FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

I Am Ward Churchill

by CHRIS CLARKE

So Ward Churchill is the latest target of right-wing outrage, and all over the online punditosphere liberals are taking up the banners of free inquiry and leaping to his defense.

Oh, wait. No they’re not.

I’ve read the specific instance of Churchill’s writing that has prompted all the outrage, and the most I can say about it is that it is too imprecisely worded and rather inflammatory. Churchill addressed the imprecision to my satisfaction in a subsequent clarification. As for the flamethrowing, well, I interviewed Churchill a dozen years ago, and have read much of his writing since then, and I’ll just say the incendiariness comes as no surprise.

And as far as I can tell, there isn’t any phrase in the First Amendment that says anything like “unless, of course, you’re impolite.”

Others have addressed the nature of what Churchill actually said in the piece at issue, an ironic (if ham-handed) attempt to extend the accepted logic of wartime to the events of September 11, 2001. I would observe that no matter how liberals may object to the notion of American exceptionalism, nothing makes them angrier than pointing out that the American standard of living has less to do with democracy than it does with empire. My house, and most likely yours, sits on land that was stolen at gunpoint. I can drive to the train station as cheaply as I do because people are tortured and enslaved on the Arabian peninsula.

Quick definition of an American liberal: someone who opposes torture when it makes page one of the New York Times.

Did you know that September 11 had a profound meaning for millions of people before 2001? That the date was already a symbol of the relationship between the United States of America and the rest of the world? That it commemorated the brutal deaths of thousands of people? If you can name the country I’m thinking of, you are probably either a leftist or a non-American.

Randi Rhodes asked recently on her radio show whether her listeners knew anything about Iran. It was a rhetorical question. No one called to answer. No one said, for instance, that Iran had lived through a CIA-backed coup that deposed the country’s democratically elected prime minister, Mohammed Mossadegh, and saw the return of the despotic Shah, or that the coup had happened shortly after Mossadegh embarked on a plan to nationalize Iran’s oil fields. No one called to recall the demonstrations of the 1970s, in which Iranian students in the US and other countries wore masks for fear of repercussions from SAVAK, the Shah’s US-sponsored and -trained secret police. Here’s a passage from the Federation of American Scientists’ website describing SAVAK’s historic activities paid for by your (or your parents’) tax dollars:

“Over the years, SAVAK became a law unto itself, having legal authority to arrest and detain suspected persons indefinitely. SAVAK operated its own prisons in Tehran (the Komiteh and Evin facilities) and, many suspected, throughout the country as well. SAVAK’s torture methods included electric shock, whipping, beating, inserting broken glass and pouring boiling water into the rectum, tying weights to the testicles, and the extraction of teeth and nails.”

Quick definition of an American liberal: someone opposed to all torture not done by a subcontractor.

Bush is certainly the worst president, the most callous and murderous president, this country has had in a very long time. But he has not betrayed the country. He has merely ripped off the mask. America has not jumped the shark: it is the shark. The America that Bush describes is not a new perversion of a shining ideal. Bush’s America was there in 1971, 1968, 1954, in 1848. Iraq is not the new Vietnam: it is just another in a long string of Kentuckys, Massachusettses, Colorados. America’s history of wars of expropriation goes back all the way to the beginning of European encroachment on the North American continent. In his life’s work, Churchill’s has limned the Colonialist American Through-Story. I strongly dislike his throw-away characterization of CIA and Raytheon employees as “little Eichmanns,” though I find I cannot really refute it. But he is right about many things, and for what it is worth I stand with Ward Churchill.

Of course, Churchill is not at all important here. Not really. We could be talking about Chomsky here, or Sontag, or any number of articulate leftists whom liberals decry without actually reading their work. What is important here is the mechanism by which these things work; the identification of the right’s demon of the moment, and the inevitable liberal rush to condemn.

It will help to remember that it is not the liberals’ function to oppose the right. An actual opposition would have programs, positions, ideologies and strategies that stood on their own. And yet when we look at the canonical core values of present-day American liberalism, we find not a single one that was not taken from the left and watered down, or adopted once the tide of public opinion had turned. Not a single one was initially supported by the liberals of the day. Social Security, a neutered version of the socialist guaranteed income, was FDR’s way of deflating an increasingly militant poor people’s movement in the 1930s. Access to contracepton and abortion was pioneered by radical feminists, and condemned by liberals until the 1960s or later. Martin Luther King, who is dead and therefore safe for adoption as a liberal icon, told a group of liberals of his day (then called “moderates”):

“I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to “order” than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: “I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action”; who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom; who lives by a mythical concept of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait for a “more convenient season.” Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.”

Students of Hegel will point out the dialectical inevitability of all this. Ideas are first ridiculed, then violently opposed, then accepted. And this works in more than just one direction. Who would have thought, twenty years ago, that a mainstream free trade advocate like Paul Krugman, whose politics diverge not too far from those of Nelson Rockefeller, would be vilified as a representative of the hard left? Or that Bill Clinton, a handsbreadth to the right of Eisenhower, would be smeared as a socialist? Little wonder that liberals take such pains to distance themselves from any vestiges of the actual left.

And little wonder that they have proven so singularly ineffective in their attempts to defeat the right: for almost a century, the function of American liberalism has been to DEFEAT the left, to adopt just those tenets of the left program necessary to keep Americans content in their jobs, and then to vilify the people whose ideas they stole to use as crumbs to sate the masses. Now that the old left is in tatters, an array of sects and ego-driven posturing, liberalism has little reason to exist.

The left is in tatters organizationally, but there are more leftists than at any point in US history. We are diverse. The left is irreducibly complex, comprising social democrats and anarchists, union socialists and environmental decentralists, anti-globalization activists and ethnic studies professors and millions of others. And complex as we may be, our core ideas can be summed up rather succinctly: Tyrants should not be given support. No one should go without when others have more than enough. People should be free to express themselves and to love whomever they want.

Contrast that with the camps on either side of the great divide now rending American politics. On one side are those who would put US foreign policy in the service of corporations, the spoils of the world’s resources going to further enrich those already engorged with wealth. On the other side are the liberals. Outraged, they demand that more of the take be given to the middle class.

CHRIS CLARKE is Publications Director at Earth Island Institute. His personal website can be found at http://www.faultline.org/place/pinolecreek

More articles by:

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

zen economics

June 22, 2017
Jason Hirthler
Invisible Empire Beneath the Radar, Above Suspicion
Ken Levy
Sorry, But It’s Entirely the Right’s Fault
John Laforge
Fukushima’s Radiation Will Poison Food “for Decades,” Study Finds
Ann Garrison
Jeremy Corbyn, the Labour Party, and the UK’s Socialist Surge
Phillip Doe
Big Oil in the Rocky Mountain State: the Overwhelming Tawdriness of Government in Colorado
Howard Lisnoff
The Spiritual Death of Ongoing War
Stephen Cooper
Civilized, Constitution-Loving Californians Will Continue Capital Punishment Fight
Bruno Rodríguez Parrilla
Cuba Will Not Bow to Trump’s Threats
Ramzy Baroud
Israel vs. the United Nations: The Nikki Haley Doctrine
Tyler Wilch
The Political Theology of US Drone Warfare
Colin Todhunter
A Grain of Truth: RCEP and the Corporate Hijack of Indian Agriculture
Robert Koehler
When the Detainee is American…
Jeff Berg
Our No Trump Contract
Faiza Shaheen
London Fire Fuels Movement to Challenge Inequality in UK
Rob Seimetz
Sorry I Am Not Sorry: A Letter From Millennials to Baby Boomers
June 21, 2017
Jim Kavanagh
Resist This: the United States is at War With Syria
James Ridgeway
Good Agent, Bad Agent: Robert Mueller and 9-11
Diana Johnstone
The Single Party French State … as the Majority of Voters Abstain
Ted Rall
Democrats Want to Lose the 2020 Election
Kathy Kelly
“Would You Like a Drink of Water?” Please Ask a Yemeni Child
Russell Mokhiber
Sen. Joe Manchin Says “No” to Single-Payer, While Lindsay Graham Floats Single-Payer for Sick People
Ralph Nader
Closing Democracy’s Doors Until the People Open Them
Binoy Kampmark
Barclays in Hot Water: The Qatar Connection
Jesse Jackson
Trump Ratchets Up the Use of Guns, Bombs, Troops, and Insults
N.D. Jayaprakash
No More Con Games: Abolish Nuclear Weapons Now! (Part Four)
David Busch
The Kingdom of Pence–and His League of Flaming Demons–is Upon Us
Stephen Cooper
How John Steinbeck’s “In Dubious Battle” Helps Us Navigate Social Discord
Madis Senner
The Roots of America’s Identity and Our Political Divide are Buried Deep in the Land
June 20, 2017
Ajamu Baraka
The Body Count Rises in the U.S. War Against Black People
Gary Leupp
Russia’s Calm, But Firm, Response to the US Shooting Down a Syrian Fighter Jet
Maxim Nikolenko
Beating Oliver Stone: the Media’s Spin on the Putin Interviews
Michael J. Sainato
Philando Castile and the Self Righteous Cloak of White Privilege
John W. Whitehead
The Militarized Police State Opens Fire
Peter Crowley
The Groundhog Days of Terrorism
Norman Solomon
Behind the Media Surge Against Bernie Sanders
Pauline Murphy
Friedrich Engels: a Tourist In Ireland
David Swanson
The Unifying Force of War Abolition
Louisa Willcox
Senators Bernie Sanders, Cory Booker, Tom Udall Back Tribes in Grizzly Fight
John Stanton
Mass Incarceration, Prison Labor in the United States
Robert Fisk
Did Trump Denounce Qatar Over Failed Business Deals?
Medea Benjamin
America Will Regret Helping Saudi Arabia Bomb Yemen
Brian Addison
Los Angeles County Data Shows Startling Surge in Youth, Latino Homelessness
Native News Online
Betraying Indian Country: How Grizzly Delisting Exposes Trump and Zinke’s Assault on Tribal Sovereignty and Treaty Rights
Stephen Martin
A Tragic Inferno in London Reflects the Terrorism of the Global Free Market
Debadityo Sinha
Think Like a River
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail