Disrespecting Obama

13/05/16 0 COMMENTS

Counterpunch, April 6, 2016

A Rap Sheet Fades Behind the Extravaganza

I wonder if anyone is enjoying the current endless quadrennial presidential electoral extravaganza more than Barack Obama. With the United States’ corporate-managed media and politics culture fixated on Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton, the Republican National Committee, Ted Cruz, and even sometimes the nominal socialist Bernie Sanders, Obama’s ongoing criminal record on behalf of corporate rule and American Empire has gone under the radar like no time in recent memory.

Beneath the hoopla over who will sit in the Oval Office in 2017, it becomes all too easy to forget that the current occupant persists in serial killing Muslims with a far-flung Drone War that Noam Chomsky has aptly described as “the most extreme terrorist campaign of modern times.” Also nudged to the margins of public attention is Obama’s continuing quest to secure final passage of the Trans Pacific Partnership, a blatantly arch-corporatist, eco-cidal, regressive, and authoritarian measure that is disliked by the majority of the U.S. populace (all four of the top presidential candidates, including even its onetime leading champion Hilary Clinton, are technically opposed to the TPP because of popular dissatisfaction with such “free trade’ [investor rights] measures.)

It’s consistent with the neoliberal Obama’s long record of lending fake-progressive assistance to the rich and powerful. His championing of the TPP fits the profile of his long ruling class rap sheet. It matches his mega bailout and his ongoing political and fiscal protection of the leading, arch-parasitic financial institutions that crashed the economy and crafted a business-rule-as-usual “recovery” for profits over people. It corresponds with his so-called Affordable Care Act, a blatant negation of longstanding majority U.S. support for national single-payer health insurance. As with his recent arrogant lecture to the Cuban people in Havana, the nation’s “first Black president” seems determined to serve the nation’s unelected and interrelated dictatorships of money and empire until last days in office.

All of this is quite consistent with the real and “deeply conservative” Obama that serious investigators of the Obama phenomenon understood before his election to the presidency. That description of Obama belongs to the liberal journalist and New Yorker writer Larissa MacFarquhar in the spring of 2007. “In his view of history, in his respect for tradition, in his skepticism that the world can be changed any way but very, very slowly,” MacFarquhar wrote after extensive interviews with candidate Obama in May of 2007, “Obama is deeply conservative. There are moments when he sounds almost Burkean…It’s not just that he thinks revolutions are unlikely: he values continuity and stability for their own sake, sometimes even more than he values change for the good.” MacFarquhar cited as an example of this reactionary sentiment Obama’s reluctance to embrace single-payer health insurance on the Canadian model, which he told her would “so disruptive that people feel like suddenly what they’ve known for most of their lives is thrown by the wayside.” Obama told MacFarquhar that “we’ve got all these legacy systems in place, and managing the transition, as well as adjusting the culture to a different system, would be difficult to pull off. So we may need a system that’s not so disruptive that people feel like suddenly what they’ve known for most of their lives is thrown by the wayside.” So what if large popular majorities in the U.S. had long favored the single-payer model? So what if single payer would let people keep the doctors of their choice, only throwing away the protection pay off to the private insurance mafia? So what if “the legacy systems” Obama defended included corporate insurance and pharmaceutical oligopolies that regularly threw millions of American lives by the wayside of market calculation, causing enormous disruptive harm and death for the populace?

Betraying Black Voters

Few Americans beneath the 1% have benefitted much from Obama’s seven years in office. The absence of tangible gains for non-affluent Americans is especially glaring in Black America, which turned out for Obama in record numbers in 2008 and 2012. Black median family income under Obama has fallen by one fifth. Black home ownership has declined and the Black-white wealth gap has risen. In 2009, white households were seven times richer than black households. Now, white households are eight times wealthier. Deep and deadly racial bias remains endemic across the nation’s giant, globally unmatched criminal (in)justice system of mass surveillance, arrest, imprisonment, and felony branding.

Adding insult to injury, white Americans habitually point to Obama’s presidency as final proof (for them) that anti-Black racism no longer poses serious barriers to Black advancement and equality. Countless Caucasians have told me “Hey, the President of the United States is Black, okay? Stop talking about race!” Never mind that racism, seriously understood, is about how the nation’s core day-to-day institutions (the labor market, the housing market, the education system, the criminal justice system, etc.) and social structures function, not simply a matter of counting racial faces in high places. Never mind that the “Black but not like Jesse” Obama’s ascendancy depended on pleasing the white majority by not offending its delicate racial sensibilities and on running with a deceptive “post-racial” narrative that provided cover for the persistence of societal and structural racism. Never mind that Obama has barely lifted a finger as president to confront the nation’s profoundly entrenched institutional racism. Or that the United States’ first half-white president has continued his nasty Black-bourgeois and white-pleasing habit of giving lower and working class Black Americans noxious neoliberal lectures on their own supposed personal and cultural responsibility for their disproportionate presence at the bottom of the nation’s savagely steep socioeconomic pyramids.

“Tired of Seeing Obama Disrespected”

For these and other reasons, “I’m [also] Ready,” to quote a recent essay by the Black philosophy professor and university diversity coordinator Lawrence Ware, “For President Obama to Leave the White House.” My reasons are somewhat different than Ware’s, however. Ware is understandably disgusted at the white racism that Obama, “the most disrespected president in American history,” has confronted. The affronts have been egregious, from the wacky white Birthers who questioned Obama’s national origins to the southern white Congressman (Joe Wilson) who shouted “You Lie” during a State of the Union Address, to the white Daily Caller reporter who heckled the president in the Rose Garden, and the former white New York City Mayor (the ridiculous Rudy Guliani) who complained that Obama “wasn’t brought up the way you were brought up and I was brought up through love of this country.” Now we have the spectacle of a white Republican Senate Judiciary Committee that refuses to hold confirmation hearings or even to meet with the moderate Republican white male that Obama nominated to replace the recently deceased right-wing Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia.

“It is clear that no matter how high you rise, no matter what office you hold, no matter how hard you work,” Ware writes, “if you are black, many will view and treat you like a second-class citizen…I’m tired of seeing President Obama blatantly disrespected, and my soul is weary from having to see him grin and bear it. I’m ready for President Obama to be free from the burden of having to perform for white supremacy – and I’m ready to be free from the burden of having to watch him do it.”

A Vacuous-to-Repressive Neoliberal President

Now, of course, the insults and denigration that Obama has received from malevolent white Republican reactionaries and idiots like Joe Wilson (R-SC), Mitch McConnell (R-KY), Charles Grassley (R-IA) and the leading Birther Donald Trump have been repellent. They are racist and vile and deserve repudiation from all decent progressives. At the same time, however, Leftists of all colors have always had some very good reasons to hold Obama in flaming contempt and to look forward to his coming helicopter flight off the grounds of the White House (in nine months and fifteen days). These reasons have nothing to do with racism and everything to do with the fake-progressive poseur Obama’s power-serving conservativism, including his conservativism on race. They go back well before Obama’s presidency and indeed prior to his emergence on the national scene. Listen to the Black left political scientist Adolph Reed, Jr’s description of the future president in The Village Voice just after Obama won his initial election to the Illinois Senate:

“In Chicago, for instance, we’ve gotten a foretaste of the new breed of foundation-hatched black communitarian voices; one of them, a smooth Harvard lawyer with impeccable do-good credentials and vacuous-to-repressive neoliberal politics, has won a state senate seat on a base mainly in the liberal foundation and development worlds. His fundamentally bootstrap line was softened by a patina of the rhetoric of authentic community, talk about meeting in kitchens, small-scale solutions to social problems, and the predictable elevation of process over program – the point where identity politics converges with old-fashioned middle-class reform in favoring form over substance. I suspect that his ilk is the wave of the future in U.S. black politics, as in Haiti and wherever else the International Monetary Fund has sway.”

How was that for a dead-on advance look at what would be the basic nature of Obama’s political career up through his presidency? Ten years later, the investigative journalist Ken Silverstein examined “the smooth Harvard lawyer” on the eve of Obama’s presidential campaign “It’s not always clear what Obama’s financial backers want,” Ken Silverstein noted in a Harpers’ Magazine report titled “Obama, Inc.,” “but it seems safe to conclude that his campaign contributors are not interested merely in clean government and political reform…On condition of anonymity,” Silverstein added, “one Washington lobbyist I spoke with was willing to point out the obvious: that big donors would not be helping out Obama if they didn’t see him as a ‘player.’ The lobbyist added: ‘What’s the dollar value of a starry-eyed idealist?’”

Disrespect Obama? You’re damn right, from the anti-racist portside. Read the pages of the Black-run and militantly anti-racist radical zine Black Agenda Report (BAR) from its origins in 2006 on. There you will find a large number of essays and commentaries detailing Obama’s allegiance and service to each of what Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. called “the triple evils that are interrelated”: white supremacy; economic injustice (capitalism); and U.S.-imperial militarism. Countless such reflections and reports can be found across progressive media, all written by non- and anti-racists. My own early books, talks, and essays (many of the last category appeared on BAR) on and against the Obama phenomenon and presidency followed my five-year stint as the director of a leading anti-racist research department in Chicago.

O.J.Bama? Some Curious Parallels

Lately, watching the B-minus FOX cable series on the O.J. Simpson trial, I’ve been struck by similarities between Obama and Simpson. Please, super-PC liberal identitarians, do not misunderstand me. I am aware that Simpson is a vicious thug (the National Football League’s brutal, brain-wrecking sport may have something to do with that) who savagely murdered his wife and her friend Ron Goldman, whereas Obama is a refined Harvard Law graduate who published a semi-eloquent coming-of-age memoir, worked as a community organizer, taught Constitutional Law, sat on liberal foundation boards, and entered electoral politics. Obama is by all indications an unusually decent president in his private and personal life, like Jimmy Carter. It is preposterous to imagine him stabbing anyone to death in a fit of jealous rage.

But the parallels are real. I’ll mention five. First, like the 1980s and 1990s O.J. brand prior to the famous double murder, the Brand Obama that arose in 2004 depended on a Black personality’s cross-racial popularity with whites, informed by a sense that the hero in question wasn’t really all that Black and was therefore unthreatening to the racially skittish and thin-skinned white majority.

Second, like O.J. after his emergence as a star athlete, Obama has never had all that much allegiance or strong connection to the Black community. Simpson lived in the tony white West Side Los Angeles neighborhood of Brentwood, where he killed his white ex-wife, and hung out mainly with white friends like Robert Kardashian. O.J. was initially taken aback by his race-conscious Black lawyer Johnnie Cochran’s determination to “play the race card” in the Simpson murder trial. “I’m not Black,” Simpson protested, “I’m O.J.!”

Obama for his part came from a relatively privileged white family in Hawaii and climbed up through the predominantly white and elite Ivy League institutions of Columbia University and Harvard Law. Even as a state senator representing a Black majority district on the South Side of Chicago (while living and working as a professor in the upper middle class and integrated neighborhood of Hyde Park-Kenwood [my own childhood neighborhood], he was remarkably unpopular in Black Chicago, where he was seen as “too white,” “too Ivy League,” too University of Chicago (where he taught as a highly paid adjunct), and too connected to predominantly white downtown corporate interests and pseudo-liberal do-gooder foundations. The U.S. Congressman and former Black Panther Bobby Rush exploited these sentiments to crush Obama when the future president challenged Rush for his supermajority Black South Side congressional district in 2000.

During his rise to the U.S. Senate and then the presidency, Obama relied heavily on the support of wealthy white funders including his good Zionist friend Lester Crown, a Forbes 400 capitalist and chairman of the Chicago Commercial Club and the imperial Chicago Council on Global Affairs. He did everything he could to disassociate himself from “excessive Blackness” and from the cause of racial justice, deeply understood, in his Senate and presidential campaigns. As president, Obama has done nothing, or next to it, to repay Black Americans for the flood of identity-politicized support they gave him after he emerged as a state-(Illinois-) wide and national political force in 2003 and 2004.

Third, as with O.J., Obama’s lack of any special concern for Black America (the actual existence of which Obama denied in the Democratic National Convention speech that made him an overnight celebrity in the summer of 2004[1]) has not stopped Team Obama from garnering benefits from the simple fact of the president’s skin color. O.J. got away with murder thanks to a brilliantly executed racial strategy in the legal and public courtrooms. For his part, Obama’s race helped motivate millions of voters (including droves of liberal white voters) to mark ballots of him with little or any regard for his deeply conservative, power-serving essence and record. It has also made liberals, progressives, and even some leftists unduly unwilling and unable to speak, write, and even think clearly about and against “our Black president’s” bottomless loyalty to concentrated wealth and power. Along the way, Team Obama has not been above deploying a certain amount of manufactured Blackness – a key part of the Simpson team’s trial strategy – to provide cover for his underlying fidelity to white-supremacist power structures.

Fourth, both O.J. and Obama represent in their own different ways the triumph of private over public power in the neoliberal era. The public prosecutors’ office that tried to send Simpson away for a ferocious double murder was outmatched by the well-heeled private defense team that the millionaire ex-athlete was able to assemble. More than two decades later an Obama administration that was staffed by Wall Street agents would give the nation what the liberal columnist William Greider would memorably call “a blunt lesson about power, who has it and who doesn’t. They have watched,” Greider wrote, “Washington run to rescue the very financial interests who caused the catastrophe. They learned that government has plenty of money to spend – when the right people want itAnd little to spend on the rest of us, the wrong people, soon to be known as “the 99%,” left to ask “where’s my bailout?

“A Killer” – and “Good at” it

Fifth, Obama, like OJ and like all U.S. presidents before him, is a murderer – and this of course on a much larger scale than Simpson.

“Peace prize? He’s a killer.” So said a young Pashtun man to an Al Jazeera English reporter on December 10, 2009, the day that Obama was given the Nobel Peace Prize by some very silly white people in Norway. “Obama,” the man added, “has only brought war to our country.” The man spoke from the village of Armal, where a crowd of 100 gathered around the bodies of 12 people, one family from a single home. The 12 were killed, witnesses reported, by U.S. Special Forces during a late night raid. “Why are they giving Obama a peace medal?” another village resident asked. “He claims to want to bring security to us but he brings only death. Death to him.”

Al Jazeera also went to the Afghan village of Bola Boluk, where a U.S. bombing butchered dozens of civilians the previous spring. “He doesn’t deserve the award,” a young woman said. “He bombed us and left us with nothing, not even a home”

Obama had blasted her village in May of 2009. In the first week of that month, the president’s air-strikes killed well more than 100 noncombatants in Bola Boluk, located in western Afghanistan’s Farah Province. Ninety-three of the dead villagers torn apart by U.S. explosives were children. Just 22 were males 18 years or older. As the New York Times reported:

“In a phone call played on a loudspeaker on Wednesday to outraged members of the Afghan Parliament,” The New York Times reported, “the governor of Farah Province…said that as many as 130 civilians had been killed.” According to one Afghan legislator and eyewitness, “the villagers bought two tractor trailers full of pieces of human bodies to his office to prove the casualties that had occurred. Everyone at the governor’s cried, watching that shocking scene.”

The response of Obama’s Pentagon to this horrific incident – one among many such mass U.S. aerial killings in Afghanistan before and since – was like something one might expect from the totalitarian, U.S.- and Western Europe-backed Paul Kagame dictatorship in Rwanda. It was to absurdly blame the civilian deaths on “Taliban grenades.” While Obama’s Secretary of State Hillary Clinton expressed “regret” about the loss of innocent life, neither she nor Obama would issue an apology or acknowledge U.S. responsibility for the blasting apart of civilian bodies in Farah Province. The United States, Obama has said both as a U.S. Senator and as president, should not apologize for its “mistakes” (that is, its crimes). This, he explains, is because the United States is “an enormous force for good in the world,” one that prefers to “look forward,” not “backwards.”

The child-killing Obama administration struck again, execution-style, at the end of 2009 in Ghazi Khan, a village in eastern Afghanistan. As the Times of London reported on December 31st, 2009:

“American-led troops…yesterday…dragg[ed] innocent children from their beds and shooting them during a night raid that left ten people dead. Afghan government investigators said that eight schoolchildren were killed, all but one of them from the same family. Locals said that some victims were handcuffed before being killed…In a telephone interview last night, the headmaster [of the local school] said that the victims were asleep in three rooms when the troops arrived. ‘Seven students were in one room,’ said Rahman Jan Ehsas. ‘A student and one guest were in another room, a guest room, and a farmer was asleep with his wife in a third building. First the foreign troops entered the guest room and shot two of them. Then they entered another room and handcuffed the seven students. Then they killed them. Abdul Khaliq [the farmer] heard shooting and came outside. When they saw him they shot him as well. He was outside. That’s why his wife wasn’t killed.’ A local elder, Jan Mohammed, said that three boys were killed in one room and five were handcuffed before they were shot. ‘I saw their school books covered in blood,’ he said.”

But all this was just a small foretaste of further carnage to come courtesy of the new Nobel Peace laureate. Obama’s body count has risen considerably from those early days, thanks primarily to his drone campaign, which has killed many thousands across the Muslim world from Somalia and Yemen to Pakistan and Afghanistan. The president’s victims have included European doctors with Medicins Sans Frontiers (MSF) targeted by a US AC-130 Gunship that killed 30 physicians and patients in the Afghan town of Kunduz last October. Thanks to the large number of white European professionals killed in the horrific “incident” (war crime), one of Obama’s military officials had to break form and issue a formal apology in this case.

Obama’s chilling, far-flung, personally supervised, and cowardly targeted assassination program has done more than George W. Bush’s clumsy “boots on the ground” invasion of Iraq to expand the geographic scope and fervor of Islamist jihad.

It has been a source of some ironic entertainment for Obama. As the highly respected establishment journalists Mark Halperin and John Heilemann’s reported in their book Double Down: Game Change 2012, the President once joked to his aides that, thanks to the drone weapon, “it turns out I’m really good at killing people.” That’s different from Simpson, who kept insisting that he’d killed nobody (even if he did later write a book titled If I Did It) and who showed himself as less than stealthy and skillful at murder (even if his defense team and a poor prosecution helped him overcome his sloppiness at homicide).

No journalist followed up the report of Obama’s chilling “good at killing people” remark with a request for comment from Obama’s former South Side Chicago pastor, Reverend Jeremiah Wright – the anti-racist and anti-imperialist Black preacher who Obama threw under the bus in the name of color-blind American Exceptionalism in March of 2008. Too bad. A call to Reverend Wright have made an interesting story.

The Class One Serves: Content of Character and Color of Skin

In his famous 1963 “I Have a Dream” speech, Dr. King looked forward to the day when Americans “will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.” What has Obama’s presidency revealed about his character behind his skin? Very, very little that is remotely worthy of respect and far, far more that is worthy of profound disrespect from an anti-racist Left perspective. His presidency has exposed him as being precisely what Reed, myself, John Pilger, and numerous other and multi-colored Left commentators including Bruce Dixon, Glen Ford and others at Black Agenda Report tried to tell progressives Obama was well before the candidate sent chills up liberal legs by becoming a serious Black presidential contender in the land of slavery. The Obama years have exposed him as a dedicated agent of each of the “the triple evils” wrapped in “progressive” branding and cloaked by the resistance-disabling tonic of “middle class identity politics” (Reed). That politics sustains the suspicion that the President’s critics (even his Left ones) don’t really object to his policies but are upset rather by the color of his skin. Surely when the democratic socialist King made his famous, ringing remark on character and color, he did not mean for it inhibit legitimate denunciation of a Black politician or policymaker for doing the poisonous bidding of a racist Empire and a vicious capitalist ruling class.

“What matters,” anti-colonial psychiatrist Frantz Fanon wrote 63 years ago in his first book, Black Skin, White Masks, “is not so much the color of your skin as the power you serve and the millions you betray.” Fanon was reflecting on the black African leaders who failed to serve the interests of the black masses whose national aspirations they rode to power in the post-World War II era. His formulation holds with haunting relevance to the performance of the in-power African National Congress in post-apartheid neoliberal South Africa and in its own way to the presidency of Barack Obama.

