By Mark Lewis Taylor, September 9 (Day of the U.S. Prison Strike)
Here I offer responses to Frequently Asked Questions that arose after my online article in CounterPunch of early July, entitled “Now is the Time – To Defeat both Trump and Clintonian Neoliberalism.” I later divided up that longish article and reposted it as three brief essays at my website “Blog” under the titles, “Trump Too High a Risk? – My Four Rejoinders,” “Hillary Clinton’s Tradition: Clintonian Neoliberalism,” and “Now -Through and Beyond Third Party Politics.”
I am grateful for all the responses, critical and affirming, the re-postings and shares around Facebook, and some special emails and communications received from various readers sharing their concerns with me.
Remember, elections are not the major sites – surely not the only sites – of our political struggle. The most determinative sites for liberating outcomes are the social movements we build in our neighborhoods and schools, workplaces and cities, nation and world. But elections are not irrelevant to the kinds of powers we will face in all this political movement work.
Here, this FAQs format allows me to respond to some of the critical challenges to my July essay. It also allows me to update my own arguments. After all, my essay appeared just before the Republican and Democratic National Conventions in late July and the Green Party Convention of early August. As we approach the final weeks of the campaign, we have some new light shed on our debates. It is a hard time to write, since new currents are being unleashed – even unprecedented ones – and events are occurring rapidly.
But let me take up the following questions. If you are more interested in one question over the others, just click on the question below to go straight to that question. Read in any order. Each question posed below features immediately a short paragraph as my “Short Answer” to the question before I offer my fuller response.
Introduction: What I Was Arguing and Not Arguing?
Many responded to me only after the briefest scan of the article, simply seeing the title and deciding I was claiming only what they expect “radical Leftists” to write. There was little real engagement with my arguments or making of counter-arguments.
For example, some readers assumed I was claiming that there was nothing to fear about a Trump presidency. Others took offense thinking I was chastising those who felt they needed to take a “bitter pill” and so vote for Hillary Clinton to stop Trump. Still others thought I was making predictable “vote-my-conscience” claims like those they have heard from many Green Party devotees. Some thought I was advocating not voting at all.
A close reading of my July article would have shown that I was arguing none of the above points.
I was arguing that there were many reasons to vote against Hillary Clinton, even to fear her tradition of Clintonian Neoliberalism and tolls it has taken on the black, brown and poor – in the U.S. and abroad. Any real fear of her devastating political record is often lost in the circulation of the dread of Trump.
Therefore, in my article, I was calling for an examination of the Trump phenomenon and many progressives’ fear of him, noting how that fear was being used to promote an uncritical embrace of Clinton. I interpreted the current political moment as one in which corporate power has so developed U.S. capitalism and imperialism that we have a chance to intelligently and proactively engage the rising rage today of those who say – from often very different motives – that “the system is rigged” against them. To get caught up in the binary thinking of Trump or Clinton, I argued, is to lose sight of the alienation of these many groups whose people together are targeted by corporate power and its white supremacist elites.
Second, I showed how Trump’s protofascist authoritarianism – in spite of the idiosyncrasies and more visible white supremacy and misogyny that differentiate him from Clinton – is nevertheless part and product of Clintonian neoliberalism.
As philosopher Alain Badiou argued (in Polemics, 83) about France’s nationalist and xenophobic politician, Jean-Marie Le Pen (now succeeded by his daughter, Marine Le Pen), these are extremes of, but also homogeneous with, our electoral systems. In the United States, Trump is where he is now because of the nature of what American electoral processes have become: a mix of corporate influence, mainstream media with a consumerist public whose “reality” is shaped all too often by their affective responses to “Reality TV” or by the news that is more “infotainment” than information and analysis. But Trump’s bully politics does not only travel the same routes to electoral power as has Clintonian neoliberalism. It also is a manifestation of the bully that U.S. neoliberal governance is abroad, whether crafted by Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton.
Third, I wanted my essay to point the way toward a type of movement politics that might engage a standing Third Party, in this case Jill Stein’s and Ajamu Baraka’s Green Party. As I emphasized, though, there must then be a remaking of that party, perhaps “take-over” of that Party by today’s new movement groups.
I hoped that no reader would be left feeling comfortable, certainly not virtuous, in voting for Hillary Clinton, given the viciousness of her own tradition’s corporatist devastation of peoples at home and abroad.
Conceivably, as I explain below, one could read my article and then still vote on Election Day November 8 for Clinton, swallowing a kind of “bitter pill.” But then on November 9, after casting that vote, one could start work immediately in political movements to defeat any new rising Clinton regime. Most Clinton supporters, though, seem to think she’s an exceptional “first woman” candidate who once elected will be an adequate, or some think “fine” president, allowing us citizens to forget political work until the next elections. To counter precisely that kind of thinking was the point of my essay.
There remain some other important and good questions still to consider.
1 Noam Chomsky’s Defense of “Lesser Evil Voting?”
Has not Noam Chomsky offered the “clinching argument” for “lesser evil voting (LEV),” and therefore, in the context of a Trump verses Clinton campaign, been persuasive in showing why a Clinton vote is the only real option that progressives or radicals have if they participate in presidential election voting?
Short Answer: No, Chomsky and Halle’s essay, by their own admission was “provisional,” issued as it was in June before the Parties’ conventions. Moreover they did not take their own sense of provisionality seriously enough. This is because they failed to acknowledge and analyze the historically changing character of the standing parties’ strength and the emergence of new radical movements and their potential.
Several people shared with me the article by Noam Chomsky and John Halle, “An Eight Point Brief for LEV (Lesser Evil Voting).” With a Preamble and eight points, Chomsky and Halle call for considering the consequences of our voting (or not voting) especially in “swing states.” This essay (call it LEV) believes readers need to be told to focus not merely on the actions of voting or not voting, but on consequences of our actions. When we do that, they argued, we will see that there is a viable concept of “lesser evil voting (LEV).” Chomsky and Halle contrast their position to a “politics of moral witness” that they admit may catalyze the passion of suffering peoples. But they see this as only self-centered purist “virtue” that is concerned largely with one’s own moral vote and individual “free expression,” not consequences. This kind of moral witness risks, they say, imposing new suffering on marginalized and oppressed peoples (their crucial “Point 4”).
Their claim that moral judgments about candidates should be based on consequences is a valid one, but that’s a rather banal point. Moreover, consequences are also the focus of those engaged in what Chomsky and Halle tend to dismiss as mere “politics of moral witness.”
There have been several good critiques of the Chomsky/Halle essay, among them sociologist Andrew Smolski’s response (even if it is sprinkled with a heavy does of sarcasm). Smolski ably counters Chomsky’s and Halle’s claim, for example, that the Left bears responsibility for Nixon coming to power and extending the Vietnam War by six years.
I think there are some other more pervasive problems with the essay, and with the way it was used by those circulating it to me.
I begin by reminding that Chomksy and Halle’s brief – as they explicitly stipulate in their Preamble – is “provisional.” The essay was written in June, well before the DNC, RNC and Green Party conventions, and well before the significant flight of Republican elites to Hillary Clinton across the early weeks of the campaign as a result of what many saw as major political gaffes by Trump.
I do not think that Chomsky and Halle took their own notion of “the provisional” seriously enough. Certainly devotees of the article did not give it enough attention. Let’s grant for a moment that the notion of a “lesser evil” is important and that one can discern between it and a” greater evil.” Discerning such a “lesser evil” is especially dependent on assessing the changing historical and political events. These events, both predictable and unpredictable, are often what make the difference between being able to distinguish a lesser evil from a greater one – especially if, indeed, you want to judge consequences of your voting.
