The 50th Anniversary of ‘The Battle of Algiers’ and the Film’s Impact on the Black Radical Imagination

An excerpt from an important new book on the film.

Photo Credit: YouTube screenshot

The 1966 film The Battle of Algiers is commemorating the 50th anniversary of its release, opening in more theaters across the country. As the Movement for Black Lives continues to disrupt and challenge the status quo, it also worth noting that 2016 is the 50th anniversary of the formation of the Black Panther Party. This edited excerpt from Sohail Daulatzai’s new book on the legacy of the film reveal only part of the influence The Battle of Algiers had on the Black radical imagination. The excerpt is followed by William Klein’s 1971 documentary on former Black Panther leader Eldridge Cleaver in Algeria.

Prior to the invasion of Iraq in 2003, the largest antiwar protest in history took place throughout the world. But to no avail. President Bush dismissed the protestors as “a focus group,” unleashing the bombing campaign that was known as “Shock and Awe.” Soon after the invasion, in late 2003, the Pentagon invited the military brass to a screening of The Battle of Algiers, and the teaser read: ”How to win a battle against terrorism and lose the war of ideas. Children shoot soldiers at point-blank range. Women plant bombs in cafes. Soon the entire Arab population builds to a mad fervor. Sound familiar? The French have a plan. It succeeds tactically, but fails strategically. To understand why, come to a rare showing of this film.”

Well before the Pentagon screening, both U.S. Army intelligence operatives and the F.B.I. also screened the film in 1970 to try to silence domestic and global threats to U.S. power. The film was used as a training tool by the U.S. military as part of “Operation Phoenix,” and its larger strategy for the “pacification of Vietnam,” while the FBI screened it at the height of its vicious Counterintelligence Program (COINTELPRO), which included the destabilization of leftist groups in the United States through the use of targeted assassination, disinformation campaigns, false arrests and the imprisonment of Black Panther Party members, in particular.

While security states were screening the film throughout the world, The Battle of Algiers was also embraced by a range of different leftist groups including the Palestine Liberation Organization, the Irish Republican Army and the Tamil Tigers. In the United States, it was a favorite among the Weather Underground, Arab students organizing in the aftermath of the 1967 Arab-Israeli War, and later in the 1990s as Chicano activists in Los Angeles mobilized around the Zapatista rebellion in Chiapas, Mexico. In the 1960s and ’70s, the film was required viewing for the Black Panther Party, whose liberationist politics were linked to the anticolonial Third Worldism of Vietnam, Palestine, Cuba, and elsewhere.

This embrace of the film by the Panthers was part of a longer history of Black radical solidarity with internationalist struggles in general, and Algeria in particular. As Stokely Carmichael said, “Black Power means that we see ourselves as part of the Third World; that we see our struggle as closely related to liberation struggle around the world.” And he was far from the exception. Black Panther Party member Kathleen Cleaver said, “From its inception, the Black Panther Party saw the condition of Blacks in an international context, recognizing that the same racist imperialism that people in Africa, Asia, Latin America were fighting against was victimizing Blacks in the United States.”

Writers and activists from Hoyt Fuller to Martin Luther King had expressed admiration and solidarity with the Algerian struggle, viewing Black struggles in the U.S. in the context of anti-colonial rebellion taking place worldwide. James Baldwin also commented on Algeria and France’s brutal colonial war. He made many trips to Paris, and he often made reference to the violent mistreatment of Algerians in Paris, including the infamous Papon Massacre in October 1961 in Paris. Baldwin would write, “Algeria was French only insofar as French power had decreed it to be French. It existed on the European map only insofar as European power had placed it there. It is power, not justice, which keeps rearranging the map, and the Algerians were not fighting the French for justice but for the power to determine their own destinies.”

Malcolm X would also weigh in when discussing policing of Black people in Harlem, “Algeria was a police state. Any occupied territory is a police state, and that is what Harlem is. Harlem is a police state, the police in Harlem, their presence is like occupation forces, like an occupying army. … The same conditions that prevailed in Algeria that forced the people, the noble people of Algeria, to resort to terrorist-type tactics that were necessary to get the monkey off their backs, those same conditions prevail today in America in every Negro community.”

