September 16, 2016
With Friends Like These…
The Americanism that those who do horrible things can still be good people ties both to the Christian debate over acts versus grace and to the tribalism that ‘good’ encompasses the division of ‘us’ from ‘them.’ In surrounding herself with the rich and powerful Hillary Clinton adds the dimension of social power to the tribalism that now defines the American political duopoly. Among the war profiteers, bankers and industrialists that Mrs. Clinton counts, opportunistically or not, among her friends, Henry Kissinger holds a special place in human history. With a laundry list of crimes against humanity to his ‘credit,’ the term deplorable applied to Mr. Kissinger would be a kindness.
The point here isn’t name calling; it is a calling to account. From the inside expressions of imperial power like wars of choice, predatory lending, environmental devastation and corruption of the public realm are the ‘hard choices’ of leadership. That these are easy choices once social accountability has been dispensed with is truer, if less flattering, to those who wield power. The hard choices belong to those on the receiving end of imperial power— to those who saw their families murdered and their communities destroyed by Mr. Kissinger in Southeast Asia or by the Clintons in Iraq or Libya.
Conflation of choice with its absence in matters of life, death and the multitudinous details of how we get by in the world lies in some measure behind the current political disaffection being expressed in the streets and at the ballot box. The titans of commerce who now ‘lead’ the Democratic Party have for decades increased their power and used it to enrich themselves while making our lives more difficult and less comprehensible. And the implication that human ugliness that descends from on high is in some sense ‘less ugly’ than its expressions emanating from the unwashed masses adds a dimension of Carolingian ‘divine origin’ to questions of grace and tribal division.
A Market Basket of Deplorables
In the year or so before he was assassinated Martin Luther King expanded his political program to call for economic justice and an end to American geopolitical violence. In the narrow categories that support the established order civil rights, economic justice and geopolitics are distinct realms. In day-to-day life civil rights are necessarily tied to economic justice— political rights that exclude full and meaningful economic participation assume away the necessity of existing to act politically. Put differently, economic existence is political to the point where economic differences, asymmetries, have no effect on the distribution of political power. Therein lies the sleight-of-hand that ties capitalism to democracy.
In contradiction to Western mythology, assertion of political rights with partial to total disregard for economic distribution proceeds from a particular perspective, from the intersection of classical and neo-liberalism. Classical liberalism assumed distinct realms of the political and the economic, hence the critique that it was / is the political philosophy of rich White men. ‘All men (were) created equal’ as long as they are rich, White and preferably of European descent went the theory. Neoliberalism, conflation of Washington Consensus boilerplate with neo-religious certainty that markets ‘work’ as early twentieth century economic dogma suggests, requires backward induction to cleanse ‘politics’ through broadening the notion of markets to include political ‘choice.’
When Hillary Clinton recently criticized Donald Trump’s supporters as a ‘basket of deplorables…. racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, Islamophobic’ she did so from the perspective of the cleansing nature of political power. Distinctions between the hard racism of her actions in promoting the 1994 Crime Bill and ‘ending welfare as we know it’ and the soft racism of powerlessness expressed as resentment equilibrate harmful acts with harmful sentiments in ethereal moral calculus. Back in the world in which we live this practice produces reverse agency where the ability to ‘manage’ and affect outcomes receives a pass whereas the inability to do so becomes an agency multiplier. That this roughly translates to bourgeois and ruling class resentment of ‘the rabble’ I leave to readers to ponder.
In the political fashion, the Democratic Party’s large corporate sponsors, banks, military equipment providers, oil and gas companies and various and sundry industrial concerns now all have official policies of inclusion. Lloyd Blankfein, CEO of Goldman Sachs, volunteered to be a spokesperson for the Human Rights Campaign, a group promoting gay rights. Condemnation of North Carolina’s ‘bathroom bill’ has more than 120 large corporations behind it. Employment with these corporations may be overwhelmingly a function of economic class. But within the ‘employable class’ open discrimination is well-understood to be bad for business. This doesn’t mean that corporate ‘equal rights’ campaigns don’t have significant numbers of adherents who are sincere. But is gets back to the point that civil rights mean very little in the absence of rights-holders having the economic capacity to act as political persons.
Neoliberalism depends on backward induction, the assertion that theory, not facts, determines outcomes, to support the bourgeois conceit that ‘feelings’ of tolerance trump the material circumstances that the bourgeois, in the service of plutocrats, create. Wall Street used predatory lending ‘washed’ through complex ownership of mortgage companies to immiserate large swaths of Black city-dwellers with racially targeted loan types and pricing in the housing boom-bust. The CEOs of these same Wall Street banks no-doubt nodded knowingly at Mrs. Clinton’s slam against ‘deplorables,’ the dim bigots who serve as easy marks when easy marks are needed to fund the latest corporate scam.
None of this is to suggest that hypocrisy is the problem in need of resolution. The view from here is that Hillary Clinton, Lloyd Blankfein, et al, would be genuinely shocked by the accusation that they are racist, classist tools. So would Mrs. Clinton’s, and more generally the Democratic Party’s, ardent supporters, especially those who bought the ‘super-predators’ line because it was about ‘crime,’ not race (see ‘dog whistle politics’ here). And American business goes by ‘qualifications’ in deciding who to employ, not race, gender or sexual orientation. That the U.S. has low absolute and relative class mobility suggests that these qualifications are more class markers than ‘objective’ criteria in the sense put forward.
In the view from on high racism, xenophobia and homophobia are personal attributes of society’s losers who are scapegoating their own failures. To the extent that racists, xenophobes and homophobes have agency separate from their social existence, this is true. Given their positions in the managerial class, it is most likely true of the 1/3rd of Hillary Clinton’s supporters who are openly racist. That their racism is supported by ‘the facts,’ points to the nature of racist inquiry— ‘crime’ (see link) derives from the historical evolution of law enforcement as a mode of racial repression in the U.S., there is no ‘clean’ theory of crime from which to proceed.
The most likely resolution of the social divisions now roiling the West would come through broader distribution of political and economic power. That this is the one solution that the system of official politics exists to prevent creates a paradox that officialdom is incapable of resolving. The last time that economic democracy was meaningfully addressed was during the Great Depression when citizens (an army of veterans more precisely) surrounded the White House ready to burn it to the ground if relief wasn’t provided. Jill Stein and Ajamu Baraka understand the issues and have the ideas needed for social resolution. Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump don’t.