“A feature, not just of the age of the end of ideology, but of the age immediately preceding the age of the end of ideology, is that of the dictator who has no ideology at all. ”
— Christopher Hitchens
“Small change got rained on with his own .38…”
— Tom Waits, Small Change
We return to the Hitchens’ quote above because as with any other work of art, it is elastic in its applications, and possesses a taffy-pull of meaning.
Hitchens when working his voodoo and either being full of just the right mixture of nicotine and whiskey, or coming down the hill on the vapor trail of an empty bottle and an empty pack of fags, but certain salvation in the form of a replenishment of both was around the corner, could hit an observational shot right out of the park.
The post 1989 world was a mixture of fog and shadows on one side and hard truths on the other. Any number of people had reason to sell end of history nostrums and snake oil and any number of people had reason to buy stock in the swampland of those assertions.
Amid the bullshit and the America Uber Alles triumphalism people like Hitchens could and did offer reasonably sober (sic!) analysis of the new era.
And yet anyone with a lick of authentic sense, or what Hemingway called, the true gen, would have sighed and said something more or less along the lines of, meet the new boss, same as the old boss. History after all is a trickster and a bitch.
We were thinking about all of this because stumbled on a YouTube recording of Bill Burr’s podcast. Burr is a stand up comic whose persona is essentially Cliff Clavin of Cheers only far more intelligent, more caustic, more ruthless and funnier if also a lot angrier and possessing an irritating tendency to sound not unlike a very clever Trump supporter.
Burr is not however so far as we know, a Trump supporter and is far too cynical to really be an ideologue of either of the two corporate Coke/Pepsi political parties.
But this particular rant is worth listening to. It is essentially a rebuttal to some of the more worrying aspects of both AOC’s policy proposals and by association a critique of her cult.
AOC has proposed that as part of the clearly essential need to transform the economy from its current Mad Max thunder dome oil based Manichean gulag to something saner and more Green, there should be a tax of around 70% on amounts earned over $10 million.
Supporters point out that under Eisenhower the tax rate was 90% but they tend to leave out, or succeed in not mentioning, that adjusted for inflation schemes matter as does the fact that a third of the country was living under Apartheid/Jim Crow and there were quotas for keeping Jews out of your neighborhood and university and laws against Hispanics and queers and taken altogether, using Ike as an advertising slogan because the tax rate was high is like using Ted Kosinski as a reason to trust the US Mail.
It’s accurate but any sane person would rather be wrong and lose than be right and win because a serial bomber proves neither rain nor sleet will deter the system from being manipulated by psychopaths.
As we have said elsewhere she’s not wrong in her points about the looming disaster for what we charitably call humanity as the environment collapses. Or as she recently said in response to Mitch someone has to pick the cotton McConnell, he believes we can all drink oil in 30 years when the water supply becomes toxic.
The problem, as we’ve outlined, is not that she’s wrong but that she seems to actually believe that you can use the utterly corrupt Capital Hill whore house to convince the pimps to stop selling sex.
Which brings us back to Burr.
Burr’s rage is directed at a specific point. He is disgusted by the fact that the tax proposal is aimed in theory at everyone but really is not going to make a dent in the offshore accounts of the handful of piratical psychopaths who run the empire.
He’s not wrong.
She is – about the chances of her proposal succeeding without violence.
This is not just a problem but a symptom of something far more complicated and ultimately dangerous.
The truth is we are at the beginning of the next great ideological struggle. On one side is a loose affiliation of aristocratic liberals like Pelosi, Feinstein, Schumer, Hoyer and their neoliberal bankers (as always, feel free to make your own list), and the religious fanatics led by ayatollah in waiting, Mike Pence, the utterly depraved and cynical, reactionary, jackboot curious Southern aristocrats of McConnel & co and of course the Bannonite, Trumpian fascists.
On the other are the environmentalists.
And the umbrella of “environmentalist” covers everyone from your run of the mill irritating if otherwise harmless vegan, to people who are willing to use violence as self-defense against the corporatists.
It is a big tent, or if you prefer, a baggy suit but either way, it contains multitudes.
AOC quietly, in fact far too quietly, recently said that capitalism is beyond redemption.
It is a failed system and is only a success if your definition of success is a fortified bubble in which the wealthy live and the waste land zombie hoards wander the desiccated wilderness of the post environmental apoclolytic new world order.
Because that’s where we’re heading and at an alarming rate.
Bill Burr is correct when he rages that the system is corrupt and that her plan, if successful will end up being yet another example of the law of unintended consequences, in which the people who managed to make money and climb the ladder will have to take the tax hit for the billionaires who have their cash in accounts in Zurich and the Cayman Islands.
But beyond the details of these opposite points of view what matters is that the battle lines are being drawn.
His rage will appeal to both the left and the right but mostly speaks to the growing deep-seeded looming specter of the crack up of the Union, coups, counter coups, civil unrest teetering on the edge of civil war, and ginned up mobs of the desperate.
But crucially, it’s the rage that speaks more forcefully than the facts.
Over the next few years as the capitalist system wrecks ever greater damage to the environment, and the liberals insist on fighting Trump by tossing leftists on the flames, the left will become increasingly desperate and inevitably violent.
As will the right.
No, the center will not hold no matter how decent Joe Biden or Beto O’Rourke says they are.
It’s too late for that.
One could make a reasonable argument that ideological warfare never ended but we hold to a more nuanced view. The fact is that there is little to no daylight between any of the major powers. That is the authentic legacy of 1989.
Don’t approve of China’s anti-Muslim gulags and reeducation camps?
Well then stop being an iSlave and boycott Apple.
Don’t like Putin?
Then boycott Germany because it buys natural gas from Russia.
Don’t like Trump?
Well then stop using your slave manufactured, government sanctioned tracking devices (we type on our slave manufactured, government sanctioned tracking device.Or as noted cynic and genius Baudelaire said – brother hypocrite, I salute you).
We were briefly in an era of no ideology and now, we are at the threshold of an era that will be defined by nothing but ideological rage and fervor.
The bankruptcy of the age of isms – Marxism, capitalism, and so on, will give way to an era where all of those previous forces will be subsumed into a new gyre of violence.
Trapped in here with you? AOC asked rhetorically.
No, she said, you’re trapped, in here with me.
Plenty of people saw that as a witty new generation pop culture reference that put the establishment on its ass.
Perhaps but, irony is often wicked.
Trapped with each other and like the undead in a Sartre play, unable to leave, unable to change, they endure in a shared hell.
Small change got rained on, with his own .38.
For a look at Bill Burr’s rant: