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The U.S. Elections: End of Empire? A View from Haiti

Artwork from book cover | America at War with Itself

Artwork from book cover | America at War with Itself

Today on campus was a discussion aimed at addressing the issue of safety for our most vulnerable students: people of color, especially Black students and undocumented students (who, at NIU, mostly come from Mexico), as well as women and LGBTQI individuals.

Why now?

This past weekend, an African American male was accosted by a group of four white men in a pickup truck with a Confederate flag. A firearm was visible.

These are by no means limited to NIU. There was a “daily lynching list” at University of Pennsylvania. A University of Michigan student, a Muslim woman, was threatened to be set on fire if she didn’t take off her hijab.

These acts of intimidation and climate of fear begin at an early age.

Sociology and Latino Studies professor Simon Weffer’s seven-year-old daughter was quaking, worried about her grandmother being deported. History and Southeast Asian Studies professor Trude Jacobsen’s six-year-old son, fair skinned and blue eyed, was so afraid he would be found out as a Muslim and bullied, that he stayed home from school.

Often dismissed as “micro-aggressions,” Weffer’s Ohio State colleague Koritha Mitchell instead calls them “know-your-place” aggressions.

And the consequence is deadly: NIU alumni Sara Briseno reported eight suicides among Chicago’s undocumented community so far.

There is a movement on my campus, with a large and active undocumented student population, to declare it a sanctuary, like 31 cities across the country.

Many people were surprised at the results of last week’s election. In hindsight, the signs were there to be seen, in plain sight. Many, either because they were paying attention or being targeted, were not surprised. Weffer noted that “if you chose to ignore them, then that’s a choice you made.”

Education was brought up as a key solution to combat violence and hate.

A recent article in the Chronicle of Higher Education noted that this election was an attack on the profession. Again, this has been a long time coming. Budgets for education, both K-12 and higher education, have seen steady decline since the 1980s, while funding on prisons, military, and police have gone up.

This is part of neoliberal “restructuring” of our economy, meaning that many in formerly unionized white working class found their jobs overseas. Anxious, and emasculated, they turned on the Democrats even as Obama saved GM from closure. Losing Michigan, just as Michael Moore had predicted, particularly stung, with a margin of 11,612 votes, or .3%.

Paul Christian Namphy calculated that if 119,167 people – .1 percent of ballots cast – from 12 counties in Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin had turned out to vote, the way they did in 2012, Clinton would have won with 278 electoral votes.

As of Tuesday, a week after the election, four million ballots in California have still not been counted. In other words, Clinton has likely won the popular vote by two million votes.

While the Democratic establishment would like to pin the blame on the Bern-Outs, Clinton’s inability to inspire urban voters could have been predicted: establishment Democrats have failed the working class, urban communities, African Americans, among others, taking their loyalty for granted while courting Wall Street.

Florida is another story. On election night, some commentators were sanguine about Trump’s lead, pointing out that much of the vote in Broward and Miami-Dade Counties hadn’t been counted yet. As urban areas, it was assumed that Clinton, a Democrat, would carry them by a wide margin. Florida’s 29 electoral votes were the biggest prize of all other swing states.

And yet, as Miami-Dade and Broward’s tally came in, it failed to push the needle in favor of Clinton, who lost the state by 128,863 votes.

What happened?

A story broke on Election Day with a bold headline: “Haiti’s Revenge: Haitian Americans in a Position to Exact Revenge on Clintons by Delivering Florida to Trump.”

This was from right-wing Breitbart News, which published a story about Clinton’s brother cleaning up on a mining contract in Haiti as Clinton was Secretary of State and Bill Clinton, the UN Special Envoy, co-chair of the Interim Haiti Reconstruction Commission.

While Haiti never surfaced as an issue within the presidential debates, Trump fanned the anger at the “King and Queen of Haiti” on several occasions, exaggerating facts. Haiti’s 2010 earthquake was to be an opportunity to “Build Back Better” according to Bill Clinton. Almost seven years later, it is clear that Haiti was not.

As OAS Special Representative Ricardo Seitenfus documents, Secretary of State Clinton played a heavy hand in reversing Haiti’s 2010 elections, paving the way for carnival singer Michel Martelly, a.k.a. “Sweet Micky,” to be elected President.

Surprising his critics because of his inexperience, Martelly proved to be a political force, opening the doors for the return of deposed dictator Jean-Claude Duvalier. The $16 billion in aid and reconstruction occurred under his – and the Clintons’ – watch, a boon for politically-connected foreign businesses with interests in gold mining, tourism, and offshore apparel manufacturing.

Ever a performer, Martelly played also to the U.S.’ nemesis in the hemisphere. Venezuela. A member of the late president Hugo Chavez’ PetroCaribe program, Haiti borrowed almost 1.6 billion dollars from Venezuela during Martelly’s presidency, providing cheap gas and highly touted, low value cash assistance programs to low-income urban constituencies, political patronage.

With the backing of the U.S., European Union, and the Organization for American States, Martelly’s government organized elections. These institutions pre-emptively certified them, despite the fact that an independent commission found massive fraud. This paved the way for an interim President, Jocelerme Privert. Elections are scheduled for Sunday.

I was in Haiti for the Haitian Studies Association on Wednesday. Like every people, Haitians are a diverse group with a wide range of opinions. Many have been closely following the U.S. elections. Leading up to the election many people expressed their reservations about Clinton given their role in the aid.

Following the result, several pointed out that Trump is our reckoning as a people..

One of my colleagues, who asked to not be named, said: “it’s only fitting. You gave us Micky [President Martelly]. We gave you back Trump.”

Again, Haitian people have diverse perspectives, but a message I got from many was that the racism and misogyny, the violence, is our responsibility. And while it has finally come home to roost, this is what U.S. policies have been fomenting overseas.

The parallels – the vigilante violence, the scapegoating, the registry of people not deemed “American” enough because of their religion – between right now and 1933 Germany are too sobering not to be noticed.

Seen from outside the U.S., however, this descent into fascism is, again, not surprising. Caribbean intellectuals like Oliver Cox and C.L.R. James, who discovered that they were not British during the first world war, were not surprised with the Nazi regime, as it was a logical extension of colonialism based on white supremacy.

More broadly, the historical and anthropological record show that empires often descend into fascism during their final decline.

Whether this is the end of empire, and whether there are alternatives, is up for we the people to decide.

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Mark Schuller is Associate Professor of Anthropology and Nonprofit and NGO Studies at Northern Illinois University and affiliate at the Faculté d’Ethnologie, l’Université d’État d’Haïti. He is the author or co-editor of seven books, including Humanitarian Aftershocks in Haiti. Schuller is co-director / co-producer of documentary Poto Mitan: Haitian Women, Pillars of the Global Economy (2009), and active in several solidarity efforts.

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