At some point, we have all encountered two incredibly similar people who despise each other’s very existence. For a century, the whole world knew of two nations like this: the U.S.S.R. and what is quickly becoming the U.S.S.A.. Despite colliding on an international stage as forces of two opposing ideologies, our views towards our “capitalism” are remarkably similar to their stance on their “communism.”
Neither American capitalism nor Soviet communism fit the dictionary definition of the term. Instead, the American and Soviet systems essentially installed a kleptocracy into each model. Despite promoting two diametrically opposed governing systems, both the American and Soviet model preach the same message: the common man has a tremendous amount of power. In the Soviet system, the phrase “Workers of the world, unite!” was repeated ad nauseam. Meanwhile, our elections are basically 18-month slob fests with the middle class. We take politicians who haven’t cleaned their own bedroom in decades, and have them eat food off a stick at a fair so they can say they’re just like us. The common refrain to events like these are “come on do they really think people are that dumb?” Considering that we re-elect Congress at a 90% clip despite a 10% approval rating, well…yes.
It’s not that the electorate is stupid, it’s that people aren’t rational actors. That was the entire point behind the Dilbert guy’s assertion that Trump would win. Large systems understand this. Donald Trump sure does. He created a global brand built around shafting the common man and overpricing the uncommon one. The mindset of rational actors is taught in classrooms across the country, and that is the underpinning of all analysis of systems on the global stage. But when you drill it down to the individual, our most passionate motives are much more difficult to discern.
We are chronically seduced by the high of our tribalist instincts. From the moment we put seeds in the ground, we began to move away from them, but we haven’t ventured that far. We have roughly 10,000 years of documented civilization. The Earth has been around for 4.5 billion years. We barely even register on a global timeframe. This is what makes our intelligence so remarkable. Our most utilized talent lies in warfare, and we have found a way to weaponize our worst instincts against ourselves in the form of propaganda.
Propaganda works. If you need proof, just look at the rise of literally any. empire. ever. Our nationalist tendencies are a powerful force, and they’re easy to exploit. They have been used to stop Hitler from flattening the world, and they’ve also helped enslave an entire people. Those facts ring true for both the U.S.S.R. and the USA. We lost 416,800 American soldiers to World War II. The Russians lost over a million in the Battle of Stalingrad alone. England fought Hitler at his peak for two years all by themselves. If you have one of those “Back to Back World War Champions” shirts, you might want to rethink wearing it outside the house.
However, it’s not completely your fault if you do own one. That’s the exact type of propaganda that’s force fed to us nonstop: Americans are special and unique, everyone else sucks and we have nothing to learn from them. Our capitalist propaganda is so overwhelming that we spend a quarter of every year buying everything within reach to celebrate the birthday of a man who is revered for preaching “If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven.”
We assert that the remedy for every irregularity is more capitalism in the same way that the Soviets believed the state could fix all the people’s ills. Instead of relying entirely on the state to provide us with a way forward, we place all our trust in the market, and portray the very system in place to work on our behalf as our sworn enemy. In the U.S.S.R., it was the other way around. Capitalism was going to collapse under its own weight and bring the world down with it, while the Soviet state would make sure its people did not get ensnared in its web.
This led to things like Lysenkoism—a belief system put forth by the state to promote an anti-genetics and anti-science based agricultural agenda that had the added advantage of ideologically pitting the U.S.S.R. against the West. Trofim Lysenko was the director of the Soviet Union’s Lenin All-Union Academy of Agricultural Sciences, and his ideology formally drove policy from the late 1920s to 1964. It rejected the concept of a “gene” and did not believe in natural selection, but natural cooperation—where a plant spontaneously mutates into a different one overnight. Joseph Stalin executed, fired, or sent over 3,000 mainstream biologists to prison. Thankfully, unlike a communist system (since it is, by definition, a top-down governance), we have the controls in place to restrict outright fascism. These fights over facts have never escalated to the level of murder, but we’re going through the same battles on all sides of the political spectrum.
The driving force behind the popular support for Lysenkoism was the rapid change of industrialism that drove Russians out of the agrarian economy. Fools and thieves cost millions of people their jobs mismanaging the transition, and Lysenko marginally increased the peasants yields (per surveys taken by the peasants, not any scientific process), and was subsequently heralded as a hero. He was basically the Soviet farmhand version of Donald Trump. Lysenko’s rise was coupled with propaganda which highlighted the successful exploits of peasants. Any criticism of Lysenko’s anti-scientific methods was dismissed as “bourgeois.” The life of the common man was presented as more wholesome than that of the educated upper class. The alleged success of their pseudo-science was a further rebuke of the elites.