Chomsky and Halle did not bother to analyze key developments that are a part of the provisional. For example, there is no comment on the weakening process at work in both parties (which was evident at the time they wrote their essay). This weakening is dramatically evident in the GOP as many of its elites flee to the Clinton camp. But there could also be more change to come on the Clinton side. Worries continue about her emails as U.S. Secretary of State (2008-2012). Moreover, her public duties as U.S. Secretary of State raise serious issues of a conflict of interest, of corruption – at the least – as her duties intersected with her family dealings in their Clinton Foundation. This is no mere conspiracy thinking here. Strong evidence is cited, for example, in Ken Silverstein’s article in Harper’s Magazine on the Clinton Foundation.
Worse I think, Chomsky and Halle show little patience in extending their sense of the provisional to analyzing the gathering power of new coalitions and social movements.
Labor writer Shaun Richman in an article, “We are Witnessing a New Age of Social Justice Movements – and it Includes Labor” summarizes the important results of Sarah Jaffe’s book, Necessary Trouble: Americans in Revolt. It is a study that links
“the 2008 economic collapse to the outrage that gave rise to the Tea Party, the Wisconsin protests against Scott Walker’s union-busting agenda and Occupy Wall Street. The movement for black lives, the Occupy Homes protests against bank foreclosures, the occupation of the Republic Windows and Doors factory in Chicago, student debt protests, the Chicago teachers strike(s) and the rolling strikes led by OUR Walmart and the Fight for $15, Jaffe argues, are all connected to a growing sense among Americans that the rules of the system are rigged against the working class—and doubly or triply so against workers who are black, queer, young, old, immigrants or women.” (boldface added)
Will these movements impact the electoral process? How so and when – before Election Day or within some possible stand-off after the election? Might these new coalitions create conditions for a new Third Party or for new modes of peoples’ governance? Chomsky and Halle remain above these questions too, somewhat like armchair theorists laying down reasonable advice before history weighs in.
I agree that it is possible to overestimate the power of these new movements to impact electoral process. But Chomsky and Halle tend to mask the agency now at work among the above groups, as well as the #Black Lives Matter movement, and the way it has worked with Asian and Asian American movements and Latinx and white ones, too. There have also emerged over 50 other organizations, collectively gathered in an ever stronger Movement4BlackLives.
As the Fraternal Order of Police (FOP) ponders whether it will endorse Trump or Clinton, a key group in the Movement4BlackLives, namely, the Black Youth Project 100 has organized major actions confronting the FOP, even occupying the infamous interrogation/torture police site in Chicago’s Homan Square, transforming it under peoples’ occupation into “Freedom Square.”
Further, do Chomsky and Halle know what’s going on inside the prisons? Within the burgeoning system of mass incarceration, which was expanded and consolidated under the Clintons, prisoners in early August announced plans for the largest and most expansive prison strike in U.S. history. It is set to begin September 9 and with the support of many of us “outside” the prisons.
In short, the Chomsky/Halle essay was, at best, issued all too soon. At worst, it functioned to shut down critical thought and openness to liberating movements, foreclosing or weakening progressives’ ability to conceive of those movements as re-shaping the terrain upon which electoral politics unfolds. The Chomsky/Halle “Brief” strikes me as effecting a premature lockdown on moral and political discourse. What a contrast to the work of Cornel West who worked mightily in the Bernie Sanders campaign, then went toe-to-toe on the issues as a member of the DNC Platform committee before West then went to work with the Green Party and other movement groups today. Whether by his intent or not, Chomsky’s name was often used, I think, to allow many “progressives” with proximity to corporate classes to lift up Clinton over Trump while remaining all too silent about the devastation of Clintonian neoliberalism and the many movements on the rise against it.
2 Let’s Get Realistic?
Do we not have to be “realistic,” and simply accept that history has now presented to us the limited choice of Trump vs. Clinton?
Short Answer: Those who most often deploy the “realism” argument to advocate voting for Clinton in the face of Trump rarely acknowledge and dare to support the “real” power of new insurgent movements and emergent coalitions. Actually, those who see the political future as defined by Trump v. Clinton are the ones displaying a limited notion of history’s “real.”
There are many others who retort often, “Hey, let’s be realistic” and they do so independently from claims made in the Chomsky argument I treated above. So this deserves additional comment.
The call to be realistic was notably set forth by Professor Michael Eric Dyson of Georgetown University in a debate with Professor Ed Glaude of Princeton University, Glaude being recent author of Democracy in Black. While agreeing with Glaude on a number of points, Dyson presented what he called “the bottom line” issue by way of an analogy, “As they say in basketball, you’ve got to deal with what the defense gives you. We are talking about Donald Trump. We’re talking about Hillary Clinton in the context.” Then he continued, “Let’s bring it back to reality . . . I’m talking about those who have a real chance to win.”
Here, my rejoinder to Chomsky and Halle above also applies. “Reality” is always historical and so open to change and the way we relate to possibilities for change. To be “realistic” then should mean to refuse locking down one’s analyses to what presently seem the only options. As Hillary Clinton’s lead in the polls grew after the DNC and while she tends to hold her leads in key swing states, Republican elites are themselves registering their own opposition to Trump (as in their letter from 50 signers). Thus Trump’s chances look slimmer. While we still cannot discount the possibility of a Trump victory, especially with some 90 military leaders lining up behind Trump in early September, Dr. Dyson’s “real” threat of Trump is at least questionable. It is also premature. Dr. Dyson names Trump “the demon.” But who, amidst the changing terrain is the most threatening “demon?” An answer to that question is still unclear, especially as Trump keeps criticizing U.S. regime change policies and claims he wants to work with rather than joust with Russia.
A day of reckoning may also be coming for Hillary Clinton, when her destructive political policies of war and empire are exposed as sufficiently “demonic” to weaken any integrity she might have with dispossessed groups for taking on Trump. Indeed, it is not inconceivable that the entire presidential contest could result in a kind of stand-off (maybe a crisis of governance more contentious than what we had after the Bush vs. Gore contest of 2000). This then could throw attention onto what the growing popular social and political movements do amid such a stand-off.
Dr. Dyson gave little attention to the “reality” of these movements, even though in debate Dr. Glaude named particular organizations of today’s black struggle as he had in his book. Instead, Dyson calls listeners to “pull on very romantic . . . conceptions of self-determination and flourishing of black agency,” but after Hillary Clinton is elected. Hillary Clinton he argues, as he stressed at the beginning of the debate, is one who as a white politician “has both the drive, the intelligence, the ability and the privilege to speak about it in a way that he [Obama] is perhaps not only disinclined to do so, but may be restricted, in his own mind.”
Dyson goes further and invokes “the great prophetic mystic” Howard Thurman who reportedly advises us not to reduce our dreams for change to the present moment. According to Dyson, we can thus undertake “the impossible” but he emphasizes, after Clinton is elected. This downplays the devastation worked by Clintonian neoliberalism, some of the very features of which Dyson himself wrote against when criticizing Obama in his own recent book, The Black Presidency (148). Looking at the debate overall, Dyson’s advice also features a very limited notion of the impossible, one that looks to the “flourishing of black agency” but only after a Hillary Clinton presidency.
Especially with both major party candidates as unpopular as they are today, why not pull “very romantic conceptions” about the possibilities at the heart of young peoples’ courageous resistance and radical movement building today? Much of this resistance is at work not simply in the #hashtag movements of notoriety in social media, but also in a host of many grassroots movements and working poor communities. These challenge us all – now. Hillary Clinton’s political record of neoliberal destruction explains why we can’t wait, why we cannot delay until after she’s in office.
