Cotton Mather’s Rolex

Only the liberation of the natural capacity for love in human beings can master their sadistic destructiveness.

— Wilhelm Reich, The Function of the Orgasm (1927) (Ch. V: The Development of the Character-Analytic Technique)

It is fascinating to watch mainstream media, the corporate owned news outlets like CNN, or MSNBC, or even FOX — because whatever their disagreements, the one thing that is never open for discussion is the questioning of Capitalism itself. Trump predictably came in with a budget torn from the frontal lobes of the Koch Brothers, but one that is also essentially in line with the sensibility of a good many Americans. Even Americans who themselves are only one foot from penury, who are one month from losing their homes, who are desperately in debt and who can barely keep food on the table; these same people basically hate the poor, hate those on food stamps, and hate anyone not white, and sort of think Trump and the other Republican ghouls make sense. They hate difference.

Now there is an outcry about the obvious propaganda that claims Assad used chemical weapons (a tried and true PR false flag gambit, that) but almost zero outcry about the U.S. blowing up children (mistakenly…of course) in Yemen and Iraq. Civilian death by military is always OK. The price of being the best. Children died? Oh, well. War is nasty. Real men can tolerate such stuff. But if a *terrorist* blows up a nightclub, say, then the mass outrage goes on for weeks. Plus these were Arab children and, well, you know, they are prone to early death anyway, right? So, to follow the logic, it is OK to occupy Iraq and destroy Libya and (mistakenly) bomb wedding parties and kill children (not to mention manufacture starvation, in the case of Yemen) but its not okay for a leader to kill people with a gas attack? Now, of course, Assad didn’t use gas. Why would he? It’s idiotic and such an obvious bit of propaganda that I continue to be stunned so many believe it. But then, of course, they WANT to believe it, really. This is the barbaric Muslim world. It fits the racist xenophobic narrative that mainstream media and Hollywood have supplied for decades. The world remains the world seen through the lens of Orientalism.

So, yes, Trump is the ultimate incarnation of Capitalism itself. Cut the EPA, cut Agriculture and Science. How many Americans care about people on food stamps? And look, why is it nobody questions a system that creates such a huge need FOR food stamps? Are people in general aware of the poverty levels in the U.S.? Why is there such desperation in the U.S. populace? Why do so many people need so much help from the government? Might this be the result of a Capitalist system that demands inequality to function?

I read people demanding I write my congressmen or congresswoman. Demand this or that service be saved. But Trump was elected because, really, his sensibility is that of a majority of Americans. They hate woman, foreigners, minorities, and what they see as the lazy (which is, well, women, foreigners and minorities….so…yeah) — they have also been trained to love their own servitude. None of what is desperately being demanded being saved is really more than a pathetic set of band aids to the problems of inequality, environmental destruction, and loss of civil liberties. If you are a family that needs food stamps (I grew up in such a family), then it IS desperate. But it is desperate either way and the truth is that NOBODY should be forced into the humiliation of food stamps. If you have ever used food stamps, you know the experience of using them. The looks from others in line, the looks from minimum wage clerks. And the restrictions! God forbid the poor use them on something besides instant potatoes and macaroni and cheese. Velveeta at that. This is not to say those on food stamps don’t need them. They do. It’s often the difference between eating and not eating at all. Trump has gotten very little outcry from Democrats about his spike in Defense spending, though. Everyone wins with that move. And how many new threats are being manufactured? China, North Korea, Syria, and the old favorites like Afghanistan and Iraq. And the biggest threat of all, Russia. None of these places, none of the leaders of these countries has done anything to the U.S. Nothing. Zero. And that is remarkable when you think about it.

Andre Vltchek writes:

…there is no culture, anywhere on Earth, so banal and so obedient as that which is now regulating the West. Lately, nothing of revolutionary intellectual significance is flowing from Europe and North America, as there are hardly any detectable unorthodox ways of thinking or perceptions of the world there.

The dialogues and debates are flowing only through fully anticipated and well-regulated channels, and needless to say they fluctuate only marginally and through the fully ‘pre-approved’ frequencies.

