The Moment of Truth — March 9, 2002

Nixons of a Feather Connive Together

Hi, I’m mejeffdorchen and welcome to the Moment of Truth, the painted bird of political critique.

Hey, before I get to the meat of the essay, such as it is, I just wanted to flaunt the fact that I have the inside scoop on a new video that will soon be advertised on late-night TV: “American Enterprise Institute’s Best of Naked Locker Room Towel Fights: Conservative Pundits Get Wild and Wet!” Word is that George Will gives Rush Limbaugh a real noisy spanking. On an entertainment system with top-notch subwoofers, it’s supposed to be like somebody playing conga-style on tympani. Also out soon: “The Cato Institute’s Best of Child Sweatshop Snuff Porn.”

That’s all the entertainment news. You won’t find it at Drudge.

I don’t understand something. Richard Nixon resigned the presidency in disgrace, right? He was a vindictive, conniving paranoid who, while maintaining plausible deniability, would stop at delegating nothing to stay in power. The Constitution nearly collapsed under the weight of his Machiavellian fortress of lies. He emerged from his shame briefly in the 90s and was accorded elder statesman status for awhile, but in the end left us with an image of himself as a lonely, bitter, delusional embarrassment. One would think his biography a cautionary tale.

So why are all the top players in the GOP emulating him? From Newt in the 90s to Cheney and Bush today, with Harris and Starr and Barr and Bush and Bush and Bush in between, what is with these people? Why do they want to go down in history as a swarm of Nixons? With the Silverado and the $59 million perjury trap intimidation of witnesses lying before Congress character assassination hypocrisy obstruction of voting rights of black citizens judicially undermining Congressional power in disputed presidential election stonewalling insider oil industry deals — and this as-yet-unsolved death of a major witness in the Enron case — these people, have they at long last no shame? Are they unstoppable? Will none of them go to jail, or at least be assaulted by a pie-wielding irate citizen? And where is God during all this? Doesn’t she like us anymore? Or has she become a cultural relativist? Are felonies perpetrated against the Constitution just some late-capitalist cultural artifact to her, unable to be judged because of the otherness of its context? I guess it would be too “elitist” for her to slaughter these sinners in their tracks with boils and aneurisms and falling anvils and meteoritic cranial punctures.

I suppose she’d just as soon appear in the guise of a whirlwind and say, “Can you draw out Leviathan with a rope in his nose?” Very well then, let’s get on with history. I mean, the corrupt Catholic Church got severely dented in the Reformation, slavery in the US was semantically ended, the corrupt system of Soviet totalitarianism “ran its course.” Abby Hoffman predicted that the government would eventually be “lost in the shuffle.” And it just about has. And that leaves us with whom? Who is left standing out from the shuffle to watch the watchmen who are actually the foxes in the henhouse? Who will blast those foxes in their asses with buckshot and rock salt?

Cuz the government has definitely been sold to the Fortune 1000. No doubt about THAT anymore. They’re the ones doing the shuffling, the dealing, and, thanks to their marked cards and stacked deck, raking it all in. The oil industry is in charge of the henhouse right now. And if there is anyone anywhere near the gears of power who isn’t himself lubricated by the oiligarchy, I sure as hell can’t see him. Or her. I just see a bunch of Nixons. Maybe there’s someone, but that someone is afraid of being found dead in his or her car one morning for messin’ with Texas, another “suicide” on behalf of the Nixons.

Maybe this is our evolutionary destiny: In subterranean sweatshops will live the Moorlocks, a race of poorly paid shoemakers descended from Chinese prisoners, and above ground will cavort an idle race of overfed Nike-wearing Nixons, strutting about with their arms raised flashing V for victory, wagging their jowls in the courtship ritual of spring.

I would like to point out to Alanis Morrisette that the above scenario would be (among other things) ironic. A dead fly in your chardonnay is just bad luck.

