A New Era of American Internet Censorship

Following Reddit's purge of over 2000 'subs,' or online communities, Twitter appears to censor viral, anti-corporate content

On Monday, as rumored in a post which appeared the night before, Reddit expanded its rules and rolled out its largest ever ban wave, removing thousands of subreddits from its site at once, many on the pretense of promoting hate. While censorship has been an observed phenomenon on Reddit for years, it had neither been exercised on such a scale nor been so unprompted.

Of those banned, the largest name in the headlines appears to be r/The_Donald, a stronghold of Trump’s online base which once toted hundreds of thousands of users, offering sanctuary to racist, nationalistic, and Islamophobic sentiments while strictly enforcing pro-Trump ones. However, following the subreddit’s quarantine by Reddit admins about a year ago which prevented any of its content from appearing on Reddit’s de facto main page, r/all, the once-reviled sub had seen a marked decline in use. Over the past year or so, many of its users were rumored to have migrated to a different site promoted by r/The_Donald’s admins, (thedonald(dot)win if you really want to do it to yourself, I’m not actually linking it) and plenty still appear in slightly lower profile right-wing subs, such as r/conservative or r/trump, both of which are still alive and well. That all goes to say, the highest-profile ban was largely symbolic.

The other prominent subreddit affected by the ban wave was r/ChapoTrapHouse, named for a left-wing podcast with which the community was seldom ever concerned. Featuring some 150,000 subscribers, the subreddit, much like r/The_Donald, had also been placed under quarantine last summer. As long as I ever knew it, content on the sub consisted mostly of leftists of varied backgrounds shitposting, making fun of reactionaries, and calling each other liberals. The community was vociferously anti-bigoted, and would often harass users who were seen engaging in any type of bigotry regardless of which subreddit they were posting in, frequently drawing the ire of Reddit’s admins.

In the few years I was a user of r/ChapoTrapHouse, I certainly saw posts or comments praising what Mao did to landlords, or suggesting you should punch Nazis, or proclaiming slave owners deserved death, but as far as posing any threat of real-life violence it was nothing remotely on the scale of The_Donald’s repeated, years-long harassment of, threats toward, or execution fantasies concerning say, Ilhan Omar, need I mention Hillary. (Note: I saw many of these posts as they were brought to light in watchdog communities. It seems now that Reddit has banned r/The_Donald, the original posts are unavailable even through archive links, so my word, and the hundreds of posts and reactions by other users accessible at the links above, will have to suffice as evidence of the claim.)

On a fun note, one notable mention from Reddit’s ban wave, curiously, is r/BigChungus, a community devoted to memes featuring a portly Bugs Bunny.

Meanwhile, just a few hours ago on Twitter, a viral tweet criticizing Gilead (seriously read it, it’s great) which had nearly 30,000 retweets and over 60,000 favorites was removed with essentially no explanation, along with all of the subtweets providing sources for the tweet’s claims.

It is the dawn of a new era in American internet censorship.

What were once whispers, theories, feelings, quiet understandings, or conspiracies for tinfoil-hat internet sleuths have appeared as an in-your-face reality, overnight. No longer do social media companies merely curate content toward an individual’s likes or interests, they are now removing content which their corporate financiers dislike, and they’re no longer trying to hide it.

We can’t trust our government, we can’t trust our news media, and now, we may quickly arrive at a place where we can’t even trust our social media not to censor individual content. We may quickly see the open, horizontal communication on which the internet was built become constrained, free speech rendered null by the corporations who own the platforms. I’d even argue it makes sense to think we will. After all, large social media companies are fundamentally the same as major news networks, relying on revenue provided by advertisers rather than from the pockets of their users, and who wants to associate with the website known for housing people with fringe politics? It’s why tumblr, which used to be rife with adult content, banned porn. Social media sites simply remove content that companies deem unsavory to keep those ad dollars flowing.