In fact, the great Thurman’s caution against reducing our dreams to “the level of the event, which is your immediate experience” – as Dyson summarizes Thurman – is more appropriately a call to resist accommodating present-day Clintonian neoliberalism. We know Clinton’s destructive record. There’s little or nothing to romance along the way of that record, as legal scholar Michelle Alexander and critical theorist Naomi Murakawa have definitively shown, among other thinkers.
In short, the “let’s get realistic” crowd are the ones who display often a limited sense of the real. They fail to acknowledge the surprising possibilities of real change in the now. They overestimate the “real” strength of the standing parties and their candidates. They await only “the real” at work after the standing powers take their next steps.
And here’s a crucial point: the power of black resistance and other radical activists of color actually rests, in part, upon the wider public’s courageous recognition of them. History is not a closed book of set realities and likely outcomes. History is opened up by how we dare to dream, think and work differently, and by whether we give or withhold our acknowledgements of the power of those resisting today.
We need to think and act more in accord with the title of Martin Luther King’s book, Why We Can’t Wait, and less with “realistic” and fearful advice about why we should wait.
3 Wouldn’t Trump Deprive Activists of Their Organizing Space?
Would not the space for activists’ organizing simply evaporate under a Trump regime? At least under Obama and perhaps a continuation of his neoliberal, corporatist war economy and surveillance state under Clinton, we know how to organize our resistance. Wouldn’t that valuable organizing space be lost under a Trump presidency?
Short Answer: A Trump regime may indeed force activists for liberating political formations in the U.S. to work in a very new mode. Some of our organizing spaces may indeed close up. But the precious “organizing space” we now want to preserve is all too often a very limited form of “freedom.” It is often that which is made possible by a neoliberalism that refuses to change. It is “freedom” made possible by neoliberalism’s structural violence disseminated by U.S.-led capitalism and imperial geopolitics that foster domination, repression, war and chaos abroad. It’s time for activists within the U.S. to go hand-to-hand in struggle against the protofascism and chaos the U.S. routinely unleashes abroad.
The supposition of this question is that a “fascist Trump” could deploy law enforcement and white militia elements to round up radical activists of color as well as white forces of resistance. This would then unleash a generalized fear that would crush dissent among masses of people. The 90 military leaders endorsing Trump include those who have said they see the U.S. military as a force for fighting radical Islam as well as controlling domestic unrest. This could make it difficult if not impossible for activists to organize masses of people against any repressive U.S. state.
I admit that I myself had this opinion when Trump made his early rise and deployed his white supremacist, misogynous, anti-Muslim and anti-Mexican denunciations and kept at his fascist rhetoric during his political rallies of the primary campaign. Poor families threatened by way of neoliberal gentrification, I mused, might more directly be rounded up. A ruthless efficiency might replace the still vicious but often slower and complex processes of urban planning and gentrification. Or, as I thought, protesting families victimized by racialized police violence would be silenced and repressed more directly. Muslims and Mexicans might indeed be rounded up for “the camps” as Linda Sarsour said about a Trump presidency in a CNN interview. Our surveillance state, further, might compose lists of dissident academics and set the stage for a purging of faculties.
I think we need to acknowledge these real threats. A Trump regime would probably be more directly repressive, and as I said in my first essay, it could unleash a more harassing and fearsome war on activists. Even Socialist Alternative politician, Kshama Sawant no supporter of Hillary Clinton, refers to Trump’s “agenda of misogyny, bigotry, hatred and anti-immigrant hysteria absolutely stomach-turning.” I share that reaction.
I do so knowing full well that under Obama and Clinton and their growing neoliberal state, that surveillance has already grown fearsome, the wasting of black and brown bodies already near routine, and the immunities of police powers have already been on the rise in this country – as well as the war and refugee chaos and destruction spawned by Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State and her traditional political friends. But in the U.S. under Trump, I grant that things could get worse.
So why does there persist of some advantage for activists under U.S. neoliberal governance? I think it is because neoliberals are adept at covering their structural violence under democratic platitudes, diversity-speak, and bureaucratic multiculturalism. That cover, while often deceptive, can also be exploited by activists, sometimes to point out how neoliberal violence is a failure to live up to neoliberals’ own rhetoric.
But in spite of this perceived advantage for organizing amidst neoliberal governance, we need to ask hard questions about just how effective we activists really are being right now in the U.S. What are we achieving as we live and work in our spaces of “resistance” in this corporatist society? More often than not, the effectiveness of even our dramatic protests are hyped. Tens of thousands, for example, were predicted to show up to contest the RNC and DNC events in July. Maybe a few thousand showed up, with just enough to give the mainstream media some dramatic show, but not enough to really unsettle neoliberal governance.
Dramatic direct action and nonviolent civil disobedience by groups like Black Youth Project 100, Democracy Rising and others do occur. They do lay down a foundation for more expansive liberating changes in the future. But their efforts are precious few. And even when organizers turn out “the masses” in expansive ways, as in the large New York City rally of #blacklivesmatter in 2014, the “blue shirts” are adept at keeping folk channeled along the lines marked out by police “blue sawhorses” and metal rails. Overtime pay for cops is doled out. Crowd control costs are dispensed just as are settlement payments to families with loved ones slain by police. In short, our demos under neoliberalism often become mobile units of the masses, little more than another form of “mass incarceration” played out in the streets.
Could it be that a Trump regime would actually organize the Left in a new and more effective manner? It is possible. I am willing to take that risk. Others less privileged than myself are also willing to take that risk. Yes the direct repression may be more severe for activists in the U.S., and for our vulnerable populations. But I ask: what is the moral calculus that means we activists, progressive or vulnerable communities within the U.S. should be left safer from repressive power than are the activist and working poor abroad who already, now, suffer egregiously from U.S. neoliberal wars overt and covert? Why should we not be forced to learn how to face the torturers and strong henchmen of neoliberalism on our own shores?
Other peoples – as today dramatically in Syria, Libya, Okinawa, Yemen, Kashmir, Palestine, Honduras – have long suffered the fascisms, military regimes of occupation that U.S. neoliberalism supports today. Dominant white media often keeps poor communities of color in the U.S. unmindful of this repression abroad. Worse, their leaders, especially elites siphoned off by white corporate power-holders are uninterested or go silent about the repressions abroad, in Latin America, the Caribbean, in Asia (South, Southeast and North), in Africa and the Middle East.
Is a “space for organizing” in neoliberal U.S. society really that viable when it cannot stem the chaos of neoliberalism’s global repressions and dispossession of the world’s poor? Is not such a freedom to organize yet another example of what Chandan Reddy termed “freedom with violence?”
But you say, “Come on, we have to protect the space of a political culture of resistance that we have here in the U.S. – even if our culture of resistance is at least partially parasitic on U.S. imperial violence. We should guard that space,” so the argument goes, and work toward subverting the imperial state from within and thereby end the repression at home and abroad.”
In the abstract this sounds good. The problem is that in this present historical juncture fascist violence and the counter-rage of the terrorized poor may well increase anyway. There’s a tendency for U.S. violence to “blowback” onto the U.S. mainland whatever we activists do here. Clintonian neoliberalism is reaching a comprehensive and brutal level of violation of the world’s people. Hillary Clinton and her predecessors (Obama, the Bushes, Bill Clinton, Reagan, even Carter) are the architects of this neoliberalism. And Trump’s appearance now is just the tip of the ice-berg of the U.S.’s well-honed habits of repressive action abroad. The perpetrating military leaders and contractors will take up roots on the U.S. mainland, if they have now not already done so. There may be on the horizon of the future even more effective fascists than Trump may seem. A people who keep their mouths shut about U.S. imperial and neocolonizing violence abroad today will bring only bring more of it upon themselves.
