The Era of Trump: The Party of Lincoln in Context 1854-2016: (Part L)
In Parts J and K I have been developing a concept I refer to as the "Good Cop-Bad Cop Squeeze," through which I claim that much of public policy is articulated and executed within the two-party political system of the United States of America.
I mean "Good Cop" and "Bad Cop" in the classic sense. You all know what it is; you've seen it a million times in movies and television. Two detectives interrogating a suspect in a secluded room. One cop gets angry and frustrated with the suspect's evasions, lies, misdirection, and half-truths; he threatens to put the suspect's (usually some known low-level, petty criminal) head through the table. This is the "Bad Cop," the mean one.
The other cop, the "Good Cop," the nice guy intervenes. He tells his partner to go smoke a cigarette, talk a walk around the block, and cool off.
Then the Good Cop turns to the suspect, perhaps even apologizing for his behavior. He talks about all the stress this major investigation is putting on the department, on his partner --- whatever he needs to say to "build a rapport" with the suspect.
"You want a cup of tea or something? Something to eat?" the Good Cop may ask solicitously. And then they get down to business.
And then, in the friendliest, most earnest, most paternal tone of voice he can muster, the Good Cop patiently explains to the suspect what the stakes of the investigation are, and what his (the suspect's) own options are, particularly in light of whatever the legally compromising situation they may have found the interviewee in.
What is left unsaid, what is left hanging in the ether is this: Look, its in your best interests to cooperate. Talk to me. Otherwise.... and this is not a threat but I don't know how much longer I can protect you from that crazy partner of mine!
The suspect then spills his guts about whatever it is he knows.
What I've been saying is that since we no longer have a political party that challenges corporate power (the Franklin Roosevelt Democrats of once upon a time) and no longer puts domestic human rights at the forefront of its agenda (the Lyndon Johnson Democrats of once upon a time, for a brief window from about 1964-1977), the two major parties do not have a serious, central basis of contestation.
This state of affairs has the weird effect of de-politicizing politics. For example, let's consider the issue of torture again, briefly. What happens when corporate power comes off the table as an issue for discussion?
Well, as you know, over the course of the last couple of decades, there has been some privatization of the American military and intelligence services. I'm talking about civilian contractors made up of former government-employed expert personnel.
Now, as I have said before, the technique of infamy is to invent two lies and get people arguing furiously over which one is true.
Trump, the Republican candidate, the right-wing fire-breather on the issue of torture, or "enhanced interrogation," whatever you want to call it. He thinks its a good thing; and would probably agree with Barry Goldwater: "Extremism in defense of America is no vice," and so on and so forth. He's the Bad Cop on this issue.
Secretary Clinton, in typical Good Cop, Democratic fashion, kind of, sort of believes that "torture," per se, is contrary to "American values." And torture doesn't work anyway, I believe she would say, because the suspect will say absolutely anything to make the pain stop. You have to "build trust with the suspect," "rapport," and all that, I believe the Secretary of State would add.
There are a few things going unsaid in a "debate" like this:
- Imperial states have historically used torture, not to get information but to send a message, a warning.
- Such a "national discussion" should be worrying to an international audience, particularly the Middle East, because the United States is, apparently, not taking the United Nations Convention Against Torture---which the U.S. signed on April 18, 1988 and ratified on October 21, 1994 (Wikipedia)---for granted. That is to say, the United States is reserving the right to reinterpret the meaning of "torture" for its own purposes.
- The United States has privatized certain military and intelligence functions. These private contractors have to do something to justify the millions of dollars a year they're being paid. When you think about it, the situation is not that dissimilar to the pressure that municipal police departments find themselves under: pay, promotion, and advancement depends on the number of arrests made, not necessarily the quality of arrests made. In an extreme quantitative atmosphere like this, somebody "out there" always has to be found "breaking the law." The summons pad must be filled every month.
