Consensus and Complicity

Nonpartisanship is an elite deceit

There’s nothing less democratic than bipartisanship. The term itself is a ruse that falsely indicates universal consensus where there is really only a minority consensus among elites — and their sniffling lemmings in the bourgeois press. The bipartisan consensus is a tireless ogre that roams the demotic plain, kneecapping democratic debate wherever it presents itself. It crushes fledgling dialogue, suppresses the flash of dialectical insight. And that is precisely what the bipartisan consensus is meant to do, because the one percent knows full well that, like Chairman Mao once limned, “A single spark can start a prairie fire.” Best keep the potboiler of debate under vice grip.

Another phrase to describe subjects on which there is no debate on Capitol Hill is “nonpartisan issues,” a term coined by notorious Cold War enthusiast Dean Acheson. But nonpartisan topics are simply policies agreed upon by the one percent, whose unanimity renders all further discussion superfluous. Yet they are almost always policies about which the global public is deeply divided: healthcare, war, military budgets, social programs, education. Even in the U.S., where the inescapable reach of propaganda artificially biases millions in favor of elite opinion (which is nearly always against their own interests), even then, these policies rip communities apart. The 2014 Israeli attack on Gaza astonished the world with its brutality. For the first time in a long time, the nets of Zionist propaganda shredded and the issue exploded into public consciousness. But this is what the universal agreement in the halls of Congress want so desperately to dodge.

Case in point. A couple of weeks ago on CNN a report surfaced of some Arab legislators in the Knesset protesting the appearance of Vice President Mike Pence, who was on hand to confirm President Trump’s declaration that Jerusalem is the capital of Israel and to announce that he’d be moving the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to the ancient city sometime next year. The report laid out the bare facts of the matter, that the Arab bloc in the Knesset was furious about Pence’s appearance and was forcibly removed by security. One watched as the angry Arabs were pulled and pushed and finally shoved out of the body politic by a phalanx of Jewish legislators. The next clip showed Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and a handful of other smug elites vigorously applauding the ejection of the unruly protesters. Rather than detail what the Arab parliamentary Balad party was protesting, the reporter merely hastened to add that Netanyahu and his thuggish coterie were not clapping for the protest, but rather for its suppression. Not that any viewer with a pulse would have thought otherwise, but it’s always best to make sure. To that same end, or rather to a different one, the White House video feed was abruptly cut off as soon as the ruckus began.

The article that supported the video report naturally repeated Pence’s miserly blather about a two-state solution, a concept that the administration had just cruelly undermined with its needless publicity about Jerusalem and the embassy. (Evidently, the president felt it was time for another spineless genuflection at the throne of Zionism.) But this is a textbook example of bipartisanship at work in the media, which habitually parrots the blandishments of the state about the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, which itself is a diaphanous euphemism with no tether to reality. Any journalist with a trifle of historical awareness would note that American leaders have been rehearsing the tired tropes of diplomacy for decades, while the vice grip on Gaza and the appropriation of land in the West Bank continues apace. Don’t for a minute assume that there’s not an inverse relationship between calls for accord and clandestine aggression. The former enables the latter in a vicious cycle of lie and illegality.

The Arab Knesset members were protesting a policy that proposes to annex Jerusalem entirely for Israel. This means denying it as the capital of a future Palestinian state. Always note the denial implicit in the assertion. This policy then buries the prospects for real peace beneath a mountain of insult and prejudice that renders laughable the idea that Washington is an ‘impartial mediator.’ The Knesset contingent were condemning both land theft and mass impoverishment. In the last decade, Israel has launched three brutal assaults on Gaza, producing more captive refugees, debilitating infrastructure so that Gazans only have a few hours of electricity a day and polluted drinking water all day as their economy predictably shrinks under the siege.

Despite these increasingly visible cruelties and deprivations, the bipartisan consensus on Israel is one of the more visible areas of accord in Washington. Barack Obama, frequently profiled for his contentious relations with Netanyahu, happily signed over a record four billion dollars a year to Tel Aviv in military aid, in addition to keeping silent about Israeli abuses. Trump has only extended this largesse and added his indelible rhetorical flourishes just to leave no doubt that he thinks less than nothing of Israel’s Arab prisoners, which include the detention of hundreds of children like Ahed Tamimi, guilty of the crime of resisting the crime of occupation (something stipulated as the legal right of the occupied in the Geneva Conventions).

Not An Isolated Phenomenon

The rhetorical emphasis of peace to disguise violence is not confined to the battle over Jerusalem. Newsweek had a headline last fall that read, “U.S. sends troops to Russian border, officials say they want ‘peace, not war’ with Russia.” Can the mainstream press corps not make an independent judgment on NATO actions without having to parrot a press release from the DOD? Newsweek did exactly the latter, serving as a media pass-through for the transparent lies of the state. This is, in both the CNN and Newsweek examples, an abdication of the fourth estate. The role of journalism is to challenge power, hold it to account, afflicting the comfortable while comforting the afflicted. The kind of faux journalism practiced by these mainstream outlets is plain stenography, a kind of pathological ventriloquism that reifies the dictates of the powerful, and patronizingly peddles them to the powerless.

