This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only.
“Mejor de morir de pie que vivir de rodillias.”
Reading Rebecca Solnit’s piece “The Rain on Our Parade: A Letter to My Dismal Allies,” in what parade is Solnit marching? Instead of a parade, we are on a hijacked airliner full of unrich American passengers about to be flown into global southerners who have the temerity to live amidst the raw materials and cheap labor required to sustain our unjustifiably high standard of living.
The hijackers are prozletyzing zealots disciples of neoliberal economic Sharia of both the Sunnicrat and Shiapublican sects. Some are feminists, others misogynists, all misanthropic. They took control with box cutters to the heart of our democracy, and are now applying full jet thrust as we careen towards their target.
We hostages have two options. The first is to continue to negotiate with the Sunnicrat hijackers so they can convince the Shiapublicans to come to their senses. We’ve all seen how that terrible movie ends, we crash into the target.
The second option is to sieze control of the situation like the heroes of flight 93 did, and take the piloted drone down in a remote rural field, sacrificing ourselves to prevent greater damage so that others might live. By sacrifice, we’re not talking death, just moderate social and economic inconveniences attendant to not dominating the global south.
For Solnit and the professional liberal resistance complex to sacrifice their convenient lifestyles would mean an end to Their Good Thing as the compensated pole of attention. So their recommendations are to avoid confrontation as too male, to just hit the snooze button, to neither mourn nor organize, to just be civil and pleasant.
Every four years like zombie clockwork they come out of their grant funded nonprofit coffee klatch coccoons and literary salons to mingle with the lumpen hoi polloi, to hector and corral us into the voting booth to ratify a party that has hijacked our democracy and has forced us to finance this ongoing crime spree. For this they are rewarded by a liberal establishment which has grown fat and lazy, except when it comes time to keep the cash flowing in which case the knives come out.
Solnit still labors under the misapprehension that there was difference between Gore and Bush in 2000. If anything, Obama proves that there was a minor distinction was without difference. By my reckoning, US policies have followed a straight line in the 30 years between Jimmy Carter and Barack Obama irrespective of tribal sect in power. We now know that this hijacked plane only banks to the right no matter how we vote. The only question elections resolve is how fast and how sharp the turn will be. That turn ends up being taken sharper and faster when the Democrats hold power.
We have a new type of rule now. Not one-man rule, or rule of aristocracy or plutocracy, but of small groups elevated to positions of absolute power by random pressures and subject to political and economic factors that leave little room for decision.They are representatives of abstract forces who have reached power through surrender of self. The iron-willed dictator is a thing of past.
There will be no more Stalins, no more Hitlers.
The rulers of this most insecure of all worlds are rulers by accident. Inept, frightened pilots at the controls of a vast machine they cannot understand, calling in experts to tell them which buttons to push.
–William S. Burroughs, No More Stalins, No More Hitlers, from Dead City Radio, Island Records, 1990; and Interzone, Viking Books, 1989.
The Democrats in Congress went down like cheap whores for the worst of Bush II’s crimes, refusing to play for keeps as Republicans have with Obama. Once in power themselves, the Democrats doubled down on the worst of Bush II’s legacy, consolidating the extraconstitutional national security regime that Obama ran against. The dismal liberal resistance complex declined to organize against this outrage.
The Democrats would rather lose elections than risk organizing and mobilizing their base to raise their bargaining position. That is their role, to insulate power from demands for justice. And when we start to organize ourselves, we’ve seen how Democratic big city mayors under coordinated orders from Obama’s Department of Justice crushed Occupy with a brutality not seen since 1968.
As we saw Obama’s violent dismantling of Occupy, the constellation of power surrounding the Democrat Party, unions, nonprofits and the media (MSNBC, The Nation, etc) intercepts demands for change and neutralizes them. For accepting and operating within the neoliberal frame, they are rewarded with access. With access, they get paid and live comfortably. Go off the reservation and access is denied, the cash quits flowing.
The ethical conflicts here are rife, in order to do their job the professional advocates would need to advocate both outside the box and themselves out of a job. By not solving problems, the advocates guarantee an ever expanding pool of “the most vulnerable” in need of their services and advocacy.
