The Washington Mall incident displays the essence of the Democratic Party and the IdPol Left, and it is horrible
The incident at the Washington Mall, the so-called “confrontation” between Nathan Phillips and Nick Sandmann, is a watershed moment in American society. Things are at the point where anything that can be used as a statement against President Trump will be, and what many Democrats and a great deal of the Identity Politics Left did, at a moment’s notice, was to simply pour out hate. In doing this, these people showed what they are all about and what they have to “contribute” in this world, and it is horrible.
This isn’t really about either Nathan Phillips or Nick Sandmann, it is about this outpouring of hate and vitriol, and the readiness to do this, and the inability to reflect, think critically, and reconsider.
This approach makes perfect sense in a situation thoroughly saturated with anti-politics; within this situation, the Democrats and the IdPol Left do nothing but throw more fuel on the fire. Absolutely nothing good will come of this, except through the disgust of ordinary working people.
In the aftermath of the incident there were three main reactions by the Dems/IdPol Left: double-down, move on to the next thing without a glance back, and those who said they “didn’t pay much attention to it.” The latter category in my direct experience consisted in liberal Democrats who are going to support the Democratic Party, and condemn Donald Trump, no matter what, so they don’t need to really look at any particular incident or stunt or what-have-you. All three reactions share the quality of not really caring about what really did or did not happen. In a way, though, the “oh, is Nick Sandmann that boy who was in that incident with the Native American elder … ?” reaction is the most reprehensible.
Raise the question of this incident with these people, and they just start talking about Trump. In other words, there is no ability to acknowledge or confront the essence of what the Democratic Party has become, which is “politics” as one stunt after another, and just hate, hate, hate.
At least the IdPol Left embraces its hate—that’s their virtue!
The thing that these people might want to care about is how disgusted most ordinary people are with them. But they don’t care, because ordinary people are fascists, racists, etc.—deplorable. The blithe Dem/IdPol Left haters can now only talk among themselves, in their echo chamber that is rooted in the narrow and rapidly-declining world of academia. The haters are completely unaware that there is another world, a much larger world, that finds them ridiculous.
The Washington Mall incident and its aftermath of hate and vitriol is quite possibly the supreme moment of (what I call) the Trump Clarification: there is no way forward in this society either from the Democratic Party or the currently-configured Left.
The Washington Mall incident and its aftermath was already discussed in my previous article “The Fourth Hypothesis” (Feb. 20, 2019); I won’t repeat what I wrote there, but I did want to go at this question more directly.
Whether or not you, Dear Reader, accept any of my arguments about what I collectively call the “Trump phenomena”—Disruption, Clarification, and Experiment—or my idea of Trump as representing an element on the edge of the system and therefore a possible “bridge” to something outside the system, there is no defense for the outpouring of hate that was seen in the aftermath of the Washington Mall incident. Even if you really think that Nick Sandmann was smirking and showing disrespect to Nathan Phillips, and that the latter was really “just trying to help diffuse a bad situation,” this is no justification for the kind of torrent of hate that was on display in the following week, including incitements to violence against Nick Sandmann and his fellow students and his parents.
For those who really think the characterization of the situation that I just mentioned is accurate, there is something else going on. I think it is clear that this characterization and similar ones are completely wrong, but, in any case, it is quite clear that the hateful characterizations are not at all well-established. What instead is going on is a deep need on the part of anti-Trump people to hate and to act self-righteous about it. I’m sure there are a number of sources of this need, but the one that matters the most from a truly political and systemic perspective is that the Dems and the IdPol Left have nothing else to offer, other than hate.
No doubt, too, on the part of the Left, especially the young leftists who’ve never known anything other than an IdPol Left, and the old, Sixties-leftists who have hung on to leftism all these decades, perhaps especially through having made a career out of activism, there is a great need to have “fascists” out there to “resist,” to fight, to punch, to rage about on social media, etc. There is a great need on the part of this “Left” to call someone a “fascist little shit” or the like. It’s a pathological and poisonous need, but it seems to be a need, nonetheless.
Most of these same people demonstrate that pathology when they seem to have no understanding of how someone like me, who also gets called some pretty ugly stuff lately, does not feel hate for these people in return. I am a Buddhist (of the Soto Zen type), and I sincerely believe that hatefulness has to be responded to with compassion (though for me this does not mean with absolute pacifism); I believe this because I accept the idea that hate is poisonous, that it poisons the hearts of those who hate. (Anger is something else, though if one is not careful anger can eat up a person as well.) One could imagine a “tactical” non-compassionate response that says, “fine, let those assholes poison their hearts, then we’ll be done with them.” But besides the fact that this itself is a hateful response to hate, it also tends to make things worse, it adds fuel to the fire. In Buddhist terminology, we can’t help a situation where many have their heads on fire by setting our own heads on fire.
Please, Dear Reader, if you do not agree with me on the rest of my arguments regarding the Trump phenomena, do not use this as an excuse to hang on to and submerge yourself further in this poisonous hate.
The roots of this hate (one of the “three poisons,” in the Buddhist perspective, the other two being greed and delusion; certainly concern about these poisons is well-rooted in all of the great religious traditions) are to be found in the general tendency in our animal nature to grasp and to hold on. Notice the avoidance here of the term “human nature,” too often the refuge of conservatives and often enough of liberals and leftists, too. I remain resolutely Sartrean existentialist (which was my philosophical “upbringing,” after all, going back to high school and the Sixties) and resolutely Buddhist in rejecting essence of any kind, including human essence. People change, everything changes, and if this were not the case, there would be no point in aiming toward a radically-better world formed in the image of justice.
We can take a double-lesson here from our fellow sentient beings, our fellow earthly animals. Other animals do not, with some possible and significant exceptions, seem to have what we would consider a philosophical concept of or concern for justice or the good. On the other hand, other animals, while they will tenaciously hang on to life when there is still life to live, also seem to know how to let go of life when it is time to do that.
Among other possible reasons for this latter quality of animal life is that other animals do not have a philosophical conception of the future, or of history, in the sense that is captured by Sartre’s notion of the project. We humans pro-ject ourselves into the future, in ways small and large. For the large ways to work, there has to be a conscious collectivity guided by a shared vision (for the conscious and shared parts, this is always “more or less.”) Even to whatever extent some animals may have consciousness and even a “moral sense” (e.g., a sense of fairness or of having an injustice done to them, as is not at all uncommon among mammals and cephalopods—see Jason Hribal, Fear of the Animal Planet), I don’t think other animals can be said to have anything like an “historical project.” Of course, most animals, from Octopuses to ants, are “social,” but it also does not make sense to say that animals have “social projects.”
Perhaps all the better for them! Perhaps some readers here will know the famous “Mu koan” in Zen Buddhism. Very briefly, a Zen monk asks his teacher if a dog is capable of enlightenment. The teacher responds, “Mu.” The monk then asks if a dog is not capable of enlightenment. The teacher responds, “Mu.” “Mu” is the Japanese word for “emptiness” (Chinese “Wu,” Sanskrit “Sunyata”); “Mu” can also mean “no” or “nothing” or “void.” As with all words indicating non-presence, “Mu” is a subtle and difficult term, and that’s why we have a “koan” here. In the spirit of what I just said about it perhaps being all the better for animals to not have social and historical projects, one way of understanding the koan is that there is no need to talk about the enlightenment of dogs (or cats, elephants, cuttlefish, etc.), because they are always-already enlightened. One reason to accept this claim is that, especially in the face of death when “time is up,” animals seem to know how to let go, and to “live in the moment.”
Personally, I think this idea of “living in the moment” is often used wrongly, even by many Buddhists, and certainly in the way that it has become a cliché in our society. Perhaps this idea has become a cliché precisely because we are living in an extended impasse wherein the sense of an historical and social project has been obscured and mostly obliterated by postmodern capitalism.
In light of this, it is, and should be, very, very frightening that our main line of postmodern capitalism, represented well by the Clintons and neo-liberal globalist finance capitalism, is such that liberals and the IdPol Left are ready to hate at a moment’s notice. This is what has become of the moment. It is not an exaggeration to say that this is an element of fascism and virulent racism and anti-Semitism that postmodern capitalism has succeeded in transferring to the IdPol Left. To be clear, I am not saying that the IdPol Left is fascist or virulently racist; it is the element of explosive hate I am addressing. Because of this hate that is ready to erupt on a moment’s notice, the real moment that we are in, politically, is obscured.
(Fascism is largely a moot question in postmodern capitalism; as Marcuse already argued more than fifty years ago in One-Dimensional Man, the “new forms of control” are far more effective and efficient at maintaining a docile, depoliticized population.)
To be sure, the possibility of such a political moment is already obscured by other elements of postmodern capitalism, especially the reductions that have become extreme in this period: science to technology, art to entertainment, love to sexuality, and politics to power. All of these reductions are inherent in capitalism (as Marx argued long ago, regarding the reduction of all qualities to quantity), but in postmodern capitalism the reductions become both extreme and commonplace, nothing to even think about anymore. This is a world where “judgment,” in the Kantian sense, becomes merely wanting or not wanting, there’s no question of analysis or understanding. To use the Buddhist term, there’s no question of “discernment.”