Theaters of War

The Battle of Algiers would screen at the New York Film Festival in September 1967, just after massive riots in Newark, New Jersey, and Detroit had rocked the country. As the winds of Black Power began to gust, fanning the flames of urban unrest, Newsweek magazine reported, “Many young Negroes cheered or laughed knowingly at each terrorist attack on the French, as if The Battle of Algiers were a textbook and prophecy of urban guerrilla warfare to come.” Three years later, at a screening of the film at the Thalia on the Upper West Side, the New York Times reported that there was “laughter and applause when bombs planted by Algerian women destroyed restaurants frequented by the French,” and “at one point a cry of ‘the United States is next’ rang through the small movie house.”

The film would also be screened in 1969 at Amiri Baraka’s Spirit House in Newark, New Jersey, which was the unofficial mecca of the Black Arts Movement. Formed the day after the assassination of Malcolm X, and hoping to extend the legacy of his revolutionary spirit, Amiri Baraka and others saw the Black Arts Movement as a vehicle in which poetry, literature, theater, music, and film were central to Black liberation. The Battle of Algiers was part of a series of films and performances that also included the 1964 film The Dutchman (based on Baraka’s play) and the 1968 documentary on the Spirit House called The New-Ark, a triple feature of radical films that reflected the global sensibilities of the era.

Emory Douglas, who was minister of culture for the Black Panther Party, and whose graphic artwork was the basis of the official newspaper The Black Panther, traveled to Algeria in 1969 and was there when Eldridge and Kathleen Cleaver emerged in Algiers for the first annual Pan-African Cultural Festival. In my conversation with Douglas, he said that, at the time, The Battle of Algierswas the most influential film in his life, helping to shape his artistic and political vision “because it did what I was trying to do with the Panthers—create a culture of resistance through art.” Not surprisingly, the Panthers would use Algiers as the site to open the first International Section of the Black Panther Party due to their admiration of Frantz Fanon and the Algerian struggle of which he was a part, while in 1970, Francee Covington would write an essay titled “Are the Revolutionary Techniques Employed in The Battle of Algiers Applicable in Harlem?” in the seminal anthology The Black Woman.

The film would also emerge as part of a much covered and controversial 1971 trial in New York City of what was known as the Panther 21, one of whom was Afeni Shakur, mother of hip-hop artist Tupac Shakur, with whom she was pregnant at the time. Charged—and acquitted—of conspiring to explode bombs at department stores, police stations, and other locations throughout the city, the Panthers had reportedly drawn their inspiration for this plot from the film. During the trial, the prosecutor, in an attempt to sway the jury toward a conviction, showed the film to the jurors. Twice during the courtroom screening, when the French offered an Algerian rebel a fair trial, several Panthers laughed at what could only be assumed was the deep irony and parallel nature of their respective predicaments. For some of the jurors, the responses were equally striking. For juror Joe Rainato, this would be his fourth viewing. Another juror, Ben Giles, said the showing “saved me $3.50 because I was going to see it after the trial anyway,” and juror Ed Kennebeck, who was now seeing the film for a third time, said, “The film did more to help me see things from the defense point of view than the D.A. suspected.”

Many Black activists saw in Ali La Pointe a mirror of Malcolm X—both were street hustler who were radicalized in prison and went on to become revolutionary heroes. Lerone Bennett, who was a vocal critic of Melvin Van Peebles’ 1971 film Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song for what he saw as the film’s troubling and confusing political impulses, said “some will say: ‘you are criticizing the man (Van Peebles) for not filming The Battle of Algiers. How could he film The Battle of Algiers when there had been no battle of Algiers in America?” But that is precisely the point. There has been a Battle of Watts in America, and a Battle of Newark, and a Battle of Detroit. A Malcolm lived in Harlem, a King in Atlanta, and Angela Davis is in a California prison. And it is impossible to make a revolutionary black film in America without taking these realities into consideration.”

