Democratic Deficits, Disillusion, and the Decline of the Democrats
By Kevin Young at Jan 25, 2010
As a number of analysts have observed, and as I argued in my last blog entry, the fundamental values of the US public are remarkably progressive. Even if those values rarely translate into organized, progressive political action, there is a “healthy nucleus” of humane instincts among the public which is evident from dozens of opinion polls in recent decades. Even many members in the “Tea Party” crowd are motivated by an anti-elitism and disaffection with economic injustice and concentrated power that overlap with central concerns of the Left—one reason why we should be taking the Tea Party phenomenon seriously rather than dismissing it.
While the combination of humanist values and economic exploitation might logically be expected to lead to popular demands for a progressive redistribution of wealth and political power, popular politics and culture in the US over the last thirty years have undergone changes far more akin to the course that Germany took following World War I or that some Middle-Eastern countries have taken since the defeat of secular nationalist and Marxist movements in the 1960s and 1970s. How have corporate interests and the Right been able to mobilize so many ordinary people? Why is there often such a stark disjunction between people’s core values and the way those values translate into political attitudes and action? The points of resemblance between right-wing populism and various forms of historical fascism are the second reason why we should take the Tea Party crowd seriously, and inquire into the root causes of their appeal.
The answer must take into account a number of factors. After proposing a few of them, I focus on one in particular: the failure of the putatively-populist Democratic Party to pursue an agenda in line with popular opinion and the current weakness of progressive alternatives. The unresponsiveness of the two major political parties has produced overwhelming cynicism and despair among the electorate, leading to astounding voter abstention rates in recent decades. But among a significant—and probably, increasing—portion of the electorate that cynicism translates into extreme right-wing attitudes and actions. The surge in right-wing populism since Obama took office has deep roots in US society, but one contributing factor that observers often neglect is the failure or absence of progressive alternatives to a status quo that is extremely undesirable.
Revisiting Gramsci and the Concept of Hegemony
During his long years in prison under Mussolini, the Antonio Gramsci famously formulated the concept of “cultural hegemony” to explain the persistence of the capitalist system in Europe. Gramsci emphasized that the consciousness of a given social class depended not just on material conditions but on the relative degree of cultural autonomy and/or subservience of that class. Whereas Marx had tended to focus on the economic sphere, Gramsci argued that “[t]he superstructures of civil society are like the trench-systems of modern warfare.” These superstructures included the institutions of government, education, religion, the legal system, the press, political discourse, and the amorphous category of “culture,” all of which helped to shape, and were themselves shaped by, the economic structure . In most societies, these institutions tended to promote “the political and cultural hegemony of the ruling classes” by inculcating attitudes and values conducive to the continued power of that class, which in modern capitalist societies was the bourgeoisie . Writing in Italy in the 1920s and 1930s, Gramsci observed that the rise of industrialization in the late 1800s brought with it unprecedented efforts by the bourgeoisie to “train,” “rationalize,” and otherwise transform the urban worker into a “new type of man” .
Academics and activists of recent decades have often shunned Gramsci’s notion of hegemony, arguing (inaccurately) that it assumes the “active commitment by subordinates to the legitimacy of elite rule” and therefore views economically-subordinate classes as mere dupes of the ruling class . Since the 1960s many have also derided the orthodox Marxist notion of “false consciousness” as elitist and authoritarian, criticizing the notion that people “should” behave in a specific way in line with their purportedly-objective economic interests. And of course, leftists of recent decades have properly devoted closer attention to forms of oppression that are not always direct reflections of class interests, taking seriously oppression based on gender, sexuality, race, and nationality, among other socially-constructed categories .
But while these critiques have raised legitimate concerns, Gramsci’s concept of hegemony is still enormously relevant. Most of us—and not just subordinate classes—are heavily influenced by our surrounding culture, we do behave irrationally at times, and we do hold attitudes and opinions which unwittingly justify or obscure oppression, our own and others’. False consciousness does indeed exist, though recognizing its existence does not necessarily imply that there is any single, “proper” consciousness for the exploited. This phenomenon is not limited to the working- and middle-class Tea Partiers, but they certainly present the most obvious example in today’s United States. Many of the white working-class people who have helped serve corporate interests are among the more oppressed segments of US society: over the last thirty-five years they have seen their real wages plummet, their jobs shipped overseas, and the relative comfort and security of previous decades slowly erode. The rate of union membership has fallen to 12 or 13 percent, less if public-sector workers are excluded. These changes, meanwhile, have been accompanied by both rising economic productivity and profits for the capitalists who employ(ed) them. Increasing poverty and inequality have therefore had much more to do with deliberate corporate and government policies than with invisible “market” forces like globalization. Nonetheless, the health care industry, and corporate interests more generally, have successfully mobilized large numbers of workers to oppose the very policies that would improve the material well-being of the working class. There is perhaps no population in the world to which Gramsci’s concept is more relevant.
