Beware The Smiling Face Of Establishment Politics

Caitlin Johnstone
5 min readJan 21, 2018
Image from official music video for “Black Hole Sun” by Soundgarden

The most damaging people you will ever meet in your life are not those who are overtly hostile to you, the obviously malicious individuals who openly pursue your harm. The people you will look back on as having had the most pernicious impact upon your life are those you allowed in close, those who presented a friendly, trustworthy face and then used the intimacy that you naively gave them to insidiously sabotage who you are as a person.

The exact same thing is true of politics. American TV screens blare away about the horrors of ISIS, Kim Jong Un’s nuclear weapons and white supremacist demonstrations, while US military drones have Middle Eastern children terrified of the sky. The man in the scary mask in a terrorist beheading video elicits a very clear, strong “NO!” from the audience, despite the fact that his faction has killed and terrorized far fewer people than the US war machine has, and despite the fact that he’s likely enjoying the benefits of US funding.

You see this dynamic everywhere. There’s no good reason Hillary Clinton voters shouldn’t be okay with President Trump, for example; all the evil steps he’s taken on behalf of the US power establishment are no worse than all the many warmongering, racist, ecocidal and corrupt things her supporters insisted everyone look past because nobody’s perfect and purity is bad. The only difference is that his establishment politics have a slightly uglier face, usually expressed via his Twitter account. Clinton knew how to look into the camera and recite the right lines with the right Black Hole Sun grin plastered across her bloodthirsty neocon face, and Trump doesn’t.

Rex Tillerson, in Hillary’s old job, recently said in a conversation with another of his smiley-faced Secretary of State predecessors, Condoleezza Rice, that US sanctions on North Korea are proving successful because dead fishermen keep washing up on Japan’s shores. They get sent out to fish because they don’t have any food, and they get stuck out at sea and starve to death because they can’t afford enough fuel to ensure their return. He just sat there, casually discussing the slow, cruel deaths of sanctions victims like it’s a good thing. Check it out:

In reality those North Koreans are no less dead than they would have been if they’d been shot with an M4 rifle or ripped apart with cluster munitions, but since sanctions are presented as a peaceful means of conflict resolution by the establishment propaganda machine nobody really trips on it. They are also no less dead than they would have been had their own leader killed them with chemical weapons, but such allegations are treated as unspeakable horrors crying out to the heavens for vengeance by western corporate media.

The US always uses sanctions as a prelude to overt war, in the same way a siege was used before storming the castle of an enemy in medieval times. It is considered the only acceptable way of deliberately slaughtering civilians of a noncompliant nation, and it is done constantly. Questioned in 1996 about reports that half a million Iraqi children were killed by UN sanctions, another US Secretary of State, Madeleine Albright, said that “the price was worth it”. Like she was paying.

Had the countless victims of US sanctions been mowed down with machine gun fire, there would have been international outrage, but since they are being slowly deprived of nutrition until they suffer multiple organ failure and eventual cardiac arrest, it barely causes a blip in the radar. You can even get away with nonsensical accusations against a noncompliant leader of “starving his own people” by refusing to bow to the demands of US-led power, which makes as much sense as if US and coalition forces were launching Tomahawk missiles into that nation’s villages and then saying their leader was “exploding his own people.” Makes exactly as much sense and causes exactly as much damage.

All US policy works like this. When you look at the raw, stark reality of what the US power establishment is actually doing to the American people and to the world, you naturally recoil in horror. But because they put a smiley face on it, with well-trained politicians reciting 20-second sound bytes and millionaire pundits spinning everything that happens in a positive light, the screaming red reality of what’s actually happening fails to register. Americans are crushed to death under the exploitative prison system and Walmart economy, trillions of dollars are poured into killing strangers on the other side of the planet while communities all over America have no clean drinking water, but if you turn on the TV you’d think the worst thing happening in the world is that some Muslim people get violent once in a while and Donald Trump had sex with a porn star.

Everything’s fake and they’re all liars. It’s a plastic clown mask on top of a blood-spurting hellscape. Sometimes I think the only thing keeping Americans from waking up to the reality of what’s going on with their country is compartmentalization; one day they make the mistake of lifting the lid and taking a quick peek at a little research on what’s really happening, and then slam it down with a shriek. Most never reopen it. They go back to their comfortable CNN/CIA matrix where everything makes sense if you dissociate hard enough.

It’s got to come out eventually, though. Mankind can’t run from itself forever.


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