Heartless Romantics: Fascism and Romanticism

Twitter’s own Trillburne (aka The Discourse Lover) and the person behind the excellent Age of Napoleon history podcast recently tweeted this piece of fascist trivia:

The thing is, there’s a word for this bourgeois transgressive mentality: Romanticism.

213px-schmoll_goethe_vaThe philosopher and historian Isaiah Berlin, in a series of lectures (the audio of which you can find online), drew a straight line between the 18th century Romantic era and 20th century fascism. Specifically, he connects the Sturm und Drang cultural movement, Goethe, Schiller, Hegel and the usual cast of German idealists to the rise of Nazi Germany. Certainly, one can see some parallels between Goethe’s famous Young Werther and Adolf Hitler: both are impressionable, impassioned artists who killed themselves when their fanciful dreams were dashed. But whereas Werther chose suicide after rejection from the woman he loved, Hitler shot himself after the object of his desire — a grand German Empire, brutally cleansed of ideological enemies, its special destiny and supremacy manifest — fell to ashes. Werther was the quintessential sentimental fool, a sensitive soul who believed love should conquer all. Hitler, no less a fool, simply believed that, instead of love, Germany should conquer all — the culmination of a cultural faith in a “special path,” Sonderweg in German, for the sacred Fatherland and its volk, including expansionism into Eastern Europe — Drang nach Osten, the “desire for the East.”

180px-nietzsche1882Many of the aspects of Nazi ideology come straight from Romantic philosophy and culture, and those who followed after it. This is perhaps most apparent in the case of Friedrich Nietzsche. Nietzsche, a disciple of the idealist Schopenhauer, wrote about a “beyond-human,” the Übermensch, who lives to exercise his indomitable will to become an exemplar in this world, in contrast to those living for some fictional afterlife. The Nazis appropriated these concepts, twisting them from abstract metaphysical arguments to ideological justifications for applied social Darwinism. In this respect, they were aided by Nietzsche’s sister, Elisabeth Förster-Nietzsche, a nationalist and anti-Semite who embraced the transformation of her brother’s work in a part of the Nazi ethos (or, perhaps more accurately, mythos). After she published a fraction of her’s brother’s notes in 1901, philosophers connected to the Nazis like Alfred Baeumler and Martin Heidegger argued that Nietzsche’s thought constituted a political philosophy anchored on a natural order of hierarchy produced through conflict, a struggle for dominance between differing cultures. Traditional Christian morality and Enlightenment humanism were aberrations, false constructs created to control and constrain the dynamic heroes of the age. It thus falls to the men of remarkable skill and talent to overcome these inhibitions, to accept and fight the primordial struggle for existence, to throw caution and conscience to the wind and achieve ultimate victory. In the words of the Nazi propagandist Joseph Goebbels:

He who throws the dice for a prize also has to dare a wager, hence we have made Nietzsche’s words come true: ‘Have the courage to live dangerously.’ Obviously major projects cannot be carried out as long as dozens of parties get under one’s feet. These parties don’t make history, they only make a fuss. Today one man speaks for the Reich, and his voice echoes the voices of 66 million people.

320px-flag_of_the_legionary_movementIt this sort of romantic, theatrical approach to politics that makes it possible to understand the Iron Guard’s belief in sacrificing their salvation to achieve Romania’s special destiny. Yet there is another important element lacking from the Nazi context: clericalism. The Iron Guard was led by the fanatically Orthodox Christian Corneliu Zelea Codreanu, who was referred to reverently by his followers as “the Captain.” Iron Guard followers went so far as to distance themselves from politics, framing their movement as seeking a spiritual revolution. In the words of Mircea Eliade, an Iron Guard ideologist, the movement sought “the supreme redemption of the nation, the reconciliation of the Romanian nation with God, as the Captain said… [T]he victory of the Legion will lead not only to the restoration of the virtues of our nation, of a hard-working Romania, worthy and powerful, but also to the birth of a man who is in harmony with the new kind of European life.” (The Iron Guard was originally called “The Legion of the Archangel Michael” and always referred to its members as “legionaries.”) It would be easy to say that the Iron Guard merely used theology as a political instrument, but the obvious contradiction between mercy and committing atrocities reveals something so problematic about such a pragmatic explanation. The truth is that there is no contradiction; members of the Iron Guard accepted their own individual damnation for a greater good, “the supreme redemption of the nation.” Since fascism elevates the nation, the community above the individual, a single soul is ultimately meaningless next to the deliverance of the communal spirit. If this sounds “silly,” as Trillburne put it, it is because all fascism is based on an appeal to faith over reason, emotion over logic.

163px-bundesarchiv_bild_102-04051a2c_reichsparteitag2c_rede_adolf_hitlersWhile the Nazi ideologues dismissed Christian morality, the regime nevertheless had its own faith based around Germanic paganism and the occult. There is no shortage of sensational documentaries or fantastical works of fiction on the topic, but there is basis in fact. For example, the German archaeologist Heinrich Schliemann found the swastika symbol in the ruins of Troy, claiming it to be a “significant religious symbol of our remote ancestors” — a reference to the now widely debunked belief of 18th century European archaeologists in an “Aryan master race” which had founded all the major civilizations before degenerating into miscegenation. In Mein Kampf, Hitler described the symbol as representing “the victory of the idea of creative work;” in this there are echoes of the Dionysian chaos and religious ecstasy championed by Nietzsche in tension with the order and structure of Apollo, chief tenets of the Enlightenment. One of the qualities of the “noble savage,” so admired in the Romantic era, is an innate goodness, an intuitive sense of right and wrong, who is free to realize his ambitions free from the shackles of “civilization,” “modernity,” the corrupted and decayed social structure and its values.

320px-570_wewelsburgPerhaps no other fascist figure embodies the bourgeois “edge-lord” mentioned by Trillburne as Heinrich Himmler, the Nazi leader of the SS and one of the primary architects of the Holocaust. From a conservative middle-class family, Himmler resented missing the chance to participate in World War I and spent most of his career trying to compensate by organizing an order of elite soldiers, essentially modern knightly Teutonic crusaders, warriors pure in blood as well as ideology. The distinctive lightning bolt runes that constitute SS insignia come from the “Aryo-Germanic” runes invented by the Austrian occultist Guido von List. Wewelsburg Castle, intended to be a holy site for the SS cult, contains a sun wheel mosaic based on the “Black Sun” occult symbol dating from the Germanic migration into Europe during late antiquity. Himmler oversaw the Ahnenerbe (“ancestral heritage”) research society that conducted expeditions to prove the fabricated historical hegemony of the ancient Aryan master race. All this demonstrates that if the Iron Guard mixed their political ideology deeply with Orthodox theology, National Socialism to varying degrees assimilated a form of Romantic adoration for the “noble savage” — in this specific case, invented Aryan ancestors — into their understanding of the world. Moreover, Nazi “true believers” were able to spread this understanding to the majority of Germans, who (even if they did not become zealots themselves) legitimated and treated as valid Nazi claims about the holiness of the German homeland and the preeminence of the German people. They went along with the Dionysian ritual madness of Nazism, embodied in the annual Nuremberg Rallies and their grandiose ceremonies cultivating the worship of Hitler and National Socialism.

320px-donald_trump_alt-right_supporter_283245297460429It may seem facile at this point to compare contemporary widespread political unrest and the resurgence of far-right nationalist politics to the turmoil and rise of fascism in 1930s Europe. Yet, there are indeed parallels between today’s “alt-right” quasi-fascists and those German Romanticists Berlin described as “socially crushed and politically miserable human beings.” Like the Germans of old, today’s Western right-wingers exalt a made-up history of their purity and greatness, an imagined notion of 1950s white suburbia substituting for ancient or medieval German dominance. They blame moral decay on ethnic “enemies” polluting society as well as sacrilegious, unscrupulous left-wingers. Critically, they both also reject the cult of experts described by John Ralston Saul in his Voltaire’s Bastards. There is a shared assault on the technocratic approach to managing politics, economics, and culture governed through insulated, unaccountable, and unethical professional elites (see “Lock her up!” and “Drain the swamp!”). The bitter, angry shopkeeper of the Weimar Republic — so keen to persecute Jews and Bolsheviks to re-obtain national greatness — finds rebirth in the bitter, angry middle-class American eager to attack migrants and “cultural Marxists” to “make America great again.” Again, not every Trump supporter is a white supremacist ideologue, but just as many Germans endorsed Nazi ideology, so too do many Americans legitimize a worldview that sees white Christian Americans as a persecuted group, their superior status restrained by harmful forces that must be purged. Indeed, such a purge is taking place, whether it be in the mass deportations and breaking-up of families by ICE or the badgering of left-wing academics or commentators (the “secular-progressive” enemies in the U.S. “culture war” conceived by the likes of Pat Buchanan and Bill O’Reilly). Never mind that Barack Obama deported more people than any other U.S. president; never mind that many academic disciplines, like political science, are far more divided over theoretical and methodological questions than political ones. The holy wars of the contemporary far-right are no more based in reality than the Nazi crusade against “Judeo-Bolshevism” and other anti-Semitic canards and “Red Scare” tactics.

Again, not a novel observation, but there is an interesting question why today so many people — especially young people, as was the case in 1930s Europe — are turning to the irrational, impassioned politics of the extreme-right and what this says about a deeper, pervasive alienation that is fueling a fusion of liberalism and fascism: hybrid regimes with certain political freedoms and civil liberties but also pronounced nationalism, militarism, and a massive military-industrial economy oriented around endless war. Western hegemony today depends on collaborative institutions, hallmarks of liberal philosophy, but these same institutions — the United Nations, the World Bank, NATO, etc. — are funded and structured in such a way as to ensure Western (particularly U.S.) interests are protected and exploited. In a sense, it is liberalism overlaying a fundamentally fascist approach to power, the “creative victory” of the swastika masqueraded as the organic liberal social contract. Increasingly, however, the right-wing impulse to dethrone the experts, to take back the established institutions into public control to re-purpose them for ideological application, is threatening the status quo. The last time the extreme-right did so, they re-purposed the efficiency and mechanization of the Industrial Revolution from production to annihilation; they industrialized mass murder with the Holocaust. Obviously, ethnic cleansing in the U.S. remains subtle in the form of deportations, mass incarceration of poor people of color, etc. We may not yet be on the precipice of Nazi era genocide. Nevertheless, it is important to recognize where the heartless right-wing romanticism of the past has  led humanity before.