The reduction of real politics to mere power machination, which I also call anti-politics, gives rise to virulent hatred as the immediate go-to position when the opportunity arises. The Washington Mall incident is a watershed in that it solidified the “immediate go-to” stance of the IdPol Left, both in the hatred and the sheer opportunism that was in evidence in this moment.
As Sartre demonstrated in the Critique of Dialectical Reason, in ways that are still underappreciated, that there is a human project is the basis for human autonomy, and for the freedom and responsibility that comes with this autonomy; the human project is also the basis on which humans create institutions, but therein lies a very big problem. (To be clear, Sartre had already established the basis of human autonomy in Being and Nothingness; in the Critique he goes beyond his earlier phenomenology and gives autonomy a more social and materialist reading, with significant elements of structuralism.) The problem is that, even those institutions that are created to give expression to the creative unfolding of human autonomy can come to stand in for this autonomy; thereby, people come to serve the institutions rather than the other way around.
In pre-modern times in the West, this was mainly a problem of the Church; in modern times this is the problem of the State. It seems entirely likely that the problem is especially difficult in the case of the secular state, because then there is not even the presumption of some transcendent basis for values, laws, or the workings of the state apparatus. Now add to this a “politics” built around nothing more than mere interests and groups defined by the interests of identities, and the result is the sort of noxious brew we know today.
What had been a fragmentary array of grasping human animals becomes weaponized for the sake of the powers and interests that operate within the State. Indeed, the efforts of the Democratic Party and the IdPol Left have amounted to an institutionalization of self-righteous hate, without the pathos of fascism, rather instead with the banality of a drive-by shooting that hits some random “target” that has not been targeted. This “work of hate” (to twist perversely Kierkegaard’s title) does an excellent job of shutting down any opening of humanity to what is ontologically constituitive of the project that goes beyond the animality of humanity. This hate-work is the other side of Identity Politics’ work of power, applied in our period when neoliberalism’s business-as-usual is suspended—even if only momentarily and in very small portion, at most.
To summarize, what we are seeing is human grasping ever-more completely molded to the power imperatives of postmodern capitalism. In “The Fourth Hypothesis,” I argued that we are not seeing, with the Trump Disruption, anything like the truly political response (not reaction) that is needed; perhaps, though, we are seeing a possible bridge, or set of bridges, toward this response. These possible bridges are what the immediate hateful response is aimed at shutting down: don’t even think for a moment that there is an alternative to neoliberal globalism—in fact, don’t even think, don’t ever think, period. Just give full reign to your hate, and enjoy the satisfaction of knowing you’re not one of the deplorables.
(Of course, for white males, your facial expression, your posture, or anything, really, may turn you into a deplorable and an object of hatred at a moment’s notice. Whatever, that’s cool.)
There needs to be a manual to provide guidelines for white parents who are so stupid, racist, fascist, and entitled as to have a white, male child.
First and foremost, the rule needs to be: never smile—never ever! More important, teach your young fellow to never smile and to never even think about smiling. Remember: Whatever you think you are doing with your smile, to smile while being a white male is to exhibit entitlement and disrespect.
Do not think for a moment that it is a problem if Black Hebrew Israelites or some other obviously insane group made up of people of color say sexist, anti-Semitic, racist, or homophobic things. But also, don’t “just smile.” Don’t just stand there, but also don’t walk away. Perhaps run away, but be sure to show fear in a respectful way. But really, whatever you do, it will be wrong, because you are a white male, and you are even worse if you are Christian and rural. Just accept your birth status as deplorable and worthless. Teach your children accordingly.
There is so much more to say in such a manual, but really, the best way to avoid problems, problems that are absolutely your fault and no one else’s, is to move your family far, far away, perhaps to Finland. If you insist on staying in America, it’s probably better if you enact the “Herod solution”* before someone else has to do it, and also, retroactively enact it upon yourself. [*See Matthew 2, also Exodus 1:22.]
Obviously this applies to the male children of ordinary working people first and foremost. No more need be said about this deplorable class and their progeny—because who cares?
Middle-class professionals and academics, who are vastly woke, often have very special children, who will learn how to work the proper signifiers at a very early age (see the section on Virtue Signaling). On the other hand, as an approach to power machination predicated upon differences in identities (some of them self-defined, or at least indiscernible to anyone other than the one claiming the identity), Identity Politics pretty much insures that even your professional types are screwed.
As this is the case, you might as well enjoy signaling your own virtue and difference from the deplorables, and remain ever ready to throw your kid to the dogs when he inevitably falls astray of the ever-developing IdPol way. Rest assured that your kid’s school administration will sacrifice your child, especially your male child (but really, no one is safe) at the first opportunity. It’s for the good of everyone—which, being woke, you undoubtedly already understand.
Stunts! –We’ve got stunts! and hate!
Probably the IdPol Left wants more than stunts, but the Democratic Party is providing and concocting stunts, and the IdPol Left has nothing better to do than to go along.
There were those in this latter camp who did not actively promote the hatred of Nick Sandmann, but they did not defend him, either. This is the remaining Left that is critical of Identity Politics, but even they know that there are lines that cannot be crossed. If the thing to be affirmed involves people of color, and the thing to be negated involves some deplorable white boy, then the best that can be done is to not get involved. Thus the stunt does its job, and everything folds toward the Dems and the restoration of full hegemony of neoliberal business-as-usual.
For the rest of the IdPol Left, there is no attempting to wrap one’s heads around larger issues and that this is not just about Nick Sandmann (or Nathan Phillips), and it is not just about Brent Kavanaugh, for that matter. It is also not just about Christine Blasey Ford or Jussie Smollett.
What is “it”? “It” is the normalizing and institutionalizing of self-righteous hate and punitive actions against deplorable white boys and men. (Is it not brilliant, by the way, that Bill Clinton manages to evade punishment, despite everything, and despite the fact that even now he says the sorts of things that result in the pillorying of others?) In the Christine Blasey Ford stunt, which was very-well prepared even if laughably full of holes, the kind of institutionalization the Dems/IdPol Left aims for was fully on display. In short, this was the most significant attempt to extend the sort of Title IX regime that holds sway in the university system to society at large.
The Washington Mall incident does not appear to have been planned as a stunt, but instead it was something like a “stunt of opportunity” on the part of Nathan Phillips, amplified greatly by the efforts of the mainstream media, especially the Washington Post.
Soon after the great success of this effort, at least among those in the liberal/IdPol Left echo chamber, and after that same group had moved on to other efforts to discredit Trump by any means necessary, we had the Jussie Smollett stunt. Clearly this stunt was premeditated; that it was planned so poorly is a testimony to the success of the Washington Mall incident-cum-stunt. Clearly Smollett thought that invoking the color and headwear choice of his supposed assailants would lead to a Nobel Prize for victimhood. I’m very surprised he didn’t get away with it. In terms of what lesson the IdPol Left takes from this episode, Smollett probably has gotten away with this escapade. Meanwhile, Elizabeth Warren has “explained” her use of Native American suffering in order to advance herself in the law school and academia in terms of her love for her family. And she was right on the frontlines of attacking Nick Sandmann—good stuff, really courageous.
You really can’t blame the Democrats for promoting this stuff, since their audience eats it up and doesn’t care about what is true or not. But these stunts and attempted stunts really do show that Trump Derangement syndrome is real. And these stunts probably will be successful in terms of their real aim, which is to seize ever-more power for the neoliberal diversocracy and to further insure that no one speaks up for the horrible, racist, fascist, misogynistic, homophobic, transphobic, etc., etc. working class.
Say anything: Whatever it takes to discredit Trump
Have mercy, been waitin’ for the bus all day.
Have mercy, been waitin’ for the bus all day.
I got my brown paper bag and my take-home pay.
–ZZ Top, “Waitin’ for the Bus”
Basically there are two elements to the present regime of Fake News: 1) that the MSM are not separate from the establishment, indeed they are an integral part of it; 2) that Democrats, “the left,” liberal-feminists, etc., are determined to believe absolutely anything that advances the Identity Politics agenda of neoliberal finance-capital globalism.
So, the week before the Washington Mall incident you have people going nuts over Donald Trump’s having served fast food at the White House reception for the Clemson Tigers. (Part of what’s funny about this is that, undoubtedly, anyone from Clemson just going out for McDonalds or whatever would ordinarily be taken as just another deplorable.) One of my liberal friends had this response on Facebook to Trump’s table: “Fuck the United States. American culture is despicable. I want to move to France.” I wanted to say to him, “Really? This is what did it for you, Trump serving McDonald’s, etc., to college football players?”
For me, in my lifetime, it was the American invasion of Vietnam and Southeast Asia, and the horrible things that were done to the people of those lands. There were other things, such as the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. And so on—it’s a long list. As for “American culture,” to me that is the invention of gospel music, blues, jazz, and rock and roll. Are those things all “despicable”? For sure, McDonald’s is not a part of American culture that I like, for numerous reasons, but mainly because I’m a vegetarian and hate the endless horror that is the global industrial food-animal production system.
