Category Archives: Democrats

Assange Is A Journalist, Should Not Be Persecuted For Publishing The Truth

Last week, rallies in support of Julian Assange were held around the world. We participated in two #AssangeUnity events seeking to #FreeAssange in Washington, DC.

This is the beginning of a new phase of the campaign to stop the persecution of Julian Assange and allow him to leave the Ecuadorian Embassy in London without the threat of being arrested in the UK or facing prosecution by the United States.

On April 10 2017 people gathered outside the Ecuadorian Embassy in London to celebrate the 11th Birthday of WikiLeaks. From Wise-Up Action: A Solidarity Network for Manning and Assange.

The Assange Case is a Linchpin For Freedom of the Press and Freedom of Information in the 21st Century

The threat of prosecution against Julian Assange for his work as editor-in-chief of WikiLeaks will be a key to defining what Freedom of the Press means in the 21st Century. Should people be allowed to know the truth if their government is corrupt, violating the law or committing war crimes? Democracy cannot exist when people are misled by a concentrated corporate media that puts forth a narrative on behalf of the government and big business.

This is not the first time that prosecution of a journalist will define Freedom of the Press. Indeed, the roots of Freedom of the Press in the United States go back to the prosecution of John Peter Zenger, a publisher who was accused of libel in 1734 for publishing articles critical of the British royal governor, William Cosby. Zenger was held in prison for eight months awaiting trial. In the trial, his defense took its case directly to the jury.

For five hundred years, Britain had made it illegal to publish “any any slanderous News” that may cause “discord” between the king and his people. Zenger’s defense argued that he had published the truth about Cosby and therefore did not commit a crime. His lawyer “argued that telling the truth did not cause governments to fall. Rather, he argued, ‘abuse of power’ caused governments to fall.” The jury heard the argument, recessed and in ten minutes returned with a not guilty verdict.

The same issue is presented by Julian Assange — publishing the truth is not a crime. Wikileaks, with Assange as its editor and publisher, redefined reporting in the 21st Century by giving people the ability to be whistleblowers to reveal the abuses of government and big business. People anonymously send documents to Wikileaks via the Internet and then after reviewing and authenticating them, Wikileaks publishes them.  The documents sometimes reveal serious crimes, which has resulted in Assange being threatened with a secret indictment for espionage that could keep him incarcerated for the rest of his life.

This puts the Assange case at the forefront of 21st Century journalism as he is democratizing the media by giving people the power to know the truth not reported, or falsely reported, by the corporate media. Breaking elite control over the media narrative is a serious threat to their power because information is power. And, with the internet and the ability of every person to act as a media outlet through social and independent media, control of the narrative is moving toward the people.

WikiLeaks is filling a void with trust in the corporate media at record lows. A recent Gallup Poll found only 32% trust the media. There has been a significant drop in newspaper circulation and revenue, an ongoing decline since 1980. Also, fewer people rely on television for news.

In this environment, the internet-based news is becoming more dominant and WikiLeaks is a particular threat to media monopolization by the elites. Research is showing that independent and social media are having an impact on people’s opinions.

The threats to Julian Assange are occurring when dissent is under attack, particularly media dissent; the FBI has a task force to monitor social media. The attack on net neutrality, Google using algorithms to prevent searches for alternative media and Facebook controlling what people see are all part of the attack on the democratized media..

Free Assange: Don’t Shoot the Messenger. (Jack Taylor for Getty Images)

The Astounding Impact of WikiLeaks’ Reporting

The list of WikiLeaks’ revelations has become astounding. The release of emails from Hillary Clinton, her presidential campaign, and the Democratic National Committee had a major impact on the election. People saw the truth of Clinton’s connections to Wall Street, her two-faced politics of having a public view and a private view as well as the DNC’s efforts to undermine the campaign of Sen. Bernie Sanders. People saw the truth and the truth hurt Hillary Clinton and the Democrats.

Among the most famous documents published were those provided by Chelsea Manning on Iraq, Afghanistan, the Guantanamo Prison and the US State Department. The Collateral Murder video among the Manning Iraq war documents shows US soldiers in an Apache helicopter gunning down a group of innocent men, including two Reuters employees, a photojournalist, and his driver, killing 16 and wounding two children. Millions have viewed the video showing that when a van pulled up to evacuate the wounded, the soldiers again opened fire. A soldier says, “Oh yeah, look at those dead bastards.”

Another massive leak came from Edward Snowden, the NSA whistleblower who exposed massive NSA spying in the United States and around the world. This was followed by Vault 7, a series of leaks on the Central Intelligence Agency’s activities, and Vault 8, which included source code on CIA malware activities.

WikiLeaks has also published documents on other countries; e.g., WikiLeaks published a series of documents on Russian spying.  WikiLeaks has been credited by many with helping to spark the Tunisian Revolution which led to the Arab Spring; e.g., showing the widespread corruption of the 23-year rule of the Ben Ali. Foreign Policy reported that “the candor of the cables released by WikiLeaks did more for Arab democracy than decades of backstage U.S. diplomacy.” WikiLeaks’ publications provided democracy activists in Egypt with information needed to spark protests and provided background that explained the Egyptian uprising. Traditional media publications like the New York Times relied on WikiLeaks to analyze the causes of the uprising.

WikiLeaks informed the Bahrain public about their government’s cozy relationship with the US, describing a $5 billion joint-venture with Occidental Petroleum and $300 million in U.S. military sales and how the U.S. Navy is the foundation of Bahrain’s national security.

John Pilger describes WikiLeaks’ documents, writing, “No investigative journalism in my lifetime can equal the importance of what WikiLeaks has done in calling rapacious power to account.”

Free Assange rally at the White House, June 19, 2018. From Gateway Pundit.

Assange Character Assassination And Embassy Imprisonment

Julian Assange made powerful enemies in governments around the world, corporate media, and big business because he burst false narratives with the truth. As a result, governments fought back, including the United States,  Great Britain, and Sweden, which has led to Assange being trapped in the embassy of Ecuador in London for six years.

The root of the incarceration were allegations in Sweden. Sweden’s charges against Assange were initially dropped by the chief prosecutor, two weeks later they found a prosecutor to pursue a rape investigation. One of the women had CIA connections and bragged about her relationship with Assange in tweets she tried to erase. She even published a 7-step program for legal revenge against lovers. The actions of the women do not seem to show rape or any kind of abuse. One woman held a party with him after the encounter and another went out to eat with him.  In November 2016, Assange was interviewed by Swedish prosecutors for four hours at the Ecuadorian embassy. In December 2016, Assange published tweets showing his innocence and the sex was consensual. Without making a statement on Assange’s guilt, the Swedish investigators dropped the charges in May 2017. The statute of limitations for Swedish charges will be up in 2020.

As John Pilger pointed out:

Katrin Axelsson and Lisa Longstaff of Women Against Rape summed it up when they wrote, ‘The allegations against [Assange] are a smokescreen behind which a number of governments are trying to clamp down on WikiLeaks for having audaciously revealed to the public their secret planning of wars and occupations with their attendant rape, murder, and destruction… The authorities care so little about violence against women that they manipulate rape allegations at will.’

Assange is still trapped in the embassy as he would be arrested for violating his bail six years ago. But, the real threat to Assange is the possibility of a secret indictment against him in the United States for espionage. US and British officials have refused to tell Assange’s lawyers whether there was a sealed indictment or a sealed extradition order against him. Former CIA Director, now Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo has described WikiLeaks as a non-state hostile intelligence service and described his actions as not protected by the First Amendment. In April 2017, CNN reported, “US authorities have prepared charges to seek the arrest of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange.” The Obama Justice Department determined it would be difficult to bring charges against Assange because WikiLeaks wasn’t alone in publishing documents stolen by Manning but the Trump DOJ believes he could be charged as an accomplice with Edward Snowden.

When the president campaigned, Trump said he loved WikiLeaks and regularly touted their disclosures. But, in April 2017, Attorney General Jeff Session said that Assange’s arrest is a “priority.”

Time To Stop The Persecution Of Julian Assange

The smearing of Assange sought to discredit him and undermine the important journalism of WikiLeaks. Caitlin Johnstone writes that they smear him because “they can kill all sympathy for him and his outlet, it’s as good for their agendas as actually killing him.”

Even with this character assassination many people still support Assange. This was seen during the #Unity4J online vigil, which saw the participation of activists, journalists, whistleblowers and filmmakers calling for the end of Assange’s solitary confinement and his release. This was followed a week later by 20 protests around the world calling for Assange’s release.

Julian Assange has opened journalism’s democracy door; the power to report is being redistributed, government employees and corporate whistleblowers have been empowered and greater transparency is becoming a reality. The people of the United States should demand that Assange not face prosecution and embrace a 21st Century democratized media that provides greater transparency and accurate information about what government and business interests are doing. Prosecuting a news organization for publishing the truth, should be rejected and Assange should be freed.

You can support Julian Assange by spreading the word in your communities about what is happening to him and why. You can also show support for him on social media. We will continue to let you know when there are actions planned. And you can support the WikiLeaks Legal Defense Fund, run by the Courage Foundation*, at IAmWikiLeaks.org.

* Kevin Zeese is on the advisory board of the Courage Foundation.

Big Brother Facebook: Drawing Down The Iron Curtain on Yankeedom

Leading a double life

When my partner, Barbara, first opened an account on Facebook, she used it in a way that most people in Yankeedom use it. Her network was an eclectic assortment of family, current and former workmates, new and old friends, neighbors and relatives living in other parts of the country. Most of what was posted on this account were pictures of kids, dogs and kitty cats, vacations, dinner outings, jokes – nothing too controversial. Like most members of Yankeedom, religion and politics were off limits. However, there was a kind of politically unconscious assumption operating that liberal values prevailed and that somehow the Democratic Party embodied those values. I nicknamed her Facebook account the “Suzy Cream Cheese” account after the Mothers of Invention’s album because it only dealt with surface preoccupations.

As the most recent US presidential primaries heated up and people took sides about Hillary, Bernie and Jill Stein, the Suzy Cream Cheese page started to be “not nice”. The political unconscious became conscious. The assumption was that all women – in the name of feminism – should vote for Hillary. My partner thought this was a very shallow understanding of feminism and posted an article she wrote that was published in a number of online radical newsletters titled, “Feminism is Bigger Than Gender: Why I’ll Be Happy in Hell Without Hillary.” Oh dear. After she posted that article on Facebook, she got the cold shoulder and lost a couple of friends. Around that time she opened up a second “political” Facebook account and started adding to it a whole new group of far-left friends and acquaintances. She continued posting “suitable for family viewing” comments with her Suzy Cream Cheese account while posting and responding to socialist and communist posts on her political account.

The Two Faces of Facebook

Neither Barbara nor I are sociologists of social media or specifically of Facebook, so what follows is experiential. However, we do know a thing or two about how capitalist institutions operate in general and Facebook is no exception.