Five Factors that Increase the Appeal of Right-Wing Populism
Building mostly upon others’ work, I would propose five interrelated factors that can increase the popular appeal of right-wing populism in particular, and of nationalism, militarism, and exclusionary ideologies in general:
1) Increasing economic exploitation, inequality, and anxiety. The trend in recent decades of falling wages and increasing inequality in the US, with its destructive impact on workers and the poor, is indisputable. In the eight years of the Bush administration alone—prior to the current recession—the number of people living in poverty grew by 5.2 million, or 15.4 percent. Those who have experienced downward mobility or whose livelihood is precarious can often be convinced that scapegoats are responsible. The economic roots of this disillusion are hard to deny. As a prominent white supremacist said recently, “I’m petrified whether I’m working the next day or not. And it’s—this is all we got. This is the last thing we got to stand on, man” .
2) Atomization and depoliticization of the populace. The decline and stagnation of the labor movement—once a locus of politicization, discussion, and community—as well as the lack of other locally-based social and political organizations has coincided with the rise of depoliticizing or politically reactionary alternatives, contributing to a remarkable atomization of the population, especially the white population, and to a far-reaching ignorance about history and current political realities that makes citizens highly susceptible to manipulation and propaganda. The rise of Christian fundamentalism and the expansion of mass consumer culture have played a significant role in this process. (Religion itself is not necessarily a reactionary force; indeed, under some circumstances, when texts like the New Testament are actually taken seriously, religious faith can be a radically progressive, even revolutionary force—but rarely in the US in recent decades .) To the extent that politicization does happen, it tends to occur under the auspices of religious fundamentalism or similarly dogmatic movements. It tends to lack a strong factual grounding and to revolve around scapegoating, blind faith, and conspiracy theories lacking any “systemic, institutional, or structural critique of class oppression” (a pattern also apparent among some segments of the Left) .
3) The encouragement of countervailing values like racism, sexism, nationalism, and individualism, which can neutralize or counteract more humanistic and compassionate impulses. Republicans, and Democrats to a moderately lesser extent, both promote these values, as do a variety of other institutions, interests, and consumer products and pastimes (sports, video games, movies, etc.). More troublesome, perhaps, is that in most societies these values also emanate from non-elite sectors who may or may not perceive their own interests to be advanced through the promotion of racism, sexism, and similar ugly sentiments. A common example is a white worker who is discontent with his economic plight keeping his distance from poor and working-class blacks whom he perceives as lazy and undeserving. All of these countervailing values fall within the category of what Howard Zinn has called “America’s blinders” .
4) The cooptation or channeling of humanistic impulses through lofty rhetoric. Since the “healthy nucleus” cannot be fully eliminated or negated, elites and policymakers must co-opt humane impulses in order to bolster public support for ugly policies. This pattern is perhaps clearest in the realm of foreign policy, where public concern for the safety of family members or the plight of oppressed Muslim women is manipulated to provide support for aggressive military intervention. As prominent hawk Robert Kaplan wrote a few years ago in an article clearly intended for fellow elites, the healthy nucleus requires that “U.S. foreign policy be robed in idealism, so as to garner public support and ultimately be effective” . The cloaking of aggressive militarism in noble rhetoric about “peace and social welfare”—Hitler’s words—is common to all modern regimes, no matter how monstrous .
5) The control over factual information. The maintenance of extreme inequalities on the domestic and global levels, and the perpetration of extreme violence at times, require the suppression of the most basic information: from the actions of the US government overseas, to the plight of the one billion chronically-hungry people on the planet, to the everyday realities faced by workers and the poor here in the United States. In the realm of foreign policy, for example, mainstream discussion promotes what I would term the “fetishism of war,” meaning that the human consequences of military intervention for Iraqis, Afghans, Palestinians, and even Americans are more or less absent. On numerous other issues there is little to no substantive discussion of basic realities, the result being that naturally-intelligent people can be unaware that Medicare is a government program and be found screaming at politicians to “keep your government hands off my Medicare.” The powerful anti-government current in right-wing populism is especially important; as the result of well-crafted rhetoric that appeals both to people’s core values and their economic plight, “big government,” labor unions, and other institutions that can potentially curb the power of corporate capital become the very essence of tyranny, oppression, and fiscal waste. They, not private corporate power, tend to be the focus of angry rhetoric from so-called libertarians and conservatives. The declining economic fortune of the working class is acknowledged, but is blamed on the “liberal elites” who want to raise taxes and convert the hard-earned income of honest working people into affirmative action programs and “hand-outs” for welfare queens and drug addicts in the ghetto (this anti-government/anti-liberal rhetoric at least seems to be the predominant pattern, though over the past year there has actually been some right-wing rage directed at Wall Street, too) .