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Who Mourns Mugabe?

robert_mugabe_in_moscow2c_may_2015The Nation has published an excellent and extremely valuable article by James North, a freelance journalist, about the relationship between the British colonial legacy in Zimbabwe and the recent events culminating in the resignation of President Robert Mugabe. This article is so important because it challenges the dominant narrative in the Western media that treats the present condition of Zimbabwe as singly caused by the policies of Mugabe alone. While it cannot be denied that Mugabe made an indelible impact on the country, helping to bring down its white-minority government and then ruling as president for the last 37 years, intense skepticism should greet the assertion that one man alone, however influential, made Zimbabwe what it is today. Instead of limiting our analysis to the last 40 or so years, we should go further, to a colonial era that began in the 19th century and which only ended less than forty years ago.

180px-cecilrhodesWoefully few people in the West know that Zimbabwe used to be named Rhodesia, and fewer still probably realize that Rhodesia was named after the most infamous agent of British imperialism, Cecil Rhodes, whose estate still funds the highly-coveted Rhodes Scholarship postgraduate award to study at the University of Oxford. Rhodes’ British South Africa Company (BSAC) subjugated the Matabele, Ndebele, and Shona peoples and conquered their homelands. The Maxim gun, the first recoil-operated machine gun, first saw “wartime” use when British soldiers utilized them in the First Matabele War (1893-1894), and would become a bloody symbol of cruel imperial conquest during the “Scramble for Africa.” White veterans of the BSAC massacres received land grants, with the native Africans their indentured tenants. The southern regions of Rhodesia, the territory that would become Zimbabwe, contained fertile farmland, as well as rich deposits of chrome, gold, and nickel. The United Kingdom eventually annexed the colony of Southern Rhodesia in 1923, incorporating it into the British Empire, although it remained the affluent white minority largely ruled itself. It was not until the “winds of change” began blowing in the immediate post-World War II era that the prospect of decolonization became tenable to the imperial powers. It should be stressed, however, that most white settlers in Zimbabwe never considered it a plausible option.

This was partly a result of the colonial context that distinguished Rhodesia from its neighboring British holdings. Kenya, for example, was for settlers belonging to the upper classes: retired elites going on safari and kicking up their feet in social clubs. Rhodesia with its lucrative farms and mines attracted settlers in need of wealth, who had fewer resources to fall back on and thus had more to lose by giving up their racial dominion over the black population. This is not to say that white settlers in Kenya embraced black rule with enthusiasm, but they realized that they could retain their status while co-existing with the native Africans. White Rhodesians could not countenance any such co-existence; their status depended on their political power and their control over the economy. They knew that their privileged position depended on the exploitation and repression of the black majority, and they feared deprivation of their wealth and property or the outbreak of a “race war.” They uttered the rhetoric of Enoch Powell in the United Kingdom and pro-segregation “Jim Crow” politicians in the U.S. They voiced fears of a race war, of retribution killings, because they were intimately aware of the injustices and violence they themselves had inflicted on black Africans.

422px-congo_crisis_collageUnder international pressure due to shifting norms regarding imperialism, the British government of Labour Prime Minister Harold Wilson grudgingly agreed to a policy of “no independence before majority rule,” meaning that the United Kingdom would not grant Southern Rhodesia independence from its empire unless it created a multiracial political system. To a certain extent, this was because the white ruling class refused to give up its privileges; although they made up only 5 percent of the population, the status quo favored them politically, economically, and culturally. To add to the historical context, however, the slow rate of change following independence in the Belgian Congo had resulted in spontaneous uprisings by the black population. In response to violence against white settlers who had remained, the Belgian government intervened militarily and supported Congolese secessionists. Although the United Nations sent peacekeepers, they refused to aid the black nationalist Prime Minister, Patrice Lumumba, restore order, so the Soviet Union sent military assistance. Faced with competing Soviet influence in Africa, leading Western governments had Lumumba captured and killed after a coup d’état, leading Western nations eventually rallied behind a stable anti-communist military dictatorship under Mobutu Sese Seko. Most white Rhodesians felt betrayed by a British government that had previously granted them the autonomy and freedom to institute racial segregation an economy centered on the exploitation of native workers was arbitrarily altering the arrangement, and so – in conscious imitation of the United States – declared their own independence. While this led to the introduction of economic sanctions against Rhodesia and its government was formally unrecognized by all Western countries, the U.S. government undermined them through the 1971 Byrd Amendment, which stated that, if the U.S. imported valuable raw materials from communist countries, it had to import them from non-communist ones. This meant that the U.S. had an obligation to import chrome and nickel from Rhodesia, even though this meant financially supporting its illegal white supremacist government. From 1971 to 1977 (when Jimmy Carter finally pushed Congress to repeal the amendment), the U.S. ensured that the sting of sanctions did not harm the white-ruled Rhodesians too much, and its ultimate revocation had to do with an oversupply of foreign ferrochrome that pushed down prices for the U.S. own ferrochrome industry.

The repeal of the Byrd Amendment hurt the Rhodesian economy, but the major turning point for white-ruled governments in southern Africa came with the Portuguese Carnation Revolution of April 1974, when radical leftists among the military overthrew the Caetano government in Lisbon and granted independence to Mozambique and Angola. The Portuguese colonial empire was one of the last to dissolve, but when it did fall, the changes it wrought were immense: Marxist leaders in Mozambique cut off Rhodesia from rail access to ports, meaning its trade and industry had to go through apartheid South Africa. Angola, too, aligned itself with the Soviet bloc after Soviet military assistance and Cuban troops intervened in its civil war. With the balance of power reversed, it was no longer feasible that 274,000 Rhodesian whites could continue to govern over 6.1 million black Africans, with the whites outnumbered 22 to 1.

hector_pietersonThe National Party in South Africa, the stalwart defenders of apartheid, faced a similar reality, and a growing number of its members accepted that, at the least, apartheid needed to be reformed. The collective Western conscious prefers to imagine the anti-apartheid struggle as a largely bloodless affair, a non-violent movement, omitting the hundreds of black protesters (many of them children) murdered in the 1960 Sharpesville massacre and the 1976 Soweto uprising. They also choose to forget the African National Congress’ own violent methods in the 1970s and 1980s that led to the U.S. and British governments classifying it as a terrorist organization. It was only after the economic decline and final collapse of the ANC’s main benefactor – the Soviet Union – in the late 20th century that it took a more conciliatory posture, which coincided with the rise of reformist F.W. de Klerk premiership that saw the writing on the wall.

In Rhodesia, black rule came a decade sooner than it did to its south, thanks in large part to aid from communist states. In addition to Soviet-Cuban assistance, Chinese advisers and weapons went to African liberation movements; Mugabe, as leader of the Zimbabwe African National Union (ZANU) independence movement, primarily received support from Beijing rather than Moscow. The Soviets preferred their historical asset in the colony, the trade union leader Joshua Nkomo and his Zimbabwe African People’s Union (ZAPU). As Soviet policy was to mobilize industrial workers, ZAPU support lay in the cities, whereas ZANU was much stronger in the much more abundant rural areas. A main reason for this gulf of popularity was the ZANLA (Zimbabwe African National Liberation Army), the armed wing of ZANU, were the primary combatants in the guerilla war against the Rhodesian government. They earned the loyalty of their fellow blacks, so much so that being a “war veteran” is still a position of honor in Zimbabwe.

180px-mugabe_1979_aMugabe was deeply involved in the guerilla war. He was a committed Marxist militant, having become radicalized after a decade in prison from 1964 to 1974 (he was originally a teacher before entering politics). While imprisoned, Mugabe was tortured and denied a temporary pardon after his three-year-old died of severe inflammation of the brain. Upon his release, he went to Mozambique and found an ally in that country’s Marxist leader, Samora Machel. It was Machel more than anyone who urged Mugabe to moderate his positions, who induced him to participate in peace negotiations mediated by the British government in 1979. Mugabe believed he could have defeated the Smith regime military and was hesitant to compromise, but Machel argued – quite logically – that an exodus of whites would do damage to a post-colonial economy. Machel helped broker negotiations at Lancaster House in London with the British government mediating, and on his advice, Mugabe agreed to black political power but with most of the arable land in the hands of a small number of white farmers. Mugabe also permitted the politicians of the past white supremacist government to continue to participate in politics, including the unrepentant prime minister, Ian Smith, who had overseen the war against the nationalist freedom fighters. Mugabe, perhaps against his better judgment, agreed to compromise rather than a reckoning, and did not push for land redistribution.

Mugabe and ZANU did not have to steal power; they easily won elections held after the Lancaster House agreement. Nkomo and ZAPU, by default, became junior partners, but they aspired for greater representation than they received. Division between political parties also evolved into division between ethnic groups; the Ndebele people, based in the Matabeleland region in western Zimbabwe, became associated with ZAPU, while the Shona people became associated with ZANU. Fearing competition for power, Mugabe repressed ZAPU through the early 1980s, including a series of massacres carried out by a North Korean-trained unit called the Fifth Brigades. This pogrom is referred to as “Gukurahundi,” a Shona phrase meaning “the early rain which washes away the chaff before the spring rains.” In many ways, Mugabe was imitating the British Empire when it mowed down the Ndebele a century before with the Maxim gun, as well as the Rhodesian soldiers that slaughtered them in the wilderness. Political violence was learned behavior from imperialism and colonialism. While this does not excuse the Gukurahundi, it does help to understand why Mugabe reacted to dissent with violence rather than a pluralist liberal parliamentarian approach. He also recognized that his proximity to apartheid South Africa put him in a precarious position. In the 1980s, Johannesburg was still committed to white supremacy, and just as Mugabe had raided Rhodesia from Mozambique, the South African military struck into Zimbabwe.

