A Wannabe Strongman’s Brown Menace Straw Man
Everyone with five functioning gray cells knows that the aspiring fascist strongman Donald Trump’s Declaration of a National Emergency on the U.S.-Mexico border is absurd.
There is no “national security crisis” of illegal immigration on the southern United States border.
Illegal crossings are not at “emergency” levels; they are at a fifty-year low.
Undocumented immigrants are not a crime and violence threat. They are less likely to commit crimes, violent ones included, than naturalized U.S. citizens.
Drugs come into the U.S. not through gaps in border fencing but primarily through legal ports of entry.
There is no big call for a completed U.S.-Mexico wall on the part of U.S. citizens on the southern border.
The United States military has not been “breaking up” and blocking “monstrous caravans” of illegal immigrants trying to harm the U.S.
The only crisis at the border is the humanitarian one created by Trump’s war on asylum-seekers and legal as well as technically illegal immigrants. The wannabe strongman has set up a ridiculous brown menace strawman in an effort to take an unprecedented step. He wants to use the National Emergencies Act to fulfill a ridiculous campaign promises to his white-nationalist base. He wants to make an end run around Congress to spend federal taxpayer on a project that lawmakers chose not to fund – a political vanity scheme that is opposed by 60 percent of the U.S. populace.
Actual National Emergencies
An irony here is that the United States today is in fact haunted by many actual and interrelated national emergencies. Here below are the top thirty-one that came to the present writer’s mind this last weekend:
1. Class Inequality. America is mired in a New Gilded Age where economic disparity is so extreme now that the top thousandth (the 0.1 percent, not just the 1 Percent) possesses more wealth than the bottom U.S. 90 percent and three absurdly rich U.S.-Americans – Jeff Bezos, Bill Gates, and Warren Buffett – possess more wealth between them than the bottom half of the country.
2. Poverty. The nation’s 540 billionaires (Trump is one of them) enjoy lives of unimaginable opulence (Trump flew off to one of his resorts to play golf after declaring his “national emergency” – an “emergency” he foolishly said he didn’t actually have to declare) while 15 million children – 21% of all U.S. children – live in families with incomes below the federal poverty threshold, a measurement that has been shown to be drastically below the minimally adequate family budgets families require to meet basic expenses.
3. Plutocracy. “We must make our choice,” onetime Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandies wrote in 1941. “We may have democracy, or we may have wealth concentrated in the hands of a few, but we can’t have both.” Consistent with Brandeis’s warning, the leading mainstream political scientists Benjamin Page and Martin Gilens find through exhaustive research that “the best evidence indicates that the wishes of ordinary Americans actually have had little or no impact on the making of federal government policy. Wealthy individuals and organized interest groups – especially business corporations – have had much more political clout. When they are taken into account, it becomes apparent that the general public has been virtually powerless…Government policy,” Page and Gilens determined, “reflects the wishes of those with money, not the wishes of the millions of ordinary citizens who turn out every two years to choose among the preapproved, money-vetted candidates for federal office.” Economic power is so concentrated in the US today you can count on one hand and one finger the multi-trillion-dollar financial institutions that control the nation’s economic and political life: Citigroup, Goldman Sachs, JP Morgan Chase, Wells Fargo, Bank of America, and Morgan Stanley. “You have no choice,” George Carlin used to tell his audiences earlier this century, “You have owners. They own you. They own everything. They own all the important land. They own and control the corporations. They’ve long since bought and paid for the Senate, the Congress, the state houses, the city halls. They got the judges in their back pockets and they own all the big media companies, so they control just about all of the news and information you get to hear.”
4. Bad Jobs. Trump boasts of American job creation and low official unemployment rate (real joblessness is a different story) while deleting the fact that tens of millions of the nation’s workers struggle with jobs whose pay lags far behind employment growth thanks to declining unionization (down to 6.5% of the private-sector workforce due to decades of relentless employer hostility), inadequate minimum wages, globalization, automation, and outsourcing. A third of the nation’s workers make less than $12 an hour ($24,960 a year assuming full-time work) and 42% get less than $15 ($31,200 a year). Good luck meeting a family’s food, rent, childcare, medical, and car payment (car ownership is often required in a nation that lacks adequate public transportation) costs on those kinds of returns on labor power. The Federal Reserve Bank of New York recently reported that a record 7 million U.S.-Americans are three months or more behind on their par payments. As the Washington Post reports: “Economists warn this is a red flag. Despite the strong economy and low unemployment rate, many Americans are struggling to pay their bills. ‘The substantial and growing number of distressed borrowers suggests that not all Americans have benefited from the strong labor market,’ economists at the New York Fed wrote in a blog post. A car loan is typically the first payment people make because a vehicle is critical to getting to work, and someone can live in a car if all else fails. When car loan delinquencies rise, it is a sign of significant duress among low-income and working-class Americans.”