This brief alternative history to the film is vital if we are to grasp any lessons from it for today. The screening of the film at the Pentagon in 2003 and the racial logic of the “War on Terror” have sought to control the memory of The Battle of Algiers and, at the same time, have negated the central questions and concerns that decolonization, Black Power and the Third World Project sought to address: structural global inequality, racial capitalism resulting in wealth and resource exploitation of the non-white world; the policing and containment of Black life, continued military interventions into and destabilization of the Third World; and deeply entrenched asymmetries in diplomatic, political, and economic power between the West and the Global South. It is these structural violences that now sit at the heart of the “War on Terror,” and it is their systematic silencing of which The Battle of Algiers continues to be a haunting reminder.

Excerpt reprinted by permission from the University of Minnesota Press from Fifty Years of The Battle of Algiers: Past as Prologue by Sohail Daulatzai (Forerunners: Ideas First series). Copyright 2016 by Sohail Daulatzai.

Sohail Daulatzai is the author of four books including Fifty Years of “The Battle of Algiers”: Past as Prologue and Return of the Mecca: The Art of Islam and Hip-Hop. More of his work can be found at Follow him @SohailDaulatzai.


Capitalism Is Doomed — Without Alternatives, So Are We

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‘Though it appears as if rumors of capitalism’s imminent demise have been greatly exaggerated,’ writes Johnson, ‘there is good reason to believe that its remarkable ability to adapt and evolve in the face of frequent (self-induced) shocks has reached a breaking point.’ (Image: OpenClipArt)

In 1946, George Orwell pondered the fragility of the capitalist order.

Reviewing the work of the influential theorist James Burnham, Orwell presaged several concepts that would later form the groundwork for his best-known novel, 1984.

“Not only is the best of capitalism behind us, but the worst of it may lie just ahead.”

In his book The Managerial Revolution, Burnham envisioned, as Orwell put it, “a new kind of planned, centralised society which will be neither capitalist nor, in any accepted sense of the word, democratic. The rulers of this new society will be the people who effectively control the means of production.”

“The real question,” Orwell adds, “is not whether the people who wipe their boots on us during the next fifty years are to be called managers, bureaucrats, or politicians: the question is whether capitalism, now obviously doomed, is to give way to oligarchy or to true democracy.”

While Orwell was wary of Burnham’s worldview and of his more specific predictions, he agreed that the relationship between capitalism and democracy has always been, and always will be, a precarious one.

“For quite fifty years past,” Orwell noted, “the general drift has almost certainly been towards oligarchy.”


Pointing to the concentration of political and economic power in the hands of the few and acknowledging “the weakness of the proletariat against the centralised state,” Orwell was far from optimistic about the future — but he was quite certain that the economic status quo would eventually give way.

Recent events, and the material circumstances of much of the world’s population, have prompted serious examinations of the same questions Orwell was considering seven decades ago. And though it appears as if rumors of capitalism’s imminent demise have been greatly exaggerated, there is good reason to believe that its remarkable ability to adapt and evolve in the face of frequent (self-induced) shocks has reached a breaking point.

Widespread discontent over stagnant incomes and the uneven prosperity brought about by neoliberal globalization has, in 2016, come to a head in striking fashion; Donald Trump, Brexit, and the rise of far-right parties in Europe have many questioning previously sacred assumptions.

“Is the marriage between liberal democracy and global capitalism an enduring one?” asked Martin Wolf, a formidable commentator in one of the world’s leading business papers, the Financial Times.

This was no rhetorical softball; Wolf is genuinely concerned that the winners of globalization have grown complacent, that they have “taken for granted” a couple that was only tenuously compatible to begin with. He also worries, rightly, that they have downplayed the concerns of the “losers.”

Wolf concludes that “if the legitimacy of our democratic political systems is to be maintained, economic policy must be orientated towards promoting the interests of the many not the few; in the first place would be the citizenry, to whom the politicians are accountable.”

