Heading into the forthcoming midterms, I’m unhappy. True, as anEsquire article by Nate Silver published in 2009 reminds us, presidents’ respective parties tend to suffer defeats at the first off-season biennial realignment. And it doesn’t matter whether the president did a good job in those first two years. Nonetheless, no matter where I turn, I’m bombarded by hysterical calls to action on my cell phone, in my email, on bumper stickers, and in every spare bit of roadside desert. Many could make the cut of Trump’s Twitter barrages:
Stop Critical Race Theory
Mark Kelly wants Open Borders
Katie Hobbs is a Racist
End the Biden crimewave
My personal favorite appears attached to trucks and SUVs: “Freedoms Enforced.” Since “brevity is the soul of wit,” I’ll not dally on that one. But the list above I find particularly interesting. Critical race theory, along with the companion term “woke,” were not things I remember learning in school. Even my rightwing high school history teacher would concede that whites did better at the expense of blacks. I didn’t think of this as a theory or a proposition: it would be evident to anyone with a thinking brain. But even I was ignorant of the genuine cancel culture dominating mainstream telling of history. Yes, cancel culture is a term new to me, and those railing about it these days didn’t seem to have a problem with it when one could not discuss railroad strikes in mainstream history texts (discussed in what I think should be essential reading for anyone living in this country: Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States). School boards and teachers whitewashed the history I learned before college, with stern dismissal of plights suffered by modern people of color and tepid confession for the greatest horrors visited upon any people: native extermination black enslavement. They had no taste for blood, but European bloodlust stained every page of every history one could ever read, if you knew where to look. The terms differ now: they say, “that’s just woke blah” rather than “that’s just nigger blah.” But having come from the evangelical South, I promise they mean the latter. The others above are hogwash: I live in a city a few hours from the Mexico border, and I see no signs of a drug cartel invasion. Rather, I see homeless people begging for lunch money on every street corner. Pronouncing gubernatorial aspirant Katie Hobbs a racist reminds me of the tactic key to all things Trump: accuse others of one’s own sins. Goodness knows he needs no imagination from which to pluck his myriad personal and moral shortcomings. USA Facts supply a few useful statistics: small upticks here and there, but a processive decline in all forms of crime. There is no Biden crime wave, and even if there were, the social transformation necessary to shift crime heavily up and down occurs more on the decade than the annual scale. But when have facts arrested a fancy tagline? Prevarication may be a fancy word, but it still means horse shit. While visiting family in Scottsdale, I saw several republican signs sitting among a very genuine, “Free Horse Manure” (many in the neighborhood own and stable horses on-site.) I think that one probably better reflects the world in which we live. In a very literal sense, we each have access to a lifetime supply of manure, so why not believe things unfit for the maggots? The GOP roster resembles that of a lunch group in an insane asylum; those running here in Arizona say they won’t concede a loss, and that they cannot lose. Masters may well be the most insane senate candidate I’ve ever seen, a perverse mixture of Sarah Palin and Elon Musk.
If you’re scared of armed militias sitting outside your ballot boxes, you’re in luck! SCOTUS says the U.S. Constitution, written when firearms were no more dangerous than Mister Spock’s derisive “stone knives and bearskins,” guarantees your right to conceal mass murder machines. As usual, I’d refer these self-appointed guardians of the Founding Fathers’ brains to Christopher Ingraham’s op-ed in the Washington Post: one could fire the best rifle three times per minute, compared to myriad rounds an ordinary pistol can rocket into a crowd. I discussed some of this in an earlier article, but no one reading this will find themselves shifted on the issue. It may speak more to a psychological fetish I’m probably unqualified to diagnose. Noam wrote that the language acquisition device separated us from the rest of the animals, and it probably was a mutation. My own fiction book The Eighth Angel tries to make sense of what I fear is an “inchoate evolution:” we haven’t achieved a refinement needed to assure our survival. Noam also points out that the current GOP is the most dangerous organization in human history, no small feat. It is, in fact, a perfect combination of means, motive, and opportunity racing us to a precipice, a final curtain call for homo sapiens. McConnell and Graham know catastrophic climate change is real; they know nuclear proliferation will destroy us; they know that they’ve emboldened and empowered Trump, paving the way for fascism to cover the earth in wildfire. True, Trump is a craven, filthy criminal, incapable of a coherence needed to embody Hitler’s flavor, but there’s no reason to believe the next version of him will be the genuine article. As I said in my previous post, my people were ripe for the plucking. There were great people in their midst, like a couple of teachers from high school, along with many teachers from the local junior college. I maintain contact with three of them, and I just finished a lengthy phone call with one of them.
Mister Yeatts reads fantasy, and I wondered whether he would enjoy A Song of Fire and Ice. Like me, Mister Yeatts always felt like a bit of an alien, and so fantasy and science fiction supplied a means of supplanting the now with the somewhere not now. I guess that’s why history has always mesmerized me. Stephen King suggested that we enjoy horror and monsters precisely because it lessens the burdens of our own monstrosity. Whatever the truth of it, the monsters in our midst come in the name of God, and we learn now the filth and malevolence of their souls. Palpatine was something of a study in this: in the prequel trilogy, he appears to be a measured but calculating politician, charming of affect and warm of concern. But we the audience eventually see him for what he is: a misshapen, deformed devil of unspeakable power. That wasn’t what usually happened in the real world: the eponymous hypocrite in Moliere’s Tartuffe almost never lies in his dialogue, and he easily wins the hearts and minds of those he would exploit. Evil masquerades as good, and, for the most part, one might never know the difference. But Trump transformed culture here in America, riding the wave of despair and despondency wrought by the neoliberal program enforced upon labor classes here and abroad. Perhaps my vision was inchoate, much as I wonder about the human soul. We learn about evil as children through the nefarious deeds of fictional monsters, but clear-eyed analysts like Gore Vidal, Noam, and Howard Zinn probably could look perceive only slight differences between the loquacious tirades William F. Buckley and the sneering hiss of the monster Palpatine. I rewatched some of the Hellraiser movies for Halloween, noticing for the first time that the Cenobites sit somewhere between the human-obsessed demons taught to me in Bible class and Lovecraft’s devastating “cthonics.” Perhaps the universe shares Cthulhu’s indifference, and I doubt McConnell really wants to destroy the world. Maybe he and his cohorts believe the world is already lost, and they must crush the throats of anyone interfering with their privileged life. Newt told Ripley in Aliens that her mommy told her there were no monsters, but she knew in that moment that there were terrible creatures driven mad with murderous instinct. Mister Yeatts recently turned 85, and we laughed that he might be happier at this age, knowing we might not have to witness our species’ impending demise. I shared the laugh, my own health casting a shadow over a full lifetime.
A recent interview with Noam found him distinguishing motives and intent from actions and consequences. Though the former can’t be equated with the latter, I do wonder how it is that a plurality if not majority can understand the good and the bad of fairy tales, but a madness has gripped us, rotating all the of players until one criminal, marred by utter business and moral failings, can simply say, “Putin isn’t bad,” and old white men (who’d normally throw their weight against more militarism in the service of other white people) suddenly agree with him. Fox celebrated the RNC’s decision in 2020 to present no platform at the convention, probably because they, like everyone else, can’t count on Trump to commit to anything in particular, save excessive gestures on behalf of gun-loving evangelicals, a group he ridiculed and bedazzled. Truly, the children of the world are wiser than the children of so-called light.
I’ve spent these years in this blog trying to reconcile the righteousness of the human animal with the malignant avarice dominating the power class. As I’ve decided in my fiction book, there may be no answer to this conundrum. Democracy supposes a literacy upon those governing themselves, much like market theory requires informed choice and consent. Neither here is respectable among the political class. Corporations don’t want to compete, so they bribe the political class. Those in power refuse to relinquish it, so they illegally block voters and enchant a population with soundbites into surrendering themselves. Perhaps I’ve learned my lesson. McConnell is no better than Palpatine, and the difference in appearance is superficial. Then again, listen to his cackle in a debate with his challenger last election.
Perhaps the more depressing turn of events of late is the conclusion by the scientific community that we ought steel ourselves for extinction: Cambridge University released a study in August arguing that the “four horsemen” of the climate apocalypse, “famine and malnutrition, extreme weather, conflict, and vector-borne diseases,” together with the fat-tailed temperature hikes expected by 2070, must compel us to dialogue seriously about the end of our species. I myself have no children, but I have nieces and cousins to whom I would like to have bequeathed a world better than the one I inherited. But this won’t happen without dramatic changes. And despite Don’t Look Up‘s Benedict Drask hilariously firing his gun at the comet headed for Earth, bullets cannot stop the catastrophic endgame. The Bulletin of Atomic Scientists provide similar ill-omens, setting their historic clock one hundred seconds from midnight, with nuclear proliferation remaining a largely undiscussed nightmare. It’s crazy–Trump’s enablers, and pretty much anyone else in the federal government, all know these things. Nuclear weapons reached the public discourse because of speculation that Putin might deploy “tactical” nukes on Ukraine. Daniel Ellsberg suggests that the danger of nuclear weapons long precedes actual deployment; Putin and other actors may threaten their use, poising these actors to conduct aggression somewhat unchecked. Neither political party’s leadership would prefer to confront the nuclear threats, but rather act within this long shadow to extend it. Noam insists we should treat with Putin rather than permit the conflict to escalate, even if this means concessions. But policy planners long have bemoaned the exhaustion of diplomacy, even though they rarely try. Trump’s party would probably deny the existence of a conflict rather than contradict him publicly. Instead, they encourage armed vigilantes circling capitol buildings to fight the tyranny of stolen elections, another splendid example of accusing others of your own failings; Ari Berman warned in January that the gerrymandering, voter registration laws, and just plain criminality positioned the GOP to win bigtime in next week’s election. Several candidates have already trumpeted their wins, adding that a loss is theft.
[...o]ur notorious inability as a species to significantly affect the long-term, man-made crises of population growth or climate change, not to mention the wars and crises that devolve from their effects, would seem to argue in the other direction. And the reason we are so poor at long-range planning might well lie in how our brains work.
Does this mean we can’t escape Cambridge’s grisly endgame? It makes me wonder once more whether we make up an inchoate or half-baked species, capable of tremendous accomplishments, but incapable of managing them. The ingredients are there, but the recipe missed something. We can reason about it, we can share our findings with others, but motivating large segments within the population to confront these challenges seems impossible. Franklin Roosevelt found the strength, even from a wheelchair, to leverage the hopefulness depression-era Americans felt. We lack that hopefulness now, despite Joe Biden giving a better performance as president than I ever could have imagined. In fact, I believe he’s the greatest president of my lifetime (Carter forward), and I’m no fan of the executive branch. I agree with Noam that all post-war presidents would hang by the Nuremberg standards, though Biden might escape such a fate.
So what can we do? Humans would prefer salvation to extinction, but the sophistication of dialogue must change. Nuance within the balance sheet of rights and principles must receive better press. For instance, if one were to believe the fantasy that American democracy really is democracy, that one must decide whether the principle of self-governance extends to omnicide. Is it wrong to declare martial law if that’s the only way to stop catastrophic climate change? Should Americans’ right to safety extend to murder? Anarcho-syndicalism holds that those depriving others of rights, real or imagined, bear the heaviest burdens of proof. But effective unanimity of scientific agreement on the endgame described earlier? Is this not enough to coerce a dramatic response? Researchers outlined 35 symptoms of code-red climate change, sixteen of which have transpired. If I am to believe that humans cannot address long-term consequences such as the catastrophic endgame, does this not mean we are required morally to coerce participation in a capable climate strategy? But how does one go about this? It would be easier if both political parties could agree to live in the real world. The GOP decided early to simply deny the signs of the times. Within the evangelical sector, we believed that the world was supposed to end, prophesied in the book of Revelations. Yes, we were told that God intended to destroy the world by fire, just as he’d done by water during the time of Noah. So the more terrible the signs, the more we believed Jesus would return. But I’m afraid no one is coming to save anyone, save ourselves. I think the non-evangelical climate deniers probably decided that the world could not be saved. Why else would they pursue greed in the face of insurmountable evidence?
Kelly and I are worried. The Arizona state constitution bans gay marriage, a provision left on the books if the fascist SCOTUS decides to overturn Obergefell. Though Alito argued otherwise, I believe this is their intention. We’ve gone so far as to investigate moving abroad, though nuclear winter is no respecter of borders. Because of my precarious health struggle, and because of family, we’ll just have to go down with the ship, cacti and all. The cacti stood long before I was born, and they might be laughing at my concern, if they only had the means to do so.
There are some reasons to be optimistic: Lula da Silva, once a political prisoner in Brazil, defeated the archconservative fascist Bolsonaro. Bolsonaro attacked the rainforests, imprisoned his critics, and presided over a COVID debacle in Trump’s league. He should go to prison, but leaders seldom pay that sort of consequence. The young generation soon to enter adulthood also seem to be a cut above the rest of us antiques; an op-ed in the Washington Post explains that young workers demand diversity. I find this comforting, and I’m helping lead such an initiative in my day job. I’d rephrase Orwell to say that if there is to be salvation, it lies with our children, inchoate a species we might be.
Mister Rogers once said that in times of crisis, we must look to the helpers (his expression finds a critic in one Atlantic article, though I don’t think the author really made any point of merit.) He didn’t mean first-responders, but rather, those carrying out the Herculean effort to change our world for the better. I find myself calling these titanic figures “keystones:” without them, the structure collapses. This is work we all must accept. We are all keystones, we are all helpers, and we must all take up this work. If we are to stake a claim in this world, we must support each other. When I’m optimistic, I believe we can do it, if we work together. For me, this means identifying those who are making a difference, and supporting them. It would include the usual suspects for me, but I’d add my cousin Carlos “Chico” Robinson, a tireless Arizona educator and labor agitator. I hope to interview him in the coming months, along with my uncle Charles Slagle, the liberal evangelical minister. This would also include my history professor Pat Ledbetter. They give me hope, something I’ll share in the world of 2023.
Until then, vote, and seek out each other. As The Matrix‘s oracle famously said, “the only way forward is together.”
I’d like to offer a very special thanks to my dear friends S. Kelly Gupta, Noam Chomsky, George Polisner, and Dean Baker for offering feedback and promoting my article. Noam, George, and Dean are fantastic activists who tirelessly expose oppression.
Very powerful piece. And very well documented. Should have a powerful impact. I didn’t know about your background. Gives you a unique perspective to understand what is happening in the evangelical movement, now with quite considerable influence in the US and elsewhere.
Almost four years ago, I formed this blog, in a general sense, to meet the existential challenge of Trump’s seeming upstart electoral college victory; more specifically, I’ve aimed to better inform fellow technologists of the gravity and historical context of said threat. We now approach what I consider to be the most important election of my lifetime, likely more important than any election since Franklin Roosevelt’s triumph over Hoover in 1932, or even Abraham Lincoln’s victory over Douglas in 1860. With each passing year of the Trump carnival, the probabilities of descent survival for the species have dwindled: the most recent year confronts us with the most serious challenges of all. No president has ever been so woefully inadequate, lacking of moral fiber, and devoid of understanding in his own policy positions, save reversing the meager but respectable civil rights and social victories gained during Barack Obama’s tenure. Catastrophic climate change ravages the land, with fire in the west, wind and water in the east, and the slow cooker that is becoming the atmosphere offered perhaps the highest temperatures recorded on land since the beginnings of accurate measurement: 130 degrees Fahrenheit.
Trump’s own department of transportation concedes that emission standards will, in fact, partially address climate change; and the report’s recommendation? REVERSE all emission restrictions. I daresay I’ve never heard of such omnicidal whimsy from an agency in the government; yes, omnicide is very real, and very possible (I first read the word in Daniel Ellsberg’s The Doomsday Machine, a book to which I’ll return below.) Denial, yes, but never acknowledgment but insistence in destroying the world. There’s more, as Trump’s regulatory approach monumentally dismisses hard-fought victories by environmentalists and scientists, in some cases continuing the neoliberal program of laying pipeline in indigenous lands, destroying water sources, continuing a long tradition of imperialist violence. I digress.
A pandemic has massacred at least million people worldwide, with 215,000 Americans among them. Eight million Americans are infected, with the most colossally inept American response imaginable. The economy is in ruins thanks to this same ineptitude. And Trump himself pronounces victory in augmentatives one might expect to hear from a demented spoiled child. “Beautiful,” “wonderful,” “terrific,” like the sleaziest used car salesman you might meet. So who is to blame? The twenty percent of the electorate committed to supporting him unconditionally? The congressional republicans, who with little exception have enabled his every whim, despite declaring him to be a con man, fraud, cheat, liar, and so on? The DNC who ran a deeply unpopular candidate in 2016 after shafting the more popular Bernie Sanders, not once, but now TWICE, despite his actively campaigning for their pick once the contest ends? The Russian oligarchs blamed for electioneering? The debtors to whom Trump owes $400M? I’m reminded of an adage–
whom much is given, much will be required
I think the answer lies primarily within traditional power centers : concentrations of capital, a political class owned by the capital class, complicit media, and so on. Contextualizing more specifically, I believe the aforementioned neoliberal program, deregulation, and the ensuing dissolution of social and public institutions are responsible for a newfound suspicion of science, the academy, and the like. Not all of the suspicion is unfounded; the academy has left out much of the population, despite some substantive inclusive overtures on the part of university leadership. Anti-science is perhaps more organized than ever before, with a punditocracy and political elites disparaging higher education regularly. Fox News seems endlessly on the case of some liberal professor somewhere publicly dressing down students who support Trump, though one seldom hears the reverse situation. Said aversion to science has crescendoed, with Pew publishing numbers earlier this year suggesting that republicans still just don’t get catastrophic climate change; and neither party’s leadership seems to understand the omnicidal consequences of nuclear proliferation. Either danger is existential, much more so even than the coronavirus pandemic, though only climate cataclysm seems to receive any mainstream press. We’ll do one better here, with one more pass on the economy, climate change, nuclear proliferation, and badly needed affirmation of the better parts of our species. Let’s first “say it like it is,” as a late friend of my late grandmother once said, with a brief discussion of terminology.
Rather than thinking imbecilically “left” and “right,” consider a more nuanced appreciation for policy. In fact, all of these terms: moderates, liberals, conservatives, and libertarians are utterly devoid of meaning. What passes for conservative now is, in many respects, just outer space. Moderates are the conservatives of yesteryear, capable of considering the government and markets to be tools, with suitable roles in day-to-day life. Today’s so-called liberals, as Hillary may be described, is no more than a moderate in disguise. Bernie Sanders is no left-wing crackpot: his policy positions are quite compatible with the mainstream of America’s 1930s and 1940s. But the cartoonish Red Scares in 1917 and 1947 painted thinking people in America, namely socialists (recall, Karl Marx of the eponymous Marxism was a very learned and respected economist) as conspirators with Bolshevism. It’s well-understood that the U.S. government painted Bolshevism the color of socialism to denigrate the latter. Bolshevists accepted the category to legitimize their vicious totalitarianism.
