The Hyper-Marketization of American Elections

The hyper-pragmatism (or what others might call the hyper-marketization) of America is most evident when elections arrive. Everything is a cost-benefit analysis; and ethics, principles, ideals, possess no veto power, but are merely variables in the formula — variables with increasingly little weight.

Take note that election discussion on network TV mostly involves condescending poll data and insightful opinions on electoral landscapes and obstacles. It speaks of the American voters as groups, not individuals, and insists elections are intriguing primarily because candidates maneuver and manipulate, say the “right things” or the “wrong ones”, appeal to this group or alienate another. The “right” and “wrong” things said are not “right” or “wrong” due to their relation to truth, or ethics, but to opinion polls founded in perverse identity politics. A disgusting statement becomes diffused into the effect it has and how that effect widens or lessens a candidate’s support — it becomes solipsistic, both for the listener and the candidate. When the discussion of a statement centers entirely around its effect, that discussion accepts multiple interpretations because there are multiple feelings and multiple identity groups, so the statement effects people in multiple ways. It also accepts no way of bridging those interpretations, or uniting them, or creating a level field on which they can compete. The American people are thus further fragmented, not on truth, but on feelings. And feelings, not truth, are the most profitable basis for corporate PR-campaigns. Especially if those feelings can be molded into group feeling. Groups are easier to advertise to.

Thus, even when you do stumble upon the occasional expression of genuine moral outrage, it is expressed in terms favorable to, and in the language of, hyper-marketization: if a candidate says something wrong, it is “wrong” because it alienated a base, it is not “wrong” because of reality. After all, reality, in the hyper-market, is simply what people want to buy. Just as a disgusting statement becomes a solipsistic reference to the candidate’s political chances, it becomes a solipsistic turn-off for you or me. Politics, in the hyper-market, is an interaction of competing solipsisms. A candidate, therefore, can no longer be factually incorrect, he can only be incorrect from the perspective of some group; and whoever is correct to the most groups, or to the most powerful groups, is “right.” This is what suffices for political discourse in the United States.

Voters are seen as consumers, turned therefore from active to passive, and meant to be documented, understood, and either outwardly given what they want through carefully crafted rhetoric, or molded to create within them an artificial demand. This latter phenomenon is typically expressed by the political buzz-word and cliche, “galvanized”. No individual would ever want to be “galvanized”. It’s insulting. If I met you on a plane and said I was hoping our conversation would galvanize you, you would at the least suspect my motives and possibly request a new seat. But groups — groups love being galvanized. Groups are consumers with varying degrees of political capital. Politicians are brands and images, image-obsessed companies.

The real take-away from the dreadful Citizens United decision is not that the American government views corporations as people, as having the rights of people (though it is partly that), but that it views the American people as corporations. From resume-building to careerism in the university system, the youth of America are politicians/corporations in their own life, pandering when necessary, shaking the right hands, meeting the right people, hiding their real views and emotions and opinions for the sake of some greater ambition, or for the sake of their image, or revealing the right emotions to the right groups, and always taking cautious steps when in the public sphere. In a word: fake.

This deep, deep capitalism is embedded now in the way we view the world, and discuss ideas. People vote for candidates because they are likely to win, because they are “viable” or “electable”, not because they agree with their ideas. You see this most clearly with the widespread support — “a mile wide and an inch deep” — for Hillary Clinton. People refuse to support candidates who they think will lose, as you see with Bernie Sanders. And much political discussion concerns the practicality of an idea, or the way that idea effects a candidate’s polling, rather than that idea’s sensibility. Indeed, “sensibility” is itself defined in terms of how different groups react to an idea. American democracy, therefore, is not just an oligarchy at the institutional level — it is the product of an “oligarchical” mindset within the American people. Both must be rooted out.


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