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The Cruelty Was Never the Point
From the repeal of Roe to Speaker Pelosi's saber-rattling in Taiwan, the point of elite politics is not cruelty. That's just a tactic. The ultra-rich are its tacticians, and the point is their power.
If you really want to understand US foreign policy, the first question worth asking is whose money, power, and influence it serves.
Is it really true, for example, that every American benefits from Nancy Pelosi flying to the island of Taiwan, causing an international crisis between two nuclear-armed nations?
Is it actually for the benefit of the middle class and the poor that we’ve stationed 800 military bases in almost 100 countries? Or are they there only for the benefit of a select few?
And if you and I aren’t in that select few, who is, and what gives them the right to influence the course of our country’s future?
Connect your world to what’s happening around the world:
We can ask these same basic questions, about who benefits from American foreign policy, to the domestic side of things too. A good example is the overturning of Roe v. Wade, and the subsequent abortion bans now spreading across the country.
Do any of us really benefit from women and doctors being fined or jailed for getting and delivering healthcare? If not, and polling shows most Americans don’t support anywhere near these kinds of draconian policies, then why are our politicians passing them, and from where are they getting that power?
There’s a popular phrase which tries to answer questions like these, about why the powerful do what they do. You hear it sometimes in liberal circles, when talking about things like abortion bans. The cruelty, the phrase suggests, is not a byproduct. Instead, as the saying goes, “the cruelty is the point.”
Originally, this phrase seemed to suggest that certain right wing policies, like shutting down abortion clinics for having narrow hallways, for example, are made to be nonsensical, designed to be brutal, so that people feel too overwhelmed and afraid to violate them.
There’s some degree of truth to this. Many policies are designed to be flashing red signals to anyone who would dare extend the kindness of a ride and a helping hand to a pregnant friend. But over time, the use of this phrase, particularly by liberals and independents, and increasingly the left, has become more of a catch-all explanation for why rich and powerful groups do anything horrible.
Their cruelty may be intrinsic, sure, but it’s not entirely accurate that the wealthy and powerful do what they do because of antisocial personal attitudes alone. After all, if you ever get the chance to meet some of these people in person, you’ll find many are great conversationalists. They’re charismatic and friendly, they can tell funny stories, and have made a career on you walking out of their office feeling like they’re your secret man or woman on the inside. One of the most shocking things about meeting a rich and powerful person is the experience of being both disarmed by their charm and overwhelmed by their power. They make you want to love them.
You could wander from senate office to board room, from the White House to the courts, trying and failing to find anyone who seems evil enough to produce the evils our political system does. Maybe — as they’d have you believe — our ruling class is not so bad after all.
It’s important to understand this skill for what it is, a manipulation. The ruling class in this country are not powerful because they are visibly cruel. They are powerful because they support a sophisticated network of extremely wealthy, powerful, political, military and economic forces. They serve to hold up a network of elite familial and business connections who — whether its members are personally cruel or not — have every incentive to bowl over the lives and the wellbeing of most of us, in order to ensure it’s their hand on the tiller, and no one else’s.
There were two stories in the news recently I’m sure you’ve been following at least a little. Both exemplify the different kinds of cruelty and disregard which is becoming increasingly easy to spot in our ruling class.
Last month the US Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, making abortion effectively illegal in 12 states, overnight. This month, the Indiana legislature ensured their state became the 13th. The immediate beneficiaries of these abortion bans seem only to be congressional Republicans and networks of well-funded anti-abortion nonprofits. Beyond that, it’s tough to see who walks away more powerful.
In other news, this month House Speaker Nancy Pelosi made a secret trip to the island of Taiwan. Unannounced but predicted for days beforehand, the trip caused a major international diplomatic crisis, because it appeared to signal — from no less than the 2nd person in line to the presidency — the Democratic Party’s interest in breaking commitments which held up the last 50 years of US-China peace agreements. Any major missteps on this trip by civilians or soldiers could have easily spiraled into armed combat between militaries on the island of Taiwan and the Chinese mainland or, in the most disastrous case, between our own two nuclear-armed nations. Who benefitted here? Speaker Pelosi shored up her right-wing foreign policy credentials. Defense contractors like Lockheed Martin stood to gain, and saw their stock prices surge accordingly. The rest of us either watched with bitten nails, or went on with our day with no idea what had happened.
While seemingly unrelated, these two stories, plus a little bit of Cold War history, can help us understand how people like anti-abortion right wing politicians have come, despite often being an extreme minority, to control the bodies of women in our nation, and those of women in countries around the world.
Over the last 100 years, the United States has secretly interfered in the political systems of dozens of countries, including its official enemies like Russia and China, and ostensible new allies like Italy, Germany, and Japan. This is just to name a few. In an effort to defeat socialist political projects, the US ruling class clandestinely backed, armed, and even installed right-wing and center-right parties around the world, ones much more anti-abortion than any of those countries would have otherwise chosen, had they been allowed to determine their own future.
The knock-on effects on abortion rights of our country’s secret campaigns of support for these parties has hardly been accounted for in the public at all. Consequently, we don’t ask whether the same techniques our country used on others could be used for right-wing forces to gain power here at home. What is the long term interest of the powerful in American forced birth? I hope this short series can begin to account for the legacy of that interference, and to ask questions about its impact abroad and here at home.
The reality is, in order to hold onto a powerful old system of elite influence, the wealthy and powerful of this country — Democrats and Republicans alike — have always been willing to team up with anyone necessary, including the radical far right, going to incredible lengths to hold onto their money and power.
It’s easy to call what they do cruel, because it is cruel. That includes banning abortion, and it includes saber rattling for a new Cold War with China. But this isn’t a particularly useful truth to us anymore, because it doesn’t tell us how to stop abortion bans and new military conflicts dead in their tracks.
Acting like the cruelty is the point doesn’t tell us how to win.
To do that, we need to identify the elite economic and political groups actually responsible for backing these policies, isolate the source of their power, which is not their cruelty alone, and build movements of people who can put pressure on those outside sources to change course.
The cruelty is important, but it’s just a tactic, and the ultra-rich are its tacticians. The source of their power — from abortion bans to war — is an economic, political, and military empire that concentrates money and influence at the top.
Ultimately, protecting that power is the point.
Talk to you very soon,
I’ll be expanding on this next time, offering specific examples of anti-abortion political parties the US has empowered in other countries during the Cold War, and offer a more comprehensive explanation of why our government backed them then, what it gained, and how it could predict the future of abortion rights in America.