It’s the Economics, Stupid: Corruption, Greed, and the War on Democracy

As America is predictably besieged by pre-election chaos, the consequences for humanity in the weaponization of Donald Trump could not be higher.

PBS Newshour

Lisa Van Dusen/For The Hill Times

September 3, 2020

In “The 300,000-year case for the 15-hour work week,” a major essay in the Financial Times recently, anthropologist James Suzman soothingly offered an evolutionary rationale for a re-think about the nature of employment, framing the discussion as one about leisure time. “For more than 95 per cent of Homo sapiens’ history, people enjoyed more leisure than we do now.”

In a possible concession to people who don’t view unemployment as leisure and to a previously unthinkable scenario in which a coerced cyber-servitude between leisure and destitution becomes more common as democracy is extinguished, Suzman also writes, “As jobless numbers surge as a result of COVID-19’s spread, practices once seen as fringe are accepted as an almost inevitable part of the new world order.” At the risk of understating the case, not a bad subject for a follow-up piece.

While noting that “the goal of universal employment remains the mantra of politicians of all stripes,” Suzman neglects to specify that universal employment has really only been the mantra of politicians in democracies.

Inequality is only an existential threat to power when its victims vote, or when they fill the streets—“when the people go hungry, governments topple.” The systematic degradation of democracy is neutralizing the first threat and the global militarization of police and infiltration and operationalization of protests is neutralizing the second. The surveillance-capitalism titans of Big Tech and the surveillance-state imperialists currently corrupting political narratives know that, unless democracy is restored, the world won’t get any less Hobbesian.

The inequality that was beginning to reverse course a decade after the Great Recession is now being amplified by the force multiplier of the COVID-19 lockdown. Since the pandemic went global, “The rich are getting richer than ever before” per an Aug. 15 Toronto Star headline, “and economists are getting concerned.” Many of those billionaires are the same cyber plutocrats—Amazon’s Jeff Bezos, Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg—who’ve built fortunes on the unchecked disruption, unregulated political influence, and commodification of privacy of the exploitation era of the fourth industrial revolution.

The impact of the past two decades on the definition of work has implications much deeper and broader than the number of hours in a work week. The prioritization of profit over collective quality of life has made more human beings incidental, rather than indispensable, to production. Now, they are being distracted and disenfranchised as money and power are concentrating in the hands of interests suddenly no longer compelled by the accountability of democracy to invest in solutions through taxation, and who are instead licensed by corruption and impunity to double down on greed.

So, the most significant foreshadowing generated by Donald Trump’s performative, norm-obliterating, expectation re-setting presidency may be his brutal disregard for the value of human life in acting as a crisis mismanagement vector for the worst COVID-19 infection and death numbers in the world.

Trump’s disproportionate value to the geopolitical, political, and industrial interests benefiting from this perfect sh*tstorm of narrative engineering—especially in the country most identified with democracy as an aspirational brand—puts him under enormous pressure to front the obfuscation, obstruction, hijacking, and/or bulldozing of this election.

It’s not about the dystopian Cinderella story of a reality-show host transformed into a guy who plays a preposterous dictator on TV. It’s about his propaganda-protected plausibility as an agent of transformation and walking rationale for a revolutionary outcome that would otherwise be too incredible to even contemplate peddling, and beyond which plausibility will cease to be a requirement.

As is often said, elections are about the future. This one is about the future of elections, and all of human fate that that implies.

Lisa Van Dusen is associate editor of Policy Magazine and a columnist for The Hill Times. She was Washington bureau chief for Sun Media, international writer for Peter Jennings at ABC News, and an editor at AP in New York and UPI in Washington.