The primary purpose of Facebook is to sell ad space to marketers. But how do you reach the Yankee public? You make it easy for Yankees to set up individual accounts so that Yankees can do what we do best—talk about the micro world of family, dogs and friends. In the process, hopefully people will purchase some of the products or services touted in the ads. Facebook has also made it possible for individuals to join groups and set up pages that then allow them to place ads to publicize their group or organization. For Facebook, reading groups, hobbies and support groups are fine.

But Facebook has encountered a problem that many other capitalist institutions have. The problem is that you can set up the conditions for selling your products, but you can’t control people’s motivation for buying the product, (joining a group or setting up a political page) or what they will do with the product (what kind of group they will form). Facebook could even tolerate political groups. But the political imagination of Facebook consists of Republicans and Democrats. What Facebook had not counted on is the proliferation of political groups that exist outside both parties. As most of you know, there are many anarchist groups, Leninist groups, social democrats and even council communist groups. On the right there are all sorts of nationalist and fascists groups. It is safe to say that Facebook, as a capitalist institution, does not want to host these groups but until recently has not been able to do anything about it.

Planning Beyond Capitalism Meets Suzy Cream Cheese Facebook

Six years ago Barbara and I co-founded an organization called Planning Beyond Capitalism. The name pretty much says what we are up to. As an anti-establishment organization our main problem was, and still is, outreach. We stumbled and bumbled our way with the help of some anti-establishment social media whizzes who convinced us we could reach a lot more people through placing ads on Facebook. Facebook calls it “boosting”. At first, we were skeptical because the language used in placing an ad on Facebook seemed to have nothing to do with politics. They were ads for businesses. They encouraged us to “pick the right brand” and “target our audience” for best “market return”. We weren’t a business and we weren’t a non-profit. The best category we could find was “community organization”.

One of the things we do on Planning Beyond Capitalism is to select one article from a left-wing news source and write one post and commentary each day. We call this “Capitalist News Interpreted”. We publish these posts daily on Facebook, but don’t “boost” them. But every couple of months or so we write a longer article, in which we make an analysis of world events, mostly in the United States, from the perspective of our organization. We put these in the category of Perspectives. Over the course of two or three years we found four or five political newsletters in which to publish our perspectives. In addition, we decided to “boost” those perspectives on Facebook.

Our pattern was to boost our perspective for one week for the cost of $30.00 to run for one week. This money came out of our own pockets. We were able to select our demographics – age, gender, interests – and we could post it to almost any country in the world. In selecting our audiences when we first started boosting our posts, the choices of “anarchism” and “socialism” were available for us to select. Typically, in a single week we reached about ten thousand people – with a ratio of people in that audience of people who “liked” our perspective from about 20% to 33%. The number of “shares” in a week ranged from 75 to about 250 depending on the article. In the process of doing this, we began hearing from people in other parts of the world. Some of those people then began to write for us.

We were pretty amazed that Facebook approved of virtually all our perspectives in 2016 and 2017 despite our anti Democratic Party, anti-capitalist slant. Here are some of our titles:

No Pink Wooly Caps for Me

Open Letter to the Sandernistas: The Political Revolution Continues – Hearts, Bodies and Souls

Planning Beyond Capitalism meets Big Brother Facebook

Things began to change for us on Facebook when I published an article on April 1st of this year claiming the Democratic Party was worse than the Republican Party for 90% of the population. After we posted a link to it on our Facebook page we tried to boost it.

Greater of Two Evils: Why the Democratic Party is Worse than the Republican Party for 85% of the U.S. Population

Facebook rejected our ad and we contested that rejection. They said it was sensationalistic, involved hate speech and promoted violence. We contested this rejection and after two arguments from us, won our appeal. We ran the ad for two weeks because of its popularity. It reached 38,000 people, had many hundreds of shares and we gained about 100 new followers.

The next article we published was written by an Iraqi comrade of ours living as a citizen in Russia. The article was about why Russians are upset with Americans.

Why Russians are Upset With Americans – Seen Through the Eyes of an Iraqi

This ad was again disapproved by Facebook but for different reasons: it was “political”. We contested this as well. Below is our argument:

We have been boosting posts on FB for 2 years. Every single one of them has political content. Why is this particular one being singled out? However, this is the first article that we’ve published about Russia, written by someone living in Russia. We believe that you are not authorizing this ad because it is a favorable account of the Russian people, which does not conform to the Democratic Party’s anti-Russian ideology. This article was written by a Russian citizen and is written from his own observations and viewpoint. Furthermore, his sources are documented and it is neither sensationalistic nor violent. We are not advocating for Russian foreign policy. We are talking about average Russian citizens. If you read the article, you would see that your response is exactly the reasons Russians are upset with Americans. Their experiences are suppressed, while we maintain the stereotypes of them as in the cartoon image that leads the article. This, to us, constitutes blatant discrimination. 

Facebook’s response was a boilerplate line about what constitutes a political post. Their policy about political ads had changed as of May 7th, 2018. It implied that their disapproval had nothing to do with its content. It was because the category was “political”. We were told that in order to consider having our ad approved, we had to register as a political organization. In order to do this we needed to:

  1. Be citizens of the United States
  2. Provide proof of citizenship
  3. Provide a residential address
  4. Provide a drivers license number
  5. Provide a Social Security number

All this – simply to place a political ad. Doesn’t this sound like we are registering to be investigated by the FBI or CIA? Oh, no that’s just left wing paranoia.

Further, they said it would take up to six weeks to verify this and to approve our ad. But not to worry, they would delete all our information once it checked out.

As the author of the article on Russia, Jamal pointed out his other two articles that had been accepted by Facebook were far more political than the one they just rejected. But that was before their change of policy. Jamal rightfully pointed out that the rejected article was more historical, sociological and cultural than political. However, the upper middle class honchos of Facebook, having taken one class in political science in the United States, cannot tell the difference between sociology, political economy, and culture. Their formula is:

Russia = political = bad

America = Democratic Party = good

To paraphrase an old country tune, “Take this job and shove it”, we told Facebook to “take your political registration and shove it”.

No, there is no “Iron Curtain” in the US. That is for Russians.

Our Analysis of Facebook

We think it is reasonable to suspect that Facebook wants to get rid of its “political underground”, the groups that exist beyond the two party system. Why? For one thing people at both extremes of the political spectrum are likely to buy the products that are advertised on their pages. The second reason is that our ads are chump change for them. Getting rid of us will cost them close to nothing in revenue. The third reason is political. Facebook, like most media institutions, is committed to the Democratic Party. Cleaning its house of “Fake News” (the news and opinions of the socialist or fascist sides of the spectrum) will steer people back to reasonable choices like the Democratic Party. It is our belief that this change in policy requiring organizations like ours to register as political groups has occurred in 2018, in part, because this is an election year.

There are other indicators Facebook is closing ranks. In selecting an audience for our article, we noticed the choices given under political interests on the left, the furthest left available to choose was “very liberal”. There was no socialist choice even though a self-proclaimed socialist ran as a Democratic in the 2016 primaries.

If anyone reading this has recommendations for alternatives to Facebook that would allow us to place political ads to broaden our reach, please contact us. It’s time for those of us on the far left to find an alternative to Big Brother Facebook.

• First published at Planning Beyond Capitalism

The Democrats Out-Right the Right on North Korean Summit

If more proof was needed to persuade anyone that the Democrats are indeed a war party, it was provided when Senator Chuck Schumer and other Democrat leaders in the Senate engaged in a cynical stunt to stake out a position to the right of John Bolton on the summit between Trump and Kim Jong Un.

The Democrats asserted that the planned summit could only be judged successful if the North Koreans agreed to dismantle and remove all their nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons, end all production and enrichment of uranium, dismantle its nuclear weapons infrastructure, and suspend ballistic missile tests.

Those demands would constitute an unconditional surrender on the part of the North Korean leadership and will not happen, and the Democrats know it.

But as problematic as those demands are, here is the real problem that again demonstrates the bi-partisan commitment to war that has been at the center of U.S. imperial policies: If these are the outcomes that must be achieved for the meeting to be judged a success, not only does it raise the bar beyond the level any serious person believes possible, it gives the Trump administration the ideological cover to move toward war. The inevitable failure to force the North Koreans to surrender essentially forecloses all other options other than military conflict.

This is a reckless and cynical game that provides more proof that neither party has the maturity and foresight to lead.

Both capitalist parties support the use and deployment of militarism, repression and war, but somehow – even though the historic record reveals the opposite – the Democratic party has managed to be perceived as less likely to support the war agenda than Republicans. That perception must be challenged directly.

The Democrats have had a long and sordid history connected to North Korea, and every other imperialist war that the U.S. has waged since the end of the Second World War. It was the policies of Democrat president Truman that divided the Korean peninsula and led to the brutal colonial war waged by U.S. forces. Conflict with Korea was valuable for Truman and his party advisors who were committed to re-militarizing the U.S. economy, and they needed the justification that the Korean war gave them. Truman tripled the military budget and established the framework for the network of U.S foreign bases that would eventually cover the world over the next few decades.

The bipartisan commitment to full spectrum dominance continues with no real opposition from the Democratic party-connected “resistance.” Even the Poor Peoples’ Campaign (PPC) that was launched in May and purports to be an independent moral movement still dances around the issue of naming the parties and interests responsible for the “moral failures” of the U.S.

On the other hand, the Revolutionary Action Committee, the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee, the student- and youth-led anti-war movement and eventually Dr. King clearly identified the bi-partisan commitment to the Vietnam war. What Dr. King and the activists in the 1960s understood was that in order to be politically and morally consistent, it was necessary to name the culprits and identify the concrete geopolitical and economic interests driving the issue of war and militarism.

Appeals to morality as an element for popular mobilization against war can be useful. But such appeals have little more impact than an online petition if they substitute vague platitudes for substance and specificity.

So it was with the PPC’s week of actions against war. Just a few days before the week began, a vote took place in the House of Representatives to support yet another increase to the military budget. In a vote of 351 to 66, the House of Representatives authorized a significant hike to an incredible $717 billion a year.

And then just a few days after the PPC’s week of action on militarism and war, the Democrats delivered their reckless and opportunistic ultimatum to the Trump administration on North Korea that could very conceivably lead to another illegal and immoral U.S. war.

Not calling the Democrats out on their warmongering is itself immoral.

It is also quite clear that vague moral appeals are not enough to delineate the interests of the capitalist elites and their commitment to war as oppositional to those of working people and the poor, who in the U.S. serve the moneyed interests as enlisted cannon fodder.

The positions staked out by the leadership of the Democratic party just confirmed what was already commonly understood as the hegemonic positions among the majority in the foreign policy establishment.

Objectively, there was never much ideological space between the right-wing policies of Dick Cheney or John Bolton and the neoliberal right-wing policies of Democratic party policy-makers. The differences were always merely tactical and not strategic in the sense that they all want the North Koreans to be supplicants.