French culture has a good deal to recommend it, but, if anything, French food culture is even worse than American (at least qualitatively, if not quantitatively) on this point—after all, one of France’s contributions to food culture is foie gras, and that’s some truly barbaric stuff. It’s not mere “pure American banality,” which is what the New Yorker called Trump’s buffet.
My friend isn’t a vegetarian, and possibly couldn’t care less about this aspect of things; I doubt the—and let me put this in technical terms—goddamn snobs at the New Yorkercare about this either.
By the way, it seems that the Clemson players and coaches enjoyed the meal and visit to the White House, but why should that matter? I mean, screw ‘em, even if they were the reason for the occasion in the first place.
This, as always, was just more class-based Identity Politics rhetoric, from the New Yorker, and my friend—and all my liberal, left, etc., friends; after all, they care what they themselves eat—as for ordinary working people, the kind who have boys who go off to Clemson to play football, down there in one of those godawful Southern states for heaven’s sake (not sure which one), they can truly eat shit as far as our liberals are concerned.
Because, after all, this wasn’t about what the fellas had to eat, this was about anything, anything at all—yes, including anything completely banal, which is what these liberals and the New Yorkerare themselves about in what they find so despicable that they want to get themselves to France—that can be thrown at Trump. That’s where the anti-Trump movement is at these days.
“I think we’re going to serve McDonald’s, Wendy’s, Burger King, with some pizza,” Donald Trump told the press in an interview on Monday morning, discussing the White House’s planned banquet that night for the Clemson University Tigers, in celebration of their victory in this year’s N.C.A.A. football championship. “I really mean it. It will be interesting. And I would think that’s their favorite food. So we’ll see what happens.” (Helen Rosner, newyorker.com, 1.15.19)
There you have it, folks—the banality of evil! Does anyone doubt that, in talking about “pure banality” (it’s in the title of the article) of Trump’s table, the author was referring to Arendt’s famous expression for Adolph Eichmann? Of course, I’m not sure my friend even knows about this, or for that matter, most liberals and the left these days—so, unfortunately, I’ve probably just provided them with some ammunition in their bizarre discourse on Trump.
By the way, when I mentioned my idea for some new slogans that indicate where I think things need to go in the present state of things—“First there must be Yellow,” and “For a deplorable shade of Yellow”—my friend had no idea what I was talking about. Indeed, none of my liberal or left-liberal friends here in Salina, Kansas had any idea. So, in each case, I’ve said, “You know, like the Yellow Jerseys in France?” Again, incomprehension. But that’s where my friend wants to move. There is a wave of protests going on there that is the largest revolt since the Events of May-June 1968, I tell him. Oh, he hasn’t heard about it. I’m not sure that he’s heard of the Events of May, for that matter. My attempt to explain that the president who is the target of these protests is the French analogue to Hillary (or Bill) Clinton, not Trump goes nowhere; so I turn back to something we can discuss, classical music.
One of my next steps in further writing about the need for Yellow in the U.S.—and the fact that this Yellow, if it comes from anywhere, will come from Trump’s base and not the “left”—is to look up various left publications and see what they are all saying about the Yellow Jerseys. I’ve already done this to some extent, and I know that many of them are stepping around the Gilets Jaunes very carefully, or just avoiding the topic altogether.
So, now for the latest Fake News stunt, which is going over brilliantly with the establishment chumps of the liberal left. Truly, the establishment plays these people like Isaac Stern played the violin—masterfully, brilliantly. I refer of course to the “incident” on the Washington, D.C. mall from Friday, January 18.
The discourse on this from the anti-Trump, Democrat, left, etc., crowd is so ridiculous and sickening, it makes me livid and almost unable to comment. This is truly an example of how the liberals and left are so under the sway of Identity Politics that they do not know their ass from a hole in the ground—even while they throw out one “fact” after another, in the most crude, neo-positivist fashion. (I call this discursive style “fact-blam”—as in “blam! there’s a fact! you’re destroyed!”) What about this basic fact: of the three elements involved in this “incident,” only the boys from the Kentucky school were just standing there, not yelling insults at people, not coming up into anyone’s face, not attempting to provoke a reaction.
Of course many are not interested in this perspective, so let us just say that we have here, again, a very good example of where there are two versions, two narratives, two basic perspectives, and there is a wide gulf between them. Among ordinary people, as opposed to the ruling class and operatives of the ruling class, there is a deep division.
One would think that some kind of majority holds to the idea that the 16-year old, white, Catholic, high-school boy, Nick Sandmann, and his friends, are responsible for creating a racist (and misogynist, since they were in D.C. in the first place to take part in the “March for Life”) incident. But one would only think this for two reasons: 1) the liberal, and especially liberal-academic echo chamber, which especially feeds on virtue-signaling; 2) far more important, there remains a good deal to still appreciate, and appreciate in new ways in accord with our new-media times, Marx’s “ruling ideology” thesis. In other words, the ruling forces in U.S. society have embraced Identity Politics, as the best way of presenting a “liberal, democratic” cover for neoliberal, finance-capital centered, globalist capitalism. The “left,” congealed behind the anti-Trump movement and, in reality, the Democratic Party (whatever the left may say or tell themselves), has fallen hook, line, and sinker for this ideology. In its media and other manifestations, among ordinary people, this ideology appears most often in a merely “reactive” form, and in fact is quite often outright reactionary. There is no emancipatory content to it whatsoever.
The other side of the story can at times be merely reactionary, too, though I think even then not nearly to the extent that the IdPol-types hysterically maintain, egged on by their favorite media outlets and their social-media, academic, and other echo chambers. Even so, however, even the “merely-reactionary” (i.e., simply standing up for “white men”) is not going to help in any emancipatory way.
Both positions move entirely within the circuits of interest-bound anti-politics. Having said this, why shouldn’t white males at least respond to being told that there are nothing but worthless deplorables all the time? Does anyone doubt that there are many white males in Chicago, of all places, who would have defended Jussie Smollett if he really had been attacked by racist and homophobic white reactionaries, whatever hats they were or weren’t wearing? The more complicated situation would have been if the assailants had been the black Nigerians who Smollett apparently hired as accomplices—then the Identity-Politics line of “it’s a black thing, you wouldn’t understand” might have kept potential defenders, of whatever color, out of it.
In any case, what is needed, and what is absolutely missing on the IdPol Left these days (indeed, what is prohibited by this conception of “the left”) is a critical-universalist program, that includes people who are white and male along with everyone else, and that at the same time recognizes historical injustices that must be substantively addressed and that takes class as a central question.
Despite some attempt at investigation, I do not know what Nick Sandmann’s class background is, or what his parents’ occupations are. Looking at the pictures of him, one might assume he is “middle class,” though that term is used in all kinds of ways in the United States. (This is one major—indeed, enormous—difficulty for any potential Yellow Jersey movement in the U.S.) But the idea that he and his friends are “private school” students is just another artifact of Identity Politics. (The latter, ironically, has its academic base in Ivy League and other elite, private, universities.) Catholic high schools are “private,” in the sense that they are not “public,” but they are not what is meant by the term “private school,” and of course many working-class young people have gone to Catholic schools.
Along with the liberal and now “left” view of working-class people as “deplorable,” we also have “rural” and “Christian” (Roman Catholic or otherwise) as signifiers of those ontologically disposed to not being woke. The Monday after the incident, Tucker Carlson spoke to those who would pronounce judgment on the Covington boys from on high:
What’s so fascinating about all these attacks is how inverted they are. These are high school kids from Kentucky. Do they really have more privilege than Alex Kranz from Gizmodo? Probably not, in fact probably much less. They’re far less privileged in fact than virtually everyone who has called for them to be destroyed on the basis that they have too much privilege. Consider Karen Swisher, opinion columnist from the New York Times. Swisher went to Princeton, Georgetown, and Columbia. She’s become rich and famous by toadying up to tech CEOs. … Is she more privileged than the boys at Coventry Catholic high school? Of course she is. Maybe that’s why she feels the need to call them Nazis, which she did, repeatedly.
So what’s really going on here? It’s not really about race. …
This is about people in power protecting their power, and justifying their power by destroying and mocking those weaker than they are.Why? Simple. Our leaders have not improved the lives of most people in America. They can’t admit that, because it would discredit them. So instead they attack the very people they’ve failed.
The problem with Kentucky, they’ll tell you, isn’t the bad policies that hurt the people who live there. It’s that the people who live there are immoral because they’re bigots. They deserve their poverty and opioid addiction. They deserve to die young. That’s what our leaders tell themselves. And now that’s what they’re telling us. Just remember: they’re lying when they do. (Tucker Carlson Tonight, opening segment, 1.21.19)
How did things get to this point with what used to be called the Left? There are many factors, but I just want to point to one of these that is of significance in the Washington Mall incident. This has to do with those who, after the high tide of Sixties revolt, turned their leftism and activism into jobs and careers.
Understandably, many who had dedicated themselves to the various struggles of the Sixties found themselves at sea, especially as the U.S. finally pulled out of the War on the people of Vietnam and Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger were ultimately replaced with Jimmy Carter and Zbigniew Brzezinski. That this replacement did a good job of taking the wind out of the left’s sails at the moment when it was exhausted and fragmented is still a lesson for today, when the Democratic Party has done a brilliant job of folding the left into its agendas.
