The point of no return is that point at which it is no longer possible for people in general to pursue their interests in society by engaging in rational discourse and civil social intercourse. The basic concept of a functional democratic society envisioned by Enlightenment era thinkers is fairly simple. A free press reports the facts. People use this information to debate freely and participate in a democratic system of government by rationally analyzing the facts according to philosophical principles. Elected representatives fulfil their duty to carry out the mandate given to them by voters with a personal interest in the long-term preservation of a stable social order and the freedoms which we venerate.
The philosophical landscape and the nature of public discourse has changed drastically since the publishers of the Federalist papers and others, often forced to publish under a pseudonym (e.g. "Cato"), appealed with reasoned arguments to those concerned not only with freeing themselves from the yoke of colonial rule but with establishing a new form of government institutionalizing human rights instead of class privilege. Today the philosophy of pure self-interest has undermined a respect for the truth. The general discourse is not so much filled with dissenting opinion as it is with a cacophony of rhetorical bluster. The question arises as to who exactly is behind this often quite sophisticated scheme of verbal subterfuge. In whose interest is it to frustrate and mislead those who attempt to engage in the debate, and even to dissuade participation by making it impossible for the average person to wade through the morass of misinformation and skillfully designed media ploys?
The key to understanding the current situation is to properly understand and judge the nature of populist discourse in relation to the death of the left in U.S. politics. Many mainstream columnists embrace the view that populism accounts for the two greatest disasters in modern history: communism and fascism. The Democrats no longer represent anything fundamentally different from the Republicans. The differences between the parties are certainly major, important differences. Democrats believe that corporations can rule most effectively by controlling the federal government and expanding its powers and sphere of influence to include legislating consumer and business activity. Republicans believe that people should be allowed to own guns and that corporations don't need anachronistic political institutions to ensure enough social order to keep the wealthy and powerful safe from the swell of humanity that threatens the water supply for their golf courses.
However, it is well known that the vast majority of people in this country no longer have any faith in the government or the two major parties. While progressive ideas and agenda items are usually popular among the majority of citizens, the mainstream media limits the range of discourse to the memes serving the agenda of the two parties. There are some signs that some left pundits are embracing certain aspects of the progressive agenda which have remained off-limits since the Reagan revolution. For example, the degree of wealth inequality is receiving attention as an indicator of a systemic problem. Raising the minimum wage is being talked about seriously. Of course there are still many who still see mainstream politicians such as Obama and Hillary as reasonable, but overall it seems obvious that the main challenge facing the left is overcoming past disappointments. Kucinech was never considered a serious contender. Dean somehow lost momentum as the voting public returned to the mainstream fold at the last minute. Obama raised hopes that the Democratic party could use grassroots organizing to send an outsider to Washington and do the will of the people. The only way to implement a progressive agenda is to start from scratch in building a massive campaign grounded in a process similar to that of Occupy, that is one which draws in people who have been disaffected from mainstream politics, have always existed outside of mainstream politics, and those who are just becoming interested in politics, as well as those who see protest as part of the american political tradition.
Without addressing the debates over what Occupy accomplished, failed to accomplish, did right, did wrong, etc., one finds that straightaway as soon as one steps into the demon's lair one is embraced by a thicket of hysterical, frenzied, unfamiliar, confusing, and disturbing propaganda. Obscure groups make their pitch to earnest and sincere citizens drawn to the buzz of a social movement promising some undefined but great victory for the masses. Much of what has drawn people to the conflagration is well-known; yet somehow, inevitably, the momentum begins to die. Fortunately, many have found a wealth of information and opportunities for political and community activism and are ready for the next round of struggle.
