I received a link from my friend Aubrey to a piecewritten by a former resident of Chile remarking on the wicked irony of seeing Americans traumatized by Russian interference in our elections more than 40 years after his own country was ravaged by the bloody toppling of a democratically-elected Chilean government – that of President Salvador Allende – by the American CIA. The writer took no pleasure in the awful observation. But he also refused to spare we Americans the agony of the irony.
It reminds me of this podcast in which a Trump voter voiced her terrible sense of violation at seeing a community of Somali immigrants take over, from her point of view, an entire neighborhood that she and other enraged whites felt they intrinsically owned. She had not a clue about the wicked irony of her bitterness at losing "her" territory in a land where Native Americans know that very experience with far more gruesome familiarity than she will ever fathom.
That is the obscene, comic, tragic absurdity of the consciousness of tens of millions of scared American white voters: Their own tribal legacy on these shores is exactly, and I mean exactly, what they shriek for Trump to defeat in fetishized brown invaders: primitive ignorance, carnivorous violence, savage thievery, amoral entitlement.
It’s all right here in the making of a country that – over its few centuries of incompetent occupation – whiteness momentarily claims as its own.
...Donald Trump takes offense with a tweet demanding an apology.
So, just to make sure we understand: President-Elect Trump believes that he and his surrogates are entitled to call Mexican immigrants "rapists," to call women "pigs" and "dogs" who you can "grab by the pussy," to claim that President Obama was not born in the United States, to advocate banning Muslims from the country, to insult a military Gold Star family and their self-sacrificing son on religious grounds, to mock disabled people, to validate white supremacists, to encourage violence at his rallies, to call the former secretary of state and his presidential opponent a "nasty woman," and to sneer "they don't look like Indians to me" at Native Americans who challenge his casino interests.
But an audience at a smash musical that touts diversity is not entitled to voice its displeasure at such wanton racism, sexism, and hatred.
To paraphrase that paragon of principle MittRomney, this is a textbook example of white male bully delusion. It's an affliction of those taught to inherit the 400-year-old self-image of captor and master: they can dish it out but they can't take it.
Ex-slaveholder, ex-master of women, and ex-majority over brown people are all positions with no future. In today's world they are guaranteed dead-end jobs. And I do mean dead: in the sense of an aging and shrinking white male-dominated demographic that can feel itself shriveling nationally and globally. Within decades its majority in America will be gone, replaced by a thriving predominance of brown people and of white people who are comfortable with difference.
One recent example that will jerk your head back is the testimony, on the seminal radio chronicle This American Life, of economically screwed white Americans who bitterly report, with no sense of historical irony whatsoever, their shock at feeling "their" country and communities occupied by differently-colored newcomers from overseas. Uh, has anybody here looked beyond the white experience to see how their feeling of dispossession is neither unique nor accurate?
But that's the problem with defined whiteness: its world starts and ends with itself. Trump is part of its end, its desperate death throes, its final mythology. The only remaining question is whether the rainbow of humanity as a whole can survive this deadly fiction.
- A corporate Republican Party that, since Nixon, has sold itself to any and every narrative that coaxes non-rich white people to attack brown people instead of turning on their own greedy white jailers.
- A corporate Democratic Party that, since losing to Reagan, has lost all will to challenge money and has thereby abandoned the economic populist field to any charlatan willing to yell, "The system is rigged."
- A media corps that made false equivalency (Clinton cites actual proof of a Trump lie = Trump yells that Clinton is a criminal) a long-term habit and now blinks in shock at the victory of an utterly dishonest and unqualified candidate.
- A dying white electorate willing to flush its own humanity down the crapper in order to feel even the most sorry excuse for power.
- Progressive voters and non-voters -- particularly whites insulated from the worst consequences of a Trump victory -- who thought they had the luxury of ignoring what fascism actually means.
After three debates and a hallucinatory succession of politically unsurvivable outrages, Donald Trump is still standing.
“Impossible” is a marker we blew past long ago. After a year of Trump’s gleefully insulting the economic intelligence of angry whites, spitting in the faces of people of color and women and Muslims, consorting with the Ku Klux Klan and Nazis, denying the continual catastrophe of climate change, pandering to the worst in foreign autocrats and domestic brown shirts, and magnifying at dizzying speed the reasons he cannot be trusted with house keys, let alone nuclear weapons, Trump has capped his wickedness with boasts (and 11 allegations so far) of sexual assault, “nasty woman” rasps at Hillary Clinton, and defiance of a popular vote before it even happens.