The “Yippies to Yuppies” scenario is mostly not true of the 1980s, but it is the case that, as still-relatively-young activists and leftists faced the prospect of getting on with their lives, or at least living on, a certain number of them were not really prepared for “life on the outside.” Only a very few of these were able to be full-time, professional revolutionaries in the Leninist mold, with organizational support (or, too often, with the support of female partners who worked waiting tables). For the rest, the State and a certain amount of private philanthropy created spaces of employment as “activists,” and let’s not forget that many went back to school, got graduate degrees, and became college professors. In my own field, we see here the roots of the Radical Philosophy Association. Let me say forthrightly that, overwhelmingly, these were very good people with very good intentions who went into these different spaces—and more than a few of them were great people. Furthermore, there was nothing wrong with taking advantage of the system’s own attempt to “keep these people off the streets.”
The problem was where and what the system was channeling these people toward, and what these people became comfortable with. (As I was only fourteen in 1968, I don’t claim the—honorable—mantle of “Sixties person,” though I know people who are younger than I am who do. But in any case, I am one of “these people,” too. I’ll leave my own story for another time, but it would be interesting to study the differences among those who seemed to take to academia, even elite academia, as if born to it, and those who never especially fit in and had something of a rough ride.) A great many of these people, by and by, simply settled down; many of them kept their commitments, at least on some abstract level, but they managed to morph what had been radicalism into the left side of the existing system, and then into mere left liberalism.
In the meantime, and I think we can go from the middle of the Reagan administration to the middle of the Clinton administration, so roughly 1985 to 1995, a new kind of “left,” with feminist, critical race, queer, and other “identity” currents, was being forged in a very “institutional(ized)” way (apologies for the infelicity of this expression). To again appeal to Sartre’s Critique of Dialectical Reason, there are institutional questions in any real structural social change, any real revolution, but revolution has never and will never emerge from the existing institutions of any society. There has to be something from “outside.”
One way to summarize Sartre’s argument, and this is very close to Badiou’s line of thinking as well, is that struggles and ideals that were outside of the institutions of power were ultimately assimilated to them. This in itself is not at all unusual: power either destroys or assimilates what is outside of it, unless prevented from doing so. What seems unprecedented, though, and yet now “typical” and normalized for our “New Egypt” (Weber), totally-administered society (Adorno), society of the spectacle (Debord) is that neoliberal power now has well-ordered career tracks for leftists of various kinds, though especially for those who have attached their leftism or supposed radicalism to various “identities.”
These, of course, for the Democrats are better known as “constituencies” and interest groups. What better way to deepen the attachment of these identities to the existing system than through an absolutist, unthinking hatred (and therefore fear and total distrust) for those who are perceived as what becomes, in an ironic twist of the 1980s emergence of the “politics of difference,” the “other of the other.”
This “normalized career/-ist leftism,” in the last two decades, with the rise of Identity Politics, has entered and is now well-ensconced in a new stage of development. To put it simply, as with the university system as a whole, things have taken a turn toward administration, toward State and State-like institutions.
Professors in the Humanities and Social Sciences, which is where many Sixties and post-Sixties leftists who went into academia ended up, are generally paid a decent income (despite incessant complaining to the contrary), but the newer administrative class in academia, from deans on up, and certainly Title IX directors and other administrators of the diversocracy, are paid very well indeed. Not to mince words: many, perhaps even most, of these diversity bureaucrats are not academics, have no academic culture, have no intellectual culture, have no intellectual curiosity—and some of them are outright morons. They are the worse kind of people to have in academia, in positions of great power (indeed, the power of Title IX is effectively without limit), and they will destroy academia as a place of humanistic learning.
(I’m sure the reader can tell that it is a struggle for me to practice what I earlier preached regarding hate, when it comes to these diversity bureaucrats. I try my best “to hate the sin, not the sinner”—or perhaps the contemporary version would be, “hate the system, not the system operative.” But I do not always succeed.)
This rise of the diversity bureaucracy has occurred at the same time that the full-time (tenured or tenure-track) faculty is being decimated, replaced with adjuncts who are exploited as much or more than any “blue collar” worker in the post-war U.S. There is much to talk about here, but let us just say in the present discussion one of the things that matters is that, in the climate of fear and intimidation fostered by Title IX especially, the incentive to keep your nose clean is even greater. Title IX and the neoliberal corporatization of the university are not the same thing, exactly—meaning that, in some respects they are pretty much the same thing (most especially the profile of diversity bureaucrats as power-seeking lawyers and other corporate management-types, with no intellectual interests whatsoever, and sometimes lacking in basic literacy)—but they work together very well. Again, it’s the end of the university, or really the end-stage of the end; but don’t expect corporate-type university administrators or diversity bureaucrats to care—they are fully up to speed with the corporate strategy of making a mess of things and then moving on to a better and higher-paying position.
Title IX is the powerful center of Identity Politics leftism as a fully-administered society—now if they can just find a way to systematically extend this power beyond the university system! Numerous steps have been taken, some substantial (especially in the corporate world) and some more for ideological effect (these stunts, or rather the media coverage of these stunts). There is a perfect storm raging out there for Title IX and whatever new State institutions of Identity Politics are developed, because undeniably there are some very bad actors and some very real victims out there who must be addressed—but by whom and for what purpose?
As with the traffic-light cameras in Chicago, everything becomes calibrated to generating more perpetrators and therefore more power and revenue for the system. Chicago politics is far from transparent, of course, but that’s just corruption of the oldest type; Title IX claims strong ethical reasons for its secretive, hidden, Stasi-like operations. When the Trump disruption and neoliberal business-as-usual is fully restored, no one will be safe from these operations.
What all this adds up to, as far as career leftists go, especially those in academia, is that those who remain in their positions will have to work very hard to keep their noses clean; what is more the key to things now, however, is that there has been a shift in the direction of career leftism. Yes, the Sixties or post-Sixties radical who followed the trajectory I mentioned earlier, to a kind of comfortable liberalism (sometimes mixed with some “radical” rhetoric or “theory”) in the academy, can mostly co-exist with this new regime, and that worked well-enough for assimilating Sixties radicals or leftists for twenty years or so. In the midst of this assimilation something else occurred, too, though—that the faculty began to more resemble the diversity that we find in the larger society.
This has been a good thing, and I feel very fortunate to have been a part of the academy at a time when it was happening and even to have contributed to this diversification in my own field, philosophy.
Some new kinds of radicalism came out of this diversification, and much of that has been good, too, but there has also been an important element missing in this scene—“diversity” here meant gender, race, and sexuality, but not class. Indeed, just as the rise of the diversity bureaucracy parallels the rise of the new administrative class in the university, the rise of a more diverse faculty and student body parallels a reinforcement of the existing class structure. This is of course not surprising, since it is one well-established imperative of “higher” education to maintain class structure and to create barriers to any shifting of this structure.
Again, there is a great deal to talk about here, but for present purposes let us leave it that the diversity bureaucracy, with Title IX and similar administrative offices at its head, has come into existence to manage this new state of affairs, and in a way that actually coopts a great deal of “left” and even “radical” rhetoric of the Sixties, but bends this rhetoric to the maintenance of the neoliberal State and economy.
The role of State Feminism is crucial here, and we might characterize this non-emancipatory “feminism” as what gets us from Simone de Beauvoir to Hillary Clinton and beyond.
Of course, it was entirely right to bring into the academy, especially the Humanities and Social Sciences, that which had been suppressed and marginalized previously—indeed, for millennia. Against a hyper-rationalistic, scientistic, positivist model, it has been a good thing to talk about subjectivity, the role of emotions in human behavior and reasoning, the role of character and care in human relationships, and the role of creativity and intuition that seems to surpass “cold logic.” It was entirely right to read those who should not have been left unread in the first place.
Further, even in its less-radical, more liberal forms, the study of gender, sex, sexuality, race, ethnicity, nationality, and other marginalized “identities” are among the many things that should be studied deeply, thoughtfully, systematically, in the places where this can be done. If some of this study goes in directions that seem “really weird” to people who have not even begun to undertake this study, or shown any interest in it at all, so what? The same can be said of quantum mechanics and molecular biology and thinking about what “0” and “1” and the square root of “-1” are really all about. The university should be a place for taking thought wherever it needs to go, or even wherever it is possible for it to go. The diversification of the faculty opened the doors to many new kinds of experiments in thought, and that is generally a good thing, even if (or especially if) it is in the nature of an experiment that it may not work out.
StateFeminism and other efforts to assimilate formerly radical (or radical-sounding) rhetoric to the militant authoritarianism of the State or state-like entities (that can determine whether you have a job, a place to live, etc.) is not anything experimental. On the contrary: Just taking Title IX as the jewel in the crown of the new diversocracy, anyone who has done any investigation of this scene knows that there is no discussion, no way to respond to this locus of power, and certainly no effective way to contradict it. Real academic work—study and scholarship, hypothesizing and theorizing, does not put forward new dogmas and then enforce their acceptance without consideration of counter-proposals. Yes, the way this works in the Humanities is different than the way it works in the Social Sciences, and the latter is different from the way it works in the Natural Sciences, and none of it can quite work the way it does in Mathematics. But even in the latter field (generally called a “science,” but it is a science unlike any other, without empirical content, a science of “pure form”) a proof has to be checked by others who are recognized as qualified to check it. Unfortunately—or perhaps not—the Humanities are generally about as far from this kind of proof-checking as one can get; but that’s alright, as long as there is room for vigorous debate. But perhaps this is why, unlike with mathematics, the “results” of Humanities research have gotten so mixed up with matrices of academic and State (and corporate) power.
