The populist manifesto: Why policy trumps rhetoric and how Ye might synthesise Bernie and Trump’s platforms into one unity campaign for the American working class

‘I could build a new Rome in one day.’

Ye, ‘Clique’, from Kanye West Presents, Good Music – Cruel Summer

As the title of this article suggests, I want to propose a populist manifesto — a manifesto to transfer power from the wealthy and powerful back to the people of the world. This does not mean depriving some people of power, but ensuring all people can participate equally in public life regardless of colour, character, creed, country, or class of origin. Populism is, in this sense, humanism: an answer to the technological dystopia of artificial humanity, and a return to our terrestrial roots in mother nature. I also want to make two arguments for why a populist manifesto is so essential: firstly, in abandoning the centrist focus on rhetoric, pivoting to the reality of policy, which alone determines how we as a society feel and act in the world; and secondly, in synthesising the non-centrist platforms of Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump into one, where a pro-worker economic policy and a pro-American security policy allow all to benefit from the fruits of civilisation, not just the wealthy and well-connected. How about it, Ye?

Napoleon’s coronation as Emperor of the French. Napoleon’s political reforms to European states unlocked the doors to British-style economic growth throughout the continent, providing the institutional keys to technological development. This is a different story of a different time, when war rather than trade was the policy of great powers. I think to learn from history realistically is far better than to moralise about it, imposing our values onto an alien context. Then again, I may be mistaken — and the parallels are imperfect, just as the lessons are far from crystal clear. In this article, I propose a peaceful road to human freedom for all. I have written on the spectre of Caesaropopulism before.

Firstly, then, it is often argued that words matter a great deal in politics. I don’t think this is true. I think words are lies. The only truth words can tell is this: that words do not matter. To matter in any way, words must get us beyond words themselves. But if words keep us trapped in the prison of language, they are less than useful — they are outwardly counterproductive, and inwardly self-destructive. Therefore, it is not ‘bad words’ that do damage to politics, but the belief that language matters in itself that is so damaging. Language and words are mere communication, transferring information from one store of energy to another. They do not create or destroy; they merely communicate what has already been originated.

So when we get angry at the rhetoric of politicians, we are not really getting angry at the rhetoric, but rather at the imagined motives behind them. We cannot be getting angry at the effects of rhetoric, for words have no causal power. It is not our ideas that determine the world, but the world that determines our ideas. Words have even less power than ideas, since they merely relate ideas to material conditions and vice versa. Words can either be helpful, or unhelpful — but what is helpful is words that escape the prison of language, not words that reinforce the bars of this iron cage. So the real issue of our time is not ‘hate speech’ but censorship, since it is censorship that is hatred towards speech as human communication, and therefore constitutes attempt to stamp on the face human freedom with a dictatorial boot, for all eternity. If we think about twentieth-century totalitarianism, we will see this pattern: totalitarian states don’t like people who speak their minds — even those who offer defences of said state. Much better is a society of mindless zombies who think words have no relation to the external world, and stay imprisoned within the bounds of propaganda, which separates ‘us’ from ‘them’.

Populism is sometimes seen as identical to totalitarianism, but I do not think this is true at all. Rather, I think populism can be an escape-hatch from totalitarianism. If populism is about policy, not mere rhetoric, then it can get us beyond the centrist obsession with language by transferring our attention from the false ideal of ‘political correctness’, ‘antiracism’, ‘woke’, and such other non-entities to the real political economy of trading classes and warring states. What drives history forward? Is it the ink of the journalists and philosophers, or is it the sweat and skill of working people, concentrated on producing the necessities of life for their families? I think it is clear which is more important — since while mental labour is real, it is the work of the plough and the engines of the factory that ultimately make the reading of books and the creation of high art possible.

Indeed, if rhetoric matters, it is primarily on an emotional, not a conceptual level. This means that rhetoric lies. Policy, however, has to attend to actual, physical realities. So policy reveals what rhetoric conceals: the truth! When we judge a politician or a political program in history, do we look first to their words or to their deeds? Nowadays, we judge a politician first by words and assume their deeds from this. But the meaning of words is in constant flux. Words are sounds or signs whose meaning is socially determined and contextually defined. Therefore, to even know the meaning of words and what ideas they denote, we must first look to their source and foundation: deeds. To understand the merits or drawbacks of rhetoric, we must first look to policy.

But today, all we consider is rhetoric! How idiotic of us. We think a politician who uses right-wing rhetoric necessarily has right-wing policies, for instance. But we see very clearly how ‘progressive’ rhetoric of ‘equality’ and ‘freedom’ is so often deployed to justify heinously regressive policies that hurt working people — policies like austerity, deunionisation, and relaxing constraints on rent-seeking interests in the economy, such as housing, banking, and financial sectors. Rhetoric lies. Policy reveals.

So the truth of this populist manifesto will be revealed not by rhetoric, but by policy. So what is its policy? There are two fronts: domestic, and international.

On the domestic policy front, the American working class desperately needs empowerment by their representatives, not exploitation by capitalist interests. The highway robbery of working people has to end, and power returned to families from large corporations and organised interest groups. We must build a grassroots campaign to lift up the working class to its rightful place in history — a movement of, by, and for the working class. In 2016, on a platform of Medicare for All, infrastructure spending, and federal support for American workers and families, Bernie Sanders came closer than any expected to clinching the Democratic nomination for presidency. But in 2020, it became clear the Democratic Party was never going to allow a populist candidate to run for office in the near future, at least from the left. The ‘progressive’ wealthy donor base is too strong. Bernie was isolated and undermined from his own support base. His ideas make economic sense; but he lacked the rhetorical style to communicate the ideas — or, to be more precise, the open and sure-minded style he had was effective for the general election, but not for the primaries, where cultish politicking came before class unity principles that once helped Bernie win over a Fox News town hall with his ‘socialist’ ideas on healthcare. Democratic and Republican elites alike were terrified by this prospect — but since Bernie was running in the Democratic Party, his campaign could be effectively neutralised — twice.

The Republican Party fell prey to populism from the right in 2016 when Donald Trump proposed a platform that rejected both Obama-era polite centrism and Bernie’s democratic socialism in favour of a turbocapitalism that earned him support from capitalists like Peter Thiel and midwestern working people alike. Trump’s foreign policy of containing China through trade war while avoiding war with Russia has been watered down by Biden, who has overseen relaxing in tensions with China and escalation in tensions with Russia. Considering China is the second-largest economy and military spender, not Russia, I think it is clear which foreign policy best defends America’s long-term interests. Trump started building a foreign policy that finally got us beyond the Cold War logic of anticommunism and towards a realist logic of cooperation with medium-sized states in order to compete with the only peer competitor to America right now, China. Biden is returning us to the dark past of the twentieth century. Ironic, right — the rhetoric suggested otherwise, as CNN cried of Trump’s tyrannical style, failing to notice his pragmatist substance in dealing with foreign policy. The Twitter was very much a distraction from the political economy of the Trump presidency.

That being said, Trump’s pro-billionaire domestic policy is not prone to long-term success. We have seen how the decimation of the American working class by capitalist interests like Trump since the 1970s has really dragged down economic growth from the post-war highs of the 1950s to 1960s. America after the last world war invested in social programs in Europe while upskilling and empowering its own working class. But after the 1970s and the Carter/Reagan pivot to neoliberalism, we have seen the simultaneous rise of progressive-egalitarian rhetoric and regressive-oligarchic policy. The rhetoric of woke politics is a mask on the reality of capitalist economics. See, again, how a populist manifesto can help unmask the reality of capitalist chaos and market anarchy.