How do we begin to address the nightmarish flow of guns into our schools, parks, and churches? NRA fanatics might be surprised to learn that the organization itself began as a gun safety and use program. Now, with decades of deafening paranoia swirling about an increasingly bankrupt, increasingly unhealthy population, gun rights activists in the so-called mainstream (again, watch for changes in language) argue that a Biden victory will rob them of their God-given right to own countless guns. The latter would be laughable, were it not for the school shooting statistics, fifty-seven times that of the other comparable countries combined–288 for the US versus two in Canada. I’m reminded of Emerson’s hobgoblin when I hear these gun nuts argue that we owe our freedoms to guns, a fantasy promoted even in grammar school when I was a kid. Zinn, recently singled out by Trump in his conspiratorial histrionic denigration of American history teachers, argued powerfully that our freedoms broaden along a trajectory of victory for American labor. If guns played a role, generally they were in the hands of the National Guard, the Pinkertons, and scabs attacking mostly peaceful protests. In any case, the Second Amendment, apparently more sacred than the Ten Commandments, reads that
[a] well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.
Constitution of the United States of America, Amendment II
It ought be clear that the amendment doesn’t refer to anarchist gun possession, as the first clause says: “a well regulated Militia.” Then, in Heller, 554 U.S. 570 (2008), the Supreme Court held, for the first time ever, that this second amendment magically no longer applies to regulated militias, but rather individual possession. Justices closely huddled with the Federalist Society, a self-described advocacy group for those panicky lone ranger conservatives unhappy with the imagined liberal orthodoxy of the legal profession about them, abandoned their feigned textualism and originalism with a permanent reinterpretation. Textualism, it would seem, served the late Antonin Scalia well, except when it didn’t. As Noam Chomsky often says, if we really want to understand the intent of the Founding Fathers, we can simply read the meeting minutes of the Constitutional Convention, discussed in Klarman’s The Framer’s Coup. Very few Americans would find the motivations to be anything less than repellant, as the U.S. Constitution was an instrument to retain state power for the white, male, landed gentry. The rest of the population, the focus of Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States, confronted hostility in often horrific ways. Washington, for instance, ordered the slaughter of the Iroquois with the destruction of over forty villages, earning him the title “Town Destroyer,” a moniker he brandished proudly. In any case, no matter one’s interpretation of the second amendment and the more prominently leveraged tenth amendment, firearms of the 1780s could fire only once every fifteen seconds, and that’s if its wielder could reload very quickly. Contrast that with even modern handguns, and it seems impossible to believe the founders would have supported such unrestricted power.
Trump may believe that American history teachers ought tell only the good stories, and maybe only the good stories are true. I doubt seriously that Trump has ever had any decent historical dressings-down, not that it would matter.
Historical accuracy is essential to democracy–there have been desperately dark days in the history of America, as the continental expansion was a veritable bloodbath in the extirpation and extermination of the indigenous population, the vicious enslavement of Africans, and centuries of oppression of women, other people of color, and homosexuals, a group whose history seldom reaches mainstream press, but enjoys an excellent treatment in Eric Cervini’s The Deviant’s War. And yet the past six decades exhibit a civilizing of society unlike anything in history. Despite the occasional regression, we’ve made tremendous progress. The eye uncritical of history succumbs to the same tropes, or so the adage goes. Democracy makes sense mostly in the context of a well-informed citizenry, and denying the sins of our forefathers not only betrays the memory of their victims, but the dignity of any station we occupy.
Trump inherited a growing economy still thrumming from considerable state actions undertaken by the Obama administration. I’m no Obama apologist, as I feel his reforms in saving banks and industries rather than workers was a grisly failure, but without federal intervention, the economy would have crashed altogether. Over thirty years of the neoliberal program, capital flight, deregulation, ghastly military misadventures all led to a financial crisis in 2008, a mess left to the democrats to solve. Obama’s administration managed to reverse many of the negative trends, with the introduction of some regulations and an infusion of federal revenue to salvage the financial sector, though neither banker nor broker faced any criminal charges for morally (and ultimately financially) bankrupt damage done. The International Monetary Fund actually assigns profitability of these American banks a number solely based upon the “too big to fail” government insurance policy, ridiculed by serious economists such as Dean Baker.
Trump believes he, and he alone, rescued a tanked economy–he’s simply taking credit for the work of others, and it should be as plain as that. Trump’s psychosis, something to which we’ll return shortly, is perfectly compatible with such a delusion.
More important for my libertarian conservative readers, it bears repeating again and again–the conservative nanny state, so eloquently described by the same economist Dean Baker, is essential in maintaining a robust, technology-driven economy; corporations aren’t naturally occurring agents, but legal fictions, constructed to concentrate wealth further into fewer pockets. Deregulation is a dog-whistle for “socialism for me, capitalism for you.” One cannot point to any dynamic sector of the economy whose interplay with the fed is minimal.
Trump supremely serves as a grotesque exemplar, having suckled from the government’s myriad udders for most of his life, committing likely a litany of financial crimes along the way. Of course, he’s cashed in as president, golfing gazillions of times, expensed foreign dignitaries out of his own hotels, and leveraging his position to sweeten deals with foreign markets into which he heretofore has been unable to seep his wretched corruption. Again, he owes $400M. Could it be money owed to Putin? I very much dislike the Russian interference thread for reasons I’ll describe soon, but it does make one wonder.
As you probably read this, a Manhattan district attorney is preparing a case against Trump of perhaps tremendous significance–can a former president of the United States face jail time for crimes committed? Trump admitted at a recent rally that he may “have to leave the country” if he loses the election. Good riddance, I say. Better yet, run, then face extradition.
The business community, largely behind Trump but hedging for Biden, carries the so-called “national interest,” while the rest of us are “special interests.” The reputable Brookings Institute published income numbers suggesting that the top one percent owns 29% of all wealth in the U.S., more than the middle class combined. The top permille is problematic, draining resources and exploiting labor abroad; Thomas Piketty, renowned French economist, warns that we are fast approaching a economic tipping point, as the majority of wealth will be inherited. In The Disinherited Majority, sociologist Charles Derber editorializes the progressive implications to Piketty’s more facts-and-figures approach in Capitalism in the Twenty-First Century.
The bottom line is that the widening economic chasm in this Second Gilded Age leads, not unexpectedly, to disaster. As one can see from the charts above, growing stock market numbers correlate with greater inequality, despite virtually universal claims of the opposite from mainstream press, punditocracy, and politicians. Worse yet, massive debt and no savings has poised the American workforce, the disabled and elderly, and the hopelessly impoverished, for catastrophe now that a recession is fully underway, for reasons to which we’ll return.
The middle class is an aberration in history’s global economy, owing its very life and soul to powerful government intervention in the economy, principally through New Deal legislation promoted by Franklin D. Roosevelt, with staggering public support. And even Dwight D. Eisenhower, the first republican president in twenty years following Roosevelt and Truman, whole-heartedly supported these reforms, going so far as to suggest that opponents of said achievements have no place in the political arena. And these reforms are significantly more liberal than virtually all official policy positions of today’s clintonian Democratic party. If it weren’t for Bernie Sanders’ candidacy, we likely wouldn’t be discussing the visceral cause behind the crumbling economy, the lack of healthcare, overblown and outrageous college tuition, joblessness, and catastrophic climate change–greed. “Greed is good” was a mantra suggested by Michael Douglas’s character in Wall Street, so American we ought emblemize it on the flag. With Trump hugging it, anything is possible.
I’ve heard Christian conservatives argue that 401ks are all that matters, and that capitalism is somehow God’s economic philosophy, a claim which ought ring abominable to true believers. Jesus Christ, the key figure of the faith, was a communist, plain and simple. Unbridled hypocritical capitalism, by contrast, is a vicious dogma decried as such by textile workers of the 1890s, in the tradition of Adam Smith’s “vile maxim“:
[a]ll for our-selves, and nothing for other people.
A thread of Trump mania I find most disturbing, yet perhaps retrospectively not surprising is the broad cover and support Trump enjoys from the evangelical movement. The man lies daily in his tweets and interviews, his moral failings are endless, and his fascist rallies conjure the darkest dealings of Weimar Germany. Why am I surprised? Hitler emerged dictator in 1933, welcomed by Germans as a “positive Christian” liberator. Carl Sagan suggests in The Demon-Haunted World that the danger of religion is the fundamental lack of agency into self-inquiry of an existential sort. That is to say, one cannot conduct scientific experiments into religious dogma beyond the purview of historians.
Trump’s escapades include paying off porn stars, viciously attacking women, promoting and celebrating racism, taking steps to ban religion (namely Islam), banning transgendered service people from the military, and on and on. Are these truly the values of Christians? My aunt and uncle were traveling evangelists for over thirty years, with a decade of retirement work behind them. They’re still active, but they’re astonished at the support their contemporaries bestow on the most fallen person ever to hold the office of presidency. Many actually have suffered COVID, and yet their support, astonishingly enough, is unflagging. He mocks evangelicals behind closed doors, according to The Atlantic. They pray for him, despite the evil that surrounds him. It isn’t a surprise to me that leading evangelical Jerry Falwell, Jr. has epically tumbled from gauzy grace, embroiled in hilarious sex scandals involving an extra man in his bedroom. In his newly-released book It Was All a Lie, former Republican strategist Stuart Stevens argues in his book that some of the most antigay staffers in republican think tanks are gay themselves, penning histrionic letters to supporters about the dangers homosexuals pose to children. There are too many cases to consider here, but my husband assures me that closeted gays firing their internalized homophobia outward are more dangerous than the run of the mill straight homophobe, as an illusional sexual orientation becomes a fixture of the former’s identity; it’s not to say the latter aren’t dangerous, but the former become more psychologically compromised in their reaction formation.
Returning to the Trumpian evangelicals at large, my uncle argues, convincingly I think, that the doctrine of endless punishment at the very least provides spiritual cover for the aforementioned vulgar promotion of self. Oscar Romero, a Jesuit priest, was murdered in El Salvador in 1980 for promoting within Vatican II and preaching from the pulpit the “preferential option for the poor.” The right-wing dictatorship and its backing by the Carter administration couldn’t tolerate a man so close to the heart of Jesus, an extension of Kissinger’s “contagion to be contained” in the 1973 ouster of Chile’s Allende, or rather democracy. Allende’s ouster and murder on September 11 of that same year is known in South America as the “first nine-eleven.”
I digress further, it seems. I grew up in the evangelical tradition, and save the folks in our circle, it was convenient to place outsiders in the category headed for hell. My uncle observes and promotes universal reconciliation, an increasingly popular doctrine which happened to be the framework for faith of the original church fathers, when the cross represented the poor and the wretched rather than the shield of vicious Roman imperialism, as Chomsky eloquently puts it. How is it possible these people can support Trump? Trump claims to be Christian, complete with hilariously stupid and offensive Bible photo-ops in the midst of having ordered violence upon Black Lives Matter activists protesting the brutal extrajudicial murder of black men and women by police across the nation. He actually says that he has never had to ask God for forgiveness for his sins, a core tenet of the Christian catechism–give me a fucking break! Are these people so inured and starry-eyed that they cannot detect a serpent in their midst? So why should extrajudicial killings bother Trump? He openly calls for violence against black prisoners, and tweets that the fanatics ought “LIBERATE MICHIGAN,” no doubt a partial motivation for the recent plot by right wing lunatics to kidnap Governor Gretchen Whitmer of Michigan, namely for the “crime” of restricting social gatherings and school openings to protect Michigans from COVID. In response, Trump simply tweeted what a terrible governor Whitmer is. Apparently, Governor Ralph Northam of Virginia also was a possible target of the extremist group. Videos emerged of these folks practicing with their machine guns, posing in ways that would do Hitler proud. QAnon seems to figure prominently, a right wing organization utterly persuaded that pedophiles in the democratic party intend to enslave American whites and destroy Trump. Trump claimed in his recent townhall to know nothing about them, then within two sentences uttering a statement indicative of someone familiar with their work.
Christians are supposed to follow the teachings of tolerance and love, and Trump offers neither in any capacity. He is a crass, vicious, womanizing racist rending a canyon of human wreckage in the wake of his personal and business dealings, even before becoming president. In the role of chief administrator, he fans the flames of the most dangerous among the religionists, with Islam-based bans, anti-choice jurist appointments, bans on transgendered servicepersons in the military, and on and on; he ridicules these same fanatics behind closed doors, but they are steadfast, now whipped into a frenzy that Joe Biden will ban religion and rise to a position of dictator. Trump, by contrast, is the modern King David, flawed but nonetheless God’s preferred instrument. The lunacy of this comparison is laid bare when we apply Sagan’s earlier critique of religion: most of its manifestations preclude any serious contemplation of God’s will. It rains today, even if my crops drown, because God wills it. A drought is also God’s will, driving thousands to starvation. It also is his tool. Trump is good because they say he is. Why doesn’t this seem to apply to Biden? Or better yet, Obama, a man whose presidency exposed suffocating roots of racism, gnarled and twisted deeply into a nation’s soul.
Personal responsibility has long been the bugle call of the republican party, a fatuous jingle to the parody that is American libertarianism. The religious fanatics remain steadfast in their sneering cynicism at human nature, clutching Ayn Rand and claiming the world is lost; only in the purity of Christianity is one saved. And yet Trump’s modus operandi is to accuse the opposition of his own sins, repeatedly and repeatedly. And not just generally. He cites his EXACT transgressions, then casts them upon Biden. It’s astonishing to watch. Trump’s chums in the media, such as bloated Chris Chrystie and creepy Rick Santorum, lap it up, pronouncing Trump the grand victor with a strong case made. I found myself scratching my head thinking, “what case?” It is quite evident that the man cannot tell the truth, yet I hear rumblings that his policies are somehow superior to what the Radical with a capital “r” Biden intends for us. Trump joked that they’d support him even if he shot a person on Fifth Avenue; I’d add that Biden could rescue a bus of orphaned children from being hit by a car on the same avenue, and they’d still hate him. Religious icon Pat Robertson claims that God assured him of Trump’s 2020 victory, and war on Israel will follow shortly, along with an asteroid strike and the conclusion of history. I suppose we should ignore the earlier apocalyptic predictions by this modern-day Nostradamus. It’s astonishing this jack-o’-lantern retains any platform at all, and I suspect if there is a God up there, she dreads the day good old Pat comes knocking. Maybe I shouldn’t be quite so shocked. The most strident amongst the hyper-religious often fall from grace, and fall hard indeed. I’m no apologist for Christianity, and these are the merest sample of scandals about which I’ve heard. They’re likely grains of sand on a beach–claims of salvation and conversion ought be treated with the same scientific rigor we treat a new theory.
I suppose Jesus, fictional or not, said it best,
[t]he sons of the world are for their own generation wiser than the children of light.
Racism, Classism, Electioneering, Textualism, and Constitutional Maximalism
Racism in the United States is alive and well. Blacks constitute thirteen percent of the population, yet over half of the hundreds of extrajudicial police killings here are blacks. Forty percent of persons incarcerated in America are black. What explains these skewed numbers? We’ve discussed somewhat the period of Reconstruction subsequent to the Civil War (as though there’s anything civil about war), and how the North-South Compact of 1877 essentially restored the right of states to enslave blacks. I’d refer one to A People’s History, as before, to understand better the period. Jim Crow became the umbrella policy of states hellbent on disenfranchising and torturing the black community, complete with lynching, chain gangs, theft of property, and so on. CNN recently discussed the 1921 massacre of blacks in Tulsa, an event left out of Oklahoma history books. Much of my family originated from the Red River region, about the Texas and Oklahoma border. None of them, to my knowledge, had ever learned about the tragedy, a devastating example of said Jim Crow.
With the incredible work of black activists, particularly in the 1930s, and with the rather massive deficit for labor following the Second World War, blacks achieved the Civil Rights Act of 1964, along with the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Since then, wealthy racist provocateurs have viciously counterattacked the hard-fought gains of blacks, as we’ll discuss more below. Michelle Alexander discusses this second wave of racist policy in The New Jim Crow.
[l]isten to Abraham Lincoln over here… You’re a dog whistle the size of a fog horn.
Trump has courted racists with his attacks on black athletes, his insistence of the guilt of the Central Park Five even after a rather clear debunking, he traipses with grotesqueries the like QAnon, Proud Boy, and InfoWars, contradicting his own intelligence agencies by declaring Antifa and so-called “left” wing groups more dangerous than the right wing organizations of which he then pretends to know nothing. He defends white supremacist murderers while assassinating left-wing provocateurs with no trial or arrest, going so far as to brag about the lack of necessity of attempting arrest. Even as I write this, I simply cannot believe my eyes and ears. Extremists plot to kidnap and extrajudicially execute governors, and Trump demands that his followers must “liberate Michigan,” bashing the governor despite the frankly inconceivable cover he provides for psychopaths.
Trump insisted that his accomplishments for the black and brown community dwarf that of any American president, with the possible exception of Lincoln himself; Vox rather strongly suggests the opposite. His business dealings in the 1970s and 1980s were bitterly racist. He tacitly and not-so-tacitly supports white supremacist groups, insists with virtually no proof that Mexicans and others at the southern border are rapists and murderers, insults Black Lives Matter protestors and victims of vicious police killings, outlaws Muslims through travel bans, rips babies from mothers at the southern border, disparages the Chinese because of the origin of COVID, demands suburban women support since he “saved your damn neighborhood” by reversing anti-racist housing orders from the Obama administration, and on and on.
When confronted, true to form, he blames others for the negative aspects of his policy. Further, his appointments to the federal judiciary are far right ideologues determined to eliminate legislation and policy intended the make the life of the voter easier. For instance, SCOTUS ruled just this week that states can bar curbside voting, a method of voting offered in Texas and Alabama to aid elderly and disabled who are concerned about COVID. The majority, led by the usual suspects, offered zero (!) explanation for their decision. Their intent couldn’t be more obvious, if one considers that more voter participation diminishes chances of a republican victory. Further, two of the justices are Trump appointments, and the chief justice John Roberts has long hoped to eliminate the Voting Rights Act, as we’ll discuss below.
Over five decades, the most wealthy magnates among us rallied around the infamous Powell memorandum, assembling rightwing think tanks such as the Heritage Foundation, American Enterprise, and the Cato Institute. These organizations, along with the aforementioned Federalist Society, have sought through judicial activism and constitutional maximalism to wrest democratic controls away from the remaining population of the country. Rightwing exclusivists faced a crushing defeat with the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and, convincingly argued by Ari Berman in Give Us the Ballot to be the most significant civil rights piece of legislation in all Americana, the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Together with the unusually liberal Warren Supreme Court, these elements of government weakened the influence of the ancestors of today’s antebellum hardball Mitch McConnell, and the suspiciously confirmed bachelor Lindsay Graham, his compatriot Jeff Sessions, and the hysteric from Louisiana, John Kennedy (not to be confused with the political dynasty).
