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The rising tech oligarchy, having disrupted everything from hotels and taxis to banking, music and travel, is also taking over the content side of the media business. In the process, we might see the future decline of traditional media, including both news and entertainment, and a huge shift in media power away from both Hollywood and New York and toward the Bay Area and Seattle.
When we speak about the ever-expanding chasm that defines modern American politics, we usually focus on cultural issues such as gay marriage, race, or religion. But as often has been the case throughout our history, the biggest source of division may be largely economic.
Today we see a growing conflict between the economy that produces consumable, tangible goods and another economy, now ascendant, that deals largely in the intangible world of media, software, and entertainment. Like the old divide between the agrarian South and the industrial North before the Civil War, this threatens to become what President Lincoln’s Secretary of State, William Seward, defined as an “irrepressible conflict.”
From the inception of the Soviet Union, transformation was built, quite consciously, on eliminating those forces that could impede radical change. In many ways, the true enemy was not the large foreign capitalists (some of whom were welcomed from abroad to aid modernization) but the small firm, the independent property owner.
What is the endgame of the contemporary green movement? It’s a critical question since environmentalism arguably has become the leading ideological influence in both California government and within the Obama administration. In their public pronouncements, environmental activists have been adept at portraying the green movement as reasonable, science-based and even welcoming of economic growth, often citing the much-exaggerated promise of green jobs.
“They don’t know history, but they are making it. But what are they making?”
– Victor Serge, “The Conquered City,” 1932
In contrast to the physical sciences, and even other social sciences, the study of history is, by nature, subjective. There is no real mathematical formula to assess the past. It is more an art, or artifice, than a science.
The election of Barack Obama promised to inaugurate the dawn of a post-racial America. Instead we seem to be stepping ever deeper into a racial quagmire. The past two month saw the violent commemoration of the Ferguson protests, “the celebration” of the 50th anniversary of the Watts riots, new police shootings in places as distant as Cincinnati and Fort Worth, and renewed disorder, tied to a police-related shooting, in St. Louis last week.
The current state of the Republican Party may seem like a demolition derby, but there’s an equally fascinating, if less well-understood, conflict within the Democratic Party. In this case, the disruptive force is largely Silicon Valley, a natural oligarchy that now funds a party teetering toward populism and even socialism.
Racial and economic inequality may be key issues facing America today, but the steps often pushed by progressives, including minority politicians, seem more likely to exacerbate these divisions than repair them. In a broad arc of policies affecting everything from housing to employment, the agenda being adopted serves to stunt upward mobility, self-sufficiency and property ownership.
This great betrayal has many causes, but perhaps the largest one has been the abandonment of broad-based economic growth traditionally embraced by Democrats. Instead, they have opted for a policy agenda that stresses environmental puritanism and notions of racial redress, financed in large part by the windfall profits of Silicon Valley and California’s highly taxed upper-middle class.
Some future historian, searching for the origins of a second Middle Ages, might fix on the summer of 2015 as its starting point. Here occurred the marriage of seemingly irreconcilable world views—that of the Catholic Church and official science—into one new green faith.
There’s more than a bit of cognitive dissonance in the merger of Democrats with plutocracy – rule by the wealthy. After all, the party’s brand is supposed to be “party of the people.” For Democrats, the allure of corporate cash – in campaign contributions and, later on, in of corporate patronage – may be overwhelming, but it does pose a threat to the party’s positioning.
To be sure, the Republicans are not exactly a primary vehicle for social democracy, but at least they generally don’t generally sell themselves this way. This differs from the almost comic attempt of Hillary Clinton to run as the candidate of the abandoned middle class.
President Obama, as a fan and occasional player of basketball, should know about “unforced errors.” Those are the kind of thoughtless, bonehead plays where you lose the ball without a defender swatting it or toss a pass somewhere into the higher seats. If you want to review how this is done, I recommend re-watching the recent Clippers versus Rockets series – if you have the stomach for it.
California, once disdained as zany, insubstantial and politically unreliable, has now become a favorite of the blue state crew. From culture and technology to politics, the Golden State is getting all sorts of kudos from an establishment media traditionally critical of our state.
For example, the New York Times recently ran two pieces, one political and the other cultural, that praised this state for its innovation and cool – even in the midst of a horrendous drought.
Left-leaning authors often maintain that conservatives “hate democracy,” and, historically, this is somewhat true. “The political Right,” maintains the progressive economist and columnist Paul Krugman, “has always been uncomfortable with democracy.”
But today it’s progressives themselves who, increasingly, are losing faith in democracy. Indeed, as the Obama era rushes to a less-than-glorious end, important left-of-center voices, like Matt Yglesias, now suggest that “democracy is doomed.”
Yglesias correctly blames “the breakdown of American constitutional democracy” on both Republicans and Democrats; George W. Bush expanded federal power in the field of national defense while Barack Obama has done it mostly on domestic issues. Other prominent progressives such as American Prospect’s Robert Kuttner have made similar points, even quoting Italian wartime fascist leader Benito Mussolini about the inadequacy of democracy.
The recent brouhaha over Indiana’s religious freedom law revealed two basic things: the utter stupidity of the Republican Party and the rising power of the emerging tech oligarchy. As the Republicans were once again demonstrating their incomprehension of new social dynamics, the tech elite showed a fine hand by leading the opposition to the Indiana law.
On Sunday, Singapore cremates its greatest leader, the late Lee Kuan Yew, architect of its good fortunes. Yet the flames also could extinguish the era of relentless social and economic progress that Lee ushered in during his long, amazingly productive life.