Also worth recalling are Pilger’s eloquent reflections on Obama in the summer of 2009. “The clever young man who recently made it to the White House,” Pilger told a gathering of international socialists in San Francisco, “is a very fine hypnotist, partly because it is indeed exciting to see an African American at the pinnacle of power in the land of slavery. However, this is the 21st century and race, together with gender and even class, can be very seductive tools of propaganda. For what is so often overlooked and what matters above all, is the class one serves.”

I, for one, am ready to be free of the burden of being expected to grant undue deference to a president who betrays the ideals of the great social justice and antiwar leader (King) whose bust sits behind Obama as he orders another mass-murderous and arch-terrorist drone hit somewhere in the Middle East, North Africa, or South Asia.

Hillary Playing Cards…and Maybe Losing

Now the first Black President is stealthily giving his seal of approval to his unpopular and far less charismatic successor Hillary Clinton over the considerably more well-liked and progressive Democratic challenger Bernie Sanders (who is “disappointed” by Obama’s Wall Street-pleasing domestic policies but embraces his drone war and other imperial policies). For all the “bad blood” said to exist between Obama and the Clintons, she and her husband are cut from the same exact deeply conservative “New Democrat” ideological cloth as the current U.S. president (they helped weave and dye the cloth in the 1970s and 1980s, in fact). Mrs. Clinton represents a continuation both of Wall Street-captive imperial neoliberalism and of identity politics combining with partisan politics to provide cover for that noxious policy stew. She plays the race card to keep an advantage with Black voters, subtly accusing Sanders of being racially incorrect by daring to have express some dissatisfaction with Obama’s nauseating conservatism. And of course the Clinton campaign has played the gender card against “angry white male Beniebros,” deleting the fact that Mrs. Clinton is losing among younger female Democratic voters. In four or perhaps eight more years, perhaps we will to read essays from disgruntled women and feminists on how they are ready for Hillary Clinton to leave the White House because they are tired of seeing the nation’s first female president disrespected by sexist men within and beyond Congress. The sexist and offense that these writers complain about will be real and noxious enough to merit progressive condemnation. And meanwhile, perhaps, Leftists will note that the Hillary Clinton presidency has been a disaster – an imperial and neoliberal nightmare – for millions upon millions of women (and children and men) at home and abroad. Left activists and writers will look forward to Hillary’s departure for at least not having to be suspected of sexism for daring to observe that her presidency served the nation’s unelected and combined dictatorships of class, empire, race, eco-cide, and patriarchy – what we might today call the five evils that are interrelated.

Or maybe not. The former Goldwater Girl who decided that right-wing Republicans like Newt Gingrich and Tom DeLay were not true conservatives like her and her husband lacks Bill’s unmatched skill at conducting what a still left Christopher Hitchens called in 1999 “the essence of American politics”: “the manipulation of populism by elitism.” A terrible campaigner, she is much less effective than Obama and Bill at bamboozling progressives. As I write today on the morning of Tuesday, April 5th, it seems distinctly possible that Sanders’ recent string of primary victories will continue today in Wisconsin. Sanders’ seems increasingly less hopeless in New York and California, his gender and race notwithstanding. It looks like a Bernie Sanders presidency is at least as possible as a Chicago Cubs trip to the World Series this year.


1.“Now even as we speak,” Obama told delegates to the Democratic National Convention in Boston, “there are those who are preparing to divide us… I say to them tonight, there’s not a liberal America and a conservative America; there’s the United States of America. There’s not a black America and white America and Latino America and Asian America; there’s the United States of America.”

Paul Street’s latest book is They Rule: The 1% v. Democracy (Paradigm, 2014)

Second Thoughts on Bernie’s Viability

13/05/16 0 COMMENTS

Counterpunch, March 31, 2016

I am starting to think that I may be off base on one of my political calculations. In the course of arguing that Hillary Clinton would be more electable than Bernie Sanders in a general election contest with Donald Trump next November (whatever match-up polls may say now), I have reasoned that big corporate and Wall Street campaign money originally earmarked for Hillary Clinton would flood over to the noxious Republican candidate if Sanders won the Democratic nomination. My thesis was that big donors who normally back the Republican presidential candidate would be too put off by Trump’s campaign populism and global isolationism (more on that below) to back him and would logically bet their election investments on the Clinton machine, which has a long record of Republican-lite neoliberal fealty to Big Business along with aggressive imperial globalism beneath its standard progressive campaign posturing. But with a leftish progressive and nominal socialist who rails against economic inequality and “the billionaire class” at the head of the Democratic ticket, I figured, a determinant lion’s share of One Percent political money would pick Trump.

Trump v. Domestic Legitimacy and Authority

Now I’m starting to wonder about that. As I suspect many halfway intelligent One Percenters know, Trump may represent a bigger threat to their interests than Bernie. The outlandish and preposterous, Twitter-addicted Trump is a wacky, uber-narcissistic wildcard who threatens to make the United States domestically ungovernable while wrecking the United States’ image and brand abroad. With a white-nationalist, arch-misogynist buffoon, television personality, and potential fascist like The Donald in the White House, Americans’ already pronounced lack of confidence in their nation’s reigning institutions would plummet to new lows. Stephanie Kegielski, the top strategist for Trump’s short-lived Make America Great super-PAC recently wrote that Trump “is the presidential equivalent of Sanjaya on ‘American Idol.’ President Trump would be President Sanjaya in terms of legitimacy and authority.”

Sanjaya with an ugly hint of Mussolini and Hitler. You want to see chaos in America? Imagine a Trump presidency. It’s not for nothing that left anarchist friends of mine relish the possibility of a Donald White House. (I’d be lying if I denied that a street-fighting part of me doesn’t share the sentiment.) If you want to see people hit the streets and shut things down on a regular basis, provoking police state repression and escalation, bring on The Donald. The predominantly non-white people of the nation’s cities would not stand for a Trump administration. Look at what happened on the Near West Side of Chicago three weeks ago.

“Career-Threatening for The Military-Industrial Complex”

Meanwhile, Uncle Sam would get a big public relations black eye, maybe even worse than when George Cowboy Bush invaded Iraq, and Islamist terrorists will have a recruiting field day. With the loudmouthed star of “The Apprentice” in the Oval Office, with his short fingers on the nuclear button, the United States will become a planetary laughingstock. U.S. power would be dramatically and further delegitimized and the U.S. populace would be mocked as a hapless throng of racist and nativist, reality show-addicted morons. None of that would be good for Big Business rule as usual.

Also problematic for smart elites atop the nation’s unelected and interrelated dictatorships of money and empire are Trump’s foreign policy statements to date. A recent column in The Nation by the venerable left-liberal commentator William Greider is titled “Trump Could be the Military Industrial Complex’s Worst Nightmare.” As Greider wrote last week:

“This week, while people everywhere were fretting over his violent talk, the candidate [Trump] came to Washington and dropped a peace bomb on the neocon editorial writers at The Washington Post and the war lobby. Trump wants to get the United States out of fighting other people’s wars. He thinks maybe NATO has outlived its usefulness. He asks why Americans are still paying for South Korea’s national defense. Or Germany’s or Saudi Arabia’s… ‘I do think it’s a different world today and I don’t think we should be nation-building anymore,’ Trump said. ‘I think it’s proven not to work. And we have a different country than we did then. You know we have $19 trillion in debt. We’re sitting probably on a bubble, and, you know, it’s a bubble that if it breaks is going to be very nasty. And I just think we have to rebuild our country’… this sort of thinking is mega-heresy among the political establishment of both parties. The foreign-policy operators consider themselves in charge of the ‘indispensable nation’…This new Trump talk is definitely career-threatening for the military-industrial complex.”

But Trumpian “America first” isolationism is also a dilemma (“career-threatening” if you like) for the broader political economy of U.S. capitalism, which hinges fundamentally on a global class system imperialism, multi-state repression, and multinational corporate rule backed by the U.S. military empire. And that is why, as Rob Urie recently noted on CounterPunch, “American ‘progressives’ make a deal with the devil when they dissociate Mrs. Clinton’s support for Wall Street [which Sanders’ backers openly oppose, P.S.] from her hawkish foreign policy and her opportunistic (and structurally racist) carceral policies [things few Sanders backers press their hero to challenge, P.S.].” American Empire and class inequality are dialectically inseparable at home and abroad.

It’s not for nothing that establishment Republicans are scrambling to cancel Trump’s scary leap from reality television to real television politics by trying to jam him up at a brokered Republican National Convention this summer.

Reasons to Cut a Ruling Class Deal with Bernie

Compared to the specter of a Trumpenstein in the White House, the pretend socialist Bernie Sanders might actually be preferable to the deep state capitalist and imperial rulers who govern the nation behind the fake-democratic surface cover of electoral politics. No, the One Percent and its media don’t like Bernie’s talk about progressive taxation and Scandinavian-style social democracy. It dislikes Sanders’ populist rhetoric against the nation’s savage, New Gilded Age inequalities. It can’t stand how often Sanders mentions and denounces the ugly facts that the top U.S. hundredth owns more wealth than the bottom U.S. 90 percent – and that six Wal-Mart heirs have as much net worth together as the bottom U.S. 42 percent. It has no taste for single-payer health insurance, big green jobs programs, significantly increased minimum wages, free college, and broken-up, tightly regulated financial institutions and the rest.

But the masters know they and their deep-capitalist state can block these policy dreams. They know they can cut a deal with the neo-New Dealer Bernie, who is nowhere near as left or radical as many of his supporters and enemies think and who has made sure to remind folks that his definition of “socialism” includes the continued poisonous (eco-cidal in fact) and private, for-profit ownership of the means of production, investment, and distribution – now so globalized as to render calls for a new New Deal largely mute.

Empire Man

Perceptive wealth and power elites know that Sanders has made sure to exempt the giant American global military empire – an intimate partner of, and leading profit source for the nation’s capitalist ruling class – from his jeremiads against concentrated power and privilege. Bernie is no internationalist or peacenik. After all, he: calls Edward Snowden a criminal and Hugo Chavez (a social democrat) a “dead communist dictator; embraces Barack Obama’s arch-terrorist drone war; supports the reckless U.S. provocation of Russia in Eastern Europe; calls for the arch-reactionary and fundamentalist Islam-sponsoring state of Saudi Arabia (a leading U.S. military client) to step up its already mass-murderous military role in the Middle East; backed the Clinton administration’s criminal and unnecessary bombing of Serbia (over the opposition of sickened antiwar activists); rationalizes leading U.S, military client Israel’s murder of Palestinian children in Gaza; called police to arrest activists occupying his Burlington, Vermont Congressional office to protest “Bomber Bernie’s” Serbia policy; called the police (when Sanders was the mayor of Burlington) to arrest peace protesters occupying an industrial plant owned by the leading, blood-soaked military contractor General Electric; pushed and voted for the mass-murderous and wasteful F-35 jet program (a classic Pentagon boondoggle) because it meant “jobs for Vermont;” fails to call for the giant rollback of gargantuan U.S “defense” (Empire) budget (which accounts for roughly half the world’s military spending and maintains more than 1000 U.S, military bases across more than 100 nations) that his genuinely liberal-progressive domestic social agenda would require; leaves the Pentagon system to stand almost completely without criticism when asked how he would pay for good things like national single-payer health insurance; says that we should learn from Denmark and other significantly social-democratic Scandinavian countries without bothering to note that those nations have tiny military budgets.

To call Sanders’ “soft on imperialism” (to quote Andrew Levine on Counterpunch last weekend[1]) is to make quite an understatement about the Vermont Senator’s commitment the U.S. global project. Make no mistake: Bernie is an Empire Man through and through.

Selling the Myth of U.S. Democracy and Keeping Folks Off the Streets

A Bernie Sanders presidency would do wonders for helping Star Spangled oligarchs and their many advance agents across the media and intellectual culture sell the great fairy tale that the United States is a shining beacon of democracy. (How could it be? U.S. Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis rightly channeled the wisdom of great thinkers like Aristotle and John Dewey when he observed in 1941 that Americans must “make our choice. We may have democracy, or we may have wealth concentrated in the hands of a few, but we cannot have both”). Letting an old Jewish guy from Brooklyn who calls himself a socialist become president might even be symbolically better than letting a Black family occupy the White House when it comes to re-rebranding the U.S. corporate plutocracy as a magnificent model of popular self-governance.

At the same time, a Sanders White House would do immeasurably more than a populace-inciting Trump presidency – and more also than a Hillary Clinton administration (see below) – to keep people off the streets and pacified by the deadly notion that progressive change is best achieved through major party electoral politics once every two and four years. It would help sell what the radical U.S. historian Howard Zinn called (in the year of the “progressive” Obama passion) the “Election Madness…the election frenzy [that]… seizes the country every four years because we have all been brought up to believe that voting is crucial in determining our destiny, that the most important act a citizen can engage in is to go to the polls” and mark ballots for candidates from one of “two [major party] wings of the same bird of prey” (Upton Sinclair, 1904).

I am aware of course that Sanders has said repeatedly that a Sanders presidency would need to be backed by a great citizens’ movement to take on “the big money interests, Wall Street, corporate America, all these guys [who] have so much power that no president can defeat them unless there is an organized grassroots movement making them an offer they can’t refuse.” But here’s the thing: Sanders would organize no such thing once he got in the White House. Bernie and the people around him are partisan, major party electoral politicos. They wouldn’t know a revolutionary, grassroots social movement until it bit them in the ass and when it does they can be counted on to do their best to coopt and/or crush it like Obama and Occupy. Once they reached the symbolic apex of the political establishment they claim to oppose they would act keep popular movements weak and marginalized in the name of political “realism,” “pragmatism,” “getting things done” and, of course, blocking and defeating the Republicans. Bernie’s on the record saying that his campaign doesn’t believe in disrupting anything.

None of which is to deny that white nationalists can be expected to engage in no small disruption after Trump or whoever else the Republican Party puts is defeated by Sanders or – far more likely – by Hillary Clinton next November.

As Zinn noted in 2007, by which time Bernie was voting to “support the [U.S.] troops” in Iraq: “We who protest the war are not politicians. We are citizens…. Except for the rare few…our representatives are politicians, and will surrender their integrity, claiming to be ‘realistic.’ We are not politicians, but citizens. We have no office to hold on to, only our consciences, which insist on telling the truth.”

Discrediting Socialism

There’s an added benefit for smart ruling class strategists capable of long-game thinking to anticipate in a Sanders presidency: the discrediting of socialism. Behold the impressive big-picture reflections of Gary Leech on Counterpunch last January:

“There is little doubt that the social democratic policies advocated by Sanders will redistribute some wealth to benefit poorer Americans…. the Keynesian policies that he is advocating are by far the most progressive that have been put forth by a serious presidential contender for many decades…Sanders’ policy proposals represent a welcome and long overdue challenge to the right-wing neoliberal rhetoric and policy agenda that has dominated US politics since the Reagan years. But not only aren’t Sanders’ policies socialist, they actually pose a threat to socialism. If elected, Sanders’ policies would likely moderate the capitalist model both domestically and globally, but they would leave intact the fundamental global injustices inherent in the capitalist system. And when those capitalist policies implemented by a self-proclaimed socialist ultimately fail to address these global injustices in any meaningful way, it will be socialism that will be discredited” (emphasis added).

That strikes me as a properly dark analysis flawed by the assumption that a President Sanders would have any success getting his social-democratish policies enacted. Many-sided global capitalist power within and beyond the political class would surely work to block such measures (progressive taxation, the break-up of big financial institutions, single-payer health insurance) from happening as well as to make sure that Bernie (who would be one year short of eighty years old in 2020) got just one term in office (if he survived his first four years). But that would hardly prevent the ruling class and its vast propaganda apparatus from blaming “Sanders’ failures” on – guess what? – “socialism.” Think “Bernie Sanders, America’s last socialist president” – and he he wasn’t even a socialist.

Electorate Reflections: Bernie v. Hillary in the General Election

Moving down from the ruling class to the electorate, let me add some additional reflections in support of Sanders’ viability in a general election contest with Trump. When you look closely at the exit polling data from the Democratic presidential primaries so far, three key differences stand out in order of magnitude. The first and most remarkable fracture is generational, with Sanders hugely out-performing Hillary with younger voters (the younger the voter, the better he does) and Hillary running away with voters 45 and up (and the older the voter, the better she does). The second most glaring difference is race, with the well-recognized Hillary doing far better than the gruff Brooklyn-born Sanders (who hails from 97% white rural Vermont and reminds many Black urban residents of a pissed-off landlord or social service functionary) with Black voters who do not know Sanders particularly well and tend to think of him as less likely to prevail over the racist KKK-accommodator Donald Trump. The third thing that leaps out is gender, with Hillary prevailing overall with the female vote and especially with older female voters.

How would these differences play out in comparing how Bernie and Hillary would do in the general election? Sanders’ race problem would pretty much go away in a general election. He would rock the Black vote, and the Latino vote too, in a contest with the racist, white nationalist and nativist, immigrant-bashing Trump. Black voters might have some cultural, viability, and familiarity with Sanders right now but those deficits would largely disappear in a general election pitting Sanders (who got arrested protesting racial segregation in Chicago during the early 1960s) against a Trump or a Cruz or just about any other Republican.

Sanders would also get the female vote, except for some die-hard Clinton women who couldn’t forgive him for defeating Hillary’s bid to become the first female president. That is thanks to his own politically correct feminist credentials in office and above all to the hideous sexism of Trump, who has been outed even in his own party as a vicious, spine-chilling misogynist.

Sanders might struggle to keep older Democrats on board at first but I’m pretty sure he’d do very well with them by general election time with calls for strengthening Social Security and keeping the awful Republicans at bay. It doesn’t hurt that Bernie is really old.

By contrast, Hillary’s generational problem in the primaries would not go away as easily as Sanders’ racial, age, and gender deficits in a general election match-up with Trump or another Republican. Many of the young Americans whose ongoing radicalization (dating back at least as far as the time of Occupy Wall Street) by neoliberal capitalism has been tapped by Bernie are going to be unwilling (like this middle-aged writer) to poke a ballot hole for a neoliberal and imperial monster like Hillary Clinton. A good percentage of these twenty- and thirty-something “Bernie or Busters” are going to be unmoved by the usual and standard “lesser evil” argument – the scaremongering over Republican arch-malevolence – on behalf of the de facto “moderate” Republican war hawk Hillary next November. As Levine notes, “If Hillary becomes the Democrats’ nominee, the Greens would have an enormous pool of [younger – P.S.] Sanders supporters from which to recruit.”

Bernie’s main problems with the Democratic electorate would go away in a general election. Hillary’s main difficulty with the changing Democratic base could be much stickier.

Reasons Not Get Too Depressed About a Hillary Clinton Presidency

Of course, the American ruling class would rather avoid both the noxious white nationalist and potential isolationist Trump and the domestically progressive if globally imperial Bernie. It always favors the path of least resistance. It prefers venerable neoliberal “third way” represented by the fake-progressive Hillary Clinton, a dedicated globalist and imperialist (far more aggressively imperial and military than both Trump and Bernie) who joined with Bill Clinton and other Democratic Leadership Council types to help trail-blaze the rightward, Big Business-friendly turn of the Democratic Party more than a generation ago. It could well deep-six the embarrassing and dangerous Trump phenomenon (causing no small white nationalist, Trumpenproletarian rage, as Donald has warned) this summer. And the smart money is still on Hillary (with the big arrow on her campaign logo properly pointing to the right) getting the Democratic nomination (despite her recent string of lop-sided embarrassments) and then the presidency, though nothing is for certain in this wacky New Gilded Age of savage inequality and mass alienation and anger.