- I suspect that the ruling class hope that this Mutt 'N Jeff routine inspires "people who know something" to preemptively turn themselves in and start talking. This Good Cop-Bad Cop discourse, I would think, is "designed" to make would-be terrorists understand that there is no escape. In other words, I think the hope is that such a right-left discourse fulfills the goal of intimidation.
By the way, there seems to be several prominent Republicans distancing themselves from Trump, if not outright denouncing him. It makes no difference. If anything, it makes him that much more of an effective "Bad Cop" figure!
What I've been saying here, brings us to foreign policy, and how I see the "Good Cop-Bad Cop Squeeze" working internationally.
The international expression of the Good Cop-Bad Cop Squeeze can express itself in two forms that I'm aware of.
I. Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde
A single President of the United States can be both Good Cop and Bad Cop. A single White House administration can be both Good Cop and Bad Cop. It can express itself as the Good Cop at home, domestically, and as the Bad Cop abroad, internationally.
But don't take my word for it. I'm going to turn it over to a more interesting voice than mine: that of Dr. Joseph E. Stiglitz --- Nobel-prize-winning economist (liberal Keynsian); former chief economist of the World Bank; and, most importantly for our purposes, former chairman of the Council of Economic Advisors for President William Jefferson Clinton.
Dr. Stiglitz goes into some detail about how President Clinton was the Good Cop at home and the Bad Cop abroad, in his book: The Roaring Nineties: A New History of The World's Most Prosperous Decade.
Mind you, the following remarks are coming from a real Clinton booster, someone who was, at the time of publishing, proud of the accomplishments of the administration. I daresay, these are the words of a Clinton admirer.
"Especially strange was the contrast between the Clinton administration's palliatives abroad and the battles it waged at home. At home, we defended our public social security against privatization, lauding its low transaction costs, the income security which it provided, how it had virtually eliminated poverty among the elderly. Abroad, we pushed privatization" (2).
The good doctor goes on:
"At home, we argued strongly that the Fed should keep a focus on growth and unemployment, as well as inflation --- with a president elected on a jobs platform, he could do nothing less" (3).
However: "Abroad, we urged central banks to focus exclusively on inflation" (4).
Let's keep going. I want to present the full indictment.
"At home, we resisted pressure for changes in the bankruptcy law that would unduly hurt debtors. Abroad, a primary concern in any foreign crisis seemed the promptest and fullest repayment of debts to American and other Western banks, even to the point of supplying billions of dollars to ensure that happened" (5).
"Of all the mistakes we made in the Roaring Nineties," Dr. Stiglitz moans, "the worst were caused by a lack of standing by our principles and a lack of vision" (6).
If you accept the logic of the Good Cop-Bad Cop Squeeze, you accept that the contradiction is the principle and the vision in American politics.
Here is the grand finale
"We stood... for civil and human rights, for a new internationalism, for democracy.... The end of the Cold War gave us more freedom to stand for traditional American values --- and we did that.... But, again under the influence of finance, abroad we pushed a market fundamentalist set of reforms, in any way we could, paying little attention to how what we did undermined democratic processes" (7).
What is this money that the Clinton administration was so intent to collect "in any way we could, paying little attention to how what we did undermined democratic processes"?
The answer will carry us back in time to the year 1973, the Nixon administration.
We'll talk about it in Part M
For now, thank you so much for reading!
References and Notes
1. Taibbi, Matt. The Divide: American Injustice in the Age of the Wealth Gap. Spiegel & Grau, 2014. 57, 92-96.
These pages tell the story of how the legislative intent of the New York State government to decriminalize the possession of small amounts of marijuana, in the late-1970s, ran up against the institutional realities of the New York City Police Department, in the late 1990s through the mid-2000s, actually reversed the legislative intent of Albany, so that, in effect, small amounts of marijuana became ultra-criminalized. The consequences for communities of color has been devastating.
2. Stiglitz, Joseph E. The Roaring Nineties: A New History of The World's Most Prosperous Decade. W.W. Norton & Company, 2003. 22
3. ibid, 22-23
4. ibid, 23
5. ibid, 24
6. ibid, 25