How the Corporations Beat America in 2020 (And What We Can Learn From It)
I used to work in an entry level job on an assembly line for a giant company with thousands of employees.
The center of the building on every floor was densely populated by small conference rooms. Through the glass, we could see people meeting all day, every day. Sometimes they were laughing, sometimes they were tense, sometimes they looked bored.
I was curious, but could not guess what they were doing in those offices. What was there to meet about that would keep busy thousands of people, times hundreds of meetings per day, hour after hour? From our standpoint, the business was simple: We made the product, somebody sold it, and somebody counted the money.
Many years later I had risen through the ranks of the corporation to become a senior leader. I spent all day long going from meeting to meeting -- 10-15 meetings per day -- never doing any "real work," often in the most exclusive of the executive conference rooms.
So now I know what goes on in those rooms -- what's going on in corporate headquarters all around the country, and the world. Urban downtowns are filled with glass skyscrapers -- 50 or a 100 floors filled mostly with meetings and conference rooms; very few assembly lines.
Americans mostly don't know what goes on in these places, but they ignore it at their peril.
* * *
On February 23rd, the Sanders campaign was on top of the world. They had won the most votes in each of the first three primaries, and Nevada's by a decisive margin. Sanders was leading in the national polls, he had the most money, the best ground game, and the best online operation. He had invested in more SuperTuesday states than any of his rivals, and even some in the punditry, like Paul Krugman, were coming to terms with the fact that Sanders nomination -- and then a Sanders Presidency -- was looking inevitable. Is Sanders Inevitable? asked one headline. It's Time for the Democrats to United Behind Sanders, said another. The Atlantic had the previous day declared the "The Democratic Establishment is Broken." RealClear Politics suggested that we should be "Taking President Sanders Seriously."
They weren't crazy to assume Bernie had won. The entire structure of the primary election was intended to generate this result -- a few small, early states, especially Iowa and New Hampshire, would take a long, hard look at the candidates and vet them for everyone else. The resulting outcome was SUPPOSED to generate momentum that would drive a nationwide consensus. And so it had.
That Joe Biden might win South Carolina would not likely alter the dynamics of the race, given his horrible finishes in the three prior races and his collapsed national polling.
Sanders taunted his opponents, on Twitter and at rallies: "I've got news for the Republican establishment. I've got news for the Democratic establishment. They can't stop us." And he repeated like a mantra one of his oldest and most trusted campaign slogans: "When we stand together there is nothing we cannot accomplish."
* * *
But, the New York Times reported, the "Stop Bernie" movement wasn't giving up: "Dozens of interviews with Democratic establishment leaders this week show that they are not just worried about Mr. Sanders’s candidacy, but are also willing to risk intraparty damage to stop his nomination at the national convention in July if they get the chance."
They took the risk, they got their chance, and two weeks later the Sanders campaign was smouldering ruins.
All the remaining candidates had suddenly dropped out and endorsed Biden. Biden had romped through SuperTuesday, and romped again the week after, amassing a significant lead in delegates awarded. After that, campaigning was effectively suspended amid nationwide quarantines that forbid most election activities, like rallies, canvassing, and even voting.
* * *
Sanders was of course correct. If the 99%, the vast majority of working class and middle class citizens stood together, there is nothing that they could not accomplish. They could put Sanders in the White House, they could install like-minded legislative majorities in both states and the Congress, and they could terrorize legislators into compliance with a mass movement the likes of which had not been seen in America in a century or more.
And it wouldn't have taken the entire 99% to do it. Only a few percent would have to actually take to the streets in the districts of intransigent legislators. Of the rest, nothing more was demanded than that they go to a polling place and fill in the ovals next to "Bernie Sanders" and his endorsed candidates, and call it a day. Others would do the rest.
The Democratic and Republican Establishments, Wall Street, Lobbyists, and the Corporate Media were having a hard time figuring out how Sanders could fail. Why WOULDN'T the working people of America stand together against a voracious plutocracy that had depressed wages, corrupted the government, rigged the tax system, and cut social services -- including public health -- to the bone?
But in those meeting rooms they had a plan.