Many independent experts have dissected the phenomenon that famed pundit Walter Lippmann praised as “the manufacturing of consent,” so no further discussion is necessary here (except to note that the process operates quite naturally as a result of “free-market” mechanisms in a society dominated by corporate capital and only occasionally through direct government intervention to suppress information) .
These five factors—to list but five that seem essential—have all played their role in the rise of far-right and fascist regimes throughout modern history. And in times of economic crisis and decline—the situation of the US working class for the last 35 years—these factors become particularly dangerous.
A Sixth Factor: The Absence or Failure of Progressive Alternatives
Yet there is an additional factor that is often neglected, perhaps because progressives do not want to confront the fact that forces with which they sympathize are weak or, in the case of the Democrats, are abject failures. The absence or failure of genuinely responsive progressive political organizations, such as labor unions or political parties oriented toward the needs of working people, can further increase the appeal of radical fringe movements by leaving a “liberal-Left vacuum” of the type Paul Street described in an insightful ZNet article posted earlier today .
We can start with the Party of the People. The Democrats have consistently refused to push the progressive agenda that might win them widespread support among the Tea Partiers as well as rural whites more generally. The Democrats’ refusal to confront corporate power and militarism is not a recent development, but the party has certainly become more corporate-beholden since the late 1970s, for a number of reasons with no space to explore here . The massive financial bail-outs that Obama has wholeheartedly continued since his inauguration are only the most glaring example, and one that has not gone unnoticed among the Tea Partiers (who actually have, in this instance, pointed fingers at the corporate and financial elite as well as at “government”).
Polls demonstrate that most people in this country—many Tea Partiers included—continue to have humane, progressive instincts . With good reason, many working-class whites simply do not see those instincts reflected in the leadership of the Democratic Party, whom they understandably perceive as elitist and unprincipled. While Republicans are even more elitist, and their policies even more harmful to working people, the difference is that they have more successfully painted themselves as populists, in opposition to the “liberal elites” of the Democratic Party; and when the Democrats do so much to favor corporate power at the expense of ordinary people, the epithet is in truth quite appropriate. The Democratic leadership has consistently failed the test of responsiveness to the electorate.
People in this country are keenly aware of this lack of responsiveness. On health care, while the vast majority agree that government should ensure universal access, recent polls have found that between 69 and 75 percent are “dissatisfied” or think “the government is doing a poor job” in this regard . This dissatisfaction has endured despite the Obama administration’s much-touted reform proposals. According to a CBS News poll released on January 11, 43 percent “think the reforms do not do enough” to rein in private health insurance companies, compared to 18 percent who say the legislation is “about right” in this regard; 26 percent of registered Republicans and 48 percent of Independents agreed that the reforms are inadequate. Only 29 percent approve of Congressional Democrats’ handling of health care, only slightly more than the 24 percent who approve of the Republicans’. People’s trust in Obama on the health care issue has steadily declined in recent months while their trust in Republicans has risen, to the point that as of December 2009 only 46 percent trusted Obama while 39 percent trusted Republicans (the differential six months earlier was 55-27). Obama’s overall approval rating has dropped below 50 percent, mainly because of his handling of health care and the economy . And, just this past week, a centrist, uninspiring, and out-of-touch Democratic candidate in one of the most liberal states in the nation lost a Senate race to a reactionary moralist who once posed nude for Cosmo; just prior to the election, a union leader there noted that “I’ve never seen this much anger at the Democrats from union people…It’s worse than NAFTA” .
Disillusion on health care is just a microcosm of the public’s more general view of the US political system. Last week’s Supreme Court ruling permitting unlimited corporate funding to politicians is significant and deeply disquieting, but hardly constitutes the fundamental power shift that some progressives are claiming; in fact, the public has long recognized our political system to be profoundly undemocratic. According to a 2009 Rasmussen poll, two-thirds think that “big business and big government work together against the people’s interests” . An astonishing 80 percent think that their country “is run by a few big interests looking out for themselves”; only 19 percent think “it is run for the benefit of all the people.” This result places the US well below even many Third World countries, including ones long plagued by dictatorships and oligarchic rule; when the same question was recently asked of Latin Americans, for example, only three of the eighteen Latin American countries surveyed fared worse than the United States . The US public’s normative conception of “democracy” is vastly different from that of US elites: 94 percent think that public opinion should play a significant role in determining policy, while 83 percent think “the will of the people should have more influence than it does.” And 87 percent say “the will of the people”—not that of entrenched private corporations—“should be the basis of the authority of government.” The public thus almost unanimously rejects the bipartisan consensus among politicians, once candidly expressed by a White House spokesperson under Bush II, that “You had your input. The American people have input every four years, and that’s the way our system is set up” .
