The American ruling class says it is opposed to “big government.” It isn’t. The wealthy Few are only against what the French sociologist Pierre Bourdieu called “the left hand of the state” – those parts of government that reflect the victories of past and ongoing social movements by serving the common good, regulating Big Business, and offering support, protection, inclusion and empowerment to the lower and working classes. That is the “big government” the rich and powerful don’t like. That is the big bad State they want to “starve” and “drown.”
Things are different when it comes to “the right hand of the state” – the parts of government that advance and preserve the upward concentration of wealth and power and discipline the non-privileged Many and popular movements for justice and democracy. The bourgeoisie and their many servants, allies, and agents love that kind of big State. Big government corporate subsidies, tax breaks, financial bailouts, military contracts, de-regulation, and privatization deals are peachy keen with the rich and powerful.
Ask a Wall Street CEO if his fear of “big government” prevents him from receiving a giant, profit-preserving bailout check from the U.S. Treasury while millions of Americans line up at food pantries. Ask a major investor in a cost-plus “defense” firm if he worries over “big government” encroachment lead him call for the slashing of the giant Pentagon budget, which eats up more than half of U.S. federal discretionary spending.
Ask a Chicago real estate developer granted millions of dollars robbed from city social services by local “tax increment financing” if he minds big city government feeding his coffers.
And ask One-Percenters how much sleep they lose over America’s giant, globally unmatched racist mass incarceration system (cruel “home” to nearly 25% of the world’s prisoners even as the U.S. contains roughly 5% of humanity), which ruins millions of lives while capitalist parasites go free for epic crimes including the deliberate destruction of livable ecology.
A Vicious Circle
The urban social justice movement to “defund the police” advances the overdue demand for a shift of metropolitan resources from the right to the left hand of the state. America’s Black metropolitan population has been plagued by a vicious combination: savage deindustrialization, de facto housing and educational apartheid, relentless government-subsidized gentrification, and the rise of a pervasive racist police and prison state. The nation’s disproportionately poor urban and inner-ring suburban Black residents have been dealing with metropolitan blue fascism (“blue” referring here to police uniforms and to the party-in-power in nearly every U.S. city) since long before the American political system elevated the orange fascist Trump into the White House.
For at least half a century now, the main response of American capitalist-imperialist-white-supremacist government to the Black urban crisis (which predates both neoliberalism and deindustrialization) has been a “racially disparate” mass arrest and imprisonment regime so oppressive that one in three Black boys can now expect to be locked up in their adult lives. Prison histories and the crippling lifelong stigma of a felony record (what Michelle Alexander powerfully if somewhat inaccurately called “the new Jim Crow”) have become practically normative facts of life for young Black men in “the land of liberty.” Negative and all too-commonly fatal encounters with abusive police officers are routine parts of Black experience.
This toxic mix concentrates poverty, joblessness, stress, ill-health, and crime in demonized communities whose tragic violence is chronically paraded on the nightly “urban nightmare” news. The real institutional, social, and historical offenders – class rule and racial oppression – are never part of the story, though the news teams are racially diverse (which helps make the underlying causes more invisible).
Racist mass arrest and incarceration has a viciously circular way of reinforcing itself. The more public revenues are directed into right-handed government repression, the fewer resources are left for left-handed social protection and uplift. The less social protection and uplift, the more drugs, violence, guns, gang activity, and crime in Black communities. The more Black Americans are saddled with criminal records, the less able they are to obtain remunerative jobs, garner financial assistance, access education, obtain health care, stay out of illegal activities, and participate in stable families. The more that Black communities are destabilized by mass incarceration, the more that inner-city and inner-ring suburban chaos is available for the media to exploit to advance more racist “law and order” repression.
Call it a Caucasian class-rule Catch-22. The racist right hand of the state feeds on itself, providing its own self-fulfilling pretexts in the name of the very “public safety” it ironically works to undermine.
The more the left hand of the state shrinks, the more government bat(on)s from the right side of home(land) plate.
Meanwhile the neofascist National Rifle Association helps arm the bloodshed of the ghettoes by making sure that the “armed madhouse” that is America is flooded by guns, including military-style assault weapons
What the People Need vs. What They Get
All of this was terrible enough before COVID-19. Then came “the Trump Virus” (give the imperialist Nancy Pelosi her due for coming up with that one). The pandemic has put racial oppression on super-steroids. It has wreaked special havoc in Black communities thanks to a number of factors built into America’s insidiously racialized and savagely unequal capitalist state: widespread pre-existing health “co-morbidities” (diabetes, hypertension high blood pressure, grocery deserts, heart disease, malnutrition and more) resulting from ongoing race-class oppression; Black workers’ disproportionate concentration in jobs eliminated and/or made lethal by COVID-19; overcrowded living conditions (a challenge to social distancing); the non- and under-insured status of many Black Americans; the weak presence of health care services in poor and nonwhite communities; Blacks’ wildly disproportionate presence in jails and prisons that function as petri dishes for the virus; the race-class digital divide, which makes if difficult and often impossible for millions of Black Americans to work or study from home.