* * *
And the plan was no secret. Bernie had said it himself. Bernie's full quote was, "When we stand together there is nothing we cannot accomplish. But when we're divided, the big money interests will always win."
To win, all the Democratic Establishment had to do was to divide Bernie's coalition. The secret was how.
* * *
What happens in those glass conference rooms is called strategy and planning. And it's built on data. Most of the people in those rooms gather and analyze data.
Some of the data they gather from public sources, like census data. Federal agencies like the Bureau of Labor Statistics and the Department of Commerce are basically data factories.
Other data they gather from private sources, like research organizations, industry associations, and market research groups that gather psychographic data of the type that made Cambridge Analytica notorious.
When all else fails, they collect their own data, with bespoke surveys scientifically perfected and A/B tested.
That stuff costs a fortune. But then, so do all those conference rooms and the people in them.
The reason Michael Bloomberg spent $600M on nothing is because his taxes would have gone up by billions of dollars in a Sanders administration. So if the data collection for operation Stop Bernie required hundreds of millions of dollars on no notice -- no problem. There were plenty of billionaires, and sympathetic multimillionaires, with a lot to lose, and a SuperPAC dark money donation system that would allow them to act quickly, decisively, and in the dark.
Americans living on a budget cannot easily imagine what it means to have billions of dollars. They cannot easily imagine that for the 1% all personal consumption is free. The super-wealthy can walk into any store, any restaurant, point to what they want, and never even look at the receipt, because they have so much money that it doesn't matter -- their money multiplies by itself while they breathe, and rains down upon them.
And when that wealth is applied to production, instead of consumption, it means thousands of employees, and the most powerful tools, directly applied to whatever problem you care to solve, instantly.
The power of that money would be used to destroy the Sanders campaign, which was the largest threat to America's money power, and the first significant threat, in more than a century.
The power of that money would take down the Sanders campaign so fast and so hard that no one even knew what hit it.
* * *
The Plan. In those conference rooms, the data army concluded that that Bernie could not be beaten head on. People knew Bernie, they liked him, and they trusted him, regardless of ideology. Even Republicans. Educated or uneducated, north or south, religious or secular, black or white, they all thought he was a decent, trustworthy guy.
As a result, standard personal smear techniques like trying to paint Bernie as a sexist, or a racist, even as a pro-Castro authoritarian communist could get a little traction, and might even backfire. Just to be sure, they tried those things. And indeed they had little effect.
Strangely and counter-intuitively, the data people also determined that policy attacks would not work either. The Sanders agenda was broadly popular, and not perceived as scary. Socialism was scary, but calling Sanders' a socialist and characterizing Sanders policies as socialist was not going to work. Sanders was Teflon against that charge -- perhaps because Sanders leaned into it. Or perhaps because voters didn't believe it, or didn't care, or had become immune to the "socialist" label generally, since it had been used indiscriminately against all sorts of Democrats -- most recently and aggressively against Barack Obama, who was anything but a socialist.
The winning formula, instead, they determined, was to take Bernie Sanders out of the equation entirely.
If the election were a referendum on Bernie Sanders, they would lose. If the election were a referendum on Bernie Sanders' policies, they would lose. But if they could make the election about something other than Bernie Sanders, then they had a chance.
* * *
Step 1. The first step was to convince voters that the election wasn't about ideology at all. Future policies, all of Bernie's popular proposals, federal appointments, proposed legislation -- everything ever discussed on every debate stage -- had to be made entirely irrelevant. The ONLY thing that mattered was who was the one candidate best able to defeat Donald Trump.
Step 2. Once this was accomplished, they would need to then convince voters that someone other than Bernie was the best person to beat Donald Trump.
* * *
There were many problems with this plan.
First, how do you make people abandon their affirmative role in a democracy of selecting a government and a set of policies, and simply settle for the shortest, straightest path to not-Trump, whatever other consequences there might be, ignoring not only a year's worth of political discourse, but also ignoring a feast of highly desirable legislative proposals that Bernie and others had set on the table direct under voters' noses?
Second, the strongest candidate to defeat Trump appeared to be Bernie Sanders himself, due to his broad appeal, especially to Independents. Whatever troubles Bernie had with the Democrats, he'd be deadly in the general election, where Independents, rather than party-regulars, rule.