And yet, close to half of the electorate remains willing to vote him into the presidency. Pundits are aghast. Mainstream news outlets, for whom quote-without-question false equivalency has become a rote practice in reporting “both sides” of issues like politics and climate change, now dare to use the word “lie” to describe Trump’s fictional claims. Now, just days before the election, one can feel a rising mainstream hysteria on the airwaves, in print, and in overheard conversations: He will not die! How is this possible?
There is a very good reason, and it is one that corporate journalists and corporate-fed politicians continue to deny: America is broken, from the bone outward. And only Trump, an amoral opportunist, and Bernie Sanders, a progressive firebrand who the managers of corporate reason were unwilling to tolerate, have dared to mouth those words.
Let’s take the corporate journalists’ denial first. From The New York Times to CNN to NPR, until these final shell-shocked days the unspoken subtext of news stories has been, If we journalists simply put on display Trump’s daily outrageous claims, which are transparently untrue, citizens must surely see through them and reject them as antithetical to the truth and fairness of the American experiment. But this is a false assumption. Unlike prosperous national journalists who earnestly publish books and who vacation in inspiring places, the millions of white Americans who make up Trump’s base long ago gave up on any pretense of meritocracy in this country. They know that access to political office is bought with money. They know they are behind the eight ball on a slanted plane of play. They expect to be ceaselessly lied to. And they have learned well, at the punishing hands of global conglomerates and purchased politicians, that the only remaining game is a dirty one. Black and brown communities trapped in poverty, poor schools, and a pipeline to for-profit prisons? Too bad for them, and keep them away from us. Refugees fleeing the wreckage of a global post-neocolonial regime of cheap raw resources and wars of control? Wall them out. We have our own hell here. War-zone zealots whose remaining desperate sense of redemption is in wearing a bomb belt? Screw their reasons and don’t apologize for our methods. Bomb and torture them back to carbon. For uneducated white men – the core Trump electorate – the corporate media have been speaking Greek for decades.
Then there is the corporate political denial. As the longtime sole arbiter of what passes for progressivism in nationally “realistic” politics, the modern Democratic Party has – since the rise of Ronald Reagan and the Dems’ defensive descent into increasingly cruel corporatist platforms and policies (welfare reform, NAFTA, draconian sentencing laws, obscenely weakened oversight of banks, polluters, low-wage conglomerates and other public predators) – effectively erased the party’s credibility with suffering whites for whom the crumbs of white privilege have become starvation rations. Republicans have, since Nixon, peddled flavors of the “what’s good for rich people is good for white people” seduction. But today’s Democratic – and increasingly, Republican – Senator Silverhairs have become, to many whites amid the remaining shreds of a middle class, a bitter mockery of representation. Mainstream news correspondents may still dutifully repeat these professional politicians’ vacuous declarations as if they are newsworthy. But many ordinary working white Americans stopped listening years ago. It’s what Cornel West has accurately called the “niggerization” of American working people. We black folks and other people of color have borne it for centuries. Now, increasingly disenfranchised whites, feeling their own (decidedly race-softened but awful) version of the pain, are staging a political riot. (For a deeper understanding of how and why Trump profoundly appeals to white voters who are by far his moral superiors, go to The United States of Anxiety, a devastating podcast produced by The Nation and WNYC.)
That is why Trump can serially lie with impunity to his base about his disproven claims, boast about his evading taxes, contradict his nationalist rhetoric with his anti-American-worker hiring practices, and brag about sexually assaulting women – and still claim roars of approval from the very voters he betrays. This is neither nonsensical nor insane. It is a brutal, wicked consequence of corporate media and mainstream politics having abandoned the clear populist imperatives of our era. The error of Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, and their humanistic side of the corporate establishment is that for the past eight years they have left the defiantly progressive field wide open for any takers. They left it vacant, in fact, until Sanders proved it had clout. (Have you wondered, as I have, what the campaign would now look like if it were Democratic Socialist Bernie bellowing back at fake-rebel Trump in the three presidential debates?) Trump, the consummate opportunist, has filled the white blue-collar populist void with his brutal audacity and dishonesty. It doesn’t take much to swim upstream when the flow is so feeble.
So Hillary Clinton – who embraced energetic progressive rhetoric only after Sanders proved it might win – is now our last barrier between a bad political landscape with footholds for progress and an abyss plunging into unknown depths of depravity, repression, and potential nuclear and ecological ruin. She was far from my first choice. But I am one of many who will vote for her with fierce resolve.