Like all good leftists, I hate the Clintons, including the ones with two x chromosomes – and that includes young Chelsea, with her giant new $10 million condo complex in Manhattan (whose cheerful advertisement across the Internet must surely offend young adult voters who have “played by the rules” but find themselves stuck in the “precariat” by the endless economic and environmental nightmare that is contemporary neoliberal capitalism). I probably loathe them with greater passion than any Bernie Sanders fan. Still, I do not await the likelihood – to repeat, not the certainty – of a Hillary Clinton administration with undiluted trepidation. Pardon my middle-aged cynicism, but it is my observation that it’s always better for the Left and for the development of the dedicated day-to-day grassroots social movement(s) that we so desperately need to have a corporate Democrat than a corporate Republican in the White House.

This is for two key reasons different from those given in the self-fulfilling, viciously circular Lesser Evil argument many progressive intellectuals and activists (including some of the left’s best and brightest) make every four years. First, the presence of a Democrat in the nominal top U.S. job is always usefully instructive for young workers and citizens. It helps demonstrate the richly bipartisan nature of the American plutocracy and Empire. The people need to see and experience how the intolerable misery and oppression imposed by capitalism and its evil twin imperialism live on when Democrats hold the White House. Second, the presence of a Republican in the White House tends to fuel the illusion among progressives and others that the main problem in the country is that the wrong party holds executive power and that all energy and activism must be directed at fixing that. (In other words, if McCain had won in 2008, we wouldn’t have gotten the briefly remarkable Occupy Movement but rather a big Get the Vote out for Barack or Hillary movement in 2011. It’s the same perhaps for Fight for $15 and Black Lives Matter if Mitt Romney had won in 2012.)

There is, yes, I know, the problem of Democrats in the White House functioning to stifle social movements and especially peace activism (the antiwar movement has still yet to recover from the Obama experience). But there’s more good news here about a Hillary presidency. Not all Democratic presidents are equally good at shutting progressive activism down. As the likely Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein (for whom I expect to vote) recently noted in an interview with me, Hillary Clinton will have considerably less capacity to deceive and bamboozle progressive and young workers and citizens than Barack Obama enjoyed in 2007-08. “Obama,” Stein notes was fairly new on the scene. Hillary,” by contrast, “has been a warmonger who never found a war she didn’t love forever!” Hillary’s corporatist track record – ably documented in Doug Henwood’s book My Turn: Hillary Clinton Targets the Presidency (her imperial track record receives equally impressive treatment in Diana Johnstone’s volume Queen of Chaos: The Misadventures of Hillary Clinton) – is also long and transparently bad. And I’m not sure that a Hillary presidency wouldn’t be preferable to a Sanders presidency – which would, to be clear, be an imperial presidency – in this regard. Bernie has shown a remarkable capacity to bamboozle people into thinking that the Democratic Party is an appropriate vehicle for popular revolution (it isn’t) and that endless quadrennial, candidate-centered major party electoral crusades and spectacles are preferable to social movement-building and action when it comes to making history and revolution from the bottom up (they aren’t).

The Clintons and the DNC initially welcomed his entrance into the primary because they expected his campaign to dutifully play that “sheep dog” and/or “Judas Goat” role. Now he has helped channel [2] something that he himself would have to contain for the Empire were he to become president – something that he’d probably be better at containing than Hillary.


1 “The only people Sanders’ ‘democratic socialism’ seem[s] to bother,” Levine writes in his generally (and as usual) brilliant and entertaining article, “[are] doctrinaire leftists who keep harping on the obvious: that Bernie is a New Deal-Great Society liberal, not a real socialist, and that he is soft on imperialism. All true; and all worth pointing out – but not more than, say, a couple of dozen times.” But all of that is “obvious” only or at least primarily to well-educated and mostly older left intellectuals. “Soft on imperialism” is an egregious understatement. And I’m not sure the distinction between real and fake socialists/socialism can be made often enough (just 24 times seems lazy to me) in a time when the profits system now clearly threatens the not-so distant extinction of the species and has already put a decent future for humanity and other living things at very grave risk. See John Bellamy, Brett Clark, and Richard York, The Ecological Rift: Capitalism’s War on Earth (New York: Monthly Review, 2010), a book which leads me to say thank God for “doctrinaire leftists.”

2 Left Bernie fans tend to give Sanders far too much radical street cred. “One good thing about Bernie,” a radical Sanders supporter (herself deeply and properly cynical about the Democratic Party) wrote me to say, “is that he’s making everyone class-conscious.” You heard it here first: neoliberal global capitalism (which is really just capitalism returning to its brutally unequal and repressive historical norm over the last four decades) hasn’t made people class conscious and open to words like socialism and to struggles against “the 1 percent.” No, Bernie Sanders did it. A Facebook meme someone enthusiastically sent me proclaims “Bernie: He’s Not Just a ‘Candidate,’ He’s a Revolution.” That is bombastic Sandernista delusion on a grand, Obamanistic scale.

Paul Street’s latest book is They Rule: The 1% v. Democracy (Paradigm, 2014)

Paul Krugman: a Prizefighter for Hillary Clinton

13/05/16 0 COMMENTS

teleSur English, March 22, 2016 and (expanded)  Counterpunch, March 28, 2016

Never confuse prestigious intellectual awards and positions awarded by the United States and Western establishment with real intelligence. And never assume that an intellectual is a real progressive just because they say they so.

Take the leading “progressive” U.S. economist Paul Krugman, once described by the Marxist economist Harry Magdoff as a “prizefighter for capitalism.” Krugman’s resume includes a Nobel Prize in Economics, a distinguished professorship at Princeton, and a regular column at the New York Times. When John Edwards ran against Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton in the U.S. Democratic presidential primary contested in 2007 and 2008, Krugman lauded him for arguing that (in Krugman’s words) “a progressive agenda” could not be achieved without “a bitter confrontation” with concentrated wealth and power. In a December 17, 2007 Times column titled “Big Table Fantasies,” Krugman favorably quoted Edwards’s following swipe at then presidential candidate Barack Obama: “Some people argue that we’re going to sit at a table with [Big Business interests] and they’re going to voluntarily give their power away. I think it is a complete fantasy; it will never happen.”

Now Krugman defends the Big Business champion Hillary Clinton against the progressive Democrat Bernie Sanders, who has made the forgotten and scandalized Edwards’ argument with some significant success.

In a recent Times column on the rise of the noxious, white-nationalist Republican Party presidential candidate Donald Trump, Krugman points out that Trump runs in ugly grooves dug by the Republican Party since the 1960s. “Let’s dispel with [the] fiction,” Krugman writes, “that the Trump phenomenon represents some kind of unpredictable intrusion into the normal course of Republican politics. On the contrary, the G.O.P. has spent decades encouraging and exploiting the very rage that is now carrying Mr. Trump to the nomination… That rage was bound to spin out of the establishment’s control sooner or later…His party had it coming.”

The Republican Party, including Trump, Krugman argues, remains captive to “the dominating ideology” of free market, deregulated capitalism. “You can see.” Krugman writes, “the continuing power of the orthodoxy in the way all of the surviving contenders for the Republican nomination, Mr. Trump included, have dutifully proposed huge tax cuts for the wealthy, even though a large majority of voters, including many Republicans, want to see taxes on the rich increased.”

Krugman is right to observe that the mass anger captured by “The Donald” has escaped elite Republican management. And Krugman is correct to note that Trump is continuing the Republicans’ long practice of stirring the pot of white working- and lower middle-class hatred and hurling the terrible brew at feminists, Blacks, immigrants, gays, liberals, Muslims, intellectuals, liberals, civil libertarians and socialists both real and (like Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, and Sanders) imagined. In doing this, the Republicans have worked to misdirect white working class anger away from capitalist plutocrats and Big Business on to less powerful and more vulnerable soft-targets like Black “welfare mothers” and “illegal immigrants.” It’s all very much in accord with the liberal author Thomas Frank’s account of Republican strategy in his widely read 2004 book What’s the Matter with Kansas? How Conservatives Won the Heart of America.

But Krugman’s argument is marred by two key flaws. His first mistake is to think that Trump is running in accord with standard Republican free market doctrine. The reality is more complex. As Matt Taibbi has noted, Trump’s speeches are “strikingly populist.” Trump bashes “free trade” and trumpets to protect “American jobs.”  He denounces corporations that shut down American factories to set up operations in other, cheaper-labor countries like Mexico. He has said that a national single-payer system (removing private insurance companies from health coverage) would have been the best way to go with health insurance reform. He rails against the anti-trust exemption enjoyed by the insurance companies. He condemns the stranglehold that he big drug corporations have over both U.S. political parties, so strong that the federal government bars itself from negotiating Medicare drug prices in bulk. He notes that the nation’s politicians are bought by the highest corporate bidders. “The system is broken,” Trump observes.

It is populist, working class-pleasing rhetoric like that has elite Republicans rushing to block Trump, not the candidate’s foul nativism, sexism, and authoritarianism.

Krugman’s second mistake is to miss the basic fact that Donald Trump is the Democratic Party’s Frankenstein no less than the Republicans’ creation. How has the right-wing Republican Party gotten away with tapping and misdirecting so much legitimate white middle- and working-class anger and resentment away from its most appropriate target, the nation’s unelected dictatorship of capital? It has been able to do so largely for the same reason that the authoritarian Trump has been able to claim the mantle of working class populism in the current U.S. presidential sweepstakes: because the neoliberal, post-New Deal Democratic Party abandoned the U.S. working class in pursuit of a deepened partnership with corporate America and high finance. As Frank noted in the part of his famous book that is ignored by Democratic partisans, the dismal dollar Democrats share no small part of the blame for empowering right-wing Republicans. Their desertion of the majority white working class and its “bread and butter” issues opened the door for a right-wing diversion and takeover of popular resentment.

The Bill NAFTA Clinton (1993-2000) and Barack Trans-Pacific Obama administrations are monuments to neoliberal and Wall Street triumph over majority progressive U.S. public opinion, advancing (under Clinton) the de-regulation of finance and then (under Obama) taking up and expanding the taxpayer bailout and political protection of the reckless financial “elites” who crashed the U.S. and global economy in 2008. It is thanks in no small part to these neoliberal Democratic presidencies that U.S. citizens currently inhabit a New Gilded Age in which the top U.S. 1 percent owns more wealth than the bottom U.S. 90 percent. It’s all as might be expected from presidents atop “a [Democratic] political party that…is now owned and controlled by a relatively small number of millionaires and billionaires” (Michelle Alexander). Hillary Clinton, an elitist Wall Street Democrat and (most dangerously of all) a militant imperial war-hawk to boot, walks in these dark neoliberal grooves beneath the usual populist-posturing on the campaign trail.

During the current U.S. Democratic presidential primary, Sanders (always far too conservative,  imperial, and Democratic Party-affiliated for my taste) has run as an actually progressive, non- and even anti-neoliberal Democrat in the liberal Keynesian New Deal tradition. His large rallies against “the billionaire class,” the record-setting small campaign contributions he has received from middle and working class Americans, and the remarkable support he has gotten from young voters – all of this reflects widespread hunger for a more equal distribution of wealth and political power and for an epic fight with the rich and powerful in the U.S.

And how has the great “progressive” and liberal Keynesian Krugman responded to the Sanders’ insurgency, an attempt (highly flawed but genuine and promising in terms of its longer-term implication for U.S. politics and activism in my view) to reclaim genuine liberal, neo-New Deal populism and progressivism for and within the Democratic Party? With sneering condescension and dubious criticism including the claim that Sanders’ moderate calls for the breaking up of the big banks and for single-payer health insurance are “politically unrealistic” and excessively “radical.” With the absurd charge that Sanders’ health care proposal “looks a bit like a standard Republican tax cut plan” and the strange claim that “on policy, [Hillary Clinton] has been pretty good.” Krugman has taken off the gloves and launched ugly swipes, below the belt, viciously accusing Sanders of embracing “deep voodoo” economics and childish “unicorn” politics.

Krugman even now accuses “the Sanders movement” of mirroring the Donald Trump phenomenon “with its demands for purity and contempt for compromise and half-measures.” It’s an astonishingly ridiculous charge in light of: Sanders’ own overly respectful reluctance to point out the long, deeply conservative, Big Business-friendly, triangulating, and Republican-accommodating records of Hillary, the Clinton machine, and the Democratic National Committee; Sanders’ advance declaration that he will support Mrs. Clinton (his “good friend”) in the general election (Trump has suggested he might bolt the Republican Party if he is denied the GOP nomination); and Sanders’ willingness to call the terrible, arch-corporatist, so-called Affordable Care Act (hardly even a “half-measure”) a positive step towards single-payer national health insurance (it is no such thing).

Krugman has chosen to be a prizefighter for the Clintons, the trailblazing champions of the neoliberal turn that cost the Democrats their onetime close connection to the American working class and opened that class to misdirection and poaching by ugly racist and nativist Republicans, including now the fascist-lite Donald Trump.

History plays some funny tricks. As I pointed out at no small length two quadrennial election cycles ago, presidential candidate Barack Obama was a Wall Street fake-progressive, a dismal Dollar Dem who walked in the same neoliberal grooves as the Clintons and in late 2007 and early 2008. Krugman seemed to enjoy joining the white southerner John Edwards in calling the next U.S. president out as a fake-progressive corporate Democrat. Funny how he can’t seem to muster the brains and/or courage to join supporters of the actually progressive Democrat Sanders (though sadly not Sanders himself) in calling Mrs. Clinton out as the same kind of centrist, right-leaning Democrat as her husband and Obama.

No, I am not making a latter-day conversion to “the Sanders movement.” But I am less critical of the Sanders campaign (from a perspective well to the anti-imperial and anti-capitalist “radical left”) than some readers may know and I particularly appreciate the way the Sanders insurgency has brought to the surface some sharp and auspicious ideological and generational tensions within the Democratic Party. It’s been useful and entertaining indeed to see Krugman, Gloria Steinem, and other fake-progressive Democrats like the ridiculous Hillary socialist Paul Starr exposed as conservative, power-adoring Clintonites out of touch with younger, left-leaning voters and citizens. That will be helpful for the popular struggle in coming months and years.

A shorter version of this essay originally appeared on teleSur English



Cuba Reflections: On Life and Death

12/05/16 0 COMMENTS

Counterpunch, March 25, 2016

A Nice Surprise

It’s not very often that you hear or see a salaried U.S. corporate media employee defend Fidel Castro and Che Guevara’s Cuban Revolution and its accomplishments. That’s why I did a double take when I read a recent opinion piece titled “Cuba’s Success Lost in Media Frenzy” in the Gannett-owned Iowa City Press-Citizen. The commentary was not written by some radical academic or graduate student at the local university (I’m not sure such a professor can be found at the University of Iowa anymore) or by an independent radical like me (I have a long record of publishing pieces in the Press-Citizen’s laudably open-minded Opinion page). No, it was penned in defense of President Barack Obama’s recent historic visit to Cuba by a clever young man named Ian Goodrum, who happens to be the paper’s “community content and engagement editor.”

Goodrum did a decent job. He rightly mocked “most media in the U.S. media” for using President Barack Obama’s recent historic visit to Cuba as “an opportunity to denounce the tiny island nation for daring to have an economic and political system different from our own.” He criticized that media for taking seriously the “increasingly absurd pronouncements from [Cuban] expatriates.” Goodrum justly criticized White House Press Secretary Earnest for absurdly claiming that the U.S. had been “ignoring” Cuba for “more than 50 years.” As Goodrum noted, Earnest’s comment is preposterous given dedicated U.S. efforts to punish and overthrow the Castro government, including a “crushing trade embargo and crippling sanctions” and the “the encirclement of isolation of Cuba by the United States” (Goodrum) for more than a half century.

Goodrum detailed some of Cuba’s remarkable “accomplishments since the [1959 Cuban] revolution,” all achieved despite the hostility of Uncle Sam. The triumphs Goodrum mentions are considerable:

“Keeping the aforementioned antagonisms in mind — and understanding that survival under the baleful eye of the world’s richest nation is a miracle in itself — [socialist Cuba’s] successes are nothing to sneeze at. Infant mortality has dropped while life expectancy and literacy rates have skyrocketed. Economic growth has stayed consistent with the exception of a few years during the “Special Period,” when the loss of 80 percent of Cuba’s trade led to a downturn. Yet the social safety net and housing, education and food guarantees from the government were able to continue even in this time of extreme privation. Media outlets like to talk about how the average monthly salary amounts to $20 or $30, but this is a dodge. Comparing Cuban economic indicators to those of the United States is a matter of apples — heh — and oranges. When weighed against countries like the Dominican Republic or Haiti, Cuba stands head and shoulders above its direct competitors.”

“What could be considered the crown jewel of Cuba’s economy, the health care sector, is perhaps the best example of what a system like Cuba’s can do. Transmission of HIV from mother to child was eliminated in Cuba and avaccine for lung cancer has been developed there. Exporting medical professionals around the world to deal with threats like the Ebola outbreak show the country’s commitment to help those in need, and a disproportionate capability to do so. But this is what can happen when you prioritize public welfare over profits” (emphasis added).

I’m not sure I should say more about Goodrum’s column: I don’t wish to contribute any further to the possibility of him losing his job. At the same time – and maybe Gannett authorities can put this towards Goodrum’s favor – I should say that a better title for his essay would have been “Media Continues to Ignore Cuba’s Success” (the blockading of the U.S. public from good news about Cuban socialism is an old story). And I’d like to mention four key matters that did not make it into the young columnist’s welcome essay (things that, to be fair, require a bigger word count than what is available to Op Ed writers).

Ecological Triumph: Teeming With Life

The first thing missing is Cuba’s remarkable environmental achievement. Cuba stands out among all nations (rich and poor) in a critical way. The makers of the United Nations’ Human Development Index (UNHDI) have found that Cuba is the only country on the planet to combine a quality of life consistent with “high human development” with a globally sustainable carbon footprint. A report by the World Wildlife Foundation includes a graph that shows two features for the nations of the world: the UNHDI (including measures of life expectancy, poverty, literacy, health care, and the like) and “ecological footprint” – the energy and resources consumed per person in each country. Only Cuba received a passing grade in both areas. As the University of British Columbia has noted,

“The majority of food grown in Cuba is produced without chemicals.  Good bugs fight bad bugs in the fields.  Their soils – like their communities – are teeming with life…Today, Cuba’s agricultural cooperatives provide 80 percent of the food produced in Cuba and her system of urban agriculture is a model for the world. Building on the success of her agricultural cooperatives, Cuba is now taking bold new steps to build a more cooperative, just and people-centered economy.”

This noteworthy attainment is of no small significance in an age of ever more imminent environmental collapse rooted in (among other things) capitalism’s addiction to fossil fuels. It is no mere accident. Beyond a fuel and currency shortage, it reflects inspiring and instructive eco-socialist innovation in the use and development of alternative fuel sources, technologies, and practices on the part of the Cuban state. As Garry Leech noted on CounterPunch last year, Cuba “redefined socialism” in the wake of the decline of its former protector the Soviet Union. Over the past two decades, Leech shows, Cuba has moved towards a more participatory system that also happens to be an outstanding model of environmentally sustainable and healthy, permaculturalist economics:

“In the 1980s, Cuba more closely reflected the state socialist model that ultimately failed in the Soviet Union…But with the collapse of the Soviet Union and the disintegration of the socialist trading bloc, Cuba had to become more creative if it was to survive both literally and figuratively as an island of socialism in an ocean of capitalism. And it was the creative survival strategies that emerged during the 1990s that have helped to redefine socialism in Cuba today…The collapse of the Soviet Union, in conjunction with a corresponding tightening of the five-decades-long US blockade, meant that Cuba could no longer import sufficient food or oil. The country responded to the shortage of petroleum-based pesticides and fertilizers by becoming the world’s leader in organic agriculture. It responded to the shortage of fuel by becoming a leader in urban agriculture to diminish the need to transport food great distances to markets. As a result, more than 80 percent of the country’s agricultural production is now organic… [and produced by] smaller worker-owned cooperatives. The new cooperatives not only increased production, they also constituted a shift away from state socialism by empowering workers who previously had little or no voice in the running of their workplaces….This emerging worker democracy through cooperatives not only existed in agricultural production, it also occurred in the selling of products…”

“The shift to a more ecologically sustainable agricultural production has resulted in healthy organic food being the most convenient and inexpensive food available to Cubans. Because of the US blockade, processed foods are more expensive and not readily available. This reality stands in stark contrast to that in wealthy capitalist nations such as the United States and Canada where heavily-subsidized agri-businesses flood the market with cheap, unhealthy processed foods while organic alternatives are expensive and more difficult to obtain. The consequence in the United States is high levels of obesity, diabetes and heart disease.”

