Make-Believe Politics

The super-rich may be just out of view, but the strings they pull are all too visible, writes Jonathan Cook. 

Parachute display during G7 Summit in Apulia, Italy, on June 12. (Simon Dawson / No 10 Downing Street)

By Jonathan Cook

We live in a world of make-believe politics, a world where strings pulled in the interests of the super-rich are ever more visible.

And yet we are expected to pretend we cannot see those strings. More astonishing still, many people really do seem blind to the puppet show.

1. The “leader of the free world,” President Joe Biden, can barely maintain his attention for more than a few minutes without straying off topic, or wandering offstage. When he has to walk before the cameras, he does so like he is auditioning for the role of a geriatric robot. His whole body is gripped with the concentration he needs to walk in a straight line.

And yet we are supposed to believe he is carefully working the levers of the western empire, making critically difficult calculations to keep the West free and prosperous, while keeping in check its enemies — Russia, China, Iran — without provoking a nuclear war. Is he really capable of doing all that when he struggles to put one foot in front of the other?

2. Part of that tricky diplomatic balancing act Biden is supposedly conducting, along with other Western leaders, relates to Israel’s military operation in Gaza. The West’s “diplomacy” — backed by weapons transfers — has resulted in the murder of tens of thousands of Palestinians, most of them women and children; the gradual starvation of 2.3 million Palestinians over many months; and the destruction of 70 percent of the enclave’s housing stock and almost all of its major infrastructure and institutions, including schools, universities and hospitals.

And yet we are supposed to believe that Biden has no leverage over Israel, even though Israel is entirely dependent on the United States for the weapons it is using to destroy Gaza.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem on June 10. (State Department/Chuck Kennedy)

We are supposed to believe Israel is acting solely in “self-defence,” even when most of the people being killed are unarmed civilians; and that it is “eliminating” Hamas, even though Hamas doesn’t appear to have been weakened, and even though Israel’s starvation policies will take their toll on the young, elderly and vulnerable long before they kill a single Hamas fighter.

We are supposed to believe that Israel has a plan for the “day after” in Gaza that won’t look anything like the outcome these policies appear designed to achieve: making Gaza uninhabitable so that the Palestinian population is forced to leave.

And on top of all this, we are supposed to believe that, in ruling that a “plausible” case has been made that Israel is committing genocide, the judges of the world’s highest court, the International Court of Justice, have shown they do not understand the legal definition of the crime of genocide. Or possibly that they are driven by anti-Semitism.

The International Court of Justice, principal judicial organ of the U.N., holding public hearings in February on Israel practices in the Occupied Palestinian Territory. (ICJ)

3. Meanwhile, the same Western leaders arming Israel’s slaughter of many tens of thousands of Palestinian civilians in Gaza, including more than 15,000 children, have been shipping hundreds of billions of dollars’ worth of armaments to Ukraine to assist its armed forces.

Ukraine must be helped, we are told, because it is the victim of an aggressive neighbouring power, Russia, determined on expansion and land theft.

And yet we are supposed to ignore the two decades of Western military expansion eastwards, via NATO, that has finally coming knocking, in Ukraine, on Russia’s door — and the fact that the West’s best experts on Russia warned throughout that time that we were playing with fire in doing so and that Ukraine would prove a red line for Moscow.

We are supposed to make no comparison between Russia’s aggression against Ukraine and Israel’s aggression against the Palestinians. In the latter case, Israel is supposedly the victim, even though it has been violently occupying its Palestinian neighbours’ territory for three-quarters of a century while, in flagrant violation of international law, building Jewish settlements on the territory meant to form the basis of a Palestinian state.

Sept. 23, 2012: Pro-Israeli settlements demonstrators, dressed in white, in march through East Jerusalem. (Tal King, Flickr, CC BY-NC 2.0)

We are supposed to believe that the Palestinians of Gaza have no right to defend themselves comparable to Ukraine’s right — no right to defend against decades of Israeli belligerence, whether the ethnic cleansing operations of 1948 and 1967, the apartheid system imposed on the remnant Palestinian population afterwards, the 17-year blockade of Gaza that denied its inhabitants the essentials of life, or the “plausible genocide” the West is now arming and providing diplomatic cover for.

In fact, if the Palestinians do try to defend themselves, the West not only refuses to help them, as it has Ukraine, but considers them terrorists – even the children, it seems.

4. Julian Assange, the journalist and publisher who did most to expose the inner workings of Western establishments, and their criminal schemes in places like Iraq and Afghanistan, has been behind bars for five years in Belmarsh high-security prison.

