The Politics of Nostalgia

As any hope of an actual break with business-as-usual fades into the heat and glare of a summer in which discontent does not lead to action to address its causes; but becomes nothing more than a nuisance of disaffected noise signalling on both sides of our political theater that everyone – with the strongest push money can by – would rather run after their preferred brand of nostalgia.

The deepest form this political nostalgia takes is a nostalgia for a time when the whole dualist ploy actually seemed to make sense. When most people really did believe in a marketplace of ideas in which the best argument drew the most votes and a strong consensus built a strong nation. And that any of that actually matters in a world descending into destruction and disintegration.

We have two parties in name. At one time they did have different agendas and each actually managed to provide some useful distinctions between their reigns. That’s not been the case for a generation at least. We have a single party. Have had one at least since G H Walker tagged-teamed with his buddy Bill.

Does this seem unbelievable? How could anyone see them as allies? Incredulity abounds. And, it is this incredulity that powers both parties today.

Behind the Punch & Judy Show of the first and second Clinton Administrations there was and continues to be a smooth deployment of an ongoing Neo-Liberal agenda. The first time I noticed this was when NAFTA was at risk of failing to win ratification. What happened? George the H and Bill the C shared a podium, arm in arm to plead with the American Public to back this noble treaty.

In a public sphere in which history actually matters to anyone with the clout to shape opinion this and countless other examples of collusion between these two groups allegedly sworn to hate each other would have sunk in at some time during the intervening years. Instead we have replaced the term citizen with consumer. Policy is sold as if it were soap. These are old criticisms, being made forty years ago. They’re no less true today. We’re surrounded by the legacy of this ongoing state of corruption.

What has changed in recent years has been the degree to which cognitive dissonance plays a part not only in public perception but in the way the players see their roles and the consequences of their behaviors. Ever since MAD – at least – there has been a consensus among those who govern that their hold on power is not just worth risking the lives of their enemies and even their own followers; but that it is worth taking on the utter destruction of life on earth. So, let’s be clear; a deeply psychotic strain has been endemic in our politics for a long time.

In 1963 we saw how far this would go at the level of insanity then present in our world leaders. They blinked. Again, even under the thrall of our golden boy Ronnie the Just, ultimate tragedy was averted in exceedingly trying circumstances. Enough reality continued to seep into the minds of our rabid pack-leaders for them to see when things were really about to go too far.

Today? The thing about brinkmanship is that every time tragedy is averted the stakes go up, not down. “It worked last time!” Insanity is normalized. Its consequences lost in a cocoon of desensitization. Any reason, no matter how trivial, has come to be a good enough reason to resort to the Nuclear Option! – “Nuk-ular….”

Narcissist games. People who cannot see beyond the raging demands of their egos. People to whom nothing else matters. Nothing else even exists, or deserves to exist, unless it serves their intoxication with power.

We continue to have two flavors on offer in our politics. There need to be antagonists for our political theater to provide a distracting drama. One flavor has gone off the deep end in a particular way by projecting the raging shadow cast by this whole system of deception and destruction out into the open. The other side chooses to maintain a threadbare illusion of upholding a fetishized and unexamined belief in so-called principal and reason.

This is a continuation of an old tactic. The two parties were deep into fighting a propaganda war. The party Clinton II was in at the time and the party she now leads were locked in battle. Her then party’s nominee, the first candidate she ever backed as a young idealistic college student, Barry the Gold, was depicted by Lyndon the Great as a madman and a monster. There’s been a long history of claiming that the election of the opposition would be a fate worse than death. This goes much further back into our political past. The intention has always been to create a Stockholm Syndrome styled identification of the voter/victim with their oppressor. We’re given the choice to agree to be oppressed by our current abuser since the alternative abuser would only be worse….

Whatever combination of actual and illusionistic choice this once made possible those days have been gone since the deposition and abdication of Gore the Unready. The fix has been in. It doesn’t take evil whistle-blowers and their cartoon villain masters to show us that the successful stage management of our so-called elections has been camouflaged by an elaborate adversarial performance. It’s expenses happily paid as a cost-of-doing-business by our own home-grown oligarchs who have filled out their playlist well in advance, “OK, you let him take these two terms and we’ll give you the next.”

Of course the eruption of the shadow onto the stage has led one of these two wrestling teams to self-destruct. None of its roster has survived the levels of irresponsibility and over weening pride that allowed so much deep discontent to surface in a way they could no longer manage. The hidden dog-whistle calls are now made openly. The scraps of even an illusion of civility have been dropped and the resultant preening has trumped the packaged line-up of second-born and also-ran contenders they had left last winter to start this long money-spending money-making electoral season.

This has made these even more interesting times than we’ve been accustomed to. Now the other party of the oligarchs has had to not only deal with its own rebels but draw out the open support of those who had preferred the other flavor. To counter the surfacing of the prejudices of its normal base it has had to surface its shared allegiance with its Neo-Liberal sisters and brothers across the aisle. We’re back in a position when desperation draws back the veil. Instead of George H and Clinton the First dropping the fourth wall we have all of George the Accomplished’s men lining up behind the intended, Clinton Regina.

The story on the big-bad-mean-right is just too easy to tell. What is most significant is the story on the other side. The story of the ruins of the glorious left. What was once, at least in appearance, a bastion of equality and justice has now equally been reduced to a party of nostalgia. A party whose energy comes from denial and the refusal to see their own errors. A party whose members don’t hide their complicity behind fear of the other; but instead hide their greed behind a pretense of caring.