The platitudes repeated by Pence are by any historical measure entirely worthless, but the CNN journalist is incapable of concluding this, given the sycophancy he has internalized perhaps as a career-saving measure. So, too, the absence of historical knowledge, scrubbed from the tabula by relentless disinformation, allows a droid journalist to transmit falsity without the slightest pang of conscience. In a historical vacuum, there is no cognitive dissonance.

In a similar vein, a 2015 article by The New York Times reviews a Pew Research poll. The article takes as its starting point the legitimacy of potential Russian attack on a NATO nation. Of course, the poll asks European citizens if their countries should defend a NATO ally if attacked by Russia, thereby using Russian aggression as a pretext for the research. The article fails to critique the idea that Russia would attack a NATO country. Rather it uses Russian soldiers in Ukraine as a support for the pretext of an expansionist Kremlin, naturally leaving out the defensive nature Russian assistance in a conflict that began with a U.S.-sponsored coup in Kiev and a fascist attack on ethnic Russians in eastern Ukraine. The western consensus needn’t be challenged.

People sometimes ask how it is that we’ve come to be so anti-intellectual as a culture. Societies built on violence often repress the reality of their origins behind a veneer of noble intentions. Our national narrative tells us we were founded on the proposition that all men are created equal. On paper, perhaps, but what of the actuality? After all, the country was built on unbelievable violence, first the slaughter of the natives, second the enslavement of Africans. Honest reflection was a psychologically costly luxury that most founders couldn’t afford as they forged a nation from the bones of fellow humans.

Our Complicity

By creating the perception of a false consensus, bipartisanship works like a narcotic on the body politic. It lulls us into acquiescence. In the face of disturbing evidence, we rely on leaders from ‘both sides of the aisle’ to supply us with calming rhetoric, with pledges of impartiality, and appropriate gestures of solemnity by which we can distill their pure intentions. Surely, they want what’s best, but the political realities of the situation reduce us to incremental gains. Thus we make token reform the enemy of radical change. It isn’t a “radical reconstruction of society” that we seek, though we desperately need it, but rather a comforting lexicon of vows to pursue a negotiated settlement. A promissory note of future amity. We no longer demand action, just feeling. Just the rehearsed magniloquence and pacifying oratory of the political stalemate. So long as you mouth a desire for a two-state solution, anything else can be plausibly denied behind the fog of politics.

A peace candidate is no longer someone that wants actual peace. Rather he is someone that wants a less costly war than his opponent. The nonpartisan, that is to say bipartisan, agreement that conflict is our lifeblood is a non-issue, as it were. John Kerry and Barack Obama were considered peace candidates when they criticized the management of the Iraq War. Kerry quibbled that we ought to get Interpol involved and Obama thought we should point our biggest guns at Afghanistan instead. Kerry thought we were mismanaging the war, Obama that we were hitting the wrong targets. The latter won a Nobel Peace Prize for shading to the left of a right-wing extremist president, after which he had the effrontery to dazzle the assembled greybeards in Oslo with a pro-war speech. The prize should have been revoked and the entire committee shuttered until further notice, but alas, there’s nothing a corporate liberal likes better than a black man with a message of peace. (Still waiting for our national Malcolm X holiday.)

Christopher Hitchens once pithily described this superficial bipartisanship as, “a consensus a hundred miles wide and a millimeter deep.” So true. Elites confer, agree, and execute. The unwashed demos is never consulted, even though men like Pence deliver messages in the Knesset that supposedly come “from the hearts of the American people.” Wouldn’t it be nice to let the Zionists in Tel Aviv know what the American people really think about dumping billions of dollars a year into Israel’s arsenal of repression? Into their apartheid panopticon? Their ethnically exclusive democracy?

French sociologist Jacques Ellul thought propaganda was a binary construct that was assembled cooperatively between publisher and reader. Ellul said propaganda sustains the western citizen. In a secular world, it replaces religion as his raison d’etre. The reader’s assent is required. We go to the Times to have our values affirmed. If there’s already nonpartisan consensus around an issue, so much the better. It satisfies our wish to opt out of citizenship, get back to polishing our selfies, and piling up consumer debt.

Is all this the sign of a desiccated society that has lost its capacity to resist? Pacified by the drug of consumerism, sated by creature comforts, anesthetized by ubiquitous misinformation. If so, it would only capitalize on our desire to believe. As novelist James Ellroy once wrote in another context, “You carry the seed of belief within you already.” How easy to water the seed with the elaborate conflict-avoidance strategy of unanimity. How easy to settle into received opinion after a weary day at work. Just the thought of a “radical reconstruction of society itself,” to use King’s phrase, exhausts the sleep-deprived mind. More manageable to focus on smaller goals, like supporting stronger safeguards on drone attacks. Unpacking the use of drones themselves — really, is now the right time for that discussion? Like King wrote from a Birmingham jail cell, the real threat is the pacified liberal, the one who offers rhetorical support for your radical program, but counsels patience and advises you that now may not be the best time for your ‘reconstruction.’ Surely some future date will provide ample room for honest democratic dialogue. Just not now.

Jason Hirthler is a writer, political commentator, and veteran of the communications industry. He has written for many political communities. He is the recent author of Imperial Fictions, a collection of essays from between 2015-2017. He lives in New York City and can be reached at Read other articles by Jason.