“People’s congresses and people’s committees represent the end result of people’s struggle for democracy.”
Col. Muammar al-Gaddafi, The Green Book
The people have spoken. We just don’t know what they have said yet.”
“The people have spoken, the bastards.”
Dick Tuck, American political fixer
“Our job is to listen to the American people and follow the will of the American people.”
John Boehner, Speaker of the House
“The first thing President Obama will need to do on Nov. 3 is acknowledge and accept the fact that the people have spoken.”
Yash Gupta, Washington Post Nov. 2, 2010
The conservative NY Times Op-Ed columnist David Brooks tells us that The People want both Democrats and Republicans to have a serious conversation about the role of government. It’s a repeated refrain of his these days. David Gregory, the host of Sunday’s Meet the Press, asks his panel whether The People are behind the Wisconsin governor’s fight to end public employee collective bargaining. Are the People willing to destroy unions as a government spending measure? It’s hard-shell Bible truth now that the results of the 2010 Congressional elections showed that the People don’t want Obamacare, didn’t want the Stimulus, and want serious government spending reductions in order to reduce the national debt.
The People have also adopted some other hard-shell Biblical truths: reduce and reform taxes, give tax rebates to the wealthy so that an eventual “trickle down” will float all boats, keep gasoline prices low, replace welfare with work, reduce foreign aid, eliminate Affirmative Action, forget about global warming, fight wars against terror over there so they’re not fought here, round up illegal immigrants and send them back, get government out of the way of free enterprise, avoid Moral Hazard by preventing the government from letting “the chips fall where they may,” mock any talk of the negative effects of a wealth divide and of class warfare, maintain the doctrine of American Exceptionalism without the need of a comparative review, accept technology’s power to overcome any ill effects that technology might produce, recognize that attacks on government and the media are justified but any attacks on free enterprise are socialist, acknowledge that all politics and politicians are corrupt and that personal and family power is determining, agree with Oprah Winfrey that one can will one’s way to success, rather like Oprah herself.
I could go on but I’m descending into the absurd, which I think one needs a good sense of in order to survive the sort of People’s “cultural imaginary” that I’m cataloguing. But the theatre of the absurd is not my focus; The People are. Where are The People? Because any reference to “The People” is overdetermined, by which I mean there are an ungraspable variety of constituting meanings and no single conception of “The People,” any use of the expression must be greeted suspiciously. There is no single constitution or conception of “The People.”
When a politician or a marketer refers to “The People,” it’s best to run. Other phrases to run from are “perfectly clear,” which invariably means that the topic is without single meaning or cause, “The Market,” which may be offline or online, in Sofia or Tokyo, or “The Good,” which may be the single product of “having the goods,” or what Plato’s mouthpiece – Socrates -- is refining in The Republic.
Overdetermination also implies that our talk and what we are talking about are not divided. The discourse of “The People” infects the reality of “The People.” We learn about things within and through a multiplex of economic, political, environmental, societal, cultural factors that are in motion. The things of reality, so to speak, including “The People,” are never there for us humans separate from what we’ve learned they are, from our discourse, from our saying of what they are.
In our seriously wealth divided society an underclass is both economically and psychologically under water and a middle class is running on the fumes of past solvency and security. In such a situation, one would expect a rejection or at least a riddling of the discourse/reality determination of “The People” that represents a wealth class but not the underclass or the middle class. In other words, the wealth class has appropriated how everyone else learns about the world, in this case, “The People.” It is ironic and sad that some 80% of “The People” have nothing to do with how they themselves are constituted by a reality-creating discourse. “The People” therefore have learned all of the above hard-shell truths within a learning discourse that produces as real what benefits the wealthy and denies as real what benefits everyone else.
When we talk about The People somewhere else, say, Egypt or Somalia or The Netherlands, we are talking about different arrangements of reality and reality shaping discourse, and different arrangements in those places at different times. In the U.S. in 2008, a discourse of “change” personalized by a charismatic candidate – Barack Obama -- mobilized a construction of The People that expanded atypically. They overwrote the conservative/liberal dualism and defined “change” as an overwriting, a grand delete, of ‘back in the day’ politics itself. This wasn’t the same “The People” that Nixon had appealed to or that adopted Reagan as a savior or propelled Gingrich and The Contract with America into power. In the 2010 Congressional elections, the new overflow electorate of 2008 were dispirited by the failure of Barack Obama to fulfill a promise of “change” that he, as the highest political representative of the government of the United States, could not fulfill: that is, replace “a knife fight in a phone booth’”politics between conservatives and liberals with the personal “politics” of Facebook.
The significance of “The People” after 2010 returned then to what a conservative and neo-conservative discourse had shaped them to be. They returned to the hard-shell “truths” that have no truth in their lives. Some returned to the status of The Deleted from inclusion, from signification.The People already down and out– call them the underclass/blue collar/working class – continued to see themselves identified as part of what they had been excluded from. Some of those reeling and going to their knees – call them the middle class – declared themselves independent of all connections to any politician’s reference to The People. Suffering and misery kept on increasing, except for the Dividend Class, but these Independents couldn’t detach themselves from a Winner’s discourse, one that did not represent their reality.
Independents also remained independent of any variety of critique of a winner take all, unregulated capitalism that would represent their reality and serve their interests. The vast majority of The People would be well served by socialized health care, by increased taxes on the wealthy, by high speed rail and expanded public transportation, by effectively regulated food and drug industries, by a transference of tax rebates to the wealthy to Social Security, by strong anti-trust enforcement that preempts the creation of corporations “too big to fail,” by a tax supported safety net that reduced the hardships of the underclass, undermined the need for prison building that exceeds the building of schools, by participation in a global effort to delay and end global warming... Absurd that The People do not act on behalf of themselves but on behalf of a construction of themselves they have swallowed.
I shall refrain once again from a long reference to the theatre of the absurd.
Let’s say, rather, that some of what constitutes “The People” economically and politically and so on breaks free and re-engages the determination of their own identity. Let’s call them “Those People.” What do “Those People” want and where are they?
“Those People” want a serious conversation about the role of globalized technocapitalism in a democracy, especially it’s computer facilitated, internationally unregulated transnational financial operations;
“Those People” want to know to what degree money and attendant power has turned democracy into plutocracy;
“Those People” want to know whether the corporate axiom of low labor costs mean greater profits is best achieved, and has been historically best achieved, with or without workers’ unions?;
“Those People” want to know why the reckless looting of Wall Street financial finagling is best resolved by austerity measures placed on the working class and the middle class?;
“Those People” want to know why 90% of population has seen a 13% rise in income while the top 400 households have a 399% increase? And why the top income earners are now paying 16.6% in income taxes when they paid 91% from 1951 to 1964, a period in which our middle class democracy was created and thrived. In 1964 wages stopped rising and by 2010 were, in 1981 dollars, less than wages in 1970. Why isn’t tax reform tied to a return of income tax on the wealthy to levels which maintained a solid middle class? Why is tax reform defined as a tax rebate to the wealthy? Why replace a progressive income tax system that supported a democracy with some claim to egalitarianism with the voodoo economics of “Trickle Down” and regressive taxes that further exacerbate the wealth divide?
You can see how “Those People” put discourse and reality together differently than “The People.” They are learning within a different discourse, one that brings into sight what a wealthy man’s discourse denies. “Those People” deny to learn the world, including the reality of themselves, in any way that robs them of what they have fought for and earned. “Those People” are learning to be where they should be and not where a high stakes Monopoly game now played globally wants to put them.
There seems to be only slight but encouraging indication that “Those People” are here in the U.S. at this moment. In fact, it has seemed that the so-called Millennials, those born after 1989, have reduced the overdetermined “The People” to “Myself,” or, at the boundaries of Millennial social solidarity, “Friends.” That is a state of affairs very much in flux at this moment as the online realities of the young have interconnected and put on the boil long delayed rebellion against the wealthy and powerfuls’ determination of who The People are. Our long staged U.S. theatre of absurdity in regard to who The People are and what benefits them may yet be upstaged.