Contrast the Democrats’ violent repression of Occupy with the Republicans eager cooptative incorporation of gun toting Tea Party populists into their party. Here the Democrats make sure that the state only banks to the right by neutralizing any populist threat from the non-neoliberal center-left.
It is not like the Democrats even try to push the envelope, to use the power of the imperial presidency and historic congressional majorities to make Republicans offers they cannot refuse. If the Democrats could not make a go of it with the White House, 60 Senators and +71 or so in the House, then given the rate of increase in neoliberal power over those years, it is simply not going to happen with the Democrats before we are all debt peons. We have to end the denial, to acknowledge what is clear, to begin to tear down the old and build anew to even have a hope of having hope. We can’t heal the world until we end the hijacking.
By every measure the Democrats since Clinton have adopted Republican positions and negotiated down from there. That trend coincides with the rise of the nonprofit sector and the professionalized neutralization of resistance in the late 1980s. This cottage industry of liberal vote herders have actually made it easier for Democrats to force us to the right by giving cover to the Democrats’ abandoning of their electoral coalition in favor of the Republican governing coalition.
Two steps forward
(Six steps back)
(Six steps back)
(Six steps back)
(Six steps back)Small steps for him
(Big jump for me)
(Big jump for me)
(Big jump for me)
(Big jump for me)
–Gang of Four At Home He’s a Tourist Entertainment!, 1979
Let’s do the math, take an accounting and break it all down, shall we?
Currently, the rates of progressive advance are decreasing as rightward change acclerates in a rampage. The rarer increments of liberal change are growing smaller in magnitude and are only conceded in exchange for increasing the rate of conservative change. Liberal change is statistically insignificant when compared to conservative change and that spread is getting worse. This is not sustainable, and is akin to negotiating with John Carpenter’s “The Thing” when we all know that a flamethrower is required.
Solnit mentions that progressive disgust at Obamacare neglects several beneficial provisions. It is wonderful that Obamacare ends denials for preexisting conditions and lets kids stay on their parents’ insurance well into their 20s. But this legislation does not exist in a vacuum. Are those changes worth consolidating the death grip of insurers, pharma, device makers and hospitals who suck down 17% or more of each health dollar for denying health care? Will more die due to that than will live due to the ACA? Do more get better care from those policies than suffer due to Obama’s discretionary crackdown on medicinal cannabis? Obama and Biden make Bush and Cheney look like Cheech and Chong on medicinal cannabis and that kills people. What a buzzkill.
It is not like this is some sort of far fringe lefty radical position of dismal whiners. Prior to Obama outsourcing the ACA to DLC neoliberal hack Max Baucus, the public option enjoyed substantial majority support and single payer was pegging at 50% support. Obama ran on such a program and voters gave the Democrats majorities to make it so.
Another reason that the Democrats won in ’06 and expanded their majorities in ’08 was because they promised to put the brakes on the perpetual war machine, to end torture and follow the rule of law. These positions enjoyed even broader bases of public support including amongst the Tea Party populists than the various flavors of socialized health care finance. These are not fringy leftist pipe dreams but mainstream common sense. Yet broad public opinion and public policy never met because the elites would not stand for it and so neither will Obama.
Candidate Obama promised to end the bankster subsidies and bring Wall Street to heel. These enjoyed even broader bases of public support across the spectrum than ending the wars. Investment banker Democrats Summers, Emmanuel and Daley put the kibosh on most all of this between the election and inauguration. Reappointing Bush’s Federal Reserve Chairman, “helicopter Ben” whose idea of economic recovery eolicy is to drop $15,000,000,000,000.00 ” dollars into the supply side laps of the biggest banks to cover their bad bets. Prosecutions for this white collar crime spree were likewise off the table. That would have been disrespectful.
