Introduction: An “unplanned” article
This was not an article I planned to write. Instead, having recently published Part 1 of a series on our new Indispensable Movement’s memes and catchy rhetoric, where I introduced and justified our key “Swampzilla” meme, I was planning to write Part 2, performing the same service for some of our most crucial (and fun) movement lingo.
But in response to Swampzilla – and also to my introduction on Facebook of the derogatory term “formaldeheads” for identity-politics liberals (which I’ll briefly explain later) – several critics accused me of juvenile name-calling and suggested progressives are much better off talking about the issues (say, single-payer health care or tuition-free college) that people care about. Eminently reasonable as that sounds on the surface, it’s actually totally wrongheaded and woefully inadequate to confronting the crisis of an illegitimate system steeped in corruption and burying the truth about itself in an endless stream of lying propaganda.
What’s needed is peaceful political revolution – and revolutions do a hell of a lot more than politely offer packages of popular policies. Even when peaceful – as the Indispensable Movement fully intends to be – revolutions are about wresting power from oppressive, determined enemies hell-bent on keeping every last shred of that power. And using it to prevent – or at least, effectively hamstring – Congressional action on all popular policies.
By forcing me to think out and write a full-fledged justification for the revolutionary strategy of the Indispensable Movement, our critics may have driven me to write an even more important – a more “indispensable” – article than either the Part 1 or Part 2 article in my planned series.
Regime legitimacy crisis and “verbal revolution”
To the politically “woke,” the shocking ascent of someone as morally reprehensible and politically illiterate and unqualified as Donald Trump to the U.S. presidency – in what’s obviously a two-party system – spells a crisis of legitimacy not just for our system, but for both major parties that monopolize power within it. As I noted in my Part 1 “Meet Swampzilla” article, the fact of Trump’s disgusting rise to power signaling a crisis of legitimacy for both parties is both a matter of simple common sense and a convergence of informed leftist opinion.
To reiterate that convergence of leftist opinion (with some slight change), I’d like to single out (among many worthy possibilities) two leftist intellectuals whose analysis is especially pertinent to my case, Anthony Monteiro and Naomi Klein. While Monteiro’s podcast is the same I referenced in my “Meet Swampzilla” piece, the “some slight change” refers to my now citing a Klein article closely related to, but somewhat different from, the one I linked to there. My reasoning for the change is that the Klein piece now cited more directly and squarely places blame on the Democratic Party – where it rightfully belongs – for Trump and his “nightmare” regime. Klein’s piece is sweet validation for Indispensable’s Swampzilla meme – while makes both major parties essential components of the “swamp lizard” ferociously guarding our pestilent political swamp.
While I’m especially pleased to see a leftist of Klein’s moral and intellectual heft express herself so directly on Democrats’ blameworthiness in electing Trump, I by no means intend to slight Monteiro’s brilliant analysis of bipartisan illegitimacy. Rather, it’s supplementary to Klein’s analysis – and especially vindicating of Indispensable’s updated inclusion of “War Street” (alongside Occupy’s nemesis Wall Street) as a second corrupting force delegitimizing both major parties of our two-party system. As Monteiro forcefully and insightfully stresses, worldwide perception of the illegitimacy of bipartisan warmongering U.S. foreign policy – a perceived illegitimacy that renders that policy impotent to achieve its stated goals – has become a source of grievance even for U.S. audience, despite a domestic propaganda machine that strives tirelessly to blind U.S. citizens to what the global public plainly sees. So Monteiro, supplementing Klein, validates Indispensable’s foundational analysis of an illegitimate two-party system in bondage to Wall Street and War Street.
This foundational analysis is the Indispensable Movement’s truth – the truth that, per this article’s title, our movement seeks to weaponize. But what exactly does it mean to “weaponize” truth? And why should anyone bother; can’t truth simply speak for itself? To answer the second – and easier – question first: no, truth simply can’t speak for itself; in a system clinging to its last shreds of legitimacy through control of major media and mass propaganda, truth, left to its own devices, simply can’t reach the critical mass of activists and voters required to effect desperately needed change. If having the truth alone guaranteed success, the Green Party – light-years closer to the truth of Naomi Klein’s climate justice vision than either major party – would have long ago become the dominant U.S. party. Instead, it has remained a marginal party that even many progressives deeply sympathetic to its aims don’t consider viable.