For those who have failed to call out betrayal of progressivism over its decades-long cooptation by corporate expediency, the old adage still applies: you break it, you buy it. That shattered mess on the floor is what is left of the myth of white meritocracy preached since World War Two. White people left behind by the corporate version of white privilege need somewhere else to go. Trump is a temporary refuge. He may or may not lose the election. But either way, the tide of betrayed collective white ego he has loosed is not retreating. That dam is busted, and the flood plain will extend far beyond Election Day.
We can blame Trump, an amateur fascist, for cashing in on this with his come-on to a beached white electorate. Or we can ask, What happens when the enraged hungers of disenfranchised white people start to merge with the centuries-old hungers of black and brown ex-slaves and the desperation of those who now flee global poverty and slaughter?
This week I had a radio conversation about Trump, white fear, and fascism with psychologist and host Dr. Pamela Brewer on her MyNDTALK program. You can hear or download our one-hour conversation, "The Direction of This Election," at MyNDTALK, at WPFW-FM (as the April 4 MyNDTALK show), at PRX, on iTunes, and at SoundCloud.
The wicked irony of our insulation as Americans, living as we do galaxies away from the agonies that daily afflict the global billions affected by our domination, is that we entirely lose our minds at the first sight of our own blood.
One-hundred-thirty, the number of people who died horrible deaths two Fridays ago in Paris, is less than half the number of Iraqi civilians killed weekly by bombs, gunfire and other political murder, and an even smaller fraction of those steadily murdered in the Syrian civil war: 220,000 in the past four years or one every 10 minutes. The chaos that set this colossal carnage in motion was the destruction of the Iraqi state by an American war of choice.
And yet, cushioned here in the plush headquarters of global capital and war -- with oceans and empire shielding we Americans from anything like the cascading catastrophe of parts of Africa and the Middle East and even Europe -- our politics now teeter, at even the threat of one or more attacks, into panicked flirtation with fascism. Go ahead, say the word out loud. It is, horribly, the accurate term for a national conversation in which journalists have begun soberly quoting politicians' calls for forced internment of selected immigrants, religious tests for immigration, banning certain nationalities, treating people from some countries like "mad dogs," and suspending checks on state power. The ease with which many of our news media accept this new lexicon is chilling.
It is as if this American readiness to panic and lunge toward authoritarianism is in direct proportion to the outsized privilege the nation has for so long taken for granted: North American conquest and genocide, white supremacy, global riches with little cost, foreign invasion with impunity, a guaranteed satisfactory consumer experience.
Over the past several days, one Republican governor after another has closed his state to refugees from Syria—or, since they technically do not have the legal power to prevent the federal government from admitting refugees, has pledged to refuse all state resources to aid in this process. A Republican mayor in Virginia has called for using the World War II internment system that was used against Japanese Americans—itself one of the most widely discredited and shameful episodes in recent American history—as a model for how to approach the Syrians.
Jeb Bush has said we ought to prioritize refugee status for Christians. John Kasich has called for a government agency that would beam “Judeo-Christian values” over Middle Eastern airwaves. In Congress, the GOP-led House, with a shockingly large number of Democrats in support, just voted on a bill that would make it virtually impossible, in practice, to admit Syrian refugees into the country. And Donald Trump has used the crime against humanity that occurred last week in Paris as a prop in his vicious campaign of demagoguery: Because of Paris, he has said, we must get serious about building a wall to close off Mexico. Because of Paris, we must put security first above all civil liberties. Because of Paris, we must start up again the few post-9/11 surveillance programs that were curtailed by courts and politicians because of their abusive properties, and must maintain and expand a raft of others. A surveillance state briefly put in the dock by Edward Snowden will, in this vision, be fully unleashed and unchecked. And because of Paris, we ought to consider registering American Muslims in a special database.
There is an odor of early fascism, or rather of the hysteria that precedes the march away from democracy, to much of this Trumpian rhetoric. An odor of the street fight. An odor of the iron fist.
400 years ago, West African mothers and fathers cradled dead children in their arms on beaches as slave ships bucked in the surf.
It is 2015. How much longer will you and I and the world stand for this?
Little three-year-old Syrian Aylan Kurdi drowned, his tiny sneakered feet dangling from the arms of a soldier who picked him up out of the sodden Turkish sand, because his own nation’s government did not belong to him, and because governments from the United Kingdom to the United States do not belong to those whom they purport to serve. They belong, instead, to strongmen and CEOs and senators who prosper when international capital makes money from a fragmented and corrupt Africa and a politically leaderless Middle East and an obese and self-obsessed America.