Before that, he spent seven years arbitrarily detained — according to United Nations legal experts — in the Ecuadorian embassy in London, forced to seek asylum there from political persecution. In an interminable legal process, the U.S. seeks his extradition so he can be locked away in near-isolation for up to 175 years.

And yet we are supposed to believe that his 12 years of effective detention — having been found guilty of no crime – is entirely unrelated to the fact that, in publishing secret cables, Assange revealed that, behind closed doors, the West and its leaders sound and act like gangsters and psychopaths, especially about foreign affairs, not like the stewards of a benign global order they claim to be overseeing.

Assange supporters in London celebrate news of the court granting Assange permission to appeal on May 20. (Alisdare Hickson, Flickr, CC BY-SA 2.0)

The leaked documents Assange published show Western leaders ready to destroy whole societies to further Western resource domination and their own enrichment — and eager to wield the most outrageous lies to achieve their goals. They have no interest in upholding the supposedly cherished value of freedom of the press, except when that freedom is being weaponised against their enemies.

We are supposed to believe that Western leaders genuinely want journalists to act as a watchdog, a restraint, on their power even when they are hounding to death the very journalist who created a whistleblowers’ platform, WikiLeaks, to do precisely that. (Assange has already suffered a stroke from the more than a decade-long strain of fighting for his freedom.)

We are supposed to believe that the West will give Assange a fair trial, when the very states colluding in his incarceration — and in the C.I.A.’s case, planned assassination — are the ones he exposed for engaging in war crimes and state terrorism.

We are supposed to believe that they are pursuing a legal process, not persecution, in redefining as the crime of “espionage” his efforts to bring transparency and accountability to international affairs.

5. The media claim to represent the interests of Western publics in all their diversity, and to act as a true window on the world.

We are supposed believe that this same media is free and pluralistic, even when it is owned by the super-rich as well as western states that were long ago hollowed out to serve the super-rich.

We are supposed to believe that a media completely dependent for its survival on revenues from big corporate advertisers [and leaks from government officials] can bring us news and analysis without fear or favour.

We are supposed to believe that a media whose primary role is selling audiences to corporate advertisers can question whether, in doing so, it is playing a beneficial or harmful role.

The News Building in London, home to The Sun, The Times, The Sunday Times, The Wall Street Journal, Dow Jones, Harper Collins, 2015. (Sarah Marshall, Flickr, CC BY 2.0)

We are supposed to believe that a media plugged firmly into the capitalist financial system that brought the global economy to its knees in 2008, and has been hurtling us towards ecological catastrophe, is in a position to evaluate and critique that capitalist model dispassionately, that media outlets could somehow turn on the billionaires who own them, or could forego the income from the billionaire-owned corporations that prop up the media’s finances through advertising.

We are supposed to believe that the media can objectively assess the merits of going to war. That is, wars waged serially by the West — from Afghanistan to Iraq, from Libya to Syria, from Ukraine to Gaza — when media corporations are embedded in corporate conglomerates whose other big interests include arms manufacturing and fossil-fuel extraction.

We are supposed to believe that the media uncritically promotes endless growth for reasons of economic necessity and common sense, even though the contradictions are glaring: that the forever growth model is impossible to sustain on a finite planet where resources are running out.

6. In Western political systems, unlike those of its enemies, there is supposedly a meaningful democratic choice between candidates representing opposing worldviews and values.

U.K. Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and Labour Leader Keir Starmer, side by side at front of group at right, join the procession to hear King Charles III open the new session of the Houses of Parliament, Nov. 7, 2023. (UK Parliament, Flickr, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

We are supposed to believe in a Western political model of openness, pluralism and accountability even when in the U.S. and U.K. the public are offered an electoral scrap between two candidates and parties that, to stand a chance of winning, need to win favour with the corporate media representing the interests of its billionaire owners, need to keep happy billionaire donors who fund their campaigns and need to win over Big Business by demonstrating their unwavering commitment to a model of endless growth that is completely unsustainable.

We are supposed to believe that these leaders serve the voting public — offering a choice between right and left, between capital and labour — when, in truth, the public is only ever presented with a choice between two parties prostrated before Big Money, when the parties’ policy programmes are nothing more than competitions in who can best appease the wealth-elite.

We are supposed to believe that the “democratic” West represents the epitome of political health, even though it repeatedly dredges up the very worst people imaginable to lead it.

In the U.S., the “choice” imposed on the electorate is between one candidate (Biden) who should be pottering around his garden, or maybe preparing for his final, difficult years in a care home, and a competitor (Donald Trump) whose relentless search for adoration and self-enrichment should never have been indulged beyond hosting a TV reality show.