The average white American, that educated thirty percent who cling, ever more tenuously, to what passes for middle class life, is seemingly motivated most by hatred. Propaganda works because it grants permission to hate. Now, Trump provides the perfect figure to hate right here at home. His appointments are horrible, no question. But as I’ve written before, Obama’s were horrible, too. Only just a bit less horrible. Tim Geithner? Rahm Emanuel? Hillary Clinton? Joe Biden? Scott O’Malia or William Lynn? I mean Hillary Clinton’s under secretary Victoria Nuland is married to arch neo con Robert Kagen. How can one hate Bush and the neo cons but heap praise on Hillary Clinton? But as much as Trump is hated, the figure of the Muslim terrorist is even more hated. And even more than Muslims, Vladimir Putin is hated. But where does this sense of entitlement to meddle in the affairs of other countries come from? It is remarkable how little questioned is the practice of involving the U.S. state in the matters of other countries. Russia elected Putin. Syria elected Assad. And even if, EVEN IF, the elections were fraudulent (they weren’t, but this is a thought experiment) what concern is that of the United States? (Not to mention U.S. elections were not exactly models of probity of late).

The U.S. has 800 plus military bases around the world. There is no corner of the globe where you will not find the U.S. military. Do Americans think other countries WANT the U.S. military on their soil? I suppose some do, the fascistic current regime in Poland probably does. And even here in Norway, a nation of inestimable achievements and daily sanity, the general feeling is that having U.S. and NATO around serves as protection. But protection from what? This is really the question, or rather two questions. Who can possibly be thinking of invading Poland or Norway or Japan? The U.S. has bases in Italy, South Korea, Djibouti, Spain, Bahrain, Kuwait, Greece, it has 38 bases in Germany, and bases in the Bahamas, and in Brazil and Honduras and Singapore and Belgium. The list just goes on and on and on. Why does the U.S. have a base in Bulgaria? The answer is, global hegemony. Total and absolute control of the world. That is the goal. And yet this topic is never ever raised in electoral debates or in mainstream media. Never ever.

Why did the U.S. go into Haiti to remove Aristide? Why was there a coup in Honduras? Why was Qadaffi murdered again? Does anyone care?

The recent press conference Trump called, hastily, with King Abdullah (of Jordan) resembled Shakespearian parody. It was America’s own Mad King Ludwig. But the take away from this train wreck appearance was that Trump is not likely to last. Bannon being yanked off the NSC probably means less than some think but it also reads as loss of face. One thing seems clear in this palace shake up and that is that HR McMaster and the anti-Iranian hardliners are exerting influence. And in general that the old entrenched intelligence and military guys are getting tough. Nature abhors a vacuum and all that. And this was inevitable. Trump, as with any even vaguely out of step National level politician, will be made to heel. The Pentagon was done screwing around with this rube. The shadow of the military state is never too far away. And they don’t play around (think Michael Hastings).

One might think there would be less terrorism if the U.S. built schools or clean water plants or hospitals in places like Djibouti or Greece. But then there would be less terrorism if the U.S. stopped helping armed terrorists. And stopped helping countries like Saudi Arabia arm and supply terrorists. The entire marketing of Saudi Arabia as an ally is something to wonder at, really. I mean here is a country that beheads apostates and homosexuals. Where woman can’t drive. And yet, we sell them billions upon billions in armaments and help train their military in how to use them. U.S. presidents visit Riyadh, and have Saudi leaders visit Washington. It is breathtaking, really, to think how demonized Chavez was and how NOT demonized was King Abdullah (Abdullah bin Abdulaziz Al Saud..the Custodian of the two Holy Mosques, which I believe was his full name and title). They behead people in public in the Kingdom, a lot of them.