In my mind, all of this occurs within the context of Reddit and Twitter as two of the biggest online hubs for American political conversations and news. They’re the two main places I’ve gotten my non-traditional or perhaps off-the-air content and historical education over the past few years, whether it’s a video of the latest incident of police brutality, links to the Wikipedia articles on the Dakota War of 1862 or Fred Hampton’s murder, or a Latin American journalist’s account alleging the American-backed coup in Bolivia long before it was admitted in the New York Times earlier this month. These sites, if you know to use them, can truly offer unique perceptions of the world we live in.

But I doubt that will be the case much longer. Under capitalism, everything must grow, and for a massive social media website to grow, it will inevitably have to moderate, censor, and ultimately remove fringe content.

As per Amazon, which now hosts nearly 6% of all websites, Reddit is the 18th most popular website in the United States, bigger than Netflix or Zoom. As of April 16th, Twitter was the 40th.

What's wrong with police

As we witness a probable turning point in American history and consider where we stand, it's useful to broadly examine American police, and their history as an institution

Police exist as a staple of civil democratic society. Police exist to protect citizens from the evils of the world, to deal with the issues that no one else can or would. Police are a vital seam in the social fabric of American culture, and more generally, liberal capitalist culture. Simultaneously, the police exist as a flawed institution, one which has ironically proven itself to be at odds with the exact civil society it proclaims to uphold. Recently, this tension has manifested in a flurry of protests which have gripped nearly every city in the nation following the videotaped murder of George Floyd by Minneapolis Police officer Derek Chauvin. To understand these protests in a broader context, and in turn, to identify with the contemporary cultural sentiment toward insurrection, reviewing the history of policing in the United States of America is crucial.

“Policing in Colonial America had been very informal, based on a for-profit, privately funded system that employed people part-time.” as Time puts it. “The first publicly funded, organized police force with officers on duty full-time was created in Boston in 1838. Boston was a large shipping commercial center, and businesses had been hiring people to protect their property and safeguard the transport of goods from the port of Boston to other places. These merchants came up with a way to save money by transferring to the cost of maintaining a police force to citizens by arguing that it was for the ‘collective good.’”

Hiring people to protect their property…transferring to the cost…to citizens…by arguing that it was for the ‘collective good.’

Interesting! Let that marinate for a moment before we move on to some more salient context, which helps to illuminate the persistent, countless murders of unarmed black men by white police officers nationwide.

Throughout the pre-civil war era, when the southern economy was carried entirely by slavery, police work was often synonymous with slave-catching. As Sally Hadden, author of Slave Patrols: Law and Violence in Virginia and the Carolinas, puts it, “The history of police work in the South grows out of this early fascination, by white patrollers, with what African American slaves were doing. Most law enforcement was, by definition, white patrolmen watching, catching, or beating black slaves.”

Most law enforcement was, by definition, white patrolmen watching, catching, or beating black slaves.

Now things begin to come into focus. Institutionally, police have firm roots in slavery, and in turn, in the disgusting, racist culture which upheld it. It’s no wonder they’ve historically brutalized not only the African American community, but practically every marginalized community, every sect of American citizens which, for whatever bigoted reason, the dominant culture considers to be ‘second-class.’

More recently, it was ruled in 1981 by a District of Columbia Court of Appeals case that the police “do not owe a specific duty to provide police services to citizens.” In other words, police have no obligation to intervene in any ongoing crime or act of violence, whether you are being stabbed on the New York City subway, raped (as three of the plaintiffs in Warren vs. District of Columbia were), or even murdered. Any intervention by police in such a situation happens solely at the officer’s discretion. The police exist to defend property, not people, and especially not second-class citizens.

Yet the plot thickens still. In 2000, the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New York upheld that police departments could discriminate against applicants who scored too highly on intelligence tests. That isn’t to say that every department nationwide is staffed by dumbasses, but it seems fair to mention, especially alongside the shocking rates of domestic abuse among law enforcement officers. In short, two prominent studies have placed the rate of domestic abuse among police officers at around 40%, and when you consider that the victims of said abuse would be calling their spouse’s coworkers for help, you might begin to wonder if that number isn’t low, and you might consider the fact that departments are legally permitted to exclusively hire people who aren’t-so-smart.