Yes, there are certain “correct verdicts of history” that should not be reopened to debate in academic institutions. The “idea” that there are certain “lesser” types of humans, by virtue of race and sex, is one of these areas that needs no further exploration—precisely because it has been overthrown in social revolutions and thoroughly discredited in scholarship and research. But the book is hardly closed on “the social construction of” … gender, race, etc., and this is true on several levels. For the purposes of all kinds of policies, including speech codes, however, a combination of badly-done postmodern theory and the feelings of some individuals is taken as authoritative on what anyone needs to know and do.
It is very much not in the nature of an experiment to simply, immediately declare and enforce a new orthodoxy, and then to go right to work punishing everyone who raises questions or who doesn’t immediately get on board.
And, again, the exclusion of class from all of this is immensely important—indeed, it is way that the structure can be re-jigged in ways that, for all their importance, do not change the basic nature of the power relations at work, and this goes even much further for the configuration of society outside of the academic scene. This is why people should be very afraid of the idea of a Title IX society. Add to this that, when it comes to working-class women and people of color, the institutions of diversity we have seen so far could not care less. These are the sorts of institutions that maintain that the “rape culture” at elite residential universities such as Brown and Columbia is worse than it is for working women in inner-city Detroit and the Congo, and this is not an exaggeration. It should go without saying that no woman of whatever class should be subject to sexual assault or harassment.
It should also go without saying, but it has to be said, that most ordinary working people see right through the sorts of power plays the authoritarian diversity bureaucrats are making, to the extent that they can be convinced that these machinations are not the stuff of dystopian fantasy. The only chance these bureaucrats will have in the larger society is if they can create the same kind of system they have in academia, where they exercise virtually unlimited power with no accountability. Informally, of course, those who want State Feminism to be pervasive in every part of society do already have the social media, and the mainstream media, to act as a forum where an accusation is all that is needed; it is hard to imagine that the Title IX-types are not trying to figure out how to get their power-grubbing hands on this. Anything that has to be done with ordinary due process will not work well for them. But one should not underestimate the abilities of these power-hungry operatives to get around due process—they have plenty of practice in universities already.
Again, the Clintons can be blamed for everything—okay, not exactly or really, but, when Bill Clinton gained so much attention with his supposed empathy, “I feel your pain,” especially with everything else relating to certain kinds of pain and pleasure going on in the background, things took a very bad turn in our society.
The larger point is that there has been a shift in the whole framework in which career leftists operate, and, like the left itself, things have been folded into the State and into, for the most part, the purview of the Democratic Party. It was already the case that the leftists and radicals who converted their convictions into jobs and careers were too tied into their paychecks when it comes to thinking critically. The shift in the period I mentioned, roughly 1985 to 1995, saw the rise of not only academic and other careers that leftists and radicals could pursue, but even special tracks to attract and train new generations of so-called “activists.” Many of these new tracks led to careers that weren’t just decent, but really quite lucrative. Some of these new tracks allowed some people to essentially turn their “identities” into a career—sort of the “left-wing,” flip-side of Cold War academics who used their Eastern European identities to become talking heads on the Soviet menace and the like. That’s the kind of horseshit the left goes for these days, just flipping over some right-wing ridiculous, and again it fits well with the Clintons: “It’s our turn!”
There’s more to be said on this trajectory, essentially the coupwhereby State Feminism seized power in the larger society, with varying results thus far, and Title IX seized power in universities, with spectacular results, but my point here is that this seizure of power is the background for the reaction to Nick Sandmann. It’s a world where people can just immediately lock in with certain codings, based on color and gender, and then apparently be able to read facial features and posture with complete certainty—or at least enough certainty to spew hate and vitriol, and not really worry about whether they were right or not, because who cares?
Well, a lot of people care, but they are the people who the IdPol Left itself doesn’t care about. –Or know about, for that matter. They’re out there somewhere in the godforsaken South or in Midwest flyover country.
No need to worry about any of that, the IdPol Left is armed with the new phrenology! And they’ve got a cadre of government- and Soros-funded career activists to point everything in the right direction.
Regarding the career left and Democratic activists and the ordinary leftists and liberals who are their social milieu, there is one further thought I want to complete.
Mao Zedong enunciated the idea that revolutionaries need to base themselves on the politically advanced, win over the middle, and isolate the backward. Even if you don’t like Mao, it’s clear enough that this kind of approach has become fairly standard on the left.
This may still be the right idea, in general, but it seems to me that the conventional notions of who occupies these categories has changed—in an unprecedented way. For one thing, what is called “the left” these days is not “advanced.” For another thing, those grouped around the Democrats are certainly not the advanced–it is even difficult to call them the middle. In other words, they are not the people who are on the verge of becoming the advanced or following the advanced or joining the advanced—at least not the “advanced” who will play a leading role in a real revolution.
Who are “the advanced” and “the middle” today? That is a really tough question. What may not be as tough is to identify “the backward.” Certainly, on the “right,” or among “conservatives,” there are some people who are hardened racists, misogynists, homophobes, and even “fascists” (to the extent this last term makes sense without a mass fascist movement). I think there are fewer of these hardened reactionaries than the IdPol Left likes to think, and I mean “likes” here in the sick sense in which this “Left” goes on about racism, fascism, etc. They do like the idea that there are great many hardened and hateful reactionaries out there, especially among the “white working class,” because it justifies what the IdPol Left is about: hating most people, hating the working class, thinking most people are stupid, thinking they themselves are so bloody smart, thinking they are part of some sort of “Resistance” or “anti-fascist movement.” In their own self-righteous dogmatism and self-aggrandizement, then, I would say the Democrats and the IdPol Left are the backward of this moment.
This world is topsy-turvy, we cannot rely on the conventional categories of “left” and “right,” etc. And we have to be especially wary of career- and academic-leftists (and Hollywood-types) who are overly interested in increasing their own power, prestige, visibility, or paychecks, and where their ideologies and even personas are shaped by these interests.
(I will return to these questions in a review of Alain Badiou’s recent book, Trump.)
To conclude, I would like to comment on three criticisms that have been put forward of my treatment of the Washington Mall incident in my previous article, “The Fourth Hypothesis.” First the criticisms and their context, then my response—the exception being that under the second set of criticisms (from former Kasama people) there are responses from me in the original exchange.
Jeffrey St. Clair, the editor of CounterPunch, wrote the following in a personal communication to me:
I admit it is a weird piece in which poor Nathan Phillips, one the gentlest people that I ever encounteredin AIM, comes off as more of a villain than Elliot Abrams, an honest to goodness Indian killer, who receives only a fleeting & dismissive mention. All I can say for poster boy is that he should (though almost certainly doesn’t) consider himself fortunate that he didn’t pull that shit in the face of Leonard Crow Dog or Russell Means. (As for 16 year olds getting death threats, Sandman’s brief week of notoriety was nothing compared to what Trump did to the Central Park Five.) As for Alex, he was, of course, quite sympathetic to Bill Clinton, vigorously opposed his impeachment (one of the few hostile divisions among us) and famously outed Hitchens in the Nation and the NYPress for selling his services to the Dole campaign. Katrina had a different pretext for stripping him of his 2nd page and later reducing his column to once a month. (By the way, you do say that the US is out of Syria. We’re not.) The first question Alex asked every intern, and many prospective writers for CP, was: “Is your hate pure?”
[note: I am using this with St. Clair’s permission.]
As I discussed in The Trump Experiment, I worked with the Revolutionary Communist Party, USA, for about twenty-six years, from around 1982 until 2008. (Because of the various points on which we disagreed, I was never a member of the RCP.) As the RCP turned toward the consolidation of its line behind the “New Synthesis of Bob Avakian,” we parted ways, and then I worked with a group of people from the RCP and others on what we called “regroupment” and “reconception” in a post-Maoist frame. This organization was called the Kasama Project; a lot of good writing and discussion came out of Kasama, and some activism as well. Then there was an attempt to move things into another level of organization, which instead caused things to fall apart.
Because I have previously not posted my CounterPunch.org articles on my own Facebook page, there is much said in criticism of my positions that I do not know about. Often what is said is not what one would really call “criticism,” in that it is more straight-out condemnatory, in the way that has become typical of the IdPol Left. In any case, some of my former Kasama comrades are harshing and hating on me pretty bad lately. Here I will just take up examples that came up in connection with the Washington Mall incident.
Former Kasama Comrade: Bill Martin, you realize you are flirting deeply with racism with your contextual derision of idpol here and your defense of the Maga kids who were *already in Washington for a fascist rally* when they displayed their intense bullying racism at elder Phillips? Your embrace of white supremacist identity politics is disturbing to say the least.
