Performative Virtue Signaling

Why has the the modern Democratic Party become incapable of governing?

Perhaps it’s because the Democratic Party has become defined by a contradiction: it simultaneously promises policies that benefit its corporate donors while also solving problems created by those same donors. That dilemma gives us drug pricing policies that would not significantly reduce medicine prices, tax proposals that never actually address inequality, corporate handouts that further impoverish the working class, and health care policy that enriches the insurance companies already fleecing sick people.

Meanwhile, the modern Democratic Party has embraced identity politics to give the appearance of equality, liberalism and virtue. “Transgender equality is the civil rights issue of our time,” Biden tweeted.

Because the professional/managerial/class (PMC) liberals that make up the modern Democratic Party seem to be forever engaged in a search for some subject of overwhelming, noncontroversial goodness with which it can identify itself, and under whose umbrella of virtue it can put across its self-interested class program, we get shit like this. 

Instead of enacting universal policies that would improve all American’s lives the Democrats would rather virtue signal by posing in Kente cloth.

Look! Black Lives Matter!

Nothing would help black Americans more than Medicare-for-All but that would inconvenience Democratic donors in the medical/industrial/complex and their PMC apparatchiks. Nothing would help black Americans more than rent and mortgage relief but that would inconvenience Democratic donors in the real estate and banking sector. Nothing would help black Americans more than child-care support and paid family leave but that would inconvenience Democratic hawks who have earmarked these funds for a new Cold War with Russia.

The late, great Martin Luther King, who faced the ire of liberals for stepping out of his lane of civil rights to critique the criminality of the Vietnam War, had something to say about improving black Americans lives that is pertinent to the Democratic Party’s identity politics.

“It was easier to gain the right to vote, because it didn’t cost the Nation anything, and the fact is that we are dealing with issues now that will call for something of a restructuring of the architecture of American society. It is going to cost the Nation something.

We can’t talk about the economic problems the Negro confronts without talking about billions of dollars. We can’t end slums in the final analysis without the necessity to take profit out of slums. We can’t deal with the school situation in the final analysis without seeing that we are not only talking about integrating education, but we are talking about quality education, which means that millions of additional dollars will have to be spent to improve the whole education system of America.”

What was most attractive about identity politics for the Democrats was what it was not, what it made unnecessary: any sort of collective action by poor people coming together in governments or unions. Instead, we were to understand poverty in the familiar terms of entrepreneurship and individual merit, as though the hard work of millions of single, unconnected people—plus cell phones, bank accounts, and a little capital—was what was required to remedy our vast institutional inequality.

Identity politics does permits all manner of networking, posturing, and profit taking among the Democratic donors while doing nothing to change actual power relations—the ultimate win-win. However, this is not politics. It’s an imitation of politics. It feels political, yes: it’s highly moralistic, it sets up an easy melodrama of good versus bad, it allows you to make all kinds of judgments about people you disagree with. But ultimately it’s a diversion, a way of putting across a policy program while avoiding any discussion of the economic policies in question. The virtue quest is an exciting moral crusade that seems to be extremely important but at the conclusion of which you discover you’ve got little to show for it besides NAFTA, bank deregulation, and a destructive empire risking nuclear war.

As you can see, performative virtue signaling is why the Democrat Party is incapable of governing, let alone politics. These tendencies were there with Russia-gate, but they are all the more strongly visible in Biden’s vaccination policy, where vaccination and virtue are equated. With Vax only, nothing more is required of liberal Democrats than, essentially, the consumption of a consumer product.

It’s why Biden’s signature domestic spending policy has been left for dead as party insiders blame it all on Bernie-Bro’s.

If you happened to be paying attention, Biden made all of this clear when he informed his richest donors that nothing fundamental will change.

Plus ça change.

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