This is the world we cover.

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John Atcheson

John Atcheson

screen_shot_2017-07-26_at_9.09.47_pm.pngJohn Atcheson is author of the novel, A Being Darkly Wise, and he has just completed a book on the 2016 elections titled, WTF, America? How the US Went Off the Rails and How to Get It Back On Track, available from Amazon. Follow him on Twitter @john_atcheson

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