Third, the next-most likely answer to who could best beat Trump was probably ANY of the Democrats, given Trump's historic negative ratings. And the third-most likely answer to who could best beat Trump was "Nobody knows -- it's too far out, there are too many variables, and all the candidates have potential weaknesses." How could they convince voters that one candidate was so clearly best-suited to defeat Trump that they could disregard other critically important considerations, when the top three most likely scenarios were that (1) Bernie was best suited, (2) all of them were equally well-suited, or (3) nobody could know anyway?
Fourth, and perhaps worst of all, because of the way the primary had played out, no candidate besides Joe Biden had broad strength in SuperTuesday states or could plausibly drive a media narrative of momentum coming out of the early states. This was a big problem because Biden would be the most difficult to pass off as a Trump-killer. Biden was the weakest debater, and played to all of Trump's strengths. Biden was so centrist and so tied to the Establishment that Trump could simultaneously attack Biden from the right as a racist xenophobe, from the left as fair trader and on individual rights, and as a populist against the corrupt Establishment that Biden had served for a lifetime. Trump's attacking Biden from all sides at once would be a nightmare scenario for Democrats, with the potential for an electoral bloodbath.
Fifth, Biden's peculiar strength in the primary among black and elderly Democratic voters in the South was exactly how Hillary Clinton had won the primaries, but not the general election, four years earlier, and it wouldn't require a Ph.D in Politics to ask whether Democrats were repeating the same mistake. The obvious answer to that charge was that, having seen Trump in action voters would this time refuse to reelect him. But if Trump's awfulness explained Biden's electability, then it would equally explain the electability of all the other candidates, thus undercutting the necessary argument that Biden was peculiarly suited to the job -- so well suited, in fact, that every other consideration should be cast aside.
* * *
But that was the hand the data people were dealt, and with enough data, and enough budget, and if the rules of propaganda -- big lies, fear, framing, repetition, distraction, and manufactured credibility -- still held, anything was possible.
But there was a chance that the rules of propaganda, which had been pretty static since Hitler and Goebbels took over Germany, might not hold in the age of the Internet.
Blanket messaging was hard enough with Fox News and MSNBC negating each other, but much harder still with a thousand hostile micro-publishers -- some with sizeable followings, like comedians John Oliver and Trevor Noah -- plus nuisance sites like The Young Turks and HILL.TV (with Krystal Ball) -- who would be undercutting the coordinated message instantly and often. And perhaps worst of all would Bernie's own army of zealots infesting Facebook, Twitter, and Reddit, mocking every pro-Biden assertion.
Still, there was no other road, so they would have to make it work. And thus began the most successful propaganda blitz in the history of American politics.
* * *
Manufacturing Momentum. On the eve of SuperTuesday, all remaining candidates would drop out and endorse Biden. This was risky in itself, because multiple candidates dropping out a day before SuperTuesday, instead of the day after, would obviously be coordinated self-immolation, which would look more like a conspiracy against Bernie than a spontaneous acclamation in favor of Biden. In fact, the conspiracy interpretation would be inevitable when other former candidates like Kamala Harris and Beto O'Rourke joined the chorus. The media would reliably spin it as momentum, but it gave a lot of easy ammunition to Bernie's camp to argue that "The Establishment" was against him.
Perhaps worse, Klobuchar's departure actually increased the odds of Bernie winning Minnesota, and her endorsement of Biden would not carry much weight by itself (many Klobuchar voters would instead flee to Warren), so the technique of manufacturing momentum for Biden also created its own drag.
Next black voters throughout the south would have to be convinced that they should follow South Carolina's lead, even though South Carolina voters had relied heavily on local black politicians who had no purchase in other states. Moreover, not only had Bernie's campaign assembled a large stable of black influencers outside the political establishment (especially celebrities) to advocate for Sanders, even influential blacks who did not support Bernie were opposed to Biden. Ta-Nehisi Coates, for example, was on record as saying "Joe Biden shouldn't be President," and Jesse Jackson would join Sanders once Biden became the front-runner.