Or things could go another way. There are hints of it in the Oklahoma City bombing and even the WTC massacre. Terrorism in general, supported by a state or not. Large numbers of people who feel mistreated by arrogant rulers generally don’t sit around like docile cows forever, and whether they strike back en masse or some vigilante group (sometimes supported or even egged on by a state) commandeers or invents a movement in their name, lots of them end up hurt and dead and unhappy. Nixon’s patron saint Nicolo Machiavelli knew this was especially true of republics. He warned his friend the prince about the difficulty of ruling a conquered republic. Republics breed uppity citizens. Old Nick’s in-depth description of how troublesome a people can be that believes it has rights was eventually codified into the Italian proverb: “A capitalist in the drivers’ seat has earned a place in the trunk.”

So. Those are two bad options. Only the Nixons want the first one, and the only advantage of the second is that at least some Nixons would be discomfited, plus it comes with a clever proverb.

In fact, the proverb might make it worth it, actually. “A capitalist in the drivers’ seat has earned a place in the trunk.” Too long for a bumper sticker, though.

Still.

But no. There must be a better way. Possibly with even better slogans.

David Korten, PhD from the Stanford Graduate School of Business, hands-on experienced expert in international economic development, founder and president of the People-Centered Development Forum, and author of When Corporations Rule the World, thinks a good start would be to outlaw the publicly-traded, limited-liability corporation. It’s a simple idea, really, that begins from the premise that such corporations — whose negative effects on humanity and Earth are myriad and whose mutilation of democracy is indisputable at this point — are major obstacles to a healthy society — even a healthy capitalist society. There are other problems, of course, such as the fact that grotesque wealth disparity renders capitalism a piss-poor system for distributing things to poor people, especially the 3 billion or so people of the world who subsist on less than two dollars a day.

One interesting thing I heard Korten remark on was the striking resemblance between the ptll corporation and the now-defunct Soviet-style centralized command economy. A centralized, non-elected, dissent-punishing vanguardist clique decides how to allocate resources, how much is going to be produced and where it’s going to go. The disturbing realization that about 50% of wealth resources are under the control of these command economies at any given time brings home the importance of at least a closer examination of what kind of control they exert and for whose benefit. Such an examination in the form of robust public debate seems all the more urgent given the global reach of these organizations, as well as the rapid depletion of non-renewable resources whose multi-faceted value is one-dimensionalized or even ignored in a society that rewards only well-organized greed and measures life in dollars.

While the publicly-traded, limited liability corporation is only one obstacle toward a more sane global society, working to make it a thing of the legal past, like slavery and indentured servitude, seems a good first step. The most salient statements to come out of the World Social Forum in Porto Allegre last month had to do with severely limiting the power of overgrown corporations, trade organizations and financial institutions. Working toward the extinction of the ptll corporation seems a clear and practical (if hugely ambitious) focus of energy toward the goals expressed at the WSF. Certainly the ptll corporations are prepared to challenge the sovereignty of governments. This threat alone ought to be enough to put the right of those corporations to exist on the table in mainstream political debate. Why shouldn’t civil society challenge those who threaten its right to exist and operate in a democratic fashion?

I’m willing to try to transition from the mess we have now to a better mess in a step-by-step, civil manner. I think the global justice movement is all about doing just that. But, y’know, the people profiting from the worst abuses of the status quo are very selfish and shortsighted. They are inhospitable to input from outside their exclusive Party, and they wield a lot of power.

The trunk of a car is an easy mechanism to operate. Even a terrorist can do it. Even an Italian terrorist. It works just like a mailbox or a lunchbox or a cigar box. You don’t even need to have gas or a battery or a working engine to use a car’s trunk. Even abandoned cars have trunks. Even an old refrigerator will do, it operates on the same mechanical principle.

Even a shallow pit covered by an old sheet of half-inch plywood with bricks on top.

I’m mejeffdorchen, and this has been another Moment of Truth.