Call it Earth Science-friendly socialism – or maybe even Earth-scientific socialism, some of its apparently and actually drawing strength from the U.S. blockade.

Socialism as the Basis of Sustainability

The second thing missing is the very basic fact that Cuba owes its success not merely to its prioritizing of public welfare over private profits but rather to its rejection and indeed overthrow of capitalism, the profits system, half a century ago. The Cuban permaculturalist Roberto Pérez tells Leech that Cuba laid the basis for an environmentally sustainable society “when the revolution gained sovereignty over the resources of the country, especially the land and the minerals…You cannot think about sustainability,” Perez explains, “if your resources are in the hands of a foreign country or in private hands. Even without knowing, we were creating the basis for sustainability.”

This is a very critical point. As the New York City-based Marxist writerLouis Proyect noted last year, “capitalism and capitalist politics have to be superseded if humanity and nature are to survive. Once we can eliminate the profit motive, the door is open to rational use of natural resources for the first time in human history. How we make use of such resources will naturally be informed by our understanding that reason governs the outcome and not quarterly earnings. The alternative,” Proyect reminds us, “to this is a descent into savagery, if not extinction.”

Misplaced Imperial Arrogance

The third thing missing from Goodrum’s commentary was any sense of the utter arrogant, idiotic, and imperial absurdity of Barack Obama going to Cuba to lecture the people on democracy, freedom, and how to achieve a good society. What, like the United States? Really? The U.S… the mass incarceration capital of the world, home to a quarter of the world’s prisoners, an “armed madhouse” (Greg Palast) of a nation where: the top 1 percent owns more wealth than the bottom 90 percent; 6 Wal-Mart heirs together possess as much wealth as the bottom 42 percent; politics and policy are in grip of an unelected and interrelated dictatorship of money and empire; an openly plutocratic oligarchy rules in total indifference to public opinion; world-capitalist ecocide finds its leading carbon-addicted financial and propagandistic centers; white median household wealth is 13 times higher than Black median household wealth; more than 16 million children (22 percent of all U.S. children, including 38 percent of Black children) live below the federal government’s notoriously inadequate poverty level; municipal water systems are rife with poisonous lead; infrastructure is crumbling; pollution is rampant; schools are under-funded and mind-numbing; civic discourse is hopelessly degraded; racial hyper-segregation and the harsh racialized concentration of poverty and joblessness (in Black ghettoes, Native American reservation, and Latino barrios) is predominant; one in three Black men is saddled with the crippling lifelong stigma of a felony record; politicians and not-so “public” policy are bought and sold like any other commodity; the current endless and populace-marginalizing presidential election is shaping as a contest between (in Diana Johnstone’s words) “the two most hated people in the country” (the mad-dog imperial war hawk Hillary Clinton and the quasi-fascist media buffoon and real estate mogul Donald Trump); much if not most of the populace is kept in a woeful and dangerous state of mass ignorance and stupidity about history, current events, and much more; violent death (fed by off-the-global-charts homicide and suicide rates) is rampant; purposefully mass-murderous assault weapons are widely available and ubiquitous; mental illness proliferates; natural resources are regularly stripped and destroyed; livable wage jobs have disappeared en masse; commercialized mass alienation and soulless anomie are endemic; substance abuse and obesity are epidemic; economic insecurity is pervasive; more than half the population is either poor or near-poor; food is systematically poisoned and adulterated in field, factory, corporate laboratory, box-car, tractor trailer, warehouse, restaurant, and grocery store; agriculture is criminally misdirected and absurdly extra-local; water supplies are gravely imperiled; more than half of federal discretionary spending pays for a giant war machine and global empire that accounts for half the world’s military spending; you can’t even watch the last three minutes of a college basketball tournament game without having to be bombarded with ten minutes of mindless mass-consumerist commercials.

This is a nation that thinks is has anything to tell Cubans, or anyone else, about how to experience and sustain democracy, freedom, and a decent society? Seriously?

Some Messenger of Freedom

And what about the messenger? Yes, Barack Obama, the slimy used car salesman who won Advertising Age’s 2008 “Marketer the Year” award as he rode into the White House on a tide of hope for progressive change and then proceeded to (as predicted by yours truly and a painfully small cadre of Left intellectuals and activists who were largely banned from so-called mainstream U.S. media and “higher education” for doctrinal reasons) give the nation what William Greider memorably called seven years ago “a blunt lesson about power, who has it and who doesn’t. They have watched,” Greider wrote, “Washington run to rescue the very financial interests who caused the catastrophe. They learned that government has plenty of money to spend – when the right people want itAnd little to spend on the rest of us, the wrong people, soon to be known as “the 99%,” left to askwhere’s my bailout?

Yes, Barack Obama, who in his nauseating 2006 campaign book The Audacity of Hope criticized the “left-leaning populist” Hugo Chavez for thinking that developing nations “should resist America’s efforts to expand its hegemony” and for further daring – imagine – to “follow their own path of development,” unforgivably “rejecting the ideals of free markets and democracy.” Obama showed how profound his commitment to democracy in Latin America was in the spring and summer of 2009 when he and his right-wing Secretary of State Hillary Clinton backed a disastrous right-wing military and business coup that overthrew the democratically elected left-leaning populist Manuel Zelaya government in Honduras.

Obama’s seminar on ruling class power will conclude, the president hopes, with final Congressional approval of the arch-authoritarian, global-corporatist Trans Pacific Partnership – a monument to world capitalist unaccountability and a potentially fatal blow to humanity’s ability to avert environmental catastrophe.

(I don’t have time and energy to go into his Orwellian surveillance state policies and his expanded war on/or terror.)

That’s some champion of people’s democracy there that Raul Castro just watched baseball with: Barack Obama.

The Goal Remains the Same: If Obama Has His Way

The fourth thing missing from Ian Goodrum’s surprisingly progressive column is why the noxious neoliberal emperor Obama just went to Cuba. I can’t say it any better than the aforementioned Gary Leech didon CounterPunch yesterday so I’m just going to quote him:

“In his speech to the Cuban people in Havana, President Barack Obama declared, ‘I have come here to bury the last remnant of the Cold War in the Americas. … I’ve urged the people of the Americas to leave behind the ideological battles of the past.’ But Obama made clear that his desire to end the decades-long US economic blockade of the island is not based on the fact that it constitutes the bullying of a small country by the world’s most powerful capitalist nation, nor is it a response to the sheer inhumanity of the blockade, it is simply an acknowledgement that the policy has failed to bring down Cuba’s socialist system and return the country to capitalism. Obama then proceeded to spend much of his speech telling Cubans that they should live under a US-style democracy and a capitalist economy. In other words, he has no intention of leaving behind ‘the ideological battles of the past.’ He is simply shifting strategy” (emphasis added).

Make no mistake: it’s only the means, not the ends of U.S. Cuba policy that Obama has been working to change. The goal remains the same: collapse Cuban socialism and bring back U.S.-dominated capitalism 90 miles off the coast of Florida. As I noted on Facebook the other day, “If Obama has his way, Cuba will be a festering pit of commercialized alienation and eco-cidal pollution in a couple of decades.” Obesity, diabetes, and depression will spread like gangbusters along with the chemical poisoning of Cuban water, land, air, and food and spreading inequality and – who knows, if all goes to plan? – mass incarceration, the corporate takeover of health care, and endless commodity-hawking commercials on radio and television. Big Pharma could really make a killing.

Let’s hope it doesn’t come to pass. I went to Cuba to speak on and against U.S. corporate and commercial media almost exactly one year ago and got to spend three days in Havana. I’ll never forget it. Cuba struck me as the healthiest, happiest, sexiest, most dis-alienated and sociable society I’d ever had the good fortune to visit. It is “teeming with life” on numerous levels. Coming back to the United States was like taking a cold bath of hostility and estrangement, an immersion in extreme disparity where material abundance for some is juxtaposed against material privation for many along with unbridled spiritual and social ruination for all. It struck me as almost teeming with death. That’s too strong, perhaps, but one thing is very clear: we U.S.-of-Americans and our imperial Wall Street president have little if anything to tell Cubans about how to live and how to organize their society.

Screen Shot 2016-03-03 at 5.05.31 PM-1

Paul Street’s latest book is They Rule: The 1% v. Democracy (Paradigm, 2014)

Notes From an Ultra-Radical Perfectionist

12/05/16 0 COMMENTS

Counterpunch, March 24, 2016

When “Berniebros” attack it can be disturbing. It’s been a bracing experience to be told by older white male leftists that I (no spring chicken myself) am some kind of “ultra-radical” “purist” attached to “abstract notions of perfection” (just a few of the charges I’ve gotten from Sanders supporters via e-mail) because I have refused to align myself with a United States Democratic Party presidential candidate – Bernie Sanders – who:

*Calls Edward Snowden a criminal and Hugo Chavez (a social democrat) a “dead communist dictator.

*Embraces Barack Obama’s arch-terrorist drone war.

*Falsely claims to have been independent of the Democratic Party prior to the current presidential campaign.

*Supports the reckless U.S. provocation of Russia in Eastern Europe.

*Calls for the arch-reactionary and fundamentalist Islam-sponsoring state of Saudi Arabia to step up its already mass- murderous military role in the Middle East

*Helped rationalize Israel’ criminal mass killings of Palestinian children in Gaza (over the opposition of properly nauseated peace activists in his home town of Burlington, Vermont).

*Backed the Clinton administration’s criminal and unnecessary bombing of Serbia.

*Has worked to undermine third party politics in Vermont.

*Called police to arrest activists occupying his Burlington, Vermont Congressional office to protest “Bomber Bernie’s” Serbia policy.

*Called police (when Sanders was Burlington’s mayor and at the leftmost stage of his political career) to arrest peace activists occupying an industrial plant owned by the leading, blood-soaked military contractor General Electric.

*Pushed and voted for the mass-murderous and wasteful F-35 jet program (a classic Pentagon boondoggle) because it meant “jobs for Vermont.”

*Calls the racist British imperialist Winston Churchill (who embraced the racist gassing of Arabs) his favorite non-American leader in world history (he could at least have said Nelson Mandela).

*Backs the standardized testing mania that has wreaked such terrible havoc on schools and children.

*Dilutes the radical tradition, mocking his purported hero Eugene Debs by (among other things) calling himself a socialist while embracing private, for-profit ownership of the means of production and distribution.

*Voted for the racist-mass-incarcerationist 1994 federal crime bill – a reactionary $30 billion measure that “created dozens of new federal capital crimes, mandated life sentences for some three-time offenders, and authorized more than $16 billion for state prison grants and the expansion of police forces” (Michelle Alexander).

*Fails to call for the giant rollback of the United States’ gargantuan “defense” (Empire) budget his progressive domestic social agenda requires.

*Leaves the Pentagon system almost completely without criticism when asked how he would pay for good things like single-payer health insurance.

*Says that we should learn from Denmark and other significantly social-democratic Scandinavian countries without bothering to note that those nations have tiny military budgets.

*Has repeatedly referred to the cynical corporatist and arch-imperial war hawk Hillary Clinton as his “good friend.”

*Dismisses Black calls for reparations as “as ‘divisive,’ as though centuries of slavery, segregation, discrimination, ghettoization, and stigmatization aren’t worthy of any specific acknowledgement or remedy” (Michelle Alexander).

*Absurdly refers to the arch-corporatist and ridiculously complicated Affordable Care Act (“Obamacare”) as a good first step on the path to single payer (to Medicare for All).

*Aligns himself with the National Rifle Association against the parents of children murdered by an assault weapon-wielding maniac in Sandy Hook, Connecticut.

*Fails to advance a serious and substantive attack on the longstanding racism, corporate-neoliberalism, and imperialism of the Clintons, thereby calling into question the sincerity and resoluteness of his claim to represent a left-progressive challenge to the long rightward drift of the Democratic party.

*Repeatedly and absurdly suggests that the U.S. wasn’t a corporate- and high finance-ruled plutocracy until the Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United decision.

*Badly over-focuses on plutocratic campaign funding (a very real anti-democratic problem, of course) as the source of the nation’s ongoing subservience to big capital.

*Fails to exploit Hillary Clinton’s very real e-mail and Benghazi scandals, leaving them to the Republican right and questioning thereby the seriousness of his declared goal of capturing the Democratic nomination.

*Promises in advance to back the “eventual Democratic Party presidential nominee” (Hillary) without conditions, without demanding anything as the price of his Lesser Evilist loyalty.

“In the US,” the left Australian commentator, author, and filmmakerJohn Pilger notes in an essay on the ominous signs of a coming Washington-provoked world war, “Bernie Sanders has promised to support Clinton if or when she’s nominated. He, too, has voted for America’s use of violence against countries when he thinks it’s ‘right’. He says [the stealthy imperialist] Obama has done ‘a great job.’”

What on Earth do such imperial commitments have to do with being a socialist, a label to which Sanders stubbornly clings when asked? Nothing. As Chris Hedges explained last September:

“You cannot be a socialist and an imperialist. You cannot, as Bernie Sanders has done, support the Obama administration’s wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Pakistan, Somalia and Yemen and be a socialist. You cannot, as Sanders has done, vote for military appropriations bills, including every bill and resolution that empowers and sanctions Israel to carry out its slow-motion genocide of the Palestinian people, and be a socialist. And you cannot laud, as Sanders has done, military contractors because they bring jobs to your state. Sanders may have the rhetoric of inequality down, but he is a full-fledged member of the Democratic Caucus, which kneels before the war industry and their lobbyists.”

I do not, however, want to suggest that Sanders would merit backing from Leftists if his positions and record were more radical left.  For I agree almost completely with something that the brilliant law professor Michelle Alexander wrote in The Nation (no left-radical magazine) last month:

“The biggest problem with Bernie, in the end, is that he’s running as a Democrat – as a member of a political party that not only capitulated to right-wing demagoguery but is nowowned and controlled by a relatively small number of millionaires and billionaires. Yes, Sanders has raised millions from small donors, but should he become president, he would also become part of what he has otherwise derided as ‘the establishment.’ Even if Bernie’s racial-justice views evolve, I hold little hope that a political revolution will occur within the Democratic Party without a sustained outside movement forcing truly transformational change. I am inclined to believe that it would be easier to build a new party than to save the Democratic Party from itself.”

“Of course, the idea of building a new political party terrifies most progressives, who understandably fear that it would open the door for a right-wing extremist to get elected. So we play the game of lesser evils. This game has gone on for decades. W.E.B. Du Bois, the eminent scholar and co-founder of the NAACP, shocked many when he refused to play along with this game in the 1956 election, defending his refusal to vote on the grounds that ‘there is but one evil party with two names, and it will be elected despite all I do or say.’ While the true losers and winners of this game are highly predictable, the game of lesser evils makes for great entertainment and can now be viewed 24 hours a day on cable-news networks…” (M. Alexander, “Hillary Clinton Does Not Deserve the Black Vote,” The Nation, February 10, 2016, emphasis added)

I prefer Upton Sinclair’s 1904 metaphor “two wings of the same bird of prey” to DuBois’s characterization but the basic point stands: movements for transformational progressive change will have to come from outside and against the Democratic Party and its latest hopey-changey candidates, even ones who (deceptively) call themselves socialists. (I say “agree almost completely” above because I think Bernie’s imperial myopia may be an even bigger, if obviously related difficulty with Bernie).

This is not a matter of purist perfectionism but rather simple harsh reality. It is something that Sanders’ purported hero Eugene Debs understood very well.

Berniebros protecting their Left flank can go after Hedges or me or others on the “ultra” left all they want. No problem. They’d do better to focus their ire and energy on Hillary and her many hitmen, including the ridiculous Hillary “socialist” Paul Starr (see Doug Henwood’s excellent response to Starr here) and the sneering liberal Paul Krugman, who has used his privileged perches at Princeton and the New York Times to claim that Sanders’ eminently moderate calls for the breaking up of the big banks and for single-payer health insurance are “politically unrealistic” and excessively “radical.” Krugman has levelled the absurd charges that Sanders’ health care proposal “looks a bit like a standard Republican tax cut plan” and that Sanders supporters have an extreme “contempt for compromise.” Taking the gloves off, Krugman accuses Sanders of embracing “deep voodoo” economics and “unicorn” politics. How fascinating to see the supposed “progressive” Democrat Krugman report for duty as aprizefighter for the arch-neoliberal Clinton machine against the New Deal progressive Sanders. (I recently responded to Krugman here).

Less surprising, perhaps is the ridiculous Rolling Stone publisher Jann Wenner’s recent endorsement of Hillary Clinton, a power-mad sociopath who Wenner feels to be “on the side of the angels” (tell it to her many victims at home and abroad). Wenner claims that Sanders represents nothing more than a merely “magical” politic of powerless populist “anger.” Wenner, some may recall, went quite childishly Kim Jong-il on behalf of His Hopeyness the Dollar O’bomber in 2008.

It’s been entertaining recently to watch Hillary and her backers do some of real Leftists’ work for them by alienating younger Bernie voters (how about Mrs. Clinton’s horrific AIPAC speech the other day?), many of whom are going to be unwilling to follow Sanders’ command to “play the game of lesser evils” (Alexander) and back the arch-imperial Queen of Chaos this November. Jill Stein, anyone?Which reminds me: many of the older left Bernie supporters currently steamed at “ultra-radicals” like yours truly for telling too much truth about Sanders will be lecturing young folks on their supposed duty to vote for that mad dog killer Hillary Clinton in the general election. And so it goes, as Kurt Vonnegut used to say.

Paul Street’s latest book is They Rule: The 1% v. Democracy (Paradigm, 2014)


In Defense of Disruption

12/05/16 0 COMMENTS

Counterpunch, March 18, 2016

The Guy Trump is Paying Legal Fees For”

Five days ago, during a corporate cable news “town hall” in Columbus, Ohio, Bernie Sanders had an interesting moment when CNN’s Jack Tapper asked him about Donald Trump’s call for “Bernie [to] keep your people in line.”

“The Donald” was referring to the role that younger white, Black, and Latino activists (including some Sanders supporters) played in using peaceful mass protest to force Trump to shut down his racist and nativist presidential campaign’s ill-advised attempt to hold a giant rally on the largely Black and Latino Near West Side of Chicago.

The best parts of Sanders’ response to Tapper came when he reflected on the vicious, fascist-lite candidate that U.S. corporate media has shamefully allowed to become a top presidential contender:

“Some of you may have read just a few hours ago that Mr. Trump said that he is prepared to pay for the legal costs of an individual who sucker punched somebody at a recent [Trump campaign] event. He’s going to pay the legal fees of somebody who committed a terrible act of violence. What that means is that Donald Trump is literally inciting violence with his supporters. He is saying that if you go out and beat somebody up, that is OK. ‘I’ll pay the legal fees.’ That is an outrage…You heard this one individual who sucker-punched somebody, and if he is quoted correctly, what he said, well, you know, why did you punch him up?  ‘Well, he might be a terrorist, and next time I might have to kill him’…this is the guy that Trump is going to be paying legal fees for?…‘You go beating up somebody, it’s OK, we’ll pay the legal fees?’…Trump has to get on the TV and tell his supporters that violence in the political process in America is not acceptable, end of discussion.”

Sanders was correct. Good for Bernie (Did Trump do what Bernie recommended? Of course not).