5. Corporate Media Consolidation is so extreme in the U.S. now that just six corporations – Comcast, FOX, Disney, Viacom, CBS, and AT&T – together own more than half of traditional U.S. media content print, film and electronic. The Internet giants Google, Facebook, and Amazon rule online communication and shopping. (It is isn’t just about “news and information” [Carlin], by the way. The corporate-owned mass media probably spreads capitalist, racist, sexist, authoritarian, and military-imperialist propaganda more effectively through its entertainment wing than it does through its new and public/political affairs wing. A movie like “American Sniper” beats CNN reporting bias when it comes to advancing the U.S. imperial project [see #s 28 and 29 below]. A film like Clint Eastwood’s “Gran Torino” beats the evening news when it comes to advancing racist mass incarceration and racial segregation [see #s 6 and 9 below]).
6. Racial Disparity and Apartheid. The U.S. Black-white wealth gap is stark: 8 Black median household cents on the white median household dollar. Equally glaring is the nation’s level of racial segregation. In the Chicago, New York, Detroit, and Milwaukee metropolitan areas, for example more than three in every four Black people would have to (be allowed to) move from their nearly all-black Census tracts into whiter ones in order to live in a place whose racial composition matched that of the broader region in which they reside. These two statistical measures are intimately interrelated since housing markets distribute so much more than just housing. They also distribute access to jobs, good schools, green spaces, full-service groceries, safety, medical services and more that matters for “equal opportunity” and advancement.
7. Gender Inequality. Among full-time U.S. workers, women make 81 cents for every dollar a man is paid. The gap is worse in part-time employment since women more commonly work reduced schedules to handle domestic labor. Women ‘s median retirement savings are roughly one third of those of men. Households headed by single women with children have a poverty rate of 35.6 percent, more than double the 17.3 percent rate for households headed by single men with children. Women comprise just 27 percent of the nation’s top 10 income percent, 17 percent of the upper 1 percent, and 11 percent of the top 0.1 percent. By contrast, women make up nearly two-thirds (63 percent) of U.S. workers paid the federal minimum wage.
8. Native American Poverty. Thanks to the savage white-“settler” ethnic-cleansing of most of North America from the 16th century through 1900, Indigenous people make up just 1 percent of the U.S. population. The Native American poverty rate (28%) is double that of the nation as a whole and is particularly high in most of the commonly isolated and high-unemployment reservations where just more than a fifth of the nation’s Indigenous population lives. Native American life expectancy is 6 years short of the national average. In some states, Native American life expectancy is 20 years less than the national average. In Montana, Native American men live on average just 56 years.
9. Racist Mass Arrest, Incarceration, and Criminal Marking. The U.S. has the highest incarceration rate in the world, fueled by the racially disparate waging of the so-called War on Drugs. The racial disparities are so extreme that 1 in very 10 U.S. Black men is in prison or jail on any given day. One in 3 Black adult males are saddled with the permanent crippling mark of a felony record – what law professor Michelle Alexander has famously called “the New Jim Crow.” Blacks make up 12% of the U.S. population but 38% of the nation’s state prison population.
10. Trumpism/Fascism. The U.S. mass media focuses so heavily on the seemingly interminable awfulness of the creeping fascist Donald Trump (whose hideous nature is a ratings bonanza at CNN and MSNBC) that it is easy to lose sight of the fascistic horror of his authoritarian and white-nationalist supporters – roughly a third of the nation. The best social and political science research on Trump’s base reveals a fascist-like movementseeking a “strong” authoritarian “leader” who will rollback civil liberties and the gains won by women and racial and ethnic minorities since the 1960s. Trumpism wants to Make America more fully white-supremacist, patriarchal, and authoritarian (“great”) Again. Herr Donald’s disproportionately armed throng of die-hard devotees backs their Dear Leader no matter how terribly he behaves. It is a grave, creeping fascist threat to democracy.
