Wednesday, August 2, 2017

The Gangster in The Mirror

I came to understand the neoliberal hatred of Russia and Trump through observing how socialism will never take root in New York City. This will be upsetting to the Jacobin crew and other optimistic reds, but we need to recognize socialism is as much a culture - an attitude - as a set of policy goals. And NYC is just not a socialist-friendly culture because it likes the hustle.

It's a word middle-class white folks learned from their, or rather their children's love of hip-hop. Because hip-hop culture celebrates the hustler mentality, as exemplified by Jay-Z's many business ventures and the swaggering confidence of hip-hop specializing academics. It's grassroots entrepreneurship, the sort of thing Clinton Democrats - and even some Republicans - claim to champion but the attendant egomania and blue collar crassness just doesn't sit well with their patrician sensibilities. Which is how you got the precursor of the current climate of russophobia in the bipartisan crusade against Gangsta Rap.

Remember that? Well, a lot of you Berners won't but it's an instructive moment of history. Everyone from Dan Quayle to Al Gore's joyless wife declared the works of Ice-T and Ice Cube and others to be the worst affront to civilized society since Hitler. Because that histrionic Austrian is always the gold standard of evil for mindless middlebrows, not the entrenched culture of racism at the LAPD, or the corrupt vampirism of Wall Street... Or the vicious looting of post-Soviet Russia in the Yeltsin years.

Americans, at least in the pundit class, recall the 1990s as the golden years of Russian democracy before Putin came in and ruined everything. Actual Russians remember a time of desperation, vaporized savings, and children falling into rusted steam pipes where they died with their skin melting off. This is why "democratsiya" is a dirty word in Moscow, even among the opposition - which is huge and doesn't give a damn about US interests. Putin initially rose to power with a few symbolic jailings of Yeltsin era oligarchs but he's since brought in just as many of his own oligarchs. Russia has been a gangster state since the Berlin Wall came down, but only under Putin does it really rankle with the masters of the universe huddled inside the Beltway.

And that's where we get to the muddled truth of all this. So far, the neoliberal love of Yeltsin and loathing of Putin would just be typical hypocrisy but remember the hip-hop precedent: gangsterism does not offend the powerful because of its wickedness but because it is an honest expression of the capitalist spirit both Democrats and Republicans claim to adore. The Moscow oligarch - just as the Flatbush hustler or the Reality TV CEO - is a living breathing rebuke to the ruling class and its pretensions to civility, while stripping rural proles of their healthcare and dropping bombs on mud huts.

The Gangster is the purest expression of the free market so often celebrated by Pelosi, McConnell, Ryan, and especially the Clintons. It is their own blackened heart and they would all sooner start World War III than admit their own ugliness.

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