320px-zanu-pf_youth_leagueEconomically, Mugabe pursued an agenda of raising social spending, and in important areas – education, health care, housing – standards improved for the black majority. Western multinational corporations owned monopolies on advanced technology, however, so the more regulatory, government-interventionist policies adopted by Mugabe led to capital flight. Economic growth stalled. In the 1980s, the rise of the neoliberal consensus, protectionism and emphasis on local production was anathema to the industrialized nations. Moreover, because the government could only take land from white farmers if they were willing to sell, the acquisition of farmland and its redistribution to black farmers went slower than Mugabe had promised. The average war veteran resented that he had sacrificed blood and sweat for a revolution. It was Matabeleland where the inequality in land ownership was very acute. Mugabe accepted this until the 1990s, when a Land Acquisition Act granted the government to seize any land it wished, if financial compensation was made. As part of the decolonization process, the British government had promised money to buy out white farmers, but London opposed a policy of mandatory acquisition. When Tony Blair’s Labour Party came to power in 1997, the new international development secretary, Clare Short, denied that the U.K. had any obligation to pay for land purchases, citing her own Irish background as evidence the British government had no connection to the colonizers of the imperial period. In 2000, paramilitaries loyal to Mugabe invaded white farms, and in some instances, killed white farmers and their workers. As it was the war veterans who felt owed the land, and since Mugabe had previously accepted the status quo, it is questionable how much this “fast-track” land reform came from Mugabe, or was him acquiescing to social forces stirring in his power base. As his abrupt downfall shows, his hold on power was dependent on military support; once he lost this, he lost power.

After the “fast-track” land reform started, Mugabe may have mollified the veterans, but he had triggered an implosion of the Zimbabwean economy. Capital flows into the country fell to almost zero, with the government facing cutbacks in social spending as well as falling incomes, rising prices, and accelerating poverty. In the 2000s, inflation and unemployment skyrocketed. In 2002, the Commonwealth suspended Zimbabwe, leading to Mugabe accusing Tony Blair of racism. Critically, however, Mugabe enjoyed some support from the ANC government in South Africa under Thabo Mbeki. From the 1990s to the present, South Africa had been the closest thing to an ally that Zimbabwe had. While the Western narrative around Mugabe makes him appear as a universally loathed tyrant, many black South Africans regard Mugabe as a hero of the independence movement. With income inequality itself a persistent problem in South Africa as well, there is also some consideration for violence against white farmers and the appropriation of their property. Understandably, those who themselves remember the brutality of white supremacy in southern Africa are the most compassionate to the fury unleashed against a class of people who, in recent memory, profited from colonialism.

emmerson_mnangagwaAs time went on, Mugabe became emblematic of the mythical African “Big Man” forming in Western popular culture: authoritarian, reliant on violence, clinging to socialist ideals, manipulating ethnic cleavages. In truth, he was very weak. As early as 2000 impeachment proceedings began again him, only to be stopped by the erstwhile Mugabe loyalist and now his successor, Emmerson Mnangagwa, who was minister of state security during the massacres in Matabeleland. Mugabe’s replacement with Mnangagwa illustrates that true power lies in the hands of the war veterans, the traditional ruling elite and now the nascent bourgeoisie. There is no reason to believe that the Mnangagwa administration will be anything but another repressive kleptocracy, save that it may warm up to a dependent role in the international economy. Mnangagwa could go the way of Raul Castro in Cuba or his allies in China, and accept liberalization of the economy – as long as his pockets are lined in the process. Even if Mnangagwa wished it otherwise, he would likely have little choice in the matter. To paraphrase Marx, Mnangagwa may be making history, but he is not making it as he pleases.

Like Mugabe before him, Mnangagwa is inheriting a Zimbabwe wherein the only functional framework is one of guards protecting plunder – in other words, the colonial model. It may be more accurate to call it political organized crime. A handful of oligarchs govern through coercion, acting as quasi-law enforcement to safeguard their interests. Formal institutions are empty vessels beside the military. If we in the West complain about this state of affairs, we must also accept some responsibility for it. Western empires created the institutional arrangements and political norms in which political gangsters flourish, as those empires were criminal syndicates par excellence.

2000px-flag_of_the_prime_minister_of_rhodesia_1970-1979-svgWe must also be skeptical of the cottage industry that has emerged around Zimbabwe, such as the writings of the white Zimbabwean Peter Godwin. The same social conservatives of the 1970s who urged white Rhodesians to continue white rule lend support to the narrative that the choices of Mugabe ruined Zimbabwe, rather than the system they benefitted from and its long-term consequences. Rather than speculating what would have happened had the racist Rhodesian regime been utterly defeated and rapid land reform undertaken in 1980, we instead get laments for the breakdown of that regime. The premise underlying this discourse is that Victorian imperialism, while morally wrong, was a civilizing force, and that left to their own devices, black Africans forsake “good governance” (a non-parsimonious development term meaning Western institutions and values) and establish tin-pot dictatorships. This is framed in the context of human suffering, to illicit sympathy for the benevolent oppressor contrasted with the malevolent one. Compare this to the more explicitly racist case of Dylann Roof, the white supremacist who massacred nine black parishioners in a Charleston church in 2015, and a photo of him wearing a jacket with the Rhodesian flag on it. In this image, the pining for the Rhodesia of yesterday over the Zimbabwe of today takes itself to its logical conclusion: black people are a threat to healthy white-run societies.

There is no denying that many Zimbabweans, black as well as white, greeted news of Mugabe’s resignation with celebration. Taking the position that structural factors matter more than the individual choices of one man does not pardon that man for his crimes. Yet the view that such choices and free will override structural parameters means those same parameters will produce the same outcomes. The role of Robert Mugabe in Zimbabwean underdevelopment and the misery of its people is irrelevant next to the injustices perpetrated by the West, both in the past and present, whose shadows still loom large over an entire continent that still supplies more wealth than it takes in.

 

 

 

 

 

Angry, White, Male and Utterly Insane

320px-portret_van_een_man004“I’ve passed the point of no return. You know when that is? That’s the point in a journey where it’s longer to go back to the beginning than it is to continue to the end. It’s like when those astronauts got in trouble when they were going to the moon. Somebody messed up and they had to get them back to Earth but first they had to go around the moon. They were out of contact for hours. Everybody waited breathlessly to see if a bunch of dead guys in a can would pop out the other side. I’m on the other side of the moon now and everybody will have to wait until I pop out.” — Bill Foster, Falling Down


After the Las Vegas shooting on October 1, 2017, Drexel University associate professor George Ciccariello-Maher tweeted that his belief that a form of aggrieved entitlement drove the shooter, a well-to-do middle-aged white man, to commit the massacre. “The narrative of white victimization has been gradually built over the past 40 years,” he wrote. As is customary, conservative critics hounded the Drexel administration over the comments, claiming Professor Ciccariello-Maher was blaming Donald Trump or Republicans for the slaughter in Nevada. Unfortunately, the Drexel administration wavered and suspended Professor Ciccariello-Maher, giving in to a chorus of far-right voices, emboldened after Trump’s victory in 2016, to claim that radical academics are promoting “racism against white people” or “cultural Marxism.” While the dominant narrative in U.S. political discourse is that individuals on the left wish to suppress views they disagree with, it is in fact conservatives who are squelching academic analysis.

Professor Ciccariello-Maher is not alone in linking the phenomenon of “angry white men” in the U.S. with acts of violence. Michael Kimmel, a sociologist, wrote an entire book (published in 2013) on the aggrieved entitlement of white men. Some causes for white men’s anger have a basis in material conditions, such as the impact of off-shore outsourcing under globalization on working class men, or the lingering effects of the 2008 financial crisis. Other times, grievances may stem from evolving social norms and values that threaten the traditional dominance of white men in racial as well as gender relations. White nationalists complain that job-stealing immigrants will eclipse the country’s “white identity,” while “men’s rights activists” blame their “involuntary celibacy” on modern feminism. Whatever the source or reality of the deprivation, many white men in the U.S. present themselves as victims of oppression, even though the historical record clearly illustrates that the U.S was created by white men for white men.

320px-peinture_murale_de_lachilleion_28corfou29_28327885976029Kimmel directly links aggrieved entitlement to violence, citing a 1994 study by Richard Felson that found if a culture promotes retaliatory violence as acceptable, even praiseworthy, then men of all ages would be more likely to engage in violent behavior. In other words, regardless of why white men are angry, or who they are angry about, there is also the issue of what to do about it. Voting for Newt Gingrich or Donald Trump may be one outlet, but so are mass shootings and spree killings. In popular culture, the customary plot arc of a masculine hero seeking and attaining vengeance for an injustice, imposing his will and cleansing himself through destroying his enemy, reflects this. The quintessential example of this in Western literature is Achilles in Homer’s Iliad, who slays Hector after the Trojan prince kills Achilles’ beloved companion, Patroclus. Hector himself exhibits a traditional masculine virtue, seeking a valiant death even when it becomes clear that he is going to die. Many readers, including ancient ones, read hubris into the actions of Achilles and Hector, flaunting their warrior prowess, but it is also possible to see in their characters the embodiments of masculine pride. Achilles kills Hector not out of mere bloodlust, but as a requital of an injury. Hector, seeing the consequences of his actions, chooses to die courageously than to concede and be humbled. In these actions we see the template of the murder-suicide that has become the foundation for all mass shootings, from Charles Whitman’s 1966 shooting spree to the November 2017 First Baptist Church shooting in Sutherland Springs, Texas.