I say we need to fight now for something new, something beyond both Clinton and Trump. And if that brings on Trump, then it is time to go hand-to-hand against him on our own U.S. mainland, and against the authoritarian structural violence we’ve been exporting over the years for others to suffer.
Again, I am counting the cost. At this writing, Trump continues to court law and order ideologues among both the official military and local police. He made a supportive pitch for the Milwaukee police officer who shot and killed Sylville Smith, a black youth in Milwaukee. Trump also sided with Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke in criticizing protesters in Milwaukee streets. He has long courted police officials and their rank and file. Trump’s continuing support of the police by even endorsing their shootings and refusing to acknowledge police brutality as pervasive are just some signs of what makes his protofascism dangerous, even if – so far – unsuccessful as a strategy for winning Republican politicians and elite donors. And even police themselves at times demur about his boasts to be able to quickly solve “the crime problem” with his toughness, as evidenced by one prominent police leader in Chicago who asked him, with a thinly veiled sarcasm, for “the magic bullet.”
Let’s organize those who doubt Trump, whether in police and military establishments, and throughout the society, and so seek to win the battle against structural violence. I like the chant of youth in BYP100 and other black radical groups, “I believe . . . that we . . . that we will . . . that we will win!”
4 Isn’t Trump a Fascist?
Isn’t Trump a fascist with whom there should be no accommodation, and with whom we shouldn’t even play if we really care about those historically made front-row targets of U.S. elite repression – the black, brown, indigenous and poor of every background?
Short Answer: Trump’s inability to negotiate adeptly and to attain the support of Republican elites, donors and broad corporate powers is a sign that his ability to attain full “fascist” regime status is limited. In fact, I like one colleague’s comment to me that Trump is more “an ultra-capitalist (with a nationalist sales pitch).” Moreover, we have to recognize that any of this “protofascist” tendencies of his ultra-capitalism and nationalism emerge – in part – from the dispossession that poor whites feel and which we activists have often failed to address. We must separate the white supremacist protofascism in Trump from the real needs of the white poor, many of whom think he expresses their aspirations for economic justice. We must build new alliances between the white poor and poor communities of color, against Trump but also against the neoliberal corporatism of Clinton.
Trump is certainly a braggart who is prone to fill his bully pulpit with white racist and misogynous rhetoric. This can be a harbinger of fascism. As Chris Hedges has been arguing for years, there exists an alienated poor, in white and also in many communities of color who detest the elites (white and black and any elite exploitative classes). These often are ready to turn to fascist demagogues. A Christian Right and a facilitative Rightest entertainment network facilitate this rhetoric and foster openness to fascist practices.
I would further stress a point made by Robert Paxton in his definitive study, The Anatomy of Fascism. Mere fascist movements and fascist rhetorics do not make the kind of fascist regime that can bring on the consequences we legitimately fear. Paxton emphasizes that one cannot merely define fascism by lifting up a few of its traits – its white supremacy, its xenophobia, its populist and demagogic rhetorics. One needs to follow a movement’s whole trajectory toward a regime stage, through what Paxton identifies as five stages, in order to know if fascism is at hand. The first three of these stages are most important (Paxton, 23, 206-7) for bringing on a regime of “fascism.”
First, there is a movement stage. Surely Trump has been a lightening rod for the often-well funded but amorphous conservative movements, especially those members who felt threatened by a Black commander in chief. But the grievances of poor whites in the U.S. are real, even if channeled viciously along white supremacist and misogynous channels. As W. E. B. Du Bois argued with impeccable research in his Black Reconstruction in America, the five million white poor of the South were quickly rallied by “anti-negro” proclivities against enfranchisement of the four million former slaves (27-8, 299). Thus poor whites accommodated and at points became a new repressive racist force working with elites among U.S. Northern industrialists. Trump is a part of this history.
Although Trump drips with inherited wealth himself, and is sustained by the corporatist greed and classism that he denounces in Clinton, he offers to poor whites a racist scapegoating logic of anti-immigrant and Muslim hate, anti-black and brown phobias and an ongoing current of misogyny.
The economic plight of the U.S. white poor is real even if it is expressed regularly in the idioms of white racist bitterness. It is one factor driving some frustrated whites toward Trump. Nevertheless, I do not see a virtuous white labor class solidarity being catalyzed by Trump or coming to expression in him in ways that work alongside the needs of the black and brown poor or even sufficiently target elite classes. (Any such virtuous white working forces of labor are now either standing confused by the defeat of Bernie Sanders, or working as allies with political movements of radical communities of color across the many neighborhoods of the nation.)
Trump has not only appealed to white scapegoating poor, he has also taken a second step that Paxton finds crucial for fascism. This is the attainment of a party position by authoritarian and demagogic figures. Trump certainly scores success at this second step in winning a major political party nomination. That is an impressive step. So far, though, Trump is failing to keep that party together. In fact, he’s broken it up. Many of the party’s traditional Republicans have fled to Hillary Clinton, leaving Trump a very fractured and limited base.
Trump’s way of trying to strengthen is base – and it might work – is to ever more flagrantly seek to rally the law-and-order ideologues of the military, the militias and the police. But so far even this is not achieving the third step that Paxton emphasizes is needed for fascism to really take root. This third step calls for an adroit and adept negotiating and compromising with corporate allies and conservative power-holders. Many military figures and families still find it unforgiveable that he ridiculed U.S. Muslim parents who lost a son in the U.S. military when stationed in Iraq. Whatever one thinks of the U.S. military, it is usually not smart for a candidate to disrespect a “Gold Star Family” when in the U.S. the military remains, reportedly, the nation’s most respected institution. No wonder that at this writing Republicans continue to run to Hillary Clinton, rather than strike alliance with Trump. Truly successful fascisms, as Paxton stresses time and again, are able to solicit and maintain conservative elites support and financial support.
Even the police, whose support Trump has solicited with his tough talk and promises to end “the whole crime problem” often register certain limits to police support for him. One prominent police leader in Chicago spoke publicly that he’d like Trump to share his “magic bullet,” if he has one. The police chief in New York City denied Trump his request to speak to a city police roll call after the Dallas shootings of police earlier this year.
It may be better to risk now this less effective protofascist, Trump, than the possibly more vicious and effective fascist leader that Clintonian neoliberalism will continue to breed. In fact, if Trump fails to meet all three of the formative stages necessary for consolidating a fascist regime, he may indeed prove to be more accurately described as an “ultra-capitalist” (with a nationalist sales pitch),” which is precisely what puts him on a continuum with Hillary Clinton’s corporate repression, in spite of the significant differences between the two candidates.
5 Don’t We Have to Guard Our Freedoms against a Trump Regime?
Will not a Trump regime take away some of the most precious safeguards to U.S. citizen freedoms?
Short Answer: Yes, Trump in all likelihood would be dangerous in this way. Trump must be resisted. But the idea that “citizen freedoms” are well guarded in the U.S. now – whether these be Voting Rights, progressive judiciaries, or Roe v. Wade – is naive. Moreover, these freedoms can be better guarded by supporting other liberating movements and options, instead of taking illusory shelter under Clinton.
We have to be on guard, to be sure. Indeed, some nine paragraphs of my former essay on the fear of Trump were devoted to the reasons why we need to be vigilant.