Meanwhile social media ad targeting needed to identify voters who were already inclined to simplify the election down to the single question of "Who best to beat Trump," and then pound those voters relentlessly with two messages: "Biden is strongest to beat Trump," and "America will never elect a socialist President." The same message pair would work for voters who viewed themselves as "moderate" or "conservative" Democrats.
Smaller demographic groups could be peeled off with negative advertising. For example, anti-Castro Cubans would be told that Sanders favored Castro's dictatorship. Pro-Israel Jews would be reminded of Sanders' support for Palestinian self-determination. Single-issue gun control advocates would be reminded of Sanders mixed record on gun control. Seniors could be suggestible to the idea that the rigors of the Presidency were too much for any person of age. Like most negative advertising, these messages would be fundamentally untrue. Sanders did not favor the Castro regime, Sanders was not anti-Israel, Sanders was no friend of the NRA, and Biden was probably in worse physical shape the Sanders. But if Big Lies still sold when repeated often, the truth wouldn't matter.
Much more difficult would be voters who viewed themselves as "liberal," "progressive," or "very liberal," and this was, in a Democratic Primary, the largest group, and the one most naturally receptive to Sanders views. For these voters, the message would be, "I like him, but..." and the "but" would have to be something unrelated to policy. Was there a way to tap into these voters' own neurotic self-doubt, a doubt that had been fed by forty years of electoral losses, by their own sense of social and political isolation? Could they be convinced that Sanders was too good to be true, that his program did not in fact appeal to the 95% of working Americans of all political ideologies, but that Sanders was instead just a lefty-socialist preaching to a tiny audience?
Time would tell.
Mass marketing is always a game of percentages. One particular campaign aimed at one subsegment might move the dial a half-percent. Maybe closing some voting stations in Sanders-favorable precincts could get another fraction of a percent. Unleash enough campaigns at once, and especially if they reinforced each other synergistically, and who knows? You can't know, until you've tried.
In an instant, cargo planes filled with SuperPAC, dark-money cash rained down profits on television networks, online advertising networks, and social media, while coordinated messaging across all news shows repeated as a mantra that politics in America is a one-dimensional spectrum of right left and center, and if you stray from the center you lose, and that Democrats fearful of losing had just one choice: the Center.
And then the weirdest thing happened. It totally worked.
Liberal Americans said Sanders can't win, that only a moderate can beat Trump. They said that Sanders was too extreme for America. They said that beating Trump was the only thing that mattered. They said that a boiled turnip would be better than Trump -- which was undoubtedly true -- and then somehow made the illogical jump to, "Therefore I would be not only willing, but eager, to vote for a boiled turnip."
Americans heard these views repeated from so many sources, in so many ways, so many times that they just seemed to be obviously true, manifestly true, in-arguably true -- common sense, really.
Once Biden won SuperTuesday, the heavy-lifting was done, and now the corporate media could carry the ball the rest of the way down the field with two narratives: (1) Biden has the momentum, and (2) The people have spoken.
The first was a simple propaganda technique, bandwagon pressure. The second was a more subtle technique, a whisper to the secret heart of election-weary voters that the campaign could be done and they could get closure, giving them yet another non-policy reason to select Biden -- to just be done, rather than endure a long series of tiring Sanders/Biden debates.
That last point, about finishing the election quickly, mattered a lot.
Big lies work, but they are difficult to sustain, and the longer they last, the harder it gets. So it was essential that SuperTuesday be followed by two more rounds of decisive victories.
So the ads continued, the narratives set like concrete in the brain, a temporarily irresistible way of thinking.
* * *
The first Biden/Sanders debate was also Sanders' last chance for a comeback.
How surreal that the prior 11 debates were dominated by non-candidates, and that the two finalists would face each other just once. But even once was too much for Biden if Sanders were able to sow doubts that would unravel the media narrative that: (1) Only electability matters; and (2) Biden is the most electable.
Sanders could be expected to crucify Biden's record in all the usual ways. Biden's job was deny any significant policy differences between the two candidates, so that only electability mattered.
Sanders had a demonstrably stronger record on social security, but Biden needed that not to be so, especially with Florida coming up, and if that meant lying, then Biden would lie.
The same with the environment -- Sanders' environmental plan was 10 times bigger, so if Biden needed to falsely claim he had sponsored the Endangered Species Act, then that's what he would say. Or Biden would say that he was an early supporter of Gay Marriage, when he had in fact opposed it. Or Biden would accuse Bernie of getting more money from SuperPACs, and that Biden was a poor candidate funded by small donations, when the opposite was true. Or Biden would claim to have opposed the Bankruptcy Bill, when Orrin Hatch said on camera that Biden helped write it. Or Biden would say that Bernie hadn't said how to pay for his programs, when Bernie had in fact so said. Or Biden would say that Bernie's mild praise for Cuba's literacy was bad and that Obama's more robust praise was good. Or Biden would say that he had voted for the Iraq War authorization in order to prevent the war, rather than to start it. Or Biden would say that he had abandoned the Hyde Amendment "a long time ago" instead of just recently. Or Biden would say that NARAL rated Biden 100% when it had in the past given him a very poor score. Or, most famously, that Biden did not advocate cuts to Social Security when the video evidence showed that he had championed them.
A lie-fest like that was not only unprecedented in the history of Presidential debates, it was positively Trumpian in its gall.
And yet, the dynamics of "The Big Lie" suggest, counter-intuitively, that people are less likely to challenge a big lie than a small one. The reason why is because really aggressive and highly visible lying probably would not happen. People doubt that anyone could have the impudence to distort truth so infamously, and so instead they begin to doubt their own sense of truth.
The following is attributed to Nazi Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels: "If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it. The lie can be maintained only for such time as the State can shield the people from the political, economic and/or military consequences of the lie."
And so when the media the following day declared Biden no less truthful than Sanders, the idea that Biden had had the impudence to distort the truth in a nationally televised lie-fest -- and that none of the corporate media fact checkers would notice -- became too improbable to believe. If such an outrage had occurred, then the corporate media and fact checkers would have so announced. Therefore, Biden must have been mostly telling the truth. And the hashtag "Lyin'Joe" stopped trending. The Biden campaign had dodged a bullet.
* * *
The COVID-19 Coronavirus looked like good news for the Biden campaign, but it was a double-edge sword. On the one hand, it offered the chance to end all the in-person campaign activity -- rallies, canvassing, get-out-the-vote -- that was the lifeblood of Bernie Sanders' grassroots effort. Letting the primary campaign play out ONLY in the corporate media would be a slow death for Sanders.
A slow death, however, would not be good enough. The Biden campaign needed a fast death for Sanders -- because the two pillars of its propaganda attack -- that only electability mattered, and that Biden was the most electable -- could not be sustained against the facts indefinitely.
And yet the pandemic made not only electioneering impractical, which was good, but elections themselves impractical, which was bad. How can you have an election when the candidates can't tell the voters to go to polls because the voters are supposed to be sheltering in place?
This put the DNC in a tough spot -- they liked it that electioneering had been halted by the virus, but needed the elections themselves to nonetheless continue, even without voters, even in the face of common sense, and even over the objection of public health officials, and the rebellion of state election officials. So the DNC encouraged states to proceed on schedule, threatened states that delayed their primaries too long, and criticized states that delayed them at all.
From a public health standpoint, rushing to hold in-person primary elections that could reasonably be delayed without electoral consequence (The Democratic Convention isn't until July), not only endangered voters, and contradicted the Democrats' long-standing commitment to inclusive voting and science-based policy, but, worse, suggested a politically motivated desire to end the vote counting before the effect of the propaganda blitz might dissipate.
* * *
The Aftermath. As of this writing, it is not clear how the primary election will resolve. Enough delegates remain for Sanders to take a lead. This outcome is improbable, but could become more likely if Biden has a serious campaign or health mishap.
Assuming Biden is selected as the Democratic nominee, his odds of beating Trump are not great -- far less than a sure-thing. Trump has already shown that he will attack Biden from the left, as an anti-free-trade populist. The weaknesses that prevented Biden from winning the nomination in 1988 and 2008, and gave Biden such a poor start in 2020 have not dissipated. Biden is a weak debater, and if it comes down to a lying contest, Trump will win that, too. Independents polled by the AP characterized Biden as "corrupt." He may have serious trouble expanding his support beyond the Democratic base that selected him.
