I believe that the crisis of legitimacy gripping the American political system has been brought about because a large cohort of US citizens have belatedly come to realize that they’re superfluous.

Many of these superfluous Americans are also recognizing that neoliberalism, the economic system that both Republicans and Democrats have embraced for 40 years, is responsible for this sorry state of affairs. They may not get the specifics, but they sense the grand outlines of this economic betrayal by both parties.

Hence the campaigns of Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump.

At Emptywheel, Ed Walker, examines some key points from Hannah Arendt’sOrigin’s of Totalitarianism, and demonstrates how the economic conditions that led to totalitarianism in Germany, are becoming present in modern day America.

People aren’t stupid. They know that they are superfluous. They know they have no power, no security and no real hope of either. They hate it. When they see people fired from long-term jobs and told they only get severance if they train foreign replacements to do their jobs, it makes them sick inside. When they are told that their jobs are going to Mexico, and it’s “strictly a business decision” but 1400 people are going to be fired, they are angry and hostile. They know that they mean nothing to their employers, and nothing to politicians. And mostly they know they mean nothing to the elites who dominate the political process and the economy, and who set the system up to screw everyone else. They know the elites despise them as the the NRO’s Kevin Williamson and David French loudly say. They know the elites and specifically the tribe of economists, knew that they would be screwed by NAFTA and other trade deals, and didn’t lift a finger to stop that from happening on the grounds that it all works out for the beset on average. So what if the rich elites took all the gains? The liberal elites will come up with incremental tweaks to fix everything, and the conservatives will resist and nothing will change, and they don’t worry because it isn’t them or their families.”

Right now, there’s an ugly, anti-establishment mood brewing. There’s a palpable sense of desperation among a growing number of Americans because the economy no longer works for them. These surplus citizens have also made the calculation, with their support of Tramp or Sanders, that if we elect more of the same neoliberal politicians and continue on the path we’re on things are not going to get any better.

Maybe it’s just me, but I’ve long thought that an economic system that creates a large number of superfluous citizens is fucked up. Especially an economic system that cloaks itself in moralistic depictions and pious proclamations about freedom.

Brings to mind the quote by Anatole France: “The law, in its majestic equality, forbids rich and poor alike to sleep under bridges, beg in the streets or steal bread.”


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1 Response to Superfluous

  1. Superfluousness, yes, I do believe that you have hit the nail right on the head. Yesterday someone asked me why I thought ‘identity’ was so important to young people. After thinking about this I came to realise that identity too has been commodified, branded, and marketed – underlining the superfluousness of human beings in the free market economy. Thanks for this insight.

    I’m Jason. From Dublin, Ireland. Since we’re writing on many of the same things I should give your blog a follow. Cheers.

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