Pathological Liars

Another part of Sanders’ response to Tapper on Trump was not so great:

“I hesitate to say this, I really don’t like to disparage public officials, but Donald Trump is a pathological liar… (Applause)…We have never – our campaign does not believe, and never will, encourage anybody to disrupt anything. We have millions of supporters; people do what they do. People have the right to protest. I happen to not believe that people should disrupt anybody’s meetings…”

One problem with this statement is that Trump is not now and never has been “a public official.” I chalk that mistake up as a mere verbal slip. Bernie surely meant to say “public figure.”

Another and bigger problem with Sanders’ comment here is that pretty much all of the members of the U.S. political class including top Republicans and Democrats are pathological liars. They pretend to be things they aren’t. They pose as populists and/or progressives when they are corporate and imperial elitists. The claim to be popular leaders concerned for ordinary working- and middle-class people and (sometimes) the poor and jobless when they are tools and servants of, and cloaks for, the ruling financial corporatocracy.

The sincerely (I think) liberal Sanders is hardly above deception. He campaigned in Burlington, Vermont as an opponent of big real estate developers and then flip-flopped on them once he got into the city’s mayoral office. He has masqueraded as a “democratic socialist,” a political “independent” until the current presidential primary (when he claimed to “go into” his longstanding de facto party the Democrats), and an opponent of the military-industrial-complex. He is none of those things, as any serious investigation of his record shows.

A People’s History of Disruption

Related to that deception, another and I think even bigger problem with Sanders’ response to Tapper was his disavowal of the desirability of “anybody” and “people” ever “disrupt[ing] anything” and “anybody’s meetings.”

Such repudiation of direct popular and citizen action is very revealing comment on the part of a so-called “revolutionary” of the Left. It flies in the face of American people’s history.

So much for the Boston Tea Party.

So much for the mass abolitionist actions that sought prevent the return of escaped slaves to southern plantations in Boston and other northern cities during the 1850s.

So much for Nat Turner and Denmark Vesey. So much for the Underground Railroad.

So much for the Great New England Shoemakers strike of 1860(supported by presidential candidate Abraham Lincoln), the Great Labor Upheaval of 1877, the remarkable Eight Hours Movement and strikes of 1886, the Pullman Strike, the Homestead Strike, the Lawrence Strike, the great 1922 National Railway Shopmen’s Strike, the Left-led labor upheaval of 1934, the Flint sit-down strike and the broader U.S. sit-down strike wave of 1936-37, and countless other labor actions in U.S. history.

So much for workers shutting down the killing floors in an Iowa, Nebraska, or North Carolina meatpacking plant to protest the abusiveness of a foreman or manager and/or the dangerously excessive pace of production.

So much for shop-floor actions conducted precisely and expensively (for capital) to disrupt the continuous flow of production on behalf of working people.

So much for the highly popular December 2008 Chicago Republic Door and Window plant occupation and the remarkable 2012 Chicago Teachers Union strike against Rahm Emmanuel’s school closing and privatization agenda and the related standardized testing mania.

So much for Rosa Parks’ and the young minister Dr. Martin Luther King’s disruption of regular bus service in Montgomery, Alabama.

So much for the great disruptive Civil Rights lunch counter actions and Freedom Rides and the Memphis garbage workers strike on the eve of Dr. King’s fateful, final visit to that city.

So much for the 1967 March on the Pentagon and the Vietnam War resisters who destroyed draft records.

So much for the New Left and Black Power activists who sat in and took over university offices to protest academia’s service to Big Business, militarism, and racial inequality during the Vietnam era.

So much for the mass antiwar movement that converged on the Democratic Convention in Chicago in 1968.

So much for the Stonewall riots.

So much for Occupy Wall Street’s march in Times Square and the Occupy Movement’s many disorderly actions in New York City and across the country in the fall and early winter of 2011.

So much for the great Black disruptive Ferguson (Mike Brown), Baltimore (Freddie Gray), and New York City (Eric Garner) protests and the Black Lives Matter movement.

So much for the disruptive Fight for Fifteen movement.

So much for the great marches against George W. Bush’s criminal invasion of Iraq.

So much for the great Wisconsin rebellion (later to be absurdly channeled into a doomed major-party electoral-politics recall campaign) on behalf of worker and union rights in the late winter and early spring of 2011.

So much for the young Black activists who brilliantly disruptedChristmas shopping on Michigan Avenue to protest Chicago Mayor Rahm Emmanuel’s cover up of an egregiously racist police shooting.

So much for the great anti-WTO marches in Seattle in the fall of 1999 and subsequent actions to disrupt the life and planet-disrupting meetings of the savagely neoliberal-capitalist World Bank and International Monetary Fund.

So much for the giant march against U.S. led Western militarism in Chicago in May of 2012.

So much for the many peace activists who have been arrested over the years for disrupting war production and preparations.

When “the Machine Becomes So Odious…”

So much Dr. King, who called in the winter of 1967 for “massive, active, nonviolent resistance to the evils of the modern system…The dispossessed of this nation – the poor, both White and Negro – live in a cruelly unjust society,” King said in a lecture broadcast into the United States by the Canadian national radio. “They must organize a revolution against that injustice,” King added. “The storm is rising against the privileged minority of the earth” and it “will not abate until [there is a] just distribution of the fruits of the earth,” King said. Such a revolution would require “more than a statement to the larger society,” more than “street marches” King proclaimed. “There must,” he said, “be a force that interrupts [that society’s] functioning at some key point.” That force would use “mass civil disobedience” to “transmute the deep rage of the ghetto into a constructive and creative force” to “dislocate the functioning of a society,” King said.

And so much for Mario Savio’s famous speech during the Berkeley Free Speech Movement – the one in which he said the following:

“There’s a time when the operation of the machine becomes so odious, makes you so sick at heart that you can’t take part! You can’t even passively take part! And you’ve got to put your bodies upon the gears and upon the wheels, upon the levers, upon all the apparatus — and you’ve got to make it stop! And you’ve got to indicate to the people who run it, to the people who own it — that unless you’re free the machine will be prevented from working at all!…That doesn’t mean that you have to break anything. One thousand people sitting down some place, not letting anybody by, not [letting] anything happen, can stop any machine, including this machine! And it will stop!!”

Has the American capitalist machine become odious enough for regular and mass direct action on behalf of “just distribution” when – as Sanders has noted again and again on the campaign trail – the top U.S. 1 percent possess more wealth than the bottom U.S. bottom 90 percent and the Walton family Wal-Mart heirs have together more net worth than the bottom U.S. 40 percent?

Screen Shot 2016-03-17 at 5.07.13 PM

Return to Iowa for a Different Kind of Politics?

But then, “odious” is an understatement these days, a time when the planet-melting, carbon-addicted capitalist machine puts a decent future and indeed human survival at ever more grave and imminent risk. “Poisonous,” “cancerous,” and “exterminist” is more like it.

Disrupt meetings and other things? Absolutely. What was wrong with disrupting Trump’s planned white-nationalist rally in multiracial Chicago? Why shouldn’t young and other activists interfere with a gathering called to celebrate and advance an openly nativist, racist, and neo-fascistic, hyper-masculinist woman-hating[1] presidential candidate– a candidate who mocks the scientifically proven existential threat of climate change (“I am not a believer…I believe there is weather”).[2]

How about disrupting and hopefully blocking the construction of the eco-cidal Bakken pipeline that the Iowa Utilities Board has recently approved to move planet-cooking and hydraulically fractured (“fracked”), water-wasting and water-polluting (fracked) oil across seventeen Iowa countries from North to South Dakota and on to Illinois, the Gulf of Mexico, and the world market? Would any of those who came from out of state to Iowa to support Bernie’s “pathologically polite” (Matt Taibbi) and electoral, so-called revolution last January and February care to return for more serious and direct action –disruptive action – to save planetary ecology and Midwestern water supplies and safety? Won’t you please come back to Iowa for a different and more useful kind of grassroots politics than backing a candidate seeking the presidential nomination of the corporate and imperial Democratic Party?

Any serious Left progressive should consult the sage wisdom of the late radical historian Howard Zinn’s elementary maxim: “the really critical thing isn’t who is sitting in the White House, but who is sitting in–in the streets, in the cafeterias, in the halls of government, in the factories. Who is protesting, who is occupying offices and demonstrating–those are the things that determine what happens.”

Does Sanders know this, or is he really just all about major party electoral sheep-dogging – the better phrase might be Judas-Goating – the wonderful and largely youthful, populist and democratic-socialist energy out there in the country these days (no surprise given the horrific performance of U.S.-led global capitalism on numerous levels) into the narrow electoral and Empire-friendly channels of “history’s second most enthusiastic capitalist party” (the Democrats, as described by former Richard Nixon strategist Kevin Phillips)?

Some Local Bernie History

Who knows what goes on Bernie’s head at the end of the day but, as a left writer and student from Los Angeles recently wrote me, Sanders’ statement against popular disruption is “pretty consistent with his record. Arresting protesters who opposed his support for the [Clinton administration’s criminal] Kosovo bombing. Arresting protesters for blocking a GE plant when he was the mayor of Burlington.”

Don’t believe that stuff happened? Look at this report by journalistTim Mak at the liberal online newspaper The Daily Beast (no “radical Left” outlet) last month:

“Sen. Bernie Sanders has railed against big defense corporations at rallies, but he has a more complex history with the military-industrial complex. Most notably, he’s supported a $1.2 trillion stealth fighterthat’s considered by many to be one of the bigger boondoggles in Pentagon history.”

“Sanders has made his opposition to Hillary Clinton’s hawkishness a cornerstone of his campaign. But he hasn’t exactly been antiwar all his career. When it has come time to choose between defense jobs and a dovish defense policy, Sanders has consistently chosen to stand with the arms-makers rather than the peaceniks—leading to tension with some of the most adamant adherents of progressive ideology.”

“In 1985, for example, protesters massed at the General Electric plant in Burlington, Vermont, where Sanders was serving as mayor. They were protesting the fact that the plant was manufacturing Gatling guns to fight socialists in Central America.”

“Jim Condon, now a Democratic state legislator in Vermont, was news director of a local radio station at the time and describes himself as an ‘old acquaintance’ of the senator.”

‘There were protesters who were unhappy that General Electric was manufacturing Gatling guns at the plant, and so they would lock themselves to the gates and engage in civil disobedience. And so the mayor, Bernie, finally got cops to go in and arrest the protesters,’ Condon told The Daily Beast. ‘The GE plant was one of the largest providers of jobs in the city. So it was economically important that the plant stay open and people who worked there went to work.’”

Look here for a real-time account of “Bernie the Bomber’s” terrible support of the U.S.-led NATO blitzing of Serbia – over and against the opposition of Burlington peace activists – in March and April of 1999.

For what it’s worth, if history matters, Sanders sent in the state-capitalist gendarmes to protest the leading military-industrial contractor General Electric’s property and profit rights at the leftmost point in his political career, before he went to Harvard’s Kennedy School and formalized his longstanding stealth alliance with the Democrats.

We need a revolution, alright. And, to use one of Bernie’s favorite phrase, Guess What? Bernie was never going to lead one. You can take that to the bank, and then shut it down.

Speaking of Disruption…

Looking for something that deserves – well, begs for – disruption and shutting down? Now that Sanders’ concession speech to the noxious neoliberal corporatist and arch-imperialist Queen of Chaos Hillary Clinton is a matter of when and not if, the “hidden primary of the ruling class” (Laurence Shoup) is setting the nation up for a general election contest “between the two most hated people in America” (Diana Johnstone) – between two craven capitalist major party candidates who are loathed by the populace. Shall “we the people” really stand by dutifully while this nauseating, authoritarian farce is foisted upon us and sold as “democracy” and as “politics,” the only politics that matters? Seriously? No, we should disrupt, disturb, interrupt, and “dislocate” (King, 1967) the Hell out of this endless, rolling, citizen-mocking, and populace-marginalizing travesty and electoral “extravaganza” (Noam Chomsky) with its fake-democratic, mass-marketed conventions, debates, and rallies. We should do so in the spirit of Samuel Adams, Mario Savio, Frederick Douglass, Mother Jones, Dr. King, and (among many other people’s history heroines and heroes) generations of working class “sparkplug militants” who disrupted the continuous flow of production to create the labor movement that brought millions of workers into “the middle class” in whose name Sanders so politely and conservatively speaks.


1 Take a look at a recent Republican television ad titled “Real Quotes from Donald Trump About Women.” The ad shows women reading some of his worst shots at other women. “Bimbo,” reads one women. “Dog,” reads another. “Fat pig,” reads a third woman. Other outrageously sexist Trump statements follow, including, believe it or not, this one: “Women, you have to treat them like shit.”It is disgraceful beyond words that the dominant corporate-managed U.S. media politics culture has allowed the insipid misogynist Donald Trump to emerge as a viable presidential candidate. Such a media and politics culture deserves immediate disruption and ultimate closure through mass citizen action.

2 As Chicago activists Andy Thayer and Roger Fraser explain in a recent CounterPunch commentary: “The people of Chicago are reviving an old tradition. Young people here, particularly blacks and Latinos, have re-learned a lesson about how real change is made and they are teaching the rest of us: We have power in the streets that we don’t possess in the electoral arena. We can fight and we can win. And using this approach, on Friday night in the course of a few hours, several thousand Chicagoans did more to stop Trump bigotry than months of media blather and politicians’ handwringing. The protesters’ boldness has roots in recent struggles against our infamously vicious, pro-1% mayor. Shutting down half of the city’s mental health clinics, attacking teachers and public education while diverting funds to charter schools, giving millions of tax dollars to wealthy real estate developers while illegally harassing the homeless and starving public services, particularly the schools, of funding.”

“The protesters’ boldness has roots in recent struggles against our infamously vicious, pro-1% mayor. Shutting down half of the city’s mental health clinics, attacking teachers and public education while diverting funds to charter schools, giving millions of tax dollars to wealthy real estate developers while illegally harassing the homeless and starving public services, particularly the schools, of funding….But it was the cover-up of a police dashcam video showing a cop murdering 18-year-old Laquan McDonald, while several others casually looked on, that caused the protests to reach a qualitatively higher level. Gone was any fealty to Chicago’s notorious anti-protester laws, bad to begin with, but made much worse in the run-up to the 2012 NATO conference in the city. Activists in other cities with such seemingly unmovable laws, please take note.”

“For weeks, Chicagoans poured into the streets — sans permits — blocking the city’s busiest thoroughfares during rush hour and shutting down Michigan Avenue’s posh boutiques and high-end stores on the most profitable shopping days of the holiday season…. The militancy rid the city of a hated police superintendent; it gave the sitting mayor unprecedented low approval ratings; and it has forced the county’s supinely pro-cop state’s attorney into a fight for her political life.”

The state’s attorney, Anita Alvarez, lost her job two days ago, on the same day that Hillary Clinton sealed the deal with a five-state sweep rooted partly in Sanders’ failure to seriously contest and win the allegiance of Black voters.

Paul Street’s latest book is They Rule: The 1% v. Democracy (Paradigm, 2014)


Bernie, Black, and Blue

12/05/16 0 COMMENTS

Counterpunch, March 15, 2016

“GET TO KNOW HIM, Lazy Ass!”

One of the more irritating and disturbing things about some of the older white, middle-class and stereotypically pony-tailed Berniebros I regularly overhear in person and online is the grumbling they do about the difficulties their nominally socialist hero Bernie Sanders has had with the Black vote in the Democratic presidential primaries. “What’s wrong with these Black voters?” they say. “Why would they vote for that racist monster Hillary Clinton? Why don’t they get it that Bernie is their candidate? I just don’t understand it.”

Listen to the complaint of a white middle-aged Sanders supporter who wrote me two days ago from the small and 85% white town of Somers, Wisconsin as follows on Facebook: “Any African-American who would back Clinton over Sanders is a blithering fool! The excuse ‘we don’t know him’ doesn’t fly. GET TO KNOW HIM. It’s your obligation as a voter, lazy ass!”

Correspondents tell me they have heard similar sentiments expressed by younger white Sandernistas. It’s not just an old-guy thing.

Bernie’s Better But So What?

This peevish racial bellyaching is unbecoming. It’s also pretty stupid. To be sure, the smarter Berniebros are right to note that the Clintons’ record on racial justice is terrible. On that you can Google up my own writings along with the findings and reflections of many other left analysts on “the Clintons and”: “welfare ‘reform;’ “mass incarceration;” “three strikes;” “Sista Souljah;” “Ricky Ray Rector;” “Paul Kagame;” “neoliberal racism;” and more. Read Elaine Brown’s powerful book The Condemnation of Little B, especially its brilliant eleventh chapter (titled “Marching From Monticello”). The story of the Clintons and race is not a pretty tale.

Berniebros are right to point out that their hero (“GET TO KNOW HIM”) got arrested protesting racist public school segregation in Chicago not long before Hillary Clinton became a teenage supporter of the racist Republican Barry Goldwater in the white Chicago suburb of Park Ridge. And they are right to note that Sanders’ liberal, social-democratically inclined neo-New Deal agenda would bring far more benefit to the nation’s disproportionately poor and jobless Black citizens than would the noxious neoliberal brew that lurks behind Hillary’s fake-progressive posing. Some smart Black leaders including Killer Mike, Dr. Cornel West, and (more recently and much less forcefully) Ta-Nahesi Coates have been pointing this out. Even Al Sharpton has embraced Bernie.

Along the way, it’s worth noting that Blacks make up the leftmost, most progressive and social-democratic racial component of the U.S. electorate, something that might seem to align them more naturally with Bernie – an actual Democrat in the traditional New Deal sense – than with neoliberal, corporate-Democratic Hillary.

But so what? Try to put yourself in Black primary voters’ shoes. Most of those voters certainly and understandably have little faith that any of the major capitalist party candidates (that description includes the nominal socialist Sanders, who has repeatedly voiced his support for “private ownership of the means of production” and whose not-so new party was once accurately described by Kevin Phillips as “history’s second most enthusiastic capitalist party”) hold any special or deep concern for Black people and Black issues. Why should they? They have no reason to be all that impressed by the relevance of political and ideological conflicts within the white electorate and in very preponderantly white states like Iowa, New Hampshire, and Vermont (the last two states joined with Maine comprise the single whitest part of the nation) of all places, all situated in a still majority white nation that has never really – even in it’s liberal-leftmost long New Deal era (1935-1979) – called off its more-than-four-century (colonial era included) war on Black people. They have no strong historical reason to be impressed by the promises of white progressives, even those of one who calls himself (quite deceptively) a “socialist.”

What’s the typical Black voter’s main goal insofar as the seemingly endless presidential politics of the latest quadrennial presidential electoral extravaganza holds relevance to him or her? It’s a defensive one: keeping out the worst and most racist of the candidates in play. The Left and radical Black political commentator Glen Ford (well to the class and race portside of Sanders, like the present writer) has explained the rationale many black people have for supporting Clinton. As he puts it, their primary concern is defeating the nasty, racist GOP. So they want someone who is electable.

Now, for all the insipid racial awfulness of Hillary and Bill and the nasty long neoliberal Democratic devolution helped trail-blaze, does anyone seriously believe that the KKK-accommodating white-nationalist Trump (whose rallies involve the slugging and pushing of Black protestors) and the far-right evangelical lunatic Ted Cruz do not represent a greater degree of immediate racist threat to Black Americans than Hillary Clinton?

Is Bernie Really More Electable?

Here is where Sandernistas intervene to tell us about the match-up polls showing that that Bernie would do better than Hillary Clinton against the Republican candidate (Trump, barring a coup of some kind at or before the Republican National Convention) in November. But match-up polls in the primary season are worthless, or close to it. The deck gets reshuffled after the primaries and the major party conventions. The bigger reality is that a nomination of the “socialist” Sanders by the Democratic Party would send vast piles of One Percent (well, .01%) and Super-PAC campaign cash that would have gone to the de facto moderate Republican Hillary (especially if Trump is the Republican nominee since he is unacceptable to many rich GOP election investors) over to the GOP candidate (Trump/Cruz/Rubio). The red- and pink-baiting funded by that sure-to-be record-setting election investment could be very effective. It would get no small assist from a corporate media that favors Hillary has been ready to cover The Donald’s every ridiculous word and gesture while downplaying the giant crowds turning out to applaud Bernie’s progressive, social-democratic “revolution.” Along the way, millions of Hillary’s more conservative and older white supporters will never vote for Sanders.