11. The War on Truth. The aspiring fascist leader Trump made on average 15 false statements per day in 2018. He had stated more than 7,600 untruths as president by the end of last year. Trump lies constantly about matters big and small. He is a practitioner of what Chris Hedges calls “the permanent lie.” It is no small matter. In his description of this as “the most ominous threat” posed by Trump, Hedges quotes the philosopher Hannah Arendt. “The result of a consistent and total substitution of lies for factual truth,” Arendt wrote in her classic volume The Origins of Totalitarianism, “is not that the lie will now be accepted as truth and truth be defamed as a lie, but that the sense by which we take our bearings in the real world—and the category of truth versus falsehood is among the mental means to this end—is being destroyed.” Trump is only the most extreme and egregious wave of fabrication in a vast sea of national deception. U.S.-Americans, once accurately described by Alex Carey as “the most propagandized people in the world,” are surrounded by duplicitous and misleading information and imagery. This constant barrage of falsehood – examples include the thoroughly untrue notion that the U.S. possessed a “great democracy” for the Trump campaign and Russia to (supposedly) “undermine” in 2016 – threatens to exhaust our capacity to distinguish fact from fiction.
12. Gun Violence. Fully 40,000 people died from shootings in the American “armed madhouse” in 2017 (we are still waiting for the grisly statistic for 2018). The U.S. was home to 322 mass shootings that killed 387 people and injured 1,227 in 2018. Twenty-eight mass shootings, killing 36 and wounding 92, took place in January of this year. A mass shooting killed five workers in Aurora, Illinois, on the very day (last Friday) that Trump declared his fake national emergency.
13. Sexual Violence. One in 5 women and 1 in 71 men will be raped at some point in their lives in the U.S.
14. Illiteracy and Innumeracy. More than 30 million adults in the United States cannot read, write, or do basic math above a third-grade level.
15. Manufactured Mass Ignorance and Amnesia. Thanks to corporate control of the nation’s media and schools, U.S.-Americans are shockingly ignorant of basic facts relating to their own history and society. White U.S.-Americans are mired in extraordinary denial about the level of Black-white inequality and the depth and degree of discrimination faced by Black Americans today. U.S.-Americans in general know next to nothing about the criminal and mass-murderous havoc U.S. foreign policy wreaks around the world. This renders them incapable of understanding world politics and woefully vulnerable to nationalistic propaganda and militarism. Eleven years historian Rick Shenkman wrote a book titled “Just How Stupid Are We? Facing the Truth About the American Voter.” Shenkman found that a majority of Americans: didn’t know which party was in control of Congress; couldn’t name the chief justice of the Supreme Court; didn’t know the U.S. had three branches of government; believed George W. Bush’s argument the United States should invade Iraq because Saddam Hussein had attacked America on 9/11. Ask an average U.S.-American when the American War of Independence or the Civil War or WWII were fought and why, what the Bill of Rights was, what fascism is past and present, or what the Civil Rights Movement was about, and you will get blank stares and preposterously wrong answers. A people that doesn’t know its history wanders without a clue through the present and stumbles aimlessly into the future. Real historical knowledge is a great democratic people’s weapon and it is in perilously short supply in the U.S. today.
16. The Israel and Saudi Lobbies. Israel’s power in U.S. politics and political culture is so absurdly exaggerated that a freshman Muslim U.S. Congressional Representative (Ilhan Omar) was recently subjected to a massive and bipartisan political assault absurdly charging her with “anti-Semitism” for daring to Tweet seven words suggesting the elementarily true fact that the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) – a deep-powerful, deep-pockets public relations and lobbying organization committed to the advance of Israeli state interests – exercises money-lubricated influence on U.S. politics and policy. To visibly raise the question of Palestinian rights and Israel’s horrendous treatment of Arab peoples is to invite an onslaught from the Israel Lobby’s vicious and powerful attack-dogs. They’ve even been known to strip professors of tenure. Meanwhile, the despotic Saudi regime, possibly the most reactionary government on Earth, continues through money and other means to exercise huge influence on U.S. politics even as it senselessly crucifies the people of Yemen (with direct U.S. military assistance), cultivates terrorism across the Muslim world, and vivisects dissident journalists in its foreign embassies.
