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How Liberals Got Seduced By Trump’s Gifts To Private Prisons

Photograph by Nathaniel St. Clair

“The theory of Communism may be summed up in one sentence: Abolish all private property.”

— Karl Marx

“Give the man his due: @realDonaldTrump is on his way to becoming the uniter-in-Chief on an issue that has divided America for generations. Congrats to everyone on both sides who fought for this.”

— Van Jones, of the jonesing for Trump network, CNN

Did Van mean urinator-in-chief?

It didn’t take long. Just weeks after securing a House majority, Democrats had Donald Trump on the ropes for the first time. But Donald Trump, whose only game is a con, always remains a step ahead of his audience. Trump hasn’t turned on his liberal charm in a while. Once a bonafide star and certified Democrat, Trump played the bad boy on television and on magazine covers. Liberals ate him up as he swindled and conned his way to the top in the cultural capital of the world. Resentful to the core, this was never enough for Donald Trump. The insecure and small-handed man needed more love than the liberals could give to him. After NBC gave Gwen Stefani a bigger television contract than him, Don had enough of playing second fiddle. If you can’t join em, beat em. Don’s new audience became those who hate liberals, and the rest is history.

So when the Democrats made up some grounds, I just assumed Donald would unleash his blood-thirsty base, openly calling for violence across the country. Oh wait, he actually did this, as he threatened Antifa with violence shortly after the election. But the Democrats wouldn’t care about that. Donald though went a step further. To counter the Democrats, he knows his base won’t be enough. Trump hasn’t seduced Democrats for years, but his magic touch remains.

The Donald knows that to land the liberals, one must play to their guilt. The biggest disgrace by a Democrat was Bill Clinton’s transformation of the United States prison system. Clinton created arguably the most wide-scale human rights violation in the world today through his expansion of a truly diabolical system that featured prison firefighters saving our sorry lives for a dollar a day during the recent California fires. Surely (hopefully) embarrassed by Mr. Clinton, some Democrats took Trump’s bait. Liberal guilt and conservative profits unite!

The bipartisan prison reform bill, cheerily passed by Donald Trump is called The FIRST STEP Act. While all cuts to prison sentences are welcome, the bill does zero to stop how many people actually go to prison. The profit scam of arrests and prosecutions can continue without a hiccup. Mandatory minimum sentences aren’t addressed either, so those put into prison will be facing very long roads to freedom regardless.

The act will only deal with federal prisons, which only contains 13% of the population. To no one’s surprise, illegal immigrants are not included in this act. Long-term prisoners, deemed high-risk or slapped with certain sentences also get no room to maneuver. The scope and funding of the bill is also quite narrow overall, with a mere 50 million being provided per year to address this crisis.

One should never trust a racist with a prison reform bill. Prisoners will be released based on a “Risk Assessment System”. Activists are already pointing to the criteria for this system being correlated with race and class. Every single one of Trump’s policies come back to making America’s streets whiter. In other words, Trump’s Get Out Of Jail Free cards will be giving the same breaks to people who already get breaks from the system, those who are rich and white. To make matters worse, the criteria for the “Risk Assessment System” will be developed by the Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who might be even more racist than Trump himself. Now might be a good time to quit our protests against the firing of racist A.G. Jeff Sessions, but if we are going to put him on, can we at least get him to help us lock up Trump before he implements any sort of prison reform?

But here’s the kicker, from equaljusticeunderlaw: “The Act allows for the Attorney General to develop policies for the warden of each BOP facility to enter into partnerships with private organizations to provide training, employment, and other services. Privatizing in-prison programming, halfway houses or electronic monitoring raises concerns about a lack of governmental oversight that could lead to abuse, exploitation, and the potential appearance of a quid pro quo relationship between BOP and private companies. Funding even more contracts between for-profit actors and BOP facilities may detract from the primary goal of rehabilitation because private companies have a profit-seeking and profit-maximizing motive.”

In my opinion, the mainstream media is burying the lead here. Some amount of relief on the back-end of sentences is only one portion of the bill. Further power to the private prison industry and the attorney general is another. Why does the mainstream media, seemingly hyper-vigilant on Donald Trump, cover for him as soon as he puts on his liberal cap? The headlines read “bipartisan prison reform” as if anything the corporate duopoly agrees upon is automatically a good thing. The Guardian remains one of the best places to find out about what is really going on in U.S. politics and they make a crucial distinction with this bill: “Missing from this piece of legislation is the crucial issue of sentencing reform – as distinct from prison reform. While prison reform deals with how people who are already incarcerated are treated and may give them some faster pathways out, sentencing reform is the piece of the puzzle that dictates how many new people are going into prison – and for how long. Most experts say the high US rate of incarceration is a result of the dramatic increases to sentencing length that took place after crime waves in the 1970s and 80s. However, that’s an issue that Republicans, who control both houses of Congress and the White House, are less sold on.”