More tangibly, however, it’s becoming increasingly hard to lend sympathy to a profession which is going prolifically viral for its unprompted violence. To substantiate without overdoing it, I will only link this video and this twitter thread, each of which seek to aggregate the videotaped and unprompted brutality that police officers have engaged in, and are undoubtedly still engaging in, all across America.

Now let’s get a little ideological, though. Just how does this American culture function, and how can we formulate the role of police in it? Here I would like to invoke Gramsci’s theory of hegemony. Simply, hegemony is the maintenance of consent among ruled people in capitalist society. This process is multi-faceted, but its elements can be generalized, Gramsci posits, into two broad categories; Ideological State Apparatuses (ISAs) and Repressive State Apparatuses (RSAs). For ISAs, Gramsi points to the media, to religion, to nuclear families, to trade unions, and to the legal system, each of which exist to set forth and uphold beliefs which are essential to maintaining a relatively-peaceful capitalist society. On the other hand, RSAs act as the “stick,” comprising of police, military, prisons, and the various state surveillance apparatuses. Repressive State Apparatuses do exactly what their name suggests: repress. Typically, ISAs and RSAs operate in tandem, e.g. the media will act to dehumanize criminals so that everyday civilians don’t blink at the way police treat them.

By Gramsci’s model, what we are witnessing right now is a failure of America’s ruling class to maintain hegemony, as a schism erupts between the media, an ISA, and the police, an RSA. This has occurred entirely due to police conduct, as departments nationwide repeatedly prove themselves to be entirely unable to distinguish between innocents and criminals, journalists and rioters, with many American police who only seem able to employ a “shoot first, ask questions later,” approach.

Still, we are no closer to an answer for the question, “How do we fix this?” How do we fix the issues of militarized police and police brutality, while still having a civil society? Some say abolish the police entirely, and I think that’s a pretty good starting point.

It sounds radical, but if we really want pivot away from authoritarian and murderous policing, we need to recognize the institutional structure of modern American police leaves no room for it. Due to police unions, any efforts to rein in police, whether to open them up to criminal prosecution or to establish formalized conduct review boards of civilians, are doomed to fail. Police unions have, can, and will fight tooth and nail to maintain their members’ impunity. Police unions are also the reason that police budgets only go up (even while crime falls) nationwide, because each incoming Mayor, City Councilperson, Town Commissioner, etc. is either explicitly told or already knows that they need the police on their side, and the cost of that is nothing short of total complacency. Simply put, abolishing both the police and their unions as they currently exist is the first step in re-imagining their role, and in turn, changing the way they behave.

It is a battle no politician will ever willingly pick. To do so would not only risk their career, but also their lives. Historically and recently, police have no patience for criticism, and those who are brave enough to deliver any have a tendency to wind up mysteriously dead.

I know this is a lot, and I know it mostly doesn’t sit well. But at this point I’d like conclude by highlighting that I am in no way against police as individuals, (although I suspect if we had transparent incidence reports I would be to a larger degree) and that I wholeheartedly maintain my view is of an institutional problem. I do not encourage violence or riots, especially not unprovoked, and certainly not against the police. But I recognize non-peaceful actions may be a necessary evil, especially when decades upon decades of peaceful protests have yielded exactly zero meaningful reforms.

Finally, I do not think the majority of American police joined up for legal impunity and the right to perpetrate violence against innocent civilians. I just think it’s in their job description.

Manufacturing consent amidst Covid-19

A surface-level analysis of the efforts to construct a reality where the virus isn't that bad, and their potential consequences

Two days ago, Fairness & Accuracy In Reporting (FAIR) published an analysis which suggests, given the data from Italy and elsewhere, that there may not be any distinct, ‘as-advertised,’ peak in Covid-19 infections. Instead, FAIR’s editor Jim Naureckas writes, “It’s […] possible that the response to the coronavirus’ pronounced lethality and asymptomatic infectiousness—a drastic physical separation necessary to prevent a quickly mounting death toll—means that Covid-19 will not be a normal disease with a steep arrival curve and an equally sudden departure.” Rather, the disease will linger much longer than we’ve all been led to (and would like to) believe. Alongside this unsettling hypothesis came a study from the Harvard School of Public Health which anticipates social distancing measures lasting into 2022, barring the early discovery and distribution of a working vaccine.

