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We Are Being Played

Caitlin Johnstone, CaitlinJohnstone.com.

If any evidence existed to be found that Donald Trump had illegally colluded with the Russian government to rig the 2016 presidential election, that evidence would have been picked up by the sprawling surveillance networks of the US and its allies and leaked to the Washington Post before Obama left office.

Russiagate is like a mirage. From a distance it looks like a solid, tangible thing, but when you actually move in to examine it critically you find nothing but gaping plot holes, insinuation, innuendo, conflicting narratives, bizarre mental contortions to avoid acknowledging contradictory information, a few arrests for corruption and process crimes, and a lot of hot air. The whole thing has been held together by nothing but the confident-sounding assertions of pundits and politicians and sheer, mindless repetition. And, as we approach the two year mark since this president’s election, we have not seen one iota of movement toward removing him from office. The whole thing’s a lie, and the smart movers and shakers behind it are aware that it is a lie.

And yet they keep beating on it. Day after day after day after day it’s been Russia, Russia, Russia, Russia. Instead of attacking this president for his many, many real problems in a way that will do actual damage, they attack this fake blow-up doll standing next to him in a way that never goes anywhere and never will, like a pro wrestler theatrically stomping on the canvass next to his downed foe.

What’s up with that?

As you doubtless already know by now, the New York Times has made the wildly controversial decision to publish an anonymous op-ed reportedly authored by “a senior official in the Trump administration.” The op-ed’s author claims to be part of a secret coalition of patriots who dislike Trump and are “working diligently from within to frustrate parts of his agenda and his worst inclinations.” These “worst inclinations” according to the author include trying to make peace with Moscow and Pyongyang, being rude to longtime US allies, saying mean things about the media, being “anti-trade”, and being “erratic”. The possibility of invoking the 25th Amendment is briefly mentioned but dismissed. The final paragraphs are spent gushing about John McCain for no apparent reason.

I strongly encourage you to read the piece in its entirety, because for all the talk and drama it’s generating, it doesn’t actually make any sense. While you are reading it, I encourage you to keep the following question in mind: what could anyone possibly gain by authoring this and giving it to the New York Times?

Seriously, what could be gained? The op-ed says essentially nothing, other than to tell readers to relax and trust in anonymous administration insiders who are working against the bad guys on behalf of the people (which is interestingly the exact same message of the right-wing 8chan conspiracy phenomenon QAnon, just with the white hats and black hats reversed). Why would any senior official risk everything to publish something so utterly pointless? Why risk getting fired (or risk losing all political currency in the party if NYTAnon is Mike Pence, as has been theorized) just to communicate something to the public that doesn’t change or accomplish anything? Why publicly announce your undercover conspiracy to undermine the president in a major news outlet at all?

What are the results of this viral op-ed everyone’s talking about? So far it’s a bunch of Democratic partisans making a lot of excited whooping noises, and Trump loyalists feeling completely vindicated in the belief that all of their conspiracy theories have been proven correct. Many rank-and-file Trump haters are feeling a little more relaxed and complacent knowing that there are a bunch of McCain-loving “adults in the room” taking care of everything, and many rank-and-file Trump supporters are more convinced than ever that Donald Trump is a brave populist hero leading a covert 4-D chess insurgency against the Deep State. In other words, everyone’s been herded into their respective partisan stables and trusting the narratives that they are being fed there.

And, well, I just think that’s odd.

Did you know that Donald Trump is in the WWE Hall of Fame? He was inducted in 2013, and he’s been enthusiastically involved in pro wrestling for many years, both as a fan and as a performer. He’s made more of a study on how to draw a crowd in to the theatrics of a choreographed fight scene than anyone this side of the McMahon family (a member of whom happens to be part of the Trump administration currently).

You don’t have to get into any deep conspiratorial rabbit hole to consider the possibility that all this drama and conflict is staged from top to bottom. Commentators on all sides routinely crack jokes about how the mainstream media pretends to attack Trump but secretly loves him because he brings them amazing ratings. Anyone with their eyes even part way open already knows that America’s two mainstream parties feign intense hatred for one another while working together to pace their respective bases into accepting more and more neoliberal exploitation at home and more and more neoconservative bloodshed abroad. They spit and snarl and shake their fists at each other, then cuddle up and share candy when it’s time for a public gathering. Why should this administration be any different?

I believe that a senior Trump administration official probably did write that anonymous op-ed. I do not believe that they were moved to write it out of compassion for the poor Americans who are feeling emotionally stressed about the president. I believe it was written and published for the same reason many other things are written and published in mainstream media: because we are all being played.

The more I study US politics, the less useful I find it to think of it in political terms. The two-headed one party system exists to give Americans the illusion of choice while advancing the agendas of the plutocratic class which owns and operates both parties, yes, but even more importantly it’s a mechanism of narrative control. If you can separate the masses into two groups based on extremely broad ideological characteristics, you can then funnel streamlined “us vs them” narratives into each of the two stables, with the white hats and black hats reversed in each case. Now you’ve got Republicans cheering for the president and Democrats cheering for the CIA, for the FBI, and now for a platoon of covert John McCains alleged to be operating on the inside of Trump’s own administration. Everyone’s cheering for one aspect of the US power establishment or another.

Whom does this dynamic serve? Not you.

If you belonged to a ruling class, obviously your goal would be to ensure your subjects’ continued support for you. In a corporatist oligarchy, the rulers are secret and the subjects don’t know they’re ruled, and power is held in place with manipulation and with money. As such a ruler your goal would be to find a way to manipulate the masses into supporting your agendas, and, since people are different, you’d need to use different narratives to manipulate them. You’d have to divide them, tell them different stories, turn them against each other, play them off one another, suck them in to the tales you are spinning with the theater of enmity and heroism.

As a result of the New York Times op-ed, if this administration engages in yet another of its many, many establishment capitulations (let’s say by attacking the Syrian government again), Trump’s supporters won’t see it as his fault; it will be blamed on the deep state insiders in his administration who have been working to thwart his agendas of peace and harmony. Meanwhile those who see Trump as a heel won’t experience any cognitive dissonance if any of the establishment agendas they support are carried out, because they can give the credit to the secret hero squad in the White House.

Would a billionaire WWE Hall of Famer and United States President understand the theater of staged conflict for the advancement of plutocratic interests, and willingly participate in it? I’m going to say probably.

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