But those who fear Trump and then let themselves be stampeded to Hillary Clinton often deploy other arguments. They suggest, for example, that Trump would bring an end to the Voting Rights Act, establish a more conservative judiciary, and end Roe v. Wade. What progressive or radical watching Trump’s rise would not worry about these matters, and more? I would.
But being on guard against Trump’s protofascism surely does not mean that we move to Clinton and Clintonian neoliberalism. Indeed, Clinton and her tradition may be the bigger threat. Covered over by its rhetorics of “freedom and equality,” by the mesmerizing mantras of “first woman” president (like Obama supporters’ “first black president”), neoliberalism has already been working an erosion of “our freedoms.” Indeed, for African Americans under Obama the devastation to black and brown communities has been massive, as sociologist Eduardo Bonilla-Silva has meticulously documented in his book Racism without Racists (chapter 10). The U.S. empire-building project has only grown stronger under Obama’s neoliberal wars and pacts.
Consider, further, the three areas of human rights struggle often mentioned by Clinton’s supporters.
As to voting rights for African Americans, we should note that neoliberals’ and conservatives’ gerrymandering strategies and imposition of new tests and proofs for voting already have often subverted voting rights of dispossessed groups – and without an obvious fascism in place. Then too as I documented in my July essay, citing Michelle Alexander, Naomi Murakawa, Loïc Wacquant and others, the mass incarceration network and its “felonizing” process often sends many peoples of color into disfranchisement (see especially Alexander, 158-61, 192-93).
In short, one does not need fascists to “threaten our freedoms.” The reigning system has done so quite well, often under the banners of freedom itself (freedom from crime, freedom from terror, freedom from fear, and so on). Indeed, as Du Bois documented in his Black Reconstruction in America (p. 240), some of the most effective destroyers of the voting rights of blacks toward the end of Reconstruction were not just the clearly racist former slave-owners and planters, nor the southern poor whites, but the Northern industrialists who withdrew their support for the military forces needed to enforce black suffrage.
What about a rising threat of a more conservative judiciary? Yes, again,Trump may bring an even heavier hand here, reinforcing an already repressive law and order ideology. But at least it would be out in the open, not hidden behind the disingenuous “law and order ideology” of liberals and Democrats whose draconian policies Murakawa, in particular, has exposed. Moreover, it was Bill Clinton, through such acts as the Anti-Effective Death Penalty Act (AEDPA), which was rushed into law after the Oklahoma City bombing in 1996, that broke the constitutional protection that allowed federal appellate courts to check and counter the decisions of state and municipal courts. Instead, with Clinton’s judicial adjustments written into law, discretion had to be granted to the lower courts, and their judgments allowed to stand, even when riddled by local racism and state political and economic corruption.
Moreover, any who have followed particular legal cases closely know that Bill Clinton-appointed judges are not always a better guardian of freedom and judicial fairness than, say, a Reagan or Bush appointee. There are many variables operative in particular legal cases and judicial temperaments throughout our court system, operative especially in the formation and chemistry of particular judicial panels under various and unpredictable political pressures. Key research into “nonideological voting and entrenched views” of judges has shown that the rulings of judges often do not follow the party ideology of their appointers. Surely there is not enough predictability here to warrant a stampede to Clinton on this matter of judicial appointees. A Federal District Judge Robert D. Mariani, for example, who was appointed by Obama, was the judge who recently found the state of Pennsylvania’s treatment policy for Hepatitis C sufferers in prison to be “cruel and unusual” and “unconstitutional.” Yet that same judge issued no relief for the plaintiff bringing the lawsuit, Mumia Abu-Jamal, nor for any of the thousands of others infected with Hepatitis C in Pennsylvania prisons.
What about Roe vs. Wade? Often the stampede to Clinton from the fear of Trump pivots around proclaiming that Trump will bring the end to Roe v. Wade’s protection of women’s rights to choose in matters of abortion. Trump himself has been confusing, releasing often contradictory claims about what he would do. His vice presidential candidate, Michael Pence, though, has announced clearly his commitment to repealing Roe v. Wade, and exulted in Roe v. Wade being consigned to “the ash-heap of history” by a Trump regime.
Trump’s likely disingenuous signs of support for Roe v. Wade together with Pence’s outright opposition is probably one of the best mobilizers of the vote against Trump, especially among women. It is one of the reasons Trump clearly trails Clinton among women voters, 52 percent of whom, according to a 2016 Pew Research study, say “the issue of abortion is important to their vote this Fall.”
Even more damaging, I admit that Trump and Pence would in all likelihood join their Republican predecessors in imposing the deadly “gag rule” that according to Sneha Barot of the Guttmacher Institute prohibits U.S. foreign aid throughout developing countries if they simply make mention of abortion as an option for pregnant women. The effects of this gag rule have been insidious for women’s lives and with many ripple effects. Obama lifted this “gag rule,” and Hillary Clinton admittedly would certainly keep it lifted. That is a good thing.
It is time, however, to defeat the U.S. gag rule by other means. We need to mobilize our massive support for women’s movements and effect a permanent removal of the gag rule by our legislatures. The rule’s on-again/off-again status, changing in accord with whether a Republican or Democrat signs executive orders about it, should not be a two-party plaything. Instead of waiting on a periodic “savior” in the White House to sign needed executive orders to protect women, our public movements need to support legislation like the Global Democracy Promotion Act (GDPA) which would prevent the gag rule being imposed by any president. Further, as Barot mentions in the concluding paragraph of the same article quoted above, both President Bill Clinton, and more recently Obama too, have stepped back from defending women’s abortion rights in the U.S. So the idea that abortion is safe and protected by a Democrat should not be a default assumption.
In addition, it is time for U.S. liberals to get over the idea that the U.S. itself is vanguard protector of poor women in the poorer and darker nations. Not only are those women themselves savvy in organizing and working for their own reproductive freedoms, other organizations from global North nations step into the breach to carry on work for the abortion option in poorer nations, difficult as that is under U.S policies of on-again/off-again imposition of the gag-rule.
But I want to stress, finally, that this necessary support of abortion as a safe option for women in the U.S. and worldwide should not become the only way we fight for women’s lives. It is horribly wrong to fight to give women the right to choose safe abortion, while giving no “choice” to women in poverty in the U.S. and across the world’s poorer nations except to watch their children, daughters and sons, brothers and sisters, fathers and mothers, laid waste to by the neoliberal wars, occupations and dispossession that a Hillary Clinton regime will no doubt continue. As just one example, consider women’s voices amidst suffering in Honduras as well as the resistance they have forged amid the coup that U.S. Secretary of State Clinton legitimated (Women’s Poems of Protest and Resistance in Honduras: 2009-2014).
6 The “Privilege Critique” – Again
Is not a refusal to vote for Clinton at this point simply a privilege by those whose racial/ethnic or class identity and position place them outside the circle of front-line targeted peoples in the U.S. (e.g. indigenous peoples, Muslims, African-Americans, Mexicans, and more)?
Short Answer: Of course there is privilege and entitlement involved here. I acknowledged that in my earlier essay, and I do so again below. But that privilege does not mean I or any other “privileged” critic is compelled to promote the idea that Clinton is some obviously “better” choice than Trump. The reality of privilege attaching to any critics’ places of social location in society should not foreclose their critical work as scholars, activists, or writers. In fact, those with proximity to institutions of wealth and power, arguably, should be ones least to hide their critique, and most to support opposition to both Trump and Clinton. They should expose how the two candidates are often foils to one another while yet differing little on really important matters (as has been evident in their nearly identical clamoring of late for the support of the U.S. military).
