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What is to be discerned from this juxtaposition? I would suggest, in line with Fanon, that the neurosis of white supremacy created either a blank spot, a moment where this Euro-American progressive voting demographic simply missed the latter passage or, perhaps more darkly, allowed for it because they agreed with it. Either way, we are dealing with a political figure who engineered one of the most successful advertising campaigns in modern American political history and became president by trying to appeal to every possible segment of the Euro-American voting public while in reality executing a series of policies that only the most hawkish would find agreement with. Perhaps a more famous quote attributed to Fanon provides insights:
Sometimes people hold a core belief that is very strong. When they are presented with evidence that works against that belief, the new evidence cannot be accepted. It would create a feeling that is extremely uncomfortable, called cognitive dissonance. And because it is so important to protect the core belief, they will rationalize, ignore and even deny anything that doesn’t fit in with the core belief.
Irregardless, Obama succeeded in shifting his party and the polity further to the right while being called a Leftist for the entirety of his tenure. Why?
This returns to the invocation of liberation that Obama and the media trafficked in, intentionally conflating his accommodation politics with liberation politics. There were literal reams printed by various Right presses that alleged his connections to Communist and Islamist currents that were reminiscent of such demonizations from the John Birch Society a generation before. The Birther conspiracy theories and false flag panics about his parentage effectively distracted from genuine criticism of his policies. And those distractions are ultimately tied to a racist fear of inter-ethnic coupling that was brought to the forefront by Brown v. Board and which John Ford tried to address with THE SEARCHERS. Accusations that Obama was a Communist were seen as being directly tied to the CPUSA’s anti-racism planks and particularly the fact they used to hold social events that promoted inter-ethnic socialization and dating. What responsibility Obama and his publicists bear for invoking such profound negative emotions in the wider population about inter-ethnic coupling is perhaps one of the most difficult questions presented by his biography.
This insight in turn informs our grasp of the Tea Party and the machismo underlying the gun culture. A good deal of the emotions within the Tea Party was a fear of the assault on the Second Amendment, particularly in the face of a government which was indeed executing a series of assaults on civil liberties, most conspicuously being the attack on free speech and press by way of the persecution of Chelsea Manning, Julian Assange, Edward Snowden, and many more whistleblowers. Consider the points raised by Vijay Prashad in an interview with Paul Jay:
PRASHAD: What Bradley Manning did was an honest and, I think, decent thing. You know, he saw something that was wrong, he acted upon it, and he’s paid a terrible price. I think what’s equally sad, you know, equal to the way in which he is being persecuted, what’s equally sad is a very large number of liberal intellectuals who have become judges, who have said from the sidelines, he’s guilty of something, they disagree with a 100-year sentence. They say maybe he should have 20 years or five years or eight years. I mean, to my mind, they’ve lost their mind.
JAY: ‘Cause they won’t accept that the war is illegal. They won’t accept there’s war crimes. And then it just becomes this abstract thing, can a soldier reveal secrets.
PRASHAD: Exactly. This is not about a soldier revealing secrets. This is about a soldier seeing that something to his mind illegal and also immoral had happened, the chain of command had lied or covered it up, and he felt therefore legally and morally obliged to do something about it. And I think we need to salute him for that (Jay). [Emphasis added]
The revelations of Snowden in particular regarding the warrantless wiretapping and monitoring of people’s internet and cellular telephone communications created a genuine reason to be skeptical of the motivations of the government and a need for a Libertarian critique of Obama’s encroachment on privacy.
However, the racial element of this apparently evaded the protesters against Obama and nullified their complaints in the wider discourse. By accusing him of being a Communist, which he most certainly was not, these opponents ended up perhaps sometimes unintentionally taking onboard with their critiques of his policies a wider invocation of opposition to school integration and inter-ethnic coupling. Indeed, this author consistently would encounter Libertarian or Tea Party opponents of Obama who insisted their protests had nothing to do with his ethnicity and everything to do with his policies. Yet trying to explain that he was not a Communist and that the CPUSA policies regarding inter-ethnic coupling would likewise excite and enrage protestors that mistook the neoliberal imperial project for Soviet-styled Communism. Noam Chomsky said in a speech at the Commonwealth Club of California on October 6, 2009:
I think the implications are dangerous. And it’s easy to ridicule them, you know, look at the crazy things they say, ‘You want to kill my grandmother’ and so on. And there’s a lot of nonsense, that’s true.