To the surprise of nobody who is familiar with the many-sided desolation of inner-city and suburban ghettoes, the virus and the recession or depression it triggered has escalated so-called Black-on-Black violence in the nation’s most “truly disadvantaged” communities.
The nation’s race-class ghettoes need a “Marshall Plan” influx of teachers, nurses, doctors, dentists, counselors, day care workers, affordable housing, sanitation services, mental health services, addiction treatment centers, computers, Internet resources, full-service grocery stores, and much more. What they get instead is cold, right-handed repression from a corporate and imperial state that pretends to have conceded to the demand for racial justice by letting “Black Lives Matter” be painted on to the National Basketball Association’s Disneyland court and permitting the NBA’s mostly Black players to wear one of 29 “officially approved social justice messages” – an oxymoronic phrase! – on their jerseys this summer:
The NBA-permitted list includes the following phrases: “Black Lives Matter; Say Their Names; Vote; I Can’t Breathe; Justice; Peace; Equality; Freedom; Enough; Power to the People; Justice Now; Say Her Name; Sí Se Puede (Yes We Can); Liberation; See Us; Hear Us; Respect Us; Love Us; Listen; Listen to Us; Stand Up; Ally; Anti-Racist; I Am A Man; Speak Up; How Many More; Group Economics; Education Reform; and Mentor.” Not on the list: Black Power, Power to the People, No Justice No Peace, Our Streets, Revolution, Defund the Police, Nothing to Lose But Our Chains, Fight the Rich Not Their Wars, Rent Strike, General Strike.
As COVID-19 ravages Black, Latinx, and Indigenous America, what poor Black Americans get instead of “justice,” “equality,” “respect,” “love,” “freedom,” “liberation,” and “equality” is Glock-brandishing cops, rotting schools occupied by menacing gendarmes; giant racist holding pens and coronavirus-spreading centers like Cook County Jail, and regular trips to and from rural prisons (“downstate” in Illinois, “upstate” in New York and Michigan). What they get is a racial justice and policing crisis that is intimately interrelated with a racist public health crisis epitomized by the glaring and despicable refusal of urban America’s mostly white police officers to wear face masks as they crack down on Black Lives Matter protesters. Along the way, metropolitan budgets and policies continue to be tilted towards the mostly white wealthy and affluent in ways other than but intimately related to racist policing and incarceration.
If not for the savage murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis, something else would have set off the demand to “defund the police,” which is really a call to shift public resources from right-handed racist repression to left handed and anti- or at least non-racist social protection and uplift.
Orange, Red, Black, and Blue: American Fascism is Bipartisan
Darkly enough, the virus-heightened violence in the ghettoes has combined with the social justice protests that arose after the Floyd lynching to provide the Klansman’s son Trump with supposed pretexts for trying to double down on the triumph of the right over the left hand of the state. Trump claims that he is sending federal paramilitary agents to Chicago, Milwaukee, Cleveland, and other cities to end the violence in the ghettoes. That is nonsense. The virulent racist Trump has no problem with people killing each other in the ghettoes created and sustained by the systemic racism whose existence he and his administration ritually deny. What Orange King Covid really wants is to please his Amerikaner base by looking like a “strong leader” who is smacking demonized urban and nonwhite Others and humiliating commonly nonwhite (and often female) big city “liberal” and “radical Left” (fascists like to call corporate centrists leftists) Democratic mayors.
With his fellow Richard Nixon fan Roger Stone (out of prison thanks to a recent presidential commutation) whispering in his ear, the big Orange Archie Bunker is trying to make white-terrorizing campaign hay out of the phrase “de-fund the police.” Let police budgets atrophy, Trump says, and a howling mob of inner-city Black and brown rapists and murderers will overrun and even “abolish” white Americans’ “beautiful” suburbs. The ads are not subtle. They sell racist white fear of You Know Who in no uncertain terms.
Racialized appeals to “law and order” are a critical part of the fascist political playbook. So is rural and suburban fear of supposedly dangerous multicultural and cosmopolitan, crime-ridden cities.
Never mind that Black people are being gentrified out of cities and into increasingly nonwhite and impoverished suburbs by big city governments that heap giant tax breaks and other subsidies on real estate developers who make urban communities unaffordable to working- and lower-class people.