In the U.K., the “choice” is no better: between a candidate (Rishi Sunak) richer than the British king and equally cosseted and a competitor (Sir Keir Starmer) who is so ideologically hollow that his public record is an exercise in decades of shape-shifting.

All, let us note, are fully signed up to the continuing genocide in Gaza, all are unmoved by many months of the slaughter and starvation of Palestinian children, all are only too ready to defame as antisemites anyone who shows an ounce of the principle and humanity they all too obviously lack.

The super-rich may be just out of view, but the strings they pull are all too visible. Time to cut ourselves loose.

Jonathan Cook is an award-winning British journalist. He was based in Nazareth, Israel, for 20 years. He returned to the U.K. in 2021.He is the author of three books on the Israel-Palestine conflict: Blood and Religion: The Unmasking of the Jewish State (2006), Israel and the Clash of Civilisations: Iraq, Iran and the Plan to Remake the Middle East (2008) and Disappearing Palestine: Israel’s Experiments in Human Despair (2008). If you appreciate his articles, please consider offering your financial support

This article is from the author’s blog, Jonathan  

The views expressed are solely those of the author and may or may not reflect those of Consortium News.

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22 comments for “Make-Believe Politics

  1. TS
    June 21, 2024 at 21:17

    Yes. Good!


    • Caliman
      June 23, 2024 at 20:38

      research “sortition” … the only real way to achieve representative governance.

  2. June 21, 2024 at 17:23

    Our evolving Deep State lexicon:

    “Democratic” (US variant): political system based on the election of supporters of the Democratic Party and no one else.

    “Antisemitism”: Jewish or gentile opposition to Zionist mass murder, genocide, apartheid and ethnic cleansing.

  3. JonnyJames
    June 21, 2024 at 14:11

    Thank you Mr. Cook, I could not agree more.

    As one of the best social critics the US has ever produced, George Carlin, said: “they don’t give a f@*k about you”

    Why do so many people still believe what they are told, and ask, “how high” when told to jump?

    • Teleman
      June 24, 2024 at 09:48

      The answer to your question is: People want to keep their jobs so they can have a home and raise their children. Dissenters are marginalized and mocked.
      President Eisenhower warned of the Military Industrialist Complex. Pogo said that we have met the enemy and he is us.

      • JonnyJames
        June 25, 2024 at 18:49

        Sure, but we don’t have to believe the transparent lies, and we don’t have to “vote” for amoral sociopath/kakistocrats. US dwellers must be among the most misinformed and psychologically-conditioned populations in world history

  4. Em
    June 21, 2024 at 12:59


    Mental lucidity is a ‘state’ in which a person has the complete ability to reason and/or comprehend complex matters, which, in essence presumes the person has adequate mental powers to be legally responsible for their actions.

    The guilt for the current criminality of the U.S. ‘government’ lies with the Executive Branch, behind the scenes – those pulling the actual strings of the presidency.

    Mental acuity is a person’s ability to reason, focus, and recall information at optimum speeds.
    Yet do any of us mere mortals actually have “full control over our minds” at all times?

    Empirical hypothesis: for others to decide for themselves:
    Joe Biden, it is now obvious, has been afflicted by a daily, exacerbating, ‘morbid obsolescence’ in mental acuity – a more rapid decline in the natural ageing process, rather than a commensurate natural decline in physical function (generalized weakening) as opposed to his deterioration in mental capacity.

    Decline in cognitive function, and physical function, do NOT necessarily occur in-tandem – at the same pace.
    Is there even a constant, unchanging sequence of ‘compos mentis’ durationally; over a lifetime? Differing, yet fleeting ‘state of mind’ affects, effect cognition as well as consciousness, throughout life.

    While surely, it must be granted, that the notion of “optimum speeds” for the systemic functions of human beings cannot be determined mechanistically, as they are for human manufactured material objects, it is apparent to the average individual – the public, that President Joe Biden is not at all times compos mentis – does not have full control of his mental faculties – abilities to think clearly at all times.

    He therefore, is not personally nor directly responsible for this dereliction of duty – the shameful failure to fulfill one’s obligations. The ‘tragedy in the comedy’ is that he no longer even has the sensitivity to be aware of his own personal embarrassment.

    We, the average people, are now acutely aware of the embarrassment his behavior is adding diplomatically to the nations already tarnished international image.
    His ever progressing, unwieldy functioning, is now being seen as the personified causation for the nation further being regarded, by the international community, as a laughing stock foreign policy-wise!

    And what is manifoldly, much much more dire, is that this unfortunate shell of the despicable politician he has been for his entire political career has his decrepit finger on the ‘nuclear button’!

