Conditions Close at Hand

“Man makes his own history, but he does not make it out of the whole cloth; he does not make it out of conditions chosen by himself, but out of such as he finds close at hand.”

– Karl MarxThe Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte

Closest at hand is our Coronavirus pandemic, a virus gone viral in the American mass psyche bringing a close to home sense of our mortality. Our wars didn’t do it, at least our “volunteer” wars. When existentialism was the rage, there was a cerebral “fear and trembling, sickness unto death” but not quite the same thing as worrying whether a surface you touched, or a person you spoke to might have been your own messenger from the Grim Reaper.

While all may fear Covid-19, some have solid reasons to fear and others are “working remotely” per usual and have the usual home deliveries, maybe more than when able to dine at restaurants. In short, they’re able to limit their risks of exposure. So, the already struggling to make ends meet now get out there and work and risk virus exposure. If enough of them die, we all reach a herd immunity, even if you’ve been sheltering in the Hamptons or in your retreat in New Mexico.

Nothing new here. Blacks and browns in the U.S. are in that prosperity tabulation where an option to join the military and fight in a rich man’s war, or get back to work during a pandemic are the only options. The economic conditions “close at hand” for minorities caught as usual without monthly dividend deliveries have been “close at hand” most certainly since Reagan announced it was morning in America.

It’s hard for me to believe that a post-pandemic awakening will sweep the country and all the inequities of the past will be righted. I left my Pollyanna at the 3/4 century mark. However, a first step would be to get Mitch McConnell out of power. And we should do what President Trump himself has threatened to do: close down Twitter. Without McConnell to give this president Senate cover and without Twitter to give him a drum to beat hate, fear and lies into his tribe, he would be like Manson, a nutjob with a small pack of recruits out in the desert.

The conditions close at hand for blacks in the U.S. involve not only the disproportionate percentage of black and browns dying of Covid-19 but also continued police killings of blacks. But while it’s okay to announce, “Black Lives Matter,” it seems not to be okay for Joe Biden to say, “If you have a problem figuring out whether you’re for me or Trump, then you ain’t black.”

I interpret this to mean that given the conditions close at hand within which black Americans live, Trump and the Republican Party perpetuate those conditions to reach a constituency of racist hate and fear. And Biden is saying that he takes the same exception to that reality as should ever black person in the U.S

If you are black, then it doesn’t matter in Trump’s America who you are as an individual. You may have voted for him; you may hate Liberals and welfare recipients and so on. You may be bipartisan, or Oxford educated. It doesn’t matter. The only thing that mattered to the police officer who stopped Prof. Henry Louis Gates entering his own home was that he was a black in a good neighborhood and therefore up to something criminal.

Because our culture is chock full of the illusions of personal autonomy, we are vulnerable to sops to our individuality and ourselves victims to outright attack. If you are Latinx in the U.S. right now, you need to have figured out that Trump is using your presence here as an accelerant of white hatred. McConnell’s Republican Senate goes along with this. It didn’t take Jews a long time to figure out that they were all in it together when it came to “The Final Solution.” When it was clear to both the Lakota Sioux and the Northern Cheyenne that the U.S. was out to take over the Black Hills, they didn’t see themselves as this tribe or that but as the people who belonged there unlike the whites who didn’t. They read the conditions close at hand which told them they were in a fight for survival.

There are historical conditions that could be pointed to that show neither Republicans nor Democrats are clearly a survival party for American blacks and browns. But it has not been the Democratic Party that has in recent history tried to constrain the voting rights of blacks and browns. That’s a strategy of today of Republicans. “The Republican Party is intent on illiberal one party-rule and it doesn’t tolerate Democrats exercising power, even if it would benefit the American people.” (Joseph O’Neill, “Brand New Dems?” NYRB, May 28, 2020) And who is more in need of such benefits than blacks and browns trapped on the lowest rungs of white meritocracy.

It doesn’t matter if this black or that black is on a higher rung, or if this individual or that individual speaks up for the beneficence of the Republican Party. This is a tree/forest mindset in which Americans are culturally shaped to see the individual difference of the trees in the forest. They do so because they see themselves as unique, self-creating individuals full of difference and unique presentations of agency.