Unfortunately, the general public is the only sector confused about the intentions and interests of elitist policy-makers, especially those elements of the public conditioned to believe that the Democratic party is less belligerent and less committed to militarism than the Republicans.

The fact is that the Democratic party establishment is also firmly entrenched on the right. Defeating the bi-partisan right must be the task for ourselves and for the world.

That is why the peace, anti-war and anti-imperialist forces must do the work to clear up that confusion. The movement must declare without equivocation the position of the Black Alliance for Peace: Not one drop of blood from the working class and poor to defend the capitalist oligarchy.

The Road to Political Masochism

Nearly a year and a half into his presidency, Donald Trump continues to hold his base and maintain an approval rating of around 40% – close to the same percentage he polled at just after his inauguration. Let’s try to figure out why.

It can’t be because he lies as a matter of daily routine. It can’t be because he’s giving away our store to big business – engaging in crony capitalism, creating more tax loopholes for corporations, shredding corporate crime enforcement, knowingly exposing Americans to more toxic pollution, committing more business fraud, adding more hazards to the workplace, cutting access to health insurance, and thereby making America dread again.

It can’t be because he’s taking your tax dollars away from repairing your infrastructure back home – schools, public transit, bridges, highways, airports, power grids, drinking water systems, etc., and pouring money into the bloated Pentagon budget beyond what even the Generals requested. (The huge “infrastructure project” he promised has yet to be proposed to Congress.)

It can’t be because he is soiling our society’s moral and ethical fabric and breaking the Golden Rule. (Trump is a peerless Oval Office bully, lashing out against the weak, powerless and defenseless.)

It can’t be because he is openly holding onto his business interests and enriching himself from foreign vendors in unconstitutional ways, violating the Emoluments Clause (cases challenging his personal gains while in office are now in federal court).

Maybe it is because he is expediently against a woman’s right to choose and common-sense gun regulation, selects corporatist judges, and keeps saying he loves his country (what politician doesn’t?).

President Trump’s words and deeds have not changed the minds of 40 percent of people polled. What else is going on here?

One answer is Slogan Voters. I’ve spoken to many people who are still for Trump despite all of his lies and misdeeds. They don’t pay much attention to politics. When they do, they reveal themselves as Slogan Voters. They are content with Trump’s rhetoric and rarely look beneath the surface at the details. That is, they are not bothered by being fact-deprived in political matters.

Here is what they tell me: They hate Hillary. They like Trump. They repeat the three slogans: Make America Great Again, Drain the Swamp, and Lock Her Up! Over and over again.

When I politely ask whether they are specifically aware of what Trump and his heads of departments and agencies are doing, they draw a blank. They explain that President Trump is shaking up Washington and draining the swamp. They believe that’s the reason why he generates such an uproar from the swamp-dwellers. In a bizarre way, the more outrageously false and nutty Trump’s tweets and actions are, the more these people feel that all the outrage is because he is draining the swamp and the swamp is lashing back at him.

Slogan Voters stress their belief in self-made men and women. They are often college-educated. They are not seen as bigots by their co-workers. They believe if you fail at something, it’s your own fault.

They agree there are bad things going on in government, but it’s not Trump’s fault. Their reaction to bad things that are openly, brazenly, and admittedly Trump’s fault – such as shutting down a consumer agency designed to stop Wall Street and the financial/credit industry from cheating you, crashing the economy, or crippling environmental health protections — is: It’s all part of draining the swamp.

Trump has become homeostatic — whatever goes around, comes around to his advantage for the Slogan Voters. Evidence against Trump is turned around to justify Trump. More than anyone else, Trump has understood this and fed these strange conclusions by inattentive minds.

What would the eminent philosopher of science, Aldous Huxley, think now? He said in 1927: “Facts do not cease to exist because they are ignored.” But they do for Trump and his Slogan Voters. He creates his own web of delusion, and his supporters say he is draining the swamp and making America great again.

It wouldn’t matter a whit were they to receive critical articles, books, DVDs, or even Trump’s own self-contradictory words and record through the years. Recall his boastful sugarcoating as his giant casinos went bankrupt while he profitably escaped their draining impacts on others (e.g. the employees and unpaid contractors he hired to build them).

Unless someone comes up with a secret key to awaken the minds of Trump’s Slogan Voters, the best response is to draw some of the more than 100 million eligible non-voters to the polls for the crucial November elections. There are far more than enough votes to surpass the choices of the Trump Slogan Voters for the Congressional races.

One thing you have to credit these Slogan Voters for: THEY VOTE!!

Yeah, “Making America Great Again, Drain the Swamp, and Lock Her Up!”​

Today’s Poor People’s Campaign: Too Important Not to Criticize

On the progressive website OpEdNews (OEN), I recently posted a QuickLink to an article published in Black Agenda Report by its managing editor Bruce Dixon. Seeking to get Dixon’s piece maximal attention, I titled my framing introduction to it “The Most Important Political Article in Ages.” Despite the appearance of advertising puffery, I was not exaggerating.

To grasp why I find Dixon’s timely piece so hefty, readers must understand my constant political perspective—as an activist analyst intensely focused on strategy and organizing. Like Karl Marx in his Theses on Feuerbach, I’m inclined to say, “The philosophers have only interpreted the world in various ways; the point is to change it.” If the world we desperately wish to change is the hellhole of U.S. politics, nothing remotely rivals in importance the current attempt to revive Martin Luther King’s Poor People’s Campaign (PPC).

But as we support that campaign, nothing is more crucial than keeping it true to the spirit—and depth of underlying political analysis—of Dr. King. Rightly conducted, today’s PPC could be (pun intended) just what the doctor ordered. This is why principled PPC critics like Dixon (who shares King’s race and radical socialist leanings, if not his religion) deserve our close and serious attention.

PPC’s Enormous Potential: To Lead Us from Our Political Desert

For a movement having, in King’s day and now, roots in U.S. black churches, religious allusions and metaphors are, of course, highly appropriate. So in saying today’s PPC could lead us out of our political desert, I am implying it could lead us into the Promised Land. Not, of course, that anyone acquainted with the nightmare of human history should expect the PPC to establish the millennium. But as a climate justice activist deeply influenced by Naomi Klein, I do think addressing humanity’s climate emergency will require a level of rapid-fire moral maturation unprecedented in human history. Our stark choice is between maturation and climate catastrophe, perhaps even between maturation and climate Armageddon. As a broad movement crying out for moral maturation—across an interrelated spectrum of issues including climate—today’s PPC is the closest approach anyone has made to a viable climate justice movement. It’s also the first movement—unlike Democrats’ pussy-hatted, Russophobic “McResistance”—offering a potentially deep response to the ghastly symptom of bipartisan disease known as Trump.

Provided, of course, today’s PPC attacks the bipartisan disease. Since doubts on that score are what I find most compelling in Dixon’s critique, I’ll say much more on that soon. But first I must dispose of the points—few but crucial—where I disagree with Dixon.

Religion and Morality: Where Dixon Seems Off Base

Any close reader of Dixon’s piece, and of my words so far, might have guessed (correctly) that my differences with him relate to religion and morality. Indeed, my previous section strongly hints that I’m comfortable with the PPC’s religious origins and morality-based language in ways that Dixon is not. In fact, I find in the PPC’s religious origins and moral language unique sources of effectiveness where Dixon sees only defects. But before elaborating on my two chief differences with Dixon, I wish to emphasize that they’re far outweighed by debt we owe him for his gutsiness in criticizing the PPC. I imagine that for many supporters, today’s PPC has already reached such iconic status that its critics must seem as perverse as detractors of Mom and apple pie would have seemed to characters in early 1960s sitcoms. Dixon honestly stuck his neck out for urgent public purposes, and even where his critiques seem mistaken, they’re hardly shallow or ill-willed, but instead rooted in realities clear-sighted people must acknowledge.

Now, anyone reading Dixon’s piece will instantly notice its snarky tone toward religion. As a frequent reader of Black Agenda Report (a black leftist publication, after all), I find this par for the course and hardly unjustified; how often, after all, has religion—especially U.S. Christianity—been used to buttress the powers that be? Or, in other words, to provide respectable support—even God’s sanction—for a ruthless capitalist or militarist establishment or even Nazis? Much more often, I’d venture, than it’s been used for the vastly more Christian purpose of “comforting the afflicted and afflicting the comfortable.”  And that’s above all true when the comfort and affliction were to be offered in this-worldly terms; religion’s notorious postponement of any reckoning to the afterlife, of course, underlies Marx’s famous jibe at religion as “the opiate of the masses“.

For those who know Marx’s context (see the link just provided), not even Marx is as purely hostile toward religion as he’s typically portrayed. But given humanity’s vastly improved capacity to alleviate human misery via science, technology, and democratic institutions—resources that didn’t exist when religions like Christianity were founded—no religious voice should now be trusted that hasn’t come to terms with Marx. Dixon’s snarkiness is totally appropriate to shallow religion, whereas the religion behind the PPC, in its vigilance about universal human sinfulness, is capable of critiquing shallow establishment religion in terms as scathing as anything found on the Marxist left. A fact driven home for me by recent readings in The Radical King and some works by prominent Protestant theologian Reinhold Niebuhr, a significant influence on King.  Given the scholar-activist backgrounds of Revs. William Barber and Liz Theoharis (Theoharis is actually on the faculty of Union Theological Seminary, Niebuhr’s long-time home), leadership of today’s PPC seems in good, uncompromising hands.

And no one cognizant of the role churches played in the civil rights movement, as well as earlier social movements like abolitionism and woman’s suffrage, should doubt their immense value as community bases for political organizing. This seems especially true in a society that increasingly isolates individuals, and where labor unions, formerly powerful resources for organizing, have been decimated by successful political attacks. Now embracing Unitarian Universalism, that least dogmatic of religious faiths, I personally can (from an organizing standpoint) only regret I hadn’t been “churched” in my incarnations as an anti-fracking, and later Bernie or Bust, organizer.  Belonging to a church gives one special access not only to members of one’s own church, but to interfaith political organizing—a powerful weapon wielded by today’s PPC.

To close (very willingly) my criticisms of Dixon, morality seems the area where he’s most off base. To berate the PPC for its emphasis on political issues as moral ones is probably to attack its greatest strength—a strength quite evident in King. Dixon rather amazingly overlooks the crucial role moral appeals played in eliminating such societal horrors as slavery, dueling, public torture, family vendettas, child labor—and in the civil rights movement itself. What’s more, he flies in the face of cognitive scientist George Lakoff’s important advice to liberals and progressives: that we need to start articulating the moral foundations of our political positions with the same dedication that conservatives, through their well-funded foundations and think tanks, have.

