Home | About | Donate

Bernie, The Donald, and the Sins of Liberalism


Bernie, The Donald, and the Sins of Liberalism

Steve Fraser

Arising from the shadows of the American repressed, Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump have been sending chills through the corridors of establishment power. Who would have thunk it? Two men, both outliers, though in starkly different ways, seem to be leading rebellions against the masters of our fate in both parties; this, after decades in which even imagining such a possibility would have been seen as naïve at best, delusional at worst.


I find what Fraser defines as liberal or Liberalism to be largely his own creation.

Like this:

"Students occupied campus buildings to say no to the bureaucratization of higher education and the university’s servitude to another liberal offspring, the military-industrial complex."

The Military Industrial Complex metastasized under Eisenhower. In addition, the Deep State's inception occurred when the NSA was founded in l947.

Tying the rabid, covert expansion of the military to "Liberalism" is insane.

And so is the frame that takes anything that's NOT Republican and attempts to conflate Democrats, Progressives, and Liberals under ONE deceptive umbrella.

This is the kind of word salad that smacks of disinformation dressed up as "expert opinion" to me. But then, most of the writers in Tom Engelhardt's stable gently critique the military without the slightest impassioned rage shown against war, itself. Most buy the official narrative that unleashed diabolical wars of aggression across the Middle East, and several are either employed within the MIC chain of command, teach "Military Science," or are "retired" CIA blokes.


Fraser's attempt at sociological analysis might as well take place inside a test tube or petri-dish.

There's ZERO mention of the parallel growth of Koch-funded think tanks or the neo-liberal elites who pushed the agenda of deregulation both inside the U.S. and inside the U.K.

Neither is there any mention of the growth of Lobbyists in Washington, D.C. or the KIND of money that began to pour into both political parties.

When a writer is fixed on his own hypothesis and arranges "facts" to suit it (without daring to look beyond the artificial parameters he's constructed), the narrative cannot help being deeply flawed:

"But Republicans have more than shared in this; they have, in fact, often taken the lead in implanting a market- and finance-driven economic system that has produced a few “winners” and legions of losers. Both parties heralded a deregulated marketplace, global free trade, the outsourcing of manufacturing and other industries, the privatization of public services, and the shrink-wrapping of the social safety net. All of these together gutted towns and cities as well as whole regions (think: Rust Belt America) and ways of life."

As if both parties took this route out of sheer spontaneity! As if no causative agencies fueled this departure from the original New Deal and its intentions.


Another incisive and glaring omission is that no mention is made of the rise of Cable TV and how it catapulted Evangelical Christians into prominent positions with the power to influence both the social and political views of millions of Conservative Christians.

The Bible's patriarchal premises worked very well for those who wanted to put women in their places. Before racism, gender was the means to establish a system of unequal ranking. And racism and sexism typically work together to allot disproportionate financial, political, academic, social, and cultural power to white males.

Hence this is another distortion due to what it does NOT say:

"In the decades that followed, the limousine liberal would prove a perfect piñata for absorbing their resentments about racial upheaval, as well as de-industrialization and decline, and their grief over the fading away of the “traditional family” and its supposed moral certitudes. In this way, the Republican Party won a substantial white working-class vote."

Patriarchal capitalism is the CAUSE for inequality. But Fraser blames an effect of that cause, "limousine liberals" for the woes and failures of American Democracy in recent decades.

This argument is popular among the likes of Rush Limbaugh and friends and rather DISGUSTING to find on C.D. But then the recent paean to militarism covertly articulated through a now regular roster of military insiders is also chilling.

It reminds me of scenes from the film "Cabaret." Initially, no uniformed Nazis are allowed into the Cabaret. However, through their brutality on the streets, the Nazis eventually establish enough intimidation to force doors to open to them everywhere until they become just another fixture of society. Military "society," that is.

From the article:

"It has resonated so deeply because the candidate, with all his grandfatherly charisma and integrity, repeatedly insists that Americans should look beneath the surface of a liberal capitalism that is economically and ethically bankrupt and running a political confidence game, even as it condescends to “the forgotten man.”

Liberal capitalism? Seriously? Talk about force-fitting a thesis into a pre-set frame.

Call it what more intelligent writers call it: corporatization.

Giant corporations with bankrolls larger than entire nations use lobbyists to write policy. They fund both parties--as needed. They own the mass media. They have their cohorts sitting at the heads of major universities, inside the courts, and at church pulpits.

This is not about Liberals or what you so loosely term "liberalism." It's about Corporate Capture.

And this tripe gets published!


I think you're a bit too hung up on the term "liberal" and whatever it happens to mean in the moment. The author correctly uses the term "liberal capitalism." It's a well understood term that describes the economic/political philosophy of market liberalization that grew out of the enlightenment and the industrial revolution. It is best known for strong beliefs in self-regulating markets (laissez faire) and free trade. Today, we call beliefs in those things neoliberalism (new liberalism) for the same reason we call neoplatonism what we do: it's a new version of an old philosophy.