And what happened in the 2010 elections after Obama abandoned the 2006-08 electoral coalition for Bush II’s governing coalition? Does anyone think that the country lurched to the far right in response to socialized Obamacare? The Lumpen hoi polloi were smart enough to vote against Bush II’s failures in those elections did not want to vote for a Democrat Party that was moving the Republican agenda with more deftly. That imbalance in turnout returned the House to the Republicans. In healthy democracies, electorates turn out parties that void their campaign promises or do precisely the opposite.
If you’re sensing deja vu all over again, then you’re probably reliving the Democrat base abandoning the Clintons after they sold us out with NAFTA. It is admittedly difficult to differentiate between incompetence and maliciousness. But with two almost identical data points, a trend begins to emerge from the data. This lack of accountability enjoyed by the parasite health for-profit complex, warmongers and banksters needs to end now unless the fast track to serfdom is your idea of a bright American future.
But solipsistic Solnit will have none of it, preferring to create an islet of relative peace in and around her, irrespective of the dear cost to billions of global southerners and to others who are missing that piece that stops them from abandoning principles to write in a way that appeals to liberal cognescenti by pantomime threat.
And then there is the eternal wedge issue of reproductive choice. Under what ethical tradition does an American global northern vagina trump the continued existence of whole global south villages and families? I mean there ARE condoms, IUD’s and pills. We gay men have had to use condoms for almost 30 years now as our lives depend on that. The choice between sacrifice and death is a no brainer.
It was during the previous Democratic regime with the first woman Attorney General that a campaign of domestic terrorism was allowed to flourish which effectively ended access to abortion for women in 2/3 of US counties and poor women. Women’s organizations that support the Democratic Party folded tent on organizing and did not teach successive generations of young women the importance of choice. Now they insist, with straight heterosexual faces, that we reelect the guy who signed the restrictive Stupak Amendment in order to, get this, preserve choice.
What prophylactic contraception do they suggest distant Iraqi or Afghani or Pakistani or Yemeni families use against drones to preserve their freedom to choose to breathe, because Solnit’s generation of women dropped the ball on choice and it is at risk? Or are Muslims and people of color only deemed worthy victims when they are immigrants to the US, we see them, and the machine needs more cheap labor?
If the choice is between knowingly raining death down on innocent poor folks of color in the global south and risking the convenience of ending an unplanned and avoidable pregnancy on demand for a time by ousting the Democrats and either dispatching them to the dustbin of history or teaching them a lesson, then what defensible ethical framework values the former over the latter?
The US Confederacy was predicated upon the sanctity of White Vagina as a paramount social concern worthy of all lengths of brutal chivalrous interventions. That we are seeing the Democrats holding protecting women hostage to an inhuman, corrupt and racist regime is a cruel twist of fate; they have come full circle to their slaveholder past.
The plantation economy metaphor aptly describes the Democratic coalition which Solnit rationalizes. Stakeholder status is vested in the liberal resistance complex where activists are neutered into advocates for nonprofit corporations and unions. Their effectiveness is predicated upon access. Access is gained by playing nice with power, by accepting and operating within dominant oppressive framings. Access is denied when stakeholders operate off the reservation.
These two unaccountable, nondemocratic and authoritarian sectors with finite price points can never be held accountable. They demand solidarity for their interests and then sabotage others in coalition to please power once their needs are met. The liberal resistance complex professional advocates are the house slaves. Just as in the slaveholding south, or Pharoah’s Egypt those “Dathans” living more comfortably in bondage fear emancipation the most due to downside risk and revenge.
This plantation is populated with highly oversocialized leftists per Kaczinsky. They trade in a martyr economy lubricated by immense reservoirs of Christian guilt and uncheckable by the constituencies they claim to serve. The important thing is that the activist is seen by other activists as genuflecting lower than the next for “the most vulnerable.”
Being publically repeatedly arrested in non-threatening barely symbolic actions with choreographed actively passive activist-centered arrest scenarios that have long since failed to build movements as Solnit’s brother is prone to practice garners massive martyr currency. These actions concede corporealy to power, they project and reinforce imagery of weakness, desperation and powerlessness.
At least the Zapatistas admitted that theirs was largely a performance art project, they were much better at publicity because they did not decline to organize their base and did not screw them once organized. The Zapatistas were fresh and did not stink of seasoned coopted activist.
