Liberals discover hate, so thank you Donald Trump.
I’m sorry but I’m not sorry.
No, I don’t wish for her to be locked up. I believe in rehabilitation. I voted for Jill Stein and I don’t regret it. We still have the right to vote for a person who deserves our respect and trust, even if it’s a symbolic gesture.
Yes, I know, now we have a president-elect who is racist, misogynistic, xenophobic, etc., etc. How many times do liberals and self-styled “progressives” need to repeat the obvious? This was HRC’s campaign platform, after all. Donald Trump embodied all the odious values she stood against. She couldn’t tell the American people what she stood for because neoliberalism, endless war and more of the same wouldn’t have sold well.
But now, praise be, Donald Trump has given us that one great gift for which we should truly be thankful. He has stripped the American people of all their fantasies and illusions. Or at least we can hope.
Soon we will not have a black president anymore, so we won’t be able to slumber for another eight years, content with the imbecile liberal illusion that the country is in good hands. We also won’t have a woman president, at least for the foreseeable future, so we won’t be able to return to our liberal sleep with the equally imbecile notion that the country is in good hands just because a woman occupies the oval office.
Now we have precisely what we deserve: a white, blathering, bigoted billionaire. All those inclined to make important political decisions based on identity politics can easily see that Donald Trump is not black, is not a woman, and (presumably) is not gay. So we are in trouble. And yes, he has that fatal flaw, he likes to grope women. (I suspect that JFK and Bill Clinton, to name just two former presidents, forgot about more women than Donald ever managed to touch.) But the point is that we are probably getting exactly what we see.
In other words, it’s time to wake up from the fantasy world of American politics and face the music. The dictum “Don’t mourn, organize” comes to mind, but first things first. After sleeping so long we should catch up on a little history and find out what’s been going on for the last eight years, the past decades, and the past century. (No, don’t turn on NPR. You won’t find it there.)
Go back to at least 1948, the year I was born, when George Kennan told it straight, about how “the greatest country on earth” (to use Michelle Obama’s term) had fifty percent of the world’s wealth, but only six percent of its population. “Our real task in the coming period is to devise a pattern of relationships which will permit us to maintain this position of disparity without positive detriment to our national security,” Kennan advised.
Today we have five percent of the world’s population and consume a mere 25 percent of its resources. You can see the challenge ahead. I suppose that’s what the Donald means when he boasts he will “make America great again.” Unlike neoliberals, he’s not afraid to say that we mean to get the share we deserve, come hell or high water, just the way he modeled for us in his business career.
So anyway, we had a Cold War. Were you around for that? There was this scary thing called communism. No fear, it’s gone now. The only countries left that could possibly be called communistic are a few island nations that global warming will wash away in a couple decades.
Andrew Levine, a scholar with the Institute for Policy Studies and a former philosophy professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, pointed out in an essay this past August that the old Cold War was supposedly a conflict between Soviet communism and American capitalism. In truth, he said, it was probably always about “political and economic domination of the world.”
“If the world survives Hillary,she will be remembered for her role in resurrecting the Cold War.”
– Andrew Levine
Now we have no communists left, but those pesky Russians are still around and we also have China vying for political and economic dominance. And, lo and behold, we have a new Cold War, one lacking the old ideology. Levine and many others concur that Hillary is one of its most gung ho warriors.
“Every American president since Bill Clinton has played a role in bringing it on,” wrote Levine, “mainly, but not only, by bringing NATO, originally an anti-Soviet military alliance, right up to Russia’s borders, contrary to express promises Ronald Reagan made to Mikhail Gorbachev. Promoting anti-Russian (and often fascist-friendly) political parties and movements in Ukraine and other parts of the old Russian Empire has had an effect as well.”
Hillary, with the assistance of other neoliberal leaders and the acquiescence of the mainstream media, has demonized Vladimir Putin. Count on her to be more hostile towards China than Obama has been, but Russia remains her number one enemy.
Levine was writing with the clear assumption that Hillary would be the next president but it was obviously not something he was looking forward to with eager enthusiasm. “If the world survives Hillary,” he opined, “she will be remembered for her role in resurrecting the Cold War.”