But what we really ought to be asking ourselves is why the peace movement, the Left, the activists organizations aren’t organizing these people. A lot of what they’re protesting is pretty sensible. A lot of the protests are against the bail-out, the massive bail-out, they feel that they were betrayed.
They pressured, worked very hard to prevent it, two minutes later they got it. Why should the bankers end up from the recession more powerful than they were before, which is what’s happening, you can read about it in the business press, they’re exulting about it.
They’re more powerful than they were before, the big banks are even bigger than they were, the government insurance policy, the ‘too big to fail’ insurance policy, is guaranteeing them that they can continue exactly what they were doing which tanked the economy. They can make risky loans and investments, since it’s risky they’ll make a lot of profit, they’ll have money coming out of their ears, if it collapses, the taxpayer will come in and bail them out… Meanwhile people are suffering.
Well, they have a reason to protest that! The tragedy is that the protests and many other things…are being organized by pretty much the same sectors that are creating the crisis! The corporate money that’s behind them is the ones who are very happy that it’s coming out like this! And it’s a real failure of the activist movements, the Left, the peace movement and so on that we’re not organizing them. I think that’s the question we ought to ask (Chomsky).
What has taken place in the time since then is quite impressive and very interesting. The Tea Party, made up of these populist Libertarians, delivered to the Obama administration a stunning midterm defeat in 2010. Unfortunately they failed to embrace an anti-imperial and anti-poverty set of positions and ended up being merely an obstructionist presence in the Congress that would allow for Obama’s imperial policies, if not browbeating him for being not enough of a hawk.
In September 2011, the Occupy Wall Street movement spawned a series of encampments across the country that saw a progressive iteration of this populist rejection of neoliberalism take shape. It is worth emphasizing here that, while Obama at least pretended to heed their existence in speeches, the reality is that he did everything to smash it. The encampments were filled with police informants and saboteurs. Overt police violence towards the camps arrived soon after. The refusal of the movement to take up concrete radical demands presented the opportunity for coopting by mainstream politics and nonprofits.
Despite this, the 2012 election featured presidential candidates who both utilized this populist grammar. Mitt Romney, who was a moderate in the Republican Party in comparison to Tea Partiers elected in 2010, took as his running mate Paul Ryan, whose monetarism and fundamentalist strain of Roman Catholicism made him a Tea Party darling. Obama did the same, calling his opponent a name derived directly from Occupy, “One Percenter”. Nevertheless, the onslaught of austerity and neoliberalism continued.
One interesting side note of 2012 worth discussing was the candidacy of Congressman Ron Paul, a Libertarian who had chosen to run on the Republican ticket. His candidacy excited a significant section of the Euro-American working class. Admittedly his political economy, based in so-called Austrian economics, was merely another form of the neoclassical program with several methodological variances. But no less than Alexander Cockburn, the radical journalist and editor for the Left wing online magazine Counterpunch, had endorsed Paul’s earlier 2008 run. As this author has written previously, the Libertarian movement is roughly occupying the same ideological space at this point that the Democratic Party was on the day that Franklin Roosevelt died. The right element is able to be called fascist much in the way that Strom Thurmond’s Dixiecrats were. Yet the left wing is a direct action anarchist movement that has a striking level of similarity to the old Communist Party USA with an exception regarding decentralization rather than Soviet-styled centralization of state power. In other words, it has within it the same potential that the New Deal Democrats had before the Cold War squandered the post-World War II peace.
As such, when one considers the level of wealth transfer from Main Street to Wall Street overseen and approved by Obama, one can understand the retreat into chauvinism by the Euro-American working class. The connection between property expropriation and fear of liberation politics dates back to the earliest red scares, whether it was the reaction in America to the Haitian revolution or the rise of Bolshevism. This fear has always had within its coordinates a racialized aspect due to the internal colonial nature of the country. As such, the gun culture for Euro-Americans is seen as a weapon used for the protection of hearth and home while black and brown populations see it as an element of a modern fugitive slave patrol. Another element, the idea of the gun symbolizing manhood and its firmness in the face of danger, is particularly worthwhile to contemplate as neoliberalism has brought about, for all intents and purposes, a collapse of the middle class and notions of Euro-American heterosexual manhood as the breadwinner and dominant figure in the household. The vast difference between these two perceptions of a single issue, the way our culture confronts private firearm use, defines the basic contours of a divide hindering class unity at the present moment in America.