But even in his biggest misstep, Dixon is neither shallow nor ill-willed; his mistake is intertwined with valid, important concerns. On the one hand, Dixon contrasts the PPC’s insistence on morality with a class struggle analysis he (unsurprisingly for a leftist) rightly finds missing. In its efforts at broad-based coalition building, the PPC, which never hesitates to give moral criticism, is unduly chary of giving political criticism based on unjust imbalances of economic (and thereby, of political) power. A strange stance indeed for a movement seeking to eliminate poverty and racism—and a radical neglect of crucial insight from Niebuhr, who saw such unjust imbalances as brutal instances of collective immorality. Class and power balance issues are moral issues, and Niebuhr saw collective immorality as even more pernicious for societies than the individual kind.

Finally, even Dixon’s off-kilter criticism of PPC’s moral language veils an extremely valid related concern. When Dixon (mistakenly) says “labeling your political opponents, their leaders, their misguided values and their persons as ‘immoral’ is never a persuasive political tactic” (ignoring the numerous social evils defeated by precisely moral critiques), his words do suggest a totally legitimate concern about the targets of such critiques. The powerful are in a radically different position of responsibility from the powerless; almost needless to say, Trump supporters—generally victims of propaganda in a system that offers few valid choices (Clinton was hardly a good alternative)—bear considerably less moral responsibility than Trump and the staffers of his thuggish regime. In politics, we should always fire our moral weaponry at the powerful; the powerless, rather like bystanders of armed conflict, should be left to infer the implications of associating closely with parties rightly under moral assault. Creating shame by proxy, without the resentment provoked by personal blame, is the needed moral tactic.

Democrats, Russiagate, and Third-Party Voices: What Dixon Gets Crucially Right

Given the great value I find in Dixon’s courageous article, I regret the amount of space I had to use for specifying my criticisms; if anything, that was because I had to disentangle even his weaknesses from intimately related strengths. Praising his unalloyed merits is a much more gratifying task.

Now, in splitting claims of merit between the PPC and Dixon, I’m inclined to say the PPC (as a movement with religious roots making moral criticisms) has a better toolkit for doing the needed political job than Dixon actually realizes. But on the existing evidence, I’d credit Dixon with a better understanding of what the job actually is. So I’d strongly urge the PPC to enlist Dixon (or someone with a similar perspective) as an adviser on its project, lest it botch that project by misapplying its powerful tools—or failing to use others it may need.

Setting tool and job metaphors aside, the existing evidence suggests Dixon’s diagnosis of our political woes is nearly identical to mine: the deep corruption, by plutocratic and militarist interests, of both parties in a structurally two-party system, with Republicans as the more straightforwardly extremist party and Democrats as their insincere, ineffective, and, in fact, enabling “opposition.” If it’s true, as Noam Chomsky states, that U.S. Republicans are “the most dangerous organization in human history“, it’s likewise true that Democrats like it that way, for only contrast with such a vile party could justify to voters corruption as deep as Democrats’ own. Dixon obviously prefers the Green Party to either (as do I), and if we face simple facts, Greens are almost infinitely closer to Dr. King’s values—and almost infinitely more willing to fight the PPC’s “four evils”—than either party with a prospect of actually holding power. Finally, any accurate diagnosis of our political woes must acknowledge that both major parties use every dirty trick in the book to keep intraparty reformers, let alone reformist third parties, from ever gaining power; and that both command vast media resources, likewise corrupted by plutocratic and militarist interests, that serve as propaganda organs to keep legitimate criticisms and political issues inconvenient to both parties from ever being aired.

While the PPC is quite willing to denounce the vile moral consequences stemming from this diagnosis—and to use civil disobedience to spread the message that those consequences are intolerable—they seem utterly unwilling to spread (by civil disobedience or any other means) the message of the underlying diagnosis.

If my political instincts (and Dixon’s) are correct, the PPC’s denouncing of the consequences of the diagnosis—without daring to pronounce the diagnosis itself—risks reducing the PPC to the role of ineffectual moral scolds, no matter how much civil disobedience they engage in. Why this is so is tellingly explained in terms of one of Dixon’s most spot-on criticisms: the PPC’s unlikelihood ever to denounce Democrats’ pernicious Russiagate narrative.

Taking matters at face value, the PPC would have more stake than anyone in being skeptical of Russiagate. After all, if Russia really is a dangerous enemy hellbent on destroying U.S. democracy, a considerable portion of U.S. military expenditure—such as updating our nuclear arsenal—is fully justified. Ditto for whatever vast new expenditures are required to ward off Russian cyberattacks. And since nuclear weapons are unusable (having value only as deterrence), countering Russian global aggression will likewise require vast spending on conventional defense. So, accepting the premise that Russia is our determined enemy means kissing goodbye to the domestic spending required for the PPC’s cherished aims, such as fighting poverty or rebuilding our infrastructure to address climate change. And speaking of addressing climate change, we can likewise kiss goodbye to cooperation with Russia—a petrostate whose close collaboration we desperately need—in arresting climate catastrophe.  And beyond all this, the clampdown on civil liberties that comes with an active state of war merits mentioning; in a wartime state, the civil liberties of a dissenting movement advocating peace (like the PPC) are most apt to be curtailed.

All in all, a pretty chilling blow to the PPC’s aspirations. Unless Russiagate is the overblown hysteria narrative—the self-serving Democratic propaganda narrative—Bruce Dixon and numerous other principled progressives are virtually certain it is. It’s curious—to say the least—that the PPC doesn’t amplify their voices (as only a movement can) in denouncing a narrative that thwarts its every aim.

But for fear of offending its Democratic Party supporters, the PPC seems content to let stand Democratic propaganda narratives—lies of fact or omission—that sabotage its own noble aims.  So again, Dixon is totally justified in criticizing the PPC for accepting Greens and other left-of-Democrats progressives in its ranks provided they’re kept off stage and placed under a gag order about uttering certain “inconvenient truths.” Like, say, that Green Party principles and policies are infinitely closer to Dr. King’s than those of Democrats. Or, say, that the Democratic National Committee defended its right to rig primaries in court and has subsequently shown its determination to continue suppressing party progressives (see here and here).

Perhaps, ultimately, the PPC shares Chomsky’s view of Republicans as “the most dangerous organization in human history” and fears telling the ugly truth about Democrats will cause the election of Republicans.  But can’t a disciplined, tightly knit movement simultaneously tell the truth about Democrats while imposing the view that Republicans are worse and are under no circumstances to be voted for? I think of Adolph Reed’s “support” for Hillary Clinton in his superb piece “Vote for the Lying Neoliberal Warmonger: It’s Important”; this piece seems especially appropriate, since “lying neoliberal warmonger” seems to fit Democrats’ controlling leadership and not just Hillary Clinton. Thus portraying the Democratic Party seems much better preparation for practicing civil disobedience against—or issuing ultimatums to—corrupt Democrats the PPC had elected for purely defensive reasons. Like, say, the ultimatum of having its vast membership work to build the Green Party for 2020 if Democrats don’t seize the chance to shape up the PPC offered them in 2018.

If the PPC refuses to use its movement bully pulpit to tell hard truths about Democrats, Dixon’s words about its “lack of any political endgame” will prove prophetic: what good does it do to “vote like never before” when there’s no candidate in either major party worth voting for?

The Housing Crisis Is a Feminist Crisis That Democrats Need To Hear

Image via Boston Globe by John Tlumacki

Every election year, Democratic candidates download the latest changes to the Democratic Party platform. They usually make sure to hit refresh on the Wikipedia page for feminism and check for new developments.

It’s a miracle, with an unapologetic sexual assaulter in the White House, that reproductive health and the gender pay gap are getting any airtime at all. For statisticians and pundits, support for these issues is the best way to make a back of the envelope calculation of odds.

If you follow political punditry, you’d think Americans were split on Roe v. Wade. The fact is, only a quarter of Americans support rolling it back. For perspective, the anti-vaxxer movement has about as much support. The truth is that most Americans are in favor of social equity and access to basic social services.

As it stands, women still make 70% of what men do. Women are more often bound with being the sole breadwinner of single-parent households. Women often have more debt and lower credit scores than men. Women are also the fastest growing section of the homeless population.

Every potential obstacle for having a roof over your head is in the way for women.

Given that Democratic political candidates want to show their support for social justice, feminist, and lower-income issues, you’d think they would commit to ending the housing crisis. With a ratio of six-to-one between the number of vacant homes (18 million) and homeless Americans (3 million), you’d think they’d want to close the gap.

Housing, displacement, and gentrification should be stronger feminist issues injected into the Democratic party platform, as they affect the most dependable Democratic voters, women of color, first. This could bring new life and new energy to the platform.

The Wealth Gap Isn’t Closing

So long as women make 70% of what men make, while paying 100% of housing costs, the wealth gap between men and women will persist.

Women are also saddled with two-thirds of the student debt in the U.S. While women make up a few percentage points more of the college population than men, they are far less likely to get a high-paying job without a college degree or to inherit a family business.

Women also pay more in healthcare costs, paying an average of 30% more than men do. Just staying alive is more expensive for women.

Even high earners and entrepreneurs face a obstacles to affordability. With just 16% of business loans being given to women, companies owned by women face a glass ceiling when it comes to growth.

The Parenting Gap Is Real

In New York and California, where the minimum wage is headed toward $15 an hour, women are required to work two jobs to afford adequate housing. The cost of a two-bedroom apartment for a parent and their children in these states is around $26 an hour. The simple dignity of privacy after being a dedicated and productive contributor to the economy is denied to many women.

There are social expectations for women to take responsibility in the event that the family is a single-parent household. When men are tasked with single parenthood, they’re deeply lauded and appreciated in ways that single mothers aren’t.

Single mothers are often perceived as defective and plagued by problems they’ve somehow caused on their own. Single fathers are perceived as strong, emotionally complex, and courageous more often than single mothers are. Meanwhile, single mothers account for over 70% of all single-parent households.

Homelessness Is Increasing For Women

Unemployment numbers don’t tell a complete story. Unemployment is down as people need to take 2-3 part-time jobs just to get by. Single women and families with children form 50% of the homeless population and their numbers are growing, even though many of them have employment.

While elected officials propose small concessions and programs to act as a band-aid, they simply don’t solve the issue.  Homeless advocates are constantly struggling with elected officials who tell citizens to help the homeless by calling police, public safety, 311, 911, or an endless list of 800 numbers.

This reveals how abstract our understanding of housing insecurity is. People will sometimes endure homelessness as a way to escape an abusive parent or partner. If their abusers are in the local shelter system, elected officials are offering a thoughtless solution that fails to address both chronic homelessness and chronic abuse.

Another problem in the relationship elected officials have to housing insecurity is in the scapegoating of the mental health crisis. Plenty of people with mental health issues have homes. However, living with housing insecurity can cause all kinds of untold damage to the psyche.

And Yet Women Are Still Voting

Elected Democrats continue to stand on banal feminist platforms and telegraph their support for the right to choose and closing the gender pay gap. After decades of denying these rights or the visibility for these causes, this feels like progress.

Cynics could say that these changes could be attested to by the fact that more women vote than men. Others could say that Democrats are waking up to the fact that their most dependable demographic is women. However, given that in 2016 an infamous misogynist got the majority of votes from white women, Democrats can’t rely on women as an unspecific monolith.

