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The Advantages of an Elite Education

Photo Source Chris Amelung | CC BY 2.0

If the Kavanaugh nomination to the Supreme Court didn’t reveal the extreme right-wing nature of the contemporary U.S., then nothing will. We are living in a right-wing society made up of endless wars, the unlimited power of corporations, the destruction of the natural environment, and the near-total lack of individual rights. That the boy-president Trump can call white supremacists and neo-Nazis “fine people,” while they beat and murder the opposition, makes his nomination of the front man for the corporate and political elite all the more reprehensible.

This is all the final beer hall putsch of the contemporary heirs to Hitler and Mussolini. Kavanaugh is not even needed on the Supreme Court to destroy union opposition since that movement has been going on beginning with the deindustrialization of the U.S. in the 1970s and the march of globalization, which has made goods relatively cheap in the U.S. and made the precipitous decline in union membership a given.

Professor Christine Blasey Ford was revictimized before the Senate Judiciary Committee, and the good-old, elitist frat boy Kavanaugh broke into tears. The political landscape has become pure theater. Readers may wonder just how the majority of non-college educated women, the 64 percent who voted for the misogynist Trump, felt as Ford was dehumanized in front of an audience of millions. Readers know how the majority of black and Latino women, who didn’t vote in a majority for Trump, must have felt!

Where and when did the political, economic, and social system all go so wrong?  It is not the intention here to blame the political left, but a decent measure of responsibility lies right at its feet, so to speak. And as a member of the New Left of the 1960s and early to middle 1970s, I’ll shoulder some, but not all, of the blame.

For the most part, the New Left abandoned the streets after the Vietnam War antiwar movement and left politics to the far-right culture warriors, the warmongers, the fundamentalists of a religious bent, and those in the economy who sold out without a scintilla of ethical consideration. Remember the transition from being on the streets to careerism?

The right wing had money, and money buys influence—look to Kavanaugh and the Clintons and the Bushes as just  a few of the examples of what schooling at Yale and places like Yale can do. A person can go in as an average or near-average Joe or Jane, as the Clintons did, and come out fabulously wealthy with influence that often is as corrupting as wealth itself.

In the Guardian’s “Yale students condemn Kavanaugh case as ‘symptom of a larger problem’” (September 30, 2018), students at this edifice of privilege realize that while most don’t end up like the examples cited above, most of their lives will be blessed through the privilege of an elite education, while those in the surrounding communities of color may often become the victims of the flip side of privilege in a system of jurisprudence that has seen criminal cases “settled” by plea bargains rising from 84 percent in 1984 to 94 percent in 2001. A good guess is that trend continues and I know which side of the divide I would want to be on. In fact, the common wisdom is that if a defendant refuses a plea deal with the state (and that holds for local, state and federal governments), then resulting sentences are often of a draconian nature compared to the deal offered. Equal justice under the law: What an absolute and horrific joke! The right to trial by one’s peers has been essentially eliminated through racism and classism and poverty.

We on the left were atomized in almost everything we did after the middle of the 1970s. The late left revolutionary and counterculture icon (warts and all), Abbie Hoffman, said in his autobiography Soon To Be A Major Motion Picture and in later writing that the victories of the 1960s of the civil rights movement, the antiwar movement, and the women’s movement would never be reversed. How wrong! Every single movement has seen significant reversals from endless wars to mass incarceration of black people, to the attacks against Professor Ford endured in front of the U.S. Senate. It all went so damn bad!

There were some gains, however: Women moved into the workforce in significant numbers in traditionally male-dominated industries, gay people began the long struggle toward acceptance in all of the society, but the gains never translated into across the board improvement in society. A black middle class emerged from the 1960s, but so did a skyrocketing prison population of people of color. Large numbers of people who were no longer of use in a deindustrialized economy had to be placed somewhere and that somewhere was increasingly prison.

U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics from 2013 show that 37 percent of prisoners in the U.S. were black. Compare the latter with the stunning fact that the black percentage of the population in the U.S. in 2016 was 12.7 percent. Compare those figures for a moment: 12.7 of the population percent makes up 37 percent of the U.S. prison population. So much for most of the gains of the hard-fought civil rights movement…

In “The Shocking Abuse of Solitary Confinement in U.S. Prisons,”  Amnesty International holds no punches in scrupulously documenting how prisoners at all levels of the so-called criminal justice system are systematically exposed to horrific and extended incarceration in isolation cells that amount to prisons within prisons. The worst cases exist in Louisiana, Colorado, California, Arizona, Illinois, and at Guantanamo, but the list is not limited to those states and prison sites. The report is worth quoting at length:

How many people are held in solitary?

More than 3,000 prisoners in California are held in high security isolation units known as Security Housing Units, where they are confined for at least 22 and a half hours a day in single or double cells, with no work or meaningful rehabilitation programs or group activities of any kind.

More than 500 prisoners had spent 10 or more years in the Pelican Bay SHU, with 78 in solitary more than 20 years.

No other US state is believed to have held so many prisoners for such long periods in indefinite isolation.

But California is not alone in using prolonged, indefinite solitary confinement. The U.S. has become a world leader in the practice, holding people in inhumane conditions of isolation from Arizona to Illinois to Louisiana to Guantánamo. Reportedly, the U.S. holds “at least 25,000 inmates in isolation in supermax prisons.”

Solitary confinement amounts to torture and torture is banned by international human rights law, but its use in U.S. prisons remains beyond shocking and yet another example how laws in the U.S. comprise a two-tier system where privilege and torture stand at opposite sides of a huge divide.

A livable society and world has all almost unwound now and buffoons like Trump and Kavanaugh are in the spotlight of the three-ring circus in which we now all live.

More articles by:

Howard Lisnoff is a freelance writer. He is the author of Against the Wall: Memoir of a Vietnam-Era War Resister (2017).

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