[PICTURED: Only Sanders is seen positively by Independents.]
If Trump is in fact re-elected, that will be a great disappointment to the many, many primary voters who selected Biden specifically because they were told unequivocally that Biden was the strongest candidate to beat Trump.
Cognitive dissonance will cause them to conclude that nobody could have beaten Trump, and that Sanders would have done even worse -- again, without evidence, and in fact contrary to the evidence. But at what point does a heavily propagandized population suddenly get interested in evidenced-based critical thinking?
It is certainly not a crazy idea that Biden could beat Trump. Clinton almost did, and most of the country does not like Trump. But if Biden cannot convincingly erect an inspiring platform, and Trump is able to effectively attack Biden simultaneously from the right, the left, and as a populist, then things could go very badly for the Democrats.
* * *
Progressives will take one of two tacks heading into the general election. The majority will be praying that somehow Biden beats Trump, and that a Democratic administration creates space to grow the progressive movement, rather than to deflate it, as happened under Obama. This is a plausible outcome. But the Democratic Party has shown itself to be the most hostile, barren, rocky soil imaginable for progressive movements. It is not clear how many AOCs and Bernies it will take to end the Democratic Party's corporate vassalage, but very possibly more than we will ever have.
Alternately, Progressives may hope for a Trump victory on the grounds that it will further discredit the Democratic Party and create the very crisis of capitalism that might eventually allow for real structural social change of the kind that gets reliably blocked through normal electoral channels. This, too, is a long shot. The Republican Party and Democratic Party both appear to have thrived under Trump's corrupt regime. The things most harmed by a Trump White House are not political parties or Establishment power brokers, but the institutions of democracy themselves, which Progressives must rely on to organize effectively. There is no strong reason to believe that a second Trump administration will be better in this respect; more likely it will be worse.
* * *
Epilogue. Most Progressives will not in their lifetimes see another national candidate as compelling, well-funded, and well-organized as Bernie Sanders. So the Progressives' current uneasy alliance with the Democratic Party on Presidential politics turns out to be a dead-end until structural conditions change.
How can Progressives change the structural conditions?
We will explore this more deeply in subsequent posts, but at the very least Progressives will need to find some way around the corporate media's propaganda machine.
Right now, corporations support the propaganda machine, which in turn supports corporate candidates, who then support the corporations, in an ever-strengthening cycle. Breaking that cycle will require a direct assault on at least one of the three pillars: Either corporate power will have to be reigned in, The propaganda machine will have to be disarmed, and/or most Corporate candidates will have to be defeated.
We have just seen that corporate candidates cannot be defeated while the propaganda machine functions. And it goes without saying that corporate power cannot be reigned in by corporate candidates. So it is perfectly logical to take first aim at the Propaganda Machine itself.
1. Build grass roots organizations. Progressives would benefit from having better on-the-ground, grass-roots, person-to-person organizations that can more effectively educate voters and counter propaganda. The Labor Movement at its height functioned this way in some respects. However, building such a thing now may take more time and resources than is available, and may even be an anachronism in the age of online connected communication. The problem in 2020 wasn't so much that the grassroots organizations didn't mobilize, but that too many citizens weren't plugged into grassroots networks.
2. Build an alternate media. Ever since the Air America radio experiment, progressive voices have found increasing purchase in the mass media, including the Comedy Central shows and their progeny, and most recently Krystal Ball's show on Hill.TV, to good effect. But even if Progressives create their own echo chamber of a great magnitude, it remains to be seen whether such a thing would serve as an effective outreach vehicle or only as an intra-group consensus-building device. Worse, the other networks' inability to displace Fox News illustrates the difficulties of trying to out-propaganda the propagandists. It should still be done, but the results will be limited.
3. Educate the public for politics. Probably progressives most common and worst instinct is to lament that if only everyone else were smarter and more engaged in politics, things would be better. There's no doubt that they would be, but it is an impossible thing to make happen, especially in a culture of increasingly sophisticated entertainment and distraction, with schools unwilling or unable to teach critical thinking, and a younger generation less facile with text than any we have seen in centuries.