Stevens argues further, convincingly I believe, that the Republican party faced a crisis of demographics in the 1960s; blacks who managed to overcome the vicious Jim Crow obstacles to the ballot entrusted themselves to the party of Lincoln, not the party of Davis. But the Great Depression broadened the coalition that was the Democratic party, entreating blacks for the very first time. Eleanor Roosevelt secured the black vote while her husband Franklin assured, disingenuously, southern white democrats that reforms on behalf of said blacks would be slight. It turns out that it simply would not have mattered, as the republicans offered no solutions to the economic and ecological crises of the 1930s. Stevens mentions that Barry Goldwater’s refusal to endorse the Civil Rights Act of 1964 cut black votes for republicans to an abysmal seven percent.
Southern democrats, sharply disillusioned by integration of the schools, increasingly successful protests by blacks long denied the franchise, the lack of a clear racist leader outside of Strom Thurmond’s unsuccessful bid for president in 1948, and other artifacts of an increasingly inclusive and open society, found a home in Goldwater’s party.
Nixon cemented this migration with his southern strategy, a program of so-called “law and order,” the far right correspondent to the alarming civil rights gains of the 1960s. Under COINTELPRO, Nixon’s espied and assassinated civil rights leaders, flimsily justified to secure us from vicious Soviet influence. Southern racists approved. By 2000, democrat Al Gore couldn’t carry his own state of Tennessee.
Stevens observes that Goldwater left the Republicans at a fork in the road, one clearly high, the other clearly low. The high road, when confronted by an increasingly diverse electorate, is to broaden the tent, so to speak. The low road is to neutralize the diversity with harmful policy. The Republicans obviously took the low road, and by now, they’re scraping the gutter. I’ve long been aware of voter intimidation and illegal purging of voter rolls, as Katherine Harris infamously purged tens of thousands of black voters from Florida rolls in 2000 for her boss JEB Bush–his brother, affectionately known as W., won the state by 541 votes after the Supreme Court, along ideological lines, illegally halted recounts on a pretext so flimsy they themselves admitted that the legal logic would never apply again. And the highly contentious reading happened in the presence of arch-textualists, or jurists sufficiently self-deluded as to be aware of the mental state of the author of the constitutional words. George W. Bush lost the popular vote, and had recounts proceeded, he would have lost the election. It seems strange to me now that the corporate media refused to inquire whether Katherine Harris had played fast and loose with election law, and that the court’s finding was accepted so swiftly. Within three years, we were embroiled in endless wars in the middle east following the worst attack on American soil since Pearl Harbor. Though I find nothing plausible in the conspiracy theory that Bush perpetrated the attack, the charge of negligence ought stick. When we learned that Bush and his cronies had lied to us about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq (something I knew was a lie at the time, as every reputable intelligence agency, including our own, dutifully reported), media said, “tough shit–at least in three hundred days there will be an election.” By contrast, Gingrich and his raving mad Contract with America impeached Clinton for having an affair with an intern, despite his own ongoing affair with his intern while his wife received chemotherapy. He divorced her in the midst of her illness, marrying his mistress.
In any case, I began digging after my own frustration at the obvious tilted coverage in the media, with journalists posting misleading headlines to minimize Gore’s margin of victory. I even emailed several editorialists around the country, and the response I received was akin to, “Thanks for the interest, kid. Yes, more people intended to vote for Gore than Bush, but if they ruined their ballots, that’s tough shit; never mind we say in the headline, ‘Gore’s Victory in Category X Wasn’t So Hot’.” In doing more research, I eventually discovered the work of investigative reporter Greg Palast, and his most recent book, How Trump Stole the 2020 Election, is a must-read for anyone concerned with the ongoing election. I was aware of Diebold machine malfunctions, the higher percentage of ballot spoilage in machines in poor districts, the unreasonable polling hours, locations, vicious racist gerrymandering, and accessibility, along with the election ALWAYS occurring on a work day, but Palast unearths much, much more. From his perspective, no republican candidate has legitimately won the electoral college or popular vote since George HW Bush’s victory in 1988. And yet six of the nine supreme court justices joining the court over that same period were nominated by republicans; the number will be seven in ten if Amy Coney Barrett’s confirmation takes place on McConnell’s timetable; think about that for a moment. Bush Sr.’s term from 1989 to 1993 constitutes 12.5% of the total time since his victory, but the republicans have managed the unthinkable : a 70% control on SCOTUS. The court stole the election in 2000, perfectly down ideological lines, so why not 2020? Trump admitted his plan to petition the court for an election victory, hence the need to replace centrist Ruth Bader Ginsburg with a greenhorn of despicable credentials. A common refrain here would be that I cannot imagine Obama or even Bush W. succeeding in such shenanigans. McConnell and Graham, resolute in their objection to Obama appointing to the high court his selection Merrick Garland so close to an election, that being February of 2016, suddenly offer no apology for fast-tracking Barrett less than five weeks before this election. Even more critical are the hundreds of lower court vacancies left in place by the republican-controlled Senate, intent on delivering those seats to candidates nominated by a republican president. At least the electioneering receives national press now, albeit very late in the game. John Roberts recently ruled with a tied vote that Pennsylvania ought have time to tally votes, yet his career is a crusade to destroy the Voting Rights Act with reckless abandon. Noam Chomsky, Democracy Now‘s Amy Goodman, and Palast appeared here together to survey his Palast’s findings.
Congressionally, the game is constitutional maximalism, or the maximal use of constitutional authority according to the letter, but NOT the spirit of the law. McConnell, in his bellowing repugnant drawl, suggests that “divided guhvahmint” was the obstacle then, despite clearly arguing differently at the time. Graham loves the role of hypocrite, having denounced Trump, then declaring himself a Trump lapdog after the sham that was the 2016 election.
So what’s the solution? The court represents an institution of enormous power, with lifetime terms and near unconditional and unchecked determination of the future of American democracy. Sheldon Whitehouse spent his thirty minutes for questions to Barrett instead on presenting the dark money behind a cabal of affluent conservatives hell-bent on owning the court. He makes a compelling case, demonstrating that the coming six-to-three majority is the living dream of corporate America, with increasing hostility to women’s reproductive rights, marriage equality, union and labor interests, the environmental movement, the elderly, the disabled, and the poor; the court is a darling of corporate power, presuming and furthering the doctrine of corporate personhood. Barrett, at the tender age of 48, could serve on the court for four to five more decades, factoring in the near-certain advances in senescence reversal, a lifetime legacy. It’s bad enough that one of Trump’s three nominees, Brett Kavanaugh, was accused of rape by a former classmate, and the republicans skirted the issue, just as they did in the case of Clarence Thomas way back when. Seems fitting that Bush Sr., Thomas, Trump, and Kavanaugh are all men accused of sexual misdeeds. Are they guilty? No one has stopped long enough to credibly try to investigate, and the short answer is that these men of power must ascend, with haste directly proportionate to the crimes alleged.
So what are some solutions to an institution so powerful, unaccountable, and indefinitely kinking the flow of progress? We’ll come to that below. Suffice it to say, enumerating the challenges, existential and otherwise, is nontrivial. For instance, what does our planet look like in 2060, when a Justice Barrett reaches the age of 88? We have some alarming readings in the tea leaves. Maybe there won’t be a world to worry about…
Since the 1970s, man-made changes to ecosphere have been of increasing interest to scientists, though the precise mechanisms were becoming clear to researchers in the late nineteenth century. It should come as a great surprise that Exxon scientists studied climate warming in the 1970s, only to later bury and disavow the same research. To this day, they deny even the denial, pressing hilariously flimsy critiques of ExxonKnew, the preeminent source of many of the controversies. Al Gore argued decades ago that human-caused climate change could destroy the world, yet no administration in the forty years of very obvious warming trends have seriously heeded the call. Bush Jr. dropped his carbon regulatory promise out of the gate, with no pretext. Obama could have declared climate change a national threat, overriding Congress in allocating monies to build a green infrastructure. Hillary Clinton only took the issues seriously thanks to the candidacy of Bernie Sanders. Trump is the first person to occupy the White House to deny the science altogether. And yet his department of transportation issued a report admitting that climate change is real, and a byproduct of industrialization, but nonetheless repealed emission standards, conceding defeat literally. In a move so callous and murderous, I cannot imagine the man escaping the International Court of Justice–Trump withholds funds badly needed by California to combat the wildfires, despite California’s significant contribution to federal revenue. He claims, ridiculously, that the fires are the fault of the “forest management” rather than a lack of coherent policy on climate change. I’m reminded of his commentary on the passing of civil rights great John Lewis, as Trump stated multiple times, “he didn’t come to my inauguration.” His commentary here might as well read, “California didn’t vote for me, so I won’t help them.” Trump’s mental state is a topic to which we’ll return. Trump insists that blue states fail in all respects, despite the poorest and nearly reddest states, Mississippi and Kentucky, soaking the federal government tremendously. Stevens says forty percent of Mississippi’s state budget flows directly from Washington. In any case, denialism remains hot in Trump circles, despite an overwhelming scientific consensus that man-made climate change poses an existential threat, evinced by myriad models such as this one from MIT‘s own Earth, Atmospheric, and Planetary Sciences.
[c]limate hazards such as extreme weather, higher temperatures, droughts, floods, wildfires, storms, sea level rise, soil degradation, and acidifying oceans are intensifying, threatening infrastructure, health, and water and food security. […] Irreversible damage to ecosystems and habitats will undermine the economic benefits they provide, worsened by air, soil, water, and marine pollution.
Worldwide Threat Assessment, 2019
Carl Sagan warned of a world in which the fantasy occult fascinate us more than the occult discoverable through science. The original pilot of the television science fiction series Star Trek featured a race of beings so preoccupied with dreams that they “gave up, forgetting how to repair the machines left behind by their ancestors.” In a world of technological wonder, it’s quite miraculous how few of us understand even the basics of the global economy, or where most scientific research dollars come from, or how rural electrification, dams, radio, automobiles, aircraft, the computer, the internet, all deeply transformative technologies, were state-supported ventures. I find myself referring back to history–how can we understand where we are now without knowing where we were?
There is a concerted effort by lobbyists, the corporate stooges holding the leashes of many senators and representatives, to direct misinformation on climate change to the population. The academy has let down the poor and the working class, often siding with the would-be liberal internationalists of the neoliberal program. In the parlance of George Monbiot, we’re missing a narrative to guide us out of the darkness. Ghosts and demons happily assume that vacuum, just as Sagan feared. So the population, goaded by modern day imbecilic Pinkertons such as Trump, Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Glenn Beck, Bill O’Reilly, and others, succumbs to the industrialist values of self-loathing and mutual suspicion, finding enemies foreign and domestic, distrusting science, logic, reason, and anything more than bare emotionalism. Powell argued in his memorandum that the ivory intelligentsia has designs on the business community’s private property, and that liberal intellectuals are fueling the radical socialism they place alongside Stalin (then Khrushchev)’s Soviet Russia, a totalitarian state. The hatred of scientists and educators follows a long thread from the southern whites opposed to school integration, increasingly accurate depictions of American history in stark rebuke of the many ideals held dear, such as Aryan purity, misogyny, and ownership of slaves and other property, and finally the critique science, across fields as diverse as sociology, economics, biology, climatology, and ethics, offers for unrestricted capitalism.
The science is clear, though I know educated folks who declare themselves not to be “reactionary” about it, despite the extinction rate currently hovering at one thousand times the usual background rate, wild fires engulfing the west, harsher hurricanes in the southeast, and disasters around the globe increasing. The highest temperature recorded on land, perhaps since 1931, is a 2020 phenomenon: 130 degrees Fahrenheit in Death Valley. The smoke and ash from fires have affected my own health, living close to a recent effects earlier, particularly in the northwest when northern California and southern Canada were ablaze. The sun was a blood orange, easily spied by the unprotected eye. Ashes rained on my car, evoking the horror of scenes from Schindler’s List. Instead of Jews and other Nazi victims burning, this time it’s mother nature in the oven, with an ecological holocaust well underway.
The so-called Holocene is officially the sixth extinction event. The science is beyond dispute, yet many still refuse to listen to reason. Time is running out, and it’s possible we’re already beyond the tipping point. Tom Steyer, former candidate hoping for a nomination to be president, became a “green” billionaire by making his company carbon neutral, then leaving private industry to take up the mantle of the climate change. He agreed with Bernie Sanders that a green new deal could provide high paying jobs, revamp our infrastructure, and improve quality of life for all Americans. I see zero evidence to the contrary, and much in their favor. Bernie’s influence has shifted Biden’s platform somewhat toward ecological reform, reform we badly need. The October 22 debate featured a powerful moment : Biden committed to phasing oil out, a policy choice essential to our survival as a species. Trump snapped, “Watch out Texas, Montana,” and on and on. He insisted that our environment had never been cleaner than now, thanks to him. It’s almost silly to bother repeating his more ridiculous claims here, but this speaks strongly to a powerful concern to which I’ll return.
Unfortunately, we face three more extremely dangerous existential threats as we crash into this critical election, the latter two of which finally confirms how dangerous a psychopath he really is.
Nuclear proliferation has long occupied the other side of the extinction coin, with details emerging in more recent years of just how much of a threat the weapons pose. Peace activists such as Dave Swanson argue that first-strike nuclear war, a power reserved by the U.S. and Israel, poses an existential threat, as does war in general. Recently, the King’s Bay Plowshares Seven, an advocacy group of Catholics of conscience, defaced trident nuclear missiles in Georgia, and they received not a word of national media attention. Would that all citizens be so brave as this gentle elderly group of activists.
August marked the seventy-fifth anniversary of the nuclear destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, effectively ending the second world war and securing America as the global superpower, with the Soviet Union a very distant second. In the years to follow, American scientists invented thermonuclear weapons, capable of destructive force many hundreds (and later thousands) of times more powerful than the Fat Man and Little Boy. Development at Los Alamos pressed onward, despite a growing concern that the ensuing reaction of such a bomb would immolate the entirety of the biosphere. Hitler apparently was most displeased at the prospect of a nuclear program under his direction destroying the very world he sought to control; though he envisioned a world free of all the undesirables (to his own vicious tastes), a world uninhabitable left little quarter for Aryans.
Enter Daniel Ellsberg, the renowned dissident, and a former intelligence officer working for the RAND corporation, who released the Pentagon papers, thereby unearthing internal documents revealing true, and nefarious, motivations of the U.S. government’s interest in South Vietnam and the surrounding region–greed. His other, less well-known role was nuclear war planning and preparedness. To his great regret, the largesse of the documents he purloined applicable to the risk of nuclear misadventure were lost to a flood. In any case, he pieced together as much as he could from memory, together with the release of official documentary records, bringing together this and that to write The Doomsday Machine : Confessions of a Nuclear War Planner.
I highly recommend the book, and though I can’t offer a full treatment of it here, suffice it to say that Ellsberg debunks many myths surrounding nuclear weapons, namely
the president and ONLY the president can initiate a nuclear attack—any number of levels down the chain actually can launch weapons without explicit orders from above
first-strike nuclear war is NOT the U.S. war plan—first-strike has always been a power reserved to the U.S. and Israel
nuclear weapons provide suitable deterrence—in reality, almost all military misadventure in the post-war period has involved either the U.S. or the Soviet Union, or both; the weapons seem to embolden rather than dissuade our demons
Hiroshima and Nagasaki were necessary to end the war—Japan was beaten, ensconced by Allied forces with all supply lines cutoff; the Japanese offered to surrender if they could retain their emperor, an offer turned down by America, then honored after experimenting with the weapons
nuclear readiness is tight and secure, with launch codes protected carefully—in many of the stations visited by Ellsberg, codes were posted on the safe door, or the safe remained unlocked
denizens of Hiroshima and Nagasaki were the only civilians harmed by the bombs—the nuclear tests in the South Pacific destroyed island villages, poisoning the people who lived there (and later the Marines dispatched servicepersons to gather and bury the nuclear waste on Runit Island, withholding the extreme health risks and offering minimal to no protective gear
the major existential threat is the force of the bomb itself—it turns out that the more significant threat is the smoke and ash, kicked so far into the atmosphere that precipitation (which coalesces in the troposphere) cannot rain it down, blocking sunlight; enough of this smoke and ash will destroy plant life, unraveling the food chain and leading to mass death, on the order of two-thirds of all humans, likely a conservative estimate
we prevented war with the Soviet Union by discouraging their presence in Cuba—in reality, our harassment of three nuclear-armed Soviet submarines in the warm waters of the Caribbean caused two of the three commanders to believe nuclear war was already underway, as each and all already were quite addled by the high temperature since Soviet subs were intended for much colder water; the vote of one Soviet commander staying the itchy trigger fingers of his cohorts, saving all of us
war with the Soviets was possible in isolation—in fact, the war planners ALWAYS intended to destroy both the Soviet Union and China simultaneously, with losses they deemed acceptable in Western Europe if the winds were unfavorable
As you can see, this remains an incredibly important issue of our time. The Bulletin of Atomic Scientists currently places us one hundred seconds to midnight according to their doomsday clock, the closest we’ve come so far. They plead with world leaders to heed their admonishment:
[h]umanity continues to face two simultaneous existential dangers—nuclear war and climate change—that are compounded by a threat multiplier, cyber-enabled information warfare, that undercuts society’s ability to respond. The international security situation is dire, not just because these threats exist, but because world leaders have allowed the international political infrastructure for managing them to erode–nuclear war and climate change—that are compounded by a threat multiplier, cyber-enabled information warfare, that undercuts society’s ability to respond. The international security situation is dire, not just because these threats exist, but because world leaders have allowed the international political infrastructure for managing them to erode.
Bulletin of Atomic Scientists
Unfortunately, press for nuclear proliferation remains virtually silent. Neither political party commits to nuclear disarmament, and with New START expiring in February of next year, it’s possible neither Russia nor America will feel obliged to slow the stockpile of more and more weapons. As the Bulletin suggests, catastrophic climate change may very well precipitate nuclear war, and thus it is impossible to extricate the two.
Two more global threats confront us, one that didn’t occur to me until this year, the year of COVID.
The Obama administration formed a National Security Council directorate to coordinate with the Centers for Disease Control and the National Institutes of Health in response to the outbreak of H1N1, a directorate Trump quickly slashed upon entering office. From the beginning of his campaign to the present, he has labored hard at dismantling each and every accomplishment of the Obama administration, from said directorate all the way to the Affordable Care Act, perhaps Obama’s most important legacy and the most progressive piece of legislation passed in a few decades. Trump, as we argued earlier, managed to obtain all but one key vote in the Republican-controlled Senate to dissolve the ACA, his nemesis and fellow republican John McCain refusing his power play. Trump promised to provide a healthcare solution for all Americans, but his tactic rather was to erase the ACA before even formulating a plan, something he still doesn’t have. The truth is, quite likely, that the plan is to have no plan. Poor people don’t deserve to live, so why bother? Trump’s vicious racist housing practices for the poor pocketed him money but wounded the poor he claims to serve.
Now, enter the coronavirus, the most disruptive predicament Americans have faced in a long time. Almost certainly a by-product of factory farming, the zoonotic virus originated in China, quickly covering the earth as travelers spread the respiratory disease. New Zealand seems a model of success in disease response, appropriately and quickly shutting down businesses and public services, save the most critical among them.