Trump’s prison reform then acts like a sort of rewards card for committed customers. Buy 10 Starbucks drinks, get one free. The amount of customers will continue to flow. The rewards program makes the company appealing as its public relations is brought into question. And as far as public relations go, something had to be done. Talks of a bipartisan bill was already in the air two years ago before Trump’s election squashed them. Trump is just bringing the momentum to the halt with measly reforms.

The liberal critique of Trump squarely misses the force that drives him, and all forces of capitalism: profit. This bill does nothing, absolutely nothing to change how many people enter into the for-profit system. Furthermore, through the guise of some relief on the back end of a few sentences, the prison system can continue to be privatized, and therefore expanded. Just as the air, water, schools and health care can continue to be privatized under neoliberal capital.

When it comes to prisons, privatization is especially dangerous because prisoners lack no protections and can be treated like slaves as a result. Additionally, the incentive to put people in prison becomes greater and greater. Concern for public safety (let alone safety of the prisoners) is outside any debate. It will be private profit, not public safety, that will determine who is imprisoned under this administration.

After Donald Trump’s election, the two largest prison companies (GEO Group and Core Civic) stocks went up by a third. Trump’s reward for these companies has largely been through the detention of immigrants. ICE alone is going to need 2.7 billion from Congress in 2018 for holding its prisoners. Compare that to the mere 50 million annually that The FIRST STEP act is giving. Clearly there’s a lot more money to be gained in detention than rehabilitation.

Never trust Donald Trump. He has ruthlessly expanded the police state in this country. But he is not a nationalist in the tradition sense. For this is late-stage capitalism. Therefore, it is not just prisons, but private prisons that are thriving under this administration. 65% of detainees of Homeland Security are held in private prisons.  Additionally, ICE is now housing prisoners wherever they want, shuttling prisoners even to where I’m writing from in Saint Paul. This move naturally increases how long immigrants are held (how any of this makes financial sense to anyone interested in “small” government, is beyond me). The GEO group and CoreCivic both got nine digit handouts from Trump to build new facilities. Then there was the 664 million dollar contract with Criminal Alien Requirement (CAR) facilities. Who says Trump isn’t getting things done?

But now we are really supposed to believe in this guy. There was a reason the Obama administration cut off private prisons from the Department of Justice. It was because across the board they failed human rights standards whenever they were put in practice. I’m still unclear of the reason why it took Obama almost 8 years to deal with private prisons, but I digress. Private prisons get money from the government per head, which is why they want so many people. They make a greater profit when they spend less on the prisoners once they have them, which is why they are treated so horribly.

There is a central misunderstanding to the purpose of prisons in our society. While I am certainly a person who believes in police and jail of some kind for some people, our prison system is much like everything else in our oligarchy, it serves the 1%. Questions of justice usually come only after profit is maximized, and this bill is no exception.

Liberals are confusing. They protest Trump firing racist Jeff Sessions because and are concerned about the “rule of law” Trump violates by firing the guy who recused himself of the Russiagate probe. But then they turn around and cheer when Trump hands over the criminal justice system to the same racist, without questioning the man who was a fascist just yesterday in their minds. Donald Trump is a tool for capital. And a more seductive tool than we who (used) to hate him give him credit for.

This isn’t the first time that prison reform, albeit paltry at best, has been trotted out by libertarian minded capitalists. The Koch Brothers have been doing it for years. The question we must be asking is why. The justification for private prisons has always been that it is cost saving. It’s a crude argument, and it goes to show the value we give these people behind bars. But it’s also true. The private prisons do save money. And that is because they are run as a business—a business where the employees have zero rights and zero means to protest.

In Trump’s survival of the fittest dystopia, there is a way out for the few, a way down for the many, and a profit to be made for a handful. Trump doesn’t care where you are, as long as he can make money off you. The American police state, which wreaks havoc at home and abroad, is on the road to privatization. This means publicity stunts, this means handouts to the few at the cost of the many, and most of all it means an ever-expanding profit enterprise that has no logic because money is made simply where money can be made.

If one takes Trump’s quotes seriously, we can believe that his prison reform bill, was in large part, thanks to the nerve-racking meetings between him and Kim Kardashian, wife of that corrupted hip hop star Kanye West , who I have wrote about before for this publication. Kim might not know much about the prison system, but she knows a thing or two about racist back end reforms. Is this the future of this country? Two reality TV stars deciding who gets to be free? The answer beneath the surface of this sham made for TV is that neither of these phony actors really knew what they were getting into when they struck a deal with for-profit prisons. Even the best of con men can be seduced by the mighty dollar, and it is once again capital that has the last laugh.

As Karl Marx said: “The production of too many useful things results in two many useless people.” Prisons are deemed useful things and because we value them more than the people within them, we can deem prisoners useless. The fact that we all can see they have gone too far is a good thing, but as long as useless capitalists are in charge, reforms will only serve to justify and expand the business model.

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Nick Pemberton writes and works from Saint Paul, Minnesota. He loves to receive feedback at pemberton.nick@gmail.com 

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