The United States is nominally a democratic republic, where we have congressional members and senators who represent us, but I’ve come to understand that it’s more like a managed democracy.
In Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass Media, published in 1988, Edward S. Herman and Noam Chomsky exposed the techniques that the corporate media used to promote and defend the economic, social and political agendas of the ruling elites. This controversial book, deconstructed the idea that the media is objective and argued instead that it’s a disseminator of state and business propaganda.
To analyze the corporate media, Herman and Chomsky devised a propaganda model with five filters that determine the type of news that is presented in news media. These are: Ownership, Funding, Sourcing, Flak, and Anti-communism or “fear ideology”.
What if we use their propaganda model as a device to examine how our representative democracy truly operates?
- Ownership. Many of our representatives and almost all of our senators are quite wealthy. Similar to large media corporations, this wealth strongly influences their class interests and skews the type of policies they pursue, which primarily is the maintenance of private regimes of power. As Democrat leader Nancy Pelosi explained–“We’re capitalists and that’s just the way it is.”
- Funding. Our legislators spend 4 hours on average per day raising money for re-election. Think that might influence the laws they pass? And, where does that money come from? With all that money to raise, they logically have to pursue funding from those who have lots of it–the 1% and the corporations they control.
- Sourcing or expertise. Our legislators are notoriously stupid. (For example, my representative, a Democrat, has proposed a balanced budget amendment). Plus they have bigger concerns than policy expertise, like raising money. For policy expertise they largely rely on their staff, and on ideological think-tanks, like the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), for policy expertise. Never heard of ALEC? You’re not alone. This right-wing think tank provides cut-and-paste bills for our congress-critters to introduce and is secretly responsible for so much of the horrible legislation that gives Congress the approval rating of pool slime.
- Flak. This is the means by which powerful interests discipline our representatives or senators who might slip off the reservation and support legislation that actually does something good for the American people. Think of the Chamber of Commerce, or the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM), or the American Israeli Political Action Committee (AIPAC). The last one might be the most powerful source of flak on Capital Hill, forcing our representatives to reflexively support the sorts of belligerent foreign policies that have kept the US bogged down in the Middle-East for decades.
- Anti-communism or fear ideology. This relates to flak, in that it’s a powerful cudgel that’s used to keep representatives in line as far as pursuing the interests of empire. In case you haven’t noticed the Cold War against communism has been over for 30 years, yet terrorism filled in nicely until Russia-gate came along to resurrect a peer competitor necessary to keep the Military/Industrial/Complex (MIC) humming along. And, even after the success enjoyed by Bernie Sanders in the 2016 Democratic primaries, socialism is still a pejorative right up there with communism. For Democratic Socialist representatives like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (AOC) this hatred has led to numerous death threats. While you may not appreciate her political orientation, watch this video of AOC questioning lobbyists about the role of money in politics to see how a true representative should behave.
This is just a quick snapshot of how our political system functions. Don’t like the bank bailouts, endless wars, obscene drug prices, savage inequality, tax cuts for the wealthy and environmental devastation? Too bad. This the representation that we have and it’s far from a democratic republic that our founders envisioned.
This little exercise also demonstrates how our rigged system of representation dovetails with our corporate media propaganda in a way that maintains this state of affairs. Manufacturing Consent was published 30 years ago in a bygone era. Since then we’ve had the introduction of 24-hour cable news stations, the rise of right-wing radio and Fox News, and the creation of the internet and social media.
Our faux system of representation has followed this divisive blueprint. Instead of policies it’s personalities, keeping the American people distracted by the spectacle that I’ve described before as kayfabe.
With our Pro Wrestling Hall of Fame-president, its never been easier.