Not all members of the commentariat share Wolf’s willingness to engage with these cherished assumptions, however. Indeed, many analysts have reserved their ire not for failing institutions or policies but for the public, reviving Walter Lippmann’s characterization of the masses as a “bewildered herd” that, if left to its own devices, is sure to usher in a regime of chaos.

“It’s time,” declared Foreign Policy‘s James Traub, channeling the sentiments of Josh Barro, “for the elites to rise up against the ignorant masses.”

Apologists like Traub and Barro — just two among many — speak and write as if the leash previously restraining the “herd” has been loosened, and that the resulting freedom has laid bare what elitists have long believed to be the case: To use Barro’s infamous words, “Elites are usually elite for good reason, and tend to have better judgment than the average person.” They point to the rise of Donald Trump as evidence of an intolerable democratic surplus — evidence, in short, of what the masses will do if granted a loud enough voice.

Aside from being conveniently self-serving, this narrative is also false.

Far from loosening the leash, elites have consolidated power to an unprecedented extent, and they have used their influence to undercut democratic movements and hijack public institutions. The resulting concentration of wealth and political power is jarring, and it puts the lie to the farcical notion that elites are a persecuted minority.

But, in the midst of these anti-democratic diatribes, fascinating and important critiques of a rather different nature have emerged.

“Far from loosening the leash, elites have consolidated power to anunprecedented extent, and they have used their influence to undercut democratic movements and hijack public institutions.”

Instead of urging us to align Against Democracy, to use the name of a recent book by the libertarian political philosopher Jason Brennan, many are arguing that it is capitalism, and not the excesses of the democratic process, that has provided figures like Trump a launching pad.

In his book Postcapitalism, Paul Mason argues that the rapid emergence of information technology has corroded the boundaries of the market; “capitalism,” he insists, “has reached the limits of its capacity to adapt.” And its attempts to reach beyond these limits have fostered an economic environment defined by instability, crippling austerity for the many, and rapid accumulation of wealth for the few.

According to Oxfam, the global 1 percent now owns as much wealth as the bottom 99 percent. CEO pay has continued to soar. And though post-crisis reforms have carried soaring promises of stability, the financial sector is still far too large, and many of the banks harmed by the crash they created are back and nearly as powerful as ever.

Mason summarizes: “According to the OECD, growth in the developed world will be ‘weak’ for the next fifty years. Inequality will rise by 40 per cent. Even in the developing countries, the current dynamism will be exhausted by 2060.”

“The OECD’s economists were too polite to say it,” he adds, “so let’s spell it out: for the developed world the best of capitalism is behind us, and for the rest it will be over in our lifetime.”

Sociologist Peter Frase, in his new book Four Futures, implicitly agrees with many of Mason’s key points, but he then takes up the task of looking further ahead, of contemplating possible futures that hinge largely upon how we respond to the crises we are likely to face in the coming years.

For Frase, not only is the best of capitalism behind us, but the worst of it may lie just ahead.

Central to Four Futures are what Frase calls the “[t]wo specters…haunting Earth in the twenty-first century” — “the specters of environmental catastrophe and automation.”

Rather than attempting to predict the future, Frase — guided by Rosa Luxemburg’s famous words, “Bourgeois society stands at the crossroads, either transition to socialism or regression into barbarism” — lays out potential, contingent scenarios. And while Mason’s book exudes optimism about the advancement of information technology and automation, Frase is more cautious.

“To the extent that the rich are able to maintain their power,” Frase writes, “we will live in a world where they enjoy the benefits of automated production, while the rest of us pay the costs of ecological destruction—if we can survive at all.” And, “To the extent that we can move toward a world of greater equality, then the future will be characterized by some combination of shared sacrifice and shared prosperity, depending on where we are on the other, ecological dimension.”

It comes down, in short, to who wins the class struggle. “I am a very old-fashioned Marxist in that way,” Frase remarked in a recent interview.