Seemingly in response to these dark prognoses, anti-‘stay-at-home’ protests cropped up nationwide, perhaps most notably in Michigan, where hundreds of protesters, in cars and on foot, some bearing rifles, congregated in the state capitol to protest the perceived communism, Nazism, or general dictatorial nature of their Governor’s efforts to address public health. Here is an excellent collection of photographs from the Lansing protests, posted by Jeff Kowalsky to Getty Images.

Meanwhile, President Trump has claimed his administration is close to finalizing a plan for the partial reopening of the economy by May 1st.

All of this unfolds in tandem with the arrival of the highly-anticipated ‘TrumpBux,’ the $1200 one-time relief payments to Americans who are witnessing their economy tank while unemployment skyrockets. Payments which Trump, in another ham-handed yet probably effective political maneuver, has reportedly delayed by insisting the checks bear his name.

Part of me would like to argue that the interests of the aforementioned protesters are only superficially aligned with the President’s. Trump’s interest here is predictably self-centered, on maintaining strong economic and unemployment numbers, whereas these protesters are simply suffering, scared, their sense of security evaporating with their income. I would like to say these protesters are acting out of the same sense of hopelessness that many of us are consumed by, a sense that your government doesn’t work, or that if it does, it certainly doesn’t work for you. And while I think much of this is true, it isn’t the full story.

Before attempting to examine the ‘full story,’ however, I have to restate a few things.

1.) To quote a friend of mine, “We live in an age of pure ideology.” That is to say, objectivity is a facet of a bygone era; public issues and the rhetoric surrounding them are all but entirely disconnected from the facts of the reality beneath. I lay the vast majority of the blame for this at the feet of news media. Manufactured Consent is more real now than perhaps ever before, with a news media ecosystem dominated by some six conglomerate mega-corporations. And with the death of the Fairness Doctrine, modern media outfits are not only corporate, but also partisan operations. They not only frame and artificially limit the scope of debate, but also neglect to cover certain issues entirely, all to accommodate their respective audiences or economic interests. It’s generally plain to see which side each news corporation falls down on, but regardless of target audience, their ultimate goal is the same as any company in any industry: profit. Summarily, we do not have a free media, as we do not have a media that offers any substantive checks on political power; doing so would require corporations, media and otherwise, to check their own power.

2.) As a country, we are in uncharted waters. Politically, no president has ever been so flagrantly incompetent, criminal, and ultimately incapable of carrying out their official duties while maintaining a significant mandate in popular polling the way that Trump has. Look at Nixon’s approval ratings post-Watergate for contrast. To rehash another point we’ve all heard, everything Trump says or does is immaterial to his supporters. I hate to return to this, but it should be highlighted as it has yet to be proven wrong since the day Trump himself proclaimed he could “shoot a man on Fifth Avenue,” and not lose any support. To the modern Republican, politics is entirely a team sport, and baby, they are winning. (This is certainly true of many Democrats as well, but they aren’t in power right now.) This is directly tied to the media issues outlined above. However, we are also in uncharted waters economically. The 2008 bailout was an unprecedented exercise in trickle-down monetary policy, a trend which has only continued. Interest rates are at zero, reserve requirements are at zero, and the implicit assumption is that the Fed will print money ad infinitum to keep the system churning. Nobody knows if it will work long-term, there is no historical model.