The absence or failure of genuine alternatives to the status quo is a condition under which various forms of right-wing populism and extremism are likely to gain ground. One of the most striking current indications of this phenomenon are the poll numbers showing greater public support for a hypothetical “Tea Party” than for either Democrats or Republicans . Neglecting to formulate a stance on health care and other issues that is firmly rooted in popular opinion will both harm millions of people and hurt the Democrats’ electoral chances. History provides many illustrative examples. The absence or failure of a credible, progressive alternative in society has been an important factor in the rise of fascism, religious fundamentalism, and rightward political shifts of varying intensity in countries around the world. In the late 1920s and early 1930s Stalin refused to support an alliance between the German Communist Party and the Social Democrats, leaving the German Left weak and divided and facilitating the Nazi takeover in 1933 . The failure or corruption of secular nationalist leaders in the Middle East helped pave the way for the eruption of fundamentalist Islam in the 1970s in countries like Iran and Egypt . And the dramatic rightward shift in Nicaraguan politics after the Sandinistas left office in 1990 was due in part to the massive corruption and ideological bankruptcy of many of the Sandinistas’ own leaders, who no longer inspired as much hope and confidence among Nicaraguans . Although these cases differed in their specifics, the failure of progressive reformism was a significant factor in all of them. Likewise, any analysis of the reasons why so many working-class whites lean rightward must implicate the Democrats as well as the propaganda of the Right.
The primary reason behind the Democrats’ “failure” is structural. As Harvey Wasserman noted a few days ago,
The currently prescribed role of the Dems is to be the "Party of the People." But they can’t attain or retain office without cash flow from the very corporations that are the people’s worst enemy. They are thus politically bi-polar. They can never offer meaningful cures for any of America’s real problems because they must always return to the trough of the corporations that cause the bulk of them. 
The result, observable over many decades, has been massive voter disillusionment and abstention. In my view, three possible solutions exist: 1) to organize such that people become “major investors” in the Democratic Party the same way that corporations are, 2) to organize third-party efforts to unseat Democrats or at least pull them leftward, or 3) to focus on building independent, non-party-based progressive organizations. These three strategies are not mutually-exclusive, and should be employed as appropriate in different contexts . But given the highly ambiguous gains of the “inside-outside” strategy favored by progressive Democrats, and recent developments like last week’s Supreme Court ruling banning all restrictions on corporate campaign funding, option #1 seems like that to which we should devote the least time and energy. Conversely, option #3—the construction of grassroots community groups that transcend party loyalties and short-term goals—surely merits the most focus. Labor unions, housing rights groups, Church groups, veterans’ organizations, grassroots non-profits, and other types of organizations rooted in local communities can all serve this role provided they are genuinely participatory and responsive to members’ needs. The current weakness of independent alternatives is too obvious to require much additional discussion. The only solution is to roll up our sleeves and do the arduous—but rewarding—work of organizing.
Echoes of Fascism
The relative weakness of independent and responsive organizations is deeply distressing in itself. I am more ambivalent about the waning popularity of the Democratic Party: on one hand, it could be very positive if it compels the Democratic faithful among intellectual and activist circles to finally stop looking to Obama and Co. as saviors (something many liberal-Left commentators have yet to do); on the other hand, in the absence of organized progressive alternatives, the party’s decline could very well result in greater public readiness to embrace right-wing demagogues who have even less interest than Obama, Reid, and Pelosi in serving the popular interest.
While Left commentators are wise to avoid crude or polemical equations of the US and past fascist states like Nazi Germany, Mussolini’s Italy, or US-backed dictatorships in Argentina, Guatemala, and Indonesia, it seems perfectly reasonable to point out a number of specific features of our dominant political culture which are promoted by the Republican Party and, to a moderately lesser extent, by the Democratic Party, and which find strong parallels in the histories of fascist regimes of the past:
- A very high level of militarization, such that over half of federal government expenditures in any given year are devoted to the military—roughly as much as the rest of the world combined—while government officials promise private military contractors that they will work “to secure steady growth in the Pentagon’s budgets over time”; deficits incurred as a result are the used to justify further reductions in social spending .