As Klein herself (along with leftist stalwarts like Chris Hedges) rightly emphasizes, it will take a mass social movement, not merely a party, to end the truth-strangling impasse of current U.S. politics. The Indispensable Movement offers itself as that social movement; having offered the correctness of our foundational analysis as a major credential, we further vindicate our fitness to lead the needed political revolution by stressing the spot-on relevance of our method: our efforts to weaponize truth. To grasp what we mean by that, it’s essential to digest an essay by another “Chris”: the late – and tragically flawed – great Christopher Hitchens. In his essay “The Verbal Revolution,” Hitchens provides the needed framework for grasping Indispensable’s concept of weaponized truth.
Establishment violence to language vs. revolutionary violence with language
Eloquent, literate, and learned, the late journalist, writer – and formidable debater – Christopher Hitchens was a tragically flawed man. A raging alcoholic, his unstinting hatred of religion drove him to dangerous Islamophobia – and support for neocons and their criminal Iraq War. But even late in life – his brain steeped in booze and hatred for Muslims – Hitchens could still write essays of scintillating penetration (when his pet hatreds weren’t engaged). One such piece was his brilliant analysis in “The Verbal Revolution” of the role a peaceful “war of words” played in bringing down the illegitimate, lying regime of Soviet communism – and above all, its satellite Eastern European empire. As Hitchens himself put it, “Not a shot was fired, and not a skull was broken, but the system farcically evaporated in the face of a wave of literate and humorous and ironic and defiant words, uttered by novelists like Milan Kundera, playwrights like Vaclav Havel, and singers like the Plastic People of the Universe.”
In short, a “war of words” peacefully, gradually – and satirically – alerted tens of millions of people (even regime personnel) to the news of a regime that had outlived its legitimacy. And this despite the overwhelming media advantages of that regime in spreading its lying (and often very crude) propaganda. Hitchens’ narrative should serve as a compelling model for how we overthrow our illegitimate duopoly – both of whose parties, using their mainstream media advantage, resort to the same sort of lying (and often very crude) propaganda.
As a highly literate, learned man, Hitchens didn’t merely pass along this narrative. Instead, he framed it in a way to illustrate the power of literature and words – and above all, to vindicate the prophetic insight of a short but “dynamite” political poem: W. H. Auden’s “August 1968.” Because that poem is only eight lines and highly relevant to my analysis, I’ll cite it here in its entirety:
The Ogre does what ogres can,
Deeds quite impossible for Man,
But one prize is beyond his reach,
The Ogre cannot master Speech.
About a subjugated plain,
Among its desperate and slain,
The Ogre stalks with hands on hips
While drivel gushes from his lips.
If anyone sees in the Ogre, with drivel gushing from his lips, incredible applicability to Donald Trump (even the words “stalks with hands on hips”) and his Republicans, you’re beginning to catch my drift. But in fact only beginning, because the Indispensable Movement is about discrediting our corrupt, illegitimate duopoly, not merely satirizing (and thereby discrediting) Trump and Republicans. And in fact, in an earlier essay, I suggested that, rather than the Ogre, the betraying Biblical character of Judas much better fits the characteristic operating mode of Democrats. While this remains true – and I intend to exploit Democrats’ “Judas behavior” below – we can learn much from Auden’s poem about the crude use of propaganda (backed by even cruder force) by both illegitimate parties.
One lesson we need to learn pronto is that illegitimate regimes that do violence to language (crude, lying propaganda) are always willing, when violence to language fails, to do violence to people. This is true of Democrats as well as Republicans; remember that both parties have no qualms whatsoever about killing and maiming innocent foreign civilians. Republican politicians, given their base’s love for guns, cops, nationalism, and social Darwinism, are pretty quick to transfer that bloodthirstiness to the domestic sphere; Democrats, with a less violent base to hoodwink, like nothing better than transferring the strong-armed enforcement for their own policies to red-state Republicans. Thus, Democrats’ reaction to violence against the Standing Rock water defenders was typical: because most Congressional Democrats support fossil fuel expansion as much as Republicans, most had nary a word of support for the water defenders, nor a word denouncing the violence against them. But Democrats know as well as Republicans that enforcement of their donors’ illegitimate policies, once the lying propaganda for them breaks down, will require violence. As much and for as long as possible, they simply prefer to let Republicans play their enforcing Bad Cop.