3.) In perhaps the cruelest twist of irony yet seen in our age, the advent of the internet did not yield an unprecedented elevation in collective human intelligence in the way its idealistic forefathers anticipated. Instead, the internet simply accelerated the segmentation of audiences which cable TV began, allowing individual users to enter their relationships with media on an entirely ideological basis. Technology does not better us, but rather serves to amplify our extant traits (think Captain America serum), and as humans, confirmation bias, selection bias, retention bias, cognitive dissonance, ego defense mechanisms, etc. etc. determine much of our behavior and interaction, not only among our peers, but with information. As media consumers, we are not responsible. We interact with media not to have our biases and beliefs challenged, as one might idealistically suppose, but affirmed.

4.) Finally, America’s working class is weaker, poorer, and closer to ruin than ever before. I’ve written about this before. The median income is around $30,000, over 60% of Americans don’t have enough in savings to cover a $500 emergency, nobody has guaranteed sick leave, almost everyone’s health insurance is tied to their job, and that’s all just the tip of the iceberg. As a country, America is uniquely unprepared to deal with a Covid-19 lockdown or the economic fallout, let alone both.

So, what’s the full story? Multi-faceted: there’s Trump, there’s the media, there’s economic interests, and there’s the people.

Trump is something of a constant, at least. His god-level narcissism coupled with his awe-inspiring stupidity make him an excellent candidate for any analysis utilizing Occam’s Razor or Game Theory. As such, we won’t focus on him much, other than to say it’s safe to assume he wants to make the stock market go up, at any expense, and unemployment go down, at any expense, while compulsively ignoring expert opinions throughout. He’d also like to win re-election, and likely enrich himself in the process.

The media are only slightly more complicated than Trump in this sense. As capitalist enterprises, they just need to maintain their bottom line. Whether they do that by propping Trump up or tearing him down is immaterial, they just need audiences to watch. In that sense, Trump and the media exist in synergy. He provides them with viewership and ratings, they provide him with free airtime. However, their owners are in the same class as Trump and other Wall Street elites, that is, the upper class, the plutocracy, and they (generally) would very much like people to go back to work. This brings us to economic interests. A six month quarantine might have people watching more TV, theoretically, but how long before they run out of money to pay their cable subscription, their internet bill? How many other industries will die as the consumptive abilities of all but the richest 1% disappear? Here we can see the interests of Trump, the media, and shareholders at large begin to align: The economy needs to reopen, sooner than later.

But then, of course, there are the people, upon whom all of this relies. As I remarked before, I think there is a general sense of fear, of anxiety among Americans, and I think this mostly stems from need. If economic statistics painted a picture of a desperate American working class before, then the tens of millions who lost their jobs over the past few weeks have had their desperation amplified exponentially. To be in the situation of a hairdresser, bartender, landscaper, of a ‘nonessential’ employee, and to think that these stay-at-home orders could continue for another few months? Terrifying. In this sense, I have some sympathy for the protesters in Lansing and elsewhere.

Of course, people are complex.

But for simplicity’s sake, I will say that there’s one central disconnect which is bubbling to the surface, found in a strain of American culture which is defiantly selfish, cruel, ignorant, and entitled. A strain of American culture which was on full display in Lansing, and which is realized more succinctly in takes like this. (For those who don’t want to click: a Tweet from Scott Adams, notorious dipshit and the creator of the Dilbert comic strip, reading, “Based on what we now understand about #coronavirus, it seems clear to me the consensus of opinion in the country is that losing a few hundred thousand people (or fewer if we are clever) is an acceptable price for reopening the economy. I'm in a higher risk category and agree.”) Either their ignorance and entitlement precludes them from considering the immediate downsides of pretending Covid-19 is a mere hoax, or else their selfishness and cruelty allow them to assume no guilt for those who would die if things ‘just went back to normal.’ Here I have no sympathy.

Of course, there is another group of Americans who are happily acquiescing to stay-at-home orders and social distancing measures, who are coming to understand that we are only as strong as our weakest link, and that some level of collective action is required to overcome this.