“Ever notice how you come across somebody once in a while you shouldn’t have fucked with? … That’s me.” — Walt Kowalski, Gran Torino


It is important to note that men do not possess a genetic disposition to retaliatory 122px-visconti-sforza-11-fortitudeviolence. Men do not exit the womb with aggression coded into our DNA. It is not a “biological truth” that we must dominate others. Instead, this is learned behavior. Just as the ancient Greeks listened to the epics, boys today grow up with fathers, many of whom in the U.S. own at least one gun, that is it better to stand your ground (and your property, and your family, and your honor…) than to retreat. Boys become engrossed in contact sports, where the athletes who hit the hardest and show the most competitive spirit are the ones to emulate. They find leisurely gratification in gratuitously violent TV shows, movies, video games, and pornography. At the same time, many young white men find their behavior policed. Rather than receiving instant support from authority figures, young white men encounter challenges they are unprepared to face. They must confront a future where they may not be better off than their parents, where student loans and stagnant wage growth means they likely be working until they die. They must also confront elite institutions like corporations and political parties where even white men, unless they belong to a narrow 1% band of the upper crust, have less and less influence. In the meantime, they find themselves asked to confront their conscious and unconscious prejudices, to not only admit that white men have profited off the exploitation of women and people of color, but also to examine how they contribute to the ongoing racism and sexism of today. None of this is to say that white men are the most put-upon group in society; obviously, police officers are not shooting unarmed white boys in the back, and men do not face the same rate of sexual discrimination, harassment and assault as women do. While growing economic inequality among the white population in the U.S. is a failing of the system, it must be stressed that for much of the postwar period – from the 1950s to the end of the 1970s – the “Golden Age of Capitalism” was so named by white men because the prime benefactors were white men. After all, under Jim Crow and without equal rights, it was not a “Golden Age” for many people in the U.S. Tellingly, it was with the civil rights movement and the campaign for an Equal Rights Amendment that the “angry white man” phenomenon first began.

herbert_marcuse_in_newton2c_massachusetts_1955Herbert Marcuse, a critical theorist of the Frankfurt School, analyzed Western society during the postwar years in his 1947 work One-Dimensional Man, wherein he deconstructed the state-managed capitalism of his time through a Marxist as well as Freudian lens. The Western proletariat, he argued, had become integrated into the status quo, invested in the maintenance of the welfare state as well as culturally identifying with the owners of the means of production. To paraphrase Steinbeck, Americans did not conceive of themselves as poor, but as “temporarily embarrassed millionaires.” Although the West had obtained the wealth and technology to abolish work and to enable individuals to pursue their own creative potential, the exploitation of workers and other vulnerable social groups proceeded through the manipulation of what Freud called the death drive, our inherent impulse toward self-destruction. By playing on humanity’s instinctive aggression and competitiveness, modern society produces the energy needed to fuel the high levels of productivity and economic expansion it needs.

While the arguments of One-Dimensional Man offer an insightful indictment of the postwar era, its Keynesian consensus, and the atmosphere of conformity that captured Western life in the 1950s and early 1960s, the “modernity” described in its pages does not reflect present conditions. Marcuse himself became “the Father of the New Left” that arose in the late 1960s and 1970s, a broad intellectual movement that began on college campuses. While the labor movement remained important on the New Left, the movement really distinguished itself by its emphasis on identity issues: civil rights, gay rights, and equal rights for women. Whereas radical left-wingers had historically converged around labor issues, touting the proletariat as potentially revolutionary, the New Left idealized young intellectuals belonging to the countercultural Zeitgeist opposed to the Establishment. The 1960s-1970s counterculture era, however, while seeing important strides in areas such as civil rights and feminism, did not produce the promised social revolution. In contrast to Freudian death drives, Marcuse hitched his philosophical optimism to our will to live, the positive life-affirming instinct in humanity. What Marcuse did not anticipate was how consumerism could hijack the counterculture. Whereas society once offered a bland, one-size-fits-all life to the population (a suburban home, a picket fence, a Plymouth in the garage), it came to embrace rebellions and subversion (or, at least, the superficial substitute). The policy-driven collective action of the past became more about individual expression and a lifestyle choice. Instead of bettering society in concrete terms, the individual demonstrates their dissent by wearing a Che Guevara shirt, taking illegal recreational drugs, patronizing art deemed transgressive and seditious, and so on. A person could accrue the coolness of the rebel without the risk associated with the organization and agitation required in an effective social movement. The counterculture sold out.

320px-jessicaThis is not to say, however, that the New Left did nothing for social justice, just that it fell short of its more ambitious goals. It would be daunting to provide an itemized list of the contributions the civil rights movement, the Black Power movement, the National Organization for Women, Betty Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique, the gay liberation movement, and so on. Suffice to say that enough actual change took place (imperfect as it was) that from the nucleus of the “angry white man” took shape. It was they who gave Richard Nixon a mandate in 1968 and even more so in 1972 to annihilate the Black Panthers, to crack down on the students burning bras and draft cards on campuses, to reverse the trend of “moral decay” in the once most sacred of U.S. institutions. In this agenda we see many parallels to the aspirations of conservatives today: the reigning in of the Black Lives Matter movement, denigrated as terrorists; the condemnation of predominately African-American athletes kneeling in protest during the national anthem; the policing of speech and behavior labeled “un-American” in higher education; the reversal of protections offered for women or marginalized groups, be it the weakening of Title IX, the repeal of the Voting Rights Act, and on and on. “A conservative,” said the conservative public intellectual William F. Buckley, “is someone who stands athwart history, yelling ‘Stop!’” And so, from the counterculture period of the late 20th century to the present, the angry white man has stood in opposition to every modicum of social progress made in the preceding decades. He is not just yelling, however. He is bullying women anonymously on social media. He is posting incitements to violence against women on message boards devoted to complaints about “femi-Nazis.” He is listening to talk radio and watching Fox News and learning who to hate. He is calling the cops on the “suspicious” African-American boy in his neighborhood. He is touching his female co-workers inappropriately. He consistently told that he is in danger, targeted by terrorists, impoverished by globalists, emasculated by women. He is afraid, embarrassed, frustrated that the transgressions and trespasses that once so easily forgiven and ignored are, to his inconvenience, bringing unfavorable effects. He finds himself in the uncharted territory of working for a woman, or losing a job to someone who is an outsider, foreign, whose patriotism is suspect. Finding no respite, confused, the angry white man lashes out. Betrayed by an Establishment he no longer perceives as responsive to him, he imposes himself instead on those around him who are weak. The mass murderer who carried out the 2017 Las Vegas shooting, Stephan Paddock, had a history of publicly berating his wife. The gunman responsible for the Sutherland Springs church shooting, Devin Patrick Kelley, had a history of domestic abuse and is believed to have targeted the church in an effort to kill his estranged second wife and her relatives.


“The idea had been growing in my brain for some time. True force. All the king’s men cannot put it back together again.” — Travis Bickle, Taxi Driver


Connecting the “angry white man” as understood in a political context to the mass shootings in Las Vegas, Sutherland Springs and elsewhere is provocative because there seems nothing political about those massacres. Neither Paddock nor Kelley left behind manifestos like that of right-wing extremist Anders Behring Breivik, who perpetuated the 2011 Norway attacks as part of a crusade against Islam and “cultural Marxism.” In our highly partisan political climate, making such a connection triggers an automatic dismissal on the presumption that is mere mud-slinging. It might be less controversial to say that recent mass shootings by angry white men are not about politics but power (even though the difference is a matter of semantics). The “angry white man,” political pundits agree, is angered because of a seeming deprivation of power, which is manifest in all aspects of life: politically, economically, culturally, even in his personal relationships. He makes his own lack of a voice be heard by hurting others, which usually means those who are vulnerable to him in some way. When he makes the choice to embark on the ultimate display of power – to remove his fellow human beings from the face of the Earth – he ensures he will receive the attention he feels entitled to, even if it means lasts if the next media cycle. He also, like Hector, resolves to choose death – a self-inflicted gunshot wound or suicide by cop – as the price-tag attached to his doomed exhibition of destructive power. Thomas Frank once famously pointed out how people in Kansas were voting against their own economic self-interest by voting for a Republican Party bent on lowering corporate taxes and promoting deregulation. So too, in a much more extreme and existential sense, are the angry white men who carry out mass shootings taking an action that goes against their fundamental biological self-interest – their literal survival – by doing what used to be unimaginable and unthinkable and what now occurs almost daily. Rather than study this, however, the Establishment institutions – itself largely controlled by white men – encourages the absurd notion that these men are “lone wolves,” a collection of bad apples, mentally ill outliers. We cannot handle that their violent behavior might be associated with our systems and society.

240px-circle-a_red-svgAfter eight years of President Barack Obama and moderate progress in some social areas (same sex marriage, repealing the military’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy, passage of the Hate Crimes Prevention Act and the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act), we are seeing the latest resurgence of the “angry white man.” Yet why is the “angry white man” of today so much more violent than in previous decades? The answer might be gleamed in the counterculture movement that came after the hippies: the punks. Whereas the hippies envisioned better worlds, the punks of the 1970s and 1980s looked with clearer eyes at the world as it was and responded with an intense nihilism that fed intensely off the Freudian death drives. A rejection of the status quo ran through the punk subculture, but while the hippies had failed to propose a convincing alternative arrangement of society, the punks did not bother, or if they could be bothered, supported anarchy. At its best, this anarchy expressed itself as the individual having absolute freedom, but at its cynical worst, it meant entropy and chaos. From this sprang not idealism but apathy, giving rise to the slacker ethos of the 1990s, the grunge movement, and to the intense irony that throbs like a heartbeat through radical subcultures today. It is often very difficult to separate sincerity from satire among radical voices in the present moment. This is just as true for the former Bernie Sanders supporters gravitating toward resurgent left-wing organizations like the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) as it is for the so-called “alt-right.” Is the neckbearded white man in his 20s holding a Pepe sign consorting with neo-Nazis because of actual shared racist convictions, or a rejection of conforming to the standards and opportunities offered to them by a society that they perceive, rightly or wrongly, as uncaring and even hostile to them and those like them?