With Hillary as nominee, the Democrats keep their campaign finance largesse. The nation’s “unelected dictatorship of money” (Edward Herman and David Peterson) and “hidden primary of the ruling class” (Laurence Shoup) prefers Hillary in the White House over a GOP lunatic and wild card like Trump or Ted Cruz. At the same time, the real masters atop the deep state financial corporatoracy love divided government and would like to keep the game going with one party in charge of the White House (the Democrats) and the other party (the Republicans) in charge of Congress.

Culture and Geography

There are also issues of culture and geography to take into consideration. Sanders is a crotchety 74-year-old white Jewish guy from 97 percent white Vermont (home to a grand total of 3,063 Black people) with a Brooklyn accent and a guff speaking style. I’ll got out on the limb to guess that Bernie reminds more than a few Black New Yorkers of a scowling white high school principal, history teacher, police sergeant, or shopkeeper that they have or had to contend with growing up. His brusque, stern. and rasping oratory and stage demeanor are off-putting to a significant number of Black Americans, I am told (They’re irritating to me, God knows: how many times can a candidate say “guess what?” in a campaign speech, debate, or town hall?) It is less than culturally surprising that Sanders – a Caucasian pol most Black Americans never heard of until this or last year – has been having a hard time breaking through the two decade-plus connection the originally Arkansas-based Clinton machine has (yes, perversely) had with the black-bourgeois Democratic regimes that control much of the highly concentrated and vertically organized Black vote in the nation’s segregated urban ghettoes and Black legislative districts,


Note how different this is from the analysis presented by my fellowCounterPunch writer Andrew Levine (something of a late-in-the-day Bernie supporter), a considerably more knowledgeable and erudite white Wisconsinite (to say the least) than the one I quoted at the outset of this essay:

“Newsflash…: it isn’t just white workers that Democrats and Republicans have made worse off; it is the entire working class – black, brown and white. The Clintons have been leading the way for a quarter century….If the facts register differently in the minds of black and brown workers – if large numbers of them still think that Hillary and Bill are on their side — not all the blame lies with their sold-out leaders or with media that misinform and dumb down persons of color along with everyone else…There is also the fact that workers of color are more used to being disserved by politicians than their white counterparts, and therefore less surprised when that is what happens to them. Still, it is disgraceful that, for far too many of them, it is enough that a Clinton ‘feels their pain’ or makes a show of being on their side. White workers, being used to better, expect more” (emphasis added).

Levine is right about the multiracial screwing-over of the proletariat and the terrible role of the Clintons in that late-capitalist process, of course. But what data does Levine cite to support the remarkable assertion that “for far too many” Black working class people “it is enough that a Clinton ‘feels their pain’ or makes a show of being on their side”? None, because no such data exists. And the data doesn’t exist because the “workers of color” Levine imagines are far and few between. (I have never met a single Black American who thinks that either of the Clintons has any genuine concern for them, for what that’s worth). And where, by the way, are all the white workers who, “being used to better, expect more”? Is Donald Trump not making a very big “show of being on their side”? And aren’t many of those white workers, especially older ones, with their supposed high standards, not backing him, and, by the way, Hillary?

The deeper reality is much less disgraceful than Levine thinks. Blacks still continue to make up the leftmost ethnic segment of the U.S. electorate (despite Obama’s efforts to move Black America to the neoliberal and imperil right.) Their tendency to choose Hillary over Sanders in the Democratic primaries reflects calculated electoral pragmatism, above all, not some childish faith in the racial benevolence of the Clintons.

Where’s Bernie’s Great Campaign for the Black Vote?

“Get to know him,” says the Sandernista from Somers, Wisconsin. Okay, well do Sanders and his campaign bear any responsibility for its difficulties with Black Americans? Given the harsh plutocratic and racial realities detailed above and the despicable role of the Black-bourgeois-Democratic misleader class in Black and national political life, a white newcomer and “outsider” candidate (yes, it sounds odd to call a 74 year old guy a “newcomer”) like Sanders would have to make a very special and pronounced appeal to racial justice and Black needs if he seriously expected to woo the Black vote over from Hillary Clinton. He would have to make a special point of calling out the longstanding, deep, and stealth racism of the Clintons and their noxious neoliberal brand of Democratic politics. He would have to go full throttle against U.S. police departments’ regular killing of young Black men (the issue that sparked the Black Lives Matter movement), against the “New Jim Crow” system of racist mass incarceration and felony marking, against the Clintons’ vicious and racist 1996 welfare “reform” (elimination), against the racially coded and regressive standardized testing and related schools privatization mania (Sanders has backed the testing craze, by the way), against the persistent, poverty-concentrating hyper-segregation of Black housing and schooling, and against white America’s refusal to pay (or even consider paying) reparations for centuries endured under chattel slavery (a system that provided the basis for the United States’ emergence as a rich and powerful nation) and a near century of Jim Crow segregation and disenfranchisement, the racial cleansing of hundreds of border state and northern “sundown towns” during the late and early 20th centuries, a century plus of savage de facto segregation and ghettoization in the urban North, centuries of savage labor market discrimination, the four-decade plus crime of mass incarceration and criminal branding.

He would dedicate at least one full speech at a leading historically Black college or university (Morehouse or Howard) to serious analysis and condemnation of contemporary U.S. racism, deeply understood as something embedded in the inner workings of living American history and institutions (and as not something that can be meaningfully erased by putting some Black face in high places, even in the White House). Sanders, after all, has dedicated two full college speeches so far to elucidating his diluted and painfully white, Scandinavia-inspired definition of what he thinks is “socialism.”

Has Sanders done this? Hardly. Sure, he’s made some decent stabs on race. You bet. He went after the welfare “reform” a bit with some Black supporters by his very late in the game – on the eve of the South Carolina primary. He’s said that “black lives matter” and denounced the regular police shootings of Blacks in the streets. He’s gone after Chicago’s racist Democratic and Clintonite mayor Rahm Emmanuel and criticized Emmanuel’s nauseating stonewalling on the vicious and racist conduct of the Chicago Police Department. Good for him – seriously. But, as Black Agenda Report’s Margaret Kimberly, a veteran black and New York City-based commentator, notes in a recent opinion piece: “Has Sanders said how he would end police murder? He hasn’t. Did he present a plan for a strong Department of Justice civil rights division that would take the lead in prosecuting cops? He didn’t. Did he propose any legislative remedies to end police murder impunity? He didn’t do that either.”

Along the way, Sanders and his supporters have left the very distinct impression that they think enough racial justice will ensue for Black Americans from his great color-blind neo- New Deal “revolution” to save “the middle class” from the plutocrats. A rising, social-democratic tide will lift all boats, the (at least implicit) narrative runs.

The U.S. Black historical experience does not jibe very well with that progressive Democratic promise, to say the least: see Ira Katznelson’s brilliant study When Affirmative Action Was White: An Untold History of Racial Inequality in Twentieth Century America (2005). Far from levelling the playing field racially, Katznelson showed, the key liberal New Deal and post-WWII programs – the Social Security Act, the Wagner Act, and the GI Bill – actually deepened the gap between white and Black Americans even as they helped reduce aggregate socioeconomic disparities in the majority white nation.

“There is,” Margaret Kimberly writes, “no [seriously anti-racist] leftist among the Democrats. Neither one is in sync with the true political leanings of black America. When all is said and done, whether Sanders was at a particular march with King or didn’t meet John Lewis or is or isn’t liked by Ta-Nehisi Coates is immaterial.”

The very smart white Marxist commentator and Sanders’ supporter Doug Henwood recently wrote that “Hillary clearly has a huge base of support among black voters, and it would be ugly and unproductive of me to type out a lecture on how they’re mistaken in that preference. I don’t understand it, but it’s not my business to second-guess it.” It was wise of him to avoid the lecturing and second-guessing. He’s absolutely right: it’s “ugly and unproductive” (look at the comments of the two white Wisconsin progressives quoted in the present essay). But what’s not to understand? Is Black political experience and consciousness really all that mysterious?

For what it’s worth to Sandernistas, Bernie did far better with Black voters in Michigan than he has done so far in the deep South. It strikes me as distinctly possible that that will also be the case in Missouri, Ohio, and Illinois tomorrow (I am writing on the morning of Monday, March 14th ). The Democratic Party-run governments of hyper-segregated and racially unequal cities like St. Louis, Cincinnati, Chicago, and Cleveland offer abundant lessons on how little corporate machine Democrats in the neoliberal Clinton and Obama mode have to offer Black Americans and the causes of racial and social justice.

I’ve been far Left of the Democratic Party and its recurrent progressive hopefuls since I first started thinking seriously about U.S. electoral politics in 1980 (when I worked and voted for the white male eco-socialist Barry Commoner). The only voting decision I face once every four years is whether (a) to sit the election out or (b) mark a protest ballot for one of the actually Left candidates who can’t win under the U.S. system. Still, I am not going to work myself up into some kind of indignant or condescending leftist huff because the majority of Black voters (not to be confused with all of Black America, by the way) mark ballots for hideous Hillary Clinton in the remaining Democratic primaries and in the general election. It is shamefully misguided for white Berniebros and Berniegals of any age to call Black voters “blithering” and sluggish idiots and/or gullible victims of Clintonite “feel your pain” manipulation because those voters make the practical calculation (rightly or wrongly) that the big name, big money, and longstanding Clinton machine would have a better chance than the old but new, Scandinavia-touting white guy from Vermont of keeping the frothing, racist Republican dogs out of the White House for at least four more years.

Paul Street’s latest book is They Rule: The 1% v. Democracy (Paradigm, 2014)


The Donald Can Happen Here

12/05/16 0 COMMENTS

Counterpunch, March 11, 2016

What are we to make of the arch-authoritarian, white-nationalist Donald Trump phenomenon? We should not fool ourselves about its dangerous nature. As the New York Times opinion writer Roger Cohen recently noted in a column titled “Trump’s Il Duce Routine”:

“…Trump retweets to his six million followers a quote attributed to Mussolini: ‘It is better to live one day as a lion than 100 years as a sheep’…Trump refuses to condemn David Duke, the former grand wizard of the Ku Klux Klan, who has expressed support for him…Violence is woven into Trump’s language as indelibly as the snarl woven into his features — the talk of shooting somebody or punching a protester in the face, the insulting of the disabled, the macho mockery of women, the anti-Muslim and anti-Mexican tirades….[all evoking]echoes…of times when the skies darkened [over Europe].. after lost wars, in times of fear and anger and economic hardship, when the pouting demagogue appears with his pageantry and promises.”

I’m not a fan of Cohen or the Times, but that’s very well stated. He’s right.

“The Republican Party’s Frankenstein”

Now that Trump is under attack from a fair part of the Republican establishment, it is worth remembering that much of Trump’s noxious shtick is consistent with the longstanding GOP playbook. Trump may be breaking new ground, going beyond Sarah Palin when it comes to incivility, crudity, and sheer white nationalist idiocy, but the racism, nativism, sexism, and macho militarism he’s throwing out at his rallies runs in deep and ugly grooves dug by Republicans since the 1960s. The Republican Party has spent decades stirring the pot of white Amerikanner hatred and hurling the terrible brew at women, Blacks, immigrants, gays, liberals, Muslims, intellectuals, week-kneed liberals and civil libertarians and socialists both real and (like Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, and, actually, Bernie Sanders) imagine.) In doing so, it has endeavored to misdirect white working class anger away from capitalist plutocrats and Big Business on to less powerful and more vulnerable soft-targets like Black “welfare mothers” and “illegal immigrants.” Read Thomas Frank’s once bestselling book What’s the Matter with Kansas? How Conservatives Won the Heart of America (2004). In that sense the Democratic US Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-AZ) is right to call Trump “the Republican Party’s Frankenstein.”

The Real Reason Republican Elites Hate Trump

What makes The Donald anathema to many in the Republican establishment? Part of it is certainly the extreme coarseness and crudity, and narcissistic buffoonery of The Donald. Trump’s antics and viciousness cross the boundaries of respectability, earning him extremely high disapproval ratings. Sensitive Republicans like the conservative civility champion David Brooks are appalled by all that.

Trump also threatens to help crash the GOP, already badly damaged as a functioning political party (it maintains its hold over Congress and state governments through a nasty combination of voter-suppression, gerrymandering, and Koch Brother money), in the November elections. He strikes the party elite as excessively independent – and of course he is largely self-funded. Plus, he has a nasty habit of questioning the brains and guts of current and past top Republicans like John McCain, George W. Bush, Mitt Romney, and the recently dismissed Jeb Bush.

Beyond all that, however, there’s something very different that pinstriped GOP elites don’t like about The Donald. It has to do with how and why he could win (with a lot of Independent and Democratic cross-over votes) the general election, not with how he could lose. This other and, I think, deeper Trump problem is captured very well in a recent Matt Taibbi essay at Rolling Stone. “Reporters have focused quite a lot on the crazy/race-baiting/nativist themes in Trump’s campaign,” Taibbi notes, “but these comprise a very small part of his usual presentation. His speeches increasingly are strikingly populist in their content.”

Trump spends a lot of time bashing “free trade” and talking about the need to pass tariffs to protect “American jobs.” (“We’ve got to do something to bring jobs back,” one Trump fan told Taibbi “when asked why tariffs are suddenly a good idea.”) He denounces corporations that shut down American factories to set up operations in other, cheaper-labor countries like Mexico. He has said that single-payer national health insurance (removing private insurance companies from health coverage) would have been the best way to go. He rails against the anti-trust exemption enjoyed by the insurance companies and notes that those parasitic syndicates “would rather have monopolies in each state than hundreds of companies going all over the place bidding.” He condemns the stranglehold that Big Pharma as over both parties, so strong that the federal government absurdly bars itself from negotiating Medicare drug prices in bulk. He notes that the nation’s politicians are bought and sold by the highest corporate and financial bidders. “The system is broken,” Trump observes.

It’s populist, working class-pleasing rhetoric like that has elite Republicans rushing to block Trump, not the foul white nationalism, nativism, sexism, and authoritarianism.

Trump’s campaign populism might seem to jibe poorly with his spectacular wealth and his self-admitted history as an influence peddling plutocrat. But it fits, actually. “His pitch,” Taibbi notes, “is: He’s rich, he won’t owe anyone anything upon election, and therefore he won’t do what both Democratic and Republican politicians unfailingly do upon taking office, i.e., approve rotten/regressive policies that screw ordinary people.”

Exactly: Trump’s “gonna be his own man,” one Trumpenproletarian told Taibbi in New Hampshire. Somebody’s gotta stand up to these bastards and the Donald is rich enough to do it!

Screen Shot 2016-03-03 at 6.05.40 PM-1

A Weimar Analogy: Resentment Abhors a Vacuum

But if Trump is “the Republican Party’s Frankenstein,” the Democrats are no less responsible for the monster’s rise. Make no mistake he’s the dismal neoliberal Democrats’ Frankenstein too.

I am reminded of a talk Noam Chomsky gave in Madison, Wisconsin in the spring of 2010, as the right wing, arch- authoritarian Tea Party Republican phenomenon was gearing up for its historic victories in Congressional and state elections later that year. “I’m just old enough to have heard a number of Hitler’s speeches on the radio,” Chomsky said, “and I have a memory of the texture and the tone of the cheering mobs, and I have the dread sense of the dark clouds of fascism gathering” here at home. “Ridiculing the tea party shenanigans is a serious error,” Chomsky said. Their attitudes “are understandable,” he said. “For over 30 years, real incomes have stagnated or declined. This is in large part the consequence of the decision in the 1970s to financialize the economy.” There is class resentment, he noted. “The bankers, who are primarily responsible for the crisis, are now reveling in record bonuses while official unemployment is around 10 percent and unemployment in the manufacturing sector is at Depression-era levels.”

And Barack Obama was linked to the bankers, Chomsky explained. “The financial industry preferred Obama to McCain,” he said. “They expected to be rewarded and they were. Then Obama began to criticize greedy bankers and proposed measures to regulate them. And the punishment for this was very swift: They were going to shift their money to the Republicans. So Obama said bankers are ‘fine guys’ and assured the business world: ‘I, like most of the American people, don’t begrudge people success or wealth. That is part of the free-market system.’ People see that and are not happy about it.”

Chomsky reflected that “the colossal toll of the institutional crimes of state capitalism” was driving “the indignation and rage of those cast aside…People want some answers” and “They are hearing answers from only one place: Fox, talk radio, and Sarah Palin.”

Chomsky invoked Germany during the Weimar Republic, and drew a chilling parallel between it and the United States under Obama. “The Weimar Republic was the peak of Western civilization and was regarded as a model of democracy,” he said. And it unraveled with great speed. “In 1928 the Nazis had less than 2 percent of the vote,” he said. “Two years later, millions supported them. The public got tired of the incessant wrangling, and the service to the powerful, and the failure of those in power to deal with their grievances.” The German people fell prey to appeals to “the greatness of the nation, and defending it against threats, and carrying out the will of eternal providence.” When farmers, the petit bourgeoisie, and Christian churches linked arms with National Socialism, “the center very quickly collapsed,” Chomsky said. “No analogy is perfect,” he added but the echoes of fascism were “reverberating today…These are lessons to keep in mind.”

Let me pull out and repeat a key sentence in Chomsky’s talk: “The public got tired of the incessant wrangling, and the service to the powerful, and the failure of those in power to deal with their grievances.” And a key phrase: “the greatness of the nation”

That’s no small part of Trump’s appeal: he promises to sweep in and smash all that dysfunctional bickering with a big many hammer on behalf the working man and the nation state – to “Make America [the Nation] Great Again.”

Resentment abhors a vacuum.

Obama’s Frankenstein: Taking Care of Finance

If anything, Chomsky understated Barack Trans-Pacific Obama (BTO)’s connection to the financial masters. “It’s not always clear what Obama’s financial backers want,” the progressive journalist Ken Silverstein noted in a Harpers’ Magazine report titled “Obama, Inc.” in the fall of 2006, “but it seems safe to conclude that his campaign contributors are not interested merely in clean government and political reform…On condition of anonymity,” Silverstein added, “one Washington lobbyist I spoke with was willing to point out the obvious: that big donors would not be helping out Obama if they didn’t see him as a ‘player.’ The lobbyist added: ‘What’s the dollar value of a starry-eyed idealist?’”

The “dollar value” of Obama to his record-setting Wall Street funders turned out to be damn near priceless. In his book Confidence Men: Wall Street, Washington, and the Education of a President (2011), the Pulitzer Prize-winning author Ron Suskind told a remarkable story from March of 2009. Three months into Obama’s presidency, popular rage at Wall Street was intense and the leading financial institutions were weak and on the defensive. The nation’s financial elite had driven the nation and world’s economy into an epic meltdown in the period since Silverstein’s essay was published – and millions knew it. Having ridden into office partly on a wave of popular anger at the financial “elite’s” staggering malfeasance, BTO called a meeting of the nation’s top thirteen financial executives at the White House. The banking titans came into the meeting full of dread only to leave pleased to learn that the new president was in their camp. For instead of standing up for those who had been harmed most by the crisis – workers, minorities, and the poor – Obama sided unequivocally with those who had caused the meltdown.

“My administration is the only thing between you and the pitchforks,” Obama said. “You guys have an acute public relations problem that’s turning into a political problem. And I want to help…I’m not here to go after you. I’m protecting you…I’m going to shield you from congressional and public anger.”

For the banking elite, who had destroyed untold millions of jobs, there was, as Suskind puts it, “Nothing to worry about. Whereas [President Franklin Delano] Roosevelt had [during the Great Depression] pushed for tough, viciously opposed reforms of Wall Street and famously said ‘I welcome their hate,’ Obama was saying ‘How can I help?’” As one leading banker told Suskind, “The sense of everyone after the meeting was relief. The president had us at a moment of real vulnerability. At that point, he could have ordered us to do just about anything and we would have rolled over. But he didn’t – he mostly wanted to help us out, to quell the mob” (emphasis added)

The massive taxpayer bailout of the super fat cats would continue, along with numerous other forms of corporate welfare for the super-rich, powerful, and parasitic. This state-capitalist largesse was unaccompanied by any serious effort to regulate their conduct or by any remotely comparable bailout for the millions evicted from their homes and jobs by the not-so invisible hand of the marketplace. No wonder 95 percent of national U.S. income gains went to the top 1% during BTO’s first term. It’s called “Taking Care of Business,” to steal the title of Bachman Turner Overdrive’s (BTO’s) childish 1974 hit song.

It was a critical moment. With Democratic majorities in both houses of Congress and an angry, “pitchfork”-wielding populace at the gates, an actually progressive President Obama could have rallied the populace to push back against the nation’s concentrated wealth and power structures by moving ahead aggressively with a number of policies: a stimulus with major public works jobs programs; a real (single-payer) health insurance reform; the serious disciplining and even break-up or nationalization of the leading financial institutions; massive federal housing assistance and mortgage relief; and passage of the Employee Free Choice Act, which would have re-legalized union organizing in the U.S. As the aforementioned Thomas Frank observed on Salon last year, it would have been more than good policy if Obama had enacted populist and progressive measures (“the economy would have recovered more quickly and the danger of a future crisis brought on by concentrated financial power would have been reduced”). It would also have been “good politics,” highly popular with the nation’s mostly white working class majority— something that would “have deflated the rampant false consciousness of the Tea Party movement and prevented the Republican reconquista of the House in 2010.” (One of the many perverse things about the Obama experience is the significant extent to which it bred its own excuse with the Tea Party elections of 2010 and 2014.)

But no such policy initiatives issued from the BTO White House, which opted instead to give the U.S. populace what William Greider memorably called “a blunt lesson about power, who has it and who doesn’t.” Americans “watched Washington rush to rescue the very financial interests that caused the catastrophe. They learned that government has plenty of money to spend when the right people want it. ‘Where’s my bailout,’ became the rueful punch line at lunch counters and construction sites nationwide. Then to deepen the insult, people watched as establishment forces re-launched their campaign for ‘entitlement reform’ – a euphemism for whacking Social Security benefits, Medicare and Medicaid.” Americans also watched as BTO moved on to pass a health insurance reform (the so-called Affordable Care Act) that only the big insurance and drug companies could love, kicking the popular alternative (single payer “Medicare for All”) to the curb while rushing to pass a program drafted by the Republican Heritage Foundation and first carried out in Massachusetts by the arch 1 percenter Mitt Romney. Not long thereafter, the American people watched BTO offer the Teapublicans he’d empowered bigger cuts in Social Security and Medicare than they asked for as part of his “Grand Bargain” offered during the elite-manufactured debt-ceiling crisis.

“Make Me Do It”

It was at that point that hundreds of thousands of mostly younger Americans had received enough of Obama’s “blunt lesson about power” to join the Occupy Wall Street Movement, which sought progressive change through direct action and social movement-building rather than corporate-captive electoral politics. We will never know how far Occupy might have gone since it was shut down by a federally coordinated campaign of repression that joined the Obama administration and hundreds of mostly Democratic city governments in the infiltration, surveillance, smearing, takedown and eviction of the short lived movement – this even as the Democrats stole some of Occupy’s rhetoric for use against Romney and the Republicans in 2012. Eight months prior to the crushing of Occupy, BTO could not bring himself to offer a word of support for the great public worker rebellion and movement that rose up against the anti-union policies of the arch-right-wing Koch-snorting governor Scott Walker in Madison, Wisconsin.

The repression of Occupy was a profound rebuke to the silly and bamboozled progressives who told us from privileged perches at places like The Nation that Obama, like Franklin Roosevelt in the early middle 1930s, wanted grassroots pressure from workers and citizens to “make me do it” – that is, to make him undertake progressive and social-democratic policies. Well, the young Americans who took over city parks on behalf of “the 99%” made BTO and Democratic city governments do it, alright, if “it” means crush popular protest.

The Clintons’ Frankenstein

Obama’s populism-betraying presidency has (as irrelevantly predicted by the present writer) been consistent with the savagely corporate-neoliberal, Wall Street-pleasing Clinton administration of the 1990s, which helped grease the skids for the late Bush II meltdown and the Bush42-Obama43Paulsen-Geithner-Bernake bailouts by dutifully advancing the financial de-regulatory agenda of Robert Rubin and Goldman Sachs.

Donald Trump is the Clintons’ Frankenstein too. Surely Hillary’s standard Democratic campaign pose as a populist does not wash with millions of middle and working class. She has received untold millions of millions of dollars in campaign funding and speaking fees from the financial elite and corporate America. She sat for years on the Board of Directors of the abysmally exploitative low-wage retailer and giant Chinese import platform Wal-Mart – a company she repeatedly and absurdly praised for its commitment to working people.

In a recent Guardian column arguing that nominal socialist Bernie Sanders’ majority support among Democratic voters below the age of 50 shows that the United States is entering a new progressive politico-ideological phase, the liberal French economist Thomas Piketty notes that “Hillary Clinton… appears today as if she is defending the status quo, just another heiress of the Reagan-Clinton-Obama political regime.” She appears like that because she is like that. For Hillary as for her NAFTA-signing husband and Trans Pacific Obama, there’s a useful translation for “a progressive who knows how to get things done”: a corporate neoliberal who manipulates populist and liberal sentiments in dutiful service to the unelected and interrelated dictatorships of money and empire. And, as The Donald loves to point out, Mrs. Clinton is among the large group of politicians who could not resist the pull of his own, self-interested election investments. There’s a photo online of the Trumps and the Clintons arm in arm at a tuxedo gathering greased by the sleaze of the organized bribery that is U.S. campaign finance.

The Media’s Frankenstein: Trumping The Bern with The Donald

Let us not forget that Donald Trump is the corporate media’s Frankenstein too. The clownish Donald became a household name thanks to his outlandish, capitalism-trumpeting (or mocking) antics on network television years ago. This campaign season, the “pathologically polite” (Taibbi) Bernie Sanders has done his nominally socialist best to capture the nation’s widespread and legitimate populist rage and channel it progressively through the deadening, dollar-drenched Democratic Party. Contrary to conventional punditry, there’s nothing surprising about the success Sanders has achieved in the primaries. He’s a social-democratically inclined liberal Democrat whose barrel-chested rhetoric about reducing inequality and “the billionaire class’s” control of the nation’s politics more properly matches the savagely plutocratic times. He’s much closer than Hillary to what a Democrat is supposed to be in the populism-manipulating rhetoric their party still rolls out for each long quadrennial electoral extravaganza. His platform is largely consistent with longstanding majority-progressive and social-democratic sentiments. He’s also a much better and angrier, more convincingly populist campaigner than the wooden and lackluster Hillary, whose wealth, world view, and record stand well to the right of public opinion. That’s to Sanders’ advantage with a Democratic electorate that has shifted to the liberal and “very liberal” left since 2008.

The so-called mainstream media, however, has made sure to play a central role in making it likely that the fascist-lite Trump and not the leftish liberal Sanders will become as the only electorally viable alternative to a third corporate-neoliberal Democratic presidential term in the Clinton-Obama-Goldman Sachs-Citigroup-NAFTA-Trans Pacific Partnership-Neoliberal-Fake-Progressive mode. It has hung on every preposterous word and gesture of its own noxious creation, Donald Trump, while regularly downplaying the giant turnouts at his rallies, generally under-covering his campaign, and failing to expose the abject corporate Wall Street-coziness of Hillary Clinton (among other Clinton problems). Could Sanders have successfully tapped enough of the popular resentment that the Tea Party and Trump have been exploiting in accord with venerable Republican Southern Strategy and “What’s the Matter with Kansas” precepts to succeed in a general election? One of the reasons we’ll probably never know (though Sanders’ Michigan victory is interesting, nothing is impossible, and it isn’t over until it’s over) is the corporate media’s predictable preference for a potential “Berlusconi with nukes” (Cohen’s amusing description of a President Trump) over a wannabe Mitterand (at leftmost) who would like Americans to take their policy advice from Denmark, Sweden and the Michigander Europe-fan Michael Moore.

What Democracy?

In his aforementioned Times column on Trump, Roger Cohen notes that “Europe is alarmed by Americans’ embrace of a latter-day Mussolini” – namely Donald Trump. “Europe knows that democracies can collapse,” Cohen writes, adding that “Once lost, the cost of recovery is high”

But what “democracy” is it exactly that might die in the United States? The United States’ unelected and interrelated “deep state” dictatorships of money and empire go back long before Trump came on the scene as a serious presidential candidate. They have always given a cold response to such popular sentiments: So what? Who cares? Public opinion is pitilessly mocked by harshly lopsided socioeconomic realities and coldly plutocratic politics and policy in the U.S. America is mired in a New Gilded Age of savage inequality and abject financial corporatocracy so extreme that the top 1 percent owns more than 90 percent of the nation’s wealth along with an outsized portion of the nation’s “democratically elected” officials. Over the past three plus decades, the leading mainstream U.S. political scientists Martin Gilens (Princeton) and Benjamin Page (Northwestern) reported in the fall of 2014, the U.S. political system had functioned as “an oligarchy,” where wealthy elites and their corporations “rule.” Examining data from more than 1,800 different policy initiatives in the late 20th and early 21st centuries, Gilens and Page found that wealthy and well-connected elites consistently steer the direction of the country, regardless of and against the will of the U.S. majority and irrespective of which major party holds the White House and/or Congress.

“The central point that emerges from our research is that economic elites and organized groups representing business interests have substantial independent impacts on U.S. government policy,” Gilens and Page wrote, “while mass-based interest groups and average citizens have little or no independent influence.” As Gilens explained to the liberal online journal Talking Points Memo, “ordinary citizens have virtually no influence over what their government does in the United States.” Such is the harsh reality of “really existing capitalist democracy” in the U.S., what Noam Chomsky called “RECD, pronounced as ‘wrecked,’” with the “liberal” Democrat Barack Obama in the White House.

A story about story about Gilens and Page’s research in the liberal online journal Talking Points Memo (TPM)in the spring of 2014 bore an interesting title: “Princeton Study: U.S. No Longer an Actual Democracy.” But when was the U.S. ever a democracy? It’s an honest and serious question. Actual popular self-government and sovereignty were the aristo-republican U.S. Founding Fathers’ ultimate nightmare and the governmental structure and political rules they etched in Constitutional stone were carefully crafted to keep the nightmare at bay and to make sure that, in the words of leading Founder John Jay, “the people who own the country run it.” Eighty-five years ago, the great American philosopher John Dewey observed that “politics is the shadow cast on society by big business.” Dewey rightly prophesized that U.S. politics would stay that way as long as power resided in “business for private profit through private control of banking, land, industry, reinforced by command of the press, press agents, and other means of publicity and propaganda.” That’s private control that Bernie Sanders wishes to keep intact, by the way: he has announced that (contrary to both Karl Marx and Webster’s Dictionary) his vision of “socialism” does not include the public taking over the means of production any more than it requires to run outside the corporatized Democratic Party,  I can hear John Jay and the leading plutocrats of Dewey’s day laughing in the distance as the November U.S. presidential election is “shaping up to be a race between the two most hated people in America” (Diana Johnstone). Think about that, Thanks to all the personal and institutional culprits discussed in this essay, It, well, the Donald, Can Happen Here.

Paul Street’s latest book is They Rule: The 1% v. Democracy (Paradigm, 2014)



Divide and Rule

12/05/16 0 COMMENTS

Counterpunch, March 8, 2016

Iowa City, Iowa

Liberals and progressives in the United States are stunned and horrified by the success that the blustering arch-misogynist white nationalist Donald Trump has enjoyed in rallying white U.S. working class people behind his call to build a “giant wall” (and “make Mexico pay” for the southern portion) to keep immigrants out. It’s not the only card Trump has played in his effort to turn white working class people into “Trumpenproletarians” (Eric Draitser’s entertaining term). The Donald also talks about imposing tariffs to keep “foreign goods” from “taking American jobs.” He rails against “free trade” measures that drain U.S. jobs, against the purchase of U.S. politicians by wealthy election investors (Trump’s own wealth makes him immune to that), and against business owners who close down their U.S. operations to set up shop abroad. As Matt Taibbi recently noted in Rolling Stone, “Reporters have focused quite a lot on the crazy/race-baiting/nativist themes in Trump’s campaign, but these comprise a very small part of his usual presentation. His speeches increasingly are strikingly populist in their content…His pitch is: He’s rich, he won’t owe anyone anything upon election, and therefore he won’t do what both Democratic and Republican politicians unfailingly do upon taking office, i.e., approve rotten/regressive policies that screw ordinary people.”

Still, there’s no doubt that Trump’s nasty nativist rhetoric against immigrants is a significant part of his success with white workers. That success might be distressing but is it surprising? For what, really, is the mystery about the support Trump and other right wing white-nationalist Republicans get from many among the white working class on the immigration question in a time of stagnant wages, a shrinking “middle class,” and ubiquitous economic precariousness and insecurity? The white (and for that matter the Black-American) U.S. working class does not really have to be propagandized by Donald Trump or anyone else to think that immigrant workers might pose some threat to their interests, after all. Under the longstanding divide-and-rule of capitalism, proletarians (people who must rent out their labor power to employers in order to gain the income required to obtain basic life necessities) are pitted by the profit-chasing employer class against one another in the dog-eat-dog struggle for decent wages, conditions, and status. The bigger the “reserve army of labor” that capital has at hand to wield as a club against those already employed, the greater the strength of the bourgeoisie in its constant conflict with the proletariat over working conditions and the division of the economic surplus. Desperate and peripatetic newcomer laborers who are largely immune to collective working class protest and organization (more on that below) are a very real problem for existing social labor standards in the host city, region, or nation. That’s just a simple fact of working class life in the U.S. and everywhere else capital reigns. Professional-class liberal Democrats who don’t understand that should spend some time on the bottom rungs of U.S. labor market and workplace.

The Hidden Abode of Procter & Gamble

Let’s take a peek into what that supposedly irrelevant dead guy Karl Marx called “the hidden abode of production.” Here in and around the liberal bastion of Iowa City, a university town where wage-earners’ working class lives are all but invisible to a large local cadre of privileged and mostly white academicians, the lower end of the workplace and the job market – the factory and warehouse positions filled by temporary labor agencies, custodial jobs, taxi drivers, etc. – is crowded with immigrants. It is chock full of nonwhite people who feel fortunate to have any kind of job that helps them escape danger, misery terror, and oppression in far-away places like the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Rwanda, Sudan, Honduras, Mexico, and Haiti.

Does anyone really believe that Iowa City’s giant Procter & Gamble (P&G) plant – my low-wage, finger-wrenching workplace between from September of 2015 through February of 2016 and the origin point for many of North America’s leading hair-care products – is crawling with Congolese and Sudanese workers, along with a smattering of Central Americans, Caribbean islanders, marginal whites, Black Americans, and Africans from other states, because P&G (the nation’s 25th largest company and its top consumer packaged goods firm by far) is nobly committed to racial and ethnic diversity and a world without borders? Of course it isn’t. P&G reserves its better paid and more “skilled” and secure “career” production jobs almost completely for non-Hispanic whites [1]. These “plant technician” jobs require no more than a GED (high school equivalency) degree and start at around $20 an hour. They are staffed by harried and serious-looking young and middle aged white men and women wearing black shirts with yellow trim. These are the people featured in the company’s promotional videos on “entry-level careers” at P&G. You can find a small number of Black American and Latino/a people in these jobs but the plant technicians are very disproportionately Caucasian.  They have difficult and sometime irritating jobs keeping production lines going around the clock (P&G runs three eight hour shifts in continuous sequence all day long and seven days a week) but the chance to make $20 with just a high school degree (or GED) is good enough to keep these workers obedient, outwardly company-loyal, and out of unions. They also enjoy some of what the left historian David Roediger has (building on the work of the great Black Marxist thinker WEB DuBois) called “the wages of whiteness”: a sense of privilege and power relative to non-white people with considerably less income and power in and beyond the workplace.

P&G relies on a leading temporary or “contingent” worker agency to fill its large number of lower-paid – $10 to $11.85 an hour depending on shift – and casually employed production positions with primarily African immigrants, many of whom are quite highly educated. These mostly Black- workers speak Arabic (the Sudanese), French (the Congolese), some English (the Sudanese in the lead, followed by the Congolese, with non-Puerto Rican Latin Americans far behind) and wear long red t-shirts to make them visible to speeding fork-lift drivers who pose a constant threat to life and limb. I beheld a white plant technician with no education beyond a GED and a mindset fit for guard duty in Dachau, dress down African workers with medical degrees and PhDs on more than one occasion.

The temp firm is Staff Management/SMX, which describes itself as “a recognized leader in comprehensive staffing and contingent workforce solutions. We partner with Fortune 500 and mid-sized companies,” SMX boasts, “to deliver innovative staffing solutions with superior results across a multitude of industries and geographies.” SMX specializes in labor “flexibility.” I was told that it skims off $6 an hour for every lower-level “light industrial” working hour it delivered to P&G, making the manufacturing and packaging giant’s real wage bill for first-shift production workers $16 an hour. That’s no small rake-off for SMX.

Here’s some comparative context for that parasitic skimming. I recently temped in a unionized bakery next to a Congolese woman who makes $16 an hour working four ten hour days a week. The work she performs is much less difficult and much more regular than the production work at the multinational behemoth P&G, whose annual profits exceed $10 billion. Wow: work for a regional bakery with a union and make $16 an hour. Work for a Fortune 25 corporation with a a temp agency and no union and make $10 an hour.

The immigrant and African presence delivered to the “hidden abode” at the Iowa City P&G (where the company puts the slogan “Bring it On” above the employee entrance) is quite pronounced. I remember one very atypical day working at P&G being astonished to look around and see that nearly half the workers on my line were white. It was completely atypical. “What’s with all the Caucasians,” I (myself white) said to my Congolese “line leader” (a curious job category I will describe below): “I’m just not comfortable working with all these white people!” “Paul,” my African co-worker said, “tu es fou” (you are crazy). True enough, no doubt.

Staff Management and P&G designate one red-shirted worker per packaging line and work group to be paid a laughably small $1-an-hour premium for serving as a “line leader,” responsible for “training” and assigning tasks and keeping the line going. An especially productive worker is chosen to be paid this small supplement for the task of driving his fellow workers. Some of the “line leaders” become quite absurdly full of themselves over this honor, rewarded with a pittance compared to the added responsibility. It is a clever and nasty little way of pitting workers against each other.

I never once worked under a white line-leader at P&G. Due to language difficulties, I often could not understand what my line leaders were saying and had to consult with the black and gold-shirted P&G plant technicians to understand the tasks to which I was being assigned.

Still, I got along well with the immigrant African P&G/SMX workers despite being a middle-aged semi-proletarianized white guy. Not being racist was part of that. So was knowing a little French, a tiny bit of Spanish, and some history of the countries from which my immigrant co-workers came (more on that below) and of what Europe and the United States had done to those countries (more on that as well). Maybe it also mattered that I grew up in an integrated Chicago neighborhood where it was nothing unusual to have Black authority figures, from bus drivers, to crossing guards, police, and school teachers.

Nobody taught the history of Africa, Latin America, and Western imperialism to my white P&G co-workers, one of whom quit not long after informing me that he “can’t stand taking orders from niggers anymore.” He wasn’t the only Caucasian worker I witnessed who couldn’t deal with the racial inversion at P&G.

Sources of Labor Stability

African workers predominate in the P&G plant’s dozens of difficult, lower-end jobs because they are ready, willing, and able to perform without open complaint or protest the plant’s most menial tasks. The work includes filling boxes on rapidly moving assembly lines with shampoo, conditioner and mouthwash bottles, building and wrapping pallets at the end of never-ending packaging-assembly lines, putting stickers on one shampoo or conditioner bottle after another, and more and worse. It’s all performed in exchange for inadequate wages (far lower than they ought to be thanks to the SMX rake-off) and at constant risk of being sent home early and without warning since there’s often “no more product today” (that’s called “labor flexibility” and it’s no small problem for workers who already paid for a full day’s worth of child care). There’s no protest or resistance beyond an occasional argument with a line-leader who waits too long to give his fellow workers their occasional work breaks.

For what it’s worth, the only union presence I ever saw in the plant was some big white International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers guys who came into the plant one day to do some contracting work – and to guffaw over “all the little Black immigrants” (a strange comment since many of the African workers are quite tall) they saw “running around this place.”

Why no protest or organization? For the better-paid white workers, the plant technicians, employer-friendly labor stability is rooted in relatively high wages and benefits. For the bottom-rung workers, the logic of quiescence is different. Their subordination to the employers (technically Staff Management though the visible shop-floor authorities are actually the P&G plant technicians) is rooted in a number of factors: the positive comparison they reasonably make between life and work in the U.S. and the misery and trauma they left behind in their homelands; their understanding that continued presence in the U.S. depends on staying employed to satisfy the requirements of work visas; the common prior experience of extreme repression in Africa or Latin America; language barriers to communication and hence solidarity with workers outside their ethic group; internal ethnic divisions including continuing “tribal” conflicts between Hutus and Tutsis among and between Congolese and Rwandan workers; the existence of other workplaces to escape to (for example, the big Whirlpool plant over in Amana, Iowa or the meatpacking plants in West Liberty and down in Columbus Junction) if work at P&G proves too difficult. (It proved too difficult to me: after five months of being compelled to repeatedly open hundreds of glued boxes, I was starting to experience difficulty making even a mildly closed fist with either of my hands. Full and pain-free finger dexterity returned a week after quitting).

Along the way, the sharp differences and inequalities between the immigrant and mostly Black workers brought in by SMX and the white plant technicians hired direct through P&G militates against anything remotely close to working class solidarity. They live in very different worlds. The immigrant workers’ worlds are themselves quite significantly divided by religion, language, and culture, all related to their diverse origins across what the Marxist environmental sociologist John Bellamy Foster has called “the global treadmill of production.

World Systemic Iowa

It really is a world capitalist system. Here in “rural” white Upper Midwestern Iowa, far from all the nation’s land and ocean borders, a giant state of-the-art and significantly automated plant owned by a massive multinational corporation makes and packages shampoo, conditioner, mouthwash and other products for all of North America [2] with workers from North and Central Africa, Asia, Latin America, and the Caribbean. Meanwhile, the University of Iowa Campus and adjacent Iowa City town (inhabiting a wildly different petit-bourgeois space filled with coffee shops and lecture halls just a mile and half away) is crawling with an ever-increasing number of well-off, and Lexus-driving Chinese students, children of parents who got rich off “communist” China’s emergence as the leading zone of mass consumer good manufacturing for the global capitalist market. Just two miles to the north, one can often hear the never-ending roar of Interstate 80, teeming with speeding trucks carrying commodities to and from remote regions and nations. The Iowa Utilities Board is about to approve the building of an eco-cidal pipeline to carry fracked, planet-cooking North Dakota (Bakken field) oil across a diagonal path through 17 Iowa counties on the way to Illinois, the Mississippi River, the Gulf of Mexico, and the global petroleum market. Despite living atop some of the world’s most fertile and naturally watered agricultural soil, Iowans absurdly purchase more than 80 percent of their food from outside the state. Most of the state’s farmland gets planted post-fence to post-fence with chemically fertilizer-saturated corn and soybeans grown largely to provide animal feed and to supply regional, national, and global grain and Ethanol markets. Military operatives stationed before glowing killing screens in a new U.S. Drone War base outside Des Moines. They target officially designated enemies of Washington’s global war of (“on”) terror in North Africa, the Middle East, and Southwest Asia.

Driving Immigration With Empire

One thing to support in light of the aforementioned divide-and-rule is of course the abolition of capitalism and its replacement by a democratic-socialist system of workers’ self-management and public welfare – a system of actual popular sovereignty wherein people are no longer compelled to compete with one another for the right to decent work and lives. I’ve backed such revolutionary transformation by and for “the associated producers” (Marx’s wonderful term) ever since I first came into contact with socialist ideas after working a number of alienating, low-wage jobs (busboy, dishwasher, and bellhop) on the North Side of Chicago in the wake of high school. Such transformation has little to do with Bernie Sanders’ neutered definition of “democratic socialism,” which explicitly and absurdly leaves the means of production (and much more) in private, profit-seeking hands.

Other things to support in the absence of – let me optimistically say “prior to” – such radical-democratic transformation include easing barriers to full citizenship for immigrants (something that would help workers from other nations feel safer about standing up against employers) and the building of a new U.S. labor movement strong and inclusive enough to join immigrant and non-immigrant workers in the same militant and fighting working class organizations.

What about restricting immigration? Also much to be recommended is pursuing that goal in a progressive, non-nativist way, very different from the false Republican white-nationalist “solutions” of “humungous walls,” increased border patrols, mass deportations, and other draconian measures. And here I’m talking about acknowledging and dealing with some of the terrible ways in which the imperial United States causes the very in-migrations that do so much to provoke reactionary, white-nationalist and even proto-fascistic,arch-authoritarian Amerikkanner sentiments in “the homeland.”

One of the things that really leapt out at me during my recently concluded stint as a second-shift lower-end production worker (a red-shirted white in a sea of Black, red-shirted fellow “temporarians”) in the aforementioned Iowa City P&G plant (an episode brought to a conclusion by my realization that he repeated opening and breaking down of cardboard boxes was causing to me lose strength in my fingers) was the basic fact that most of my various and constantly changing [3] co-workers had recently come to nations and regions where U.S foreign and trade policies had helped created terrible misery. The biggest number of my fellow workers came from the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), where literally millions of Hutu civilians have been massacred and maimed by Rwandan and Ugandan militias that are backed by the U.S. and who engage in “the large scale pillage of natural resources for the benefit of U.S. and European companies. The illegally looted resources,” Diana Johnstone notes in her expose of Hillary Clinton’s long imperialist record, “include tropical timber, gold, cobalt, diamonds, zinc, uranium and especially the world’s largest deposits of coltan, a mineral essential for the computer industry.” (D. Johnstone, Queen of Chaos: The Misadventures of Hillary Clinton [Counterpunch Books, 2015], p.53).

The second largest number of my coworkers hailed from Sudan, where the U.S.-funded South Sudanese Civil War has forced hundreds of thousands of people to flee for their lives – a reflection of the Obama administration’s determination to gain control of the rich Abeye oil fields, currently developed by Washington’s most feared global-economic rival China.

My co-workers included also workers from: Honduras, where the population has been pulverized by many decades of savage, mass-murderous U.S.-funded and U.S.-equipped government repression and where a U.S.-sponsored coup in the spring of 2009 overthrew the democratically elected president Manuel Zelaya because of his effort to reduce inequality and poverty and increase democracy there (deadly repression. corruption, violence, and poverty have re-expanded there ever since); Haiti, where terrible mass poverty (the worst in the Western hemisphere) has long been imposed by the world-capitalist partners the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, Wall Street, the White House, and the Pentagon; Puerto Rico, a deeply impoverished U.S. “protectorate” (colony) driven to bankruptcy the leading U.S. financial institutions and their allies in Washington and the global financial institutions; Ecuador, long subject to U.S. imperial control and impoverishment; Mexico, where millions have been displaced by U.S. agricultural exports under the rule of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA); and even the former nation of Yugoslavia, broken apart and bombed by Western Europe and the U.S. in the false and fake-humanitarian name of “preventing genocide.”

Ironic Loyalty to Hillary Clinton

Besides their happiness at their “good fortune” to be working alienating, dangerous, exploitative, and underpaid jobs at a giant, multinational and stupendously profitable corporation (all too understandable give the conditions they’d left behind), the next most distressing thing to emerge from my shop-floor and break-room discussions with immigrant workers at P&G was the considerable allegiance many of them expressed for Hillary Clinton in the U.S. presidential race. The identification with Hillary is understandable in light of Trump’s bellicose anti-immigrant statements (well known to P&G’s African immigrant workers, many of whom expressed their dislike of Trump to me), Hillary’s liberal-sounding criticism of those statements as contrary to American values, and the U.S. corporate media’s downplaying of the far more liberal Bernie Sanders (an almost complete unknown to the immigrants I worked with at P&G.) The identification was especially strong among the many devoutly Muslim Sudanese I toiled alongside, for they knew very well that Trump had marked Muslims out for an immigration ban.

Still it’s a little disheartening to reflect on the savage irony of these immigrant workers aligning themselves with Mrs. Clinton. Hillary, her former U.S. president husband Bill, and the aggressive fake-humanitarian imperialism they have together advanced (along with fellow cruise-missile and drone war liberals like Barack Obama, Madeline Albright, Richard Holbrooke, Susan Rice, and Samantha Power, just to name a handful) over the last two-plus decades are key forces behind the terrible policies that have created misery in the nations and regions my co-workers had fled. The Clintons are good friends of Rwanda’s blood-soaked head -of-state Paul Kagame, the butcher of millions of Congolese Hutus. Hillary’s U.S. State Department advanced and protected the Honduran putsch and fueled the Sudanese Civil War. It was Bill Clinton who passed NAFTA, which has caused so much economic disruption and dislocation in Central America as in the U.S. The bombing of Serbia, urged on Bill by Hillary (in the preposterous name of stopping “genocide”) was the Clintons’ crime – eagerly supported by then U.S. Congressman Bernie Sanders, by the way. The Clinton administration permitted the popular Haitian leader Jean Baptiste Aristide to return to power (he was removed in a CIA-assisted coup in 1991) in 1994 but only on the condition that he not continue his past efforts to reduce poverty and inequality and accept the “free market” dictates of the International Monetary Fund and World Bank. Hillary’s aggressive imperialism as Secretary of State (2009-2012) has helped generate devastating ethnic strife in Libya and Syria, where hundreds of thousands of North Africans and Arabs have been forced to flee to Western Europe and other, safer destinations. (I recently worked next to my first Syrian co-worker.)

Wages of Empire

When I talked to white workers about the terrible “developing nation” (what we used to call Third World) conditions that drive millions to immigrate to the U.S., a common response is “well, that’s too bad, but it’s got nothing do with me.” But it’s got plenty to do with white, so-called ordinary working- and middle-class Americans. “Our” federal tax dollars (absurdly high in comparison to those paid by parasitic finance capital) help pay for a U.S. government that spends more than half its discretionary budget on maintaining a Pentagon system that accounts for half the world’s military spending and maintains more than 1000 military installations (some the size of small cities) across more than 110 “sovereign” nations. “Our” taxes fund U.S. imperial military and trade policies that help fuel the immigration that Trump uses for neo- fascistic campaign fodder. Most of the incomers that nativist thugs like Trump rail against would very much prefer to be able to make a decent living and live good lives in their home countries. They can’t, however, and the U.S. global Empire, which we pay for, is a big part of why.

Along with the “wages of whiteness” there’s also the equally self-defeating psychological wage of Empire: the related sense that one’s status is enhanced by living in the world’s only military superpower – a sense that is sometimes deepened by commonly inter-generational military “service” in working class households. Ironically or perhaps appropriately enough, the global Mafia Don Uncle Sam’s potent and richly bipartisan capacity to wreak havoc and spread misery in distant places like North and Central Africa helps feed the stream of traumatized immigrant workers that the U.S. employer class wield as part of its never-ending war on the American working class. The problem will continue under the merely nominal rule of a Donald Trump or, more likely, Hillary Clinton.


1 The only significant exception I saw to this at the Iowa City P&G plant was in “Building 40,” where highly labor-intensive packaging lines required P&G plant technicians to verbally communicate with the red shirted production workers more than was common in other parts of the plant. Here two of the P&G employees were Hispanic and fully bilingual, reflecting the fact that Building 40’s workers were mostly Mexican until recently. With the African influx, fluency in Spanish is no longer much of an asset.

2 As a plant technician explained to me, the “heaviness” of the product manufactured and packaged in Iowa City is what makes the company’s Iowa City plant “still viable.” If the product was lighter, lower transportation costs would permit the firm to shift operations to a lower-wage location in Mexico or China.

3Another part of the Staff Management-P&G control system is a constant shifting of people between and across production lines, something that militates against the formation of cohesive informal work groups. One is thrown into a new situation with completely new co-workers from one day to the next

Paul Street’s latest book is They Rule: The 1% v. Democracy (Paradigm, 2014)

“All Lives Matter”: More Stupid White Noise

12/05/16 0 COMMENTS

Black Agenda Report, March 8, 2016

Listening to white Americans talk about race and Black people makes my brain hurt. How many times have I heard U.S. Caucasians recoil against the slogan “Black Lives Matter,” proclaiming with eye-rolling exasperation that “all lives matter”?  But who in the Hell said that white and-or Asian and/Latino and/or Arab and/or Native American lives don’t matter? Nobody. Of course all lives matter. What kind of moral idiot would proclaim otherwise?

When Black men in Memphis and other Southern cities in the 1960s marched as part of the Civil Rights Movement with signs saying “I am a Man,” did they thereby proclaim that white men weren’t men?  Of course they didn’t.

When you raise your female child to understand that she is a worthy and valuable person, does that mean you teach her to believe that a male child isn’t? Of course not.

The problem is that, with perhaps the exception of the nation’s small remaining population of Native Americans, the lives of no racial or ethnic group seem to matter less to America’s soulless capitalist and imperial system than do those of Black Americans.   The slogan “Black Lives Matter” emerged in response to the endemic police shooting of young Black adults, young Black men especially, who are gunned down by mostly white law enforcement officers with shocking regularity in the U.S. – once every 28 hours on average.

Do lower and working class whites ever get shot down by the police?  Do they ever get incarcerated and criminally marked?  Of course they do, but the likelihood of Americans in other groups – especially whites – getting shot, imprisoned, executed, frisked, traffic-stopped, home-invaded, ripped off, beaten and harassed by police, and felony branded is much, much slighter than it is when it comes to the Black minority.

The statistics of racial disparity in poverty, disease, mortality, wealth, joblessness, incarceration, felony marking, education, execution, and more are stark. Nobody is more savagely concentrated in highly segregated high-poverty, no-job ghettoes, in under-funded and inferior schools, and in mass jails and prisons than are Black Americans. It’s not even close.

I’m not going to repeat all the numbers here.  I’ve done that countless times before and it hasn’t made the slightest bit of difference.  Anyone who actually cares enough to look them up can do so quite easily and they are invited to include my name in their Google searches. I’ve published volumes about it.

And besides, the main problem with the dominant white mindset isn’t denial of the disparities but denial rather of the ubiquitous societal racism that causes them. “They brought it on themselves” is the standard viewpoint of majority white Amerikanners who tell me “Racism? What racism, dude? Hey, man, the President of the United States is Black!”

Well, leaving aside the epic bigotry that even Obama’s race-downplaying and “color-blind” presidency has elicited, it’s not really about the skin tone of the president or for that matter about the color of the U.S. Attorney General or the color of a CEO or a football coach. It’s about the relentlessly racialized day-to-day functioning of core social structures and institutions including the labor market, the workplace. the financial system, the real estate market, the educational system, the social welfare system, the electoral system, and the criminal justice system.  And across these and other key societal spaces, study after study documents the persistence of an ongoing and often stark anti-Black racial bias, discrimination, and neglect.  It all grinds on, Obama notwithstanding, atop a cold white refusal to acknowledge, much less pay reparations for the incalculable compound price to Black America of centuries of Black chattel Slavery and nearly a century of formal Jim Crow segregation and disenfranchisement in the South – this along with the de facto segregation in the 20th and 21st century urban North and racial-ethnic cleansing across the rural and small town North in the late 19th and early 20th centuries (Google up the term “sundown towns”).

So damn what if the current corporate-imperial president is Black? Obama has had incredibly little to say about and against racism during his time in the “bully pulpit.”  His “Black but not like Jesse” and “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner” candidacy was predicated on calculated, post-racial distancing from any serious confrontation with American racism, deeply understood. He has in the White House continued his early and ugly habit of giving poor and working class Blacks (“cousin Pookie”) nasty neoliberal lectures on their own supposed personal and cultural responsibility for their presence at the bottom of the nation’s steep socioeconomic pyramids.  Truth be told, Obama has been a calamity for the struggle for Black equality on numerous levels, including the cloaking power his presence in the White House has provided for persistent societal racism.

A white “all lives matter” e-mail correspondent asked me recently if I had seen the terrible recent data about rising white middle-aged working class mortality, increasing at a significantly higher rate than that of any other group in the nation?  Yes, I have.  It’s very disturbing and indicative of how millions upon millions of white blue- and grey-collar men have been turned into “surplus Americans” – people shorn of “productive [employable] engagement with society” – by global capitalism (the same system that brought us chattel slavery).  But it’s important to keep some comparative perspective. Middle-aged blacks still have a much higher mortality rate than whites:  581 per 100,000, compared to 415 for whites.

When the research paper documenting the rising mortality of working class whites came out last year, Ronald Lee, a leading University of California demography researcher, spoke to the New York Times. “Seldom have I felt as affected by a paper,” Lee said. “It seems so sad.”

The “it” that caused the academic’s melancholy was the increase in white death due largely to substance abuse and suicide, not the persistently higher Black mortality.  White lives matter more in U.S. culture.

There were no lectures from Obama or anyone else on white working and lower class folks’ personal and cultural responsibility for their increasingly deadly dire straits – this despite the fact that alcohol abuse and illegal drug use have been shown to play major roles in the rising white mortality.

It’s at this point that many whites I’ve interacted with on the race issue in the last two years like to play what they think is their ace in the hole. “If Blacks want to say that ‘Black Lives Matter,’ then why don’t they stop killing each other so much?”  Then comes the rant about Black-on-Black crime and how many more young Blacks get fatally shot by other young Blacks than they do by white policemen.

The response here, for me at least, isn’t to deny the statistics on that.  The numbers don’t lie (Spike Lee gives some of them at the beginning of his latest movie “ChIraq”). But it’s still all a bunch of racism-denying self-delusion to use Black on Black crime that way.  The intra-Back violence takes places within a White-Imposed context of racially concentrated poverty, joblessness and hyper-segregation that White America simply refuses (with too few oddball exceptions like this writer) to acknowledge. Does anyone seriously think that gun- and drug-mad and militarism-backing white Americans wouldn’t be gunning each other down on an epic scale if they were the minority group piled up on top of itself in jobless, opportunity-free ghettoes, reservations, and prisons of hopelessness and despair, branded by the color of their skins and the ubiquitous lifelong stigma of criminal records? Trust me when I say that the resulting white-on-white gang-banging slaughter that would occur on a regular basis in the great Caucasian ghettoes and reservations would make current Black-on-Black (and Native American-on- Native American and Latino-on-Latino) violence look mild by comparison (and I’m not just talking about Italian wise-guys).  For what it’s worth, Europeans whites have been known to shoot and carve each other up on a pretty grand scale in history, I might add.  If you don’t believe me just Google up “Thirty Years War,” “Seven Years War,” “Napoleonic Wars,” “World War One” and “World War Two.”

Paul Street is the author of many books including They Rule: The 1% v. Democracy (Paradigm, 2014) and Racial Oppression in the Global Metropolis: A Living Black Chicago History (Rowman & Littlefield, 2007). 
 Page 2 of 44 « 1  2  3  4  5 » ...  Last »