With all the players on the field, we’ve just about come full circle. Remembering Jim Naureckas’ analysis in FAIR, it appears as if the media is gearing up to tell people the peak has passed and the virus has been defeated, regardless of the underlying reality. Trump has certainly been saying so, priming Americans for such a shift in messaging. To me, this reads as a sign that the plutocracy will not stand for an adequate response to Covid-19, they will not stand for prolonged nationwide social distancing measures, stay at home orders, or the necessary blank-check spending on care for the infected and dying. All of these affect their bottom line, and profit is the solitary objective.

Ultimately, then, it seems to me that we are in an extremely precarious position. The difference in interests between the American ownership and working classes are more evident than they’ve probably ever been in the 21st century, and the corporate media consent-manufacturing apparatus might not be able to negotiate the disparity. Surely, some will be willing to accept a constructed reality which permits them to get back to work, but at any rate, it would become increasingly difficult to deny the necessity of addressing Covid-19 against the backdrop of thousands of deaths, which would bring the crisis closer and closer to individual Americans with every passing day.

Maybe consent can be manufactured nonetheless, but I tend to doubt it. If people go back to work only to watch their coworkers, relatives, friends, falling ill, placed on ventilators, some of them dying, they won’t think it’s worth it. Maybe we’d see counter-protests, of socially-distanced, masked masses, marching on capitols to demand another stay-at-home order.

But given Trump’s popular mandate in our age of ‘pure ideology,’ coupled with the general ignorance, selfishness, and cruelty of his base of support, against the backdrop of plutocratic unwillingness to budge even an inch, fascism arises as a distinct possibility. The $1200 checks bearing Trump’s name would likely only bolster his base for such a shift. Whether a legitimate 2020 election occurs or not, it seems more likely to me than ever before that the American masks of freedom and democracy could slip, and people could be told, point blank, “These deaths are necessary, fuck you, go back to work.”

Or, as we’ve all heard before, “We can’t let the cure be worse than the problem itself.”

Praying at the altar of American capital

What else is there to do??

I haven’t written in awhile. I’ll admit, as a Bernie Sanders supporter who followed the primaries as if I was being paid to, the past few weeks left me with neither much to say nor much of a will to even maintain an awareness for current events. That said, in light of Bernie’s dropout, I don’t care about the presidential election anymore. I don’t have to. Given I live in New York, I could vote Republican, Independent, or not at all, and have the exact same impact: none. My state will reliably go to the Democratic nominee, whether it’s Biden, Cuomo, Newsom, or some yet unforeseen Democratic posterboy/girl who will defend corporate interests while dishing up focus-group tested platitudes through another round of bailouts. I don’t care.

What I do care about, and why I’m writing right now, is The Shock Doctrine. While COVID-19 continues to take lives by the thousands, dangerously expending scarce medical resources and consuming the mainstream news cycle, politics have all but faded away. As we muddle our way through this collective trauma, wearing PPE out in public, shopping at stores with empty shelves, working from home, social distancing, etc. the power plays being made beneath the surface are largely obscured from view.

For example, you’ve probably heard that the EPA suspended all regulations. You probably haven’t heard that the Fed cut reserve requirements on large financial institutions and banks to zero. You might be aware of the number states that have seized on the crisis to outlaw abortion. You probably aren’t aware that Governor Andrew Cuomo successfully leveraged New York’s record-breaking infection rate into unprecedented spending power in the state’s 2020 budget.

Moments of collective panic, that stretch or tear the social and cultural fabrics of society, present fantastic opportunity to those in power. That is the simple thesis of The Shock Doctrine. And as I see it, COVID-19 is no exception. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime pandemic which at once upended the lives of millions and can only be combated through essentially authoritarian measures.

The 2020 election being delayed, if not outright cancelled, no longer seems like a distant reality. Meanwhile, a second Great Depression seems imminent. As evidence of this general unpredictability, governments all around the world are handing out cash to citizens in entirely unprecedented quantities. Canadian citizens will be given $2,000 a month until the crisis is over. Spain went ahead and passed a permanent UBI. The United States, meanwhile, is offering a means-tested one-time payment of $1,200, on no particular timeline, in tandem with a multi-trillion dollar handout to wealthy investors and corporations that makes 2008 look like pocket change.