But see, the U.S. is a punishment state, too. To deny that is to deny reality. The U.S. prison system is a national disgrace, but more, it is a sign, a kind of living metaphor for the madness of American society. Is *Old Sparky* any less morally bankrupt than chopping off heads in the town square? (As Lenny Bruce said…”If Jesus had been killed twenty years ago, Catholic school children would be wearing little electric chairs around their necks instead of crosses”.) Two million people are in prison in the U.S.. All of them poor. And most black or brown. The U.S. penal system is the most draconian and sadistic in the world, quite possibly. There are occasional news programs, news magazines, that examine prison conditions, but they are token examples that justify the idea of free speech and reform. The nation wide prison strike recently was utterly invisible in corporate media.

By the way, the evil Russian empire has all of 9 foreign military bases, all of them in former Soviet countries. How do such facts jive with the propaganda? Oh, and China has ONE foreign military base. One. North Korea, of course, has none. For an overview on North and South Korea read Keith Harmon Snow here:

Or take the other essential U.S. ally and recipient of aid, Israel. A nation that is operating as an apartheid state, openly and even proudly. And whose political leaders are the most openly racist in the world. But again, this is not a topic in electoral political debate. Is the subject of Israel ever raised in Presidential debate? Is Israeli policy in Gaza ever questioned? No, of course not. And to add a last note on this idea of *terrorism*, a word that has undergone quite a semiotic adjustment over the last decade, the U.S. state does not want an end to terrorism. This is their job description, really, those in intelligence and the military; foment conflict, bomb and rebuild, foment again, bomb and rebuild again. And during this process Defense and contractors like Halliburton and Bechtel reap obscene profits. Terrorism is useful. It makes money. It sustains jobs.

These are the enduring tropes of the U.S. political system. Militarism is good, necessary, and almost always heroic. That belief translates domestically to the sadistic occupation of poor black neighborhoods throughout the U.S. The militarization of the U.S. police establishment is stunning, and yet rarely discussed, really. The shooting of unarmed black men hasn’t decreased by the way (The death of Sabin Marcus Jones, a 45 year old schizophrenic is a typical case. His mother called 911 for help because Marcus was off his meds and highly agitated. The police came and Tased him to death. Marcus weighed about 140 lbs. Six police answered that call.) The destruction of much of the Middle East is mirrored exactly in the police destruction of poor black communities in the U.S.

Ajamu Baraka wrote recently…

After almost three decades of pro-war conditioning by both corporate parties and the corporate media coupled with cultural desensitization from almost two decades of unrelenting war, opposition to militarism and war is negligible among the general population.

This is the real story today. Not that a white nationalist is President, or that his new budget is cutting already shrunken social services. No, it is the callous indifference of Americans to their own country’s military violence globally. And it is the nearly psychotic addiction to the consumption of entertainment that is itself a form of egregious propaganda. An addiction to narratives that glorify American society and demonize the rest of the world, or the rest of the world not cravenly subservient to U.S. policy.

The real issue is why are so many in such need in the supposedly most powerful and rich country in the world?

Baraka ends his essay with this…:

There must be an alternative to the neoliberalism of the Democrats and the nationalist-populism of Trump. We need an independent movement to address both the economic needs of poor and working people and the escalating attacks on the Black community, immigrants, women, unions, the LGBTQ community, refugees, Muslims, the physically and mentally challenged, youth, students, the elderly, Mother Earth – all of us.

The issue is not that Trump is a racist gangster misogynist bent on further brutalizing the working class and enriching his family and friends. The issue is that America is a nation that has stopped questioning authority. The adoration of wealth is itself a sign of collective derangement. So deep is the demonizing of socialism and communism that even many barely hanging on economically will express affection and admiration for the very rich. Why was Trump such a popular TV host? It certainly wasn’t his riveting personality or scintillating wit. He was RICH. And the rich are the anointed in America. Why does Hollywood (and the UK) keep producing stories about Kings and Queens? Why are settings always the playgrounds of the rich? The answer is complicated but a good part of it is the introjection of some kind of reverse Puritan/Calvinist guilt. A kind of resentment, too, simply. Did Cotton Mather secretly want a Beemer and Rolex? In American mythology, he most certainly did.