None of the futures Frase maps out are inevitable, the result of historical forces that are beyond our control. He is contemptuous of those who cling to “secular eschatology”; capitalism’s collapse, he notes, will not likely be the result of a single, revolutionary moment.

In expressing this view he aligns with Wolfgang Streeck, who has argued that capitalism is “a social system in chronic disrepair,” and that while “we cannot know when and how exactly capitalism will disappear and what will succeed it,” we can know that a system that depends on endless growth and the elimination of all restraints will eventually self-destruct.

The disappearance of capitalism, though, as Orwell understood, does not necessarily imply the emergence of an egalitarian society, one in which resources are shared for the benefit of the many. But while few agree on precisely how to establish the framework for such a society, there are, Mason and Frase argue, policies that can move us in the right direction.

Both, for instance, support the idea of a universal basic income, which, in Frase’s words, would “create a situation in which it possible to survive without depending on selling your labor to anyone who will pay for it,” making automation a path to liberation, not destitution. And Mason rightly argues that, in order to avert catastrophic warming, we must radically reduce carbon emissions.

But the usual political obstacles remain, as does the fact that the “winners” are not likely to hand over their gains, or their positions of power and influence, without a fight. We cannot, then, passively rely on amoral forces like technology to bring about the necessary change.

“Technological developments give a context for social transformations,” Frase writes, “but they never determine them directly; change is always mediated by the power struggles between organized masses of people.”


The future is necessarily disobedient; it rarely conforms to even the most meticulous theoretical anticipations, to say nothing of our deepest desires or fears.

But one thing is clear: The future of capitalism and the future of the planet are intertwined. The health of the latter depends on our ability to dismantle the former, and on our ability to construct an alternative that radically alters our course, which is at present leading us toward catastrophe.

“One thing is clear: The future of capitalism and the future of the planet are intertwined.”

Whether the path to which we are ultimately confined is one that leads to a utopian dream or a dystopian nightmare is contingent upon our ability to connect the struggles that currently occupy the left — those fighting for the right to organize are confronting, at bottom, the same forces as those working to prevent the plunder of sacred land.

There are reasons to be both hopeful and pessimistic about the prospects of these struggles.

The campaign of Bernie Sanders, and the movements that emerged before it and alongside it, revealed that there is a large base of support for social democratic changes that, if enacted, would move us in the right direction.

The obstacles, however, are immense, as is the arithmetic: As Bill McKibben has noted, “The future of humanity depends on math,” and the climate math we face is “ominous.”

But, as Noam Chomsky has argued, the debate over the choice between pessimism and optimism is really no debate at all.

“We have two choices,” he concludes. “We can be pessimistic, give up and help ensure that the worst will happen. Or we can be optimistic, grasp the opportunities that surely exist and maybe help make the world a better place. Not much of a choice.”

Jake Johnson is an independent writer. Follow him on Twitter: @wordsofdissent

Chris Hedges and Robert Scheer on War, Religion and Fighting American Neoliberalism

Posted on Oct 17, 2016

By Emma Niles

A handful of people gathered Monday at a private Los Angeles residence for an old-school salon to discuss contemporary politics with two great thinkers: Truthdig Editor in Chief Robert Scheer and acclaimed journalist and Truthdig contributor Chris Hedges.

Scheer opened the conversation by delving into war, the topic Hedges has spent much of his life covering. “In terms of my own journalistic career, the turning point was the Vietnam War,” Scheer said. As a journalist, he said, “My experience with war was sporadic. I could always leave,” although he noted that “the wounds don’t go away.” Then Scheer turned the conversation to Hedges’ “graduate education in war.”

Hedges told how he studied politics as a teenager before moving to South America to become a war correspondent. His most formative life experience wasn’t living in a fascist country—it was growing up in Roxbury, a neighborhood in Boston that, he explained, introduced him to institutional racism. “You can’t understand America if you don’t understand white supremacy,” Hedges said.

His time as a foreign correspondent left its mark, however. One of his first journalistic stints was in El Salvador, where he spent half a decade. “When you spend five years covering a war, it messes you up,” he said. “There were journalists who stayed longer than five years, but none of them were alive.”