Unfortunately, many more have become lost in the maze of rhetoric pretending to offer a vision for the future. Our populist movement is being tugged in several directions precisely where it seems that the only points of unity exists. For, we are told, the problems we face today are the historic result of liberal elitism. Only now, after decades of ridicule, are the ideas of spirituality, ecological sustainability, local economies and so forth now all of a sudden being offered by exactly those from exactly those quarters from whence we should expect the very ridicule that drove these ideas out of the mainstream discourse. Don't get me wrong; I am not at all suggesting that the promulgation of these ideas are merely some sort of nefarious excercise in mass-psychological manipulation by insincere operators seeking to undermine any groundswell of progressivism by misdirecting these social movements. No doubt many of those opposed to the Federal Reserve, who believe in the Illuminati, who inveigh against Agenda 21, the U.N. in general, and so forth are sincere in their desire to reach some kind of a libertarian-anarchist consensus. However, when engaging the masses in large-scale movements and within the broader social shere, including social media, progressives and the left need to both show respect for others' opinions when they are sincere but also stand firm in not allowing a wholesale rewriting of history and co-optation of traditionally liberal and progressive ideas and goals to the ends of the right-wing or conservatism.
For example, historical fact is that it is not big-government which enabled the corporatocracy to emerge but conservative anti-government politics. This simple fact seems to be readilly lost as anarchist and libertarian memes collide in the public sphere, often dressed up in new-age garb and portrayed in terms of a future economy revolving around green pacifism and self-sufficiency within a small community setting. However, the right seeks only to identify enemies and call forward a resistance without offering or developing any of the ideals it now claims to espouse. Again, not to oversimplify any of this since there has long been a profound and respectable tradition of anarchist, leftist, and socially and culturally revolutionary thinking that has been deeply critical of liberalism even when liberalism contended with socialism as the gaurdian of the people's interests (as in the case of Gladstone and Disraeli). These populist strains are important largely because of the profound social and cultural import they have, especially where they bring into the fold marginalized voices. But if the left fails to use its critical acumen to promote ideal visions in a realistic materialist context tied to actual historic conditions then the mainstream will continue to itself appropriate these themes and deprive them of any revolutionary potential.
I am even willing to concede that the term "right-wing" may have become obsolete. "Conservative" may be better insofar as there may be legitimate populist strains that are inherited from the greater historical milieux. But what I have a difficulty with is when anti-elitism comes in the form of invoking debates about the Knights Templar, the Freemasons, and the Illuminati. This is merely long-discredited baggage derived from obsolete doctrinal disputes over religious dogma and the historical associations stemming from these pre-Enlightenment disputes. When, for example, we find claims that the government can "control the weather" (as though that were even a theoretical possibility) lumped in with claims that the Rothschild's aren't "real" Jews (as though that weren't up to the Jews to decide), one has to finally ask how it has come to be that such a minority type of opinion is so ubiquitous outside the mainstream social sphere. If there is a conspiracy afoot, would it not make sense to assume that it serves the purposes of discrediting progressive ideas while at the same time gathering information about progressive movements infiltrated by these fringe elements, and moreover serving to scare away anybody considering venturing outside the parameters of mainstream discourse and forums? Considering how easy it is to smear somebody as "anti-Semitic" or being a cook for not believing the official story about 9-11, this is not an unreasonable question in my opinion. Given that those who are actually affiliated with the interests who put out this sort of propaganda are in an extreme minority, what else accounts for the large-scale presence of such rhetoric unless it is merely the fervency and diligence of that minority?
However, I have now digressed beyond the point of my stated problem except to point out that disinformation and related tools of mass-confusion and manipulation do threated to stymie any reclaiming of power by democratic forces. The long term result could conceivably be that the average person finds themselves in the same position as a citizen of Iraq, Syria, Mexico, and a number of other places around the world. That is, forced into conflict without knowing the actual situation behind the scenes. Having to make life-and-death decisions in the context of not knowing whether one is being played off against others by cynical and unprincipled forces conspiring to profit off the conflict even as they pretend to lead one side or another. Aware that day by day, shifts in power brought about by changing alliances, the effects of disparate events unfolding in unpredictable consequences, revelations of knowledge, lies exposed, and secrets kept forever hidden shaping your destiny as you cling to your gun trusting either only those closest to you or none at all. You see, as obviously melodramatic and hyperbolic as that scenario is, it is not entirely illogical and the rhetoric of the rights seems designed to bring just that situation about as sort of a self-fulfilling prophecy hatched from their fetid imaginations. And more to the point, insofar as the anti-liberal ideal has taken root we should expect elitist interests to misrepresent themselves in such a way as to bring this scenario about and then use that outcome as a justification for their rule.