The pathology of white patriarchy is so nakedly revealed in Hollywood entertainments that it is rather amazing it is so rarely discussed. One hears much about adding more women or people of color to TV shows, both as actors and directors, but rarely does one hear a discussion about the Orientalism and xenophobia of Hollywood. One rarely asks why almost all crime shows demonize the poor, especially black and brown poor, and why soldiers are so fawned over. Why Arabs are always terrorists. Find me a single show that suggests the U.S. occupation of the middle east is wrong. Just one. One show that addresses the idea of American Imperialism. And, just one show where the very idea of volunteering for the military is seen as either an act of desperation born of poverty, or just a sign of nascent mental illness or a propensity for violence. That maybe, MAYBE, the desire to shoot people and play with weapons signaled a psychological problem. Not heroism but insanity. Not sacrifice but sadism. There may be one somewhere, but it will only prove the point of the overriding uniformity of opinions expressed. And, of course, why is it the working class are not participating in the creation of mass culture? Mostly the creativity of the underclass is simply appropriated and stolen.

The reality of Trump and his backers is that they could only have won this election because of three or four decades of the destruction of public education and the monopoly of media and the constant saturation of information highway with the most naked Imperialist propaganda. No sane and emotionally stable person would vote for Trump or for Hillary Clinton. To endorse either, unless you yourself are a millionaire, is a sign of pathology. A sign of self loathing. Whatever the justifications, whatever version of less evilism, or whatever other cliche that has been fed to you — the inability to see the horrors of both these candidates is suggestive of mass regression. This is where I am reminded yet again of Wilhelm Reich. A man driven from the establishment and eventually into madness. But one who most clearly understood the direction of Western society.

The Little Man does not know that he is little, and he is afraid of knowing it. He covers up his smallness and narrowness with illusions of strength and greatness.

— Wilhelm Reich, Listen, Little Man, 1948

America cannot examine its own littleness. Its own failures and crimes. It cannot. I do not expect that to change. In fact, I expect an increasing prosecution of those who suggest this, an increasing prosecution of dissent. It was Obama, remember, who launched the fake news meme. Who introduced that idea into discourse. America continues to express a historical revisionism that excludes the genocide of Native Americans, that erases the wilful destruction of unions and socialist movements, and that glorifies the Westward expansion of Manifest Destiny. Mainstream media today is so narrow that any opinion not clearly in line with the prevailing mythology is either castigated or simply made invisible.

We forget that, although freedom of speech constitutes an important victory in the battle against old restraints, modern man is in a position where much of what “he” thinks and says are the things that everybody else thinks and says; that he has not acquired the ability to think originally – that is, for himself – which alone gives meaning to his claim that nobody can interfere with the expression of his thoughts.

— Eric Fromm, Escape from Freedom, 1941

This is a society of great unhappiness. But more, it is a society of conformity.They go together. America is far more conformist than it was in the 1950s. The little men and women of corporate life, in politics, in media and the arts, everywhere; these are the gatekeepers to an establishment narrative that allows no questioning of its legitimacy. Capitalism is good, socialism is bad. This last month in Arkansas, the state decided to fast track executions because they didn’t want to waste the chemicals used in lethal injection, many of which were soon to be past their sell by date. Human life is that unimportant. Punishment is the highest virtue. Americans enjoy punishment. American football is so popular because it is gladiatorial and damaging to the players. Life threatening, in fact. So much the better. Or take factory farming. Again, most Americans are aware of the brutality of factory farming. The cruelty of the mass industrial abattoir. It’s not a secret. And yet, mostly people continue consuming these products. Meats so adulterated with hormones and chemicals that 100 years ago nobody would feed this stuff to their dogs. The cruelty to our fellow creatures is astounding. There is a sort of symbolic compensation in the form of over pampering household pets. But such contradictions are to be expected. Again, if people cared, if compassion had not been eroded to this degree, we would not have Trump or Hillary. I mean look at the national political figures today from both parties. Mike Pence and Betsy DeVos, Chuck Schurmer and Mitch McConnell. If we lived in anything resembling a rational society, John McCain would be in a mental hospital getting the help he obviously needs. Look at the leading figures for the 2020 elections on the Democratic side. Andrew Cuomo and Elizabeth Warren. Both have consistently voted for war. Warren is a particularly unsavoury figure, opportunistic and smug, a woman who enthusiastically supported Obama’s drone assassinations and voted FOR sanctions against Iran. You really think a President Warren would do anything different from Obama? Less drone assassination or less muscular foreign policy? Of course not. She and Cuomo and Cory Booker and all the rest of the establishment creeps in the Democratic Party are part of the problem. NOT the solution. They are the solution to nothing.

