Beltway politics are dominated by passionate and often outrageous partisan rhetoric, which cannot quite conceal the fact that Congress has become a useless, paralytic institution that can’t get anything done. Power lies elsewhere, and remains inaccessible. In a similar fashion, angry wars of words between and among self-styled progressives on the Internet do not entirely camouflage the relative powerlessness of everyone involved. Getting into a comments-thread battle or a Twitter-lather about Colbert’s bad joke or Lena Dunham’s fashion-magazine shoot or whatever other outrage du jour conveys a temporary feeling of pseudo-power, much as watching MSNBC (or Fox News) crow about the idiocy of the other side is pseudo-participation in a pseudo-democracy.
I would even take this a step farther and argue that the symbolic politics of the Obama presidency — the same factors that drive right-wingers crazy — are exactly what liberals and progressives like about it. I mean, what other explanation is there? Here we have an administration conducting a worldwide drone war that has killed unknown numbers of innocents, managing an ultra-secretive surveillance state beyond Dick Cheney’s wildest dreams, paying lip service to the existential crisis of climate change while doing nothing about it, and protecting and nurturing exactly the same cabal of bankers who brought us to the brink of financial apocalypse in 2008. For a candidate who ran as the populist embodiment of hope and change to wield such unprecedented and shrouded executive power is an irony that should keep historians of the future busy, providing we have historians or a future. But he personally seems like a cultured, funny, sharp-dressed guy who has gay friends and watches “Game of Thrones,” and the semiotics of his White House are awesome. So it’s all good.
But let’s back away from that, to the position that the mean Republicans won’t let Obama do anything, and so the politics of semiotic awesomeness are the best we can get. That too is demonstrative of our dilemma. We can’t do anything about worsening inequality or the poisoned planet or the total defeat of the labor movement or the broken immigration system or the incarceration of young black men. Our country is too “divided,” we can’t make up our minds about anything. The power to change those things, supposedly vouchsafed to us in the Constitution, has migrated somewhere else. But we can drive Gilbert Gottfried off Twitter for being such an enormous asshole. Change we can believe in. (Source)
Politics as cultural sensibility: impotent outrage.