According to investigative reporter Bob Woodward, of Watergate fame, Trump’s initial response was to concede the enormous danger behind closed doors but deny the danger publicly. From there, Trump downplayed the dangers, issuing lie after lie, each more outrageous than the last, all from a place of colossally reckless ignorance of the facts. Reading from The Atlantic, one finds Trump blaming Mexico, China, Obama, the democrats, the director Dr. Anthony Fauci of the NIH’s Allergy and Infectious Disease, and on and on, blaming Obama for leaving him a wrecked medical system, other countries for increasing U.S. fatalities, and issuing baseless claims about the presumed immunity of children and exaggerating how small the risk of death is. Trump seldom dons a mask at his rallies, and few folks in his packed rallies wear masks, and not unexpectedly, outbreaks then occur. Daily cases rise with each bungle and descend with each set of protective measures taken. With a magnanimous flow of misinformation from Trump, a quarter of Americans seem to believe the disease was manufactured to murder us. Some don’t believe the virus is even real.
All told, Trump has plopped his fat ass on his tiny little hands, presiding over the worst public health disaster in living memory. Two hundred and twenty thousand Americans have died. To put things in perspective, as of 2018, the population of my city of residence, Tucson in Arizona, is 545,975. It’s as though my city lost forty percent of its population. Trump is solely responsible for contradicting experts in the government about how to take precautions, he’s responsible for failing to respond, with the inane claim that suicides due to COVID would exceed COVID deaths if the economy remained closed, and he’s denied relief for the millions of Americans now out of work. It’s very difficult to write these words without becoming outraged.
I recently saw a debate clip of Mitch McConnell cackling at Amy McGrath as she lambasted his unwillingness to even bring to committee the stimulus relief packages offered by the House. He’s a ghoulish fiend, basking in the near certitude of reelection in a deeply red state. Trump complains endlessly that the Democrat-controlled House has accomplished nothing, yet they’ve passed over four hundred bills in the past six months, with McConnell joyously sitting on everything, determined to undermine the will of the people.
In the final debate on October 22, Trump reiterated his nothing plan : dismantle the Affordable Care Act with no offered replacement, then somehow believe a plan into being. He’s provided no hints as to what a plan looks like, and he seems to fundamentally not understand that those who lose coverage with the evisceration of Obamacare don’t have an bridge plan while waiting for his “beautiful health care plan” to beam in from the sky.
Again, Trump is a murderer, plain and simple. He understands the cost, and persists with a destructive policy that even infected him, his wife, and his young son. It’s easy from here to address my final concern if we stay the course.
Stuart Stevens maintains that we can distill the core of republican electorate to a coalescence of rabid sports fans, incapable of tolerating policy differences, and frankly incapable of ever thinking their team should lose. I’m no sports fan, but I’ve been around long enough to know that if a player switches teams, he instantly becomes the enemy to most of the fans of his team of origin; to a fan, category is trivially irrelevant. Don’t get me wrong, sports fans can have at it, and one can concede a useful means of entertainment. But it simply won’t do as a basis for policy and government. So it makes sense to me that Trump contradicts himself and projects his own wrong-doing onto others, principally upon Biden, all the while team Trump and media surrogates, Rick Santorum and Chris Chrystie, declare a victory for Trump in the last debate; it’s astonishing! He described no specific policy on topics raised, instead spending as much time as he could hurling mud at Biden on frankly absurd conspiracy theories. Apparently, fantasies about Biden “golfing more that” Trump carry much more significance than the principal issues of our time : healthcare, race, or climate change. His spectators cheer hysterically, many of whom refusing to wear masks in crowded places. They cheer him on, no matter how ridiculous his claims are. He also accuses Biden of hiding in basements, precisely the thing he’s been doing. It seems like a bad strategy to project one’s culpability onto the opponent, thus drawing attention to the very issue that colors him corrupt, but it isn’t hard to see in the context of a personality disorder. After all, the federal monies necessary to support him in his near weekly golfing, and hosting meetings and dignitaries in his hotels are staggering: he’s visited his properties over five hundred times during his term so far, according to Citizens for Ethics. His basement hiding led to the stunning Bible photo-op, featured earlier, one of the most ridiculous of his myriad missteps. Citizens for Ethics provide a decent list of his conflicts of interest, a number no fewer than 3,400. And he projects these corrosive conflicts onto Biden, laughably enough.
I need no therapy credentials to point to myriad lies (twenty thousand according to the Washington Post and The Guardian), his ugly mistreatment of women, his river of self-congratulations in his intellect, his perfect policies and decisions, and so on, dripping with asinine augmentatives. His obsession with outperforming Obama seems clinically significant, as he regularly issues polls asking whether he or Obama is superior, despite Obama neither being a candidate nor bearing much on this election at all. It began early, with his pressuring his toadies to edit aerial photographs of his inaugural crowd size compared to that of Obama. I suppose if he really wants to beat Obama at something, he’s more vulgar, more offensive, and more hateful.
Moving along to much more critical issues, most of which we’ve already discussed, Trump exhibits a gross disregard for others in his tweeted orders to white supremacists to kidnap and murder governors, as discussed earlier, his vicious border policies, his encouragement of further police violence, his assassination of a suspect Oregon accused of shooting a violent counterprotestor while defending a counterprotestor gunman at a Black Lives Matter protest, his doggedness in scrapping Obamacare with no regard to the massive impact on the poor and disabled, and most seriously of all, if there is a greatest sin of Donald Trump, his colossal mishandling of the coronavirus, a disease at the time of this writing having 8.5 million cases and 223,000 deaths. The man is drowning in the blood of his victims, and these particular victims are Americans.
A term of increasing prominence seems to be narcopath, or a mixture of narcissist and sociopath. Clinical psychologists and psychiatrists tend not to arm-chair diagnose, that is, surmise the psychosis of a person not in their professional care, but I’m happy to cosign arm-chair diagnoses and perhaps a mental fitness test for president going forward. According to Business Insider in 2019, 350 psychiatrists and psychologists signed a petition, arguing
[w]e are convinced that, as the time of possible impeachment approaches, Donald Trump has the real potential to become ever more dangerous, a threat to the safety of our nation,
[w]hat makes Donald Trump so dangerous is the brittleness of his sense of worth. Any slight or criticism is experienced as a humiliation and degradation. To cope with the resultant hollow and empty feeling, he reacts with what is referred to as narcissistic rage[,]
[h]e is unable to take responsibility for any error, mistake, or failing. His default in that situation is to blame others and to attack the perceived source of his humiliation. These attacks of narcissistic rage can be brutal and destructive.
Drs. Bandy Lee, a Yale psychiatrist
Suffice it to say, some mental health professionals recognize the gravity of Trump’s psychosis. Chomsky recently referred to Trump as a sociopathic megalomaniac, pointing out quite correctly that ignoring the climate crisis is suicidal. Psychology Today refers to narcissistic personality disorder as a decent explanation for Trump’s grandiosity and utter inability to understand facts or accept responsibility. Trump denies responsibility for permitting so many deaths under COVID, yet he quickly calumniates his opponents with precisely his own sins, such as insisting repeatedly that the Biden family has bilked his political connections for his own financial gain. Biden’s response was perfect: “release your tax returns.” Trump’s dirty financial dealings one day will more fully bask in the cleansing light of criminal prosecution, though even seeing darkly through the glass intimates the truth: Trump is the most corrupt president in American history, contending with the likes of Warren G. Harding, Millard Fillmore, Andrew Johnson, and Ulysses S. Grant. He’s as racist as Andrew Jackson, more crazed than Richard Nixon, and his mishandling of COVID stacks well against Ronald Reagan’s cruel reluctance to research AIDS and the myriad deaths associated therewith. In his fog of grandiosity, Trump actually seems to believe he’s better than everyone and everything. And he’s also a victim of everyone and everything. Narcissistic sociopath, psychopath, pick your poison. Not that it really matters at this point, but whence comes this painted animal?
As though this weren’t alarming enough, it’s worth comparing Trump’s debating chops in 2015 with those of 2020, and one will note a marked deterioration in his verbiage and cognition. I know neurologists who claim he must have some form of dementia, and I wouldn’t be a bit surprised. He’s obese, he’s 74 years old, and he suffers from an extreme personality disorder. The National Center for Biotechnology Information suggests neuroticism increases while conscientiousness decreases the risk of late life dementia. Does he have it? He’s claimed repeatedly that he can remember five things, then repeat them in order. Is this the bar for the president of the United States? Border collie dogs can remember order of a small number of things. Are they qualified to be president?
A psychotic man on the precipice of dementia, who has already cost us hundreds of thousands of American lives, has access to nuclear codes, and offers according to his self-inflated intuition, as he did in October 22’s debate again, that the virus will go away and we’ll all be wonderful again. Meanwhile, he and Mitch McConnell sit on democratic legislation aimed at helping states and cities. He says it’s all Nancy Pelosi’s fault, despite hundreds of bills receiving the dead-on-arrival stamp from Mitch. When confronted, Mitch just cackles. Why are these people in government? Stevens says it best, admonishing his fellow conservatives:
[w]hat the Republican Party must realize is that it needs America more than America needs the party. And the America it needs is the one that is 320 million Americans and growing, a country of immigrants and less white every day: the real America, not the gauzy Shangri-La of suburban bliss that never existed.
No matter the intention of the founders, no matter the wickedness inflicted by man upon others, no matter chaos and horror confronting us now, we have just one answer, and it’s much simpler than we might imagine : democracy. Democracy literally means “common people” and “power,” much like the name of my blog, Scire Populum et Potentiam. The founders never intended it, the framework of our economy and government largely oppose it through institutional stupidity in corporations and exaggerated power in the hands of the Senate, the Presidency, and the Supreme Court. McConnell concedes impending electoral defeat of republican dominance, but brags that installing Amy Cohen Barrett, another right-wing hysteric, to the Supreme Court is a very long term victory. Currently, nine people, serving for life, can make decisions of enormous impact. And they don’t have to offer any justification, as they did in the case described above. The president now, unlike when the Constitution was ratified in 1789, can completely destroy the world, something Trump seems hellbent on doing. The Senate distorts the power of small states, with filibuster rules capable of locking up any meaningful progress the people may wish. Gerrymandering, voter purging, voter intimidation, and the like ensure that likely democratic voters can’t participate. No thinking person can believe any of the aforementioned make for good policy. Magna Carta originated a western tradition of commons, justice, and distributed power.
Both the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution, for all their many flaws, inched us closer to democracy. Labor movements have pioneered the most free society in recorded history. And yet we still have so far to go.
The Russian interference in the 2016 election is largely known to members of both parties. More alarming to me was repeated tropes about Russia threatening our “democratic norms” and “democratic values,” and our “sacred traditions of democracy.” Utterly preposterous. Electing a man from a selection of two who is almost totally unaccountable to the electorate is NOT democracy. Very little of public will makes its way into top-level decision making. None of these norms are democratic. We must change these norms. If we did the following, our institutions would protect us even if Russia hacked Facebook until Putin and Zuckerberg are green in the face.
Vote for Biden and all Democrats. This couldn’t be more self-explanatory, as Trump and McConnell will otherwise further destroy our country and our world. Don’t accept that polling means you ought not vote. This was likely a factor in Trump’s theft of the office in 2016. Further, vote for democrats up and down the ballot; republicans might insist that local policy is apolitical, yet they provide a mechanism for republicans to organize more effectively. Sure, Biden and I disagree on several policies, and though Bernie’s ideals more closely approximate mine, we disagree on a few things (such as the dispensation of Edward Snowden.) It’s frankly unsophisticated to expect we’ll agree with everything a nominee or candidate offers on her/his political market. Paralyzing cynicism will not suffice to indemnify those of us in more privileged sectors. See the next point.
Assume accountability for our world. Taken from Snyder, we as Americans wield more power than most anyone else in the world. That factor of influence increases dramatically for the technologists amongst us. It’s not enough to surrender responsibility just because the person we didn’t choose happens to win the election. Chomsky correctly points to intellectuals bearing responsibility. I point also to technologists. We have only one earth, and soon we may have none.
Study and listen to science. Become aware of the facts. Find books, like the many I list here, which are largely peer-reviewed and sensible. Scientists study for years and years to become experts. They’re probably not wrong, but the scientific method is the best tool we have in discovery. Catastrophic climate change is real, and our timer has almost buzzed. Nuclear winter could and likely would follow as resources become increasingly scarce in dangerous places. Pakistan and India are both nuclear states, and they both cope with diminishing fresh water flowing from Kashmir.
Learn our history in all its many dimensions. My high school American history course concluded with the atomic bomb in 1945, despite my taking the course in 1995. Pat Ledbetter, now a candidate for the Texas senate, taught me so much more in college. She transformed my perspective. We’re accountable for our history. Blaming others for their problems when our ancestors, and thus we ourselves, have benefitted tremendously from their enslavement, both before and after the Civil War. Read A People’s History. Read Chomsky’s How the World Works. Learn about Israel/Palestine. Watch Amy Goodman’s Democracy Now. Read Palast’s articles and reports on voter disenfranchisement; no matter your position on the spectrum, you cannot support simultaneously democracy and the horrific and illegal purge and intimidation of voters documented in his works. Democracy Now offers a marvelous reading list.
Learn economics. Unlike theoretical economics, a field obsessed with implausibly simple game models, the real story is much simpler. Read Piketty, Baker, Derber, Chomsky, Monbiot, Robert Reich, and so on. Good data exists. Corporations and their public relations surrogates thrive in darkness. Anticommunist tropes abound, but America is much more socialistic than is understood. We’ve discussed this topic extensively in past posts. Understand when markets work and when they don’t. Read The Conservative Nanny State. Let’s illuminate the absurd; it may wail and gnash, but it’ll wither and die in the presence of knowledge.
Talk to black friends about racism. Understand the talk black parents have always given their kids to protect them from racially-motivated violence, particularly by police. Talking to them openly about their concerns will stun you. Take Harvard’s racism and bias test. You’ll be surprised and disappointed, likely. Research slavery, Jim Crow, the chain gangs, and the vital role enslaved blacks played in the oft-celebrated industrial revolution.
Celebrate pacifists rather than warriors. War is unnatural, according to peace activist and philosopher David Swanson. We celebrate murderers with statues and icons and holidays, but how many national holidays celebrate something unrelated to religion or war? Labor Day comes to mind. Read Dave’s works, and support him in his activism. What he has to say will blow your mind.
Pressure Biden to support the Green New Deal. Our future hangs in the balance. A Biden victory is insufficient to guarantee good policy. Obama could have declared climate change a national emergency, circumventing any hostile obstructionist congresspersons in addressing the problem. Biden can do the same.
Pressure Biden to support Medicare for All. A public option is an excellent step, but expanding Medicare to all Americans, permitting some to opt out if they like their private insurance, is easily accomplished with a slight tax, a tax tremendously lower than current premiums. I hear the refrain of anecdotal failures in Britain, New Zealand, and the like, but the failures in our own system are far worse, well-documented in Michael Moore’s documentary Sicko. We can have as good a system as we demand; nothing is free, including democracy.
Pressure Biden to commit to nuclear disarmament treaties. We’re facing, below the media surface, incredible danger from nuclear weapons; pressure, pressure, pressure.
Demand funding for education. Educators are suffering terribly, and this economic stress long precedes the pandemic. I believe educators are among the most important people in our society, as they shape the youth, safeguard science, and research the universe around us to expand our global consciousness and conscience. My heart and love go to out to E. Clyde Yeatts, Dr. Pat Ledbetter, Candy Zangoei, Joybell Schalk, Dr. Gerald McDaniel, Dr. David Jorgensen, Dr. Michaela Vancliff, Dr. Hristo Kojouharov, Dr. Venkateswaran, Dr. Santosh Pande, Dr. Lance Fortnow, Dr. Guy Lebanon, Dr. Ashok Goel, Dr. Danny Dyer, Dr. Tie Luo, Dr. Moysey Brio, Dr. Joe Watkins, Dr. Misha Chertkov, and Dr. Noam Chomsky.
Demand infrastructure reform by American industry. Our auto technicians, fracking and oil engineers, and anyone potentially displaced by sane climate policy can easily be retrained to design and build high speed rail, badly needed. They also can engineer clean energy solutions.
Call your representative and senators. They’re yours. Call them everyday. Get others to do the same. Make it part of your routine. Write emails, letters, and so on. You’ll be surprised how many friends you’ll find around you with similar inclinations.
Organize peacefully. A Biden victory won’t assure us of anything more than restoring sanity to the executive office. We must organize with petitions and protests to compel and coerce his administration and Congress to fight for us, including economic and social justice, and civility. Democracy, like most objectives, is largely a local phenomenon. You can organize to get a traffic light put up, or you can organize to end the Muslim ban. America, at least for now, offers freedom of speech, perhaps the most important freedom of all. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Henry David Thoreau depict civil disobedience quite well. Leverage the advantages afforded to us. Trump and his predecessors have often punished and sometimes violently attacked peaceful protests. It takes courage. The next two suggestions makes this a little easier.
Cultivate a robust private life. Appropriating this from Snyder, a healthy inner circle is a refuge, or at least it has been for me. I love my family here in Arizona, and I owe them my life.
Reach out and talk to each other. Our people are highly atomized, now so worse because of the pandemic. Americans are brave and believe in democracy, but we don’t know each other. For centuries, exchange programs have existed to acquaint students with new places in sister city reciprocity. Americans need to talk to each other. It’s not enough to blame others. Reaching out begins with me, today. I’ve almost never failed to engage another in talk; we’re social animals, badly in need of each other, now more than ever. The old admonishment to avoid religion and politics in discourse I believe is at least half wrong: politics determine our national and cultural norms, and we should have the courage to discuss them with each other. I suspect we’ll discover we have more in common than not. Virtually all of the aforementioned are topics we can discuss with anyone. I’ve spoken with hundreds of working class people through the years, and no matter the age difference, they listen in child-like wonderment when you demonstrate a deep knowledge of the history.
To this list, I’d like to propose loftier but still achievable deep and specific structural changes.
Automatically register all citizens to vote. One has to be either an imbecile or a fascist to disagree with this. Every citizen has a social security number issued through the federal government. One person, one vote seems rather obvious.
Migrate voting to the internet once and for all. We entrust security protocols online to safeguard our medical records, our banking, our mail records, our online purchases, and our genealogy in many cases. How would this be any less safe? This would eliminate most of the means by which thuggish republican officials have tried to disenfranchise Americans. The reasons so many are early voting in this cycle distill to fear of COVID and concerns about irregularities barring them from voting on election day proper. Currently, Indiana, Mississippi, Louisiana, Tennessee, and Texas permit novoting by mail, an outrageous restriction. It’s time for an election overhaul.
Dissolve the Electoral College. This is a no-brainer. The electoral college’s only purpose was to ensure that a demigod couldn’t become president. They failed. More importantly, they’re undemocratic, rendering it possible for men to win elections without the popular vote. Then the media and the government celebrate this as the “will of the people.” Give me a fucking break.