My response: did you want me to respond on this, or are you simply making a statement?
What do you mean by “contextual” in the first sentence?
Do you assume that people who are opposed to abortion rights are “fascist”? (For the record, I support reproductive rights; the people who are going to destroy these rights are the ones pushing for abortion rights so broad that a baby could be born and yet still “aborted,” as in Virginia. But that’s not my main point. I don’t think someone is a fascist because they oppose the right to abortion. But perhaps you do think this.) I watched many long videos of what happened, I don’t see the “intense bullying racism” that you see, or perhaps simply assume.
What is your conception of “elder Phillips”? He’s someone who joined the Marines, and “when he came back from Vietnam,” some hippie girl spit on him and called him a baby-killer, so he had to beat up the hippie’s boyfriend, except none of that ever happened because he didn’t go to Vietnam, etc.
I think you and the IdPol Left are living in a world of binaries that I reject, and that I think have to be rejected if anything good is going to happen. That I might be “flirting” with some dangerous things goes to the risks that need to be taken to get out of this binary logic. I’m already writing the next article, of course, which will contain a postscript responding to some criticisms of my position offered by Jeffrey St. Clair, the editor at CounterPunch. [The reference is to the present article.] Here’s something I said about the risks of my position:
Obviously this has been a sore point in these last three years, as many people around me and also not around me have jumped to the conclusion that I’ve gone “from Maoist to Trumpist,” that I’m just repeating GOP talking points, etc.—and some of this is from people who have been close friends over three or four decades! None of this is true, exactly, but I do not deny in proposing what I take to be some experimental theses in light of the inability of existing ideologies of Left and Right to come up with anything worthwhile, I could be rightfully accused of flirting with some things that are far from pristine. I don’t see how we are going to practice tikkun olam in this world, to heal, repair, and transform the world, if we do not take some major risks. Frankly, though, I think my proposals involve far less risk—risk that we’re going to see the entire globe wrapped up in what Weber called “New Egypt,” or Adorno’s “totally-administered society”—than the path the current Left is taking.
And here’s something I wrote in a parentheses that goes to the binary problem: (The idea of going “beyond Left and Right” has become fairly worn out, but in any case I am trying to do something different. That also means, though, that individual ideas or actions that come from a place that might conventionally be thought to be “Left” or “Right” can be considered for themselves. I’m a little suspicious of the motives of the new Muslim Congresswomen who have criticized the State of Israel, for example, but I’m still pleased that they took this necessary step, and I of course reject the ridiculous howls of people on both the Left and Right who are calling these criticisms “anti-Semitic.” Indeed, I reject these howls as themselves anti-Semitic, because they trivialize anti-Semitism for narrow efforts at power-machination.)
I’m doing elder Phillips the favor, unlike the IdPol Left who is treating him like some sort of “pet” or “totem,” of taking him seriously–and, doing so, I see that he is full of crap.He provoked the confrontation; if you watch to the end of the longer video, you see that he was surrounded by big guys who displayed plenty of breast-beating toxic masculinity. Phillips did not confront the Black Hebrew Israelites who were shouting racist and homophobic things at the other Native Americans. He is a career-activist who gets money from George Soros, like so many these days on the “left,” and he needed some sort of confrontation/stunt to make his day worthwhile (when the previous attempt to disrupt things at the National Cathedral failed).
Clearly his whole backstory and what he was doing got away from Phillips and blew up to something much bigger than he was prepared for. But none of that is really the point, the point is that the IdPol Left seized on this with their ready-made binary categories, including the “rural” and “deplorable” categories provided by Hillary Clinton, and immediately put out a hateful narrative that they have to stick to, because that’s all they have.So, then, because I don’t fall for the IdPol Left narrative, that same narrative, working in terms of a false-binary, has to designate me as a “embracing white supremacist identity politics.” That’s the trap the IdPol Left has locked the whole “left” into, and it doesn’t help anything.
Bill Martin Sorry, ——–, I pressed the button before adding thanks at least for presenting some content, instead of just throwing hateful insults at me, as did —- —–, –whose comments have now reappeared.
Just like the idea that people marching against abortion are automatically labeled “fascists,” —- called me a “fucking deluded idiot” for raising the question of why the whole establishment is lined up against Trump, and has been since spring 2016. Somehow only a deluded idiot would ask such a question, apparently, and it doesn’t deserve an answer.
That’s the kind of binary trap I’m talking about. And somehow people such as yourself and (I suppose even more) —- give me no credit whatsoever for having spent decades trying to figure this stuff out, and for trying to think in experimental ways, instead of just going with the slow boil into the fully-administered corporate/state amalgam of global neoliberalism. I think this is not only because of the binary trap, but because the IdPol Left can only puff itself up with hatred and fantasies of being part of some sort of “resistance.”It’s a resistance that needs “fascists” to make sense of itself. Nothing good will come of it.
Former Kasama Comrade: I used contextual because so called identity politics are fair game for discussion and critique but under the circumstances I find your use of the term troubling.The Black Hebrews are nobodies, one may safely turn away from their raging bigotries safely, but a crowd of mostly white people bused in from their private school enclaves wearing Maga hats and demanding women’s healthcare be defunded, yes such people terrify me; I’ve felt that privileged smirk all my life and it’s not at all unlikely that their parents are the ilk who go around demanding that Latinos cease speaking Spanish in public or all the other bullying brutalities that start out as bad manners and end up as murderous fascist gangs. Granted the scale of the latter probably doesn’t include every coddled white teen…yet…but you have to be willfully blind not to see the signs caught right there on tape. I don’t give a shit about any of elder phillips’ foibles or his questionable decision to intervene.Yes, I think antiabortion plus Maga plus laughter at an old Indian guy equals fascism, at least enough of it that leftists should be dead clear what the dynamics were that day, already underway before the Black Hebrews found the trouble that is their avocation. The confrontation was a flashpoint that illuminated a moment flooding shadows with a warning. Your critique of “idpol leftists” looks to me like a siding with great mass of whiteness that turns everything and everyone else into threatening, unmentionable and unentitled otherness. Trumpism is fundamentally white supremacy (Kanye and Carson and their fans notwithstanding), and that absence from your critique seems damning to me.
I didn’t respond to this comment because it was immediately followed up by some hateful invective from the other former comrade mentioned in the thread, who told me he wasn’t going to engage with me, because I’ve gone over to the other side, and to “go to hell.” Then someone got involved in the thread, mentioning they had looked up some stuff on me and found that back in 1992 and after I was part of the International Emergency Committee to prevent the summary execution of Abimael Guzman (aka Presidente Gonzalo). The other former comrade said that “Gonzalo deserves better defenders.” This seemed like an amazingly ugly thing to say, by anyone who knew about that situation and anything much about me. So I left all that there.
Lastly, in the “Fourth Hypothesis,” I discussed some issues raised by an old friend of mine. She had not yet read the article, though also complained, as many do, that it is too long. I don’t know if she’s read the article yet. But in our online discussion she again pressed some of the same points I had responded to, and added this at the end:
Our next topic to tackle: identity politics and why it is only an issue now when it involved identities that are other than straight white middle class male.
Here are my responses to some of these points.
The overriding theme here, in this whole question of the Washington Mall incident, and in addressing these comments, has to be the readiness of those who presently identity as left to have hate and vitriol as their immediate go-to reaction when it comes to anything they disagree with.
Perhaps there is something behind what Alexander Cockburn meant by his question, “Is your hate pure?”, that can be get to the point another way. Surely Cockburn did not mean, “Are you willing to hang on to your position on every question come what may and regardless of who raises an objection—and, if necessary to hate the person/people who made the objection?” I feel pretty sure that Cockburn did not mean for anti-systemic radicals to allow themselves to fall into conventional distinctions of left and right; on a number of important points, Cockburn himself did not all into this binary, much to the chagrin of some.
In a previous thread on Facebook (right after “The Trump Experiment” came out), there was some concern expressed by some well-known career leftists about where Alex might have come out on the present situation, clearly concern that he might have come out closer to where I am, than to either conventional leftism or Identity Politics leftism.
Alain Badiou argues that the primary affect that should be attached to real politics is courage. There are some key points in Jacques Derrida’s framework in Politics of Friendship that I disagree with, but I do accept his basic argument, which I think is also common to Sartre and Badiou, that real politics comes from an affirmation that is not simply the negation of a negation. Yes, the latter is in play, and has to be dealt with, but the affirmation of a creative human act (whether it be in politics, science, love, or art) has to exceed the work of the negative.
Not that raw hate is what any real Marxist, as opposed to unthinking IdPol Leftists, would call “negation” in any meaningful political or creative sense.
The IdPol Left (and Hillary Clinton’s noxious “Love trumps Hate” bullshit and the way all the Dems got fired up by it) vastly overestimates—for their own purposes—the amount of hate involved in motivating the so-called “right” and the deplorables. This is just self-justification for the IdPol Left and liberals to hate even more in return.
In the (Soto Zen Buddhist) sangha in which I participate, I raised the issue a couple years ago that it seems we are not so much warned against hating systems and structures as we are of hating people or sentient beings. Our teacher laughed and said that seemed right. And yet, now, I will add to this that, it seems to me that even hate of systems and structures can be very poisonous in people who are consumed by this hate, this burning attachment.
(As an attachment, this hatred is akin to the way many of the so-called New Atheists, and even more their followers, come at the question of God. Their hatred of God, and often of religious people and institutions, is so strong that they are among the most attached to God. This question is not unrelated to the main approaches of the Left today, as it has become normative to despise religious people, and to think they are stupid, across the “spectrum” of the left, from “progressive” and DSA Democrats to antifa and supposed revolutionary communists.)
The affirmation that exceeds the work of negation is also what appears as “utopia” in the thought of Theodor Adorno. (See especially the excellent conversation with Ernst Bloch, “Something’s Missing.”) If we do not for the moment get too involved in every possible meaning of “utopia,” and simply think of something that will be substantially better and qualitatively different from our existing society, the point is that neither the current deployment of “negation” (which generally does not negate) nor, especially, the hatred and other ugliness of the IdPol Left is going to get us anywhere near such a thing. Indeed, on the contrary.
So, to repeat for the zillionth time, whatever one thinks of the arguments for the Trump Clarification, Disruption, and Experiment, nothing that calls itself liberal or “left” (however much some clever leftists out there think they are crafting some artisanal variety of the left that is doing something different) offers any alternative. Liberals and leftists, especially as concentrated in the IdPol Left (but not escaping this “left” in other formulations) are the party of the global neoliberal dystopia.
As I did toward the end of the “Fourth Hypothesis,” I will offer one possible exception to this statement, at the end of this piece. But there is not much, if anything, there.
Regarding Nathan Phillips, certainly I am willing to accept that he is a gentle and perhaps, within his own conception of what he is doing, a well-intentioned person. In the interviews I heard with him, he seemed confused and as if he was badly improvising his story. I’m willing to accept that he didn’t really know what he was doing when he took a ninety-degree turn and suddenly got up in the face of a sixteen-year old Catholic school boy from rural Kentucky and banged his drum a few inches from that boy’s face. I’m willing to accept that it is possible that Nathan Phillips personally did not know how the images of his confrontation with Nick Sandmann would be blown up and manipulated. So perhaps these things speak well of Nathan Phillips.
But exactly what “shit” did Nick Sandmann “pull in the face of” Nathan Phillips?
And what kind of argument is it to say that there were others from the American Indian Movement who would have—what?—also turned a corner to get in the face of a kid and then, not liking his composure and comportment, inflicted physical violence on the kid?
I also fail to see what kind of argument it is to say that Sandmann got off easy compared to the Central Park Five. Undoubtedly that is true; but what does that justify? In actuality, though, as with the other stunts of the Democrats and IdPol Left, this one has backfired. While I’m sure that this same liberal/left coterie will say that those who have come to the defense of Sandmann are just other deplorables like he his, that only shows how clueless the left is. What needs to happen is for this left amalgam to come to the defense of the horribly persecuted such as the Central Park Five, instead of exhausting themselves in hate for a white kid who was just standing there.
So, yeah, Nick Sandmann will come out of this quite well, I think—is the argument that he shouldn’t? And how would that help the Central Park Five or other victims of the combination of State Racism and probably liberal feminism in the case of the woman who falsely accused them?
My former Kasama comrade said that it doesn’t particular matter what can be said for or against Nathan Phillips, it really comes down to the look on the face of Nick Sandmann—“that privileged smirk.”
And it doesn’t matter, apparently, what the Black Hebrew Israelites were up to in all of this.
I think both matter very much, even to the person who said it doesn’t matter. Why did Nathan Phillips get up in the face of Nick Sandmann, banging a drum inches from his face, and not in the faces of the Black Hebrews? The latter were yelling all kinds of slurs at both the Covington students (there were girls there, too, by the way) and the Native Americans with Phillips. Two women from Phillips’s group confronted the Black Hebrews and were told that talking to the Black Hebrews was not their place, and to send their husbands over. The Black Hebrews were saying homophobic things to the Covington boys, and racist things to the two black students among them. In response to the Black Hebrews yellow at one of the black students that they had better get away from those white boys, that his organs were going to be harvested, one of the Covington boys said back, “We love him!”
Perhaps I am blind to what Nick Sandmann and his friends were all about, but it is not willful. I do not see in his face what liberals and leftists see, and I doubt that I am any less experienced with the privileged smirks of privileged white boys, men, girls, and women, than my former comrade is. Certainly in my twenty-eight years as a college professor at a university in Chicago, where at least half the male students are devoted members of a religious cult known as Chicago sports, and who are resentful that they should have to take courses in philosophy in order to earn a liberal arts degree, I have seen plenty of smirks. And of course I saw plenty of these smirks growing up, going to college, and as an instructor in graduate school. But I have looked at the videos and pictures of Nick Sandmann from many angles, and I do not see a smirk there. It seems to me that he did a pretty good job of keeping his cool, under the circumstances. You can even see him reaching over with a calming hand to one of his classmates who did appear ready to try to stir things up.
I think the IdPol Left (and, again, whatever “other” left that thinks it is somehow apart from the predominant trends, even while going along with them) is simply predisposed to see evil and “privilege” in especially all white males these days (even if the ones seeing it, such as my former comrade, are white males themselves). This New Phrenology fits perfectly well with how Identity Politics works—name it and blame it.
My article was not about Elliot Abrams. If there is a need for my affirmation that in no way can Nathan Phillips be compared to Elliot Abrams, then I am happy to supply this.
“Antiabortion plus Maga plus laughter at an old Indian guy equals fascism” (it doesn’t appear to me that the Covington boys were laughing at Nathan Phillips)—that is also a good example of the kind of “thinking” the IdPol Left does these days.
That the IdPol Left needs “fascism” and “white supremacy” in order to make sense of itself, and that a white male who has been bullied by other white males in his life has an emotional reaction to what he thinks he sees in the face of a white 16-year-old boy is not a basis for understanding anything in the world today. Indeed, these sorts of reactions ought to make anyone interested in an actual, critical examination of things question this liberal and left narrative. It’s the sort of need for fascism and these feeling-based reactions that have made the left dupes of the Democratic Party.
Of course there is real white supremacy in this world, in this society. But I think there is far less of it in actual white people than what the IdPol Left narrative claims. There is resentment that has been intentionally stirred up in many white people, especially white working-class people, by both the IdPol Left and a handful of truly racist agitators, for their own purposes. There are many people from the working class who have had it with being told they are deplorable and worthless and simply shit, and now they seem to be told this not only by privileged white liberals and other privileged professionals and academics, but also by this so-called “left,” such as represented by my former Kasama comrades. Who does all of this serve? It would be very hard to show that this serves any emancipatory purpose whatsoever.
(I want to say more about how these and other former comrades—who now say they are “ashamed” that they were in an organization with me—were part of a group that aimed to engage in experimental thinking about the communist project, but I will save this for the conclusion of The Trump Clarification. However, I do think the problem with these former comrades is not so different than the limitations that made it such that Bob Avakian was not able to really come up with a “new synthesis”: hatred of philosophy and philosophical thinking, and therefore a tendency to just fall back on conventional leftist thinking.)
The feelings-based reactions—which are validated as the supreme arbiters in Identity Politics—are really the core of the problem here; all of these claims about Nathan Phillips, the Black Hebrews, Elliot Abrams, “that privileged smirk,” etc., are just deflections from having to face up to the ugliness of this outpouring of hate.
That the reaction to my argument on this point is just more hate (and also, frankly, a complete lack of respect for anything I’ve done in the past, as well-exemplified by that remark about Gonzalo deserving better defenders), ought to be a sign to anyone wondering what the IdPol Left is really up to and what their contribution really is.
Lastly, to respond to my old friend who at least does respect me and tells me that I’m “wonderful,” despite also thinking that my political direction in the last few years is crazy (but, to be clear, she thought the directions I took before were crazy, too), it is not the “identity” of straight white males that I am interested in. I do reject the identification of such individuals such that, on the basis of this categorization, certain things can supposedly be “known.” My friend and many others have asked me why I keep talking about the Clintons. There are many reasons, but one of them is that the whole “it’s our turn” approach to “politics” is very important to the rise of Identity Politics. I don’t accept the way that Identity Politics uses the term “identity”; apart from that, however, I am happy to affirm whatever self-conception that people have of themselves, at least in terms of their right to have this conception and to pursue a meaningful life on the basis of this conception. Okay, perhaps there are a few exceptions to this, but, broadly-speaking, there are many good ways to be a human, to pursue the creative activity of fulfilling one’s humanity, and to contribute to the larger project of humanity.
I don’t like defending myself on claims such as “only an issue now,” much less on charges such as “siding with [a/the] great mass of whiteness,” by talking about myself and what I have done (including what I have written, since I am a writer and that is something I “do”). That sort of thing sounds too much like the old, “Some of my best friends are …” approach. Also, of course, I would never deny that I have made many mistakes in my life. However, I do feel sure in saying that not caring about humanity in general, and not caring about people/peoples who are the victims of historical injustices is not one of the mistakes I have made. Have I always cared enough and have I always been active in the right ways? I’m sure I haven’t.