- A concomitant glorification of such militarization, such that politicians and corporate media and consumer culture glorify war as a noble and heroic endeavor, and military force is the preferred means by which to resolve “problems.” Meanwhile, “the successful use of violence” against foreign populations tends to boost its perpetrators’ support among the population, particularly elites and intellectuals  (provided that such violence remains abstract and its intended audience well-insulated from its true motives and consequences). The dominant culture, in Mussolini’s words, “discards pacifism as a cloak for cowardly supine renunciation” and “sees in the imperialistic spirit—i.e. in the tendency of nations to expand—a manifestation of their vitality” . These tendencies have become particularly acute since the consolidation of the New Right militarist coalition starting in the late 1970s .
- An anti-intellectualism that scorns critical self-reflection as weak, effeminate, or treasonous, a sign of the same “cowardly supine renunciation” characteristic of pacifism
- An intense nationalist exceptionalism that proclaims one’s nation as inherently superior to others; nationalist rhetoric often carries strongly racialized and gendered undertones when referring to foreign populations as well as “foreigners” within the national polity, and features the somewhat contradictory combination of both extreme chauvinism toward, and fear of, the foreign. In cultural matters, there is a desire to preserve a “cult of tradition” from invasion by the foreign (e.g., Mexican immigrants, Arabs, gays, etc.) .
- A corporatist view of the nation as a unified community or family with common interests, which obscures especially internal class conflict; of all groups in society, however, “private enterprise” is given the greatest freedom, and is assumed to be acting “in the interest of the nation,” as Mussolini argued. (Under classic fascism, the relationship between government and big business was one of formal cooperation. In today’s US, two-thirds of the US public thinks government and corporations work together against the people’s interests—a perception confirmed almost daily, as in last week’s S.C. ruling, or on January 13 when Defense Secretary Robert Gates promised “a closer partnership” between government and defense contractors in order to expand the Pentagon budget) .
- The prevalence of Orwellian “doublespeak” in political discourse, such that Medicare and other programs run by the government are actually not, US military invasions of other countries are by definition noble and benevolent, etc.
- Those who voice strong opposition to any of the above patterns (e.g., antiwar voices, independent journalists, diplomatically-inclined politicians, labor unions) are reviled or persecuted and their ideas drowned out; when the nation experiences military defeat abroad, terrorist attacks, or economic decline relative to other nations, these people become a primary scapegoat (in addition to immigrants and foreigners), creating the same narrative promoted in Germany after World War I, that the once-proud nation “had been stabbed in the back by the traitors at home” .
Of course, it would be absurd to suggest that the US, or even the Tea Party portion of the population, displays all the distinctive traits of the political culture in, say, Hitler’s Germany: for example, here there is, at least in rhetoric, a very intense aversion to a strong central state, whereas the classic fascist governments openly exalted the state as absolute; the formal political system here is far more democratic; there have been very few disappearances or outright murders of leftists in recent decades; and few Tea Partiers would sanction the mass slaughter of undocumented immigrants or blacks in the inner cities (though the treatment of foreigners is perhaps another matter). Moreover, not all the Tea Partiers actively support all of the patterns listed above, and most are quite unaware of what their politicians do. But aside from these differences the similarities are quite frightening, and it hardly seems alarmist or hyperbolic to point them out.
Our main solace, however, should be the fact that the vast majority of the population strongly desires a more democratic, egalitarian, and participatory society. The challenge facing the Left is to promote all of the humane and progressive instincts of the US public as part of an ongoing educational and organizing campaign. The tools for doing so already exist, and we have a very healthy nucleus on which to build. Chip Berlet noted recently that “there are people being pulled into the right-wing populist and white supremacist movement that skillful, progressive organizers and labor organizers could be bringing into a multi-racial, multi-ethnic coalition” . Famed organizer Saul Alinsky likewise understood as well as anyone that the discontent of the white working and middle classes could cut both ways: it could be manipulated by demagogues to steer the country further down the road to fascism, or it could blossom in a way that ushers in “Act II of the American Revolution” . The former course is by no means inevitable, but in the absence of sustained organizing and education the latter is impossible.
 As T.J. Jackson Lears characterizes Gramsci’s position on this relationship, “The link between the two realms is not linear causality but circular interaction within an organic whole.” “The Concept of Cultural Hegemony: Problems and Possibilities,” American Historical Review 90, no. 3 (June 1985), 570.
 Antonio Gramsci, “State and Civil Society,” in Selections from the Prison Notebooks of Antonio Gramsci, ed. and trans. Quintin Hoare and Geoffrey Nowell Smith (New York: International Publishers, 1971), 235, 258-59. Here it is important to note Gramsci’s definition of the “State” as including not just the official government but also those elements of “civil society” which “tend to the same end” despite appearing as “private initiatives and activities” (quote from p. 258).