4. Start at the bottom. The propaganda machine seems less effective in controlling state and local offices, which have proved much easier to capture than the Presidency, and yet, as the Seattle City Council has shown, surprisingly impactful. Presidential politics for progressives will serve primarily as an organizing and messaging tool, which is what Bernie is mostly doing with his political revolution, while real change emerges below. Achieving incremental changes will be easier accomplished through running pilot projects in the 50 state "laboratories of democracy," and then spreading and scaling successful experiments. However, completely abandoning the federal executive branch is not only an impossible concession, but it also will serve to throttle local gains, as the federal government's intransigence on criminal justice reform in general and the war on drugs in particular illustrates. Moreover, the propaganda machine might be even MORE effective in local races if the machine engaged there, as county commissioner races sometimes demonstrate when large real estate development initiatives are seen as threatened.
5. Seeing is believing. The Propaganda Machine works best in the face of uncertain realities. Nobody knows who can beat Trump, and the Propaganda Machine feeds on fear and uncertainty. The machine is largely defused, however, when faced with demonstrable facts manifested in every day life. Libraries, for example, would never emerge in today's economy -- there would be endless doubts sown about the cost, and governance, and censorship, and the economic impacts. But since libraries are already here, and people like them, they can't be attacked.
So one way forward is to simply build economic structures that compete effectively with capitalism and make those structures a part of people's lived reality, like libraries. Then, as these grow, we can gradually take back through economic action, rather than political action, a social commons and create shared wealth that is not privately appropriated.
Cooperative private ventures, like Alvarado Street Bakery, can play an important role. However, unlike Alvarado Street Bakery, they would need to be run as demonstration projects with the intention of expanding and scaling, rather than only serving their own members' needs. After 40 years, the Alvarado Street Baker co-op still has only 100 employees.
State-run ventures, where possible (California, New York, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Oregon, and Washington are obvious candidates) ,can also be very powerful. States can run non-profit banks that offer commercial and consumer financial services. States can also drive out and replace exploitive capitalists, like health insurers and private utilities. California nearly enacted its own single-payer health care system before Jerry Brown stopped it. If Joe Biden would veto single-payer healthcare, as he says, then California will need to take that up again.
There is no for-profit business that could not be effectively replaced by a non-profit business that did exactly the same things at the same scale, but which returned the profits to other stakeholders, like customers (for increased scale) or employees (for improved quality), and thus won in the marketplace.
Because lending rates now approach zero, there is no need to pay capitalists a ransom for their money. State governments, public-minded entrepreneurs, and even occasional wealthy philanthropists can destroy exploitive monopolies in industry-after-industry by simply creating a public or non-profit option with adequate scale.
Some industries would seem to be more difficult to de-monopolize. For example, the textbook industry has long charged extortionate prices to students, and the pharmaceutical industry has difficult-to-replicate apparatus around drug development. However, both of those industries rely heavily on public university research to support their operations. Textbook manufacturers re-sell academic writing at exorbitant rates; drug manufacturers rely on academic research. Public Universities can simply forbid the use of their patents and copyrights for price-gouging, and can instead free that intellectual property to the public commons so that anyone can advance the public interest.
Corporate power and infinite money remain capable of deploying mass media and propaganda to defeat even the largest, most well-funded, and best-organized populist movements. Although new communication technologies allow citizens to defend themselves by being smarter and more savvy about propaganda, the same technologies also allow propagandists to be more targeted and effective in their craft.
Progressives will have to be better at (1) building grassroots organizations that can counter propaganda, (2) educating voters to resist propaganda, and (3) creating comparable propaganda engines. However, we really can't expect the entire citizenry to participate actively in grassroots organizations, or to put in the time and effort required to defend against every propaganda attack on every issue; it would become everyone's all-encompassing occupation. Nor can we expect more than limited success in creating our own competing propaganda machine.
Defeating capitalist expropriation and oppression will, therefore, in part have to be fought in the streets -- not street violence against capitalists, but economic street warfare, aided by friendly state and local governments where possible, to create real public alternatives that, due to their actual success, will destroy for-profit power and be propaganda-proof.
Also at Right of Assembly: