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How Zombies Rule America

Fear the walking dead

Politics Features Donald Trump
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Of course, the banks went down. But the real story is the actual people on the other side of the bet also got very rich despite the banks collapsing. If no matter what side of the bet you are on things are still going to work out for you, the world is upside down.
— Michael Lewis, author of The Big Short

Undead America rules Living America, rules it with a hand of rusted iron. The filmmaker George Romero, who made Night of the Living Dead and invented the modern zombie, died on July 16. Romero was immensely influential; he delivered the perfect metaphor for understanding our age. We are ruled by the walking dead in our systems, our ideas, our prejudices, our practices. They surround us and we serve them. The undead run both parties. They feed off of the living, particularly the young.

WHO ARE THEY?

The blogger Seth Godin wrote an entry last month titled “Blame Charles Mochet”:

In 1934, the rules of bike racing were changed to ban recumbent bicycles. And that rule has stood for more than 80 years, because Charles Mochet made the mistake of giving his faster, safer bike to a cyclist who wasn’t respected. To preserve the status of existing riders who had paid their dues, the governing bodies banned the bike forever. All of those riders are now dead, but the rule persists. Cars have two headlights because horse-drawn carriages had two lanterns. Of course you couldn’t put a lantern in the middle, that’s where the horse goes. Now, it’s easy to make a bar of light, one that illuminates from edge to edge. ... What else is still stuck?

What Godin fails to see is that this is Mochet’s world. We are governed by the failed positions of the past. Everywhere and at every point, the Lurkers rule over us. They rule us in the form of aristocratic political dynasties: the Kennedys, the Clintons, the Bushes, and soon the Trumps. They govern us in Macron, who apes the beheaded French monarchy. They rule us from Wall Street, where workers come and go but business never dies; they rule us from Congress, where postmodern capital is never questioned; they rule us from the Presidency, where a boorish plutocrat preaches sepia-tinted dreams of the never-was, holding them up as the soon-to-be. When Trump hires more Goldman Sachs executives and attorneys to steer his government, Zombie America wins.

Our society is governed by strolling carcasses, the cracked mirror of wrongful reigns of the past. The political class who run our society echoes of the world and its fears circa 1972. Silicon Valley is the robber-baroning of a hundred years ago, with a gloss of techie woo spread atop it. The revenants are ominpresent. Lift the stone, and you will find the zombie; draw water, and its desiccated face is reflected back behind you. The old, bad ideas are visible everywhere: interventionism, white supremacy, neoliberal capitalism. It makes sense that this has been the summer of removing Confederate statues; they are symbols of our very real battle with Zombie America. The criminal dead threaten the living with their cold hands, leering down from pedestal and plinth. The politicians and their ideas are defeated, and yet they live still.

The image of Zombie World is there in the image of Tony Blair, the “dread creature of the forbidden swamp,” to use Sam Kriss’ phrase, whenever he re-emerges from his shallow political grave to service dictators or stab progressivism in the back. Blair should not, in any sense, be a politically viable organism. And yet here he is, still swaggering among the living. On Monday, Blair escaped from his sepulcher to inform the world he had been wrong about Corbyn. Which raises the question: Why care about the opinions of a zombie king? Blair could only be taken seriously in an undead America, an undead world. Only in a society governed by feeding corpses could the Times plead for readers to pay for world-saving journalism … and then hire Bret Stephens and slander Bernie Sanders.

Our economic system is a zombie system: it generates artificial scarcity. The top tier hoards productivity and profit solely for their own benefit. What gives them this power? The undead fortunes of the past. Most of the one percent didn’t earn their keep—they inherited it from their families. What is Thomas Piketty’s book Capital but the ballad of a zombie scourge, inherited fortune? There is absolutely no reason to keep this system—none at all—except our ancestors grew up in it, and because the elite has a well-funded system of control and persuasion to keep it that way. The feet of the deathless hordes stamp forward! The walking flesh must feed!

The curse of the zombie goes beyond economic privilege, and into nature. My generation, and the generations after us, will be paying down the elephantine penalty of climate change, which we inherit from our parents, and their parents. The creature shambles onward! Blind to the necessities of life! Onward it marches! The dead do not haunt the living world; the living are the guests here. J.P. Morgan will drink marrow long after its present customer base goes; the Senate has been cheating the popular will since the last Founder died.

DEBT FOR SOME, ENDLESS CHANCES FOR OTHERS

There is no part of our society that the grim legion does not touch, in some way. Our education system, instead of being universal and public, is a deadie designed to extort money from students. The debt shuffles after the millennial generation, hungry for their service. In a moment of perfect revenant irony, it was the Times who reported the decayed monster of loan servicing had been cheated of flesh. Many bank documents had gone missing. The dead hand had lost its grip, for a moment.

