Can Hope Overcome Reality?

I just read Chris Hedges’ report in Truthdig of his recent telephone conversation with Ralph Nader. I regularly read numerous sources of information on the politics of Trumpery and the failure of the Democratic Party to respond effectively to the crises facing the nation as Dem’s obsess over the latest Trumpist Travesty, as if wavering minority opposition and easy sarcasm were enough. So, I was surprised that Ralph Nader’s and Chris Hedges’ words hit me so hard.

I have read most of Chris Hedges’ books, so I am used to his dire descriptions of the present state of the American Empire and its domestic disasters. They are accurate and scary. I have also followed for decades Ralph Nader’s incisive expositions on the catastrophic corruption of the U.S. corporate state, and his amazing feats forcing reforms. But somehow this conversation hit far more deeply than the general realities of the “Deep State,” and the appropriation of that term by the “alt right,” such as I wrote about in a recent post here.

White nationalist propagandists such as Steve Bannon, tout the goal of taking down the “administrative state,” by which he seems to mean everything in the federal government not directly controllable by the wannabe dictator in the White House. That includes any federal program or agency that attempts to serve a public purpose rather than the interests of the American Oligarchy. But I digress.

In his conversation with Chris Hedges, Nader expressed a deep pessimism about the political prospects of the nation and the cultural decline of its people. This, after decades of stalwart defense of the public interest in myriad ways, ever dauntless. What is it that so troubles Nader, the unflappable public intellectual-activist? Hope fades for Nader and Hedges’ desire to take down the corporate state in the nation’s defense against the exploitative interests of the oligarchy under which it now operates.

The contrast is instructive. The Bannon-Trump forces would dismantle large elements of the U.S. federal government in order to eliminate operations that protect society from the devastation of neoliberal corporate economic system of extraction, production, consumption and waste. Disaster capitalism indeed! They promote utopian dreams of libertarian individualism as their cover for kleptocratic plunder of the commonwealth.

Nader and Hedges would dismantle something quite different. Their target is the totalitarian political apparatus that manages the nation-state under the thin veneer of a pseudo-democracy in the interests of corporate market liberalism and the kleptocratic oligarchy  from which we desperately need to protect society. That, of course, is the far more difficult task.

It is far easier to rile up the growing segments of the population that politics has abandoned while pretending to assist those already downtrodden for generations. The declining white middle and working classes have built up resentment ever since their slide began three decades ago. Trump is exercising the classic tactics of all demagogues throughout history. And conditions were and continue to be ripe for their success.

Hedges quotes Nader’s telephone rant reflecting his despair for American democracy. The litany of converging crises is to long to repeat here. Read it there. We must face the reality he describes and find ways to overcome it. As Hedges reported, “Resistance, Nader said, must be local. First we need to organize to take back our own communities…” Neighborhood by neighborhood is where the power of the people resides. That is where our hope for the nation and our survival will be found.

 

Antifa: Fascist Violence and Violence Against Fascism

They’ve got all the weapons; they’ve got all the money…It‘s all there.

~  John Lennon[1]

Political elections can have powerful cultural effects when infused with growing fear, deep anger, resentment of economic and social injustice, and racism. Diverse forms of social instability follow the displacement and ruined hopes for more and more people. The economic and political actions of the neoliberal economic elite have forced an intensified polarization of society along lines of race and class. Resentment, fear, and anger creep further into the political process, encouraged by narcissistic demagogic scapegoating.

Klansmen w.flag_Photo Credit.Martin_Flickr

KKK ~ Photo Credit: Martin / Flickr

As traditional forms of social control weaken under such conditions of political upheaval, social change, and stress, the exercise of power tends toward the violent. Violence can be cultural, psychological, physical, or any combination. The unfortunate surge of activity by racist “white nationalists,” neo-fascist and neo-Nazi groups in the wake of the U.S. 2016 presidential elections exemplify this process. Violence is both contagious and addictive.

Neo-Nazi, Ku Klux Klan, and related white-nationalist elements had been constrained by a national culture that since the civil rights movement in the 1960s had explicitly rejected racism. Those constraints were already weakening when Donald Trump’s vitriolic campaign for the presidency attacked “political correctness” and continued his “birtherism” claims. Victims of racism, sexism, and xenophobia became that much more vulnerable.

Trump a the perennial candidate for public attention, continued after the election, giving bigotry implicit political permission to go public. The rise of extreme nationalist and neo-Nazi groups in Europe accompanied social instabilities amplified by the flood of refugees from death and destruction in the Middle East, where European military units operate alongside U.S. forces.  Blaming the victim prevailed there as well as in the U.S. as the “sorrows of empire” spread throughout the industrialized world.