 Gramsci, “Americanism and Fordism,” in Prison Notebooks, 296-313 (p. 297 quote).
 There have been exceptions; Gramsci’s ideas are clarified and critically reviewed in Lears, “The Concept of Cultural Hegemony” (quote from p. 569).
 Z writers have been at the forefront here. For an early theoretical statement about the need for “complementary holism” in social critique and activism, see Michael Albert, et al., Liberating Theory (Boston: South End Press, 1986). I would characterize this approach as more holistic and comprehensive than Gramsci’s, rather than a rebuke to it.
 See Jack Rasmus, The War at Home: The Corporate Offensive from Ronald Reagan to George W. Bush (San Ramon, CA: Kyklos, 2006); poverty figures compiled by the Brookings Institution and cited in Bob Herbert, “They Still Don’t Get It,” New York Times, 23 January 2010; quote from the documentary White Power USA, by Rick Rowley and Jacquie Soohen of Big Noise Films, excerpted in “White Power USA: The Rise of Right-Wing Militias in America,” Democracy Now! 11 January 2010. Bob Herbert’s January 23 op-ed piece comes as close as anything I’ve seen in the mainstream lately to identifying the real roots of popular anger, and rightly lays much of the blame upon the Democrats.
 Within the US, the examples of churches in the Civil Rights Movement and of Christians in the Central America solidarity movement of the 1980s come to mind. For an excellent and inspiring study of the revolutionary inclinations of Nicaraguan Catholicism at the grassroots level, as well as a theoretical critique of Marx’s view of religion, see Roger N. Lancaster, Thanks to God and the Revolution: Popular Religion and Class Consciousness in the New Nicaragua (New York: Columbia UP, 1988).
 Chip Berlet, “Tea Bags, Taxes, and Productive Citizens,” Z Magazine (February 2010), based in part on Berlet and Matthew N. Lyons's book Right-Wing Populism in America: Too Close for Comfort (New York: Guilford, 2000).
 Zinn, “America’s Blinders,” The Progressive (April 2006).
 Kaplan, "Supremacy by Stealth," Atlantic Monthly (July/August 2003), quoted in Sonali Kolhatkar and James Ingalls, Bleeding Afghanistan: Washington, Warlords, and the Propaganda of Silence (New York: Seven Stories Press, 2006), 183.
 Quoted in Sean D. Murphy, Humanitarian Intervention: The United Nations in an Evolving World Order (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1996), 62. Noam Chomsky made a similar point in his “Address to the UN General Assembly Thematic Dialogue on the Responsibility to Protect,” 23 July 2009, reprinted at ZNet, 6 August 2009.
Though I cannot address it in depth here, Gramsci tried to explain the uneasy coexistence of disparate values with the notion of “contradictory consciousness.” Most of us, usually without realizing it, hold a complex and often contradictory set of beliefs and values, all of which can be cultivated or discouraged depending on a person’s environment, education, and personal choices. The human potential for holding mutually-contradictory attitudes and values is well-known and easily-observable, even among progressive movements of the past. For example, most nineteenth-century abolitionists ignored or accepted the wage slavery that became the dominant labor form in northern factories following the Civil War (see the discussion in Lears, “The Concept of Cultural Hegemony,” 588). Most white unionists and white women suffragists notoriously turned the other cheek to segregation in the pre-WWII era. Many class-conscious union members vocally supported the Vietnam War, at least in its early years, and until its 2005 resolution against the Iraq War the AFL-CIO actively collaborated in US imperialism around the globe.
More subtle contradictions are also common. Thus, many of the workers interviewed in Richard Sennett and Jonathan Cobb’s 1972 The Hidden Injuries of Class (New York: Vintage) simultaneously blamed themselves and structural inequalities for their position in life (cf. Lears, “The Concept of Cultural Hegemony,” 577-78). Today, most of the US public is distrustful of corporations, but suspicious of “government regulation” as an abstract concept; however, poll respondents strongly support specific measures of regulation, such as stronger FDA oversight and environmental standards, when these are mentioned (Robert Weismann, “Big Business Is Even More Unpopular Than You Thought,” Counterpunch, 15 January 2008). The public thinks workers should have more power, but is often skeptical of unions. These apparent contradictions reflect the success of massive corporate propaganda sounding the themes of individual responsibility, small government, and union corruption, which intensified greatly after World War II and continues in the present. Like jingoism, racism, and sexism, such propaganda has played directly upon people’s fears and insecurities. But unlike veiled appeals to people’s baser instincts, which work primarily by scaring people, the more subtle propaganda also appeals to noble values like self-sufficiency and individual self-determination. By alternately cultivating the more pernicious aspects of people’s consciousness and appealing to their humanistic values to further elite objectives, political and economic elites in this country have deftly exploited the “contradictory consciousness” that Gramsci described and that most ordinary people exhibit.