Meanwhile, it’s the whole forest that burns, every tree equally flammable.

Racist hatred targets the monolith presence and doesn’t stop to measure difference and distinction. If you’re black and don’t want Joe Biden to presume he has your vote, then take the initiative and study what are the conditions close at hand shaping your life now.

A second matter close at hand has to do with the cohesiveness of the Republican Party in contrast to the Democratic Party.

The differences within the former are not ideological, which at base means economics. The Federal Government has the power to regulate and thus weaken profits and so Republican have either to run the government to see that doesn’t happen or obstruct Democrats in power from exercising that power, say, on behalf of climate change, wages, taxes on the wealthy, the public good, as opposed to privatization and so on. If Republicans own the presidency, especially a presidential office they allow to expand at that time, or either the Senate or the House or both, the amount of change that is needed now and before the pandemic cannot happen and did not happen.

The country then is comatose regarding all that needs to be done to rebalance its wealth distribution while forging ahead in all directions that a plutocracy moves if not stopped. We experienced this during Obama’s eight years and, even sadder, we experienced during Clinton’s eight years a helping hand offered to plutocracy.

I am not saying that blacks should stand solid behind Democrats based on their past track record. The politics of identity, diversity and multiculturalism, while seeming to directly work for the benefit of minorities, have turned the Democrats into a party not opposing what needs to be opposed, that is the movement of our economic system deep into plutarchy.

Democratic Party opposition on these chosen grounds have just given fuel to the hate and fear fires the Republican Party uses so effectively. A populace is driven more by passions than by reasons. I see no sign of a generous welcoming of differences of all kinds in American culture but an increasing turn toward selfishness, exclusion, and the truly loathsome guidance as a lifestyle coach of Ayn Rand.

If we weren’t now in such a dire situation under Trump and his regime pushing for autocratic control, it would be sensible tactics for blacks to show the Democratic Party that they do not lockstep vote Democratic. While Democrats do not advocate profit before people, it remains a party dominated by the interests of the wealthy, as divided from wage earners in their everyday life as wealthy Republicans. It wasn’t just two Republican Senators brought up on insider trading charges but also Sen. Diane Feinstein, a liberal stalwart. Barr’s DOJ did not pursue indictments, and one wonders if Feinstein if standing alone would have been so absolved. But what’s in view is the party of green, money not environment, and that gives credence to any hesitation in pointing to the “Party of the People.”

Unfortunately, conditions close at hand give no time or space for such hesitancy. Trump has no problem obviously with the old, the poor, the sick, and blacks and brown most at risk as the economy opens. His golf and spa buddies are not forced to go to work. Anyone with the political leverage to hurt Trump is not being hurt by him. Only the voiceless are.

Trump’s slash and burn attacks on all institutions, traditions and protocols of our democracy have thus far crushed all resistance. It’s hard to imagine what presidential transgressions would get a House of Representative to launch another impeachment. Right now, what’s closer at hand is Trump in a second term launching successful retaliations on everyone who ever opposed him.

Because the Republican Party will continue Trump’s slash and burn tactics, most certainly because they have gone too far in supporting Trump to do anything else, the need for the Democratic Party to turn into aggressive combatants is vital. Instead of hobbling behind the devastation caused by an economics that can only make few winners and many losers, the Democratic Party needs to expose the slimy operations of financial institutions, from banks and brokerages too big to fail to private equity Ponzi schemes and hedge fund clubs above investigation and regulation. It needs to legislate in support of unions and worker owned cooperatives as well as divesting all institutions it funds in any way of fossil fuel investment. The Green New Deal needs to replace Atlas Shrugged as the American bible.

What is also close at hand and terrible in its power to determine our lives is a corrupted presidency.