On a more systemic level, though, I thinkthe problem is the assumption that, whatever is perhaps not entirely right about Identity Politics, it can’t be doing any actual harm, it can’t be part of a politics that is bad for humanity. This is what I don’t agree with, just as I don’t agree that the Democrats and the left couldn’t possibly be as bad as having Donald Trump in the White House. I think Identity Politics is perfect for the aims of neoliberal, finance-capital led globalism, and that this formation of capitalism (which I call “postmodern capitalism,” but I don’t want to get hung up on this point) is leading humanity evermore into a dystopian state.
It is mainly a contingency of history that the exposure of the pure hatred that envelopes the current “left” and liberal Democrats is bound up with white people, predominantly working-class white people, in the present moment. This too is perfect for postmodern capitalism, because the last thing any good and decent person wants to do is to defend a white person, especially a “straight white middle-class male.” (I’m not sure, though, that Nick Sandmann is middle class, and just as I don’t think that girls and women automatically share the class status of their fathers or their partners/husbands, etc., I also wonder about simply assigning a class status to a 16-year old boy, too; in any case, I don’t know the class background of Sandmann’s parents). But what good and decent person has the immediately hateful reaction that so many liberals and leftists did toward Nick Sandmann? —and, by the way, it seems that overwhelmingly, the people who had this reaction are themselves white and middle class.
One thing that almost always goes with a smirk is a smug attitude; I sure see a lot more of this attitude in white males such as some of my former Kasama comrades and other IdPol Leftists (the ones who are not male and/or not straight, too) than seems evidenced in anything that can be seen of Nick Sandmann.
Hate, vitriol, and stunts are all that the IdPol Left has—but certainly this ideological formation that arises very smoothly and self-righteously out of postmodern capitalism has done a briltliant job of taking people who should know better along for the ride. This devolution of the left went from working alongside the development of postmodern capitalism to the point where this left has become fully incorporated into this development.
Perhaps the hate that comes from the IdPol Left is in reality a response to the inability to see anything outside of postmodern capitalism, and thus these people, at least many of whom are well-intentioned, hate what they have become. Hate will not achieve anything good in this latter case, either—it will only contribute to an ever-more noxious spiral.
In 2014, a Tufts University political science professor named Michael Glennon published a book called Double Government and National Security. This is a very helpful book for digging into the workings of the Deep State. The Boston Globedid a story on the book back then, with the headline, “Vote all you want. The secret government won’t change” (Oct. 19, 2014). On December 1, 2016, before Donald Trump took office, Glennon wrote an update in the same newspaper on “Trump’s looming showdown with the ‘secret government’.” The article is worth reading in full, both for what it got right and what it got wrong. Without getting into details, let me just underline a few lines from the beginning and the end of the article.
The questions we face now are: Will double government have the same ability to check the power of the Trump administration? And can Americans expect President Trump to maintain the national security policies of his predecessors?
I expect not — on both counts.
The one essential condition for double government to function effectively is that the elected and concealed institutions present a united front. Harmony between the two institutions, at least in the eyes of the public, is vital. Trump, unlike his predecessors, has openly broken with the security directorate. …
Trump’s public face-off with the security directorate is, in sum, a game-changer.
I think there is more in play than the “security directorate,” but certainly the main “intelligence agencies,” especially the CIA and NSA, travel in the deepest and most powerful avenues of the Deep State.
Glennon wrote his book in part to try to understand why Barack Obama did not deliver on any of his promises to change the national security state that arose under George W. Bush—indeed, Obama not only followed the basic pathways set out by what I prefer to call the Cheney/Bush administration, he in many ways broadened those pathways and opened up even more venues for the surveillance apparatuses.
Perhaps one way to interpret the Trump Disruption is that there has had some success in disrupting the security state of the post-9/11 period, but the larger and deeper Deep State continues to mainly run things in the background. In “The Fourth Hypothesis,” I argued that the Trump Disruption is in substantial part “rhetorical”; especially through Twitter, Trump says things that the Deep State would prefer he not say. Among ordinary people, this probably accounts for the fact that ordinary Republicans will sometimes say they wish that Trump would be more careful with his rhetoric, whereas ordinary Democrats, who are much more onboard with the neoliberal agenda and the Deep State, really hate the tweets.
(By the way, I do and did know that the U.S. is not out of Syria; but Trump’s statements on this were enough to send the establishment, as well as Benjamin Netanyahu, into a frenzy.)
On this point, those who had hopes for the Trump Disruption might at least consider how much further Trump has gone than anyone else in decades. A comparison could be made to Eisenhower when he called out the military-industrial complex, or perhaps to Kennedy, on the assumption that he really did hope to pull out of Vietnam—in this case, however, unlike Trump, whatever Kennedy was saying remained behind the veil. Extending the metaphor, Trump may be like a little dog compared to the army of lawless beasts that is the Deep State, but Toto, after all, did pull back the curtain and thus revealed the apparatus deployed by the Wizard.
Democrats and the IdPol Left complain about the sorts of things that Trump has gotten and still gets away with, but if he wasn’t the sort of person—a billionaire, a media celebrity—who can get away with things, the Clarification, Disruption, and Experiment never could have happened.
One way or another, the Trump presidency will come to an end, at least by January 2025. In any of this, there is only way in which it matters at all what the Democrats do in the 2020 election, and that is if they nominate someone who is a real outlier like Trump is. One might have expected this last sentence to end with “like Trump is on the Republican side.” But Trump outplayed the Republican establishment to get the nomination (and, as with the general election, he had some help from Hillary Clinton and her people). Is there anything like this that can happen in the Democratic Party? What they did to Bernie Sanders in 2016 would tell very strongly against this.
On the other hand, there are some interesting figures out there who at least seem to be doing what Trump did and does in one respect, which is to just say whatever they think—and this is causing big problems for the Democratic establishment. In the “Fourth Hypothesis” I mentioned Tulsi Gabbard as someone who looks interesting in this regard; another very interesting figure here is Andrew Yang, who is talking about universal basic income. I couldn’t care less about discussions regarding whatever imperfections these figures may have, all that interests me is whether these people are real outliers who will really shake things up by being at the very limit of what is possible with their party and who will have to do serious damage to the party establishment to get the nomination. But is it not overwhelmingly likely that, when push comes to shove, either these figures or similar ones who may arise, are not real outliers or (like Bernie) they will fall in line when they are told to do so or they will be squashed in one way or another by the establishment?
Obviously, Democrats and Trump-haters in general want to get excited about something. I think only an outlier-Trump versus a true outlier-Democrat election would be exciting, because it would show that the system is reaching at least some kind of limit. (This is where I started this series of articles after all, with “Hoping for a Trump/Sanders election.”) How can this happen, however, with a Democratic Party that has placed itself as the best and most “responsible” representatives of the global neo-liberal agenda, and with its progressive edge wrapped up in Identity Politics and even a rhetoric of “socialism” that fits this agenda very well?
Still, we are certainly living in interesting times—times when, at least it seems, not everything happens as it is supposed to.
It is for this reason, that some things that were not supposed to have happened seem to be happening to at least some significant degree, that I am in favor of the Trump Clarification, Disruption, and Experiment. I support these phenomena because they may open the door to other, more powerful fissures in the existing order of society. In the largest frame, this is a hope that the doors of unexpected actualities could take an immense leap toward the impossible.
Hate won’t get us there, on the contrary. Perhaps, though, of Buddhism’s “three poisons,” I have traded hate for delusion? This is what some of my former comrades think. Maybe I have some sort of weird, quasi-religious (or more) utopian delusion. Or maybe it is just that the scenario that I am setting out, toward the impossible (by which I mean “impossible” in the way that Badiou defines it, impossible from the standpoint of the existing system—and also “irrational” and “illegal”), requires risks that admittedly have their distasteful side.
(Just as a side-note: I think I was a pretty good defender of Norman Finkelstein when he was being fired by my university, and I wrote an article that many thought was one of the strongest in his defense and that got very wide distribution. I still think that was the right thing to do, but, among other things, the defense of Finkelstein certainly did attract some who were real anti-Semites and not just being called that for the fact of being critical or condemnatory of the State of Israel. Obviously this issue is coming up again for Democrats and the IdPol Left—that’s a good thing and how this plays out will tell us a great deal.)
This awful hate-outpouring around the Washington Mall incident shows that the IdPol Left are at least presently far from able to do anything with any alternative doors of possibility, and yet they cannot let go of their conventional ideas that have been completely assimilated to the system. That is what this discussion is about. I don’t think that the arguments I have offered are delusional—and it is of course not about me in any case—I think it is instead that the IdPol Left has no answer to these arguments other than hate. (I did discuss this question at length in “The Fourth Hypothesis,” the issue of thinking “disruption is good, just not this disruption.”) Still, if there is some element in these arguments, and in supporting the idea that the Trump Clarification, Disruption, and Experiment are at least a possible opening to something that is both good and qualitatively beyond the world as it is presently organized, that is “beyond reason,” then, in the same vein as Slavoj Zizek’s “use your illusion,” I will take this delusion over this terrible hate any day.