17. Neo-McCarthyism. The original Orwellian-American and Russia-mad McCarthyism of the late 1940s and 1950s has been resurrected in the post-Soviet era with a curious partisan twist. Anti-Russian hysteria has been picked up by the Democratic Party, which has been eager to blame its pathetic failure to defeat Trump on Russia’s supposedly powerful “interference in our [unmentionably non-existent] democracy” in 2016 – and to deny its politicos’ role in provoking any such relevant Russian interference as may have occurred. On the Republican side, Trump (who was mentored by Senator Joe McCarthy’s onetime chief counsel Roy Cohn!) and other GOP leaders now routinely follow in the footsteps of Joe McCarthy by calling even cringingly centrist corporate-neoliberal Democrats and everything they propose “socialist.” One of the most horrific moments in Herr Donald’s sickening State of the Union Address came when the Orange Mother of all Malignant Assholes (OMoAMA) told the assembled federal officials to “renew” the nation’s “pledge” that “America will never be a socialist country.” Numerous Democrats, including House Speaker Nancy “We’re Capitalist and That’s Just the Way it is” Pelosi (net worth $71 million) and “progressive” U.S. Senator and presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren ($11 million) joined the GOPers in attendance in applauding that “pledge.” McCarthyism was always and remains a richly bipartisan disease.
18. Health Care and Health. The United States’ corporate-owned/-managed for-profit health care system is the most expensive in the world but ranks just 12th in life expectancy among the 12 wealthiest industrialized countries. The U.S. spends almost three times more on healthcare as do other countries with comparable incomes. Reflecting poor, commercialized and corporate-imposed food systems and lethally sedentary life styles, 58 percent of the U.S. population is overweight, a major health risk factor.
19. Bad Schools. The nation’s expensive but very unequally funded schools deliver terrible outcomes. Among the world’s 34 ranking OECD nations, U.S. schools are the fifth most expensive, but the U.S. ranks scores far below average in math. It ranks 17th among in reading and 21st in science.
20. Child Abuse. Childhelp reports that “Every year more than 3.6 million referrals are made to child protection agencies involving more than 6.6 million children. The United States has one of the worst records among industrialized nations – losing on average between four and seven children every day to child abuse and neglect…A report of child abuse is made very ten seconds.”
21. Depression and Substance Abuse. The United States, once described by onetime U.S. Senator Kay Bailey Hutchinson as “the beacon to the world of the way life should be” (in a speech supporting the Congressional authorization of George W. Bush to invade Iraq) has the third highest rates of depression and anxiety and the second highest rate of drug use in the world. “One in five adults in the U.S. experiences some form of mental illness each year,” according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness. That estimate is certainly absurdly low.
22. Immigrant Workers Without Rights. Undocumented immigrants make up 55% of hired labor on farms, 15% of laborers in construction, and 9% in both industry and the service sector. “These workers,” CBS reported earlier this year, “play vital roles in the U.S. economy, erecting American buildings, picking American apples and grapes, and taking care of American babies. Oh, and paying American taxes.” Their technically illegal status makes them easily exploited by employers and undermines their ability to organize and fight for decent conditions both for themselves for other workers.
23. The Dreamer Nightmare. Eight hundred thousand people living in the U.S. were brought to the country as children by parents without U.S. citizenship. These “Dreamers’” legal status is stuck in limbo. They are not allowed to vote. They live in the shadow of possible future deportation, with their legal status treated as a partisan political football.
24. Vote Suppression. State-level racist voter suppression and de facto disenfranchisement is rife across the United States. Among other things, this has contributed significantly to the Republicans winning the presidency in 2000, 2004, and 2016. A “gentleman’s agreement” between the two reigning political parties pushes this critical problem to the margins of public discussion. (The Democrats have widely ignored the matter while they have obsessed for two years plus about Russia’s real or alleged role in the last election. Moscow’s influence was likely small compared to American-as-Apple Pie racist voter suppression in electing Trump.) “The United States,” political scientist David Schutlz noted on Counterpunch last year, “is the only country in the world that still does not have in its Constitution an explicit clause affirmatively granting a right to vote for all or some of its citizens.”