It’s not a coincidence that this dynamic exists in the two most powerful entities of the 20th century. The Powers that Be pit most of the people against each other, all while pursuing their agendas hidden behind our squabbles. The reason that middle class people can despise “ivory tower thinkers” like Paul Krugman, but not celebrities like Donald Trump, is because many of those ivory tower thinkers wind up in middle management and order the middle class around all day. There’s a learned experience to the common rich that does not exist with the uncommonly rich, who are exempt from these clashes between classes. Their images are more well-groomed. Propagandistic, if you will.
The right is not the only part of American politics infected with propaganda (although it is much more compromised than the proportionate outlets on the left). A big reason why the Democrats were so roundly dismissed on election day is their over-emphasization of identity politics. The Democrats spoke about Hispanics in the same way that Cavalier fans tout LeBron James, believing that a permanent Democratic majority was going to emerge through the Hispanic electorate. 35% of Hispanics did not vote for Hillary Clinton, 2% more than did not vote for Obama in 2012. People largely vote with their checkbook, and the Democratic Party has spent the better part of 30 years assuming the identity of any minority was automatically a part of their multi-cultural worldview, which they fused with their neoliberal economic agenda. The self-flagellation of liberals over their supposed moral majority during this period helped create the conditions for Donald Trump to thrive. South Park lampooned this mindset better than anyone.
The left’s moral superiority resembles the classless New Society preached by Stalin. He was to drive the Russian people into a new world restricted by none of the boundaries of the old one. No classes. No capitalists. Just the Russian people living in equality. This transformation of Soviet “comrades” was to be conducted by the state, while the classless ideal is expressed in our country through purchasing decisions. Boycotting Chick-fil-A does nothing to improve the lives of homosexuals, yet many people assume that activities like this qualify as activism. If a business somehow falls outside those moral constraints, then the value of their very existence comes into question, even if the business itself has nothing to do with the moral constraints they are violating.
The New Society “great family” could only exist with the aid of its “great father”—Stalin. He was the state (which is why Stalin was more fascist than communist). Our capitalistic system is more geared towards the grassroots than the Soviet model, and our groupthink essentially nominates our version of a great father. Bill Clinton’s coolness was a direct rebuke to the stuffiness of the Bush and Reagan coalition. He embodied the shifting culture wars, even more so after his affair with Monica Lewinsky. After wandering the desert for eight years, liberals latched on to a centrist to promote their progressive identity. Barack Obama promised to break the system and unleash the egalitarian multi-cultural ideals that define the left, and he became our “great father,” as his mere existence was a message to the forces trying to drag us backwards in history. His policies did not promote much of this progressive agenda, but that is secondary to his value as an image, or propaganda.
Once it became clear that his words would not come to fruition, progressives adopted an actual progressive to enact this classless society. However, Bernie Sanders had a handful of big issues at odds with these ideals, which were simply ignored in favor of promoting his overall message of inclusiveness and fairness. His stance on guns falls very far outside the traditional liberal ideal, and some of his programs could have really hurt the poor if not implemented in the exact manner he specified. His campaign did not refute a study that said his healthcare plan would raise costs for the poor, but asserted that his $15 per hour minimum wage would make up the shortfall, without clarifying what his plan was if one passed without the other. Details are secondary to the new society he represents.
The cult of personality clearly isn’t an issue confined to the left, considering we just elected a reality TV star as President. It’s a people problem. Using one person to define a collective ideal is one of the few ways we can band together to get big things done. Unfortunately, the big things getting done in the next four years look disastrous. America will soon have its own Pravda once Breitbart CEO and avowed white nationalist Steve Bannon begins to wander the halls of the West Wing. Fake news on Facebook has emerged as a dominant theme of the fallout from the election, but we already had a problem with fake news through our mainstream outlets.
TV exists to sell ads, so their financiers sway what stories go next to their paid sponsorships. Six conglomerates own most of our big media and those interests are intertwined with many of their advertisers. We are fed a steady diet of Soviet-style “capitalist” propaganda that excludes anything from outside its financially interested bubble, keeping us beholden to our masters by restricting the discussion altogether. We responded by retreating to our tribalist instincts, breaking down along the culture lines that define city versus country. The Soviets fought a similar battle for a quarter century before thieves hollowed the state out and it collapsed under its own mismanagement. Now they just want a strongman who makes them proud of their heritage and keeps the trains running on time. Or maybe we do. I don’t know, I’ve lost track of who I’m talking about at this point. We’ve been at this battle for a few decades and we just imposed the greatest unknown on the world in modern history. Maybe it’s time we took a step back and acknowledged who our real enemies are.