The power brokers work with available materials. In a Europe now destabilized by plutocratic greed, we see the tip of a resurfacing iceberg of racist xenophobia that we last saw rise in the ascent of the Third Reich. We also see anti-immigrant xenophobia in the United States, as a portion of the white electorate, for whom Donald Trump is the present demagogue, clings with venomous desperation to its legacy of privilege.
We know, too, that this worldwide crisis of displaced and suffering people is part of the continual wreckage that began with pre-colonial European conquest of the global South and continues through the havoc wreaked upon entire regions of the world, including the Middle East, by centuries of Western-capitalist-fueled war. From Columbus to G.W. Bush, it’s about destroying local sovereignty and sucking all we can from the resources that are exposed.
Yesterday I sent an email to the Hungarian Ambassador to the United States, H.E. Réka Szemerkényi, registering my disgust with the actions and baldly racist statements of Hungary and its Prime Minister with regard to the Syrian refugees who suffer there:
September 4, 2015
Shame, shame, shame on Hungary for your treatment of Syrian migrants, your disingenuous excuses for your actions, and your Prime Minister's contemptibly racist statement in a radio interview on Friday that "We may one morning wake up and realize that we are in the minority on our own continent."
You bring shame upon your citizens and your nation. I shall surely not travel as a tourist to Hungary as your website so cynically assures readers that we can. And I have lost all respect for your moral stature.
But what will it take for we Americans, fat within our padding of Big Gulps and Big Macs and Big Savings, to walk out of our front doors and actually do what citizens do when our government is not ours, and when Syrians’ government is not Syrians’, and Hungary’s government is not Hungarians’?
will depend on how people and powers choose to respond. And that leaves open a fearful range of possibilities.
As the worst terrorist attack on France since World War Two, at a moment when France and Europe are already torn between racist nationalism and more moderate forces, the shock of a massacre such as this could push things in any number of directions.
Like a tsunami that has yet to hit the shore, the massive crowds filling the streets in a "Je suis Charlie" outpouring of grief and outrage carry all of the clashing currents of current French political momentum: pent-up anti-immigrant fury, proud libertarianism, proto-fascist nationalism, progressive inclusionism, cynical racist populism, plain old dizzy fear. As with America's current battle between an entrenched and entitled police culture and the fight against police brutality, all kinds of things could happen.
What we must know, though, is that there is a huge amount at stake on either side of the Atlantic. Weimar Germany pivoted on traumatic national identity crises such as this. In France, the anti-immigrant National Front is already the third largest political party on the strength of widespread fear and anxiety about the economy, North African immigrants, and Muslims. Millions of scared voters in France – just as in the U.S. – are stumbling along the slippery edge of whatever-it-takes-to-protect-the-Homeland. These are times when armed soldiers on street corners can begin to feel ordinary, and when increasingly restricted rights for certain groups of people can start to feel okay. Or not. Time, and events, will tell.
But one of the gravest dangers is amnesia. Beneath the news coverage of the horrific Charlie Hebdo story, which begins with a series of satirical Muslim cartoons and culminates in 12 brutal murders, lies a much longer and unspoken history of rampages and massacres involving France, North Africa, and Muslims. This from a New York Times 2013 obituary containing the memoirs of famed French general Paul Aussaresses during France's 1954-62 attempt to crush rebellion against its colonial rule of Algeria:
He coolly recalled rounding up 1,500 unarmed prisoners — almost all of them Muslims — then selecting “the die-hards” and having them shot. He had the bodies taken to a Muslim cemetery and laid side by side facing Mecca in a 100-meter ditch that a backhoe had dug. Lime was shoveled onto the bodies to hasten decomposition.
He set up death squads, he said, and called them by that name. He ordered the assassinations of Algerian leaders and ordered the killings be disguised as suicides. When he got word Ahmed Ben Bella, the leader of the independence struggle and later Algeria’s first elected president, was aboard an airplane, he ordered it shot down, then changed his mind when he learned that the crew was French.
That history is just one stream in the current. Add to it the decades-old turmoil in France over the presence and underclass stature of waves of North African immigrants; the global inequities that fuel virulently anti-Western strands of fundamentalist Islam; and the recent French trends toward Islamophobia in dealing with religion.
Believe the dead French general when he suggests to us that this cataclysm is about much more than cartoons and freedom of speech.