By Christian L.
The mainstream media (MSM) has been instrumental to the realization of corporate domination in the United States. While capital has always wielded disproportionate influence over our political system, that influence has reached a level that reflects totalitarian rule. For example, classic totalitarian regimes were characterized by a single political party’s full control over the state and economy, as well as an acquiescent political citizenry. In the United States—while power is not monopolized by a political party (per se)—it is concentrated within a corporate oligarchic class that has total control over our economy, and a virtual monopoly over our political institutions. U.S. citizens are also notoriously apolitical, which is manifest in the fact that their participation in government is essentially limited to opinion surveys and sham elections where only half the population votes. Moreover, just as classic totalitarian regimes declared their unilateral right to militarily intervene in the affairs of other countries, the United States has done the same, particularly throughout the “Cold” War and the War on “Terror.” That it is surprising to anyone that the U.S. exhibits totalitarian characteristics is a mere expression of the failure of the MSM in fulfilling its institutional obligation in keeping our society properly informed.
Beginning with WWII, and increasingly throughout the Cold War, the New Deal infrastructure connecting state elites to working-class movements that produced some of the crowning social achievements of the 20th century—although limited, especially with respect to racial inequality—eroded and was replaced by an elitist politics and culture of fear that promoted citizen deactivation from political life. Following the experience of WWII, state and economic elites realized their mutual dependence and shared interest in a permanent wartime economy and imperialist foreign policy. For the U.S. state, such an arrangement would allow it to exploit the organizational discipline of the corporation to obtain advanced weaponry and reinforce its global hegemony. For corporations, these conditions offered lucrative state subsidies and contracts, and facilitated their access to world markets and resources. However, to actualize this vision, the U.S. upper-bourgeoisie had to mold a political culture amongst the masses amenable to such authoritarian aims. The MSM was fundamental in shaping this requisite culture.
Throughout the Cold War there was a sustained campaign by state and economic elites to influence U.S. citizens into accepting a reduced standard of living and a perpetually-militarized economy. During this period, the state and corporations strengthened their ties with universities (nourishing an elite bias in the U.S social sciences), and business interests filled the airwaves with pro-military, anti-communist, and capitalist propaganda. Over time, these efforts had the impact of normalizing endless warfare in the minds of U.S. citizens and justified the U.S.’s growing authoritarianism at home and abroad as necessary to defend “national security.” Domestically, increasing surveillance and repression of citizens—especially civil rights and labor activists—were justified as needed to root-out “communists.” Anti-communism was also used to legitimize the U.S.’s support of dictators and violent authoritarian regimes that protected the interests of U.S. corporations overseas. This inaugurated the U.S. upper-bourgeois tactic—still in use today—of invoking the threat of abstract enemies to legitimize its contravention of democracy: i.e. “communism” and “terrorism” are not physical entities, but vaguely-defined concepts.
The success of these efforts is symbolized in the minimal resistance amongst U.S. society to the fraudulent election and corrupt presidency of George W. Bush. While Bush’s election to the White House was facilitated by corporate sponsorship; massive voter suppression; a recount run by a Republican Party operative; a highly-partisan Supreme Court; and an electoral college instituted to appease the interests of slave-holders and prevent democracy—these blatant acts of corruption did not incite massive protests amongst the U.S. popular sector. Furthermore, while 9/11 was obviously a catastrophic event, it was almost universally interpreted amongst U.S. citizens as a “senseless” attack on U.S. “democracy” as opposed to what it actually was—an attack on the twin arms of U.S. global authoritarianism—the Pentagon and the World Trade Center. There was a near unanimous, uncritical acceptance from state elites—in both major parties—and U.S. citizens of the Bush administration’s war mobilization and unprecedented expansion of executive power. The Patriot Act passed with little resistance in both houses of Congress (98-1 in the Senate) and inaugurated our contemporary era of mass-surveillance and infinite detention of immigrants (the overwhelming majority of whom are fleeing unstable conditions wrought by global capitalism). Furthermore, while there were major protests resisting the U.S.’s deceitful invasion of Iraq—a war initiated to advance the interests of U.S. capital—they were blacked-out by the media, reinforcing consent for Bush’s criminal activities.
In essence, the MSM has brainwashed a large majority of U.S. citizens into believing that their interests are aligned with U.S. capital. It has reinforced the idea that the greatest threats to the U.S. are “communism” and “terrorism,” when in reality the parasitic corporations plundering our society’s wealth—investing it in speculative activities and war, and stashing it in tax-havens—are our chief enemies. Nearly every issue plaguing U.S. society today stems from the inherent inequality and instability that global capitalism’s motive forces constantly reproduce. To resolve these problems, we must embark on a transition to a more democratic economy where the citizens who produce our society’s wealth—labor—actually have a say over how that wealth is produced, used and distributed. Nevertheless, the MSM obfuscates this underlying fact by reinforcing fear amongst U.S. citizens and promoting an elitist political culture. We are made to believe that we should stay home and obey the orders of the U.S. upper-bourgeoisie who are working to produce optimal benefits for our society. That so many of us have accepted this authoritarian status-quo—through action and inaction—is indicative of our own complicity.
Nevertheless, the success of Senator Bernie Sanders’ 2016 and 2020 presidential campaigns—which are cases par excellence of the manner in which the U.S. upper-bourgeoisie controls our elections—the recent upheavals ignited by the unfettered murder of Black citizens, and the economic crisis induced by COVID-19, indicates growing potential for change. While capital has been successful in psychologically manipulating the majority of U.S. citizens over the past 75 years, the contradiction between its openly declared objectives—to uplift the collective good and promote democracy—and its actual essence—to maximize its profits and unilaterally extract the wealth of U.S. society—suggests that opportunities to usurp the status-quo will continue to arise.
See: Wolin, Sheldon. Democracy Incorporated: Managed Democracy and the Specter of Inverted Totalitarianism. Princeton and Oxford: Princeton University Press. 2008.