Those of us who have refused to be quickly stampeded to a vote for Hillary Clinton out of the fear of Trump, continue to be targeted by this critique. Let me call this the “privilege critique.” It usually consists of the quick dismissive claim or exclamation: “How dare you leave unprotected the targeted poor communities of color while you yourself have racial or class position and privilege in a (usually predominantly white) university or similar context!” There is often an added warning from allegedly progressive academics: “we will remember if Trump wins because you failed to support his rival, Clinton.”
In my June essay I clearly acknowledged some of the merits of this affective and even politically savvy charge. I repeat, I do acknowledge that white and class privileges need to be monitored in criticizing and resisting Hillary Clinton in this time. Moreover, misogyny against Hillary Clinton can be operative in Left opposition to her. Nevertheless, note that I also proceeded in my July essay to show why it is still necessary for those with social privilege – whether of class, race and gender/sexual position – to refuse to be stampeded into voting for Clinton.
Alas, not one critic bothered to engage my response or address the questions I raised on this matter. The wave of fear of Trump among many Clinton defenders just seems too strong. So, let me pose some additional questions here, counter-questions, hoping that – even if I pose these questions sharply – they might provoke us to more constructive engagement with one another and, perhaps, toward a more collective effort against both Trump and Clinton.
Do those of you who see Hillary Clinton as the only or best remedy for a U.S. society threatened by Trump really want from those with roles in centers of privilege to perpetuate the structural power of neoliberalism? Do you not understand Clintonian neoliberalism as a threat, such that those of us in neoliberal centers have a keen responsibility to not allow Clinton to pose as the obvious alternative to Trump?
Why not challenge us instead to dare to speak out against both? Even if Trump’s regime comes on, why not challenge us to find the courage to go up against Trump, instead of assuming we’re all going to run and hide in our academic offices or other spaces of privilege – wherever you think non-Clinton voters are who also do not vote for Trump? Why not acknowledge the value of Clinton critics, especially if she ascends to the presidency?
You who circulate the “privilege critique” – do you in fact know how you, whoever you are, are also privileged in this cell-phone carrying, sports intoxicated, media drenched, video-gaming society – in short by a whole infotainment U.S. “industry of war” and militarism? It extends from our living rooms to our work places and to whatever comfortable spaces in the U.S. we might have made ourselves. And yes, I am included in this milieu created by both Democrat and Republican corporate elites.
But is U.S. militarism as our culture even seen as a problem. Those who easily posit Clinton as remedy for Trump tend to frame political issues around what happens to communities inside the U.S. Clinton’s advocates today display little knowledge or concern about the structural violence the U.S. imposes daily on the world precariate across the globe. Are we so completely sold out to U.S. militarism that we’re all generally happy with our places in some safe spot in the USA? (And I speak as no simple “hater” of the U.S. military. My father and both my paternal and maternal grandfather were military men. They either served in U.S. war or trained for it.)
Do you realize, I ask further, that the militarized police at work within the U.S. are a part of the military industrial complex that tyrannizes so many abroad? Why weren’t you screaming about “fascism” and looming violence against black and brown bodies that you see Trump to now threaten, when it was President Obama and Secretary of State Clinton who sent black, brown and indigenous bodies into another round of hell in Hondurans? Think also on today’s mass dying and repression among Palestinians, Yemenis, Kashmiris, Syrians and more. Does Clinton get a free pass for helping to create these killing fields while leaving U.S. whites and elites of color in their “progressive” spaces?
Maybe it takes a Trump showing up on our mainland to wake us all up to the very suffering that our living as “Americans” has already worked – and still proliferates – for the world’s poor.
And here’s the harder query I want to pose. Could it be that many of my colleagues who don’t like my criticisms of Clinton in this election campaign, and who accuse me of being “privileged” in a Princeton position of employment, are actually afraid that I (and others more effective than me) might rock the boat of white corporate power in proximity to which they also have found some security? Not only we whites in the academy can get secure and “privileged” in the neoliberal pockets of security in the U.S. So also can a U.S. “black elite,” an “Asian-American elite,” a “Latinx elite,” even a U.S. Arab-American elite, as well as many others who are quietly bribed and cowed into quiescence to the banality of U.S. imperialism.
If something like this is what is going on, how long do we all just stay in our different shelters from neoliberal storms, having received our bribes from U.S. militarized and corporate culture, so that people abroad can keep dying to maintain our cloistered freedom?
Again, I stress – and this needs repeating over and again – I am not posing any of these questions to downplay the threat that Trump’s own corporatism, misogyny and white supremacism pose today, especially to those who historically have been U.S. white power’s and class elites’ front-line targets from its founding. But it is both ignorant and self-protective for any of us to embrace the idea that Clinton and her tradition of U.S. neoliberalism is automatically some virtuous way that should close off consideration of other options, even in the face of Trump.
So here it is worth recalling Cornel West’s recent admonition to resist “the political extortion,” that pressure that puts “this symbolic gun to your head” and says, ‘If you don’t vote for the one party as opposed to the other party that you’re responsible for the catastrophe. . . ‘.” He said those words in his keynote speech (11:37 min. mark) at the 2016 Green Party convention.
Consider then, the challenge of Third Party politics.
7 A Different Way to Approach Third Party Politics?
Is not the option of a Third Party candidate such a feeble instrument, so compromised by its trust in electoral politics that it is not worth trying?
Short Answer: A “third party” like the Green Party I mostly discuss here is a feeble instrument. It is in struggle. What can make it stronger, though, and what I have been calling for is a “make-over” of that party, or some third party. What is needed is an energizing and giving of new force to these parties by effective alliances with the new social and political movements of our day. Neither these third parties nor our new insurgent movements should give up their search for putting the people’s hand on the levers of the state so as to reconstruct the workings of that state. This kind of people’s power does not come without some kind of participation in party formation as well as a primary and constant participation in liberating political movement work.
One of the most frequent responses to my essay went like this: “You want a Green Party or Libertarian president? Try electing a few Members of Congress and Senators and Governors and State Legislators first. A Third Party candidate will never be elected president without a national infrastructure. Without such an infrastructure, third parties only play a “spoiler role” and make likely the victory of the ‘worse evil.’ ” (Note how this rejection of Third Party politics assumes the “lesser evil” theory I criticized above.)
Indeed, in my June essay I did propose that movement activists seeking to defeat both Trump and Clinton might do well to take a Green Party position, as have Cornel West and YahNe Ngdo, two key activists also involved in various movements for black and brown lives, and involved also in counter-imperial movements of international solidarity. Both were keynote speakers at the August 2016 convention of the Green Party.
When I wrote that I would support and vote for Green Party candidate Jill Stein, I did not mean giving my simple endorsement of an unreconstructed Green Party, the electoral instrument as we know it today. Nor do I read read West or Ngdo to have done only that. In fact, they both called for a new set of coalitional politics. At one meeting at the Green Party convention, Ngdo “took charge” and conducted some vigorous connectional politics that Green vets may or may not have fully appreciated. This vigorous connectional politics against U.S. class-based and imperial politics is no mere playing the electoral party process game. I was calling for engaging the Green Party as part of a more comprehensive change for uniting movement-based and third party politics.