While the bad news is that illegitimate political regimes that do violence to language will always do violence to people, the good news is that smart, peaceful movements – armed with truth, morality, and brains – can always defeat them in a propaganda war. This is true because the inevitable result of regimes abandoning truth and morality is “drivel gushing from their lips.” The trick is to exploit our advantage in morality and brains to weaponize truth: to frame truth in such concise, morally potent ways as to make it a warhead – and then to build social movements as the missiles to deliver that warhead. That, in a nutshell, is the proposed strategy of the Indispensable Movement. We do the traditionally violent work of revolutions with language, while doing no violence to it. We truly intend to be a “verbal revolution” – exactly the right way to win a propaganda war.
Weaponized truth in action: “Mouth Congress” vs. lip service
Peaceful revolutions by no means renounce anger or aggression; in fact, to do the work of revolutions that once used bullets, it’s hard to imagine a modern, peaceful revolution without them. But the anger is the righteous anger of the morally outraged, and the aggression is the heaping of ridicule and contempt on political evildoers who richly deserve it. Sharpening truth with moral outrage and clever, insightful ridicule is precisely how we weaponize it.
Thus, criticizing the derogatory coinage “formaldeheads” (mentioned in the second paragraph of this essay) as juvenile name-calling is utterly off-base and wrongheaded. In fact, it’s the weaponized truth of serious moral outrage, rooted not in the shallowness of juvenile insults, but in insightful adult political analysis – and serious political reading. Were I not a devoted reader of rather highbrow leftist/progressive publications (in this case, CounterPunch), I would neither know nor appreciate the significance of Luciana Bohne’s brilliant political description “liberal brains pickled in the formaldehyde of identity politics.” Unlike juvenile name-calling, “formaldeheads” can’t even be understood without referring hearers back to a piece of insightful, timely political analysis exposing Clinton-style liberals’ sleazy game. Namely, the sleazy, logically fallacious game of treating correct identity politics as the only virtue, and then smearing all critics of Clinton liberals (on non-identity grounds) in identity terms – says as racists or sexists. Precisely the dirty trick used to smear all Sanders supporters (and even leftists critical of Sanders) as “Bernie Bros.”
But “formaldeheads” is a specific-use term, and one formulated as a defensive movement counterattack weapon against identity-based smears. Readers should get much more excited (as I am) about the Indispensable coinage “mouth Congress” – especially used conjointly with the better-known “lip service” political slur. Admittedly, there’s a populist, purely juvenile thrill in applying a term meaning “oral sex” to politics; even Shakespeare always wanted to include some entertainment for the “groundlings” (and for the groundling in all of us). But beyond that, there’s a treasure trove of astute political and linguistic analysis underlying the term, above all, analysis related to Democrats as the “Judas party” and sex as a metaphor for both perversion and betrayal. Anyone who doubts the continuing power of sexual metaphor in political contexts should note the mileage the alt-right has gotten from the term “cuck.”
So “mouth Congress” refers to the obscene, perverse oral acts that occur when members of Congress meet behind closed doors with mega-rich donors, or with lobbyists for Wall Street or War Street. In all cases, there’s a lot of one party “going down on” the other party – though when when members of the House or Senator meet with mega-rich donors, they’re doing most of the going down, while with lobbyists they’re either receiving or the going down is mutual.
While “mouth Congress” applies splendidly to legislators of both parties, contrasting it “with lip service” makes it especially suitable for expressing indignation toward “Judas party” Democrats. For adulterous sex – sexual betrayal – has long stood as a powerful metaphor for betrayal generally. And the idea of oral sex as perversion – a relic of religious beliefs that sex must be for procreation – adds the piquant notion that the betrayal “behind closed doors” is a perversion of democracy. Thus, as simple a slogan as “They got mouth Congress, we got lip service” illustrates the political power of the term.
But I prefer a full-dress street chant version, based on Democrats’ working class and progressive base thinking of themselves as an oft-betrayed spouse, being asked to trust the serial betrayer’s promises yet again. Thus:
“Mouth Congress, lip service –
Before we trust your words again,
Tell us where your lips have been.”
If you see in my examples the power of “A Verbal Revolution” to overthrow a corrupt, illegitimate duopoly, please join the Indispensable Movement and help our verbal revolution go viral.