None of this is to absolve any “angry white man,” mass shooter or Trump voter, from their choices. Firstly, whatever the structural parameters of our environment, individuals possess agency, and whatever expectations or obstacles individuals face, how they choose to react to them – whether through literal or figurative violence – is a choice. More importantly, however, the hindrances and problems faced by white men are still minimal in comparison to the huge, deeply institutionalized impediments women and people of color face throughout the U.S. White men have never been a persecuted group in this country, always the prosecutors. If some white men are angry that social forces in the U.S. are dragging them, kicking and screaming, to a more diverse and inclusive world, we should no more sympathize with them than we would commiserate with the Neanderthals driven extinct by evolution. In fact, it behooves us a society to see the ways in which we are actively encouraging mass shooters. This goes beyond the glorification and aestheticizaton of violence or the sensationalism of the mass media, and requires us to ask hard questions about race and gender relations. Why do African-American communities live in virtual police states, where they are routinely targeted and harassed by law enforcement, but white men face few deterrents in engaging in incredibly violent crime? Why might a Muslim man who commits mass murder face being tortured in a cell in Guantanamo, while a white man who commits mass murder will likely be taken alive, enjoy a trial, and then imprisonment? How might we better protect victims of domestic abuse and ensure their abusers do not get easy access to firearms? Finally, how might we raise white men in our society so that they do feel the compulsion to act with retaliatory violence when distressed, to see the benefits of a truly egalitarian social order rather than just the reduction of their privilege?


“People are continually pointing out to me the wretchedness of white people in order to console me for the wretchedness of blacks. But an itemized account of the American failure does not console me and it should not console anyone else.” – James Baldwin


Discussing such questions is a tall order for the U.S., where white supremacy is still deeply ingrained but also fiercely and willfully overlooked. It is far easier and less introspective to silence people like Professor Ciccariello-Maher and to perpetuate the myth of the looney lefty academic than it is to admit that the cracks and contradictions in our society might be generating, through real alienation and exploitation along with false narratives and outdated ideas, the death and destruction we see around us.

The National Question, Revisited

In Spain, Catalonian nationalists advocating separation from Spain are likely to go ahead320px-20set_barcelona_14 with a symbolic referendum on independence. Madrid has threatened it will seize control of polling booths if the vote proceeds on October 1. These events come on the heels of a landslide referendum victory in Iraqi Kurdistan, where allegedly 93 percent of over three million voters expressed support for independence. This is indicative of a global trend of unrest often described as populist, but which is also commonly nationalist. Throughout Western Europe, these upstart parties and politicians have tended to be of the right-wing variety, arguing for policies of exclusion and discrimination against immigrants, especially followers of Islam. These two referendums, however, involve communities are seeking the creation of two states, not the preservation of traditional polities. Catalan separatism is rooted in Castilian supremacy in Spain, starkly characteristic of the 1936-1975 Franco dictatorship. Upon the dissolution of the Ottoman Empire, Turkey and its former Arab possessions divided up Kurdish territory and subsequently suppressed nationalist agitators (ironically, it was the 2003 U.S. war on Iraq and the following destabilization of the region that sowed the seeds for an autonomous Kurdish government and any possible state it forms).

An independent Catalonia or Kurdistan would indubitably frustrate the hegemony of the U.S. and its Western allies, showing once again their inability to maintain the status quo. The weakening of imperialism is clearly anti-imperialist, but is it left-wing? The standard answer is that any nationalism is inherently anti-Marxist, as The Communist Manifesto explicitly states: “The Communists are further reproached with desiring to abolish countries and nationality. The working men have no country.” In isolation, the second sentence could mean that workers have no stake in the bourgeois state, but the preceding one makes it clear that communists seek to eliminate nationality as an identifier. This makes logical sense, if one accepts that communism stems from a belief in the unity of humanity; it would do little good to obliterate distinctions of class and state power while retaining ethnic division, a keystone of discrimination through every epoch. The Marxist theorist who married Irish nationalism with socialism, James Connolly, put it so: “If you remove the English army tomorrow and hoist the green flag over Dublin Castle, unless you set about the organization of the Socialist Republic your efforts would be in vain. England would still rule you. She would rule you through her capitalists, through her landlords, through her financiers, through the whole array of commercial and individualist institutions she has planted in this country and watered with the tears of our mothers and the blood of our martyrs.” Or, as paraphrased in, Ken Loach’s The Wind That Shakes the Barley: national liberation not based on left-wing principles will change only “the accents of the powerful and the color of the flag.”

There are also contextual factors that guided the thinking of Marx and Engels. Both men came from Germany, a country borne from the confederation of smaller states, the opposite of nations seeking to separate from unwanted unions. Moreover, their version of socialism was scientific and anti-utopian. Nationalism is inherently emotional, a moral conception not easily operationalized. Of course, Marx considered issues of nationalism in the Poland and Czech cases, for example, but through what Rosa Luxemburg called a “sober realism, alien to all sentimentalism” fixated on individual cases, rather than some vague, generalized idea of the metaphysical “rights of nations.”

Marx and Engels became more sensitive to issues of imperialism due to the 1857 Indian320px-the_sepoy_revolt_at_meerut Rebellion, wherein Indians revolted against the British Empire over issues of taxation, land annexation, abuse, and general exploitation. Marx wrote that: “However infamous the conduct of the Sepoys (Indian soldiers), it is only the reflex, in a concentrated form, of England’s own conduct in India, not only during the epoch of the foundation of her Eastern Empire, but even during the last ten years of a long-settled rule. To characterize that rule, it suffices to say that torture formed all organic institution of its financial policy. There is something in human history like retribution: and it is a rule of historical retribution that its instrument be forged not by the offended, but by the offender himself” (emphasis mine). This dialectical viewpoint reflects the notion that capitalism is the author of its own destruction; its contradictions cause its own collapse. He observed that the violence inherent in imperialism breeds violent uprisings in response. Neither Marx nor Engels may have had little time for patriotic fervor, but they understood anti-imperialist movements as forces for positive social progress.

In 1909, Luxemburg wrote The National Question, in which she sought to bring nationality “from the clouds of abstraction to the firm ground of concrete conditions.” She acknowledged that states should be able to choose their own paths, while asking:

“[W]ho is that ‘nation’ and who has the authority and the ‘right’ to speak for the ‘nation’ and express its will? How can we find out what the ‘nation’ actually wants? Does there exist even one political party which would not claim that it alone, among all others, truly expresses the will of the ‘nation,’ whereas all other parties give only perverted and false expressions of the national will? All the bourgeois, liberal parties consider themselves the incarnation of the will of the people and claim the exclusive monopoly to represent the ‘nation.’ But conservative and reactionary parties refer no less to the will and interests of the nation, and within certain limits, have no less of a right to do so.” To her, the pursuit of some ideal nationalist state is a farce and distraction of workers everywhere, while the capitalist empires benefit from their wasted efforts.

Lenin, writing a direct rejoinder in 1916 to Luxemburg, defended self-determination, which had become increasingly mainstream around World War I. He rejects Luxemburg’s claim that seeking statehood comes from moral rather than material motives, as separation from foreign control is required for the realization of conditions favorable to capitalism: common language and communal bonds lubricate all forms of commerce. They do this not to attain true sovereignty, as Luxembourg argues, which Lenin agrees is impossible; true economic independence is unobtainable in the capitalist world system. Nevertheless, some basic degree of autonomy is a prerequisite for any sort of fundamental economic development. Lenin argues against bourgeois arguments for national exclusiveness, advocating “the unity of the proletarian struggle” and the “international association” of all proletarian organizations, but remains firm in arguing that all states should enjoy an equality of rights, including the right of secession.

In a way, Lenin highlights the difference between hegemonic nationalism – embodied by 154px-bundesarchiv_bild_183-71043-00032c_wladimir_iljitsch_leninthe Great Russian nationalism of his time, which the House of Romanov had used for generations to justify its Imperial regime – and the emancipatory nationalism of dominated nations, be they the repressed states of the old Russian Empire or later colonial liberation movements. Lenin was acutely aware of the nationalist movements that had emerged in the declining Russian Empire as well as the draconian “Russification” policies pursued by the Romanovs to preserve their crumbling hold over the nations in the Baltics, the Caucasus, and elsewhere. Unlike Polish nationalism, which sought to overturn the status quo, Russian patriotism threatened change and revolution, and thus Lenin and the other Bolsheviks were hostile to it after taking state power in 1917. In the 1920s, the Soviet Union followed a policy of korenization or “nativization,” using traditional indigenous symbols and alphabets and promoting local cadres within governments and the Communist Party. In the 1940s, Nazi Germany’s invasion of the Soviet Union led to nationalism becoming resurgent, as the state extolled its soldiers to defend the “Motherland.” While this is often portrayed as a unilateral decision by Stalin, in truth it reflected conditions beyond his control: Hitler had framed the German invasion as a showdown between Western Europe and the Slavs, while the liberals of Europe had insured Soviet internationalism had bred no other socialist states in the image of the Soviet Union, save Mongolia. The Spanish Civil War in the 1930s showed that capitalist powers reacted better to nationalism than internationalism.

Lenin believed strongly in national self-determination, and in many ways the Russian Communist Party he established in 1918 was the first national communist party. This was reinforced after Josef Stalin adopted the “socialism in one country” policy. Yet this was not a policy of isolationism. The Soviet Union engaged in interventions suiting its own interests (such as in 1956 in Hungary and in 1968 in Czechoslovakia), but it also supported colonial liberation movements in Africa, especially in southern Sub-Saharan Africa and its long-standing white-ruled governments in Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) and South Africa. In Latin America, Moscow aligned with the Castro regime, and in the 1970s, both Soviet and Cuban support was critical to the victory of the People’s Movement for the Liberation of Angola. Today, as the U.S. and its allies rush to place any number of new sanctions on nations deemed “rogue states,” there was much resistance even into the 1980s by that same West to sanction Rhodesia and South Africa. Virginia Senator Harry Byrd, a staunch conservative, introduced an amendment in 1971 that permitted the U.S. government to circumvent its own embargo of Rhodesia; trade necessary to defeat communism was more important than defeating racist regimes. Even the People’s Republic of China, before business interests replaced its ideological drive, financed African wars of national liberation. Robert Mugabe and his ZANU party, it is now forgotten, once claimed Beijing as benefactors and followed Maoist dogma.

Marxist-Leninists are entirely justified in supporting the Catalonian and Kurdish pursuits of self-determination, because it is a matter of materialist reality. These nations do not advance nationalism as a panacea, but as a necessary condition for pursuing a sort of national sublimation. In the words of the Indian communist M.N. Roy: “We want freedom, not to save the world, but to save ourselves.” Nationalism is not held up as an end, but a means to an end. States that act according to socialist principles will transcend nationalism, as the Soviet Union and early PRC did. It remains to be seen whether socialist governments would or will emerge in independent Catalonia or Kurdistan, but that is of course a question for the peoples of those nations.

