Thursday, March 30, 2017

Henchman Politics

"While we appreciate your Fort Knox proposal, Mr Goldfinger, we at
Spectre feel our efforts to eliminate the capital gains tax will be more
profitable. Please don't hesitate to contact us in the future."
You've seen this happen in a thousand or more films: the head of the drug cartel, the big city crime lord, the ruthless Texas land baron, the mafia boss, or the Bond supervillain is in the crucial stages of his plan to rob a mint or death ray a country when one of his henchmen does something stupid that puts everything at risk. And you know what happens next: the top man has the miscreant dragged in front of him and says something along the lines of, "You've messed up for the last time!", or "This organization does not tolerate failure.", or, most chillingly, "You've disappointed me." The henchman, by this point weeping or squealing, or perhaps just mouthing the words, "But boss--" is cut short by bullets or the sudden application of a school of piranha. In films, the incompetent henchman, who is inevitably stupid, impetuous, overly violent, mouthy or boastful, serves to highlight the boss's brains, cunning, foresight and self-control. The power structure is made very clear--smart guy at the top, reckless fools at the bottom.

In contemporary politics it's the henchmen, underlings, flunkies and idiot sons who are now in charge. Villainous characters have often reached the top in politics, but they at least maintained a facade of sober competence, even respectability. In Thunderball Spectre conducted business behind (literally) an organization to help refugees. In the non-fictional world, Richard Nixon was as bad as they come but he was always composed in his public appearances and utterances. And today? Politicians such as Rodrigo Duterte, Recep Erdogan, and Nigel Farage behave like characters who would be spectacularly killed off in the second act of most action films. And then we have Donald Trump, the Fredo Corleone of U.S. presidents presiding over a posse of henchmen so transparently villainous they belong in a Steven Seagal film.

Political supervillains are still around (Putin being the obvious example), but, as a sign of their cunning, they've mostly left the arena of elected politicians and do their plotting through think tanks, media organizations and PACs. The Koch brothers, Rupert Murdoch, Sheldon Adelson, Robert Mercer and various other multi-billionaires put their assorted henchmen in power and happily watch them emasculate every level of government. Henchmen politicians, through their bombast, bullshit, arrogance, stupidity, cruelty and ignorance are more effective than a death ray in eroding the foundations of good governance and democracy.

Another characteristic of henchmen is psychopathy, and it certainly looks like we've entered the age of the political psychopath. Henchmen politicians can't even pretend to be interested in improving the welfare of the average citizen; in fact, they proudly and consciously expend most of their energy on making things worse for almost everyone. Climate change, income inequality, the rights of minorities, and active and potential military conflicts around the world are the most pressing issues of the day. The Trump administration is actively making things worse in all these areas.

The reason the Murdochs and Kochs of the world have created and funded this situation is that they, like generations of plutocrats before them, realize that democracy is fundamentally inimical to capitalism. A healthy democracy, even one as ramshackle and antiquarian as the U.S., works to better the lives of all its citizens by regulating and limiting the power of capitalists. The hallmark of a non-democratic state is the concentration of wealth and power in a very, very few hands. And such is the goal of today's power brokers. What sets them apart from previous generations of capitalists is that their anti-democratic ambitions are more open, less subtle, and are stage-managed by a supporting cast of smirking fools and pious sadists--henchmen to the core. A socialist James Bond is clearly needed, but I'm not holding my breath.


Lumpy Lang said...

Glad you're back JC!

hamza said...

I read your article.Its interesting but let me tell you one thing about me that i don't like politics.But there were some points in your article which were quite note-worthy.