Triumph of the shills

It's beginning to seem like history is simultaneously repeating itself as both tragedy and farce.


After sacrificing many of hours of my life watching the occasionally strange Democratic National Convention last week, it didn’t seem like there was much to say about it that hadn’t been summed up by former candidate Marianne Williamson in reply to praise given to the event on Twitter by actor Mark Ruffalo, who claimed the convention, “addressed racism”.

“No I’m sorry but they did not address racism. They showed a lot of beautiful pictures of POC and made references to BLM, but there was not one mention of an actual policy to help end systemic racism,” Williamson wrote in reply, “It’s like binge watching a Marriott commercial.”

While the latter sentence, made after the first night, was mostly true throughout the event, the DNC did have its moments, and Joe Biden himself gave one of the best, if policy free, speeches of the many I have watched him make since he entered the race for the Democratic nomination in late April of last year. To his credit, one thing Biden did forcefully address was the current health crisis.

Unfortunately for the party faithful, his campaign seems intent on making some of the same strategic errors of other losing Democratic presidential campaigns, especially the last one.

On the same night that Bernie Sanders spoke, Republicans like John Kasich and former GOP Rep. Susan Molinari also addressed viewers, the former taking out the knives to attack the party’s progressives in a prerecorded message filmed at a literal crossroads, “I’m sure there are Republicans and independents who couldn’t imagine crossing over to support a Democrat,” the former Ohio governor intoned, “They believe he may turn sharp left and leave them behind. I don’t believe that. I know the measure of the man. Reasonable. Faithful, respectful and no one pushes Joe around.”

A quick check through Open Secrets shows perhaps why the convention focused on being so ambivalent to proposals like Medicare for All and the Green New Deal popularized by progressives like Sanders: hedge funds like Paloma Partners and vulture capital firms like Bain Capital have already donated millions of dollars to the Biden campaign.

Not even on that same first night, supposedly focused on racial justice after a nationwide uprising that spread throughout the world, were speaking slots given to transformative Democrats like Cori Bush or Ilhan Omar with the personal experiences and activist qualifications to speak to these communities. Instead, the producers chose to shine a light on Republicans who don’t even support the liberal basics and focus on issues of tone.

Oddly, Bush, who has not yet won election to the country’s lower house, was mentioned at the Republican convention this week, if not by name. She was referenced by the McCloskey’s, Patricia and Mark, personal injury attorneys who became famous after threatening Black Lives Matter protesters with guns while they passed their mansion on their way to a demonstration in front of the home of St.Louis Mayor Lyda Krewson on June 29th.

“The Marxist, liberal activist leading the mob to our neighborhood stood outside our home with a bullhorn screaming, ‘You can’t stop the revolution,’ Mark McCloskey told the camera, “Just weeks later, that same Marxist activist won the Democrat nomination to hold a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives. That Marxist revolutionary is now going to be the congresswoman from the first district of Missouri.”

Too short a time after watching this four day capitulation to what seemed like a takeover of the U.S. Democratic Party by ‘former’ Republicans, I sat down with some trepidation to watch the RNC this past Monday, the night the McClosky’s made their unhinged remarks.

It was in some ways as technically strange as the DNC before it, if for different reasons. The camera work was a little less perplexing than the strange cutaways last week, but the RNC also contained cinematic flourishes that would be familiar to those who have watched propaganda films from the era of fascism in Europe. At times it appeared to be broadcast from a store exclusively dedicated to selling American flags.

It also often felt, especially on the first night, that this was a transmission from some alternate reality, where, thanks to the current president, the novel coronavirus had been easily defeated and the greatest risk to the country was from the left, specifically Black Lives Matter and ‘Antifa’ shock troops led by Joe Biden, himself possibly under the control of ‘the Squad’ and that famous anarchist, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

On the second night, Larry Kudlow, director of the United States National Economic Council, spoke of the ongoing pandemic that has disrupted the United States more than any other country in the world in the past tense, despite the terrible fact that over a thousand Americans had died from it or complications provoked by it that very day.

The previous night, where the angry rhetoric occasionally crossed over into seeming parody, Florida Representative Matt Gaetz offered the kind of frightened xenophobia that appears to be the oxygen of the far right supporters Trump has energized, speaking to the supposed dangers of a Biden presidency, “It’s a horror film really. They’ll disarm you, empty the prisons, lock you in your home, and invite MS-13 to live next door.”

Although they were mainly deployed that night, which had the most neo-facist feel of the three I watched, video of protesters shot in recent weeks, some destroying property, was cut together into ads seemingly influenced by the work of such auteurs as Steve Bannon and Dinesh D’Souza, always making the claim that this was what the country would look like under a Biden presidency rather than documenting events that mostly took place weeks before.

Even in trying to present this somewhat apocalyptic view, it appeared that those in charge of the event couldn’t keep their stories straight. At the same time that some of those speaking on behalf of the president attacked Biden for the disastrous 1994 crime bill that he helped author, others demonized BLM as a ‘terrorist group’ and demanded a ‘law and order’ approach that would surely fill the country’s already overstuffed prisons to bursting.

‘School choice” or school privatization as it should be called, was hailed as a solution to entrenched racial disparities despite ample evidence to the contrary. Industry shills spoke at great length about the dangers of so-called radical environmentalism. Scott Dane, a timber industry leader from Minnesota went so far as to blame these unnamed groups for the forest fires that have ravaged the country in recent times that most scientists ascribe for the most part to climate change and the loss of old growth forests.

Although the first night featured no crowds, they were there for speeches by what I guess we could call the headliners on nights two and three: Melania Trump and VP Mike Pence, with what appeared to be inadequate social distancing and very few masks in sight.

The night Pence spoke, which seemed to be somewhat dedicated to more religious Trump followers, was the most disjointed in terms of content. Was it about ‘heroes’ as advertised, the Republican Party as the emancipator of women or about its work as the party of ‘life’? Is Trump a dove as numerous speakers over the three nights claimed or the valiant Commander in Chief who slew America’s enemies and ‘rebuilt’ its military as articulated by Dan Crenshaw and the vice president on Wednesday? It probably depended on how much of it one watched.

It may be that there just weren’t enough people willing to damage their credibility by appearing at the RNC but so many members of the Trump family spoke that it felt like a ham-fisted attempt to create a dynasty out of whole cloth. They and others mostly attempted to humanize the president but in the end it was clear that the most even those who work with and know him could expect from the man is a phone call during a crisis or a medical emergency.

Although the RNC was far more alarming for anyone who cares about what happens to the country in a difficult time and what that in turn will mean for the whole world, both conventions seemed to be opportunities for party elites to pat themselves on the back while so many of their fellow citizens are suffering.

It’s beginning to seem like history is simultaneously repeating itself as both tragedy and farce.


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