And people don’t seem to care. I used to think that all it would take is a crisis such as this, where millions of people are put out of work, and millions more realize they are ultimately expendable to those who reap the profits, for Americans to wake up. But they aren’t waking up. In fact, it seems people are sticking their heads deeper in the sand. By the numbers, over half the country still thinks Trump’s response to the pandemic was good, although it has been in flux. Conspiracy theories about either China or 5G cell service or both being at fault for the virus are gaining momentum, alongside sinophobia. Disinformation abound.

In processing all of this, I keep coming back to two major points.
1) America is a failed empire.
2) American culture under capitalism is a faith-based pseudo-religion.

On the first point, I mean come on. Look at us. We have the largest military and the largest economy in the world, in the hands of an utterly incapable leader. Our suicide rate is going up, our life expectancy is going down. We have the highest numbers of both COVID-19 cases and deaths, and practically every state still has yet to hit their peak. Tens of millions remain uninsured and unable to get healthcare. Tens of millions more ‘essential’ service workers have no paid sick leave, and couldn’t self-quarantine if they wanted to, let alone if they were actually infected. Over half the country can’t afford to lose their jobs for two weeks, let alone two months. The restaurant industry may never fully recover. Medical supplies are already running low, and rumors of critical shortages circulate among healthcare workers.

COVID-19 was and is a test of our systems, economic, governmental, healthcare, legal, correctional, etc. And they are failing. Globalized supply-chains have already proved themselves too fragile to weather this storm, who knows what’s next? America is a failed, or, at the very least, a declining empire.

On the second point, I have a lot of flushing out to do. What I intend to get at, however, is the ‘magical’ thinking behind American systems as they exist. It manifests in innumerable forms, from the implicit understanding that hard work yields success to the expectation of a president to act presidential, from the reliance on precedent rather than codified procedure in almost every level of governance, to the faith in the free market to react to and manage rapidly shifting economic or material conditions.

It is also seen in simple terms which bear connotations specific to the American lexicon, e.g. checks and balances, rugged individualism, the free press, democracy. Checks and balances don’t exist when the legislative branch openly coordinates with the president. Rugged individualism can’t exist in a globalized economy, where the ingredients of most meals have traveled an aggregate 10,000 miles from farm to table. The free press doesn’t exist when it’s entirely corporate-owned, and has a vested interest in limiting the debate, and by extension, public perception. Democracy doesn’t exist when polling places can be closed on a whim, or when districts can be redrawn, or when voters are purged from rolls, or when voters are urged to go out and vote amidst a global pandemic.

Any and each of these tenets of this grand American Cultural Religion have been rendered demonstrably false, not only by the COVID-19 pandemic, (although it is certainly the worst they’ve looked in recent history) but by the Trump administration, by the regularity of recessions or depressions that ruin countless lives worldwide, by party machines, by presidential candidates who win the popular vote yet lose the general election. I’m sure you can think of your own examples.

This idea of an American Cultural Religion is especially captivating to me as it also lends itself to an explanation of how we’ve arrived in an entirely post-truth political era, where the President’s daily press briefings and official communiques are rife with misinformation, if not blatant falsehoods, and where politicians use their stature to enrich themselves with no consequence. Through the lens of an American Cultural Religion, such things were never that far away to begin with. We’ve based far more of our daily lives and perceptions of reality on culturally-acceptable falsehoods than we’d ever care to admit. We were never the enlightened champions of freedom and democracy that we’ve professed to be.

It’s a rude awakening, but I think it’s a necessary one to have moving forward. If nothing else, I can promise this: recognizing the existence of an American Cultural Religion will grant you a more consistent perception of history and reality, something I think we’re all yearning for right now.

