Most Americans have an outdated view of individual freedom prompted by the illusion that, in the absence of governmental tyranny, we can live a fruitful lifestyle which simply consists of consumption. It’s a Lockean view that’s dragging modernist 18th century ideals into the 21st century. However, tyranny can be exhibited by different powers, disjoint from the government. The fear of some Orwellian, power-hungry agency fails to account for the new-age corporate authoritarianism. These new entities exert tyranny in ways that require new terms in and of themselves.
For Americans, “freedom” has been packaged with an illusion of democracy, a not-so-free free market and facetious individual liberty. While these ideals served as a monumental shift in values at a certain period, new entities, such as corporations, make it imperative that we update our political schemas. The semantic fixation on freedom to mean “whatever I want to buy and whatever I want to sell” is shortsighted. There is a darker reality enchaining the disregarded worker. What I find particularly interesting is the American obsession with “democracy” in terms of government, but not companies. If democratization is the goal, why are corporations not forced to adhere to it?
So, where is the working class in society’s corporate hierarchy?
Well, right-wing media has grasped the working class in an effective and sensational way. It’s not the leftist thinkers like Nathan Robinson or Noam Chomsky that gain any serious spotlight in the general American media. In fact, a worrying phenomenon of hypercapitalism is the rise of reactionary literature: It reaffirms, in an articulate and seemingly profound manner, the bases of capitalism without ever seriously surveying larger leftist or progressive literature. This, in turn, commodifies intellectualism.
To really peer into the modern-day conservative American psyche, we can observe the events of January 6. There was an American frustration with politics and its associated bureaucracy, but it manifested in a misguided, racist and violent way. Former President Donald Trump was the working-class savior in a lot of the same ways that any energetic fascist leader is a savior: He blamed external illusions but never the system that was harming its people. From sabotaging the Affordable Care Act to giving the rich unprecedented tax breaks, the Trump administration failed to challenge the structural problems that the nation faces and instead turned to outside false threats to fire up the people. Yet reality was so obscured for some people that they weren’t able to define their ills, leading to an ideological suicide (which entails people leaping from their reality to landing on some falsehood that they deem is the source of their anguish).
In a country where everyone is either too exhausted or too distracted to critically think and change the conditions of their lives, it’s easy to see why conservatives and libertarians — which are merely conservatives disguised in a supposed fight for freedom — can gain such potent control of a population that can be satisfied with trivial things. Leftists, and especially academics, have failed to offer accessible and sensational material to be digested by the masses. But is this due to the incompatibility of leftist social change to be communicated in a commercial and sensational way?
What I mean is this: What’s more fun, watching some dumb liberal get destroyed by basic facts and logic, or an economic breakdown of labor theory? Sure, there were some trendy shows, like the “The Daily Show” with Trevor Noah, but they only worked to villainize the conservatives instead of uniting the working class. They did not communicate leftist ideas effectively to those that need to hear them most.
As the political fabric stretches more and more and economic disparities continue to eat away at the working class, leftist figures have a chance to take hold of this cultural tear and convince the masses that we are united under similar struggles. And, outside of ideological disagreements, there are truths that do not require a lot of empirical investigation, such as the absurd cost of insulin compared to every other Western country. Therefore, one can only hope that the working class will stop gravedigging and find unity against the oppressive realities of capitalism.
On an even more cynical note, even revolutionary thought is often ignited in a capitalist society, which promotes anti-capitalist art, movies (which date back to the Charlie Chaplin era) and culture in a consumptive manner, none of which actually threaten any capitalist fundamentals. Thus, the onus is on leftist thinkers to cater to their audience in an authentic way that’s realistic about this new-age of corporate totalitarianism, all without sacrificing the left’s ideology.
How can this be done? I’m not really too sure given that when you look around your room, for instance, the assembly of all the items in it required elaborately orchestrated and organized mass-production and outsourcing processes that would overwhelm the consumer. In other words, our entire material reality is constructed upon the very premises of convoluted capitalism. And so, in the words of Frederic Jameson, “it is easier to imagine the end of the world than to imagine the end of capitalism.” That’s why we need post-ideological leftists to offer alternatives to the working class that’s engrossed in consistent exploitation and media manipulation.
Consider the railroad strike that took place last December. Instead of supporting their fellow workers, Americans resented the strike and mass media blamed the workers for putting the American economy on hold. Neoliberal capitalism is an unconscious presupposition for American society that understands the class struggle and constructs powerful narratives to maintain itself. So President Joe Biden signed a bill to block the strike. The working class learns to demonize protesters (who are also a part of the working class) instead of the ruling class that has created the intolerable conditions to which protests are a response. When the working class adopts self-deprecation, progress is impossible.
The conservative base has an ideological inertia that’s difficult to deconstruct because the indoctrination is embedded in the American fiber and then sublimated into American culture. The right has successfully delivered its agenda in a commercial and entertaining way. It’s a reaction that sacrifices critical thought for underdeveloped arguments, bigotry and traditionalism. It appeals to a common denominator of people that have a lazy (and suppressed) obsession with reaffirming their ideology that’s supposed to be meritocratic and individual-focused (don’t strike, work).
The reality, however, consists of a Darwinist dogma that only perpetuates meaningless competition that’s spectated over, and profited from, by a small fraction of the population. But this “common denominator” is the fabric of the “American spirit.” The grand mediator of Christian values that have been perverted by consumerism and, by virtue of some socio-economic mess, turned into a kind of Trumpism is the byproduct of rural poverty, systemic racism and a culture that lacks (and sometimes despises) critical thought.
Ammar Ahmad is an Opinion Columnist from Damascus, Syria, and he writes about international politics and American culture. You can reach him at email@example.com.