Oppression shackles the aggressor as well as the victim. As Lenin said, “Can a nation be kur2017rrrfree if it oppresses other nations? It cannot.” The U.S., along with its allies, refer to the Catalonian and Kurdish independence movements as “internal matters.” Just as in the 1970s and 1980s, when anti-communism trumped anti-racism, partnerships in Europe and the Middle East surpass a right to self-determination. The Catalonians are no stranger to this; Francoist Spain, which actively repressed Catalonian identity, received support precisely for its anti-communist credentials. The Kurds, meanwhile, need only look to occupied Palestine for any guidance on the limits of Western moral authority.

The violence on display in Spain shows the high cost if states seek to squash popular movements; unfortunately, the tacit approval granted by the Western community that more concrete consequences do not accompany such abstract loss of legitimacy. It behooves followers of Marx and Lenin to denounce such tyranny and our own governments’ passive acceptance of it. Only after those nations are free can we amplify and ally with the movements within them promoting class struggle.

Why We Hate the Fourth Estate

On July 10, the Pew Research Center released the findings from a survey of 2,504 adult PP_17.06.30_institutions_lede_partyAmericans illustrating the sharp partisan divergence in how U.S. citizens view major institutions. Many of the results are not very surprising: conservatives overwhelmingly believe churches and other religious groups are beneficial to U.S. society, but are critical of labor unions and higher education, while left-leaning Americans generally support universities and unions, but reserve their ire for Wall Street. Interestingly, however, both groups have a rather low opinion of the mainstream media. Most Republicans (85%) believe the media does more harm than good, while Democrats are almost evenly split, with 46% saying the media is hurting the U.S. (44% say otherwise).

It seems clear that most of us hate the Fourth Estate. Yet, you really would not know it from consuming the media itself. In fact, since the onset of 2017 and the Trump presidency, many news outlets have wrapped themselves in the U.S. flag and declared themselves the defenders of our imperiled republic. “Democracy dies in darkness,” the Washington Post now states on its homepage. MSNBC has supplanted Fox News as the most-watched prime-time cable news network, thanks in no small part to its plethora of pundits regularly decrying the Trump White House for treason and calling for the start of impeachment proceedings. In many ways, MSNBC has become the Democratic equal of Fox News, long-regarded as more of a political operation than a journalistic one. While the third big name in network news, CNN, is ostensibly less partisan than its rivals, it remains the main punching bag for President Trump, who made headlines for tweeting a video of him wrestling the physical manifestation of CNN in an edited clip of his appearance on a professional wrestling show. Trump has often labeled his critics in the press as “fake news,” using the term – created by the media to refer to mendacious articles that spread during the 2016 presidential campaign – against his detractors.

300px-cnn_atlanta_newsroomIt therefore be tempting (especially for the media) to argue that our widespread dislike for the press is a product of manipulation on the part of Trump and his Republican allies. That would certainly help to explain why Republicans, historically always hostile to a “biased liberal” media, see the media as so detrimental to the U.S. Unfortunately, this does not explicate why Democrats are so lukewarm about the press. If, after all, this was just another partisan deviation, should Democrats not then have a prodigiously positive view of news outlets? The reality is that they do not, and I would argue that the public distrust of the media has less to do with partisan bickering and more with a general distaste with major institutions in this current period of global unrest. Granted, the present political climate in the U.S. is not helping. Yet I think the survey speaks to a more deep-rooted problem with the media.

This problem is well-illustrated by a recent segment on the highly-rated Rachel Maddow rachel_maddow_in_seattle_cropped Show on MSNBC. On the July 6th episode of her show, Maddow devoted the bulk of her time-slot to an “exclusive” about unnamed villains (presumably the Trump administration and/or the Russian government) sending out “carefully forged” documents intended to undermine media credibility. Maddow had received such a forgery, an alleged NSA document about Russian efforts to interfere with the 2016 presidential election. On its own, this would be a non-story, as news outlets often receive bogus tips and documents, and it is part of their due diligence to authenticate them. Maddow, however, inflated the story into a “scoop” by implying that it was part of a grand conspiracy against the press – that vanguard of integrity, speaking truth to power – on the part of the Kremlin/White House axis of evil. This exaggeration depended on the belief that the forged document in question was based on a document published on Glenn Greenwald’s news site The Intercept – except that the forger had created the phony document before the Intercept published it. This was important, because if the person responsible for the forgery had simply downloaded the document from The Intercept, modified it, and then sent it out to news organizations, there would be nothing special about that – no conspiracy, no exclusive scoop, no story.

Except, according to Greenwald, that is precisely what happened. On the latest episode of Jeremy Scahill’s podcast, Intercepted, Greenwald states that it has been in contact with the person he believes as behind the forgery sent to Maddow, and that it was an effort to see just how willing a news outlet would be to pick up and run with a story connecting Trump and Russia – even if such a story was predicated on a lie. The “careful” forgery only took ten minutes to create, and apparently Buzzfeed – which also received the document – dismissed it without comment. Maddow, however, took the bait but twisted it, acknowledging the document was fake but making the forgery itself into a story. In other words, Maddow inflated the significance of the forgery for the sake of pulling in higher ratings by giving her viewers what they crave: not the truth, but a manipulation of the truth that fits their preconceived ideas about Trump and Russia. We are being told what we want to hear.

Noam Chomsky has spoken about this as “concision.” News outlets need stories that can be elucidated between two commercial breaks or in less than 1,000 words. If you’re a for-profit news network — like CNN, MSNBC, Fox News — or a newspaper concerned about advertisers, it behooves you to have on guests, analysts, pundits, etc. who will spend those five to ten minutes or those column inches that will grab the reader’s attention. For the conservative media, this means stories about brave Marines versus Marxist professors, rising crime rates, and so on. For the liberal media, this means incessantly making the legal case of Trump’s impeachment, but in sensational dribs and drabs. Building a case against the administration is not sexy; it is far better ratings-rise to release anything and everything even suggestive of collusion between Trump, his inner circle and the Russian government, even if the evidence remains speculative. The recent resignations of some CNN journalists over such a story that had to be retracted is great evidence of this.

This is not to say that there is nothing fishy about Trump and his connections to the Russians; indeed there is, and it should be investigated, by law enforcement as well as the press. Yet there are also many other important stories worth covering — the net neutrality debate, the anti-globalization movement that made waves at the G20 summit, the humanitarian crisis in Yemen —  that may not do as well in terms of ratings, but which U.S. citizens should still be informed and concerned about.

Dutch Election 2017: Soft Drugs and Racism

Today is the beginning of campaigning for the Dutch general election being held on 15 hhcktrnMarch 2017 to elect all 150 members of the House of Representatives. Yes, the country famous for boring windmills, some great painters, and liberal drug laws is doing some politics. It’s likely that the election outcome will be incredibly terrifying at worst or just depressing at best.

That is largely because of the immense popularity of anti-Muslim nationalist Geert “I don’t hate Muslims, I hate Islam” Wilders, whose resonating message of immigrant hysteria has hit home with social conservatives and their racial pathologies. Naturally, mainstream politicians have embraced a more moderate version of Wilders’ message, choosing to condemn vague outside forces rather than Islam or refugees directly. Hence, you have Mark Rutte, the incumbent Prime Minister of the Netherlands, the beacon of tolerance to the world, telling immigrants to “act normal or leave.”

Only Wilders has come out in favor of a referendum on EU membership, so it’s unlikely that there will be a “Nexit” in the near future. However, the last general election in 2012 centered around the austerity measures introduced by the government, and the provision of state benefits (or lack thereof) remains a huge electoral issue. It is possible (not probable) that a EU referendum could be used to placate PVV voters who will be angry that PVV will have the most seats but no place in government; such a vote would probably fail in the Netherlands but could further the anti-EU momentum bolstered by Brexit.

The good news is that, even if Wilders’ party wins a majority in the election, it’s unlikely it would be able to form a government without entering into a multi-party coalition, which the other major parties would be loath to join, especially with Wilders setting the agenda. The bad news is that a lot of voters will be dissatisfied voting for his anti-immigration rhetoric and not getting anti-immigration legislation and policies. Whatever emerges as the new government will therefore probably adopt the PVV platform, even to a limited extent. So Wilders may get his cake and also maintain his status as an “outsider” that has been such a boon to his populist image.

Here’s EUObserver to explain the Dutch election process:

One important feature of the Dutch electoral system of proportional representation, where receiving 0.7 percent of the vote can be enough to enter the Lower House, is the multitude of parties.

On 15 March, 28 different political parties will be running.

Since the end of World War II, seats have been divided among at least seven parties, with 11 parties winning seats in the previous election, in 2012.

However, in the past four years, eight MPs have left to form six new factions, many of whom are now also running in the hope of getting elected on their own strength.

It is no surprise that with so many parties, Dutch voters seek any help they can get to make up their mind.

Online tools that compare political positions of the parties are popular: in 2012, 4.85 million people used Stemwijzer, the most well-known website offering such a service. The Netherlands has a population of 17 million, with 12.9 million eligible to vote.

The multitude of parties, and the fact that many do not differ much in size, also offers some organisational problems, for instance: who do you invite for election debates?

TV broadcaster RTL had wanted to organise a debate with the leaders of the four largest political parties according to an average of six polls.

But on Sunday, it decided to invite five: the numbers three and four were so closely trailed by the number five, that RTL thought it would be unfair to exclude the latter.

The two frontrunners, anti-EU MP Geert Wilders and then centre-right prime minister Mark Rutte decided to cancel.

They said a debate with five leaders was against the original agreement, but other motives may also have played a role. Political commentators have suggested that Wilders and Rutte, who in the current polls are competing for the top spot, would not want to give other politicians the platform to attack them.

The affair initially led RTL to cancel the debate altogether, but then it decided to go ahead without them.

Another important feature is that the Netherlands is a country of coalitions.

There has never been a party that received an absolute majority of votes, so Wilders, who wants to become prime minister, would need coalition partners.

All traditional parties, including Rutte’s, have said they would not enter in a coalition government with Wilders.

That does not mean it that it will not happen. In 2012, Rutte and his centre-left opponent Diederik Samsom had framed the election campaign as if it was a two-way choice between them as prime minister.

This has led to voters casting strategic votes according to which of them they would want to have as prime minister.

According to a inquiry by the Volkskrant newspaper, even traditionally left-wing voters are now considering to vote for Rutte to prevent a Wilders becoming PM.

If the two draw away many votes from other parties, they could become so large that working together becomes inevitable – a repeat of the 2012 scenario.

While the largest party has traditionally been given the time to form a majority government, it is also not unprecedented that the party that comes out the winner ends up being left out in the cold.

In 1977, the centre-left Labour party came out of the elections triumphant, but the numbers two and three formed a coalition.

Of course, those were days in which two parties would have enough seats to form a majority.

If the current polls are anything to go by, it may take four or more parties to achieve a coalition. It also means that smaller parties may play the role of kingmakers.

Who are parties and their leaders? You will never find a more wretched hive of scum and villainy. I have included the predicted number of seats each party is likely to win, according to a 14 February 2017 De Stemming poll:

Party for Freedom (PVV)
Leader: Geert Wilders
Expected Seats: 26

The PVV is a far-right, anti-immigration party led by poorly-drawn fascist Geert Wilders, who has promised to ban Islam from the Netherlands, including mosques and the Koran. wildersWilders, a life support system for a pompadour, has compared the Koran to Mein Kampf and referred to the Islamic prophet, Muhammad, as a “barbarian, a mass murderer, and a pedophile.” In December, Wilders was convicted of inciting discrimination against Moroccans for leading a chant of “Fewer! Fewer! Fewer!” at an election rally in 2014. The PVV is hostile to the European Union, promoting withdrawal from the EU and the restoration of the guilder as Dutch currency. It also wants to limit welfare benefits to people proficient in the Dutch language and who have lived in the Netherlands for a decade.

People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy (VVD)
Leader: Mark Rutte
Expected Seats: 23

The VVD is a center-right pro-business party led by the current Prime Minister, Mark Rutte. They entered into a coalition with the Labour Party (see below) in the 1990s and oversaw the institution of your typical neoliberal policy prescriptions: privatizing state-owned assets, deregulating industries, slashing social services, etc. The 2008 markruttefinancial crisis and subsequent Eurozone crisis only increased their fiscal conservatism – as well as economic unease for the poor and vulnerable groups who lost out under unfettered capitalism. But FREE MARKETS BABY!!! Rutte is so boring he’s the embodiment of the color beige, although he has been known to have a glass of wine now and again. He admitted that his mother still does his laundry for him.

Christian Democratic Appeal (CDA)
Leader: Sybrand van Haersma Buma
Expected Seats: 18

The CDA is a centrist party that was long a major player in Dutch politics until its near collapse in 2010. This breakdown in occurred as there has been increasingly less 1003_bumaideological division between the major center-right and center-left parties. It also suffered because its leadership entered into an alliance with the more conservative VVD when most of its membership tend to be left-leaning on bourgeois issues like education and the environment. The party would generally like to see more restrictions placed on prostitution and soft drugs and tends to be pro-EU integration and welcoming toward immigrants. Their leader, Sybrand Buma, is descended from Frisian aristocracy and tends to look like he just smelled a big fart.

Democrats 66 (D66)
Leader: Alexander Pechtold
Expected Seats: 16

“I’d say I’m fiscally conservative but socially very liberal. The problems are bad but their causes…their causes are very good.” The D66 emerged in 1966 as part of an intellectual alexander-pechtold-sept2010movement to make Dutch politics more democratic, and even today they ostensibly favor creating a unicameral legislature and directly electing the Prime Minister. Generally, however, the party has become a haven for well-to-do, highly educated professional people who are socially liberal on the issues that affect them: education, the environment, research and technology, and so on. They could emerge as important coalition partners along with the CDA in the upcoming election. Their leader is Alexander Pechtold, a master of the PR dark arts who has tried to ape Wilders’ populist tactics. Wilders recently tweeted a doctored photo of Pechtold at a Muslim rally. Of course, no self-respecting D66 member would be seen in the streets cavorting with plebeians.

GroenLinks
Leader: Jesse Klaver
Expected Seats: 15

GroenLinks is the major green politics party, an odd amalgam of environmentalists, Christian socialists and communists led by a leader who is a mix of Justin Trudeau, jesseklaver-2Caroline Lucas and Bernie Sanders/Jill Stein. Obviously, ecology and animal rights are their unifying principles, but somewhat more vague what they mean by “shared prosperity” and “taking care of each other.” They are led by boy king Jesse Klaver, who wants to be Barack Obama so bad that he plagiarized him. The party has clearly invested a lot into creating a personality cult around Klaver and the result is that people either love him as a sincere idealist or hate him as a vacuous pop star.

Socialist Party (SP)
Leader: Emile Roemer
Expected Seats: 13

The anti-austerity, far-left Socialist Party has long sought to capitalize on the decline of the Labour Party, but so far has failed to make the breakthrough. This can be attributed to its start as an activist, grassroots party established in Marxism that has significantly roemermoderated and even flirted with more moderate social democratic politics at the local and regional levels, alienating its rank-and-file membership. Unfortunately, it is unlikely to be taken seriously as a governing partner by the more neoliberal parties if it considered too extreme. Its leader, Emile Roemer, is warm, cuddly and nicknamed “Fozzie Bear” – also because he is a bad joke.

Labour Party (PvdA)
Leader: Lodewijk Asscher
Expected Seats: 12

Originally the party of the Dutch labor movement and the trade unions, the Labour Party has, like so many of its contemporaries across Europe, become an ardent proponent of deconstructing the old social democratic consensus. From the 1990s to the present, the asscherparty has entered into coalitions with more right-wing parties, further diluting whatever claim to left-wing principles it may have once had. Its base is working class, skeptical of globalization and immigration, while its leadership is a haughty cosmopolitan technical elite. Once the premier center-left party, it is now headed to political extinction. Its latest in a long line of unappealing leaders is Lodewijk Asscher, the minister for social affairs and employment as well as deputy prime minister, meaning he is leading the party in opposition to the neoliberal reforms he himself designed and implemented. Irony!

50PLUS (50+)
Leader: Henk Krol
Expected Seats: 10

Not a mature porn Web site. All those old, angry retirees who want you to get off their henk-krollawn got together and formed a political party. They are opposed to austerity, but only so far as it affects them: they really want the retirement age moved back to 65. “Imagine if your roommate made you watch a movie and left ten minutes into it. Dick move, right? My point is old people shouldn’t get to vote.” Their leader is sleazy journalist and publisher Henk Krol, who resigned from the House in 2013 when it came out that Krol withheld pension money from his employees at a gay lifestyle magazine.

Christian Union (CU)
Leader: Gert-Jan Segers
Expected Seats: 6

The CU describes itself as a “social Christian” party, meaning they hate abortions but like the welfare state. They believe in the nice, merciful God from the Bible who died for your gert-jan-segerssins and loves you, but doesn’t want you to have control over your own body or have any fun whatsoever. They tend to be somewhat skeptical of integration with the European Union but are not generally hostile to immigrants. Their leader, Gert-Jan Segers, is a pious egg.

Party for the Animals (PvdD)
Leader: Marianne Thieme
Expected Seats: 6

A single-issue animal rights party, the Party for the Animals claims not to be a single issue party, even though they are. They have no illusions of entering into government but seek to influence legislation by holding seats in the House. Their leader is Seventh-day 800full-marianne-thiemeAdventist vegetarian Marianne Thieme, who ends all her speeches by saying, “Voorts zijn wij van mening dat er een einde moet komen aan de bio-industrie” (“Furthermore we are of the opinion that factory farming has to be ended”) in imitation of Cato the Elder concluding all his speeches by calling for the destruction of Rome’s rival Carthage. They have gained some respect because they stick to their positions on the issues they care about rather than trying to change for electoral success.

Reformed Political Party (SGP)
Leader: Kees van der Staaij
Expected Seats: 4

Unlike the CU, the SGP believes that God is angry because not everyone is a Calvinist. They believe in a government totally based on the Bible and eschew participation in cabinet. kees-van-der-staaijThey are not only strongly opposed to abortion but to feminism and universal suffrage in general, and only put forward male candidates. They are not so pro-life that they oppose the death penalty, but since most people in the Netherlands do, the SGP advocates that “people suspected of serious crimes, such as terrorism, should be extradited to countries where the death penalty exists.” Party leader and constitutional law expert Kees van der Staaij is probably not very fun at parties.

DENK (THINK)
Leaders: Selçuk Öztürk and Tunahan Kuzu
Expected Seats: 1

DENK was formed by two former Labour MPs, Tunahan Kuzu and Selçuk Öztürk, after they were expelled for criticizing Lodewijk Asscher, the minister for social affairs and fellow kuzuozturkLabour MP (now the Labour leader). Asscher announced that the government would be monitoring a number of Turkish groups in the Netherlands for “strengthening of the Turkish-Islamic identity” which could lead to a “departure from Dutch customs, norms and values.” Kuzu and Öztürk accused Asscher of promoting exclusion rather than inclusion since the groups were not doing anything illegal. DENK is basically a two-man band promoting basic center-left policies but with an emphasis on opposing racism and appealing to naturalized immigrants who feel threatened by the xenophobia in Dutch politics. Kuzu made international news in September 2016 when he refused to shake the hand of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in a display of opposition to “the abuse of Palestinian civilians living under Israeli military rule.”