The old Cold War was fought through surrogates like Korea and Vietnam. Today’s geopolitical struggles are occurring in Libya, Yemen, Iraq, Afghanistan and Syria. These current disasters have Hillary’s fingerprints all over them from her time as Secretary of State. But these proxy wars are probably preferable to what Hillary might have done as president, Levine thinks. No longer restrained by Obama’s cautiousness, her recklessness could lead to consequences impossible to foresee and too horrifying to contemplate.
▪ ▪ ▪
I am down in Florida as I write this. It’s a sunny Saturday morning in downtown Sarasota. After browsing the farmer’s market, I wander near the waterfront and happen upon an anti-Trump rally. (They are happening all over the country today).
People are holding signs and placards. One large one proclaims: We must stop hate from ruling the land. It’s an admirable sentiment and I’m not disappointed that these folks are here. But I would find it hard to feel a part of this demonstration today. Whether stated or not, the implication seems to be that hate just arrived in this country with the election of Donald Trump.
I pass by three people and overhear their conversation. One woman is saying to the other two that she was not so sure about Hillary but that she really loved Obama. I stop and ask her: “What was it you loved about him?” It’s the usual response. He was so intelligent. He spoke so well.
I don’t say so, but I agree. I will miss his cautious intelligence and I will miss his fine words, even if I couldn’t believe any of them. (Trump, at best, sounds like someone you meet at a tavern who has had a few too many drinks.) I even enjoyed Obama’s self-deprecating sense of humor, like when he read his “mean tweets” on the Jimmy Kimmel show just before the election. He is likable; certainly he could not be full of hate like the blustering Trump.
So I ask the woman what Obama has done, what it is about his policies that she likes, and she really can’t respond. I provide her a few answers, but I am angry and so tired of this. In what world have all these good-hearted liberals been living the last eight years? Why can’t I join them in that world so I too can smile in satisfaction when the black, suave, smooth-talking president speaks and get angry when I hear the foolish-talking president-elect with the orange hair? Identity politics can set you free so long as you don’t try to identify with most of the people on the planet.
So how about this Obama legacy that Hillary was hoping to build on?
- He built on what Bush began, what Bush once called nation building, and escalated it into one of the biggest nation-bashing programs in history. But that was just a matter of national security. No hate involved.
- He took home the Nobel Peace Prize and proceeded to bomb seven Muslim nations in six years: Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Somalia, Yemen, Libya and Syria. At times, he was bombing most of them simultaneously. But no hate here. Just national security.
- Borrowing once again from the Bush Administration’s modest beginning, Obama pioneered a whole new kind of warfare–drone warfare–using computer screens instead of soldiers to kill people in distant lands. It enables him and his cronies to sit comfortably in the White House and make up a weekly “kill list,” like you might prepare a grocery list. Then there are the “Terror Tuesday” meetings, where the Assassin-in-Chief eliminates anyone he thinks needs to die, whether terrorist, innocent civilian or occasional US citizen. We will soon have a new $100 million drone base in Africa to make this extermination program even easier. Nothing personal here, certainly no hate. Just national security.
- Since taking office, our peace president (and the Madam Secretary) have struck 42 separate deals for over $15 billion in weapons for Saudi Arabia, more than any other administration in history. (Much of this weaponry, used to slaughter civilians in Yemen, is still in the pipeline, so it will be up to Trump to make good on all these business deals.) This is just the business of national security. No hate involved.
- Of course, it’s best to maintain the balance of power. Going back to the Iran-Iraq war, the US has always found it expedient to supply both sides in a conflict, so neither can obtain an edge. So Obama recently signed a deal for $38 billion in military aid to Israel, (our surrogate in the Mideast), so that country can continue its brutal occupation of the Palestinians while keeping the Saudis in check. No hate involved here, purely national security.
- On the domestic front, Obama has deported more immigrants than any other president in history. Nope. No hate, just national security.
- On the campaign trail in 2007, Obama promised “No more secrecy,” vowing to eliminate illegal wiretapping and protect personal privacy. Instead, he has created the most intrusive surveillance state in the history of the world, with a price tag for the spied-on taxpayers of well over $100 billion dollars. With help from Great Britain, the US has created the technological infrastructure that enables it to spy on most of the countries of the world and their private citizens. When the Edward Snowden leaks revealed widespread government eavesdropping on the phone calls of American citizens, Obama’s revised message was: “I think it’s important to recognize that you can’t have 100 percent security and also have 100 percent privacy and zero inconvenience.” No hate here. Hate is a personal emotion and this is the most impersonal of policies, since national security requires that every person in the world be spied on.
- Related to this, Obama also pledged that whistle-blowers would be protected and encouraged under his administration. Instead, using archaic laws, he has prosecuted more whistle-blowers and journalists than any other president in history. No hate. Just national security.
- Obama also pledged there would be transparency in the negotiation of future trade deals. Instead, the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade agreement was negotiated entirely in secrecy. No hate, just national security.
TPP, NAFTA and other multi-national trade deals are the cornerstone of neoliberalism. Sanders and Trump came out strong against them, and even Hillary felt compelled to cave, but Obama stood adamant till the end.
So how would Hillary’s presidency have differed from Obama’s? A more bellicose and warlike imperialism, for starters. A ramped-up Cold War, with a more hostile posture towards Putin and Russia. Rabid and unequivocal support for Israel and its occupation. More weapons and other gifts for repressive regimes in the Mideast (as long as they reciprocate with gifts for the Clinton Foundation). Clinton was blatantly critical of Obama’s policies in the Mideast, particularly regarding Syria. Hillary’s Syria policy would have been disastrous and possibly suicidal. Any of the above ventures may have precipitated a nuclear war.
“When American politicians speak, it’s as if they want to disillusion you forever on the significance and veracity of words.”
– Paul Street
How, if at all, might Trump be better than Hillary would have been? Perhaps more inclined to cooperate rather than fight with Russia, to discourage more wars in the Middle East, a willingness to rethink the NATO alliance, and a more skeptical attitude towards “free trade.”
In what ways is Trump likely to be worse? On the domestic front, a Donald administration is likely to be a disaster on most issues, though conceivably not much worse than a neoliberal Democratic one. (After all, Hillary was not even willing to speak out, during the last days of her campaign, against the burgeoning police state protecting the Dakota Access Pipeline project at Standing Rock.) But a Trump presidency will surely be an abomination when it comes to any issue relating to the environment, particularly global warming.
▪ ▪ ▪
In the end, the Obama “legacy” will be just a string of pretty words, signifying nothing. But the words, spoken in a clear, cautious, intelligent manner, were able to seduce, and they seduced many people looking for change, both here and overseas.
Trump’s “gift” to us is that his mean words are simple and we know what they mean and we know that Trump means what he says. There is no excuse for any illusions or delusions.
Paul Street, writing in CounterPunch at the time of the Democratic National Convention (DNC), said: “When American politicians speak, it’s as if they want to disillusion you forever on the significance and veracity of words. They seem to hope to destroy your faith in the liberating potential of humanity’s glorious capacity for language. They and their writers and speaking consultants craft rhetoric and delivery to turn wrong into right, falsehood into truth, fiction into fact, left into right, war into peace, and hate into love. It’s straight out of Orwell, almost.”
During the first two nights of the DNC, Street continued, “one speaker after another, including Bernie Sanders, has stepped up to the platform to depict the right-wing fanatic, Wall Street darling, and Pentagon-endorsed war hawk and arch-neoliberal Hillary Clinton as some kind of progressive people’s champion of workers, minorities, Black Americans, peace, justice, and disadvantaged children.”
Later in the same piece, Street wrote: “Hillary and Barack Obama were for all intents and purposes ideological twins. They were and remain both equally vapid and vacuous neoliberal imperialists masquerading as progressives. They were and remain deeply committed to the nation’s unelected and interrelated dictatorships of money and empire beneath their respective highly identity-politicized candidate brandings.”
CounterPunch editor Jeffrey St. Clair, writing about the DNC on the same day, summed up the failed promise of the Obama presidency with these few words: “Barack Obama possesses so many scintillating skills, perhaps more skills than any other political figure of the modern era. Yet he put those magical gifts to such meagre, timid and often brutal uses. What a waste. His is the tragedy of a squandered presidency.”
▪ ▪ ▪
José Martí once said that “there are two kinds of people in the world: those who love and create, and those who hate and destroy.” Martí was a Cuban poet, a journalist, and a revered leader of his country’s long struggle for independence during the last half of the 19th Century. He lived for a while in the United States and admired the country’s democratic structures but he was well aware that the goal of the US was to dominate Cuba.