Weaken SCOTUS and POTUS. Among the programs we should seek are significant reductions in the power of SCOTUS and POTUS. The president is an administrator, not a dictator. Yet he can act unilaterally in opposition of the will of the people whenever he likes, with only a few constraints. They have no business making decisions more powerful and significant than COTUS, the Congress. Said Congress has ceded power, in some cases gradual, others rather incredible, to POTUS in the post war period. For instance, they’ve not declared war officially since Pearl Harbor, though we’ve been embroiled in war in all the years following 1945; POTUS has deemed these skirmishes necessary, for one reason or another. Further, it’s expected now, across the ideological spectrum, that POTUS set the legislative agenda for his term, despite this clearly being the Constitutional responsibility of COTUS. Why? My own interpretation is dark: Congresspersons would prefer not bearing responsibility for controversy, as this is tantamount to forfeiture of one’s political livelihood.
Institute term limits. We’ve already suggested this for members of SCOTUS. If representatives remain in the House for a fixed upper limit of terms, it follows that long-term political survivability will no longer influence their judgment. Of course, the risk is that they no longer have to consider the will of the people, at least during their final term. This is easily rectified with a weighted voting system, or the recognition that one’s political party may not retain power otherwise. In any case, it seems clear that evergreening political terms has partially led to broken government. And that leads to the next point.
Cut dark money and PACs out by federally funding elections. Following a long tradition of empowering corporations by the preposterous bestowal of personhood, a gushing river of dark money strangles nearly every piece of government in America. Citizens United may be one of the latest court decisions permitting limitless, unaccountable money to sway campaigns and lobbies, but the full story begins much earlier: the court held, rather incredibly, in 1886 in Santa Clara County v. South Pacific Railroad Co. that corporations ought receive equal protection under the eponymous clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. The SUN PAC decision in 1975 solidified means by which corporations can influence election, formalizing the legality of the political action committee. More recent cases protect corporations under the first amendment, such as Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc., protecting their “right” to restrict healthcare options based upon the company’s religion. I’ve never seen a company in church, but then again, stranger things have happened. In any case, we could easily solve much of this quagmire through federal funding of elections.
Broaden the House. The House of Representatives is the most democratic part of the federal government. 436 people can’t represent 330 million. It’s just ludicrous. We need a representative for every thousand people, with a hierarchical house. You should get to know your representative personally.
Eliminate the Senate. The Senate serves no obvious purpose, other than to retard democracy. Popular bills aren’t while unpopular ones are passed. The Senate distorts the power of smaller states. They complain that they’ll receive no representation otherwise. I could say the same thing about myself. I’m only one person. Why doesn’t my vote count ten times as much as yours?
Add many more referenda to federal and state ballots. More people vote when referenda appear on the ballot. More to the objective of democracy, people can actually decide policy rather than vote for a surrogate who will or will not (and more often don’t) carry out the design of the voters. Wouldn’t it have been nice to prevent the Iraq War, or to ensure that Americans crushed by the financial crisis in 2008 receive a bailout rather than the avaricious banks? Americans would feel greater accountability if we could sway policy.
I’ll close with a quote from Sagan.
Human history can be viewed as a slowly dawning awareness that we are members of a larger group. Initially our loyalties were to ourselves and our immediate family, next, to bands of wandering hunter-gatherers, then to tribes, small settlements, city-states, nations. We have broadened the circle of those we love. We have now organized what are modestly described as super-powers, which include groups of people from divergent ethnic and cultural backgrounds working in some sense together — surely a humanizing and character building experience. If we are to survive, our loyalties must be broadened further, to include the whole human community, the entire planet Earth. Many of those who run the nations will find this idea unpleasant. They will fear the loss of power. We will hear much about treason and disloyalty. Rich nation-states will have to share their wealth with poor ones. But the choice, as H. G. Wells once said in a different context, is clearly the universe or nothing.
Today is the ninetieth birthday of Noam Chomsky! Though impossible to summarize such an incredible life with a few short articles, I hope that our conclusion of commemorations is icing on the cake for the Chomsky aficionado while a pique to the interest for newcomers. Today’s selection of videos glimpses his many discussions on geopolitics, activism, and history. And I conclude with a very special gift for Noam, so please read on.
Manufacturing Consent : C-SPAN
Noam appeared on C-SPAN some years ago to discuss Manufacturing Consent, a media critique, his seminal media critique co-authored with the late Edward Herman. Central to the book, the propaganda model identifies means through which corporate media must serve power in contravention to the stated purpose of a free press. The book itself is a good deal more technical than most of his later analytic books, so it might serve just to watch the documentary. Here, we present the book review.
Noam and Howard
Chomsky’s very close friend Howard Zinn was a titanic American historian who, to his professional peril, articulated the appropriately named A People’s History of the United States. Having met in the 1960s while working within the civil rights movements, Noam and Howard appeared in many interviews over the years, and here’s a great one from April of 2007 appearing on Democracy Now.
Chomsky chatted about Zinn not long after his passing. His reflections evoke heart-wrench, as Howard was a close personal friend. The world is lesser without him.
1995 : Contract with America, NAFTA, and Other Idiocies
Noam spoke on campus in 1995 to Doug Morris for an hour on contemporary American politics; NAFTA, Gingrich, and other topics of the day dominated the discussion.
Self-Destruction of the Species? Institutions versus People
Chomsky spoke in April of 2001 at MIT on the question of species self-destruction, arguing the crucial role of institutional stupidity. See the section below on Daniel Ellsberg for more.
What is Anarchism?
At a philosophy forum at the Czech Palacký University Olomouc, elder Chomsky discusses his take on anarcho-syndicalism and possible latter forms. One uppity whippersnapper argues that he’d prefer to be told what to do, with Noam’s response a rather clever one.
Chomsky on Dershowitz : “Just A Comic Figure”
Alan Dershowitz has recently indebted jingoists everywhere in his zany legal defenses of Donald Trump on Fox. Chomsky has debated Dershowitz several times through the years, describing him to me as “just a comic figure, desperate to defend his two clients, himself and the State of Israel, but smart enough to know that both are guilty as sin.” This was a reference to particular points of contention he and I were discussing regarding Israel’s illegal occupation of the West Bank and Dershowitz’ often ludicrous defense of it. “All this smoke that was blown…” is a great derogation Chomsky uses in the following debate in 2005 at Harvard’s John Kennedy School of Government.
Dan and Noam
Daniel Ellsberg was a government analyst working within the RAND corporation during the Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, and Nixon administrations. He met Noam while working within the peace movement in the late 1960s. Here’s a picture of Noam, Dan, and Howard together in the 1970s.
In 1971, Noam defended his friend Daniel Ellsberg publicly after Ellsberg released the Pentagon Papers, the hidden, vicious history of the Vietnam War. This release significantly contributed to the growing public discontent with the negligent, criminal actions of the Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, and Nixon administrations. Be prepared to be annoyed as hell at the Buckley-esque cross-examiner, clearly more interested in hearing his own voice. I don’t even care enough to look up his name.
Noam and Daniel met at the University of Arizona this past spring to discuss Dan’s latest book, The Doomsday Machine, a book I hope to review here soon. These icons don’t pull punches in their scathing condemnation of nuclear proliferation. Don’t be depressed. This is a call to action!
9/11 and the “Rebel Without a Pause”
In 2005, filmmaker Will Pascoe produced Rebel Without a Pause, a documentary detailing the sharp uptick in Chomsky’s speaking requests after the September 11, 2001 attacks in New York (not to be confused with the September 11, 1973 terror attack in Allende’s Chile.) Chomsky discussed his book on the former attack at the fifteenth anniversary of the Fairness in Accuracy and Reporting (FAIR). Almost overnight, institutions, agencies, citizens spanning America and beyond expressed desperation in understanding what would motivate a group of criminals to murder thousands of civilians, killing themselves in the process. Listen for the most plausible explanation available, a summary and analysis of intelligence data and the historical, documentary record.
Bernie and Noam
Bernie Sanders is the most favorable political figure today, according to the far right news media Fox. Though Bernie’s 2016 campaign for president didn’t reach out to Noam for analysis, commentary, and so on (Noam told me this himself), they’ve crossed paths throughout the years; in 1985, Chomsky delivered a talk called “Deciphering Foreign Policy Jargon” at Burlington City Hall. Millennials will cheer when Bernie introduces Noam.
Noam and Gore
Noam and gay hero and activist Gore Vidal only occasionally appeared together; on the passing of Gore, Noam told me,
We were on similar paths,
but they didn’t cross
much. Moved in different
circles. We did have a
discussion once, arranged
by Jay Parini, a novelist
who’s a common friend.
Don’t know what happened to it.
A fine person, in my view.
And outstanding novelist, and
honest and often discerning
Well, it just so happens I found that video for him. Yesterday, we included Gore later recounting how no American media organization would release the video, not even in “San Francisco on a Sunday morning at four a.m.” In other words, not even the most “liberal” district featured mainstream media brave enough to challenge the recently deceased George H.W. Bush’s criminal aggression in Iraq.
Requiem for the American Dream
A very recent work of Noam’s called Requiem for the American Dream considers principles of wealth concentration in the post-industrial, neoliberal era. Documented in the same-named compilation of interviews with him, the instant classic was quite hard to find in theaters, even in the tolerant urban sprawl of Seattle. My husband and I could find only one venue, somewhat distant, and a cash-only operation. So much for the bastion of liberalism. One can find the full-length documentary here.
Randall Wallace and Chomsky Speaks
Randall Wallace, grandson of former vice president Henry Wallace, believes Chomsky to be perhaps the most important intellectual of the past century. To that end, he founded Chomsky Speaks, a project aimed at capturing as much of this incredible man on film as we can in Noam’s time with us. I’d invite you to take a look for yourself.
My Friendship with Noam
While studying computer science and the Georgia Institute of Technology, I came across Noam’s work repeatedly in courses on the theory of computation. In a purely academic pursuit, I searched the internet for discussions of his professional work; I then stumbled on his activist work, finding for the first time an author and thinker who spoke my language. Encyclopedic, diligent, and driven by integrity, his powerhouse talks became a significant time drain on me. I began ordering his books by the satchel, eager to consume every detail-packed tidbit he had to offer on geopolitics, critical analysis of foreign policy, and prescriptions for a better future. We began corresponding in 2012, remaining pen pals for these years since. I believe there isn’t a man I respect more, past or present. And it isn’t hero worship, as I, like Noam, stringently object to gladiators and saviors. Noam’s role as activist has been, and continues to be, an analyst, a curator of history, and a staunch defender of victims everywhere. Though he’d never admit it, it actually gratifies him to hear how his works have inspired generation after generation of activists. It isn’t immodesty. Each of us need validation that what we’re doing is meaningful, however minor or however impactful.
Here was my eager first meeting with the man himself.
So as Noam enters his tenth decade, let me close these three days of celebration with a song I composed and performed just for him; here are the lyrics. And the recording is below.
awareness of the relationship between
personal experience and the wider society[.]
Though it’s difficult to convey the full range of topics Derber and Magrass tackle, of initial interest to me was Sociopathic Society, a discussion of American empire and the intrinsic sociopathy of capitalist and coercive organizations; I later learned of Bully Nation, an incredible reframing of bullying in American society as a necessary feature of capitalism and militarism. Since I couldn’t complete the book before this interview, we only briefly touch on the subject. Though the interested reader will find links for several of Charlie and Yale’s books below, a more complete list appears here.
I very much enjoyed my time with Charlie, (despite his stacking more books into my already hopelessly long reading list!), and like the interdisciplinarity of sociology, our discussion meandered among many important topics. Certainly it’s worth starting at the beginning, though the reader ought feel free to jump in anywhere, as the water is fine. Unfortunately, I’m suffering frustrating cognitive impairment as of this writing, and though my participation is slow throughout the discussion, I’ve tried editing to ensure the audio is easier hear.
NP Slagle: Welcome to Scire Populum et Potentiam, to know the people and power. It’s my great pleasure to welcome Charles Derber, professor of sociology at Boston College, where he’s taught for over 30 years. Professor Derber’s the author of over twenty books covering people’s movements, identity politics, history, political science, and, notably, economics. Professor Derber and his frequent co-author, Professor Yale Magrass, more recently broke ground by explaining the bullying epidemic as an expected outcropping of a society where winners and losers, heroes and villains, militarize capitalism and, thus, the glorification of competitive violence have become the norm. Professor Derber, welcome.
Charles Derber: Thanks, Neil. That’s a nice introduction.
NPS: I thought you might approve, or at least I was hoping. The real question is whether I pronounced Professor Magrass’ last name correctly.
CD: You did. Perfectly.
NPS: Oh. Oh my goodness. Oh, wow.
CD: Yeah. As in most of my writing, much is driven by the idea that we live in a society in which people learn to identify all the problems or issues as purely psychologically and individually motivated rather than having anything to do with systemic institutional causes, which most people, that’s how it’s tracked. So, really, people don’t understand it very much. As a sociologist, or a sort of a person who looks at institutional and systemic forces like capitalism itself, it’s important for me to try to offer is how to take seriously the kinds of personal and psychological issues that people struggle with, but to root them in social, structural realities that tend to be ignored. Elites, the economic and political elites, have a big stake in making sure that people think that way and that they blame individuals for problems or blame themselves rather than thinking about the way in which larger social institutions and the culture and so forth play a big role. I grew up learning the material that I work with these days in the 60s and 70s and there was a sociologist you probably have heard of the name C. Wright Mills, who wrote The Sociological Imagination and The Power Elite. He said that sociology was all about contextualizing personal problems as social problems. In other words, what we experience as personal crises, or emotional problems or so forth, reflect very strongly structural institutional realities that tend to be read out of the national conversation, sort of excised and censored out. While in some societies, people are more naturally thinking in this way, such as in colonized societies, within western capitalist societies, there’s a kind of propagandistic ideological apparatus that really works very hard to get people into therapy or into purely psychological forms of conversation and thinking, which prevent them from making these connections between personal issues and societal issues.
NPS: Right, right. Yes. From the standpoint of algorithm design, it is the inability to see the global framework and how that actually sways local phenomena instead of just saying that it’s a localized phenomena. It’s interesting to me, because that is a substantive miss across the board when you look at the way that capitalism is designed, or at least the way that it’s propagandized. That each of us should pull ourselves up by our own bootstraps, and if we, in the school of Ayn Rand, seek only the maximization of our own profit that somehow that makes the entire system better.
CD: Right. Beyond even that, sort of, and that’s a good formulation, Ayn Rand is a perfect example of it. Beyond even that, I think, if you take neoclassical economics, which is the dominant school of economics in the United States, there’s really not even a conception of anything but the individual, not anything of the idea of society or of a public good or the commons or however you want to think about these sort of, what you’re calling the macro-level realities, really kind of disappear because the market is constructed as the action of millions of atomized individuals who have no real interdependence on each other. They’re involves in purely transactional interactions on the market.
CD: Right. Right. I think capitalism as, think particularly the model developed in the United States, is very, very sort of punitive in that approach. There’s such a intense focus on individual that everything that goes wrong with a person is attributed to that person’s laziness or lack of intelligence and so forth. You see that really, really strongly in Trump’s discourse now and so forth. Figure out whet it’s racialized, or genderized, or so forth.
CD: Yeah, it’s a big issue and a lot of my writing has been, [though] I’m in a sociology department, I do write for a general public and you mentioned my field accurately, but it really does come out of this sort of fundamental recognition that societies are constituted by interdependent individuals. I’m all for individual expression and freedom, it’s really, really fundamental, but that can’t be established without creating a strong sense of sort of the integrity of society-
CD: Of social connections. Yeah.
NPS: Oh, right. Yeah. We are animals that could not survive on our own in the wild. It’s preposterous.
NPS: Noam Chomsky likes to say, he can’t grow his own food. I certainly can’t grow my own food. At least he’s done some gardening. I haven’t. We depend very heavily on the super structure of society and, really, the state in the way that it provides for our needs and subsidizes agribusiness to make sure that there is cheap food available, even though there are children going hungry in this country. That’s another serious problem. There are so many different serious problems that I want to discuss with you. I’m so, so pleased to have you on the phone. This is great.
CD: Thanks, Neil. I appreciate your interest in my thinking. Yeah.
NPS: Well, the way that I came across your works, I was listening to Chomsky give a talk and he mentioned your name. Oftentimes, he’s referred to the atomization of American society and the deeply seated and rooted fear in our culture. Which I grew up in sort of an outcropping of the evangelical movement in Texas, so those are the things that I heard. Literally, I was taught to be terrified of black people in my hometown, and, of course, it couldn’t be further from the truth that they presented any danger at all. The opposite was actually true. There was police violence in my hometown that was never talked about in the daily newspaper that took place in the sort of black quarter of the city. So, yeah, as I started to discover these things, by taking college history for one, that actually has the power to open one’s eyes, I saw a completely different world that I’ve not been able to turn my back to. But we’re not here to talk about me, as much as conversational narcissism may try to take hold.
CD: No, no. I’m very interested. Your background sounds very, very interesting. Your work is very interesting, so let’s make this a shared conversation.
NPS: Yeah, yeah. Well, we’ll … When we get to Bully Nation and discussing that, I can talk about some of the horror stories that I’ve experienced, particularly in these Fortune 500 companies, where … I’ve been asked questions many times about The New York Times article that was published a year or so ago where it was something of an expose of the internal culture. I was asked whether this was actually true, and I said, “Yes, it is.” The group that I was in, I was very much immune to that. Our group and pretty much our org, which was Amazon Logistics, so we did last mile planning to replace UPS and the postal services. We were fairly well immunized from the culture, because it was recognized how difficult the problem is that we were solving. Which, that gets back to solving a problem globally versus locally or greedily. In algorithmic circles, they’ve got this stuff down, but you still see people on LinkedIn, high technologists that I’m connected with, preaching the Ayn Randian way of optimization, despite the fact that they know in their own scientific work it doesn’t work.
Activist Origins: From New Deal to Leftist for Real
NPS: Anyway, back to you, I want to ask you some questions about your beginnings. These are conversations with activists, in an effort to understand really this vast network of activists that have been in Americana all of this time but we don’t see you guys in. Well, I say, “you guys.” You gals and guys. We don’t see that network in mainstream media. We occasionally will see it in popular media like Hollywood, but we don’t see it in mainstream media for the most part. You were born in Washington, D.C. Can you tell me some about your early beginnings and how that sort of informed your activism?
