THE BANALITY OF OUTRAGE
I get the impulse. It’s a clickbait economy, with seemingly every online and analogue person, bot or not, particularly our malignant president, prodding us to react, ratio, rage. And there’s no lack of legit reason. I mean, on any humanist scale, tear gassing families is a heartbreaking, despicable act… as is reckless climate crisis denial, and a growing list of already forgotten atrocities.
Still, our ongoing outrage in response isn’t doing the trick. It’s aggravating, not activating. We need to pause, breathe, redirect. Here’s why.
First, as implied above, we are being trolled with impunity. Every media entity, both social and mainstream, manipulates and incites emotion for profit. Their business models specifically rely on selling our attention to their clients/advertisers. They employ algorithms to data mine, provoke and keep us “engaged,” with the purposeful catalyzing of negative emotion as one powerful means to that end.
Then there’s our otherwise incompetent President, whose one great “gift” is an uncanny ability to incite reaction and magnetize eyes. Back when the orange wig was just a rich brat who would never ever win the presidency, CBS President Les Moonves bragged to his board that Trump’s candidacy “may not be good for America, but it’s damn good for CBS.” So good in fact that Les and his competitive pals blessed the wig with two billion dollars of free media that helped fuel his shocking upset, and puts the absurdity of an impotent 100K Russian Facebook spend in true context. It’s the ethicless magic of the market, yo.
That said, who amongst us wants to be a little punk for the wig’s attention trolling pranks? A daily dose of retreat from his nonsense seems the only reasonable medicine.
Yet a list of legit injustice occasions for outrage remain: the tear-gassed families, the hyper regressive and rapey supreme Kavanaugh, the 674-billion-dollar military appropriation bill that every Senate DEM and presidential hopeful voted for… save Sanders.
Notice how I slipped that last one in? Notice the lack of collective clickbait outcry around that particular bipartisan sin? True, it would be nice if the source of our societal disquiet, the splinter at the core of this cultural infection could be reduced to a specific individual or institution. Trump and the flat earth suicide cult that is the REPUB party make obvious and worthy targets, most def. But we’re not getting off that easy.
Remember those refugees? They’re actually in flight from a Honduran coup regime, supported by DEMS and REPUBS alike, that’s done a heartbreaking number on its citizens. And the tear gassing, the separation of families, the mass deportations? The Obama administration deported 2.5 million, separated over 72K children from their parents in 2013 alone, and yeah, tear gassed aplenty at the border as well. That’s bipartisan structural continuity.
And remember that DEM supported military appropriation bill? It not only pays for ongoing, illegal, forever wars, which have yielded hundreds of thousands of innocent deaths… It starves us of the funds needed for necessary domestic reforms: Green New Deal, Medicare for All, Tuition Free College and Student Debt Relief. Any one of those policies will flat out transform our relationship to governance and each other. Collectively, when paired with a commitment to racial justice and inclusion, they will usher in a new pluralist republic that creates the cohesion necessary to address our ailing biosphere.
“We write unlimited blank checks for war; we just wrote a $2 trillion check for that tax cut, the GOP tax cut, and nobody asked those folks how are they going to pay for it. So, my question is why is it that our pockets are only empty when it comes to education and healthcare for our kids?” — Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez
We are living at the end of a 50-year, bipartisan, neoliberal counter revolution that has turned every human right, from housing, to education, to health care into a commodity, and ruptured our social contract in the process. It has created unprecedented inequities in wealth and material precarity, as well as spiritual and aesthetic degeneration. Remember the 43% of Americans who cannot afford the basics? They are the product of this bipartisan neoliberal collaboration.
I know many balk at the word neoliberalism, because neoliberals have worked so assiduously to disown it, claiming instead that they inhabit a “rational, non-ideological center.” That claim is nonsense. Neoliberalism is a definable, radical, market-obsessed ideology, with its own founders, history, think tanks, policies and propagandists, which has led inevitably to this incipient fascist moment.
Many would like to believe that those racists over there elected Trump, but this is America, where millions of racists voted for Obama, HRC and even Sanders. Racism didn’t create Trump; neoliberalism did. We’re simply lucky that the wig is too decadent and undisciplined to make the most of it. If we continue down this road, the next Balrog we cough up won’t be so kind.
Rather than react to the tragic symptoms, we need to focus our outrage on reforming the neoliberal structural foundations that have brought us to the brink of catastrophe. Sorry, Beto, we can’t afford a substanceless, feel-good candidate who talks a unifying game, but refuses to stand behind real, transformative, disruptive reform. Such a DEM candidate will split the party and lose. We’ve danced this dance already.
If a candidate can’t put their weight behind the ethical and popular necessity of Medicare For All, as Beto bizarrely won’t, they’re not equal to the moment. Neither are the DEM Senators who voted for Trump’s military appropriation (Kamala, Kirsten, Cory). The future of our country and planet cannot bear the price of magical thinking, neoliberal tools. If that means the only cat left standing is a cranky old Jewish social democrat, who was late to the racial justice party, but got the Black Lives Matter message just the same, so be it. If somebody else comes along with the platform, the fire and the cred, we should welcome her, him, them.
Until then, let’s collectively be out of time and mind for our own banal outrage at the daily provocation. Let’s begin with grass roots micro-fundraising organizations like Justice Democrats and Brand New Congress that help navigate around the problem of bought politicians and an entrenched neoliberal DEM party. And let’s identify and share more ways to get this going, at the root, now. If you’ve got one, please bring it. I am ever on the look.
There is much to do. The hour is late.