 Thomas Byrne Edsall with Mary D. Edsall, Chain Reaction: The Impact of Race, Rights, and Taxes on American Politics (New York: Norton, 1992).
 One of the classic critiques is Noam Chomsky and Edward S. Herman, Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass Media (New York: Pantheon, 2002 ). See also Herman’s The Real Terror Network: Terrorism in Fact and Propaganda (Boston: South End, 1982); James Loewen, Lies My Teacher Told Me: Everything Your American History Textbook Got Wrong (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1996); and all the sources cited in Paul Street, “On Realism and Revolution: Confronting Liberal Objections to Left Criticism of Obama, the Democrats and the Profits System,” ZNet, 5 January 2010, note 41. The website of Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR) also offers invaluable critiques of corporate media on a wide host of issues.
An interesting example is the mainstream discussion of “conservativism.” Reagan, considered the quintessential conservative president by most mainstream commentators, actually presided over a tripling of the national debt and a quintupling of the federal deficit. As Reagan adviser Richard Darman later admitted, “In the Reagan years, more federal debt was added than in the entire prior history of the United States.” Much of this debt resulted from military spending, which Reagan increased by a total of $1.5 trillion, providing a huge boon to weapons contractors. The one area in which Reagan did practice small government was social spending; his administration dramatically reduced “nondefense discretionary spending,” including many of the programs making up the federal safety net constructed in the 1930s and 1960s. The result of Reagan’s fiscal and social policies was quite deliberate, and entirely predictable: a massive transfer of wealth and income from the bottom 80 percent to the top 20 percent of the population; the top 400 richest individuals saw their net worth triple under Reagan. Yet Reagan is championed as textbook conservative and great hero of the ordinary person, proving the irrelevance of facts to the demagogues who describe him in such terms. See Robert Scheer, “Budget Busting ‘Cowboy’ Fesses Up,” Los Angeles Times, 3 September 1996; Mark Zepezauer and Arthur Naiman, Take the Rich Off Welfare (Monroe, ME: Common Courage/Odonian, 1996), 10-11, 30; John H. Makin and Norman J. Ornstein, Debt and Taxes: How America Got into Its Budget Mess and What to Do about It (Washington, DC: American Enterprise Institute, 1994), 222.
 See especially Lance Selfa, The Democrats: A Critical History (Chicago: Haymarket, 2008). One insightful book attributes this shift to the Right’s successful construction in the post-1964 era of a populist discourse that appeals to white working-class voters by blaming these groups’ ever-increasing woes on minorities, “special interests,” and “liberal elites” in government who raise taxes in order to give “hand-outs” to non-whites and other social minorities; the loss of white working-class support helped make the Democratic Party more dependent on corporate funding. See Edsall with Edsall, Chain Reaction. Even so, I have some qualms with the book: for example, it verges on blaming Democrats for endorsing affirmative action policies, rather than blaming them for shunning the progressive economic policies that might have guaranteed them greater working-class allegiance; it sometimes implies that working-class woes have resulted largely from affirmative action policies, neglecting both the role of regressive economic policies and the fact that “affirmative action” consistently favored working-class whites prior to the 1960s; and fails to acknowledge how the Right’s definition of “big government” is in fact highly selective (endorsing, for example, extensive state intervention in the economy in the form of massive military spending). Nonetheless, the book offers a perceptive analysis of some of the ways in which the Right has successfully co-opted a large sector of the white working class.
 See the September 2005 Gallup poll and August 2008 PIPA poll, “Obama, McCain Supporters Agree Government Responsible for Ensuring Basic Healthcare, Food, and Education Needs.”
 CBS News, “The President, Health Care and Terrorism, January 6-10, 2010,” pp. 1-3, 8; ABC News/Washington Post poll, December 2009.
 On the Martha Coakley loss to Scott Brown in Massachusetts see Jane Slaughter, “Anger over Health Care Bill Creates Uncertain Future,” Labor Notes, 20 January 2010; Norman Solomon, “Democrats Boosting Right-Wing Populism,” Z commentary, 21 January 2010; “John Bonifaz on the Democrats Stunning Loss in Massachusetts and the Forthcoming Supreme Court Ruling on Corporate Financing of Elections,” Democracy Now! 21 January 2010; Street, “What’s the Matter with the Democrats?”
 Quoted in Street, “To Save the Capitalist System.” On the Supreme Court ruling see “In Landmark Campaign Finance Ruling, Supreme Court Removes Limits on Corporate Campaign Spending,” Democracy Now! 22 January 2010; and Ralph Nader, “Shredding Democracy: The Supremes Bow to King Corporation,” Counterpunch, 22-24 January 2010.