Democrats are losing voters as you go up the income bracket, with people making more than $50,000 a year dropping off precipitously. This has been hard for Democrats to face, as they’ve enjoyed funding from the real estate and financial services industries. Angling for the people who are voting for them most dependably would win elections but require a disruption to the fundraising that pundits tie to a candidate’s ability to win.

So Where Do The Democrats Turn?

The people who you’d think would be too busy to vote, working single mothers who might have to work two jobs on a Tuesday, are showing up for Democrats. Why aren’t they showing up for women, especially their most loyal voting block, black women?

Just as the DNC ignored the “flyover” states in the 2016 presidential election, just as the assumed conservativism of the south is being turned on its head, the future of the Democratic party can’t survive on the steam built up by the current Democratic establishment. Democratic voters want new issues, an inspiring platform, and something more than just a team to root for.

We should push that our Democratic platform includes intersectional feminist principles that feature housing prominently. We must then demand that Democrats start putting those principles in practices.

As the 2016 presidential election proved, Democrats can’t and shouldn’t count on anyone to turn out. That’s all the more reason to work to earn our trust. So long as they withhold progress on this front, we should withhold our endorsement of their platforms.

Democrats Confirm Torturer As Director Of CIA

How did a person who should be in the criminal dock both in the US and in the International Criminal Court for running a torture prison get appointed the Director of the US Central Intelligence Agency? What is all the Washington talk about defending human rights when a torturer is put in charge of covert operations?

Slobodan Milošević, the Serbia leader who tried to defend his country from Washington’s aggression, was sent by Washington to the war crimes tribunal or some such place that only tries victims of Washington’s aggression. He died in prison, some say he was murdered by Washington. The court ended up clearing him of the faked American charges. But little good that did a dead man.

But now Washington has a real criminal, a real person who has committed without any doubt “crimes against humanity” confirmed by the US Senate as CIA director. That tells us a lot about the hypocrisy, double standards, and utter mendacity of the government in Washington.

As some Republicans voted against the torturer in chief, it was the Democrats that put a torturer at the head of the CIA.

Listen to their excuses:

West Virginia’s Joe Manchin said: Haspel prioritizes the safety of America. She is “an unbelievable public servant.”

North Dakota’s Heidi Heitkamp said that Trump had picked the directer best suited to the job. Heidi said she would make sure that Congress conducts oversight of Haspel’s job, an ambivilent statement if the job is torture, which seems to be enshrined in US practices.

Indiana’s Senator Joe Donnelly said that he believed Haspel “has learned from the past, and that the CIA under her leadership can help our country confront serious international threats and challenges.”

What threats? What challenges? This is bla-bla talk. Think about it for a minute. Imagine a criminal before the judge saying “I have learned from my past crimes and am now fit to be an upstanding citizen who can help our country.”

Florida’s Bill Nelson covered his collapse as a moral person by meeting with Haspel personally and arriving at the conclusion that she was fit to serve.

According to Newsweek these four US Democratic senators face tough re-elections and voted to clear Haspel in order to appease the Trump deplorables. In other words, these four senators think that the deplorables, who voted for Trump because he said he was for peace in Syria and with Russia and was against the US being policeman of the world, want to have a torturer confirmed as CIA director. The Democrats voted for a torturer because they are afraid of Trump voters. If Trump voters want a torturer in office, the senators would be honor bound to stand up to the Trump voters.

Senator Jeanne Shaheen (D, NH) said that she believes Haspel that she won’t torture again. “Your honor,” said the murderer in the dock, “I promise I won’t murder again. Just give me this plumb appointment as chief of police.”

Virginia’s Mark Warner, vice chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, put Haspel in the job with his assurance that she would stand up to Trump if he ordered her to torture. In other words, Warner associates Trump with torture, not Haspel who has actually tortured.

Please, let us not hear again about America liberating other nations and defending human rights, or having a moral conscience, or being a light unto the world.

The Sleep of Civilization

Wealth maketh many friends; but the poor is separated from his neighbour.
— Proverbs 19:4″

James “Mad Dog” Mattis spoke this week, at a pentagon press briefing, saying, among other things, that it was a time for all civilized nations to unite. The use of this trope ‘civilized’ echoes colonial sensibility. It is part of general shifting of meaning in the rhetoric of Empire over the last, say, 80 years.

Never mind that the occasion of this speech, as seems increasingly the norm, was based on mostly propaganda. No evidence for a chemical attack was actually provided. Just as the evidence in the Skripal (attempted) murder (sic) is conspicuously lacking.

This is a time when war criminals (unprosecuted, of course) can simply count on the utter amnesia of both the public and the quisling western press.

So let’s go back and check a few boxes on Mattis. This is the man who oversaw the war crimes of Fallujah and then helped cover them up. One can read about it here

So how is it that Mattis can so confidently count on the silence and complicity of the corporate press? Mattis is no doubt sociopathic. He is a lizard eyed lisping sadist and yet he is fawned over and described as the ‘the most revered Marine in a generation’ by the same prostrate press. The adoration of the military in western media is at an all time high. And entertainment today is laden with the most jingoistic and nativist rhetoric imaginable. Hollywood today produces fiction that is uniform in its opinions and values. Watch this season of Designated Survivor. I know that is asking a lot, but do it anyway. Kiefer Sutherland is one of those actors who in middle age has begun to take on the tight lipped appearance of an aggrieved or constipated Quaker. The show is so stunningly reactionary that one finds some difficulty in arriving at the right words. But it is not an anomaly. Half of network prime time drama is military-based in theme. And today Hollywood staff writers can count on CIA or Pentagon “advisors” taking an active part in the creation of scripts. The blurring of fiction and Imperial fiction, as it were. There are ongoing themes in this Sutherland show about Russian interference in US democracy and most recently a story built around a tiny Asian nation with an insane dictatorial leader who wants nuclear weapons. The depictions of the Asian characters is only slightly less cartoon like than Charlie Chan. And always there are the requisite evil Muslim terrorist.

But back to the disturbing figure of Jim Mattis. His call sign is “chaos”. He is reported to be worth in the neighborhood of five million dollars. This is an absurd low ball figure, but whatever. He is a graduate of Central Washington U. and something called the National Defense University. A quick iinternet search reveals this is a special educational institution on the grounds of Fort Leslie in DC and chartered by the Joint Chiefs. One does wonder what a typical class at NDU looks like.

As for the “pacification” of Fallujah. Brett Wilkins wrote…

According to witnesses and survivors of the assault, Marines indiscriminately killed men, women, children, the elderly and disabled alike. Civilians waving white flags of surrender were cut down by snipers, who also targeted ambulances carrying the wounded and dying to the few functioning clinics not destroyed by US bombs. “I see people carrying a white flag and yelling at us, saying, ‘We are here, just try to save us,’ but we could not save them because whenever we opened the ambulance door, the Americans would shoot at us,” Dr. Salam Ismael, head of Iraq’s young doctors association, told American investigative reporter Aaron Glantz, who covered the battle as an unembedded journalist. “We tried to carry food or water; the snipers shoot the containers of food.

No civilizational norms violated there. Nope. Mattis also was the man who had all charges dropped against the soldiers that took part in the rampage at Haditha. Civilians shot point blank, often women and children, and the elderly — in their homes.  Callsign “Chaos”.

Gary Kohls, MD, writing at Veterans Today….

Several of the PEOTUS’ cabinet appointees are high-ranking “lifer” military officers who have an innate disdain for democratic values (as would be expected for anybody whose career has been lived in the bubble of a hierarchical culture whose main junk values are 1) shoot first/ask questions later and 2) the use of dominative power over “enemies” via military violence.

Kohls was primarily writing about Jim Mattis. But honestly, even a cursory examination of ANY four star General will yield similar biographical facts and similar personality disorders. You don’t rise through military ranks without a core ruthlessness, and an innate sadism.
After the bombing of a wedding party in the Iraq desert, Mattis is quoted as saying…

Ten miles from the Syrian border and 80 miles from the nearest city and a wedding party? Don’t be naïve. Plus they had 30 males of military age with them. How many people go to the middle of the desert to have a wedding party?

The rank Orientalism of this comment, the arrogant indifference to the history and culture of Islam, to the Arab world in general, is also the hallmark of the successful military commander. Kill em all and let God sort it out. Of course, at the time of his nomination the NY Times published an op ed whose headline identified Mattis as a “pontential force for restraint”. That crazy old paper of record. And Mattis is routinely described as an intellectual, a ‘warrior monk’, and yet he doesn’t know anything of nomadic desert societies and culture. He didn’t even consider there might be a cultural gap here, or consider he might need to check alternative readings of the Muslim world, ones not provided for by that steller education at National Defense U. Mattis is not an intellectual, not even by the standards of that warped sub phylum of humanity that is the military.

The media coverage of Syria, in the UK and US, is blatantly biased and pro intervention. The fact that FOX news reactionary Tucker Carlson is the sanest voice in mainstream media is very telling. Carlson hasn’t “woke”…. he just saw a niche demographic that might boost his ratings. Still…he was, in fact, correct.

Danny Haiphong wrote

Tucker Carlson understands that he must appeal primarily to Republican voters weary of US interventions they see as products of Democratic Party-led wars even if establishment Republicans are no less hawkish than Democrats. Meanwhile, Goodman and her funders have subtly aligned with the Democrats as the new leaders of the War Party. War is the only tool at the disposal of imperialism, and there isn’t a single voice in Washington or the “liberal” media unwilling to use it.

Under these conditions, infantile leftists and faux socialists in the Democratic Party camp have felt compelled to choose a side in the imperial madhouse. They claim that Democrats are “Presidential” while Putin and Assad are villains of humanity. No criticism is thrown at the Democratic Party, which sent a delegation led by Nancy Pelosi to Israel just days prior to the planned gun down of Palestinian resistance forces in Gaza. It doesn’t seem to matter how many Syrians or Palestinians are killed by the forces of imperialism when the so-called left is under the swoon of the CIA. So-called US leftists have caught anti-Putin fever at the expense of all other political questions.

This includes the murder of Black people by the police in the US. Barely any attention was paid in the US to the murders of Stephon Clark and Saheed Vassell over the last few weeks. Only community members and the usual left organizations made any noise about these state-sanctioned murders. The same goes for Israel’s wonton massacre of participants in Gaza’s Great March for Return. In the absence of a mass movement, people in the US and West are becoming mere onlookers in a changing a world.

This last few months has revealed as never before both the callous cruelty of the ruling class in the U.S. and UK, but also the degrading of education … for lack of a better description. At the UN, British envoy Karen Pierce, mistakenly thought Karl Marx was a Russian. In a prank phone call Nikki Haley, the US ambassador to the UN, thought there was a country called Binimo. And Trump himself noted something or other about an imaginary African country called Nambia. Boris Johnson began an extemporaneous recitation of a Kipling poem (Road to Mandalay) in a temple in Myanmar. And then was told it was inappropriate by an aid, trying to save him further embarrassment, and STILL Johnson didn’t understand.