Oversocialization prioritizes group cohesion over effectiveness. Thus holding an advocate or elected offical accountable for lack of progress or serial losses hurts their feelings, strains cohesion and is deemed disrespectful. Thus it is never possible punish bad outcomes because they close brittle ranks against any disrespect for their hard work. This is why we keep losing big.
I resist a passive life in denial of reality on political prozac, only speaking positively and thinking happy thoughts because to do otherwise might hurt the feelings of a “leader” or minor celebrity. I demand the right to strive to live an ethical existence that resonates with my values. I will not stand for anyone marginalizing broad based popular resentment to being misled and abandoned by Democrats as pathological. Nor will I stand for anything less than the full democratic self determination that we were promised in civics class for a start.
These responses that offend Solnit are normal and healthy, only a buzzkill because they are killing our buzz. The situation for anyone left of far right by our measure is dismal by the numbers, and is deteriorating. Marginalizing truth as poisonous is an expression of the Stockholm Syndrome. And that outrages me not because it poisons the discourse within the dysfunctional, insular resistance complex scene but poisons entire ecoystems and populations. Rage and creative destruction are the antivenin, the beginning of a detox regime, the fever that kills the infection.
Solnit writes that her big fear is the Republicans, I fear the Democrats and their liberal resistance complex because they keep us from getting a clear political bead on the economic fundamentalist hijackers. No, Rebecca, it is not “all good.”
When Republicans win elections, they attack Democrats. When Democrats win elections, they attack their Party base. What Solnit is asking liberals, progressives and moderates to do is to carry the political baby of our imperial serial rapists to successive full terms and to like it, to quit our bitching and lay back, enjoy gang rape over and again because it is inevitable, and to even welcome our economic gang rapists’ quadrennial violations. Rape is a crime of power and Solnit legitimates this political rape. To her credit, she does not go as far as to make the equivalent case that we are dressed for it.
I want a political abortion, I demand that choice so that public opinion can control the reproductive health of our democracy. The world is counting on us to deny US corporate militarist power the right to spawn.
The best of our cultural traditions are being violated by this rape of democracy by these hijackers and their liberal enablers. We are responsible for these crimes as they are commanding our resources to rape the global south. Perhaps were a middle class liberal woman being attacked by a big bad man next door that would be deemed a legitimate outrage and the reponse would be different.
Solnit dismisses Michael Donnelly’s criticism by channelling her inner Medea Benjamin, musing “if a volcano erupted and nobody witnesses it …” If a volcano erupts and no middle class liberal white global north woman witnesses it, then yes, the volcano still erupts. When the empire rapes the global south on an industrial scale it still happens even if there is no Global Exchange excursion of upper middle class white people puttering about the smoldering ashes of the imperial periphery.
These kinds of crimes committed on an industrial scale rise to the most serious levels and warrant the most severe penalties. International law is clear on this and distinguishes these from lesser violations of civilian criminal jurisprudence such as rape. These are war crimes, affronts to the few redeeming fundamental values of civilization, in this case, hijacking our democracy, terrorizing 2/5 of humanity and consigning Americans to serfdom so that the banksters and warmongers can thrive. We must own this criminal conduct and are responsible for doing what it takes to end it as international law demands, if not for our own interests, for those of others.
We know why the global south hates the US government: because We bomb Their families. The questions are Why have the US elites grown to hate Americans with such passion? And why does the liberal resistance complex clear the way for the elites to perfect that hatred into policy with language that evokes love, compassion and solidarity? Solnit’s prioritizing minor domestic increments over major brutal crimes abroad eliminates the distinction between empire and serf and buys us all into direct responsibility for these crimes. If we let this approach stand, then they are now justified in hating government and citizen alike.
We need to take control of this speeding jet hijacked by serial rapists by any means necessary, with no apologies, and with the spirit of sacrifice similar to that of the WWII generation, or else we know what is going to happen. And that is going to hurt the feelings of the liberal resistance complex professionals.
Marc Salomon is a long-time political activist in the Bay Area.