Mass political consciousness changes over time. This doesn’t seem like an outrageous claim, until you read its very many, very outraged negations. In The New York Times this week, centrist naif Nicholas Kristof starts by saying there may be one great hack that will end the Trump presidency — spoiler, there’s not — and ends by saying that there is no way that the mass political consciousness let Trump happen. What’s his evidence that people didn’t consciously vote for Trump? Well, at least he doesn’t say this week that “the Russians stole the election!” Instead, he offers this as a closer, “And what does it say about a presidency, that just one month into it, we’re already discussing whether it can be ended early?”
The better questions to ask here would be first, “Who is Kristof’s editor, and why are they letting him pose a lazy solipsistic question as a final par?” Then, “What does it say about mainstream centrist media that they keep denying this election ever happened, and suppose that their own endless questioning of it is evidence enough of a monumental deceit?”
Yes, it is terrible that Trump became President. He is Not My President, etc. But, he is someone’s President. To deny that the mass political consciousness has changed to allow that terrible thing to occur is to ask only, as Kristof repeatedly does, “Why don’t you understand that everyone thinks as I do?”
Look. I want everyone to think as I do, too. This is sort of the human condition, and it is one particularly pronounced in us, the hubristic media class. I am, however, aware that not everyone does think as I do. If they did, they would have seized the means of production, changed the mode of production and we’d all be working a max of three hours a week in collectives making socialist champagne to toast the death of capitalism. Or similar.
I know that people do not think as I do. I know why people do not think as I do — or, at least, I have an elaborate way to explain this tragic state of affairs to myself. We won’t go into that, as it is boring. In short, like a lot of people, I can see that there are reasons people disagree with me, even if I continue to privately believe that no disagreement with Marvellous Me is logically possible. Kristof — here used as an example of a Western centrist press with its fingers in its ears — just couldn’t possibly see how disagreement could be the case.
Instead, they say that there is no broad disagreement. Mass political consciousness has not truly changed. It couldn’t, because I am correct and am a great guide to what everyday people who live in flyover states on under $30,000 p.a. are thinking. Here in Manhattan, where I work with many people from industries as diverse as advertising and social media management, I know the real people. The real people tell me they did not vote for this, ergo it didn’t happen.
And so we continue with many months of WikiLeaks, Comey, fake news, misogyny, racism etc. Sure, these factors played a role, and if there ever does turn out to be meaningful evidence that Putin “hacked the election”, I’ll be fascinated to learn by what means for my own covert purposes. I would like to “hack” Bernardi off the ballot. As I am, however, neither nation-state nor coder, I choose instead to look at the change in mass political consciousness, which Kristof says never happened, and nut out why it happened. So that we might stop it happening in a more meaningful way than pretending that it didn’t, a la Not My President.
Look, Kristof. You have bought in very publicly for a very long time to this whole liberal democracy thing and in these terms that you devotedly uphold, unfortunately he is your President. This sort of leader is becoming everybody’s leader and unless you concede this to be the case and the result in a change of a mass political consciousness, you are just going to keep making solipsistic arguments.
Does it really need to be said that Western voters are turning their backs on the centre? Hungary, France, Germany, the Netherlands, Sweden and Italy have all seen the rise of the cultural right. Spain, Greece and Scotland have seen one of the material left. Those dudes in Poland seem to be having a bet each way, perhaps agreeing to be communists on Tuesdays and virulent racist scum on Wednesdays. Whatever you think should happen to mass political consciousness is not necessarily going to be the same, Nicholas, as what really does.
“The people have spoken” does not need to be read as a mandate or a statement of truth. When Le Pen takes power, we must try to interpret that utterance rather than simply calling it a lie. The consciousness that led to her popularity is clearly false. It remains a fact. The people have spoken and if we don’t like what they are saying — and I don’t one bit — we engage them in a new conversation. Without our fingers in our ears.
We heard a lot in the recent US election and during Brexit about the “lesser of two evils”. Sure, people would say, both the European troika and Clinton’s version of the Democratic Party are both in the business of wealth creation for the few. But this is the “lesser of two evils”. And faced with a world full of racism, I actually agree. I would rather have non-racist institutions who favour the investor class rather than the racist sort who will do exactly the same.
But it’s not what I want, is it? I am not the people. The people see, in growing numbers, “the lesser of two evils” being the person or party who promises to share the wealth. This is just the case, Nick, as your representative friends, who, being so representative, have a very low income, will tell you. I will vote for the person who promises to restore my purchasing power.
So what, then, is the “lesser of two evils” in this case? It’s the one that all the Kristofs of the world refuse to consider. It’s Corbyn’s Labour, Podemos in Spain, Syriza in Greece and Sturgeon’s SNP in Scotland. If the faith in the centre is diminished, then, in practical terms, the “lesser of two evils” becomes socialist.
Of course, this opportunity for the mass political consciousness happens to coincide with my own beliefs, so it’s a bit more visible to me than it is to Nick. But, surely, in a West where we are voting for “outsider” alternatives, the lesser of two evils is no longer the function of the centre.
I am, as you may have noted, a really predictable material leftist in my thinking. As I have said, I understand that others do not share my view. But I detect a moment in which many could, and in some nations do. I invite all the Kristofs to see that at this moment in history, the “lesser of two evils” is, at the level of reality, socialism. The centre is now perceived by the mass political consciousness for what you like to say it is: no true evil at all. Choose the lesser of the two true evils. Or just end your arguments with a question?