All of these examples are not mere gaffes, amusing mistakes, but rather a general indifference to the cultures of the world, in fact, an indifference to the world beyond their own small corner of it. Indifferent and hostile. Remember when George Bush, now in full rehabilitation mode by his media handlers, mocked Karla Faye Tucker, on death row, who was begging for her life. That is exactly the cruelty one sees across the board in the leaders of the West today. One wonders does Mattis or Bush or Bolton think the use of Agent Orange transgressed civilizational norms? Did Hiroshima?

What strikes me most acutely, these last few months, is the extraordinary cultural chauvinism of the U.S., or rather mostly of white U.S., as well as an institutionalized orientalism. Most White Americans, as a general statement, think they are better than the rest of the world. And most Americans have scant knowledge about the rest of the world. So the belief in cultural (and moral) superiority is based on what? The answer is not simple, but as a general sort of response, this trust in “our” superiority is built on violence. On an ability to be effectively violent. Most British, too, think they are superior to those ‘wogs’ south of their emerald isle. But since the setting of the sun on Empire, ‘officially’, the British hold to both a sense of superiority and a deep panic inducing sense of inferiority — at least to their American cousins. They are still better than those fucking cheese eating frogs or the krauts or whoever, but they accept that the U.S. is the sort of heavyweight champ of the moment. Meanwhile, the tragic and criminal fire at Grenfell Towers in London elicited a public discourse that perfectly reflected the class inequality of the UK, but also reflected, again, the colonialist mentality of the ruling party and their constituency.

Stephen Brenner wrote of the fire and the government response to it..

There is Sir Martin Moore-Bick,** the former High Court Judge, who has been appointed by May to head a board of inquiry. Fears of a protracted inquiry producing an anodyne report were aroused when Moore-Bick went out of his way to declare that the scope of the investigation would be severely limited to determining the immediate cause of the fire and why it spread so rapidly. Answers to both questions already are known. The Sir Inquisitor-to-be has given the game away in adding that “I do not expect everyone to be pleased by the conclusion of the inquiry” – yet to begin. Moore-Bick’s unprompted utterance shows just how pervasive is the Americanization of British political culture. Unnecessary, embarrassing ejaculations like this have become impulsive – defying the dictates of prudent restraint. No one is confused as to who the “everyone” he has in mind refers to. An impression reinforced by the denial of the residents’ right to ask questions in person as to the scope and form of the inquiry. The only open question is the exact tint that the whitewash will take (stitch-up in British dialect). The first testimony will not be heard until mid-September when panel members, as yet unnamed, get back from their holidays.

Graham Peebles adds

Grenfell Tower forms part of the Lancaster Road West Estate in Notting Hill Gate. An area that, like many other parts of the capital, has been subjected to a gentrification assault accompanied by systematic social cleansing that goes back decades and has intensified over the last 10 –15 years. In addition, the Grenfell affair demonstrates that the United States is not alone in its tolerance for actions that should be a national disgrace but are slighted by a political class incapable of feeling shame. The callous, off-hand treatment given the Grenfell victims is reminiscent of how colonial administrators dealt with expendable natives. If a proper criminal process were undertaken, a reasonable verdict would be Involuntary Manslaughter.

But that is exactly it. The colonial template is one etched in acid in the collective imagination of the West. At least the English speaking West. Expendable natives…which is what Jim Mattis sees everywhere that he dumps depleted Unranium and Willy Pete. It is what Madelaine Albright saw in Iraq or Hillary Clinton in Libya or Barack Obama in Sudan, Yemen, and…well… four or five other countries. It is what most U.S. police departments see in neighborhoods ravaged by poverty. As in those old Tarzan films, when the sound of drums is heard, the pith helmeted white man notes…”the natives are restless tonight”. When one discusses Syria, the most acute topic this week, remember that for Mad Dog and Boss Trump, or for the loopy John Bolton, these are just natives in need of pacification. Giving money to ISIS or Daesh, or whoever, as a cynical expression of colonial real politik, is nothing out of the ordinary. It is what the UK and US have done for a long while. It’s Ramar of Jungle handing out beads to the *natives*.

Domestically, take the example of Flint, Michigan. At the drinking water. When the unelected state appointed emergency manager switched from the Detroit River to the Flint River to supply water to the residents of Flint, the result was a spike in all diseases of insanitation. Everyone knew this was going to happen. The General Motors plant had stopped using Flint River water because it was corrosive to the auto parts they were manufacturing. But poor black kids, who cares. The U.S. has a long history of such stuff, from Love Canal, New York, to the chemical dump in the Elk River in West Virginia. You will notice a theme here. It is class. You don’t find ash spills like what happened near the Emery River in Tennessee occurring in Mill Valley or Scarsdale or Bel Air. Inflicting suffering on the poor is perfectly acceptable to the ruling class. To them, privilege is a sign of superiority. And the less deserving are only there to serve.

The problem with the current wave of propaganda from western sources is that very little, if any, evidence is given. The term ‘very likely’ is much in vogue, probably because it leaves such a huge ‘walk it back’ escape route. Except there is less and less effort to even bother. In one sense the solidification of class power came out of neoliberal policies in the 1970s. The top 1% (really, the top half of one percent) increased their wealth dramatically, with the same occurring in the UK. Clinton pushed these principles even further and then Bush and Blair further still. We are now living the dream of the Washington Consensus economists. And it worth noting the founding statement of Hayak’s Mt. Pelerin Society, in 1947. For Hayak was the godfather of neoliberalism and Milton Freidman his heir.

The central values of civilization are in danger. Over large stretches of the earth’s surface the essential conditions of human dignity and freedom have already disappeared.

There is that word again. Of course, this was really only justification for the 1% to expand the reach of Western capital. To exploit labor and extract resources. And when recalcitrant countries did not submit quickly enough, the CIA was always available (ask Iran, or Chile, or Angola. The latter more of a symbolic lesson for those uppity nations even thinking about not following orders. It also marked open U.S. cooperation with apartheid South Africa. And in opposition to the troops Castro sent to assist the MPLA opposition to the ruthless US supported Jonas Savimbi). This restoration of ruling class power, though, was and is always looking over its shoulder. For the reality is that such profound inequality means life becomes unsustainable, even for the top 0.1% is repressed. And such repression takes effort. And that effort is giving birth to the madness one sees today. From Grenfell Tower to Flint Michigan, to Gaza or Libya or Syria — the principles driving the violence are the same. And it matters not if the urbane and articulate Obama is President, or if the troglodyte Trump, if it is Blair or May, for they are only reciting from a small financial Catechism of financial laws, and these laws are breaking down in the face of environmental degradation and an inequality so extreme that its almost impervious to calculation. They are only the voice of their class.

This idea of civilized man has come to be an almost code-word for class hierarchy. The violence against Palestinians is simply inseparable from the violence that killed Stephon Clark. The violence that makes children sick in Michigan is the same one that causes oil spills or disasters such as the Lac-Mégantic train crash near Quebec, Canada. And, it is the same bigoted smug confidence of bourgeoise identity political thinking. The one that demands Islam rid itself of veils, or that ridicules ANY thinking or practice divergent from Western norms. You cannot expect the system to produce change if the system is based on punishing change. The status quo must be protected. For the ownership class world poverty is mostly the fault of the poor.

The admission that neoliberalism has failed in terms of its announced goals has forced its proponents to a tactical retreat—defending the broad thrust of the neoliberal policy agenda under cover of “reform.” The result is an augmented Washington Consensus that blames client states and not international institutions or transnational capital for the failures of neoliberalism. It is the poor who are expected to make still further adjustments along neoliberal lines. From this point of view, what comes after neoliberalism must be more neoliberalism.

— William K. Tabb, “After Neoliberalism“, Monthly Review, June 1, 2003.

This idea of civilizational norms is connected to a deeply rooted assumption about the virtue of Democracy. Israel is described as Democratic but Cuba is not, for example. The reality, of course, is that the CIA and US ruling class spend most of their energy in deterring democracy (to quote Chomsky).

Any real discussion of democracy needs to be extended beyond the undemocratic nature of the global economic institutions to a larger discussion of democracy, one that goes beyond whether votes are counted fairly, opposition candidates allowed to participate on an equal basis, and the voices of ordinary people heard by their elected leaders. Democracy needs finally to be discussed in relation to class rule in capitalist societies.

— William T. Kabb, “After Neoliberalism“, Monthly Review, June 1, 2003.

As Samir Amin pointed out, the “international community” (the G7 plus that bastion of democracy, Saudi Arabia) is utterly unconcerned with the opinions of 85% of the world’s population. So, both on a political/economic level, and on a cultural level, the Imperialist U.S. sees it as an innate right to decide the policies of the global south. It is anti democratic. The ruling class sees the right to enforce inequality as something of a Natural law. The anti Russian propaganda was born when Putin refused to sign off on the Nazi putsch in Ukraine. The US/Japan/NATO alliance is one that demands both economic submission and increasingly a cultural submission as well. And any rejection of this means a military forced submission. Democracy has come to be a shorthand for submission to neo-liberal economic policy dictated by Washington. Freedom is what happens after *we* destroy your country.

That Mattis or May or various other servants of Empire can talk of civilzational norms with a straight face is actually pretty remarkable. The list of crimes is so extensive that one barely knows where to begin. We could ask about Gary Webb and cocaine and the CIA. Or about the School of the Americas, or My Lai or the siege at Waco. Or….but I feel this stuff really should be well known by now. I am more concerned in a sense with the small cultural appropriations and the gestures of an Orientalist sensibility that I see almost daily in western media. And the growing anti-semitism which one finds even on the left. And the seemingly intractable racism of white America. I just stop having the ability to keep track of it all.

How can the white bourgeoisie demand adherence to their values with such tenacity? Do they really see themselves as somehow representative of some ideal? Tolerance means only adherence to their worldview. To their values. It is this nattering about ecological issues while never questioning the US military machine. But these refrains seem to stick in the collective consciousness of the west…”gas your own people” is one. As if gassing someone else were less objectionable. It is a media universe of entrenched meaningless slogans. It always reminds me of the outcry about steroid abuse. Maybe ask why big Pharma manufacture so many steroids. The medical uses for which are very limited. But no, it is easier to punish this or that athlete who in their desperation is looking for an edge, a way to reach that economic pinnacle so few reach. But question Eli Lilly? Never.