This is why in my June essay I called for a takeover of the Green Party. Maybe “makeover” is a better word, one in which the usually white Green Party workers risk throwing down with other political movements of our day, the Movement4BlackLives, for just one example, which is a coalition of more than 50 organizations and released in late August 2016 its own vision of needed economic policy changes. Even though it is good to see actual economic policy proposed by this movement group, it may still underestimate the toll extracted by Clintonian neoliberalism, writing as the group does of the Democratic candidate as offering “a good start, especially around plans for job creation and infrastructure investment to put people to work” to flow into black communities (on this, see the conclusion of the previously cited link). That “good start” won’t happen without a fundamental challenge to the class position of the Democratic establishment elites, more of a challenge that I see to date in the platform of the Movement4BlackLives.
So, just as I would like to see the Green Party reach out to such groups and movements as these, I also think these new coalescing movements of our day need to storm the Green Party, or some party with a significant ballot position. Why not seek a takeover or makeover of the Green Party from the base of these new insurgent movements? Why not make the Green Party one site of a fundamental undermining of the electoral process as we know it, a process almost completely sold out to the mainstream media and to corporate wealth? From my vantage point – and maybe I’m missing something – most of the new black and other activist groups of color have gone silent about how their movements engage he electoral process. I understand young people’s and often the poor’s rejection of the elections, and the need to cultivate one’s own group and its revolutionary energies. But the turbulence of this year’s elections suggests a oligarchic regime that is crumbling, and the movements need to engage the struggle for control of state power. Following West and Ngdo into some kind of make-over of the Green Party is one way to do that. This would be to make a bold attempt by the working poor and all strata of society to put the levers of state power in the hands of those who will serve the whole community beginning with the historically despised, repressed and marginalized groups.
I have no illusions. I know that any such success here would trigger mass reactions by many white politicians, by police unions and memberships, as well as by the powers of Democratic and Republican elites. We would have a fight on our hands, to be sure. But we should recall that there are marginalized, repressed and resistant peoples within police forces and the U.S. military. They might – again might – hearken to a real alternative. The effect would be to at least fracture the supposedly united police and military groups that we suppose to be ever-subservient to elite classes. Recall the members of the U.S. military who called on the U.S. national guard to stand down and not attack the protestors in Ferguson, Missouri, in November 2014. Recall, too, the risk-taking efforts of more than a few U.S. police – black, brown and white – who took up roles of “whistle-blower cops” to expose institutionalized racism in police departments, in police cultures and training schools. Difficult as it would be, social movements that redefine or “make-over” a third party like the Greens could exploit emergent fractures in military and police membership and call out any of its justice-loving members.
To be sure neither Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein, nor the Party itself is pure and without flaw. I acknowledged that in my essay of early July. Stein, for example, seems untested as an administrator. Nevertheless, she maintains a comprehensive integrity on the issues that bear on all humanity, and particularly on the black, brown and poor being chewed up by the current political corporatist state at home and also abroad.
Neither Clinton, nor surely Trump – like Obama – show a willingness to even begin to make the comprehensive political and economic changes we need to survive coming environmental catastrophe. Nothing short of a break with the corporate U.S. state and its neoliberal capitalism will be sufficient. Stein has called for that break from the corporatist and imperial state.
Moreover, Stein in near unprecedented fashion has not only spoken out for the various movements of black, brown and American Indian struggle, she has also sent out words of support for the often unmentioned radical activists of color, especially for U.S. political prisoners.
That’s right, she understands the concept of “U.S. political prisoner” (James). In her acceptance speech of the Green Party’s nomination she called not only for the end of U.S. imperial wars, but also for a U.S. Truth and Reconciliation Commission, for Reparations, and for the release of political prisoners Mumia Abu-Jamal, Edward Snowden, Chelsea Manning, Leonard Peltier and more (Stein on YouTube, beginning at the 24:00 minute mark). These prisoners have eloquently spoken for years on behalf of the dispossessed in the U.S. and in other countries – from Ferguson to Gaza, from the Sioux of Wounded Knee to the Maya Achi of Guatemala. As many scholars have documented, as in Dylan Rodríguez’s study of imprisoned radical intellectuals in U.S. prisons, these voices speak from the particular agony behind the walls of prison but often additionally and profoundly for all humanity and creation.
Do you want to take on the power of the “blue shirts” in our time? Do we want to break the grip that police now have in repressing black, brown and poor lies today (and on the American Indian reservations)? Then, I suggest we take our stand with many groups, but include especially those that for decades have been fighting for Abu-Jamal, Peltier, and other political prisoners – or political exiles like Assata Shakur “marooned” in Cuba. The most powerful young movements of color today – African American, Latinx, Asian American, Arab American and American Indian – these, I stress, are often the children of these powerful activist ancestors, many of whom have died in U.S. prisons or are still fighting from there.
Stein’s party, in short, is able to be made-over by radical movements. Her own radical vision is open to theirs. She inspires activist intellectuals like Cornel West, and YahNe Ngdo (see West here on his own reasons for endorsing Stein). Stein also can advance her message cogently and winsomely on Fox News and other venues of mainstream media – when she is given the chance. Precisely because of her effective and realistic radicalism, the corporate-driven mainstream media would rather keep her at the fringe of the presidential contest or invisible (as in fact venues like The New York Times did in vastly under-covering the campaign of Bernie Sanders).
As Abu-Jamal himself advised about our choices in the presidential vote between Trump and Clinton, “Choose Your Poison,” i.e. between protofascism and neoliberalism. Those who fear Trump and run quickly to Clinton often forget is that Clinton, too, is poison.
What remains to be seen is whether the social movements of our time – and at a pace that is on time – can build another electoral route, the radicality of which would go to the root of our current political problem of a corporatist, white racist and misogynous U.S. state apparatus. That is what has to be taken on.
Actually, I am currently not optimistic that the coalition I speak of here is maturing fast enough. Again, I do not see many, if any, black and other movements of color following the likes of Cornel West and YahNe Ngdo into alliance with the Greens to form new coalitions. Nor – in spite of Stein’s call – do I see the Greens reaching out to the new movements of color in ways vigorous enough to galvanize a popular constituency broader than that usually at work in the Green Parties past.
But we must know that the option is there. If either a Trump or a Clinton regime comes down upon us, it will be because we could not conceive and so could not catalyze this option. But the option is there and we may have to draw upon its rising strength later, after the elections – again, perhaps, amidst a political stand-off after the elections. But continually, we will need to ask: do we care enough to make another political way, to avoid the barbarities of what Cornel West terms “protofascist catastrophe” and “neoliberal disaster.”
8 What Moral Perspective Do We Need?
A Moral Compass and Its Needle
Short Answer: The moral compass I use is one whose full circular image signals my broad encompassment of concerns. To me this means we assess and make moral discernments about the good of all not just those of the U.S. – certainly not just of a certain elite few within this nation. It thus has a universal (internationalist and global) character. Nevertheless, this moral compass’s universal field of concern has a sharply pointed needle, one that guides us by always pointing out and foregrounding – first and foremost, and continually – the needs of those victimized and resisting structural violence of our time (white supremacism, misogyny, corporate dispossession and more). This image of the moral compass and its needle offers one way to speak of a “prophetic” stance, one which lives and drives actions for love and justice for especially those whom Christians and others have termed “the least of these.” Such a moral compass emerges and is sustained by various religious traditions (particularly, but not only, Judaism, Christianity and Islam) and also from many secular peoples of conscience as well.
To take a critical stance against both Trump and Clinton in this political moment, and then beyond the elections in November, requires a particular kind of moral discernment. This moral discernment entails a unique perspective on both our voting and its consequences.
I use a particular kind of moral compass, one with a particular needle that orients our thought and action. I have described it elsewhere as a moral compass that is a “prophetic” one – a morality that is intrinsic to “prophetic spirit,” which I discuss in Religion, Politics and the Christian Right: Post-9/11 Powers and American Empire (ch. 5). I myself fail to live in accord with this moral perspective. I certainly feature many contradictions to its ideals. Nevertheless it guides the way I live, speak, think and write about our social worlds in conversation with others.