It is confusing because in American politics "liberal" also has a different meaning that is often used to describe people who don't subscribe to full blown economic liberalism. For what the author is talking about in this piece though, he's using the term correctly with its original meaning.


YOU would support this "theory."


Neo-liberal economics is not the same thing as liberal... anything.

The term liberal has been maligned. It's being used--as are the individuals it identifies--as the scapegoat for policies determined by ELITES.

Even Chris Hedge's indictment of the so-called Liberal establishment turns those on the RECEIVING END of bad policy into its authors or enablers.

When the MIC holds a virtual gun to someone's head, their complicity is hardly voluntary.

Big Money bought out the academic institutions and then those professors that wanted tenure (or to maintain their jobs) had to go mute on discussions critical of Bush, War, or the new Imperial State.

Big Money bought out the mass media. That means journalists who weren't beholden to their new sponsors quickly were shown the door.

Big Money bought out U.S. elections. That essentially forced both parties to dance to the tune of Wall Street and other corporate behemoths.

As some here have pointed out, the heads of Unions and NGOS and even some Environmental Organizations found themselves neutered by Big Money, too. However, the argument on their side was that if they didn't cooperate with Big Money (seeing how it was shipping jobs overseas, and through its political operatives decimating the availability of funds for "Good Causes") they'd be rendered defunct, altogether.

When power relationships are asymmetrical, it's counter-intuitive to argue that "both sides" made specific determinations.

Human beings have various thresholds for selling out. When the focus is on the individual who sold out rather than the institutional asymmetric financial (and militaristic) forces that essentially force that outcome, then the critical systemic flaws (i.e. the Corporate Capture of "Liberal" institutions) are glossed over and scapegoats put in their place.

The focus on the scapegoat allows the corruption to remain in place because it allows for projection without alleviating the true Causative Factors.

But posters like Tom Johnson who sounds like a right wing Conservative to me (in most of his posts) or someone who wants to lecture me on what "Liberal" means... are just marching lockstep with the arguments of this obnoxious writer.

Hardly a surprise. When I chastise the odious Andrew Bacevich or point out where Tom Engelhardt or William Astore sound like apologists for the MIC... the soldier boys pretending to be Progressives come at me guns loaded.

I am accustomed to their homage to Mars Rules... by whatever names they disguise it.

In this era, language is just as "occupied" as actual tangible centers of power. To those versed in the manuals of warfare, they understand that the control of the narrative grants them major tactical advantages. In fact, it works their agenda by sheer stealth.


Yes. It is. You simply do not know what you're talking about. Use of the term "liberal" in a political sense first began in the late 1700s in Scotland and was most closely associated with Adam Smith. It was further developed by Ricardo, Malthus and Bentham. Mises and Hayek, the first neoliberal economists, were explicitly seeking to revive the classical liberalism of Smith and Ricardo in opposition to the Social Democrats who controlled "Red Vienna" in the 1920s and early 1930s.

But, hey, don't let facts get in the way of your rants.


Thanks Sosa.

i've written a number of times in these threads about the historical, current, and contested meanings of liberalism.

It becomes pretty much impossible to have a discussion, since so many "liberals" and "progressives" insist that their (varied) understanding(s) of the word are the "true" understanding(s) of the word.


Neo-liberalism is new liberalism.

Liberalism has always been a capitalist political program. This is a matter of history. Locke, Mills, and Smith were all founding figures of the liberal movement. I'm not sure why you're so incensed over the author's accurate description of the current state of liberalism.


There is a critical issue that our liberal bourgeoisie can't seem to see. This isn't the first time the US has been in this mess, when the richest few had gained a dangerous degree of power, to the harm of the people/nation. But here's the catch: Each time in the past, the proverbial masses -- poor and middle class, workers and the jobless -- ultimately united to push back, to everyone's benefit. That can't happen this time. This time, we've been profoundly divided, subdivided, and pitted against each other.

Out here in the real world, we have a poverty crisis. Not everyone is able to work, and there aren't jobs for all. The US shipped out a huge number of jobs since the 1980s, ended actual welfare in the 1990s. The last I heard, there are 7 jobs for every 10 jobless people who still have the means to pursue one (home address, phone, etc.). That's certainly an improvement, but what do you think happens to those who are left out? We have no mercy on them.

We're only more deeply divided than we were 8 years ago. That's not because of liberalism, but because of the neoliberalism that has been getting marketed to the beat of a rock and roll song ever since the B. Clinton administration.


The catch there is that English is a language that changes over time. The meanings of words used in political discussions can change quite dramatically. Complicating matters, people aren't always clear about the meanings of such words as "neoliberal." I concluded years ago that the best we can do is rely on the meanings that are currently generally accepted.

What would you rely on as an accurate source for definitions of such words as "neoliberal," "liberal," "progressive," etc.?


Oh, slippery little words--but how do we talk without them?