Both sides have traditionally refused to acknowledge their shadows; but now that one party has had its shadow manifest in the guise of its opponents; the other party has thronged to join those who continue to believe their own lies and line-up behind their pretended antagonist. If this paragraph leaves you bewildered give it a try. Follow the thread.

The democratic party’s shadow is out in Trump’s candidacy. All the corruption and deceit on that side led to his rise. Take a look at a few of the voices emerging post Brexit to see how these back-lashes result from the refusal of the so-called left wing of the oligarch league to even admit to any blemish in their total self-regard.

The shadow of the right is still repressed. Hidden beneath the shared nostalgia of the left and right-leaning core of Neo-Liberalism. The apparently successful repression and co-option of the renegade prince, Sanders the Sincere, has throttled its manifestation at this level.

We’re expected to play by the old rules. To honor the shared love of Nostalgia and make our choice the time-honored way, by choosing the Lesser-of-Two-Evils. The trouble is… it’s complicated….

When the Soviet Empire reached its moment of outward collapse they were lucky in ways we are not. Their Gorbachev was, well Gorbachev. Their buffoon was only Yeltsin. Their putative new Peter the Great, Putin.

Trump styles himself a new Mussolini. His blindness is in forgetting how Benito ended up, a battered corpse hung by his feet along with his wife in a public square left to be pissed-on by those who once adored him. Chances are that Trump’s more of a Yeltsin than a Mussolini. More of a clown than a truly dangerous clown. Letting the shadow out is always painful. It results from a necessity that we face what we have refused to look at and that we only face it now because we have no choice.

On the other side we have the chance to provide a resolute mandate to continue to hide the shadow. To continue to be brutal and oppressive and destructive while hiding our brutality behind the thinnest veil of self-delusion. The champion on offer here is much more likely to bring us to the kind of functional destruction that a Yeltsin, a Mussolini, was incapable of achieving. The kind of keeping-the-trains-running-on-time discipline that has enough power behind it to feed and organize and annihilate all those it chooses to take to the end of the line.

We have a choice. It’s not a binary choice. It never is. The mania for thought-stoppers and immediate panic that passes for public debate and policy-making is not the only way to act, to be.

The same energies and funds thrown at maintaining our sense of helplessness for three and a half years at a stretch suddenly flips polarity and expects us to believe that as an individual voter we have the fate of the world on our shoulders. This sudden attention is not meant to acknowledge any actual empowerment. The voting process is so easily manipulated to ensure the expected result, after all….

What it is expected to do is to win a mandate for the sentiment that accepting delusion is the only way to go. We are expected to vote Nostalgia. It still comes in two flavors. The importance of this entire theater; what makes it worth the expense; is that it buys our complicity. We make communion with denial and delusion. We give the system the only vote-of-confidence it asks of us before we turn our attention back to being manipulated in the usual ways.

What if we drop the Pokemon-Go? What if we stop listening to the evermore elaborate and Byzantian justifications for colluding in our own destruction?

The tally that comes up the minute after the polls close this November has nothing to do with how any one of us votes. We have no great powers in this or in anything else that affects our lives within a system that is corrupt to its roots. The only choice that we can freely take; that is not baked into the script; is to step aside.

This is a dangerous position. Not because we’ve let the bad-one win! It’s dangerous because everyone on both sides and of every stripe within this vast euphoric stampede into continued delusion will see you as their enemy. They will see in your stance the betrayal of the only thing left in this system considered worth caring for. You have betrayed the principals of their faith in Progress and a Nostalgia for what never was.

There’s been an old grainy photo that had a certain popularity on the web a while back. It shows a crowd lost in fervid adoration for their political god and savior. And, off to one side stands a lone figure. Nondescript in every way except that he stands out by having his arms gently folded across his chest instead of reaching out with obscene turgor for the crowd’s seducer. We immediately sense his courage and the value of his stand. No matter how little it amounted to in this crazy world….

We have a luxury of potential and imminent Nemesii. All ready and lining-up to take us down. They make any rationale for lying low even more ridiculous than they might have appeared in Berlin in 1939, only a few short years from the smoking rubble of central Europe all those people were marching so eagerly towards.

If we want to make a difference we can; but only if we begin by letting go of all this pretense, this pretending that everything is OK. The first step on this path is to not vote for Nostalgia. Not vote for one flavor of destruction-as-usual over another. Withdraw our energies from this shadow theater and turn them towards direct actions of connection and compassion.


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Published by Antonio Dias

My work is centered on attending to the intersection of perception and creativity. Complexity cannot be reduced to any given certainty. Learning is Central: Sharing our gifts, Working together, Teaching and learning in reciprocity. Entering into shared Inquiry, Maintaining these practices as a way of life. Let’s work together to build practices, strengthen dialogue, and discover and develop community. Let me know how we might work together.

8 thoughts on “The Politics of Nostalgia

  1. Yup! Two wings, same bird. Wings flapping wildly , discordant and non-productive. The glory of the old ‘eagle’ now just another overstuffed goose, ready for self consumption. Our rigor reduced to a timeless squabble over things meant to keep us polarized and dysfunctional , and incapable of seeing any real measure of change. Can’t move forwards while lookin’ backwards. Story of our time. Pitiful relic.

    Liked by 1 person

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