Hedges spent decades reporting in various war-torn countries, and he developed a nervous tic and post-traumatic stress disorder as a result of living in constantly stressful environments. “The sickness of war had become my own sickness,” he said. Finally, he became a foreign correspondent for The New York Times, where he broke numerous stories over the years. Ultimately, he was let go from the Times after a commencement speechhe gave garnered extreme criticism. Although he felt anxious about losing his job, Hedges realized that he “didn’t need The New York Times to tell me who I was.”

Hedges ventured into the broader topics of truth-telling and journalistic ethics. “Truth and news are not the same thing,” he said.

Scheer then steered the conversation to religion, and Hedges described what he sees as a form of the afterlife: He uses his voice for his late father’s words. “That, to me, is resurrection.”

“Without religion, we don’t have a ready weapon of accountability,” Scheer added. “Right now, what we teach in these universities is that careerism trumps everything.”

Hedges noted that many aspects of modern religion are problematic. “I think the Christian right is [composed of] heretics. I don’t think they’re Christians,” he said. “Jesus was a pacifist … [but] in the name of tolerance, [most Christians don’t] fight the battle they should fight.”

Hedges talked about teaching college courses in prisons. In one class, he led a handful of male prisoners in a play-writing workshop, which culminated in the creation of a play titled “Caged,” which Hedges is trying to bring to the stage in New York City.

The conversation broadened. “How do we stay compassionate in the face of constant global tragedy?” someone in the room asked. Hedges replied that he tries to maintain a constant relationship with the oppressed; this, he believes, keeps him accountable, despite his own privilege as a white male American.

The discussion turned to the current election. Hedges said we are watching the rise of fascism through neoliberalism in America. Trump is “imbecilic, idiotic, self-destructive, morally repugnant,” he said, and it says something about our country that Hillary Clinton “is only four points ahead” in the polls. Clinton, he said, “is basically Mitt Romney in drag.”

So how does the average American combat neoliberalism, if our current political process is such a shambles? For Hedges, it comes down to large-scale movements—such as the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement, the Dakota Access pipeline protestsand social justice movements that originated in Ferguson, Mo. “We can’t underestimate the power of living in truth,” Hedges said, “even though it’s outside of the formal mechanisms of power.”

These movements have the power to influence the political elite, he continued. “The only things they have to offer you in this election is fear,” Hedges concluded. “The moment you stop being afraid, they become afraid.”

An audio version of the full conversation will soon become available on KPFK. Various moments of the salon were captured using Evrybit—check out the multimedia story below:


In secret Goldman Sachs speeches, Clinton explains why the rich should rule


By Tom Carter
17 October 2016

In one question-and-answer session on October 24, 2013 at Goldman Sachs, with CEO Lloyd Blankfein in attendance, an audience member asked the current Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton the following question: “And Mike Bloomberg had 30 billion other reasons than to take office. Do we need a wholesale change in Washington that has more to do with people that don’t need the job than have the job?”

Clinton’s answer was revealing. “That’s a really interesting question,” she said. “You know, I would like to see more successful business people run for office. I really would like to see that because I do think, you know, you don’t have to have 30 billion, but you have a certain level of freedom. And there’s that memorable phrase from a former member of the Senate: You can be maybe rented, but never bought. And I think it’s important to have people with those experiences.”

Clinton’s response is an open defense of the aristocratic principle: the rich should rule. By virtue of being very wealthy, the rich have the leisure time to pursue a political career. Moreover, they supposedly have immunity from being bribed, since they are already so wealthy. Finally, they have the “experience in business” necessary to preside over a social system that benefits the social layer which appropriates all the profits from business and finance. These are sentiments that any 18th or 19th century aristocrat would recognize and embrace.

