Illusions of Freedom and the Contagion of Hate

This past Sunday, a post on the Australian site, Crikey Sunday Read reported on a protest called the “Canberra Convoy.” I had not been aware that the Canadian Truckers’ blockade had been replicated ‘down under.’ The thing is, reactionary, racist, and neo-fascist sentiments have become globally contagious. Clearly, social media has ‘enabled’ the contagion of anti-government, anti-vax, racist, and neo-fascist movements worldwide. However, something much deeper than the convenience of spreading disinformation on the internet is involved.

Freedom as a Mask for Autocracy

One thing is certain. Calls for freedom ring out in all kinds of contexts. Nelson Mandela called for freedom from Apartheid. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcom X demanded that Black folks in the U.S. have the same civic freedoms as whites. The current Black Lives Matter movement objects to the abuse and murder of Black folks by police, who mostly represent the white-dominated status quo.

Many other such examples express calls to end the oppression of minority groups in modern societies. However, the new protests of disaffected white people reflect a very different kind of movement, which is distinctly not non-violent and not anti-racist either.

Truckers today have grounds for all sorts of grievances, most of which have to do with their loss of power within their work environment as well as loss of income. The war against unions in the U.S. was waged ever since the New Deal provided protections for workers during the Great Depression of the 1930s. It had its greatest success under the presidency of Ronald Reagan. The teamsters union today has lost most of its power in the trucking industry. Today, truckers work mostly at the whim of large corporations, typically as sub-contractors with no benefits and much lower pay, and without union representation. The same holds for most unions, with the exception of some teachers unions and other unions of government workers. For these folks, the Green New Deal smacks of liberalism and inclusion of the others they despise an want to exclude out of fear that they will “replace” them.

However, the burgeoning authoritarian protests of today have a distinctly different tone than any civil rights or economic justice movements. In twisted ways, they reflect life out of balance and form a new autocratic attempt to subvert democracy rather than a demand for genuine participation within it.

What is Freedom Anyway?

The truckers’ blockades and “caravans,” the January 6 seditious insurrection at the U. S. Capital, the recent bomb threats at traditionally black university campuses, the rise of ‘militia’ groups and hate crimes just about everywhere, are each of the same cloth. They express a historically self-contradictory ‘nativist’ attitude—a belief, that whites are the ‘real Americans,’ are inherently superior and deserve absolute freedom. Black folks, immigrants, Latinex, and any person or group of color are all intruders in a White Christian Nation and ought to be suppressed, deported or killed as inferior and unworthy of freedom.

Adherents to the anti-government, anti-vax, anti-democratic ideologies also object to the freedom of others. They feel threatened by even modest wellbeing of groups other than their own. The Orwellian notion that oppressing others gains one’s own personal freedom is rampant in this new fascist movement, which frames politics as a zero-sum game.

Never mind the fact that the decline of their affluent middle and working class social standing is caused by the concentration of wealth among financial-political elite whites. Never mind the automation and outsourcing of what were once good jobs amid the loss of worker protections and benefits once assured by labor unions and a robust national economy. As always, the authoritarians turn people’s anger and frustration against society’s most vulnerable groups.

The Charlottesville  riot in 2017 openly displayed Nazi symbols and committed violence as a self-righteous expression of racist white nationalist anger. Their chant, “the Jews will not replace us” actually applies to anyone who they consider not ‘white like me.’ The fear of “replacement” by non-white immigrant groups and the growing Latin American population is palpable in the anger of their open racism. Fear of ‘replacement’ assumes that employment is a zero-sum game.

Responsibilities of Freedom

Like so many things, freedom and responsibility work both ways. Our neo-fascist protestors only see their own loss and their expectation of personal freedom without responsibility. That is one of the reasons the use of violence so captivates the fascist mentality. After all, they seek power over dehumanized others above all else.

Any viable society runs well on the interdependence of freedom and responsibility. The problem with the new violence-prone authoritarian protestors is that they have no sense of how they might actually exercise responsibility. They feel victimized by their loss of power in relation to their society. Their bosses oversee them in jobs with various responsibility, but without proportionate authority (freedom)—if they still have jobs. These new protestors misperceive the rise of others from abject poverty to modest opportunity as a rise to unearned power.

The very same white financial and political elites that took away their economic status and power encourage their misapprehensions of societal relations by scapegoating the traditionally oppressed groups they are encouraged to hate. Their hatred is contagious and will continue to be a direct threat to democracy and freedom unless countered by transforming our economy to serve the public interest, and stop serving the desires for the rich to become super-rich.

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