The ruling class has always made money, always been ruthless, but again, the 1970s marked the solidification of systematic plunder, a cohesive and seamless river of money upwards. And enforced by the CIA. One should not forget that the CIA was founded by rich white ruling class scions of banking and finance. Allan Dullus, straight out of Wall Street, William Simon, Richard Mellon Scaife, Frank Shakespeare, and Bill Donovan. I mean the CIA calls itself “the Company”…bit of a tip off, that. If one struggles to grasp foreign policy decisions, always look at US business interests in the region. Remember these are ruthless people (MK ULTRA, Operation Mockingbird, etc). And the media was always part of this. The Graham family of Washington Post fame were directly linked to the CIA. William Paley, Henry Luce, Arthur Hays Sulzberger, and hundreds other are all intimate with the CIA. And it is no different now. It was the Clinton cartel that spent inordinate energy and time infiltrating Hollywood. The result is House of Cards, Homeland, Designated Survivor, and all the countless rest. Uniformity of message. Uniformity of values.

I do wonder at times the role of Evangelical Christianity as it runs smack into the Catholic stake-outs in the corridors of power. Perhaps they cooperate, I don’t know. Religion is second to money, anyway. And then there is the role of Israel, that anti democratic neo colonial apartheid state in the Middle East. The ascension of the settler fanatic mirrors the ascension of Dominionists in the current US government. Fanatical zealots. Intolerant and profoundly ignorant of most things outside of their narrow set of concerns. And again, anti democratic. Israel serves the U.S. ruling class, not the other way round. There is no global Jewish plot as I keep reading in social media. The feeding of this bit of classic antisemitism is probably sourced by Israel itself. Nothing serves their PR better than spikes in antisemitism. But Israel is, for sure, more powerful than ever before. More influential.

There is, best case scenario, a new Cold War in place. Worst case scenario, well, doesn’t matter. The real danger is the generalized ignorance now on display. Ruthless and sadistic one can predict, but irrational zealotry and stupidity…that is harder to deal with. And this is for certain the Age of Stupid. As for civilization, I’m coming to think we might well do fine without it.

Tribalism, Reason, and the Challenges Raised by Global Neoliberal Capitalism

This is not an ordinary review or even rehash of George Orwell’s 1945 essay, “Notes on Nationalism.” Rather, it is a reflection on and attempt to expand and re-contextualize the ideas expressed there with comments directly relevant to 2018. Orwell’s main points—the varied and ubiquitous nature of irrational groupisms (which he calls “nationalism”) and how they distorted judgment in the context of 1945—serve less as a direct focus than as a springboard to related considerations.

First, I do not use “nationalism” in the broad sense Orwell does. In its place I use the less-specific “tribalism”. Merriam-Webster defines this as “strong in-group loyalty”; its negative characteristic, extreme Othering, or strong out-group aversion, deserves emphasis. Of course, disparaging “nationalism,” or using it to stand in for other contemptible groupisms (as Orwell did) in 1945, can hardly be second-guessed.

Nationalism had to that point certainly demonstrated its capacity as a powerful and destructive form of tribalism—often with an attendant strong out-group aversion. It deserved, and deserves, condemnation for its irrationality and monumental crimes. However, it also deserves criticism for its modernist derivation—or, for what it says about modernism, for the lows to which modernism could be taken in the formation of irrationalist elitist-serving, and, in crucial ways, anti-modern political innovations. (This is one sense in which some postmodernists are right: the successes of irrationalism in the modern era, not its overcoming, is a core problem of the current world, despite the often interested, black-and-white simplifications to the contrary by really existing modernists.)

I will address one “nationalism” (or tribalism) discussed by Orwell, “color feeling,” (without prejudice regarding the other forms he mentioned, which other writers might find entirely worthy of comment) because it relates directly to contemporary political tribalisms collectively known as identity politics, which is problematic and contributes to the politics of the moment across the West. Other than that, I will follow the Orwell’s main idea in my own direction. A consideration of Otto Neurath’s (and Ben Franklin’s) take on rationality (always pertinent to tribalism and Othering) follows the comments on “color feeling.” Then, I take up a related look at the origins of black-and-white thinking. And finally, I will turn to the recent revival of nationalism (of a sort Orwell might have given some positive account); how it relates to what are called globalization and neoliberalism; and the seemingly odd alliance of Democrats and neoconservatives against a version of such nationalism in the US.

Mr. Orwell—writing principally, of course, about the English—calls “color feeling” an altered form of “the old-style contemptuous attitude towards ‘natives’,” putting “a belief in the innate superiority of the colored races” in place of a similar, older belief about one’s own group. Orwell said this attitude of “transferred nationalism” (in this case, reversed but fundamentally unchanged tribalism) “probably resulted more from masochism and sexual frustration than from contact with” what Orwell refers to archaically as “Oriental and Negro nationalist movements”—a reasonable judgment about the sometimes romantic portrayals of Third World national liberation movements during the Cold War.

In Frantz Fanon’s 1952 book, Black Skin, White Masks, the Antillean revolutionary echoes Orwell, expressing nothing short of contempt for the line of reasoning Orwell called ‘color feeling’. Rather than tribalism and ‘color feeling’, Fanon said the purpose of the politics he envisioned entailed “nothing less than to liberate the black man from himself.”1 He derided then-novel forms of tribalism taken up by others, purportedly with the needs of Third Worlders foremost in their minds. Using as an example “former governors or missionaries,” Fanon said “an individual who loves Blacks is as ‘sick’ as someone who abhors them.” His focus was on liberation, not veneration. Toward the end of the book, Fanon took another shot at the sort of thinking that goes under the title left-wing identity politics today (leading with a passage from Marx’s Eighteenth Brumaire about the uselessness of “poetry from the past”): “The discovery that a black civilization existed in the fifteenth century does not earn me a certificate of humanity.” And Fanon’s liberatory thinking extended to everyone. “There is no white world; there is no white ethic—any more than there is a white intelligence. There are from one end of the world to the other men who are searching.” He wanted, as he invited others to seek for themselves with him, to invent himself into the future, not to seek his identity in the past. He considered this very much part of both individual and collective liberation. The importance of these passages, and of Orwell’s comments, are to be found in consideration of the sort of racialized thinking, tribalist thinking, bubbling up today on both the left and right, one feeding off the other.

What Orwell derided in 1945, and Fanon in 1952, modern left-wing identity politics embraces enthusiastically. I say left-wing identity politics to distinguish it from right-wing identity politics, which are often expressed in terms of traditional forms of nationalism and racism. Left-wing identity politics are often expressed in non-traditional inverted forms of nationalism and racism, or, sometimes, what Orwell called “transferred nationalism.” I also refer to left-wing identity politics as distinct from identity analysis. Determining how different forms of identity seem to intersect, complicating the detrimental impacts of social hierarchies for some compared to others, may serve an analytical goal. Too often, in the hands of real actors, identity analysis is deployed to justify the social and ideological inversion of social hierarchies as a political goal. (Michael Rectenwald, when he was still a left Marxist, discussed this in a helpful manner.) Embracing identities, rather than seeking liberation from them, is probably just as “sick” today as Fanon considered it sixty-six years ago. Today, of course, in a world increasingly saturated with some form of identitarianism, ‘color feeling’ is fully embraced on the liberal-left as cutting-edge progressivism. Fanon’s idea of liberating “the black man from himself” comes off as entirely, if confusingly, Euro-centric, colonialist, and racist precisely because in today’s terms the two options available, the only two options, are to elevate identity, to “respect” it, or to deride it. The idea of being liberated from identity is not just taboo; it is outlandish. In fact, to challenge the notion of celebrating identities is already in the eyes of some a sign that one has moved to the right (which, in some cases, appears true). How can it not be when so countless ideas and conversations today refer at least implicitly to ideological tribes, and that to apparently leave one is, ipso facto, to join the other? This suggests a species of black-and-white thinking, a matter to which I turn more generally.

Original incentives toward tribalism were probably complex and varied. However, one clear encouragement must be black-and-white thinking (as distinct from thinking that arrives at dialectical conclusions). In a 1999 paper published by the American Psychological Association, the writers declare that Chinese ways of dealing with seeming contradictions result in a dialectical or compromise approach—retaining basic elements of opposing perspectives by seeking a ‘middle way.’ On the other hand, European-American ways, deriving from a lay version of Aristotelian logic, result in a differentiation model that polarizes contradictory perspectives in an effort to determine which fact or position is correct.2

The writers essentially claim that Westerners reason until contradictions are eliminated—observing a sort of law of noncontradiction—while the Chinese feel comfortable considering a more complex final picture. These tendencies apparently arose as cultural adaptations millennia ago. More individualistic pastoral life-ways promoted “a strong stance in communication styles, resulting in stronger polarization.” Rice cultivation, on the other hand, “may have encouraged the expression of moderate statements.”3 The inclination toward black-and-white thinking—what might be called mental tribalism—directly relates to a tendency to create polarized groups.

And how do individuals gravitate to one or the other of these camps? By reasoning, of course; and reasoning is our most advanced form of decision-making. But is the reasoning we think about really a departure from pre-modern modes of decision-making? I’d like to think so. Calling this into question implicitly, Ben Franklin joked: “So convenient a thing it is to be a reasonable creature, since it enables one to find or make a reason for everything one has a mind to do.”

This might be more than a joke. Writing a century later, the Austrian philosopher Otto Neurath looked critically at rationality. Neurath determined4 two basic things in this regard. One, reason is, uncontroversially, one of humanity’s decision-making means. Two, more controversially, reason compares to older forms of decision-making such as religion and magic. Neurath said human beings need to make decisions quickly, often in the moment, and so often rely on limited information, and when faced with gaps in information or reasoning, resort to traditional notions or modes of judgment. He said, echoing Franklin, that many people practice “a pseudo-rationality bent on convincing others of the justice of their choices.” Neurath claimed it was wishful thinking to believe that we could build a “rational home from scratch while inhabiting a contingent lodging.” He used other metaphors to make his case. He saw that rational-aiming men “were seamen on a ship destined to continuously renovate their leaking vessel at sea, in the middle of storms and tempests, with no hope of ever docking the truth.” In a similar vein, Neurath felt that decisions “would never cease to entail a measure of uncertainty and men would always err in the forest of Descartes, without any hope of ever exiting it.”

But how do black-and-white thinking and the primitive nature of really-existing rationality relate to nationalism (not the general sort discussed by Orwell, but the more specific sort)? I already mentioned nationalism’s modernist pedigree. Nationalism proved a useful compromise with, not a transcendence of, pre-modern forms of in-group devotion and out-group demonization. Nationalism sought a new (or, renewed, newly focused) reason to include and exclude on seemingly rational grounds as a means toward overcoming pre-modern social systems. (Or, today, to some extent towards overcoming liberalism, as a degraded or antiquated answer to liberalism’s perceived and actual failures.) Nationalism meshed with a tendency of (particularly, wealth) power in the Enlightenment to oppose it going ‘too far’. A central focus, or manifestation, of this tendency, was the preservation of the state, the Leviathan, towards wealth-defense via wealth-power’s partial and always tense retreat from direct power and behind the rule of law.5 As we have seen, nationalism meant in-group devotion on a mass scale and in a manner suitable to both modernity and the needs of powerful groups. The social contract has served, particularly after the French Revolution, as a license for elite interests with nationalism as the vehicle. But of late, that arrangement changed as some capitalist interests have begun to transcend and lose interest in both the social contract and the nation-state.