The moral compass I have in mind should take in the needs of all. It is universal in its scope, taking in the full range of humanity and earth. This means that it is surely not satisfied with any policy that works well only for a privileged group at the top of existing hierarchies. Nor is it satisfied with a focus on only a few groups marginalized from centers of power in the U.S.. Instead it is unavoidably internationalist, or better world- and earth-oriented. By definition a moral compass of this sort does not just guide one toward what is “good for America, or surely, about what will “make America great.” It is critical of the nationalist myopias of conservatives and liberals, of any reactionaries and any radicals who may think and advocate only within the U.S. frame. Nor can this universalism be worthy of its name if it is only about some good for a few nations thought to be “guardians of civilization.” Both Trump and Clintonian neoliberalism guard a “base nation” with its 800 U.S. military bases across the globe guarding a single super-power’s geopolitical interests. It is notable, though, that Trump has been a more vigorous critic of U.S. interventions and regime changes abroad. Clinton is just as much committed to U.S. nationalism and its military as Trump is usually said to be. Both Trump’s and Clinton’s rhetorics and proposals are moral failures in light of the full sweep of this moral compass’ universalism.
But here’s the catch about this “universalism” out of which I think and work. In spite of the moral compass’s broad sweep – its universal encompassment of all humanity and earth, even its “planetary consciousness” – it has a fine and pointed needle. It guides our actions within the wholeness of worlds by always pointing to lives of working poor who suffer structural violence and vulnerability wherever and whoever they may be. The compass points to the particular needs of these as a compass needle always points in the particular direction, North.
We may wonder: does not this needle’s particular pointing to structurally abused peoples violate our “universalist” concern for all? Doesn’t “all life matter” such that singling out particular vulnerable lives, such as black and brown youth in the U.S. or the world’s dispossessed, contradict the universalist concern for the whole? My response is that many who glibly and defensively retort “all lives matter” to those intoning “black lives matter” fail to see how the defense of the more vulnerable black, brown and poor lives is in fact the best route to guarding the integrity and social health of the whole, of all peoples and creation.
A couple of examples might help.
Consider a mother, or other caretakers who see their children in a brawl, a fight in which the youngest and smallest is being bloodied, and therefore put at risk by an out-of-control brutish older sibling. In that situation, parents or caretakers often intervene in a scandalously particular way. They don’t just say, however true, “well, both sides have grievances.” More wisely, they intervene on the side of the weaker sibling at risk. This intervention does not guard only the weaker one. Nor does it imply that the other stronger sibling in unloved or without value. It is in fact a way to guard the whole of that family, the complete unit of the extended family and relevant communities.
Or consider another example. Imagine our life in all its parts and complexity lived out on a carpet, on a beautiful fabric carefully woven so as to support all humanity. If fraying threads show themselves along the edges of that fabric, we do well to not simply speak about the beauty of the whole carpet. No, we do better to attend with special, even urgent attention, to the fraying edges. We don’t just say “love the whole carpet!” Instead, we note that “fraying edges matter” because the fraying edges portend a great unraveling of the whole upon which any common good depends.
My examples above draw from analogies that are not perfect. But my main point should be sufficiently clear: we best guard the dignity, integrity and strength of the whole, for all, when we attend with special care to the special needs of oppressed peoples suffering structural violence and needing liberation.
9 Still Voting for Clinton?
But what if, you ask, you cannot help but think and feel that Clinton is the only way to “beat back the fearsome Trump?”
Short Answer: Okay, go ahead. But day after the presidential election of November 8, amid whatever chaos we find ourselves after the vote (facing a protofascist Trump regime, the war and empire of a Clinton regime, or some political standoff between the two candidates), many of us from all quarters can all still unite on November 9 to fight together for a better way beyond either Trump’s or Clinton’s repressive politics.
In the first place, follow the elections closely. Both candidates are some of the most unpopular ever foregrounded by their respective parties. Sure, there are the over-the-top enthusiasts for each. There are white women who are so enthralled with “Saint Hillary” that they sing hymns for her. And we know the white enthusiasts whose “USA! USA!” chants glorify “Saint Donald” and his vision of a “great America.”
But both parties are weakened and put forward some of the least popular nominees for U.S. president ever. This gives a greater chance for radical left votes to proliferate in concrete ways. Now is the time to consider a vote for a new left, whether that of the Green Party of Jill Stein or that of the Party for Socialism and Liberation like Gloria La Riva (although La Riva does not have ballot position in as many states as Stein).
But the work that most needs doing now is not simply to join or re-form a third party. Instead, the challenge is to respect and strengthen the social justice movements and organizations that fight for the dispossessed, the black, brown and poor across many constituencies, building bridges between those movements and emerging forms of state power.
Still feel like you just have to vote for Clinton? Maybe you still cannot help sensing that something just feels a bit better about Clinton out there speaking nicer language, less jarring perhaps, than Trump? After Trump’s “immigrant hate speech” in Arizona recently or his endorsements of trigger-happy cops who shoot another black youth, it can feel satisfying – even I feel it – to throw a Clinton vote at him. But I won’t vote for Hillary Clinton. It would be to vote for more devastation, a dead end to our hopes for an integral liberation for all the peoples of the earth. It would be a vote supportive of the lockdown of the earth’s poor, the steeping of the world’s vulnerable peoples in the bombed-over districts of U.S. military planners and the corporate elites.
I prefer to fan the flames of another political future of revolutionary energies, hopefully a future born of today’s radical movements of black, brown and poor – with white radical forces of resistance also – uniting perhaps to makeover the Green Party, to take it over in the name of a new governing people. Or maybe there will be a resurgence and uniting of peoples in some new combination I now cannot anticipate. Whatever the possibilities for such uprising, these probably will not be able to form before the elections. Perhaps they will come only in the elections’ immediate aftermath and in subsequent months (or years) afterwards. Some new instrument of governance and state power needs to arise. It would have to be an anti-corporate, Reparations-advocating, mass-incarceration ending, environment-renewing, U.S. empire-ending structural force. The struggle for this will not be easily achieved or soon in coming.
If you do vote for Clinton, I only hope you do so knowing you have voted for a great evil. After your vote, we could all then meet together in the future months to expose the neoliberal regime for its global and national structural violence, just as we would have to unite against any victorious Trump and his impending regime. We could oppose Clinton and her ways as the deadly threats they are (if she is elected). We could learn together to expose ever more clearly the (neo)liberals’ rhetoric of “American freedom” and their discourses of bureaucratic multiculturalism by which a few supportive elites from every group and color are so often siphoned off for the same repressive ends.
Clinton’s win is by no means assured, though. Trump for all his racism and misogyny has spoken to a dispossessed poor, even if those poor cannot disentangle their critique of political elites from their white racist scape-goating. This makes Trump a threat to Clintonian neoliberalism, to its war-making and empire-building (which is why many Republican elites, neocons and neoliberals, have run to her). Her own corruption and corporatist commitments could also cause her campaign to implode. We need to be ready to work in and with our various political movements of real liberation whatever November 8 brings. It may bring – as I have said throughout these reflections – a stand-off and a situation of social and political struggle as the two-party U.S. oligarchy implodes. We need to be ready to think anew and afresh.
So however you vote, if you vote – well, day after the elections, let the people’s struggle continue and be recharged. In some home, street, classroom or workplace, in some means large or small – see you out there