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The Faux Political System by the Numbers

Image by Nathaniel St. Clair

It’s sort of funny in a diabolical way: Trump a Russian agent. That’s the line that readers might expect from a remake of Back to the Future 1, 2, or 3, or a possible article from the National Enquirer… the stuff of science fiction, or fiction, or gossip. But the FBI, our national police, seem to have not much else to do than to cook up schemes of intrigue and espionage.

There is something going on in the dimension of real politics and it can be expressed by the equation mr=ip squared, where m stands for mild, r stands for a reformer, i stands for identity, and p stands for politics. Try it with, say, a mild, but genuine reformer like Ralph Nader and see how the formula works, or an even milder reformer like Bernie Sanders and the result will be the same. Come to the political and economic table in the U.S. in the 21st century, propose mild reforms such as consumer protection, or addressing the effects of climate destruction, and the few and the wealthy, the oligarchs and plutocrats, will stop you in your tracks.

Senator Bernie Sanders is the mildest of reformers, say with issues of student debt or of income inequality, but over the past few weeks his 2016 presidential campaign has been rocked by allegations of sexism (New York Times, January 2, 2019). No matter that the senator has apologized repeatedly and was committed to rooting out any semblance of sexism in his recent senate race in Vermont and in any potential future bids for higher office.

The Women’s March slated for January 19, 2019, has already seen the headwinds of reactionary change banging at its door. A noble cause, the major organization behind the march has seen allegations of anti-Semitism leveled at it. The march has splintered into smaller groups that in some cases will march under a banner highlighted by specific identities. The formula mm=ip squared could be applied to the march, where mm stands for mass movement and ip equals identity politics squared. A casual observer might conclude that these candidates and causes begin to self-destruct under their own particular weight of issues, but the nefarious hand of other forces cannot be discounted. Dirty tricks is the name of the game with powerful forces on the right. COINTELPRO, the F.B.I.’s counterintelligence program of the 1960s and 1970s, comes to mind. However, sometimes dirty tricks cannot explain intolerance.

Ralph Nader, a genuine reformer, but absolutely not a radical, has been marginalized since the 2000 presidential campaign. Despite being one of the most accomplished reformers in U.S. politics, he is universally seen as a political pariah among Democratic campaign operatives for the sin of not being a serious threat to Al Gore during that election cycle. His, Nader’s problem, is that he appeared to be a serious contender for those with an identity in the Democratic Party. Readers know Gore beat George W. Bush in that election, but they, the elite, threw it through a combined effort of the reactionary politics of Florida and the U.S. Supreme Court.

Then there is the political equation of gr=ip squared, where g is equal to being genuine, r represents a  radical, and the ip in the previous equation stands for exactly the same elements squared. Take Professor Angela Davis for example.  She was supposed to receive an award early this year for her achievements in civil rights. If anyone deserves such an award, it’s the professor. I know because I was right across the street from the Women’s House of Detention in 1971 when they brought in Angela Davis. When a person is willing to risk jail for their political beliefs for positive or even radical change, then questioning their commitment is bad business.

Professor Davis ran into the anti-BDS movement (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions Movement), racism, and red baiting. Some organizations in the Birmingham Jewish community criticized the professor who had already been told that she was to receive the award from the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute (AL.com). Some of the naysayers who support a rabid form of modern Zionism, that contains all of the elements of racism, seem to have effectively nixed the professor’s award. Even a retired general and former college president got in on the criticism of Davis, citing her communist past and involvement with the Black Panther Party. Imagine being a member of a radical black liberation and action group. We can’t even imagine a mild reformer in the U.S., so why even consider Davis as the recipient of the Fred R. Shuttlesworth Human Rights Award from the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute? It’s all by the numbers, as readers can see.

Here’s the point in all of this: It doesn’t matter if a political actor or radical wants to reduce student debt, or put consumers on somewhat of an equal footing with capitalists, or support the BDS Movement to stop the suffering of the Palestinian people or establish a Palestinian state. The few and the wealthy and the haters will get their target every time without fail. They are flawless in how they focus their power and money like a laser beam against their intended target and leave destruction and confusion behind. They allowed Trump, a dangerous nincompoop, to ascend to the imperial throne and the destruction that lies in his wake is breathtaking. They will allow the environment to tank in their greed and lust for power and to hell with the species that populate the planet. Their biggest “games” now are military spending, endless wars, and predatory financial practices. So, putting monkey wrenches into the political system is small-time work for them. It’s all sort of part of their game.

And this final note about mild reformers, except for Ralph Nader: They cling to the war machine and will only make small concessions to the causes of justice and peace when they are pushed by their constituencies. Natural constituencies on the left need to consider when consensus is possible among groups, and that consensus of demands is not limited to the electoral system.

Readers may want to make note of the fact that on the political right, fundraising is not a particular problem since they have their own form of identity politics. An Iraq veteran has raised more than $20 million  (Huffington Post, January 13, 2019) that may be returned to donors by GoFundMe. The money had been raised to donate to the building of a border wall along the southern border of the U.S. The money may be returned because the organizer of the fundraiser has opted to use a nonprofit for the donations rather than sending the money to the federal government.

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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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