In the twentieth century, we learned about such, gradually, in the presidency of Nixon. His own autocratic ambitions were supported, Mafia style, by “all the president’s men,” an entourage of enforcers, apologists and protectors, reborn with different faces in the George W. Bush administration. Who held power in the office of the Bushwa presidency in those eight years was not investigated by Obama when he took office. Crimes and misdemeanors fully exposed could have prepared the country for a full-scale attack by the presidency on our Constitutional balance of powers. We learned nothing because nothing was exposed. Donald J. Trump, however, learned where all the weak spots were.

Thus, a dangerous condition close at hand, equal to that of the Republican Party itself, is the office of the presidency, an executive branch that under Trump has shown us quite clearly that all our supposed defenses against autocratic rule and beyond that the tyranny of a mad king are not all what we thought they were.

Perhaps the lackluster promise of a Biden presidency will return the executive branch from a Trumpian declaration that he has total power to its proper place as an equal branch of government, not a usurper. But that lackluster presence may also make it very difficult for Biden to win in a culture that is so very far into loud celebrity, into the flash of viral social media.

The Democratic Party is itself ideologically divided, or, more precisely, it has since the Green New Deal and AOC’s support of Bernie Sanders become ideological rather than a MASH unit for the Republican Party’s war on the American people.

Those who lean so heavily into globalized, financialized capitalism, as the Clintons did and do, fight the only fight they feel comfortable making, a cultural issues battle, comfortably removed from the Republican Market Rule stronghold. Republicans don’t care about who marries who or who chooses what gender or who aborts and who doesn’t when compared to how much they care about not having taxes raised on the rich, or regulations laid on Wall Street finagling.

Democrats have obliged them on this, until AOC, Bernie, Warren and The Squad have infiltrated the party in a way no longer outlier.

Much time and energy has been spent on tearing into a president who is so clearly the maddest, baddest and most dangerous president in U.S. history while the Republican Party has been allowed by Democrats to appear as torn from its better self, its former bipartisan saneness. Trump was not the GOP’s man but there he was and what to do but work with him? The GOP which had branded itself as a party valuing “the traditions of family, life, religious liberty, and hard work” accepted the voice of the People and accepted Trump as president. Those lines of bullshit still play, and Democrats have made no steady campaign to turn them on their head.

And so, Trump will be gone but a party ready to replace a messy electoral democracy with plutocratic control remains. “The Republican Party is now visibly and authentically aligned with racism, vulgarity, sexism, and brutality,” a Trump alignment, but much more fatal to our fragile form of government is this party’s sellout of all of it under the banner of Market Rule.

Just as blacks and Latinx need to consolidate in order to stop Trump from winning another term, Democrats need to do the same, realizing that the 77 year old Biden need only surround himself with Mayor Pete, Beto, AOC, Yang and any number of young, vibrant Democrats to form a government they can stand behind. As long as Biden doesn’t pull any Senator into his administration, the Senate being now more important than the presidency (imagine Trump, convicted in the impeachment trial because McConnell wouldn’t herd the Republicans for him) he can choose widely among not only Liberals four years in the wilderness but all varieties of socialist.

Joe Biden is as riven with sins of commission and omission as the Democratic Party itself, both haunted by weak and poor decisions, deafness to better voices sounding in their own time; neither one of them making any contributing writer to Counterpunch happy. But at this moment, close at hand, their sins are a nun’s compared to those of the Republican Party and the man in the White House, a mad clown that party hangs onto not because they have no choice but because he has been a destructive force within those domains of the Federal government that the Market wants destroyed.

All the patriotic, happy branding the Republican Party hid behind has been torn down by Trump’s vile words and actions and he has been worshipped for it. This has been a happy surprise for the GOP. Who figured it would have been so easy and no price so far to pay?

By January 20th, 2021, all American can have close at hand conditions Trump-free, the memory of his regime curated in a presidential library. Or wherever Tweets will be stored. The goal is not only to remove Trump but to bring the vile mission of the Republican Party into clear view for all to see so that mission cannot raise up another Trump.


Joseph Phillip Natoli’s The New Utrecht Avenue novel trilogy is on sale at Amazon. Time is the Fire ended what began with Get Ready to Run and Between Dog & Wolf. Humour noire with counterpunches. .