Haiti and the Roots of America's Crazy Fake Populism: Astroturf is Nothing New

They were under the heel of the French. You know, Napoleon III, or whatever. And they got together and swore a pact to the devil. They said, we will serve you if you'll get us free from the French. True story. And so, the devil said, okay it's a deal.

Pat Robertson is famously fond of attributing natural disasters and terrorist attacks to a wrathful God, a God who obviously hates everything Pat Robertson hates. He was quick to blame both the 9/11 attacks and Hurricane Katrina on America's "sinfulness," that sinfulness in a nutshell being everything Pat Robertson dislikes politically, including the Establishment Clause of the Constitution, civil rights for gay people and abortion rights.

But this latest salvo against the poor people of Haiti is not just a new height in callous cruelty. The fact that Pat Robertson was so quick to blame the earthquake on the Haitian Slave Rebellion of 1791-1804, and the fact that he automatically characterized that slave rebellion as a pact with the devil reflect the fact that the Haitian Slave Rebellion played a critical role in forging the rightwing American mindset.

The Framers of the United States Constitution drafted that document in 1787, at the beginning of the Industrial Revolution. While the Constitution has been a resounding albeit imperfect success at structuring the government and steadily advancing the rights of ordinary citizens, its great weakness has always been how it deals with powerful private sector entities.

The Constitution's most glaring failure was in dealing with slavery. Remember now that slavery was a part of private enterprise. The majority of the Framers acquiesced to a compromise insisted upon by Southern delegates, spearheaded by the South Carolina delegation, largely because they believed slavery to be a dying institution, a belief that is reflected in the Constitution itself.

But the Constitution and the Bill of Rights had scarcely been ratified before two events occurred that would radically change the future of slavery, the political and social development of the South and the fate of the American nation.

One was the invention of the cotton gin. The cotton gin turned slavery from a marginally profitable or unprofitable business to a staggeringly profitable one.

The other was the Haitian Slave Rebellion, the only successful slave rebellion in history, one inspired by our Revolution and one which inspired in turn campaigns for independence throughout the Americas.

So great was the greed inspired by the cotton gin's stellar increase in the profitability of slavery that nearly all of the South's resources were concentrated on this one nefarious business to the detriment of everything else - education, infrastructure and industrial development. The few became wealthier and wealthier while the many sank deeper and deeper into poverty and ignorance.

So great was the absolute terror inspired by the Haitian Slave Rebellion that virtually all the freedoms guaranteed by the First Amendment became a dead letter, an unaffordable luxury. Forget freedom of speech, press, assembly and petition. Anything having to do with the mere questioning of the lynchpin institution of southern society - slavery - was banned outright on the grounds of fomenting insurrections of the Haitian kind.

Out of this mess America's tradition of fake populism was born, inspired in large part by slave-owners' fear of the Haitian Slave Rebellion. The slave-owning plutocracy, people who were fond of using the term "property" to refer to slaves, became experts at manipulating poor whites through a combination of race based hatred and fear and outright lies .

It was relatively easy to develop these skills when they could shut down dissident speech, something they not only did completely in the South but aggressively sought to do in the rest of the country as well, including Congress itself.

But it was a skill they continued to develop after the Civil War. The planter plutocracy of the South and the industrial capitalists of the North were originally rivals for American power, but after the Civil War, with the rise of large corporations, the interests of the two capitalist classes fused, culminating with party unity under the Republican banner in the Nixon years.

The result has been the USA's truly bizarre tradition of fake populism, poorly informed masses, fired up with hate and disinformation, amassing in angry torch and pitchfork mobs to demand policies that favor only the very, very rich at the expense of everybody else.

The 21st century must of necessity become the New Age of Reason, in which we subject business leadership to the same thoroughgoing scrutiny and reform that the 18th century Age of Reason applied to government. We need government. We need business leadership. But in both realms we need moral leadership that advances the interests of the people instead of exploiting them.