This returns to the issue of race and racism along with its undercurrent regarding sex and sexuality. One point of anxiety and tension within the Euro-American working class is the realization that they will cease to be a demographic majority in America by the end of the century. How these workers confront and grapple with this fact underwrites a good deal of their attitudes and actions towards people of color. Yet interestingly it can be said that, for all intents and purposes, that white supremacy is on the defensive in this regard. The perfect example is how Right media figures will now defend a questionable topic or personality and argue it is not racist. That is a stunning shift of paradigm from several decades ago when instead white pride was being openly and actively upheld, that racism was something to be proud of. Indeed, with the exception of the newly-emerging alt-Right subculture, a movement that mimics punk rock ethos about style and manners, it is generally felt to be a kind of scarlet letter to be called a racist. The infamous comments by Republican strategist Lee Atwater define this perfectly:
You start out in 1954 by saying, “N***er, n***er, n***er.” By 1968 you can’t say “n***er”—that hurts you, backfires. So you say stuff like, uh, forced busing, states’ rights, and all that stuff, and you’re getting so abstract. Now, you’re talking about cutting taxes, and all these things you’re talking about are totally economic things and a byproduct of them is, blacks get hurt worse than whites… “We want to cut this,” is much more abstract than even the busing thing, uh, and a hell of a lot more abstract than “N***er, n***er” (Perlstein).
To deny that white supremacy has ceased to exist in these contexts is a profound mistake. But to deny that white supremacy as a system of control is on the defensive is also a mistake and, ultimately, this is demonstrated by the Obama presidency. White supremacy needed an African American, misrepresented by the media as a liberationist rather than accommodationist, to further its goals regarding gentrification, resegregation of schools, and other assaults on the gains of the New Deal and civil rights movement. It was Fanon who wrote in another book, The Wretched of the Earth, of the collaborationist mentality that underwrites the behavior of Obama as president:
[W]hen decolonization occurs in regions where the liberation struggle has not yet made its impact sufficiently felt, here are the same smart alecks, the sly, shrewd intellectuals whose behavior and ways of thinking, picked up from their rubbing shoulders with the colonialist bourgeoisie, have remained intact (Fanon 12).
In this regard, we find in Fanon’s writings a succinct explanation of Obama’s actions.
This defensive posture of white supremacy presents working class voters with unique opportunities. There is a tactic from the Old Left arsenal that is tenable as a program of action in these contexts, the united front from below, which is the construction of a coalition of workers that are part of the Communist, Socialist, and Liberal parties in a given country.
The united front tactic is simply an initiative whereby the Communists propose to join with all workers belonging to other parties and groups and all unaligned workers in a common struggle to defend the immediate, basic interests of the working class against the bourgeoisie. Every action, for even the most trivial everyday demand, can lead to revolutionary awareness and revolutionary education; it is the experience of struggle that will convince workers of the inevitability of revolution and the historic importance of Communism. It is particularly important when using the united front tactic to achieve not just agitational but also organisational results. Every opportunity must be used to establish organisational footholds among the working masses themselves… The main aim of the united front tactic is to unify the working masses through agitation and organisation. The real success of the united front tactic depends on a movement “from below”, from the rank-and-file of the working masses. Nevertheless, there are circumstances in which Communists must not refuse to have talks with the leaders of the hostile workers’ parties, providing the masses are always kept fully informed of the course of these talks. During negotiations with these leaders the independence of the Communist Party and its agitation must not be circumscribed (Theses).
In our contemporary contexts, one can see the left elements of the Black Lives Matter/Occupy movements standing in for the old Communist Party. Indeed, a 2016 conference at Temple University in Philadelphia included as an address “the moral bankruptcy of capitalism” and “the black radical tradition as socialist alternative”. The Green Party operates as akin to the Socialist movement and the left and center elements of the Libertarian Party are akin to Liberals. This would dictate a coalition of members of these parties engage in a series of both direct action and electoral tactics against neoclassical economic hegemony. Such efforts would prove to be difficult to create due to mistrust and extremism within these factions. Yet the gains opposed to losses in such efforts prove to be an appealing option.
It is my suggestion that, in order to foster such conversations, potential members of such alliances use the aforementioned films that have been analyzed here to create community conversations about this meaning of America and what can be accomplished both in electoral and direct action political forums over the next several years. Such political alliances depend on a level of trust that currently is not found across the working class. And only with open and honest discussions about race, racism, and civil liberties can such trust be built. Yet by directing this discourse towards a third object, a film, as opposed to each other, the groundwork that builds for later self-criticism is laid.
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