CD: Well, I think my family history plays a big role, because I grew up in a Jewish liberal family that my father was a New Deal economist[, Milton Derber, during] what I call the New Deal Regime, which was a period of American history stretching from 1932 to 1980, I would say-
CD: I grew up in a family where, at dinner, we talked every night about politics and society and the economy, and you just grow up in that world of thought. I grew up in … After I moved away from where I was born in D.C., my father was working at the Labor Department and he got a job in the Economics and Labor Institutes at the University of Illinois Champaign-Urbana. We had this culture of conversation. I wonder now that the family dinner, now that I think about it, has sort of disappeared, how many people have lost that as a cultural breeding ground, because, sort of, that’s the way the New Deal kind of sensibility got transmitted to me. I remember my parents both being very, very engaged with issues of the New Deal and the Depression and, of course, the Holocaust was going on. The family was ripe for bringing up kids who had a focus on this. Then, when I became adolescent and then went off to high school and college, I was primed for the good match between my family background and the political era that was emerging in the sixties so that I sort of naturally emerged as really, really well primed for the kind of social activism and social critique that was coming out of the civil rights movement and the anti-Vietnam War movement. I spent my formative, young adult years in that environment, in college and graduate school. I was kind of, during that period, a full-time activist. I was literally in jail or in school reading Neo-Marxist or Herbert Marcusian-type political philosophy. It was just one of those … I think everyone in my generation was affected, impacted by that period of activists. I think that was the last real period of mass left engagement in the United States, and I just happened to be fortunate to sort of be at an age where I was being … I think there’s an age where people tend to get imprinted with their political dispositions for the rest of their life, and that was sort of what happened to me. I moved sort of from the New Deal liberalism of my father to the really left activism of my own generation in the sixties. Really, it was just sort of, I think of people as being very shaped by their history and the global histories, so to speak, as well as your microhistory. They just converged to make me a very political person and a person very concerned with social justice for working people and for the downtrodden in general. The civil rights movement, of course, made me very sensitive to racial discrimination and the war made me-
CD: Yeah, and I went down to Mississippi in ’65 for the summer and was involved with all kinds of voter registration and other efforts down there. Spent the whole summer down there and worked with a lot of both black and white activists. Then came back. I went to graduate school in ’65 at the University of Chicago in sociology and spent almost all my time in jails and Washington, going there every weekend. Literally, almost every weekend during four years, protesting the war and becoming really, really immersed in activist culture and in sort of a kind of a protest intellectual struggle with the academic departments. For example, in the sociology department at the University of Chicago, much like the economics department, which was a Milton Friedman, neoclassical economics department, there was a sociology department where it had people like Morris Janowitz, who, probably are not household names, but he was a well-known sociologist who has been very much in support of the Vietnam War. I had to grow up shaping my intellectual life in opposition or contestation with the powers that be intellectually. I was experiencing on a personal intellectual level the same thing that groups [were experiencing.] I was relatively privileged economically, because my father was a white, upper-middle class professional person, but I had to contest a lot of the dominant intellectual forces in universities at the time. There were just, I think, a whole set of factors, which, I think, helps to explain why it endured when much of the left fell apart in the seventies and we got into a regime change, as I call it.
I don’t know if you ever looked at this Neil, but I wrote a couple of books, one is called Regime Change Begins at Home, and Hidden Power is a second book that’s sort of a paperback version of that but quite revised, which looks at American history as a series of internal regime changes and I argue there are five. The first regime (these are since the Civil War) was the first corporate regime of the Gilded Age and the robber baron. Then the progressive regime of Teddy Roosevelt and then on to the New Deal Regime of my parents, which really extended up to the Reagan. I called the 1920s the second corporate regime and the Reagan revolution, the third corporate regime. I just think it was natural of me to sort of get involved in regime change sort of politics at home, as well as afflicting people they involved, because of my Vietnam experience with global imperialism and [hegemony], the kind of stuff that Noam writes about so much …
NPS: Right. At a time when it was really hard to get even students to protest the war. At least before 1965, right?
CD: Yeah, at least initially. That’s right. That’s right. Noam writes about this. I’m actually working with Noam. I don’t know if you read that. I’ve had a long friendship with him. He’s been at MIT and in Boston until they moved to Arizona just a year or two ago. As you know, he responds to almost everybody who responds.
NPS: Oh my goodness. He responded to me five years ago, and we’ve been pen pals ever since. I actually flew up to meet him, and I’m hoping to get to interview him at the end of January. I actually composed and wrote him a birthday song since his next birthday coming up in December is really the big one.
CD: That’s right. The biggest. The big one, yeah.
NPS: It’s because we’ve got 10 fingers, so that’s why. Multiples of ten are great. How did you meet him? You also knew Howard Zinn, right?
CD: Yes, I did.I was lucky because when I came [to Boston] and I was doing this kind of work, [though] after Reagan, the universities and intellectuals became, like, the whole culture became more conservative. I went into sociology not because of sociology, per se, but just because it’s very heterodox. In psychology or political science, the discipline is more restricted, and I knew with sociology you could almost do anything and required a lot of history and a lot of economics and politics. It was a good choice because I could do political economy and get away with it and get tenure in the sociology department. With regard to Howard and Noam. I had sent Noam some early stuff. He read everything, of course, and would blurb my early books right away. It was amazing because I couldn’t. He was so, even at that point, becoming very, very celebrated and incredibly busy, but he always maintained time. He’s a very generous person that way.
NPS: He is, indeed.
CD: As you know. Yeah, my connection with him was just very fortuitous, and I’ve maintained this long relation with him. I’m working with him closely now. I’m just mentioning this as part of a biography that might be relevant to you a bit.
NPS: Sure. Yeah, I read this, but I want it to be on here, as well. Yeah.
CD: Right. I had met a guy named Randall Wallace, who’s the grandson of Henry Wallace, who is the vice-president for Roosevelt in 1940 and would’ve probably ended the We would’ve not had a Cold War if he had been kept on the ticket in ’44.
NPS: It was incredible, the story of Henry Wallace and how the Democratic party forced Harry Truman, which, Harry Truman was inept by comparison, and they-
CD: Absolutely. Wallace would’ve been the most progressive president in American history, probably, and he-
NPS: We were ripe for it. We were perfectly ripe–
CD: Yeah. We absolutely were, but the corporate elites were still strong enough to knock him out. Even though Eleanor really wanted him and so forth. Anyway, he had some children and grandchildren and got quite a lot of money because he had been Secretary of Agriculture, and he had developed a breed of hybrid tomatoes and other genetically developed products. He became quite well-to-do and left a lot of money to his children. His grandkids, now, one is actually running the Global Wallace Fund. His name is Scott Wallace. He runs the Global Wallace Fund, which gives out a lot of money to good Keynesian activists, I would say. Liberal activists, progressive activists, but not far left. He’s running in a seat in Pennsylvania right now. He’s likely to win. He’s ahead right now, so he’ll be one of the new class of congresspeople. There’s this fellow, his name is Scott Wallace. If the Democrats take over the House. His other brother is named Randall Wallace. Randall contacted me. Randall runs a fund called the Wallace Action Fund and he contacted me about five or six years ago, told me he’d be reading my books for years, and invited me to come out to California for a conference on the environment and politics and capitalism that he was running. We developed a friendship, and he began funding a relationship for several books on resistance and political activism and capitalism and so forth. The connection with Chomsky is that Randall Wallace, who is much more radical than his brother and very much sees Chomsky as sort of the single most important thinker today, and he and I worked together to sort of develop a kind of legacy project with Chomsky and his new wife. After Chomsky’s wife died, his first wife, Carol, he was on his own for a few years and then met and eventually married a lovely woman named Valeria. I don’t know if you’ve had a chance to talk to her, but she’s from Brazil. They just were in Brazil during this fascist takeover that’s going on down there.
NPS: He was telling me about it in our latest correspondence. Yeah.
CD: Yeah. Yeah. It was … He was with Lula in prison and so forth. Yeah. I’ve been in very close contact with him and I’m actually doing a lot of my work right now; I did a film, which actually I’d like to send to you.
CD: Film called Noam Chomsky: Internationalism or Extinction. It deals with the sort of double barrel threat to survival of life of our planet from both climate change and nuclear war. Actually, if you just got to ChomskySpeaks.org, you can get it, or http://ChomskySpeaks.org, and you’ll get that.
CD: You can get both a two minute trailer, and then the whole film, which is about an hour long. It’s based on a talk Noam gave in Boston a couple years ago.
CD: It’s full of really brilliant visuals that the film director that we got, we’re pulling in. It’s a powerful film, and we’re distributing it very widely. We’re trying to get Noam to get the transcript of his talk turned into a book with some introductory material and some response by activists to it, so people don’t get too bummed out and depressed by the whole thing. It doesn’t focus a lot, and so you know, it’s a hard message to hear.
NPS: It is, yeah.
CD: I’m actually, I’m going to try to get him to do a book where we, he’ll just give us the transcript and we’ll have some activist groups responding and other intellectuals responding to how, to the kind of argument he’s making there and so we hope to get a book out called Chomsky on Internationalism or Extinction and I’m writing sort of a companion piece called Resistance or Extinction. So, that’s one line of the work we’re doing and then–
CD: We’re also, out of that film we did some separate interviews with Noam and we’re putting out a book called Chomsky For Activists, which looks, do a series of both biographical and intellectual interviews with Noam, which we film. Which is, people won’t know about because it goes back to his childhood in Philadelphia and then looks at his whole history of activism. Because I think a lot of people find Noam depressing because he has this very critical, analytical view which is, has inspired millions of people, but a lot of people don’t understand that he’s also a genuine, a genuinely committed activist and has done a lot of, you know, social change work both personally and–
NPS: Absolutely. Yeah.
CD: His organization and so yeah. So anyway I’m all embedded in that work right now. So anyway, yeah. So I, I just, yeah, that’s my, the only thing I would add about my activism, and I just, I’m dwelling on it because I think activism is so critically important now–
NPS: It’s incredibly, yeah.
CD: Not only just because of the election although I think the election is very important where we’re talking three days before the election but, the November mid-term election but, the only other thing I would add is that, on my mother’s side, a number of her family was killed in the, with fascism, you know, the holocaust and on my father’s side out of Russia. And so this resurgence of fascism and particularly globally in Europe, and of course Trump’s sort of authoritarian and kind of version of neo-fascism, I think all of that stuff has played a role in sustaining my political involvement and so forth. So anyway, that’s enough about that.
CD: Just, I do believe that, you know sort of capitalism is all about keeping people quiet and I’m always telling my students, you know, they ended the draft so you guys don’t get, you can stay detached from American militarism and you just don’t get bothered about politics. And I just feel like the main priority I have now is to wake people up to the small extent I can and recognize the power and importance that young people have, and ordinary people have, in making a difference right now, so.
NPS: You know, I was talking to my best friend, Robin Fitts is his name. And he is a, he’s a junior college professor of English and Literature in West Texas. I’ve been trying to get him, him and his wife and their little girl to leave Texas for a long time, to somewhere better. But he has been very much so involved in Beto O’Rourke’s campaign.
CD: Oh, cool.
NPS: And it’s, of course it’s easy to get discouraged because the media and sort of the superstructure of, of how we’re supposed to think in this country, the culture is, you by yourself can’t do anything.
CD: Right, right.
NPS: You’re powerless. Americans are, have this overwhelming sense of impotence, that, that, is, it’s, and–
CD: You’re absolutely right, Neil. And particularly young people, I mean because I ask my students who are pretty privileged all the time, and they say, “Well I’m just one person, I don’t have any power, as a group we don’t have any power.” And that sense of impotence and, and powerlessness is, is you know very carefully nourished I think. And it’s, I mean I understand it, I feel it myself sometimes. So I, I understand them, but it’s just so important. And I think people like Beto O’Rourke, and even though he’s much further to the right than I am, he, he–
NPS: Absolutely, yeah.
CD: I think the Democrats are, I mean the one sense of positive energy I have, you know, in terms of electoral politics today, is that there is a little bit of a wave of, you know the left, sort of energizing you know people like Alexandria Cortez. And Bernie Sanders talking about socialism, and people like Beto O’Rourke even in the south, or Stacey Abrams, or any of these people. Sort of creating, you know maybe it starts in this very modest way of people feeling that just voting can make a difference. Of course, trying to vote, for a lot of people, is very hard these days but you’re right.
NPS: But what I, what I do tell my best friend, and I agree with you, I think Bernie Sanders actually way to the right of me and you also.
CD: Yeah. Oh sure.
NPS: But none the less, he upended 120 years of electoral conventional thinking around how money–
NPS: Money runs the show. And this is what I told my friend Robin, that if Beto actually loses in Texas, it may be to his advantage. Because the fact remains that he’s not taking any money from PACs or corporations, and it’s still neck-and-neck in ruby red Texas with, I mean Ted Cruz is not particularly well liked, but none the less it shows that the young people are having a very powerful influence. It’s not just the change in demographics, well I guess that is a change in demographics, it’s not just that you’ve got more Hispanic people in Texas, it literally is that young people aren’t afraid of words like socialism. That’s why they were prepared to vote early.
CD: Right. Well that, that was really, I completely agree with you Neil, and I, I think that Bernie, just by calling himself a democratic socialist, and then getting a following, I often tell my students that, you know, the word most Googled the day he first mentioned that. Oh I see you just sent me a song for Noam, thank you, I’ll enjoy looking at that. That itself was transformative because, for the first time, and I’ve been teaching for you know almost fifty years, I, I’m seeing that people, the students are very, very, I mean they’ve always been receptive to the idea but the word socialism was sort of taboo. Even in university. And now, it’s a little bit different. In fact, there are a lot of interesting polls that you’ve probably seen and that I write about in some of my books where, you know, the Pew Institute and Gallup and others have been asking for about ten years people’s association with the word socialism and capitalism and so forth.
CD: And as you probably know, now, young people have about as strong, or more, a positive association with the word socialism than they do with the word capitalism and Bernie really helped push that along although it was emerging well before him. And in fact that’s true across a lot of the Democratic party and a lot of the Democratic party base. And in fact a lot of the whole American public is, in terms of issues per se, you know like money in politics and do they like labor unions, do they like big money in politics, do they like Medicare for all, you know, Medicaid for all and so forth, the public is pretty progressive. I’ve always felt like the left’s movement has got to meld more fully into conversation with the left wing of the Democratic party. And you’re seeing some of that begin, you know, with sort of the Bernie Sanders wing of the party, you know, sort of bleeding over into the movements to some degree.
CD: People like Nina Turner, people who are in congress and now running Sanders, or some grassroots organizations, I think that’s a very promising synergy. I mean I think the movements need to have a role, and you know the united front. If you look at Germany, you know I mean, there wasn’t this, Hitler got into power, all these right wing guys running around in the ’20s in Weimar Germany, were, they weren’t connecting enough to, between the cultural movements there, the political movements on the ground, and the parties. And I think that’s, that’s real something, a historical lesson to recognize today here. That political change is going to take a melding, you know sort of a united front of some form, which, whether it’s going to be a pretty big spectrum of views, but where you get less people on the ground, community activists on the ground of all kinds, melding in with electoral left wing Democratic party. And you know they’re never going to be the same kinds of people or groups exactly, but the synergy and interaction between them are really important, so.
NPS: It’s the one, it’s the one public institute, well it’s a public institution, and therefore it’s the only institution that they really have any sway over.
NPS: And trying to work within that framework, although I do believe, and I’m curious to get your thoughts on some of the different things that we could do to change at least the structure of those institutions, like either increasing the court size or you know, substantially increasing the size of congress and gutting the power from the executive branch. And of course those are, those are hard, we have to be in power before we can even do those things.
CD: Right, yeah.
NPS: Or at least people on the streets, you know, having peaceful protests everywhere that might enough to really start moving us in that direction. I mean, for–
CD: Well I think it’s the only thing, I think it’s the only thing, Neil, really. I mean, beyond you know massive economic collapse and that kind of thing, is it’s popular movements on the street that will move. Because, because the legal system, the constitutional order is, and you were starting to, you know, enumerate some of those, are so structured to guarantee elite influence. I mean just the way the electoral college is constituted, the way the you know the way the senate is structured, I mean almost all the dominant political institutions are, are oriented to keep popular representation from being expressed. And so that’s why I believe that you need popular movements on the ground. But that those will burn out if they don’t find ways of getting their voice heard. At all levels of electoral politics as well. And you know, that’s not an easy argument to make, either to the Democratic party or to left activist groups. You know I mean, the left activist groups see the Democratic party as sell-outs and not worth cultivating very often and they elect, the Democratic party people are often so bought into the, the mainstream just because they need so much money for their campaigns and so forth. And I think you’re beginning to see some, some productive you know shift in that where you’re getting a more progressive Democratic party person tied in, recognizing that their support is going to come partly from more left progressive movements on the ground. That’s a hopeful thing to me.
NPS: It’s interesting you mention that, I, I was at the café I frequent up the road yesterday and one of the bus girls who works there, her name is Karen, she wanted to know what I did for a living and she was wanting to go back to school and she had interest in mathematics but also an interest in activism. Of course I had your book, Sociopathic Society there with me, I take it there to make notes, and that’s what I was doing sort of in preparation for this interview. But I explained to her exactly what you said about people’s movements and that every single freedom that we can point to today comes from a people’s movement. And, and most often, it’s, it’s intertwined inextricably with labor movements.
NPS: And that the 40 hour work week and paid vacation and, you know, holidays, literally in observance of holy days, none of that would have been possible without the brutal struggles that the labor movements had to endure in earlier parts of–
CD: Oh okay yeah because I developed that idea in the book and in that interview. And I mentioned it just because you were talking about how central the labor movement has been to that and I think what’s created such weakness on the left is the, and this is the center of the argument in the Welcome to the Revolution book, and my idea of universalization. Is that after the late ’60s, the left really kind of decomposed as it abandoned sort of issues about labor and capitalism and moved into a more narrow, sort of abstracted away from class concept of identity politics around race and gender and so forth. And my, well yeah as you probably know from listening to that conversation with Hedges, I, I feel that that’s been a truly catastrophic you know problem on the left and it’s almost eliminated what I think of as a real left. Not that I don’t think race and gender aren’t very, very important issues, they’re obviously critical, but if you try to, you know, do a kind of civil rights, anti-racist politics or feminist kind of politics with that abstracted away from issues of economics and political economy and capitalism, you come out with some dangerous things. And some things that have been, that really–
NPS: That aren’t useful.
CD: You know in my judgment, undermine the whole idea of what the left is trying to do in some ways, so.
NPS: I can give you a really good example of that. So the only social media presence that I have, other than being on George Polisner’s civ.works is on LinkedIn because of my professional trade but I also want to promote articles, interviews from the activist side.
NPS: But often times you will see perfectly well-meaning high technologists writing long winded arguments as to why diversity in the corporate structure is good for profits.
NPS: And of course, the underlying theme there is that profits really are the proxy for welfare. For general welfare.
CD: Right, exactly.
NPS: And that nothing else is important. And so therefore, we just hope, we hold our breath, and cross our fingers, and close our eyes, believing that race and gender being more equally distributed into the corporate hierarchy, will in fact improve profits. Because if it doesn’t, or heaven forbid it actually detracts from profits, then it will not be something that was good. So that there’s this, this broken duality. Cathy O’Neill in her book Weapons of Math Destruction talks about this, this idea of boxing one particular metric for all of the others. I work in that kind of stuff every day at work, I work as a statistician on Bing ads. I hate to say that I’m in the financial sector but fortunately I’m not doing the vicious parts of the job.
CD: Right, right.
NPS: But it gets back to that problem of saying, “This is the one thing that matters. Everything else is secondary, so we only can hope that our, you know, heartfelt, you know, I’m really rooting for the underdog because I want the underdog to actually be the one that makes more money.” You know.