 See Corporación Latinobarómetro, Informe 2009, p. 39.
 US poll data and quotes from WPO.org/PIPA, “American Public Says Government Leaders Should Pay Attention to Polls,” 21 March 2008. The poll, and the clarifying comments of the White House spokesperson, were in response to former Vice President Dick Cheney’s explicit statement that public opinion should not guide government policy.
 Susan Davis, “WSJ/NBC News Poll: Tea Party Tops Democrats and Republicans,” Wall Street Journal (online blog), 16 December 2009.
 John M. Thompson, A Vision Unfulfilled: Russia and the Soviet Union in the Twentieth Century (Lexington, MA: D.C. Heath and Co., 1996), 277.
 Ismael Hossein-zadeh, The Political Economy of U.S. Militarism (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2006), 102-08.
 Of course, Washington, multinational corporations, financial institutions, and the Nicaraguan elite played the most direct role. On the neopopulism of the Nicaraguan Right and the role of Sandinista party leaders in reinforcing it, see Thomas W. Walker, Nicaragua: Living in the Shadow of the Eagle, fourth edition (Boulder, CO: Westview, 2003), 63-67.
 Harvey Wasserman, “Dead Center: The Weimar Democrats,” Counterpunch, 21 January 2010.
 For a similar discussion see Selfa, The Democrats, 158-98. I am slightly more hesitant than Selfa to rule out all engagement with the Democrats—particularly in local and state elections—but I strongly agree with most of his analysis and his prioritization of the need to “build a genuine alternative” to two-party electoral politics (p. 195).
 For the FY 2009 federal budget, see the pie chart calculated every year by the War Resisters League. The 2010 Obama budget increased military spending by 4 percent, though the stimulus funds meant that the military proportion fell to less than half the total, unlike in normal years. The AP is reporting that Obama will seek a record-high $708 billion for the Pentagon’s budget for 2011, which would represent a baseline budget increase of 7 percent over Bush’s last military budget. On the way that budget deficits resulting from military spending have been used to justify cuts in social spending, see Hossein-zadeh, The Political Economy of U.S. Militarism, 220-29. The quote is from a spokesperson for US Defense Secretary Robert Gates, reported in Jen Dimascio, “Robert Gates Meets Defense Industry Heads,” Politico, 13 January 2010.
 One of the leading scholars on Nazi Germany, William L. Shirer, makes this point well: “What the masses needed, [Hitler] thought, were not only ideas…but symbols that would win their faith, pageantry and color that would arouse them, and acts of violence and terror, which if successful, would attract adherents (were not most Germans drawn to the strong?) and give them a sense of power over the weak” (The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich: A History of Nazi Germany [New York: Simon and Schuster, 1990 (1959)], 42). Noam Chomsky (quote) also makes this point in a December 8, 2001, speech broadcast on C-Span, entitled “The World After September 11,” available for download here. I generally agree, though my sense is that the US population on the whole still retains a relatively strong aversion to war, even if “successful"; but certainly a US president's popular support will tend to decline if that violence is perceived as unsuccessful.
 Benito Mussolini with Giovanni Gentile, “The Doctrine of Fascism” (1932), in Fascism: Doctrine and Institutions (Rome: Ardita, 1935).
 On the rise of this militarist coalition, see Hossein-zadeh, The Political Economy of U.S. Militarism, esp. 59-74.
 Umberto Eco, “Ur-Fascism,” in Five Moral Pieces, trans. Alistair McEwen (New York: Harcourt, 2001), 78-79.
 Mussolini with Gentile, Fascism, 133-36. In the essay “The Doctrine of Fascism,” Mussolini and Gentile envision a “corporative system in which divergent interests are coordinated and harmonized in the unity of the State.” The key difference with today’s United States in this regard is perhaps that the business elite here exert preponderant control over the political system, whereas Mussolini had envisioned a more autonomous, neutral, and “absolute” State that stood above all specific interests. Gates spokesperson quoted in Dimascio, “Robert Gates Meets Defense Industry Heads.”
 Shirer, The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, 31. Eco, “Ur-Fascism,” 65-88, contains a more comprehensive list of fourteen characteristics of what Eco calls Ur-Fascism, or “eternal Fascism” (77), from which I’ve adopted some of these bullet points.
 “White Power USA: The Rise of Right-Wing Militias in America,” Democracy Now! 11 January 2010.
 Rules for Radicals: A Pragmatic Primer for Realistic Radicals (New York: Vintage, 1971), 190.