    Who knows what his clandestine handlers and minders could put him up to, if he is not removed from office TODAY, if they in their zealous disregard for the wisdom of the ages should so decide.

    1.) http//
    2.) Oxford Languages

  5. shmutzoid
    June 21, 2024 at 12:48

    “Time to cut ourselves loose” ——–> Solutions to our sorry state of affairs are not to be found within the framework of global capitalism. Capitalist politics is a dead end. Resource wars/staggering inequality/climate chaos will not be effectively addressed in our current system. ———— it is only the immense, yet unrealized, social power of a unified international working class that could alter the present trajectory.
    –Armed with a political perspective fighting for a transition to international socialism, it’s only such global unity that could meet the challenge of our global problems. ——– End the nation-state system. Convert the mega-corporations to public utilities under democratic control of the people. Expropriate the ill-gotten trillions of dollars held by a tiny few and begin to alleviate some of the worst human suffering around the world.
    —-Yes, it is time to ‘cut ourselves loose’.

  6. Megan
    June 21, 2024 at 11:50

    This is a good primer. Now we need an extensive exposition of the rot and we need it in a format that helps educate all the newly minted activists protesting the Gaza genocide. All they learned about in school was the War of 1812 and other safely remote events. Time to give young people more of what they want and need: an informational grounding in the real world and the chance to make a difference in it that school was designed to deny them.

  7. BettyK
    June 21, 2024 at 11:40

    Well said!

  8. Michael G
    June 21, 2024 at 10:33

    Reinstate every bit of Anti-Trust legislation. Close every loophole going back to:

    “U.S. Supreme Court
    Santa Clara County v. Southern Pacific R. Co., 118 U.S. 394 (1886)

    Santa Clara County v. Southern Pacific Railroad Company

    Argued January 26-29, 1886

    Decided May 10, 1886

    118 U.S. 394


    The defendant Corporations are persons within the intent of the clause in section 1 of the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution of the United”

    Then, after money is out of politics, and the parasites called corporations have been excised from the body Demos.
    We start over.

    • LarcoMarco
      June 22, 2024 at 19:20

      Leland Stanford was a US Senator from 1885 until his death in 1893. Undoubtedly, he was his railroad’s most effective lobbyist.

  9. hetro
    June 21, 2024 at 10:20

    Powerful stuff, as usual from Jonathan. A “we are supposed to believe” theme could certainly strain credulity over events of many decades, especially recent ones. But one sentence is troubling:

    “We are supposed to make no comparison between Russia’s aggression against Ukraine and Israel’s aggression against the Palestinians.”

    I don’t see the comparison here nor the aptness of using “aggression” to describe Russia’s intervention in Ukraine.

    We are supposed to believe Russia’s intervention in Ukraine is Step One of Putin’s intent to take over Europe and the globe whereas Israel’s devastation in Gaza is self-defense???

    • Riva Enteen
      June 21, 2024 at 13:17

      I also was bothered by the term “aggression” to describe Russian’s response to 8 years of slaughter and numerous sabotaged efforts at resolution. As he says of Hamas, what else could they do? Otherwise, an excellent “primer,” especially highlighting Assange.

  10. Lois Gagnon
    June 21, 2024 at 10:10

    I know so many people who are smart enough to understand all this who go along with the official narrative. It’s disturbing to say the least. It appears the gullible will only open their eyes (and hearts and minds) when their bellies are empty.

    • S. A. Linden
      June 22, 2024 at 16:40

      I agree with you. Especially in the US (where I live), people seem to purposely wait to remediate a critical situation until if affects them personally. THEN they decide to do something. At least that’s how it seems to me.

      I’m not sure how it relates to the elements in the very fine article above (my admiration for Jonathan Cook is endless), but the continual distraction of contemporary life is far more important that it seems. Especially with those who trend authoritarian and usually right wing, it hits first, because as Bob Altemeyer, esteemed researcher of authoritarianism says, those who are built that way usually have low insight anyway. We all find it more difficult to concentrate and deeply focus when our worlds are thrown at us and the media emphasizes it and uses it to keep us from focusing on large ideas for much of the time.

      That’s more important than it seems. What’s behind the scenes and the overall synthetic view of events becomes harder to see when we’re hyperfocused on the details and the gossip we get through our corporate media. I’m shocked at how many of my intelligent friends get their news off FaceBook. Local news is rapidly being perverted or destroyed entirely.

      In short, we’re becoming a nation of sheep — easy to control.