The Rise of Antifa

A small faction among the many protesters against the rising racist neo-fascist demonstrations under the Trump presidency, called “antifa,” meaning anti-fascism, rapidly gained attention. It reflected the growing political instability in the U.S., as well as a revulsion against authoritarian groups threatening a new rise in racist violence. Antifa members proclaim their dedication to destroying fascism “by any means necessary” for their “collective self-defense.” [2] They have fiercely defended those protesting the neo-Nazis in Charlotte and beyond. Cornel West reported that antifa members protected him and other non-violent protesters from violent neo-Nazi attackers there.

antifa_demonstrating

Antifa in Charlotte

Yet, in numerous historical movements for change, avoiding street violence has contributed to positive change far more frequently than “rioting in the streets.”

So-called militia and other extreme right-wing groups had strengthened during the Black Presidency. Trump had fed their growth by championing the racist “birther” denial of Obama’s citizenship and presidency The new surge of white nationalism once Trump took office was encouraged by Trump’s not so subtle embrace of racism and xenophobia. His refusal to condemn the violent racists of the neo-Nazis in Charlotte added fuel to the fascist fire.

Republicans and Democrats alike condemned Trump’s presidential pardon of the infamous racist xenophobe, Sherriff Joe Arpaio of Maricopa County, Arizona, shortly thereafter. A federal court had convicted Arpaio of contempt of court for having defied court orders to stop racially profiling Latinos. Trump actively enabled racism and fascism repeatedly in his first months in office while attempting to suppress federal investigations of his secret financial-political connections to the Russians. The President’s behavior only amplified the growing instability and loss of social control in the U.S.

Illusions of Violence in the Corporate State

State violence can enforce some degree of social control under any political regime, for a while. However, as demonstrated in countless cases from Chile and Argentina to Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan, and many others, any social order enforced by violence is inherently unstable. Dictators, occupiers, and would-be autocrats who incite extremist violence in a population often lose the very control they sought.

True social control emanates from cultural values and social relations that respect both individuals and groups. The rise of movements, such as “antifa,” within protests against neo-Nazis and the “black block” among peaceful protests like Occupy Wall Street, reflect how unstable the politics of social control became in the first decade of the twenty-first century.

Antifa’s goal as a group, is to oppose fascism (racism, misogyny, homophobia, etc.), “by any means necessary.” However, its model of change has one weak link – the illusion of the effectiveness of violence. The history of non-violent movements demonstrates its own efficacy and the self-indulgence and futility of street violence. It is important — strategically as well as morally — to align means with ends. Democracy cannot be ‘enforced’ by violence.

There is strength in numbers, but the violence of the state can crush large crowds if given an excuse. The ‘Black Block’ pseudo-anarchists did the Occupy Wall Street movement no good at all, harming it instead. Violence, even against mere property, becomes a two edged moral sword, no matter how high minded the goal. Those concerned with the rise of racist white nationalism and the like must organize community and cultural resistance, not physical confrontation (other than in pure self-defense).

Remember, the rise of neo-fascism in the U.S. and Europe today is a direct result of the degradation of democracy and the decline of economic and social justice. These take diverse forms, often expressed in domestic and foreign terrorism. The re-establishment of genuine social control in any society must find its strength in the cultural values of compassion and peace in its communities, not the extremist hate fomented by power elites struggling to maintain their control. Violence is both addictive and contagious.

In seeking peace and stability, look to overcome the sources (the 1% of the 1%) of extreme inequity, social, economic, and climate injustice, not to confronting the particular class of victims who express their misguided rage in evil ways. We can socially sequester the haters; but the system must be transformed if society is to regain control of its destiny, a vastly more difficult task.

______________________

[1] In an interview by a 14 year old boy, filmed shortly before John Lennon was assassinated.

[2] Mark Bray, Antifa: The Anti-Fascist Handbook (Brooklyn: Melville House, 2017) offers both a history of anti-fascist movements and an ideological argument for the rise of contemporary anti-fascist groups that confront neo-Nazis and white supremacists in the streets, in acts “of collective self-defense.” Antifa willingness to use “any means necessary” crosses the line from non-violent protest to street fighting. That is certainly problematic, though Cornel West reported that antifa actions in Charlotte had protected him and other peaceful protestors from violent attacks by neo-Nazis and white nationalists.