America is neither left or right, neither a nation of corporate responsibility or one that fully embraces fascism. It is a semblance state—a country wherein appearing to be a developed Western democracy is deemed all that’s necessary. In this reality TV no man’s land the dignity of the individual has been painted over with angry appeals to emotion alone, what the Greeks called pathos. This is why Donald Trump is not compelled to do anything about the Coronavirus pandemic, in the semblance state its enough to incite emotions and imagine everything can go back to business as usual. Fakery has been both profitable and ubiquitous since Reagan.
The superannuated Democrats don’t get a pass either. Arguing the banks or pharmaceutical companies are the bogey men behind the decline of the nation’s middle class is also pathos, a straw man appeal to distrust bigness itself when the more nuanced and useful position that the economy needs a dose of Teddy Roosevelt’s conservative regulation is lost. The semblance state is “emo” 24-7. It’s a tricked out supersonic laser show of induced suspicions, gratifying hatreds, phony culture wars with hot rage as an end in itself. When Barack Obama bailed out General Motors and Chrysler he let them close small dealerships, not exactly the “new new deal.” It was just another day in the semblance state’s “business as usual” ethos.
Rick Perlstein’s review in The Nation of Nicholas Lemann’s new book, “Transaction Man: The Rise of the Deal and the Decline of the American Dream” contains an illustrative anecdote—Robert Reich, Bill Clinton’s Secretory of Labor gets called in to the Treasury Department by Robert Rubin who scolds him for using the phrase “corporate responsibility” in s speech. In the semblance state all that’s necessary is to appear to be profitable. In other words, forget the little car dealer. That the Democrats got their comeuppance for embracing the semblance state is without question. The rightward embrace of appearance over substance is less benign and as we can see from the Trump stampede to reopen the economy by shoving unprotected workers into dangerous workplaces, appearance over conscience is still fully in force.