Clinton merely echoes, in a more crude form, the patrician arrogance of Robert Gascoyne-Cecil, 3rd Marquess of Salisbury (1830-1903), whose views were summed up by historian Barbara Tuchman:

He did not believe in political equality. There was the multitude, he said, and there were the “natural” leaders. “Always wealth, in some countries birth, and in all countries intellectual power and culture mark out the man to whom, in a healthy state of feeling, a community looks to undertake its government.” These men had the leisure for it and the fortune, “so that the struggles for ambition are not defiled by the taint of sordid greed… They are the aristocracy of a country in the original and best sense of the word… The important point is that the rulers of a country should be taken from among them,” and as a class they should retain that “political preponderance to which they have every right that superior fitness can confer.”

Clinton’s argument that her own wealth entitles her to govern America is an argument also made repeatedly by Donald Trump, who touts his own billions as a reason he will remain immune to “special interests.”

The “former member of the Senate” to whom Clinton was apparently referring was John Breaux, a Louisiana Democrat who held office from 1987 to 2005. Considered one of the most conservative Democrats ever to take office, Clinton’s role model went on to pursue a lucrative lobbying career at the firm Squire Patton Boggs. His name is synonymous with Washington’s corrupt “revolving door.”

On Saturday, WikiLeaks published the transcripts of three lavishly paid speeches given by Clinton at gatherings held by Goldman Sachs, dating from June 4, October 24 and October 29, 2013. All three feature a mix of groveling before the financial malefactors who hired her to speak and gloating over her own wealth.

In one of her secret Wall Street speeches, Clinton frankly admitted that she has a “public position” and a “private position.” The private position is expressed in “backroom discussions,” while the “public position” consists of the lies she tells to the rest of the population.

The fact that Clinton addressed the notorious investment bank in the first place highlights the extent to which the American corporate, financial and political establishment is drenched in corruption and criminality. In April 2011, the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations released a report entitled “Wall Street and the Financial Crisis: Anatomy of a Financial Collapse.” This report exhaustively documented that the financial crash of 2008 and the recession that followed were the product of fraud and illegality on the part of mortgage lenders and banks such as Goldman Sachs, with government regulatory bodies as well as credit rating agencies serving as accessories.

Forty percent of the 639-page report, or some 240 pages, were devoted to the fraudulent and deceptive practices of Goldman Sachs. The report presented documents, emails, internal communications and other evidence showing that the largest US investment bank had sold billions of dollars in subprime mortgage-backed securities to investors, vouching for their value, even as it was betting that the investments would fail. Goldman made billions and CEO Blankfein and other top executives pocketed millions in bonuses by accelerating the collapse of the financial system.

Michigan Senator Carl Levin, the chairman of the Senate subcommittee, famously described how the investigation had uncovered “a financial snake pit rife with greed, conflicts of interest and wrongdoing.”

“Using their own words in documents subpoenaed by the subcommittee,” Levin said, “the report discloses how financial firms deliberately took advantage of their clients and investors, how credit rating agencies assigned AAA ratings to high-risk securities, and how regulators sat on their hands instead of reining in the unsafe and unsound practices all around them. Rampant conflicts of interest are the threads that run through every chapter of this sordid story.”

So when Clinton was hobnobbing with Goldman Sachs CEO Blankfein in 2013, while investigations of wrongdoing by Goldman and the other Wall Street banks were still ongoing, she was consorting with a man who belonged in prison. In 2011, Levin had recommended that the Justice Department criminally prosecute Blankfein for his fraudulent and deceptive conduct, and the Senate subcommittee charged that he had perjured himself in testimony in 2010 regarding his bank’s role in the financial crash. Nevertheless, no charges were brought, and in 2013 Clinton was accepting upwards of $225,000 per speech from Blankfein’s firm.

Hillary and Bill Clinton have accumulated a total of $153 million in speaking fees since Bill Clinton left the White House. Only the very naive could believe that these vast sums were paid for the speeches themselves. They were payment for services rendered to the American financial aristocracy over a protracted period.