In Florida, I’m reading poetry and essays about poetry. I enjoy it and it tends to help me see the world in a wider context. I’m reading poet Robert Hass with his thoughts on poet Robert Lowell. Hass is focusing on a particular poem of Lowell’s that he admires. He posits that the poem is not “political” because “a political criticism of any social order implies both that a saner one can be imagined and the hope or conviction that it can be achieved.”
Lowell’s poem, argues Hass, has grief and moral rage but no vision of an alternative world. Hass continues to explicate the poem, alluding to mythology and Christianity, and finally the concept of spiritual redemption. Like Lowell, Hass finds it easier to accept cruelty as the “first fall,” not pride or disobedience, (as in the biblical myth), “which the violence of the state has made to seem, on the whole, sane and virtuous.”
“There is no sense here of the crucifixion as a redemption,” Hass writes, and this intrigues me. The early Church celebrated the resurrection, not the crucifixion. I never could get myself to believe that this act of supreme violence, the torture and legal execution of a Jewish rebel and prophet by the Roman Empire, could somehow redeem mankind. It never made any sense to me how the murder of one Jewish rebel, or that of tens of thousands of other ones, for that matter, could redeem anything or anyone.
The theologian Walter Wink has written extensively about what he calls the “domination society” and the myth of “redemptive violence.” He argues that this myth is counter to authentic Christianity and traces it back to ancient Babylon. Today, he says, the myth of redemptive violence undergirds American popular culture, civil religion, nationalism and foreign policy.
Wink explains that John, in the Book of Revelation, revealed that a monster from Babylonian myth that once represented chaos, the ultimate threat to the security of the state, had come to represent the spiritual principle behind empire. “Now evil is represented, not as the threat of anarchy, but as the system of order that institutionalized violence as the foundation of international relations … order is not the opposite of chaos, but rather the means by which a system of chaos among the nations is maintained,” Wink writes. “Violence tends to turn something into the very thing it opposes. Empire is not, then, the bulwark against disorder, but disorder’s quintessence.”
“The rules by which society functions are backed by sanctions,” he continues, … public censure, fines, arrest, incarceration, execution, but their real power depends on trust. When a government or institution must resort to threat or the use of force, its power has already eroded, and the system is in crisis.
“An empire is, by its very nature, a system in permanent crisis of legitimation. It is not a natural system, but an artificial amalgam held together by force. That is why propaganda is so essential to it.”
Where does all this lead? What do we do now? Perhaps we can start by stripping all the clothes off the Empire and examining it closely in all its ugly nakedness. Perhaps we can examine all the myths by which we live. Some are very simple: Democrats are less warlike than Republicans, we are a special people, our violence is always good and everyone else’s is evil.
Perhaps we can begin to challenge the idolatry of violence when we see it. Many people are upset about Stephen Bannon but how come so few seem bothered that Henry Kissinger, one of the greatest war criminals of all time, has played advisor to both Hillary and Trump? Why was there not a massive outcry when Madeleine Albright, responsible for engineering the genocide of the East Timorese by Indonesia as well as other mass atrocities equally heinous, chided young women for supporting Bernie over Hillary, accusing them of not being real feminists?
Speaking of Bernie, he managed to stir the imagination of millions of young people. We need to build on that, not mourn the demise of a neoliberal, and begin to imagine a society and a world that today seems impossible. We need to think beyond identity politics and even imagine a world beyond nation states, which are only dinosaurs left over from a more primitive world.
It is exciting that Black Lives Matter activists and Palestinians are reaching out to each other in solidarity, recognizing that their oppression is similar. And now, these groups and others are reaching out in solidarity to Native Americans at Standing Rock. We must support and join these struggles in whatever way we can. If “political” means to have the capacity to imagine a saner social order, as the poet implied, then we all need to become political in that respect. We need to imagine a social order beyond empire, one that nourishes and sustains us, and find the courage to create it.
▪ ▪ ▪
My first impulse was not to write this essay at all. I thought that Jeffrey St. Claire’s piece in CounterPunch right after the election said it all. Please check it out. Also, Naomi Klein’s article in the Guardian is brief but equally good in explaining who is and who is not to blame for the rise of Trump and the debacle of the 2016 election.