As a bleeding-heart leftist, perhaps my greatest frustration with the conservative rhetoric that dominates politics and media in the United States has to do with its flagrant inconsistencies. Therein, I find, lies a major trope of the first few chapters in David Harvey's A Brief History of Neoliberalism this week.
Moreover, Harvey’s discussion on the paradoxes of neoliberal theory and its practical implementations couldn’t be more aptly reflected than in the eleventh hour mania of the Trump campaign. This most current and vociferous exemplar of right wing dissonance becomes especially germane when considered in the context of a neoliberal agenda that consciously paved the way for Trump’s particular brand of authoritarianism.
Defining characteristics of neoliberalism include just such historical descents into authoritarianism, the preservation or creation of an oligarchy at the expense of the working class, and willful theoretical incongruence. Of course, a buttressed ruling class remains the unspoken imperative of the neoliberal agenda, but the hypocrisy of that agenda in its enactment is truly where its evil lies.
One and the same, as they often are, modern Republican leaders and proponents of neoliberalization espouse whatever bad faith, ad hoc justification is needed to maintain an advantageous status quo. To this point, Harvey paraphrases a conclusion of economists Gérard Duménil and Dominique Lévy, offering, “neoliberalization was from the very beginning a project to achieve the restoration of class power”.
Harvey goes on to relate this motivation to the “financialization of everything” under which Reagan’s neoliberal usurpation of the World Bank and IMF led to the exploitation of developing countries with limited financial autonomy. Henceforth, a predatory ruling class was free to default on financial agreements to the detriment of not only the communities effected, but to the detriment of their own theory as well. Accordingly, Harvey notes a “paradox of intense state interventions and governments by elites and ‘experts’ in a world where the state is supposed not to be interventionist”.
While this garish blight of neoliberalization is perhaps its most extensively tangible phenomenon of self deprecation, other inconsistencies can be observed in the quotidian rhetoric of mainstream media and establishment politicians. It is clear that the legitimation of neoliberalism, along with the normalization of authoritarianism that has occurred through these outlets, aims solely to solidify a caste system. There can be no room, then, for concern over the wealth of historical and experiential evidence pointing to the inherent faults of free market capitalism and neoliberalization.
The following insight from Harvey succinctly encapsulates a lot of what I’ve been wrangling with in this post, so I wanted to offer it in its entirety: “The theoretical utopianism of neoliberal argument has, I conclude, primarily worked as a system of justification and legitimation for whatever needed to be done to achieve this goal. The evidence suggests, moreover, that when neoliberal principles clash with the need to restore or sustain elite power, then the principles are either abandoned or become so twisted as to be unrecognizable.”
Another germane inference from Harvey concedes, “the somewhat chaotic evolution and uneven geographical development of state institutions, powers, and functions over the last thirty years suggests, furthermore, that the neoliberal state may be an unstable and contradictory political form.”
I am an avid, if not compulsive, consumer of leftist propaganda and politics generally, and have consequently observed the countless and offensive inconsistencies of establishment democrats and the political right wing alike. While on the left in the United States we are placated with performative concessions of recognition at the behest of donors and corporate interests, the right has completely forsaken even the most apathetic attempts at connecting policy with the theories they purport.
This malicious duplicity is eventually filtered through the pervasive consent neoliberalism manufactures, and results in undereducated, underserved people living below the poverty line who are convinced that equal rights are infringements of their liberties as Americans. To bring this rant back to parallels of neoliberal tenets in the Trump campaign, we’ve now seen his supporters in separate states insight aggressive protests to either stop or continue counting ballots. There is obviously no consistency here, except in a baseless attempt at tilting results even further (than they already have been through unprecedented, concerted efforts of voter suppression) in favor of Trump.
There is undoubtedly overlap amongst those so vehemently opposed to individuals protesting the wanton massacre of Black people by police in this country, and those currently demanding the complete supplication of democracy by screeching, “stop the count” or “count the votes”, depending on obvious variables.
Through a willful ignorance or manufactured consent, these people choose to ignore or refuse to recognize the incoherence of their platform. For them, when a Black man takes a knee in recognition of the grave realities of systemic racism in our country, he is disrespecting veterans. Obviously, this conclusion is drawn after being processed through some sort of Goldbergian silly straw of logic, but it makes even less sense when coupled with such blatant efforts of electoral authoritarianism.
One may even feel inclined argue that the raison d’être of foot soldiers under the neoliberal agenda is to advance so-called democracy globally, while securing our own as the zenith of effective liberal government. Is it not disrespectful to troops, then, to demand their absentee ballots not be counted? Is it not disrespectful to revile the democratic process for which so many of them have given their, to quote the President, “loser” lives?
From an AP article last evening: “At the same time, hundreds of thousands of votes were still to be counted in Pennsylvania, and Trump’s campaign said it was moving to intervene in the existing Supreme Court litigation over counting mail-in ballots there. Yet, the campaign also argued that it was the outstanding votes in Arizona that could reverse the outcome there, showcasing an inherent inconsistency with their arguments.”
Harvey's work in the first few chapters of Neoliberalism contextualizes, in neoliberal theory and practice, the willful inconsistencies of so many political leaders and media outlets in this failed state. For me, it was especially satisfying to explore this context as its trickle-down caprice has quickly become the bane of my being. Lawmakers and influencers in the media and elsewhere are wielding the manufactured consent of neoliberalism more complacently, more contemptuously, and more perilously each day. If we are unable to recognize this, we become powerless against it.