  11. June 21, 2024 at 09:45

    Excellent article. One thing that is not usually discussed though is what are we to do about the billionaires? Courts have given them unprecedented powers to manipulate the public, and you can do a lot of manipulation when your bank account has thousands and thousands of millions of dollars in it. So what is the public supposed to do about this? The government has been captured, along with many of the courts, and the Corporate-Owned-News are wholly-owned subsidiaries of the billionaires. To whom do we turn for remedies?

    A very good question that, so-far, no one has ventured to tackle. Short of outright confiscation of the ill-gotten goods, I see no clear remedies. When everyone in power has been bought and paid for (and/or blackmailed), what is left for us to do?

    • Linda in California
      June 21, 2024 at 13:33

      What can be done most immediately to mitigate the power of “special interest” donations is full disclosure of donations over, say, $3000 from individuals AND corporations. This solution has been pursued often but has always been quashed by ‘special interests’.

    • Alex Nosal
      June 21, 2024 at 14:24

      My entire political existence has centered round this critical question: How do we seize government from the clutches of corporate power.To solve this problem, the public must elect a government on a one issue policy…. to pass legislation that makes it illegal for those employed or sponsored by the private sector, to be banned from government. In other words outlawing lobbies and punishing corporations and special interest groups that ignore this basic tenet of a functioning government. I have no illusions how difficult this is to accomplish, bu the inability to do so, will only accelerate our sixth mass extinction event as all of the policies in the West are now driven by the desire for high rates of return on investment, especially in the short term. The new legislation would be enforced by federal agents as all other crimes pale in comparison to those who promote regime change, war and the undermining of all democratic institutions. The first penalty would be to bankrupt those who fail to submit to a publicly controlled government. If the wealthy investor continues to break the law, they would then be sentenced to prison. It would be a non-violent revolution except for the violence that the investor class would use to prevent a functioning democracy from materializing, but once the legislation is passed and enforced, the threats would subside considerably. Keep in mind that wealthy investors will never surrender their attempts to undermine democracy for financial gain and therefore this transition would have to be followed up with a persistent and vigilant infrastructure designed to prevent this dysfunctional system from repeating itself. Of course the biggest obstacle to this democratic transformation will be the investor controlled media, however, while our internet is still somewhat free, the 99% could still get the message out via social media platforms, podcasts and other internet dependent methods as long as the investors don’t close that avenue all together as they are attempting to do right now. The good news is that such legislation benefits all countries around the globe and the 99% in this case is a truly global affair. The bad news is that the investor class will always be able to recruit sociopaths from within the 99% to wage war against their own brethren simply because of financial considerations; the contemporary version of corporate mercenaries. In any case, for survival of the human race, this is the biggest challenge in the history of human civilization and therefore victory over the billionaire class is an existential requirement for the planet.

      • S. A. Linden
        June 22, 2024 at 17:06

        I dunno, Alex. Nations might have to break up into smaller entities before humanity can figure out how to come together again (if we’re even meant to do that). A contemporary form of the medieval city-state, but more benevolent. The big problem is the urge for power and the weapons, which have become lethal and complex. It’s not like when we lived in caves and fought with clubs. It’s going to be incredibly difficult to work ourselves out of that.

        Perhaps the grid has to come down? Maybe people have to figure out how to exist with each other on a simpler level before they understand how to re-form our societies. Deactivate the power.

        One huge thing: with few exceptions, we are a male-based humanity. It doesn’t take a “feminist” to see that governments that have more female leaders are different, usually better. They trend collaborative. We have a deep imbalance in the yang over the yin. A high yang society just naturally becomes more predatory. It’s an artifact of our evolution. Hypermasculinity and hyperfemininity are “fashionable.” We should have moved beyond that, as we are trying to do now in the more varied representation of sexual expression. I still express as female and have no desire to change, but I welcome this. The so-called “men in suits” are getting tiresome and dangerous. Unfortunately, at least in the US, the women show up in leadership more often as tools of the establishment or deeply enculted themselves. It’s ugly.

        We must change this. As a person who among other things spent thirty years owning a holistic business, I have been taught balance in all things. Humanity is severely imbalanced. How we change that is up to us.

      • Caliman
        June 23, 2024 at 20:47

        The Greeks knew 2500 years ago that representative government leads to oligarchy led by the 1% of their time. It is inevitable. It is built into the structure of the government and it is purposeful. It is not because of existence of corporations, their undue power, capitalism versus socialism, etc. … it is due to the fact that when push comes to shove, people who have money and interests act through their representatives to protect those interests and people who do not have interests are easily amused by bread and circuses.

        Now, what form of govt could we have that is truly government of the people?

    • Teleman
      June 24, 2024 at 09:57

      Perhaps the RICO Act and the Sherman Anti-Trust Act could be used to bring these criminals to heel.

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