Yesterday, we went to the polls and cast our votes. The act of voting reassures us that we still live in a democracy. This is true in name only. For we are not a democracy; not even a republic. We are an empire.
The imperial reality is there to see. Bloated government bureaucracies. A “defense” establishment that continues to grow like topsy. Multinational corporations that we celebrate and empower as our First Citizens. Poisoned political rhetoric that dissuades people from voting. An undereducated populace consumed by real cares and distracted by phony entertainment.
We’re offered a simulacrum of “choice” (Democrats vs. Republicans), where in reality both parties are in thrall to elite interests (partly because politicians themselves are either in the elite, or they want to be in the elite). “Choice” yesterday often devolved to whether we wanted to drink Budweiser (the Republican brew) or Bud Lite (the Obama brew). Tired of the watered down, “Lite” version, this time many voters opted for the Republican brew.
A few people saw beyond the simulacrum and voted for what amounts to political micro-brews (Green, Libertarian, what have you). But the two major parties have a lock on the marketplace – they dominate commercial advertising and state propaganda, the levers of governmental power, the entire electoral process – so they continue to promote a product that most of us are more or less willing to buy (it’s easier, after all, than making your own home brew).
How do we restore true choice? Put differently, how do we return to the (imperfect) republic that we once were, instead of continuing down the imperial road that we’re on? How do we pivot before we plummet off of the precipice?
For make no mistake: We are on an imperial road. Whichever major party controls Congress, we act globally to protect selfish needs and to advance selfish agendas. As a nation, we’ve allowed our citizen-soldier militias to morph into professional legions and private mercenary forces that fight wars on our imperial periphery. Meanwhile, we’re distracted from war’s costs and results by “bread and circuses” reminiscent of Imperial Rome, our version being fast food and even faster (and more forgettable) entertainment.
A nation that fails to provide affordable health care and adequate education to all, even as it throws away trillions of dollars on unwinnable wars, is a nation on a road to irrelevance. On some level, I think we know this. Maybe that’s why we need so much patriotic pageantry – so many huge flags spread across baseball fields, so many renditions of “God Bless America” echoing in our coliseums – as compensation for our sense of unease.
So, what’s in our future? A revolution by the people in the name of greater liberty, equality, and fraternity? Not bloody likely, given our collective passivity. A fascist takeover? Also not likely, because it’s not necessary: The elites are already in control.
What we need are radical critiques followed by radical change. But we won’t get there with a president and with Progressives adrift, hopelessly triangulating toward the center, in the spirit of “cooperation” and “bipartisanship” with a newly Republican House.
So here’s my message: We need the courage of our convictions. Feeble accommodation and feckless triangulation toward the Center-Right will only empower greater extremism – and even more debilitating versions of imperialism.
And that’s not what I voted for yesterday.
Professor Astore writes regularly for TomDispatch.com and can be reached at email@example.com.