The lesson today is that it is now on the U.S. populace to wake up. It’s time. Stop accepting the official narrative and stop watching mainstream propaganda and stop turning away from the crimes of your own country. Stop the unquestioning acceptance of U.S. hagiography. Thanksgiving was not friendly Pilgrims inviting happy tribes to turkey dinner. Columbus was a psychopathic mass murderer. The founding fathers were slave owners. The U.S. revolution was economic.

Here is Howard Zinn on the American Revolution

The Continental Congress, which governed the colonies through the war, was dominated by rich men, linked together in factions and compacts by business and family connections. These links connected North and South, East and West.

It seemed that the majority of white colonists, who had a bit of land, or no property at all, were still better off than slaves or indentured servants or Indians, and could be wooed into the coalition of the Revolution. But when the sacrifices of war became more bitter, the privileges and safety of the rich became harder to accept. About 10 percent of the white population (an estimate of Jackson Main in The Social Structure of Revolutionary America), large landholders and merchants, held 1,000 pounds or more in personal property and 1,000 pounds in land, at the least, and these men owned nearly half the wealth of the country and held as slaves one-seventh of the country’s people. The American Revolution is sometimes said to have brought about the separation of church and state. The northern states made such declarations, but after 1776 they adopted taxes that forced everyone to support Christian teachings. William G. McLoughlin, quoting Supreme Court Justice David Brewer in 1892 that “this is a Christian nation,” says of the separation of church and state in the Revolution that it “was neither conceived of nor carried out. … Far from being left to itself, religion was imbedded into every aspect and institution of American life.

A loss of curiosity, of reading, and a near complete submission to authority marks the American people today.

This is not a recommendation to anything other than a genuine intellectual resistance. Of some kind, any kind. Resistance to the prevailing narratives of the system, of the ruling class. That is all. I feel the suffocating narrowness of American society today, and it is awful. It is numbing and its habitual repetitiveness in all aspects of the culture is a sign of dementia. A resistance is needed, too, to the aesthetics of domination. Neurotic white people are not the only suitable topic for drama. Nor are the caricatured portraits of the working class manufactured by white liberals (American Crime, anyone?). Aesthetic and intellectual resistance. Empty activism is counter productive. Working for Elizabeth Warren is really worse than pointless. Check your own privilege, too, white man.

Lenny Bruce said something else:

The liberals can understand everything but people who don’t understand them.

He wrote that a half century ago. Think about that.

John Steppling is an original founding member of the Padua Hills Playwrights Festival, a two-time NEA recipient, Rockefeller Fellow in theatre, and PEN-West winner for playwrighting. He’s had plays produced in LA, NYC, SF, Louisville, and at universities across the US, as well in Warsaw, Lodz, Paris, London and Krakow. He has taught screenwriting and curated the cinematheque for five years at the Polish National Film School in Lodz, Poland. Plays include The Shaper, Dream Coast, Standard of the Breed, The Thrill, Wheel of Fortune, Dogmouth, and Phantom Luck, which won the 2010 LA Award for best play. Film credits include 52 Pick-up (directed by John Frankenheimer, 1985) and Animal Factory (directed by Steve Buscemi, 1999). A collection of his plays was published in 1999 by Sun & Moon Press as Sea of Cortez and Other Plays. He lives with wife Gunnhild Skrodal Steppling; they divide their time between Norway and the high desert of southern California. He is artistic director of the theatre collective Gunfighter Nation.

Read other articles by John.