Order and stability requires containing the trends towards anarchy in the world today: capitalist crisis, climate chaos, and the rise of totalitarian China. On the last point, the presidential hopeful known only as Ye (a rapper, producer, and fashion designer formerly known as Kanye West) has angered the world with his rhetoric in the past decades, saying ‘George Bush doesn’t care about black people’ in 2005 before his second studio album was even released, and most recently that instead of hating evildoers of the past he has ‘love’ for everyone, including ‘Hitler’ (a strikingly un-Hitlerian statement — since genocidal dictators tend to project their hatred on others, eschewing Jesus’ ethic of universal love in favour of a Manichean logic of expunging the world of all that they hate, which in the end amounts to versions of themselves which they hate and see in others; thus such figures are essentially self- and other-hating, and not loving, which does not give us any reason to reproduce such hate — otherwise, we are no better). Compelled by public outcries to apologise in a very Kanye manner, the one time Ye had to flee the country to fear of his own safety as a racialised citizen (in a country that has a history of publicly lynching black men) was after he interrupted Taylor Swift at the MTV Awards to claim Beyoncé should have won the award instead. ‘He’s a jackass,’ Barack Obama said — thereby legitimating public condemnation of the second black man to have a substantial chance of ascending to the highest office in the world. But we look back at this and think it’s OK, because hell, maybe Barack’s right — hence the line in Kanye’s anti-discrimination song ‘Runaway’: ‘Let’s have a toast to the douchebags, let’s have a toast to the assholes.’ So much for Ye being a quasi-Aryan supremacist — he believes outcasts are to be loved, not lynched (thereby echoing the ethic of Jenna Ortega’s character in Netflix’s Wednesday, the outcast of outcasts — much like Mr. West, the runaway of runaways, or a historical figure like Baruch Spinoza, condemned by religion upon religion for speaking his truth, the truth underlying all religions: the fundamental unity of all things). As for his statements on Twitter: I defer to the Trump example. If we’re not sure of the meaning of rhetoric, look to policy instead.

But enough of rhetoric. What about policy, then? Ye has so far endorsed two clear policies from Trump — opposition to abortion, and containment of China. I agree with the second policy, not the first. I am a liberal by temperament, but a realist by tenet. So with Trump I started by liberally opposing his stance on China, before I concluded realistically that he was doing the right thing. Abortion is an issue that is sometimes associated with culture war, not political economy. But it does pertain to issues of survival and the sanctity of life, as well as values like freedom and bodily integrity, so there is a lot at stake. Dealing with this issue empathetically is very important. I was impressed by Ye’s visible tearing-up in a provisional campaign event in 2020 when he described his own father’s desire to abort him when he was in Donda West’s womb, but also by Ye’s empathy towards a woman who described her view on the necessity of abortion under certain circumstances. I think on this kind of issue that empathy is the path to justice, whatever the right answer is.

On China it is very clear that empathy must be shown towards all people, while also containing the military threat that China’s political economy poses — just as Wilhelmine Germany posed a security threat to Britain in the run-up to World War I. The failure to contain Germany, as America contained the Soviet Union after World War II, is what led to those two violent global conflicts in the first place. America must not make the same mistake with China. To avoid the return of totalitarianism, we need Churchillian determination to contain potential threats to world peace.

Ye once claimed he hoped to combine Bernie’s policy with Trump’s rhetoric. Now he has added Trump’s policy on China, with his own additional argument that China now poses a much larger threat to freedom and security now than it did when Trump first assumed office. Ye does have to draw on Bernie’s economic policy to tie up the threads of the populist manifesto — while also proving to Bernie and others that his rhetoric in recent years does not imply, as some have claimed it has, any negativity in practice or sentiment towards minorities. I don’t think it does, in truth, given the contextual character of language and the love ethic that drives Ye’s controversies — but Ye has to continue to demonstrate in his deeds the loving intention behind his words. This is ultimately the remedy to the culture war of centrist versus populist rhetoric: a class war between liberal insecurity and realist stability that can bring glory and goodness to America and the worldwide working class. I think every human being — regardless of colour or creed — will benefit from the realisation of such a vision of moral politics in an age of darkness, decay, and despair. To quote the Japanese epic series Evangelion of a post-apocalyptic world not unlike our own, ‘There is hope — there is always hope.’

Disclaimer: Any similarity between names mentioned and actual individuals is purely accidental and largely theoretical. These are fun ideas to entertain but, as always, I may be mistaken. After all, what do I know?

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