CD: Right, yeah. Well you know, it’s even, I think it’s even more serious than the way you framed it in a way because it’s, it’s, when you were talking about how diverse high-tech people think about corporate diversity as a solution, that is a good model but I think of things like Sheryl Sandburg, you know the, as sort of representing a third wave feminism which, you know you remember her famous book Lean In, which tells women the real nature of feminism is to get ahead in the corporation and get that corner office by getting women right into the top. And that is such a, you know, sociopathic version of feminism you know because it, it really says women just need to join the rat race to the top of the capitalist corporate circle. As if, somehow, if we have women running a ruthless capitalist global system, we’re going to have a much better society. And I’m a strong feminist but I think her version of feminism is really dangerous, you know. And I think it’s pervaded a lot of what used to be called the left, you know, where you, you sort identify with progress of a specific identity community. Often which is very, very important, I mean like I said, I cut my teeth on black, you know, civil right activism and so forth. And I, I view, I view these communities as very important. But when the movements to empower them become separated from these larger systemic issues of capitalism, which they have been completely in the United States. I mean, Martin Luther King, as I mentioned in the Hedges interview, you know while he did toward the end of his life really did focus on economics as a–
NPS: And anti-war. Yeah.
CD: And anti-war as sort of intersectional you know realities that were essential for any kind of civil rights or anti-racist kind of politics, it kind of got erased from the history of the movement. And pulling back a little bit, I noticed on his 50th anniversary there was, there was some discussion, there was, the media had some people who talked about his writing on Vietnam and on the economy and so forth but in general it’s been–
NPS: It’s whitewashed.
CD: It’s been erased. Yeah, whitewashed. And it’s been, it’s a catastrophe for the left. I think it’s one of the reasons the left is so weak in the United States.
NPS: Absolutely. Yeah. I didn’t hear any of those stories when I was in secondary school.
NPS: In fact my, my US history teacher in high school refused to take us past the end of World War II because she thought the rest of it was too controversial to talk about.
NPS: So I mean, that, that’s–
CD: Well that was down in Texas, right?
NPS: Yep, yep. That’s a very extreme example of that kind of whitewashing is just, “Okay well we’re not going, we’re not going to touch it at all.” But I didn’t know those things about Martin Luther King until, well I guess my, my high school English teacher, favorite high school English teacher, Candace Zangoei is her name and she’ll probably read and listen to this interview, she, she did teach us some interesting items from American history because she was teaching us American literature. It’s funny that you have to go to the literature side, you have to go to the arts to hear history.
CD: Right. Right.
NPS: Depending on the system. But yeah, that, so what you were saying earlier about having more women leadership or people of color leadership so that this idea that a woman dictator’s better than a man dictator, so.
CD: Right. Exactly.
NPS: So that dictatorship is okay. That’s exactly what happened with Obama’s election.
NPS: The left withered, whatever you can call the left, I mean.
NPS: You and I, you and I know what that means.
NPS: The mainstream depiction of that is wrong. But we have the first black president so it doesn’t matter that he kills–
CD: Right. Exactly.
NPS: Civilians with drones. All of that’s okay.
CD: And you know, that had a really tangible and concrete political consequence because the peace movement for example, which had emerged against Bush during the Iraq war and so forth, really vanished under Obama. Even though Obama intensified a lot–
NPS: He was more hawkish.
CD: Of American militarism. So, so that’s a perfect example, right, of where you say, “Okay I don’t want to challenge a black president.” And so you allow the more toxic and lethal elements of the system, and by more I mean some of the most vicious aspects of the system, to go unchallenged. And the peace movement, you know, goes away.
NPS: Is they, they don’t care. They just want power and money. They don’t care what color it is or what party.
CD: Absolutely. In fact they legitimate themselves by virtue of their saying that, “Look, we’re technically, you know, we are open to women and blacks and everybody.” And that’s a hugely important legitimating force for, you know, for capitalism itself.
CD: So yeah, it’s an issue that’s really hard to deal with and it’s very important. And I’m glad we’re talking about it because it just can’t be talked about enough, you know.
CD: And it’s such a sensitive issue because, you know, people in these identity communities really do face tremendous struggles and they, they often thing this is some repetition of the white students of the late ’60s who sort of became dominant and sort of marginalized black and women and so forth. I mean I understand that, that concern, fully. And that’s why the, the new waves of feminist and global movements develop but, and the left itself created it but. I just think that today, Trump would not have been elected if the Democratic party, I mean sort of Hillary ran, and this is a problem that infects the left movements themselves, I mean the real left. And then it also, or let’s say what passes as closest to the real left in America today.
CD: And also the Democratic party, you know Hillary ran a campaign where she would trot out all these black faces and women and say just being a woman was. And, and you know, in regard to the movement, I really want to be careful because it can sound very patronizing for a white male to say, “Hey all you black and female people and brown people and gay people and so forth, don’t be so obsessed with your own particular thing.” I don’t mean it in that way.
CD: What I mean is that for, for the, for liberation let’s say, of black people or brown people or women or gays or whatever, Native Americans, disabled people, I mean, it’s really important that people build organizations among those communities but I think it’s crucially important to recognize that to get any kind of, first of all, to get the masses of people behind you, you need-
CD: … a broad systemic vision and momentum and two, you’re going to end up like Sheryl Sandberg, you know, competing for the pieces of the pie that the system is willing to allocate to you rather than questioning the system itself and that’s going to lead to perpetual hopelessness, so, yeah, it’s-
CD: … just a really, really-
NPS: To temporarily pacify or supplicate these people so that then you can say-
CD: Right, right.
NPS: “Well, look, we do have a black President, so what are you complaining about?”
CD: Right, right.
NPS: And that’s-
CD: Or we passed this law. Yeah. It’s sort of a gramscian thing, right, you know, that capitalism legitimates itself by being able to say, well, hey, what do you got against us? Look at how much, you know, we can turn on the TV now and see black anchors and women in high positions and, you know, one wants to celebrate some of that, but when you recognize that oh, the wealth gap by blacks and whites has gone ten times up, you know, in the period after Obama, and-
NPS: Right, right, during the housing crisis.
CD: Same with women and, I mean, you recognize there’s something really, really wrong there and that it’s delicate to talk about, particularly if you’re a white male, and I’m sensitive to that, but it’s something that is just essential for people to think about and to organize around, and that’s really this book, Welcome to the Revolution, it’s really why I brought in a lot of different voices of people who were from these different communities but recognized that labor and economic, systemic, and political economy sorts of questions were central to all the, whether it’s Black Lives Matter or socialist, feminist, and so forth, these are issues that the hopeful thing is that I think more people in these identity movements are recognizing the importance of intersectionality and the intertwining of race, class, and gender and so forth and the need for organizing on the ground to have this kind of wider angle of vision.
NPS: Seeing and understanding, being able to perceive the common ground that they have and that the game is already rigged, the power elites from the very beginning, pre-capitalists and post-capitalists, whatever capitalists really means, it’s really state-driven capitalism, but it’s-
CD: Right, right.
NPS: But nonetheless, the corporate masters have tried to divide people, have said, “Oh, well, you’re Italian, you don’t want to hang out with the Irish, and oh, we don’t want black and white farmers to join forces.” It’s kind of astonishing when you think about the Farmers’ Alliance being formed in Texas.
CD: That’s right.
NPS: The first farmer’s union.
CD: Kansas, yeah. Right, right.
NPS: My grandparents on my father’s side were farmers in North Dakota and they settled there, and it was interesting to talk to my grandfather before he died. Of course he had some really crazy, far out there evangelical views. He was so extreme that no church was good enough for him, that he knew better than all of them.
CD: Wow, wow.
NPS: But it was funny that we could talk about far right policies. He didn’t know I was gay, by the way, that would not have gone over well. But when it came to the state swooping in and supporting farmers if their harvest didn’t go well, or in his little community, the community actually keeping the café open even though it couldn’t make enough profits to justify itself under the economic system, all of that made perfect sense. It was very interesting.
CD: Right, right, right.
NPS: I like my slice of what the government does for me, but you shouldn’t get a slice. And that’s definitely what the top one permill, I want that word to catch on, because it’s the correct term, the top one tenth of one percent of Americans you talk about in Sociopathic Society that they rely more on the infrastructure of the government than any of us. They-
CD: Absolutely. Corporate welfare is the only real welfare in America. You know?
NPS: Yeah, the rest is like dirty pennies in the couch.
CD: Absolutely, it’s chump change, yeah.
NPS: That no one cares, no one should care about, but it keeps being trotted out as this huge issue. Oh my goodness, there’s a black woman who gets her nails done and she’s on welfare.
CD: Exactly, exactly.
NPS: How dare she be entitled to any decent survival?
NPS: Goodness gracious, we could go on forever. This is really good. I’m really enjoying this. I hope you are.
CD: Good, I absolutely am. Well, it’s really, really important. I mean, the issues we’re talking about are so central. I mean, one thing I wanted to add was, returning to the sort of fascist tide around the world with Trump and so forth. These kind of siloed kinds of left politics are not only dangerous to the left because they divide the left and keep people from focusing on some of the systemic things that are so central to all these kinds of hierarchies of oppression, but they’re also the things that open the floodgates to the Trumpists of the world and the sort of fascists of the world, because the white working classes, I just wrote a new book, it’s coming out in December, actually.
CD: So, just in a couple months, called-
NPS: You know you’re adding, you’re making my reading list heavier and heavier. Thank you very much, it’s already got lots of books on it.
CD: Yeah, I should apologize for that.
NPS: No, not at all.
CD: Anyway, just to add to the weight, this new book, which is called Moving Beyond Fear, and it’s subtitled Upending the Security Stories of Capitalism, Fascism, and Democracy, and what I try to show in there is that when capitalism moves into periods of extreme crisis, this is a gramscian analysis, but that the traditional legitimation stories of capitalism, which is the American dream that everybody works hard to get ahead, and so if you think of capitalism as a sort of upstairs, downstairs house, people on the downstairs accept because they think the stairways going from the downstairs to the upstairs are wide enough that anybody who tries can try hard can make it up there and live very well. But when those stairways are clearly declining, the people upstairs, the elites have got to figure out a way to keep people in line and keep them believing in the house and the architecture of the house. So actually as I reach back into pre-capitalist kinds of stories around security and fear where if you looked at the nobility and the aristocracy and the serfs in, say, the feudal era, there was never any chance of mobility so they built this idea of, you know, sort of chain of being based on God and security where the people on top simply were destined to be there for the well-being and protection against terrible threats and fears. In the Middle Ages there were these devils lurking everywhere, whether it’s disease or Satan or whatever, and the lords of the manor were there to prevent them, so I kind of look at the evolution of modern national security ideas from even these pre-capitalist things as sort of a basic form of capitalist legitimation and then, when things went really bad, this sort of fear-based enemy manufacturing, I know Noam has written a huge amount about this, but it’s really central to fascism, because capitalism can easily devolve into fascism when the economic situation is bad enough and when the elites are desperate enough that they’re willing to do what the Republican party has done, which is basically throw its lot in with these ultra nationalist sort of alt-right groups, which are based on sort of very authoritarian and-
CD: … divisions, the divisions of people. You have to divide people down within the downstairs, and you divide them as enemies of the people and people who are totally catastrophically dangerous to allow, so I said people with fear about that’s being generated from their lack of economic and social well-being are being told and come to believe that, well, it’s these people who are really enemies of the people, whether it’s black people or gay people or immigrants or whoever it is, and you know, they say it was that thing, it was that kind of model, in this book, I go into a lot of Hitler’s talk about immigrants and Jews and gay people and so forth, who used exactly this kind of legitimation politics to draw people from the Weimar Republic into serious fascism. So it’s a really, this is not just abstract kind of theorizing about the left in America right now. It’s something-
NPS: It’s real.
CD: … that’s really embedded in the history of some of the most scary things that we can contemplate and so that’s why I think the things we’ve been talking about, about the way the left is structured, or the group that likes to think about itself as left. And again, I don’t mean to be that in a sanctimonious or punitive way, because I really appreciate any kind of activism on the progressive side that people are willing to do, people who have hard lives and it’s hard to-
NPS: Well, some forms of it are going to be more effective and some people are going to be-
NPS: … more heavily burdened because of the system.
NPS: There was something else along … oh, yes. The other thing I wanted to add in the vein of thought of what you were talking about with respect to security, and I’m very interested to see your book, is this interesting transitioning from divine intervention justifying the existence of the elites, the monarchs, the aristocracy-
CD: Right, right, right.
NPS: … to it becoming the holy market.
CD: Yeah, that’s an interesting transition, that’s right. Because, you know, in the middle ages, this sort of division between the aristocracy, the nobility, really we’re seeing is that a literally different blood. Blue blood you know, sort of godly and inspired nobility. It then becomes capitalism, you know, the feudal lords had a lot of contempt for the early merchants who would become the capitalists, but eventually, history evolved in ways that these merchants developed enough capital and enough power, but they always envied the kind of divine legitimacy, you know, the godly legitimacy of their older brothers who were, you know, the people who remained on the land and so forth, even as they were declining economically. And they always, I’m doing another book with my co-author called Glorious Causes, something about why people vote against their own interests, or act against their own interest, and it’s that same argument that, you know, what we’re seeing here is that an ancient historical force that you can see through centuries and centuries of human history where you know, it’s like you said, elites constantly need to re-legitimate their system with these very ancient views that god or nature have somehow constructed them as natural and godly and the way in which morality is maintained.
NPS: There was this fabulous quote that you have in Sociopathic Society about John D. Rockefeller. I don’t have the exact quote.
CD: Yeah, “God gave me-“
NPS: Yeah, exactly, that’s God and Darwinism combined in one statement about why he has his wealth. I thought that was a fantastic quote.
CD: Yeah, and that Godly thing, you know, you go back … have you been to Newport where they, you know, the nineteenth century robber barons, the first real American capitalists of any great consequence, they built their summer homes and they literally brought over the castles from European nobility. Capitalism itself can never really inspire the kind of moral and spiritual meaning that the aristocracy in pre-capitalist societies was able to provide, because it’s hard to get people completely morally inspired by the idea of just making a lot, being money grubbers and being successful about it. And so I think there’s always been a need in capitalism to sort of move into these areas of pre-capitalist religious and spiritual kinds of legitimation and then you see that in, you know, Hitler was very much of a moralist and a spiritualist in talking about godly, I mean, to read Hitler is to think that you’re listening to a preacher, you know, because he’s talking about moral degeneration and his whole argument was, you know, he was happy to rely on capitalists, corporations from America to rebuild his military and military Keynesianism and so forth, but his core argument was really moral and spiritual, and I think it reflects the fact that capitalism is inherently challenged to create ideas that can, particularly given the tendencies of capitalism to-
NPS: It’s amoral.
CD: … push people down in the system. It’s amoral and it doesn’t deliver on the money-grubbing materialist sides of it, so it has to go towards these more spiritual, more elevated form.
Piketty, Rentiers, Gladiator Technocrats, and State-Sponsored High Tech
CD: And you know, the economy ends up, this is the virtue I think of the work of Thomas Piketty, which I’m sure you’ve come across.
NPS: Oh sure.
CD: The French economist who really writes that-
NPS: That’s in my notes to talk to you about that, so, yeah.
CD: Yeah, I did a little book which I talked to him about, which is really a sort of exposition, a sort of “Reader’s Digest” view [Disinherited Majority], you know, sort of a simple view that people don’t want to read 800 pages of economic history. But, you know, his analysis–
NPS: It’s a hard book.
CD: Because really the capitalist … it’s a hard book to read, but it’s really interesting and it’s, one, because he writes a lot about history and he writes about the kind of culture of capitalist elite and he writes that-
NPS: It’s very well written, the translation.
CD: Yeah, very well written.
NPS: I love it.
CD: And he writes about how the capitalist elites always, back in England and much of Europe in the last three centuries, have always had this kind of aristocratic tendency, not only in their need to ape, to sort of emulate and claim blue blood, you know, glory of the kind that the feudal warrior class and nobility had, but they were basically ended up being rentiers, you know, where they basically made their money off of inherited wealth, and wealth was increasingly inherited as we see today, and Trump being a perfect example of a guy who was sort of buying into the, you know, trying to publicly promote the myth of walking and working your way up the stairs, but the guy we now know inherited, what, half a billion dollars, $423 million from his dad.
NPS: Yeah, he’s a phony. A phony.
CD: Yeah. And he didn’t work hard for his money.
CD: In fact, we now know that he had taken what he inherited and simply had put it in a savings account, he would have more money than he has today, although we don’t know exactly how much he has, we know that he would have had a lot more money if he had just put it in the bank. So the guy is, in a way, a feudal lord who just inherited his money. We haven’t inherited an aristocratic class, which claims itself as a innovative, technologically advanced, and there’s just enough technological innovation where you know this from the world you work in that again, capitalism is fluid enough and you know, complex enough that you can make these arguments with some level of credibility. I don’t mean the Trump argument so much, but these broader arguments we’re talking about, about working hard and creative innovation and so forth, particularly in a high tech economy in ways.
NPS: In my social … I was just going to mention, insert into that, what I see on LinkedIn is this gladiator worship, the technocrats, my fellow technologists, technocrats, they worship these sort of proto-sociopathic magnates like Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos, Mark Zuckerberg. Like, they can do no wrong because they’re so brilliant that they created all of this wealth. I can speak to Jeff Bezos more directly because I worked at that company. I would say that there certainly are very sociopathic tendencies at work across that entire company, but these people are-
CD: Oh, absolutely.
NPS: These are people are put up on a pillar as something to be worshiped and emulated.
CD: You know, this is an idea, as I listen to you talk about this, this is, you have a particular perch, so to speak, in which to really talk about this. It’s really important, and you know, just intuitively, I don’t know the world internally the way you do, but, I mean, this world of high-tech business and culture, but it just sounds really right to me, and it really is, it’s really important, because you know, capitalism is evolving in this direction, so Jeff Bezos is the richest man in the world, these corporations are the dominant corporations increasingly, and they’re very much embodying this new model of kind of, well, of everything we’re talking about, right, of creating a really sociopathic kind of capitalism in the name of technological progress and general social well-being and so forth. And there’s just enough virtue and fun that comes from computers and all the electronic technology that we have that it becomes one of the guiding legitimating forces of a very sociopathic system, you know. So I think-
NPS: Without the historical context of the state actually creating, at least germinating all of this technology.
CD: That’s right, that’s right.
NPS: Then it later is taken on by private enterprise, like the internet was pretty much given over to private enterprise in the mid 90s after 50 years, really 60 years of at least thinking about it in the state circles.
CD: Well, you know, this is one of Noam’s big, I’m sure you probably got to know Noam that way, because working at MIT and seeing the way in which the state was funding so much of the technology in the Defense Department and that eventually would lead into the high tech revolution. That really became, you know, Noam has always called the Pentagon the sort of backdoor socialism of American capitalism.