In the wake of this, others have found nationalism in the street and picked it up. And what kind of nationalism is on the rebound? Is it the kind that attracted and inspired people in the developing world a half a century or more ago? Is it the sort which provides a framework for people seeking their own way forward against elite models judged harmful? Or is it an uglier form like that which brought much of the world to ruin in Orwell’s day? The answer is probably not simple. It appears to be all of that at once. We have all seen the images of recent marches of right-wing tribalists in Europe and America. The participants often do not shrink from open and clear emulation of the exact hypernationalists Orwell’s England helped to destroy. But as George Friedman, and others, argue, much of what we have seen is not the return of fascism (though there has been some that, at least symbolically), but of a more defensive nationalism not unlike that which found favor with everyone from the liberals of the 18th and 19th centuries as well as Third Worlders eager to stake out their own path to modernization in the 20th. This sort of nationalism is more like “patriotism” of Orwell’s sort. Patriotism, he said, is a “devotion to a particular place and a particular way of life, which one believes to be the best in the world but has no wish to force on other people. Patriotism is of its nature defensive, both militarily and culturally.” Friedman refers to this type of nationalism in his description of its recent revival:

The nation-state is reasserting itself as the primary vehicle of political life. Multinational institutions like the European Union and multilateral trade treaties are being challenged because they are seen by some as not being in the national interest.

In other words, people are reacting to the steamroller known as neoliberal capitalism and its demolition of the “Chinese walls”, in this case, European and US national borders and sovereignties, standing in its path. This virulent form of capitalism leverages state power—or, certain sectors do—to institute and guarantee its own power and expansion while at the same time discouraging populations from looking to the state to protect itself from the visibly harmful effects of that expansion and power.

In a recent interview, Harvard economist Dani Rodrik explained that globalization has torn societies apart, as evidenced, he said, by increasing inequality, as well as increased “social distance” within societies (between those few who benefit from globalization and the majority who do not), and the final severing of corporate interests from the well-being of the communities where they once resided but have long since transcended. Rodrik added that the nationalist backlash against this has been mostly of the “right-wing ethnonationalist” variety. The reason for this, he claimed, is the “left has been missing in action and that the center-left and the social democrats [the New Democrats in the US, and New Labour in the UK] have essentially been complicit in many of these changes since the 1990s.” It should be no surprise that many people would react to this in the manner most familiar to them, with Orwell’s patriotism, if of a more right-wing sort for the reason Rodrik stated.

Relatedly, Marine Le Pen’s economic program could have been written by Bernie Sander’s economic advisor, Stephanie Kelton. James Petras writes (on May Day 2017, no less!) that Le Pen supported a “Keynesian demand-driven industrial revitalization,” increased taxes “on banks and financial transactions” and fines for “capital flight”, as well as “direct state intervention to prevent factories from relocating to low wage EU economies and firing French workers”, among other policies. In other words, she intended to do for France what the New Deal did in part for the US (and what many hoped Sanders would do again): help the population and discipline capitalists—as distinct from the neoliberal model in which the population is disciplined and the capitalists are helped.  But, of course, we all know Le Pen was the grubby, far-right throwback while her finely-coiffed and ultimately successful political opponent, Emmanuel Macron, was the champion progressiste facing down dark nostalgias (represented by the likes of Le Pen) on the shining path to a splendid neoliberal future. Except, as it turns out, and as was clear at the time, Macron the non-nationalist/non-fascist is the very champagne-soaked ultra-neoliberal, austerity-enforcing, NATO and EU fanatic Petras claimed him to be. In other words, he is not precisely an alternative to fascism, but is certainly an enemy of French patriotism of the Orwell kind.

Neurath’s view of economics is relevant here. He avoided the Austrian tribe. He considered economics a ‘felicitology’—a study of relative happiness. He said man should be happy, not rational. It is not difficult to infer here that the supposed “rationality” of capitalist economic decisions is often no more than “a pseudo-rationality bent on convincing others of the justice of [a capitalist’s] choices.” Or, as lexicographer L.A. Rollins once put it, the invisible hand of the market is a “spook to which cowardly capitalists attribute responsibility for their actions.” Religion and magic, indeed.

But there is another angle regarding nationalism today over which Orwell might have bounded into the political breach. In the strange world of Trumpian America (strange both because of Trump and because of his mainstream opponents), the attendant rise of the so-called alt-right (old nationalism in a new bottle), and the threat that American empire might retreat, we find seemingly odd bedfellows aroused: Democratic Party-aligned liberals and progressives snuggling up with neoconservatives for a shared aversion to Trump. We know what bothers the Democrats; their star candidate (an adherent of the globalist neoliberal capitalism causing the widespread dislocation and alienation) lost. As for the neoconservatives, they hate Donald Trump not because he is race-baiting hero of the alt-right, but because, as James Carden put it, they are afraid “they could be frozen out of the corridors of power” for the duration of the Trump Administration.  (Of course, the appointment of John Bolton, also co-author or supporter of various neoconservative campaigns of deceit, as National Security Advisor, demonstrates the risk might be ephemeral.) Consummating this marriage, arguably, MSNBC host Joy Reid referred to neocon hawk Max Boot as one of her new besties; Ellen DeGeneres opened her couch to war criminal and dupe of neocons, George W. Bush; and the aforesaid Max Boot sent a love-letter to identitarian liberals confessing his “white privilege.”

In this Democratic-neoconservative fight against Trump, neoconservative Eliot Cohen, incidentally, and quite exasperatingly, leveraged the very Orwell essay mentioned here. In what he calls a modest plea for patriotic history, he cites Orwell’s idea of patriotism. He focuses on the idea that patriotism is “a devotion to a particular place and a particular way of life, which one believes to be the best in the world.” Cohen seems to like the passage for its apparent utility towards spreading dedication to American Exceptionalism. Cohen fails to note that Orwell called his sort of patriotism “defensive,” not expansive or imperialist, as it can only be in the hands of neoconservatives.

To further encourage an understanding of the disturbing nature of this coalition, a review of neoconservative behavior might help. They are quite a tribe and their resumé cannot but astonish. This group of fanatics engineered the greatest and most dangerous American propaganda operations of the late twentieth-early twenty-first centuries, which led to: the derailment of détente with the Soviet Union in the 1970s, disruption of arms control treaties and the creation of a new arms race in the 80s and 90s, and the war of aggression against Iraq in 2003.6 The neoconservatives have also called for war on behalf of Israel (against Iraq and, arguably, ongoingly against others, like Iran and Syria). They highlighted the supposed need—not too long before 9/11—for a “new Pearl Harbor” to justify ramped-up US war spending and belligerence.7

If these Team B8 narratives—all, essentially, lies—were anything, they were cases of men wielding “pseudo-rationality bent on convincing others of the justice of their choices.” Choices based on untruths and which caused incalculable harm. These are the people with whom the Democrats have found common cause—because of Trump. Of course, beyond surface politics, it is not that strange that Democrats and neoconservatives might find some points of agreement. During the Cold War Democrats, like Republicans, more than once found exaggerated stories of foreign threats useful.

In any event, the anti-Trump alliance of Democrats and neoconservatives really serves to preserve and extend an extremist version of American Exceptionalism and imperial reach in the face of just the merest threat that it might be reined in. And this belligerent and greatly expansive version of tribalism, this Democratic-Neoconservative nationalism, is not being called that. In fact, it is not being called anything at all because it is mostly unrecognized or ignored.

So, what might this hodge-podge of facts and observations tell us about the subject at hand, tribalism, or what we might do about it? First, we might ask, do we construct opposites and categories less to understand than to sort and comfort? Do we know the difference? Have we missed the discontinuities as we gawk through the lens of continuity? For instance, why do new tribes, like the megatribe of Democratic-Neoconservative (trans)nationalism, arise? Why does old-style nationalism come into focus so readily while new formations seem entirely undetectable? Does our tendency to create polarized categories of ideas and people derive from a meaningfully rational process? Or, does it relate more directly to older—what we might consider primitive and irrational—social and intellectual modes?

Evaluating our reasoning processes along the lines of Neurath, we might find their similarity to religion and magic. We might begin to recognize this shortfall and exercise the ability to continually re-orient ourselves toward more genuinely rational modes of thinking. Stepping outside our tribalisms, outside our polarized manners of thinking, we may find that we have not confronted the present, nor much of anything, in a fully clear-eyed manner. Critically evaluating our cultural tendency to observe the law of noncontradiction, allowing instead for dialectical conclusions, might help to break up the mental and social reasoning processes that lead to polarization and tribalism. Instead of alternating between different tribalisms or formulating new ones (in the mistaken belief we have escaped them), we might find a way out of them entirely and know it when we do.

Instead of vacillating between capitalism and Marxism (absolute support for private property vs. absolute opposition to it), for instance, we might find a renewed interest in such nuanced political philosophies as Pierre-Joseph Proudhon’s Mutualism or anarchism—both much closer than anything else to fulfilling basic Enlightenment ideals. Instead of alternating between internationalism and nationalism in the ongoing confrontation with neoliberal capitalism (and certain other forms of tribalism), perhaps we can find or devise structures suitable to popular power and liberation while retaining the ability to prevent their distortion to the benefit of elite interests.

  1. Frantz Fanon, Black Skin, White Masks, trans. Richard Philcox (New York: Grove Press, 2008).
  2. Kaiping Peng and Richard E. Nisbett, “Culture, Dialectics, and Reasoning about Contradiction,” American Psychologist, September 1999.
  3. Michael Minkov, “Nations With More Dialectical Selves Exhibit Lower Polarization in Life Quality Judgments and Social Opinions,” Cross-Cultural Research 43, no. 3 (August 19, 2009).
  4. Neurath mostly wrote in German. These paraphrases come from Monika Poettinger, “The Uses of Rationality: Otto Neurath,” Paper presented at the 21st Annual ESHET Conference, University of Antwerp (Antwerp Belgium), May 18-20, 2017.
  5. See Jeffrey A. Winters, Oligarchy (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2012).
  6. Gordon R. Mitchell, “Team B Intelligence Coups,” Quarterly Journal of Speech, vol. 92, no. 2, May 2006, 144-173.
  7. Richard Perle, et al. “A Clean Break: A New Strategy for Securing the Realm,” The Institute for Advanced Strategic and Political Studies – Jerusalem, Washington, 1996 and The Project for a New American Century, “Rebuilding America’s Defenses: Strategy, Forces and Resources for a New Century,” The Project for a New American Century, Washington, DC, September 2000.
  8. Team B refers to secondary intelligence analysis groups first initiated in 1975 during the Ford Administration. Effectively, such groups, controlled by neoconservatives from early on, serve to disrupt the flow of quality intelligence to policymakers (particularly the kind that lead to moderate policies) in favor of distorted, hawkish analyses.