25. The Absurdly Archaic U.S. Constitution. Popular sovereignty, also known as democracy was the late 18thcentury U.S. Founders’ ultimate nightmare. They crafted an aristo-republican national charter brilliantly crafted to keep it at bay – in the darkly ironic name of “We the People.” Two and a third centuries later, their handiwork continues to do its explicitly un- and anti-democratic work through such openly authoritarian mechanisms as the Electoral College, the apportionment of two Senators to every U.S. state regardless of population, the distant time-staggering of elections, the lifetime presidential appointment and Senate approval of Supreme Court justices. The preposterously venerated U.S. Constitution is an ongoing 232-year old authoritarian calamity in dire need of a radical and democratic overhaul. It is long past time for the populace to declare a national emergency and call for a Constituent Assembly to draft a new national governing structure dedicated to meaning popular self-rule.
26. Trump and the Imperial Presidency. The OMoAMA (Trump) is by all indications a demented and malignant narcissist, a pure sociopath, and a creeping fascist. But the fact that someone as twisted, venal, sexist, and racist as Trump can pose dire threats to humanity in the first place is in no small part a function of the extreme powers that have accrued to the United States constitutionally super-empowered executive branch over the many decades in which the U.S. has reigned as the world’s most powerful state. The absurdly vast and authoritarian powers of the imperial presidency are an on ongoing national and global emergency.
27. Election Madness/Electoralism. In the early spring of 2008, the late radical American historian Howard Zinn wrote powerfully against the “Election Madness” he saw “engulfing the entire society including the left” in the year of Obama’s ascendancy. “An election frenzy seizes the country every four years,” Zinn worried, “because we have all been brought up to believe that voting is crucial in determining our destiny, that the most important act a citizen can engage in is to go to the polls. …” Zinn said he would support one major-party candidate over another but only “for two minutes—the amount of time it takes to pull the lever down in the voting booth.” Then he offered sage counsel, reminding us that time-staggered candidate-centered major party electoralism is a very weak surrogate for real popular sovereignty, which requires regular grassroots organization and militancy beneath and beyond what his good friend Noam Chomsky has called“the quadrennial electoral extravaganza”: “Before and after those two minutes, our time, our energy, should be spent in educating, agitating, organizing our fellow citizens in the workplace, in the neighborhood, in the schools. Our objective should be to build, painstakingly, patiently but energetically, a movement that, when it reaches a certain critical mass, would shake whoever is in the White House, in Congress, into changing national policy on matters of war and social justice. … We should not expect that a victory at the ballot box in November will even begin to budge the nation from its twin fundamental illnesses: capitalist greed and militarism. … Before [elections] … and after … we should be taking direct action against the obstacles to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. … Historically, government, whether in the hands of Republicans or Democrats, conservatives or liberals, has failed its responsibilities, until forced to by direct action: sit-ins and Freedom Rides for the rights of black people, strikes and boycotts for the rights of workers, mutinies and desertions of soldiers in order to stop a war. Voting is easy and marginally useful, but it is a poor substitute for democracy, which requires direct action by concerned citizens.” The reigning “mainstream” US media and politics culture is fiercely dedicated to advancing the hegemony of the major party candidate-centered election cycle, advancing the deadly totalitarian notion that those two minutes in a ballot box once every four years – generally choosing among politics vetted in advance for us by the nation’s unelected and interrelated dictatorships of money and empire – is the sum total of “politics” – the only politics that really matters. Since the hidden corporate control of the US electoral politics on behalf of the center-right ruling class rules out victory for candidates who accurately reflect majority left-progressive public opinion, these ritual exercises in fake democracy deeply reinforce the fatalistic and false belief that most Americans are centrist and right-wing. The 2020 Democratic Party presidential candidate Iowa-New Hampshire circus is already sucking up vast swaths of cable news coverage and commentary while numerous pressing matters (like most of what is listed in the present essay) is largely ignored. It’s pathetic.