Does our author wish to regard this term liberal as a set of ideas or as an affiliation?
If affiliation, wereTrump to register and run as a Democrat, then he would be a liberal.

If that would require an act of God rather than a form, then we need something other than Democratic affiliation to use the term liberal for Hillary Clinton.

The same problems happen with moderate or centrist, neither of which the dictionary will associate with mafias or bombings.

This leads to people framing this as how or whether Clinton can beat Trump. We need to work out what we are to do if Sanders cannot defeat Clinton.


There's the hold our noses and vote for the slightly lesser of two evils candidate approach, then there's the do the right thing for your conscience and vote for Jill Stein or one of the other worthy minor party candidates, or write someone in, or not vote at all and leave the decision to those who do. After the election and swearing in those who still think that civilization can be transformed to provide a livable nonpolluting nonglobewarming way of life capable of food and fairness for everyone can think up ways that could be made to happen.


Well, just as though anyone asked ---

Barring a Sanders candidacy for November, this is a year to vote third party or else Mulligan. Clinton brings war, black ops corporate crime, and consolidated oligarchy. Trump brings fraud sold to the highest bidder, whoever and whatever.

I would like to see us all vote for a single third party. It's not just conscience. The major parties are re-organizing, apparently with the Democrats as the leading center of neoconservative politics, and we need a party that represents the dispossessed. The Libertarians and Tea-Parties obviously do not.

The failure of both parties to produce a viable candidate make this an excellent year to create a 3rd-party base to fight onto local ballots for 2018. A strong national showing in 2016 might swing a lot of what will be an increasingly disillusioned Democratic base in all events except a Sanders candidacy.

I would suggest voting for Jill Stein because she is reasonable and personable, but also because the Greens have more notoriety than the other decent people out there, and because she has openly invited Bernie Sanders to the ticket. Sanders ought to go to the Greens the second that the candidacy is stolen from him. I doubt he will, but I hope that Stein's public gesture will help conduct energy to her own candidacy to provide that strong showing in 2016.

As to food and fairness, the permaculture movement has made what I find a superb start, and I am happy to have become involved late in the game. There's a lot to refine, but most solutions get prefaced by "If we can get people to . . . ". So that brings me back to politics and discourse--and Common Dreams.

Those of us who are doing this, including those of us who are thrashing about trying to find our way in it, will need solidarity. The backyard gardens and small non-profit and for-profit farms are lined up against really massive commodity interests and also the generalized urge of rulers to control their subjects by withholding necessities. So all sorts of health and zoning and property regulations will be levied to shut down successful operations, and all sorts of ludicrous propaganda will be delivered over media and in academic settings. We can already see these sorts of attacks in Monsanto's lawsuits, Nestle's water grabs, and the ubiquity of fraud and bribery in the distribution of farmlands and water through the Western states all through the 20th century and to the present.

So here's to the chickens and the garden, and here's to buying less toxic food, but let's keep a weather eye on the Polis. It reminds me of a speech that Ralph Nader gave at Claremont University most of a decade back. "You may not get into politics," he closed, "but watch out: it will get into you."


Maybe you should write an article and get it published.


I'm not going to pick this article apart, I agree with a lot of it. I was around in the 60's and active in the movements to stop the war. The feeling then was as excited and enthusiastic as Bernie's run has been. We were young educated and angry about the war. We questioned liberalism then and knew it was a sham. I watched from an apartment window in Chicago as tanks rolled down the residential streets and the riots continued under a curfew and Marshall law and it was nationwide. The Socialists and Communists were very active and bringing more youth to meetings and demonstrations. As the years passed, after the war ended, the answer to our pleas was to give us drugs,more technology, more stuff to buy, more money, and the movement fell apart. Nothing in the last 50 years has come close to equating
to what is happening now. Then it was the war and draft that had made the youth so angry. The hippies of the 60's divested and tried to drop out of the obviously sick economic race to the top. My parents were aghast that I would want to turn away from what they had worked so hard to acquire.
Now it is more defined and understood that neoliberal isn't liberal and while they give on some issues they are ridged in protecting their elitism and access to the money. We've seen through the Clinton propaganda, that they have fought for us all their lives. We've seen the failed policies once again in the wars and economic crash.
We are better prepared now to take on the established Dems and Repubs and push for systemic change.
Bernie Sanders is a throwback to the 60's and brings memories of those days back to me as he works across the country encouraging us to stand up again. I can't even consider voting for anyone but him. I thought no one would step up and confront what lies beneath the so called liberal Dems.
I can't thank him enough for letting me see this again in my lifetime.


America's situation isn't terribly complicated. We remain in the midst of a hell of a class war. The US shipped out a huge share of our jobs since the 1980s, ended actual welfare in the 1990s, and even liberals have turned up their bourgeois noses to our poverty crisis.

An entire chunk of the population no longer has anything left to lose, any consequences to fear, and that's a dangerous thing.


Remember the Poor People's Campaign?