Useful links:

http://www.volkskrant.nl/politiek/ — Politics section of the Dutch newspaper De Volkskrant (in Dutch)
https://www.trouw.nl/democratie — Politics section of the Dutch newspaper Trouw (in Dutch)
http://nltimes.nl/categories/politics — English-language Dutch politics news site
http://www.dutchnews.nl/category/politics/ — Another English-language Dutch news resource
https://medium.com/@endeeh — A Medium writer writing about the Dutch election, whose best material I have shamelessly stolen

The Liberal Cult of Reason

On January 21st, 2017, the day after the inauguration of Donald Trump as President of the 320px-contemplating_the_headlines_at_the_newseum_283245120718529United States, over a million people took to the streets in women’s marches across the country. It was a remarkable demonstration of opposition to the new president and his right-wing agenda. The question remains, however, whether the emotion and energy that led to such widespread protests will sustain themselves, or if the marches were just fleeting acts of catharsis, a single day of activism to alleviate the severe distaste many American progressives felt following the swearing-in of a man whom they despise.

The realistic (if depressing) answer is that the latter is more likely. Like the Occupy Wall Street rallies and the Black Lives Matter campaign, the women’s marches signify a popular antagonism toward the status quo, but offer no clear road to major reforms. It is obvious to any observer that there is a national current of anger and anxiety, a reflection of global unrest aimed at elites over unaddressed grievances. The problem, however, especially among U.S. progressives, is how to create and sustain a unified social movement capable of affecting meaningful change. Sadly, one of the reasons the women’s marches were so successful is because they became empty vessels in which everyone could champion their favorite issue. Hillary Clinton Democrats, convinced Russia rigged the election against their candidate, marched alongside Bernie Sanders supporters arguing that Trump won because of his economic populism. Also present were left-wing radicals – socialists, communists, anarchists – who saw the election of Trump as a symptom rather than the disease. The “America is already great” crowd rubbed shoulders with the “America was never great” proponents because the march brought them together in their mutual rejection of Trump. It notably avoided asking the contentious but nonetheless important question: “Where do we go from here?”

320px-trump_protest_283075103129029It should be evident that the U.S. needs a radical break with the past. Unfortunately, for the liberal centrist, radicalism is anathema, regardless of its principles. A supporter of far-left causes is as harmful to the body politic as a fascist. Last year, moderate pundits decried Trump’s surging popularity on the back of his anti-immigrant, Islamophobic rhetoric, equating him with Adolf Hitler. These same pundits then lambasted anti-Trump protesters for disrupting pro-Trump rallies and fighting with Trump supporters. This seeming contradiction reached peak levels on Inauguration Day, when an anti-fascist protester punched prominent white nationalist and leader of the “alt-right,” Richard Spencer. Those same pundits started to debate whether it was acceptable to use violence against someone whose views are essentially synonymous with Nazism. For some political “experts,” the political sphere must preserve civility and decorum in the political sphere, even as advocates of racial hatred gain a worrying amount of mainstream credibility. While perfect parallels between the 1920s and the 2010s cannot be drawn, it is worth remembering that fascism did not flourish in Europe entirely by force, but by becoming normalized as a valid and respectable political force.

For many progressives, that liberals could so ardently defend the rights of fascists given the lessons of the early 20th century is maddening, but it is understandable. Cooperation and consensus lies at the heart of the liberal mindset. Liberalism opposes the reduction of individual liberty for the health of the community; the state only holds the power granted to it by the people, whose natural rights are inviolate. In a political environment of moderation and compromise, citizens employ reason to arrive at utilitarian outcomes, just as merchants negotiate mutually beneficial arrangements. The presence of a regulator interfering with the organic, rational transaction goes against the premium liberalism places on freedom. As such, a racist such as Richard Spencer must have the freedom to espouse his vitriol without the threat of physical harm. In the marketplace of ideas, the liberal argues, racism on its own will gain no currency; to remove it from the shelf sets us down the slippery slope of wanton censorship and eventually repression.

Of course, the marketplace of ideas is no more “free” than the “free market” of 186px-johnlockeeconomics. Liberal idealists, from the Enlightenment to the 20th century, did indeed claim that peace and prosperity was a natural result of human nature and economic interdependence. When World War I broke out, however, it demonstrated the necessity of enforcing peace and prosperity. This is why we now live in an age of international regimes that foster collaboration between states as well as transnational corporations, international non-governmental organizations, and so on. These regimes ostensibly serve to ensure that gains between those actors are evenly shared, but it is now indisputable that those regimes benefit some and exploit others. Inequalities are mounting in terms of power and wealth across the world, reaching unprecedented levels. The Global South has long suffered in a global political economy that extracts more resources than the industrialized world invests into it. What is novel about the current moment is how globalization finds itself under attack in places like Michigan and Yorkshire, in the center of the two most historically prominent Western empires.

We must also see domestic events through the same lens with which we view global ones. In the U.S., there is also a regime that enforces peace and prosperity. This regime is comprised not by the state primarily, but by civil society and the business world. These groups tell the population that capitalism, property rights and liberalized markets will create a wealthier, more technological and more open-minded world. “Regular folks” defer to these experts and accept their arguments as “common sense.” Just as international regimes sanction states that defect from certain norms, so too do domestic regimes punish groups or individuals who stray too far from orthodoxy. There heretics are not censured or thrown in jail, but by liberal standards they suffer a fate worse than death: they are branded as possessing a defect of reason. Accordingly, they are generally excluded from the mass media in favor of analysts and commentators who can regurgitate familiar talking points between commercial breaks. Although “alternative media” has blossomed in the Internet age, the consumers of such media typically already have the evidence such dissidents would have to offer. When Noam Chomsky and Glenn Greenwald appear on Democracy Now!, they are preaching to the choir.

Fact-checking sites have also sprung up on the Internet, but their reporting is often disingenuous. For example, when investigating a claim by Mike Pence that the Qatari government promised $1 million to the Clinton Foundation for a meeting with Bill Clinton, the PolitiFact Web site had no qualms citing leaked emails from Democratic Party officials as evidence that the charge was “mostly true.” When Democrats alleged that the emails contained false information without supporting evidence, however, PolitiFact hedged its 248px-pinnochio_28868670831229bets, not only remaining agnostic on the accusation of forgeries, but even speculating that the Hillary Clinton campaign did indeed possess evidence that emails had been doctored, but was choosing not to release it. Meanwhile, when a chart listing 13 Democratic senators who had voted against lower drug prices by importing drugs from Canada and the money they had received from the pharmaceutical lobby went viral, PolitiFact had no problem rating it deceptive. The site said that the measure the senators voted against would not necessarily have led to lower drug prices. The source for this was not an independent third party, but the communications director for Cory Booker, one of the senators who voted against the amendment. Essentially, of the possible explanations of the votes, PolitiFact went with the one less empirically provable – that is, the public relations spin released by the politicians themselves. This went mostly unnoticed, receiving not nearly as much of the press attention as the Trump administration has in the early days of its coming to grips with the levers of power.

Sites like PolitiFact derive authority not just from their trading in “facts,” but also because they claim absolute neutrality. They occupy a space uninfluenced by normative judgments that would cloud their slavish dedication to the unvarnished truth. This is a space also claimed by most of the press writ large (even the partisan political operations like MSNBC and Fox News), as well as the Beltway “wonks” who claim to be less interested in political theory and more so in the minutia of complex policy details. They gain influence precisely because they situate themselves as above the fray, able to make pronouncements about proposals and behavior because only observe them. They deal not in rhetoric and emotion, but in empirical data and statistical algorithms. Their role in the political process becomes, then, to scrutinize the words and actions of public figures, to catch them in lies and then expose them or to poke holes in their plans. Their cult of reason, the story goes, protects the republic from frauds and charlatans.

Unfortunately, as the rise of Trump proves, they cannot keep us safe from frauds and charlatans. We do not live in an idealized world that operates according to the rules of an Ivy League debate club, where merely pointing out the cognitive bias or logical fallacy beneath a specious argument makes you the “winner.” For example, many Democratic 320px-khizr_and_ghazala_khan_august_2016voters reveled in the speech given by Khizr Khan at the 2016 Democratic Convention because it contradicted the premise that U.S. Muslims are not patriotic. The speech, however, did absolutely nothing to change the minds of prejudiced Americans who supported Trump’s ban on Muslim immigrants. Their prejudice was not based on reason to begin with, just as their homophobia does not truly rest on adherence to religious text. They did not arrive at hate because of any real knowledge, but rather an interpretation of reality inserted into their minds by cultural institutions. No amount of exposure to data will convince them that Muslims or homosexuals are generally regular people who want to live like everybody else. Their fear and anger toward these groups find root not in knowledge but feeling. If the excuses used to justify these intolerances seem like clumsy fig leaves for purely visceral proclivities, it is because they are.

The Trump campaign succeeded because it accepted biases and prejudices without caring for the semblance of facts. As a candidate, he accepted wholesale the long-running but unsubstantiated conservative narrative of foreign hordes and unrestrained crime making the country weak and at risk. He even aligned himself with fringe groups on the far right, from neo-Nazis to conspiracy theorists. He shrugged off gaffe after gaffe, scandal after scandal, refusing to recognize the power of the media and political elites to shame him out of the race. As noted here before, Trump was an idea made manifest. He came to embody every resentment and anxiety held by U.S. conservatives, and his disdain of conforming to establishment rules and expectations became a merit rather than a flaw. The things that the political establishment could offer him – media exposure and wealth – he already claimed as a business mogul and celebrity. Unlike Barack Obama, who built momentum behind his political career with his eloquence, charm and erudition, Trump rode a wave of fame and populist outrage that never quite crashed upon the rocks of decency. Many of us wanted to believe – myself included – that Trump would elect on Election Day. For all his appeal to base hatreds, the worst demons of our nature, even the “deplorable” would think twice before voting for him.

The sad thing is, he could have lost. Yet, as we know, the Clinton campaign eschewed a strong ground game in favor of a computer program. It operated from the presumption that eight years of an Obama administration had produced a country familiar with (perhaps even partial to) enlightened rule by a proficient, rational managerial elite. They seem to have forgotten that Obama rose to stardom around a feeling, not a fact: hope. In the future, however, it cannot be more of the same symbolic messaging or empty rhetoric. If there is to be true opposition to Trump moving forward, it must make real commitments and commit itself to definite political change. Protests alone are not enough.