28. Guns Over Butter. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. rightly preached that the U.S. could not end poverty or escape “spiritual death” as long as it diverted vast swaths of its tax revenue to a giant war machine that “draw [s] men and skills and money like some demonic destructive suction tube.” Just over half a century after King said this, the United States gives 54 percent of its federal discretionary to the Pentagon System, a giant subsidy to high-tech “defense” (war and empire) corporations like Raytheon and Boeing. Six million U.S, children live in “deep poverty,” at less than half (!) the federal government’s obscenely inadequate poverty level, while the U.S, government maintains 800 military bases in more than 70 countries and territoriesaround the world (Britain, France, and Russia together have a combined 30 foreign bases) and accounts for nearly 40 percent of all global military spending. It is deeply offensive that the progressive-populist (fake-“democratic socialist”) U.S. Senator and presidential candidate Bernie Sanders has repeatedly cited Scandinavian nations as his social-democratic policy role models without having the elementary Dr. Kingian decency to note that those countries dedicate relatively tiny portions of their national budgets to the military. It is disturbing but predictable that most Congressional Democrats voted for Trump’s record-setting $700 billion Pentagon budget last year. U.S. Americans must choose: we can have democracy, social justice, guaranteed free health care, well-funded public schools, and livable ecology or we can have a giant global war machine. We can’t have both.
29. Doctrinal Denial of U.S. Imperialism. Across the U.S. “mainstream” political and media spectrum, it is beyond the pale of acceptable discussion to acknowledge that the United States is a deeply criminal and imperialist power. The examples are endless. It is normative for U.S. cable talking heads, pundits, and politicians to discuss Eastern Europe or East Asia as if the Washington has as much right to influence developments there as Moscow and Beijing, respectively. Terrible developments in the Middle East and North Africa are routinely discussed by “mainstream “U.S. politicos, talking heads, and pundits as if the United States had not wreaked nearly indescribable havoc on Iraq and Libya and the broader Muslim world. Migrants seeking asylum from Central America are regularly reported and discussed with zero reference to the fact that the United States has inflicted massive and bloody devastation on that region for decades – and without mentioning the Obama administration’s support of a vicious right-wing coup in Honduras in the spring of 2009. Reporting on the current political crisis in Venezuela comes with complete Orwellian deletion of the United States’ role in crippling the nation’s democratically elected socialist government on the model of the Nixon administration’s campaign to undermine Chile’s democratically elected socialist government in the late 1960s and early 1970s. No serious discussion is permitted of the historical context of Washington’s longstanding intervention and regime-change operations across Latin America. The reigning Empire-denial is absurd.
30. Amazon. Google (lol) up its mind-boggling and many-sided monopolistic reach and then thank the New York City Left for stopping this public-subsidy-sucking, zero tax-paying corporate monstrosity from setting up its headquarters in the nation’s largest city.
31. Last but not at all least, Ecocide. The climate catastrophe poses grave existential threats to livable ecology and all prospects for a decent human future. It is a national and global emergency of epic proportions. It is the single biggest issue of our or any time. If this environmental calamity is not averted soon, nothing else that progressives and decent citizens everywhere care about is going to matter all that much. The United Nations Panel on Climate Change has recently warned that we have a dozen years to keep global warming to a maximum of 1.5C, beyond which true cataclysm will fall upon hundreds of millions of people. Under the command of capital, we are currently on a pace to melt Antarctica by 2100. The unfolding climate disaster’s leading political and economic headquarters is the United State, home to a super-powerful fossil fuel industry with a vast, deeply funded lobbying and public relations apparatus dedicated to turning the planet into a giant Greenhouse Gas Chamber.
Towards a Green New Deal
If a vicious and moronic creeping fascist like Donald Trump can declare a fake national emergency over a non-existent crisis in order to build a political vanity wall rejected by Congress and 60 percent of the population, perhaps a future decent and democratic government sincerely committed to the common good could declare a national emergency to address the all-too real climate crisis by moving the nation off fossil fuels and on to renewable energy sources while advancing environmentally sustainable practices and standards across economy and society. A properly crafted Green New Deal would also and necessarily address other and related national emergencies including the crises of financial oligarchy, bad jobs, inequality, poverty, plutocracy, racial inequality, mass incarceration, untruth, inadequate health care, fascism, poor schooling, mental illness, substance abuse, gun violence, militarism-imperialism, gender disparity, spiritual death, and much more. I plan in a future essay to elaborate on what it is meant by a “properly crafted Green New Deal.”