In an article titled “As Paperwork Goes Missing, Private Student Loan Debts May Be Wiped Away,” Cowley and Silver-Greenberg noted:

Tens of thousands of people who took out private loans to pay for college but have not been able to keep up payments may get their debts wiped away because critical paperwork is missing. The troubled loans, which total at least $5 billion, are at the center of a protracted legal dispute between the student borrowers and a group of creditors who have aggressively pursued them in court after they fell behind on payments. Some of the problems playing out now in the $108 billion private student loan market are reminiscent of those that arose from the subprime mortgage crisis a decade ago … like those troubled mortgages, private student loans — which come with higher interest rates and fewer consumer protections than federal loans — are often targeted at the most vulnerable borrowers, like those attending for-profit schools.

The image of the walking dead exists in the cold body of the Republican Party, a walking flesh powered by Koch money. The strolling carcass of the Democratic Party, an inhabited shell of the Party of the past, is a collection of make-work assignments for a circle of well-heeled lurkers. No matter how many times the centrist leadership of the Party is shown to be incompetent and incapable, no matter how many times their craven ideology is disproven, they rise again—the old bones rattling with the might of dark magic. Power is shared between these two roamer cannibals.

Just the other day, there was news of a ghoulish mob of deceased political strategists rising from the swamps of Washington. As Glenn Greenwald noted:

One of the most under-discussed yet consequential changes in the American political landscape is the reunion between the Democratic Party and the country’s most extreme and discredited neocons.

This is represented by a new, well-funded lobbying group which is dedicated to drumming up hostility towards Russia. Here too, the roaming undead hold sway.

Because the warmongers are disappointments of the most fabulous pedigree. The Democrat half of the shop us led by Hillary’s foreign policy wonk, Laura Rosenberger. The conservative is Jamie Fly, Rubio’s wartime consigliere and former stalwart of the Bush-era National Security Council and Pentagon. The reality-illiterate Bill Kristol will also be helming the ship, which means the group will be confusing ass and elbow on a regular basis.

All three of these have been defeated in politics—they should be politically dead, in other words. But this is Zombie America, and there are no consequences, and so the Feeders rise from the earth, ready to prey upon the living again. The name of this all-star teamup sounds like the front for a CIA shop that kidnaps European orphans to turn them into assassins:

Calling itself the Alliance for Securing Democracy, the group describes itself as “a bipartisan, transatlantic initiative” that “will develop comprehensive strategies to defend against, deter, and raise the costs on Russian and other state actors’ efforts to undermine democracy and democratic institutions,” and also “will work to publicly document and expose Vladimir Putin’s ongoing efforts to subvert democracy in the United States and Europe.”

Between each of these humanitarians is about ten million years of proposed wars. As Dolores O’Riordan once sang, it’s the same old theme, since 1916. They have failed, collectively and separately, on dozens of diverse levels. And now they propose to fail all over again. If you liked the first Cold War, you’re going to love the second one, the Zombie Cold War. Much as the neocons tried to make the post-9/11 conflicts into World War II, the Dem-Neocon concord will try to reboot the classic Red-baiting franchise of our grandparents. They who are undead may live again!

Greenwald writes:

The union of Democrats and neocons is far more than a temporary marriage of convenience designed to bring down a common enemy. As this new policy group illustrates, the union is grounded in widespread ideological agreement on a broad array of foreign policy debates: from Israel to Syria to the Gulf States to Ukraine to Russia. And the narrow differences that exist between the two groups — on the wisdom of the Iran deal, the nobility of the Iraq War, the justifiability of torture — are more relics of past debates than current, live controversies. These two groups have found common cause because, with rare and limited exception, they share common policy beliefs and foreign policy mentalities.

RISE UP

Greenwald has a point. Our society is determined by the stories we tell ourselves. The most popular mass-media narrative in 2017 is A Song of Ice and Fire, the book series that inspired the HBO TV series Game of Thrones. Most of Thrones is immediately concerned with all the petty squabbles of a highborn cousin-marrying social set. Yet the author Martin is always quick to remind his readers that this fragile sport of kingship is a game of rainy-day bong rips compared to the real threat. The serious enemy is the multitude of snow ghouls marching down from the frozen North, who are about five seconds away from devouring every last unbathing citizen of Westeros.

The imminent ruin of all Seven Kingdoms is represented in the pulseless figure of the Night’s King and all his skinny, blue-tinted kin: the prince of Icy Walkers. He bulks large in the collective nightmares of the Seven Kingdoms. To see him is to know that a season of mass slaughter is in store.

But the humans of Westeros are misled. They imagine a rule of zombie leadership, following zombie ideas, would be a battlefield. This shows how unrealistic the series is. We already live under the rule of the Walkers, and everywhere the roads run their writ is law. Think of it: living human beings working under dead systems. What is dead can never die; in fact, it can never be questioned at all.

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