NPS: It absolutely is, yeah. I ask people, fellow technologists, and people who are skeptical of the kinds of things you and I’ve been discussing for the last hour. I ask them the question, what would happen in the 1930s if somebody came into a corporate board room and said, “Give me $250 billion and in 70 years, I’ll give you $10 trillion.” The numbers may be off somewhat, but it sort of captures the spirit of it. They would have kicked his ass out. They would have said, “Hell no, we don’t want that kind of long term risk,” even if you can almost guarantee that there’s going to be this huge turnaround. Technology wouldn’t happen within a true capitalist system if we’d ever had one, this sort of laissez-faire imaginings of people who are trying toretrofit the history to say this is why we are great, and therefore invest all of our energy into emulating people like Musk and Bezos and Zuckerberg, which, I’m sure they’re actually aware of this, because they have to deal with the government at the highest levels just because of the way that their corporations are so intricately intertwined now with AWS at Amazon and Azure at Microsoft competing for government contracts to manage the cloud. But the people are taken aback by that.
CD: Yeah, and you know, this high tech stuff, I just wanted to say again to validate the importance of your ability to speak to the high tech, the Bezos, you know, high tech-
CD: … model of worship, I mean, it’s really infected the university.
CD: So I see students every day who, you know, who they’re, you know, if you looked like at a place like where I teach at Boston College, there’s just a massive, you know, migration of students from the liberal arts into the business schools, and they go into finance and technology, and they really do worship these people that you’re talking about, and they see this as a model of what their life will look, and these are people who are very oriented toward identity politics. You know, they’re a generation that is very open to-
NPS: Socially liberal, yeah.
CD: Socially liberal on all the socially liberal, you know, I can check off whether it’s racial diversity or you know, gender-
NPS: Marriage equality.
CD: … transgender acceptance and all that stuff and they really mean it, but on the other hand, they become completely … this is the danger of the kind of, quote, left politics that we talked about, or liberal politics, both where the socially liberal mentions of it get divorced from the systemic, you know, power and control.
NPS: Which I saw firsthand working for corporate Uber and working for corporate Amazon, so it … at corporate Amazon, I traveled to the UK and I traveled to California to tour delivery stations and go on last mile rides to just sort of get a feel for what the drivers on the ground are having to deal with, and as you might imagine, they are considered contractors. They’re not employees.
CD: Right, right, yes, I know.
NPS: Although there’s no National Labor Relations Board in the UK, but they have their equivalents over there. They are pretty much serving at the pleasure of the delivery stations that hire them. They don’t have any opportunity to unionize, the pay is terrible. They are held to standards that literally will cause them to have auto accidents because they have to go so fast to get everything delivered. You see similar happenings at Uber. When I was flying back and forth from Seattle to San Francisco working at corporate Uber, I was doing that every week. I can’t believe that I did it. My husband told me that it was terrible idea but I did it anyway. I had nothing else to do when I was down there except work, and if you stayed in the office past 10:00 PM, they would give you a free Uber ride home. So I could order Uber Black, which is the limousine, you know, it’s really just a black SUV. I got to know over 70, seven zero, Uber drivers in the course of that whole enterprise, and this is real conversational narcissism, what I’m about to say, because I’m really proud of this. With almost every one of them, I would keep them an extended period of time talking to them about American history, particularly the labor movements, and why the only thing that will work that will lift their standard of living, because I saw people whose wages dropped 30% over a period of 18 months, and this is their full time job, they have no labor protection because they’re contractors. I explained to them exactly what has worked in American history and they were enraptured. They were mesmerized because they’d never heard any of these things. They’ve not heard these aspects of American history. I also told them, you know, the truth is, I could be fired for telling you these things, because corporate Uber is not going to be happy for me to tell those things to drivers, basically.
CD: So, so true, you know, and I shop at a local Whole Foods, which as you know has been taken over by Amazon, and I’ve been asking the people there what the new management is like and what it’s like for them as workers there. It’s a pretty sad story. You know, and you read about the warehouses, Amazon ware- It’s a pretty sad story. Now, when you read about the warehouses, and then the warehouses, regrettably, how unsafe they are.
NPS: Oh, yeah. I’ve seen them, and it is terrible.
CD: I’ve never been in them but it seems just awful. And then what I did, I talk to these people on the know when I go shopping and looking for whole foods. They say that both the way the food is sourced, the way their work schedules, and so forth have taken on notable slide since Bezos took over whole foods. And I wasn’t that enchanted with his predecessor, although he kept talking about conscious capitalism and so forth.
NPS: Right. Right.
Globalist Worker Exploitation and “Immoral Morality”
CD: So, yeah. So, I think, this discussion of way in which high-tech capitalism is shaping the toxic sociopathic forces with this. Another idea that you might … not to lay on you all these books–
NPS: That’s all right.
CD: I also wrote a book called Morality Wars which talks about the ideas of immoral moralities. It’s sort of the core concept. The idea is sort of this, that the more toxic the actual behavior that any particular institution takes on, the more likely it is that they will turn to morally, or spiritually, or religiously oriented high levels of moral discourse. Well, pretty much, a linear correlation between the sociopathy of the behavior and the elevated morality, how elevated it is of this person that justifies it.
NPS: Sure. Yeah.
CD: And I sort of look at everything. Look at empires from the Roman Empire to fascism, all examples of incredibly, if you look at fascism, incredibly barbaric systems which were studiously legitimated under the most moral and spiritual. And, of course, slavery was often done in that way and, I mean, if you look-
NPS: Oh, yeah. They said they had to have slavery. They told northern industrialists, “Well, you don’t support your black workers.”
CD: Right. Yeah. They said, “You have wage slavery. We have a kind of welfare state for these people.”
NPS: And that’s a similar argument that remains in place to justify this state-driven, high-tech capitalism. That if you don’t do this then poor people won’t have jobs.
CD: Right. Well, on high tech, I’m focusing on this because it’s where you’re located. And I think it’s incredibly important because I noticed in the university, like I said before, that I think, even among the more socially liberal parts of the younger generation, the high-tech miracle, so to speak, is really what is a vast part of the new legitimating element of capitalism. People believe in the technology. Their lives have been changed by computers, and iPhones, and so forth. And that’s had a huge impact on the way they think about the world. And it makes them believe that capitalism can really, because I teach courses on capitalism, that they go back to these high-tech world as a way of believing that capitalism can produce miracles and-
CD: … moral giants like Jeff Bezos. Yeah. And it also does produce new contradictions because the high tech world, it produces a lot of creative stuff. And there is this tension within capitalism itself between sort of more cosmopolitan features of capitalism, which required a certain amount of critical thinking and scientific, innovative kind of discourse or way of understanding the world, and the more traditional forms of capitalism in their sort of core structures of capitalism, which are rooted in these primal, brutal forms of power. So I think the high-tech world really gives this kind of special, post-modern, 21st century kind of legitimacy to these ruling forms of oppression and hierarchy and stuff.
NPS: And it was covered on Democracy Now, and my uncle told me it was covered on CNN. I don’t watch anything other that what I … I read things online, and I listen to Democracy Now, and that’s about it for news. You get more out of Democracy Now in ten minutes than you do CNN in 24 hours.
CD: Right. Right.
NPS: But just to add another story to that, I remember – actually, it’s two different stories, but it’s basically the same idea – talking to some of the younger people that worked on my team and my sister team when I was in Amazon with last mile logistics. They were unaware that there are schools in this country that don’t have power, or places where you can’t drink the water, or the kids don’t have enough textbooks to go around and the textbooks are from the 1970s. They couldn’t believe that because that’s not what they’ve been taught. If they’re from a different country, it’s not really necessarily what they’ve been taught about America, at least the high-tech vision of what America looks like. They also were completely unaware of a story that I saw on Democracy Now in which during one of the heatwaves that we had in the last couple of years, it must have been maybe five or six years ago now, in Pennsylvania, one of their fulfillment centers, they didn’t have air conditioning because you don’t need air conditioning up there a lot of the time from what I understand. I know we don’t need it in Seattle. But, in any case, they were experiencing this heatwave so the fulfillment center was just overbearing and terribly hot. And they didn’t want to open up the big doors that are used for freight transportation of goods because they were afraid the employees would steal from them.
NPS: One of the experiences that I had in visiting the fulfillment center, it is like a damn prison. Getting in and out of there, if there were a fire, you’d die because just getting out is almost impossible.
CD: That’s very interesting and very, very believable. Yeah.
NPS: So what they decided to do was ask the city to send ambulances that just circled the fulfillment center for people as employees would have heatstroke’s.
NPS: I mean, you can’t make this shit up it’s so bad. And I was explaining it to my coworkers and they, of course, didn’t disbelieve me because they liked listening to me talk about history and various things that I would try to mix into the work that we were doing. But they couldn’t believe that Jeff Bezos, or his surrogates, or representatives would ever agree to such a thing because it’s so egregiously evil. And I explained, no. This is across the board. These wonderful, liberal, high-tech companies are engaged in horrific labor practices overseas, not to mention the ones that they’re doing in the United States. But it’s nothing compared to what’s going on in Africa and China and India.
CD: Right. Right. No, you’re so right. And it’s certainly my understanding of these places, although, I’ve had less direct experience with them. But it is, though, the contrast between the sort of glamorous and moralistic imagery of Amazon. It’s really kind of third-world, capitalist enterprise in a way. I mean, kind of like a sweatshop because I have been in a lot of, in Asia and Africa, I’ve been in…
NPS: True sweatshops.
CD: Sweatshops, fulfillment centers of which just exactly, when you were talking, remind of what I saw in, say, Thailand or those kinds of places.
CD: This was about seven or eight years ago, but I went on a variety of tours of various kinds of western sweatshop, sneaker shops, but these were not high-tech places, per se. But they had the sort of sense of prison, and yet of being morally save because they were taking young women who were going to be, otherwise, brutalized on a farm. And, I mean, they were working in better conditions than they were before these companies came in and on the wall, in English, they would have in some of the Nike centers or whatever, Reebok centers, they would have corporate codes of conduct written in English that nobody could understand. And at the same time, I was able to talk to the workers and these young women were working in locked areas, which where there were fires meant many of them could die. Where you’ve heard on Bangladesh–
NPS: Oh, yeah.
CD: And where they would work 20 hours. Depending on the season, they would work 20 hours and sleep under their sowing machines and that sort of thing.
NPS: Oh, my God.
CD: So, yeah. I don’t know if you know Charlie Kernaghan, and the work he did, [though] he’s not doing this work anymore because of health reasons. But for many years he was the primary sort of presenter to the western audience. And he would bring these workers over. I remember, because I was friends with Kernaghan and his partner, they would bring in from, say, Bangladesh these young women who were 17, 18 working in these American Disney cap or tee shirt sort of back sweatshops or whatever. And these girls, who were the same age as my students who are 18, 19. And they were talking about what their life was like, and how they were going to die at 30. And they were working 20 hours a day, and they wouldn’t have enough money to pay for a coffin because of the health conditions in the shop. And it just brought tears to these female students who were looking at them, the same age, and sort of wondering why am I who I am.
Luck Can Demand Responsibility : Hope in High Tech?
CD: Yeah. And how awful it was because the sweatshop workers were so … They weren’t exaggerating or in anyway asking for anything but people to listen or understand what their lives were like. It was very compelling.
NPS: Yeah. I’ve often thought … And in recent years, this has definitely been true. I mean, except in the last year because I’ve had some really bad health crises that have come up. But certainly, before this, I read about these things. It’s hard to watch video of these things. But I read about them. And part of the reason I read about them is not only to inform my actions and help me be a better citizen and try to work on these issues, but also, the gratitude that one can get from realizing that despite the fact … and I’ve told you in some of our email correspondence before this about the bullying that I experienced earlier in life, and there were a lot of things that I wish had been different. But my God, the life that I’ve had, it is literally like winning the lottery multiple times over to have been born in late 20th century America, and be white, and I’m tall.
CD: Right. Right.
NPS: And I’m also … I was good student and I was compliant. And those two things together are the reason that I’m sitting here talking to you now.
CD: Yeah. Yeah. Absolutely.
NPS: And I didn’t do anything to deserve those things. I’ve done nothing. There’s no … I don’t even believe that there’s some divine reason that I’ve been given these things. It is, literally, the roll of the cosmic dice. And I feel like that should be a call to action.
CD: Right. Well, you know, Noam’s view of social activism is really a form of education. And as you act, you educate yourself and you educate others. And, yeah. I think your story is very … I think you can attract and impact a large community by the particular nature of your experiences. And you’re an articulate guy as I’m listening to you.
NPS: I appreciate that.
CD: And I think you shouldn’t underestimate the way that your voice can make a difference.
NPS: I certainly believe that those of us who work in high tech have a degree of priv… We’re actually the last vestiges of the middle class in the neoliberal era. So, therefore, these people actually do have power. The people who work at Google and can walk out, they have power.
CD: Right. Right.
NPS: They can force corporate leadership at this gigantic, perhaps one of the most significant corporations that’s existed. They can sway leadership just by joining hands together and saying, “We’re not gonna work today.”
CD: Have you seen much of that? I mean, have you seen any emerging high tech sorts of activism that strike you as promising?
NPS: Well, certainly. I mentioned earlier George Polisner and his building of the social network product.
CD: Yeah, no. I know George. I was in touch with him 10 or 15 years ago. Yeah. I haven’t talked to him for a while but, yeah.
NPS: His work is really interesting. I actually did my first of these interviews was with him, and you’re number two. Yeah. He and I been chatting for quite a while because I discovered him on LinkedIn and saw his very public resignation from Oracle. So I saw that online, so I reached out to him. He resigned because Safra Catz, the CEO of Oracle, agreed to be part of Trump’s either transition team or-
CD: Oh, that’s right. Yes. Yes. I remember.
NPS: And so we started chatting and he was explaining to me some of the people that he’s known through the years through the work that he does. Not the activism but the actual high-tech work. So that is certainly something that gives me hope.
CD: Yeah. Yeah.
NPS: As far as the kind of organization that I would really like to see, and this doesn’t exist as far as I know, is a real union for technologist or a union for data science.
CD: Exactly. That’s funny that you’d say that because I was just thinking that there’s-
NPS: That’s precisely-
CD: … a terrible importance of getting because there would be a real potential. I mean, the laborism is strongest among professionals and among … What’s left of the labor movement is in the public sector and in professions. So as much as those groups are problematic in some ways, they are doing a lot of the organizing and, whether it’s nurses or teachers or scientists or whatever. I mean, that’s where a lot of the labor … So, I mean, I think they … it must be a right period now, given the conditions that we were talking about, for labor to get a foothold in. And I’ll say that, in a sense, that would be the new, new deal would be trying to find the way to get, given the conditions of work on these huge, glamorous, high-tech companies, a labor movement addressing the issues you’ve been talking about would be really powerful, I think. The time is right, you know what I mean?
NPS: This has been awesome, and I can’t thank you enough.
CD: I’m glad you feel that way. Its been really nice talking to you and-
NPS: Your works are very powerful. And the way that you bring together, it’s the homogenization, the universalizing and all the this spirit that there’s more or less leaves on the tree and bringing it back together towards the trunk of the tree. It’s very powerful. So I want to-
CD: Thank you, Neil. I really appreciate you saying that. I’m really happy to hear it. And that’s very affirming because I spend so much time doing this stuff.
CD: And whenever I get affirmation, it kind of really feels good. So let’s stay in touch. I’m really happy to meet you and talk to you. I think we’re very much in the same spirit and so forth.
NPS: Sure. Yeah.
CD: I’ve been really thinking about projects I can imagine you’re doing in the high tech domain that we talked about that our work of organizing on the ground. And maybe in terms of book-writing and so forth.
NPS: Yes. Absolutely. A dream come true. So thank you Professor Derber for all the work you’ve done.
CD: Terrific. Well, thanks for your work. And call me Charlie. And we’ll stay in touch Neil.
NPS: All right, Charlie.
NPS: Awesome. All right.
NPS: You take care.
CD: Thanks for talking. Take care of yourself. I hope your health conditions go well. And I look forward to talking to you next time.
an unsuccessful endeavor to circumvent illegally the Cuban embargo in the 1990s, together with disastrously unpopular domestic and foreign policy missteps leaves him with a need for a convenient bogeyman in the dictatorship to the south,
none of Trump’s foreign policy, though perhaps unusually egocentric and idiotic, is particularly shocking when placed in proper historical context. When George W. Bush delivered his first state of the union address in 2002, he thumbed his nose at Iraq, Iran, and North Korea, declaring them to be an “axis of evil,” reversing the meager efforts by his predecessor Bill Clinton in thawing relations with Pyongyang in the so-called Agreed Framework. Bush, like Trump to follow and Reagan to precede, seemed to have only a very slight understanding of geopolitics or the incredibly dangerous, malevolent game of poking-the-bear that is harsh sanctions and embargoes. Indeed, this unique combination of ignorance and possible malevolence is worth examining, notable resource being Neil Buchanan’s recent discussion in Newsweek. But returning to Cuba, fully appreciating the gravity of Trump’s intention to frustrate normalization requires investigating the deeply intertwined history with the rest of Latin America, the United States, the Soviet Union, and indeed the European imperialists who conquered it 500 years past. Over the next handful of articles, I’ll detail the post-colonial history of what was once called the “Pearl” of the Spanish Empire in the hopes that of sharing the moral and ethical legacy demanded of us as citizens responsible for our government’s deeds.
In 1492, Italian explorer Christopher Columbus, on behalf of the Spanish monarchy, landed in Hispaniola and Cuba searching for a shorter trade route with the East Indies; upon arrival, he immediately set to the task of conquering and later exterminating the Taíno, the native peoples, installing a colonial government to oversee crop cultivation, resource extraction and, a very, very distant priority, Christianization of the fast-dying peoples. An aside, one can find an instructive first-hand account of Columbus and his initial expedition in Howard Zinn’s Voices of a People’s History of the United States, with thematically familiar vignettes of generous, open-minded natives offering succor and sustenance to their strange European visitors, only to be repaid with savagery, rape, pestilence, and butchery.
For over two centuries, Spanish dominance remained in play despite frequent attempts at usurpation by other European powers, but for a brief interlude in the eighteenth century during the Seven Years’ War in which the British claimed Havana, introducing tens of thousands of African slaves to the island. Demographically, non-white Cubans constituted roughly forty percent of the population in 1775, cresting at fifty-eight percent in the first half of the nineteenth century. Liberation movements stirred, partly due to the French revolution and independence of the thirteen British colonies to the north; contributing perhaps more resonantly was a slave uprising in Haiti in 1791, together with independence efforts by both whites, blacks, and so-called mulattos, or mixtures. Under pressure to close the slave trade (Britain had outlawed slavery in its colonies in 1807), Spain weakly complied, spurring uprisings throughout the middle decades of the 1800s. Of particular note, documented by Jose Canton Navarro in his History of Cuba, was the Conspiración de La Escalera, a vicious campaign to quell slave revolts with torture, murder, and exile owing its name to torture involving a ladder and a whip.
Instructive is the influence beginning in the nineteenth century of the independent thirteen colonies to the north on Cuba, to which we’ll return in subsequent articles.