Is Donald Trump, who calls Black Lives Matter protesters “terrorists” and threatens them with “vicious dogs” and “ominous weapons,” a fascist, as numerous liberal commentators are now claiming to have discovered? You betchya. But let’s not pretend that fascism is new in the American experience. Enforced by Democrats who became ardent Franklin Roosevelt New Dealers and anti-Hitler World War II supporters in the 1930s and 1940s, the Jim Crow South was a vast region-wide fascist terror regime that ran from the last third of the 19th Century up to the last third of the last century. And let’s not pretend we are dealing only with a Republican, rural, exurban, and Red State malady when we talk about American fascism. The bright blue (Democratic) cities have long had their own version of the disease. The neoliberal victory of the right over the left hand of the state is a richly bipartisan affair. It proceeded apace under the militantly state-capitalist, imperialist, and objectively white-supremacist presidencies of Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton, and Barack Obama. Metropolitan budgets that prioritize developer tax breaks, corporate subsidies, privatization deals, and racist police state mass arrest and incarceration over social uplift and justice are overseen by pro-Big Business Democratic Party mayors like Lori Lightfoot (Chicago), Bill DeBlasio (New York City), Eric Garcetti (Los Angeles), Jim Kenney (Philadelphia), London Breed (San Francisco), Keisha Lance Bottoms (Atlanta) and others from coast to coast.
The so-called left wing of the American two-party system is right-handed as Hell. On this and so many other matters, the two reigning U.S. political organizations function very much as Upton Sinclair said they did 116 years ago: “two wings of the same bird of prey.”
That’s something to keep in mind as we approach an election in which the Democrats’ answer to the demented orange president is the ridiculous right-wing clown Joe Biden. Yes, faux-populist corporate Joe “Pool Chain” Biden, who says he would veto Medicare for All (supported by seven in ten Americans) if it came to his desk as president. Joe Biden, a man who says he has “no empathy, give me a break” for the economic and environmental plight of Millennials in the savagely unequal and eco-cidal world he helped create over decades of abjectly corporatist, imperialist, and racist “public service.” Joe Biden, who helped craft and lead the charge for the racist Three Strikes “crime” (mass incarceration) bill and who says that Black parents don’t know how to raise their children (but “record players” do). Joe “Defender of the Status Quo” Biden, who justifies his past alliance with Jim Crow terrorists in the U.S. Senate by saying they “never called me boy,” who praised candidate Obama for being “clean and articulate,” and who brags that he once prepared to take a rusty pool chain upside the head of a Black tough named “Corn Pop.”Joe Biden, who says that the Latinx community, unlike Black America, is “diverse.” Joe Biden who worried that desegregation efforts would make his children “grow up in a racial jungle” and once bragged as a presidential candidate that his home state of Delaware sided with the Confederacy in the Civil War.
Yes, that Joe Biden. Thanks, Obama.
Orange Loves Blue
Federal orange fascism recently had a poignant little lovefest with metropolitan Blue fascism. The white nationalist U.S. Attorney General William Barr saw some white “Back the Blue” rally holders outside a suburban Virginia police precinct and told his limo driver to stop and let him out last week. Barr went into the rally and shook hands. The “Back the Blue” people told them they loved him. He said he loved them back. Justice Department press secretary Kerri Kupec posted video of the drop-by, and the Fairfax County Republican Party tweeted out an image from the touching get-together. Cops love Trump, Trump loves cops. Barr loves Blue Lives Matter activists and they love Barr. Orange loves blue, blue loves orange.
Speaking of which, just what are the FBI, U.S. Marshals Service, DEA, and ATF agents that Barr sent to work under the name of “Operation Legend” to Kansas City, Chicago, Albuquerque, Milwaukee, Detroit, and Cleveland up to with their friends in blue in those cities? “Operation Legend,” Trump’s Justice Department says, “is a sustained, systematic and coordinated law enforcement initiative in which federal law enforcement agencies work in conjunction with state and local law enforcement officials to fight violent crime.” Please notice that four out of those six cities are in contested (“swing” or “purple”) states where Trump and the Republican Party have a strong interest in suppressing the Black and minority vote. The only exceptions are Kansas City (in bright red Missouri) and Chicago (in bright blue Illinois). The latter city that has been in Trump’s racist and fascist crosshairs for years, which makes it an irresistible target for him even if he has little to no chance of stealing Illinois in the 2020 election. It is highly unlike that the federal homeland deployment is unrelated to Trump’s clear ambition of becoming America’s fascist strongman for life.
Paul Street is an independent radical-democratic policy researcher, journalist, historian, author and speaker based in Iowa City, Iowa, and Chicago, Illinois. He is the author of seven books to date: Empire and Inequality: America and the World Since 9/11 (Boulder, CO: Paradigm, 2004); Segregated Schools: Educational Apartheid in the Post-Civil Rights Era (New York: Routledge, 2005); Racial Oppression in the Global Metropolis: a Living Black Chicago History (New York: Rowman & Littlefield, 2007); Barack Obama and the Future of American Politics (Boulder, CO: Paradigm, 2008); The Empire’s New Clothes: Barack Obama in the Real World of Power (Paradigm, 2010); (with Anthony DiMaggio) Crashing the Tea Party: Mass Media and the Campaign to Remake American Politics (Paradigm, 2011); They Rule: The 1% v. Democracy (Paradigm, 2014); and Hollow Resistance: Obama, Trump and the Politics of Appeasement (Counter Punch, 2020). Paul writes regularly for Telesur English, Counter Punch, Black Agenda Report, Z Magazine and Dandelion Salad.
Previously published on Counter Punch, August 11, 2020
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