However, I think we’re all yearning for some good news right now as well, and accordingly, I’d like to end this on a positive note. While the thesis of The Shock Doctrine lends itself chiefly to the seizure and expansion of power by those who already have it, it can cut both ways. Another story lost beneath the coverage of the ongoing pandemic is the nationwide emergence of wildcat strikes, the rapid and unprecedented organization of labor in the service or ‘gig’ economy. On this note I’d like to quote Gil-Scott Heron’s prescient reminder, “The revolution will not be televised,” and encourage you to keep reading, talking, asking questions, fighting. Nothing is certain.

Why Not Joe Biden?

As the 2020 primary continues amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, establishment Democrats are building an excellent case against themselves

I want to preface this piece by saying I’m a member of a disillusioned generation. Allow me to elaborate. Since my birth, America has seen:

- Two presidential elections go to the loser of the popular vote
- 9/11
- Wars waged on false premises for no other reason than profit
- The erosion of privacy via the rapid and frightening expansion of state surveillance
- A global recession remedied by a bailout rewarding those responsible
- Evermore frightening reports about the fallout of climate change met with no significant action
- The worst levels of income inequality since the gilded age
- The election of Donald Trump, ushering in what is likely the least-transparent presidential administration in history

And now a global pandemic.

The more I and my generation learn about the world we’re to inherit, the more hopeless it looks. The more politics begin to look like a theater, where power predictably swings from Democratic to Republican, then back again, while nothing fundamentally changes. The only real bills passed with ‘bipartisan’ effort in recent years have concerned increased military budgets, or the expansion of already extensive surveillance apparatuses via the Patriot Act.

So why not Joe Biden? Beyond the fact that he told wealthy donors, “Nothing would fundamentally change,” that is.

For one, he’s frequently incoherent. For another, his record is atrocious. For a third, and in my opinion most importantly, to vote for Biden would be to reward the corporate Democratic establishment, who have pulled dirty tricks at every turn this primary cycle to halt Sanders’ momentum, from conveniently unfinished vote counts and delayed victory announcements to what certainly looks like vote manipulation if not at least voter suppression, with 4-7 hour wait times in California and Texas, and huge disparities between exit polls and results in multiple states, Massachusetts to Michigan.

The Democratic establishment is running 2016 redux. They think four years of Trump will be enough reason for people to fall in line, cast their vote for the lesser of two evils. “KIDS IN CAGES,” will be their rallying cry, despite the fact that those facilities were constructed under Obama, who still holds the Guinness World Record for deportations. They think they can just take big corporate donations, rely on their aging base of MSNBC-loving liberals, and tell young people and progressives ‘tough luck’. “If you don’t vote for our guy, you’re just enabling Trump,” they’ll say.

If you are young, if you are a progressive, or if you believe in progressive ideas, and you vote for Joe Biden, you will be giving them a green light to continue on this path. You will be telling the DNC that they are right.

They are not right.

Biden is typically securing less than 10% of the vote among voters under 35, and handily losing to Sanders among independents. Beyond this, the Senator from Vermont has shattered multiple records this cycle, not only for individual donors but for volunteers. His canvassing operations in Iowa and New Hampshire knocked on about one door per second. I myself was part of that effort, I saw firsthand the eagerness of young voters busing in from Massachusetts and Rhode Island, spending their weekends trying to get the vote out.

We are members of a disillusioned generation, and Bernie is offering the only real platform to address our concerns. If the Democratic party was even slightly serious about beating Trump, they’d listen to us. They’d recognize we are the future of the left, and they’d allow that transformation to happen, if only to stop the rising tide of fascism.

Unfortunately, it seems the Democrats are serious about neither beating Trump nor quashing fascism. They are, however, entirely serious about maintaining a corporate stranglehold on power, as well as their own jobs at the DNC, which would likely be jeopardized in the case of a Bernie victory.

To them, I say, Fuck You and Fuck Joe Biden, and I encourage all of you to do the same. I will not vote for another bailout, I will not vote for someone who eulogizes racists, I will not vote for someone who won’t adequately address climate change, I will not vote for a demented old man who offers nothing to the working class and the progressive voters in America.

This fight continues, with or without the Democratic party.

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