Clinton’s Wall Street speeches deserve to be widely read. They provide an invaluable first-hand education in the sheer cynicism of the American ruling class. While the Obama administration publicly insisted that the Dodd-Frank reforms of 2010 were “strict regulations” that would ensure that the 2008 crash would “never happen again,” Clinton privately told her Goldman audience not to worry, that these cosmetic reforms had to be passed for “political reasons,” to provide the appearance that the government did not “sit idly by and do nothing” as people lost their jobs, homes and life savings.

When Blankfein snidely asked Clinton how, should he decide to run for president, he should conduct his campaign, Clinton responded with her own cynical joke. “I think you would leave Goldman Sachs and start running a soup kitchen somewhere,” Clinton replied, to the merriment of the assembled guests.

The response to the publication of these speeches by so-called “socialist” Bernie Sanders exposes the utterly fraudulent character of his entire presidential bid. While he postured during the Democratic Party primaries as a proponent of a “political revolution” against the “billionaire class,” Sanders now functions shamelessly as a sideshow for the Clinton campaign, browbeating his (now much smaller) audiences with admonitions to vote for the preferred candidate of the “billionaire class” he claimed to oppose.

During his run for the Democratic nomination, Sanders repeatedly called on Clinton to release the transcripts of her Wall Street speeches, which she refused to do. He charged that the speeches would show her subservience to the bankers. Now, transcripts have been leaked to the public, completely substantiating his accusations. His silence only underscores the depth of his political treachery and dishonesty.

Meanwhile, emails published by WikiLeaks to and from Clinton’s campaign chairman, John Podesta, reveal the consummate cynicism with which Hillary Clinton sought to portray herself as a champion of “everyday Americans,” small businesses, unionized workers, minorities and women. Having no connection whatsoever to any popular movement or any policies that have benefited the bottom 90 percent of American society, Clinton relies on a network of “community leaders,” union bureaucrats, academics, celebrities and media “surrogates,” who use empty demagogy and identity politics to market her brand to voters.

In one particularly Machiavellian email, one of Clinton’s aides discussed adding a “riff” of demagogic statements against Wall Street in a speech to Deutsche Bank in 2015, “precisely for the purpose of having something we could show people if ever asked what she was saying behind closed doors for two years to all those fat cats.”

“I wrote her a long riff about economic fairness and how the financial industry has lost its way,” the aide wrote. “Perhaps at some point there will be value in sharing this with a reporter and getting a story written. Upside would be that when people say she’s too close to Wall Street and has taken too much money from bankers, we can point to evidence that she wasn’t afraid to speak truth to power.”

In another email, Podesta frankly noted that Clinton hated the phrase “everyday Americans,” but Podesta urged her to use it anyway. “I know she has begun to hate everyday Americans, but I think we should use it once the first time she says I’m running for president because you and everyday Americans need a champion,” Podesta wrote.

The cynicism of Clinton’s campaign knows no bounds. Her staff actually worked to help Donald Trump secure the Republican nomination, believing that Clinton would have a better chance of defeating Trump in the election than a more conventional Republican candidate. The media was encouraged to “take him seriously,” and Clinton was urged to single Trump out for criticism in order to “help him cement his front runner status” among the Republican primary candidates.

Around 11,000 out of 50,000 emails obtained by WikiLeaks have been published. The Clinton campaign’s response to these exposures has been to blame Russia, in line with the Obama administration’s campaign of saber-rattling against the Putin administration. In an interview last weekend on Fox News, Podesta suggested that the emails were not authentic, while simultaneously (and inconsistently) arguing that the emails were acquired by “the Russians,” who are supposedly attempting to deliver the election to Donald Trump.

On Friday, Podesta taunted WikiLeaks editor Julian Assange with a picture of a number of uniformed chefs preparing a luxurious private dinner for the Hillary Victory Fund. “I bet the lobster risotto is better than the food at the Ecuadorian Embassy,” Podesta wrote as the caption to the photograph on Twitter, referring to the fact that Assange has been a de facto prisoner at the Ecuadorian Embassy in London since he sought asylum there in June 2012. Assange immediately replied, “Yes, we get it. The elite eat better than the peasants they abuse.”


Noam Chomsky Unravels the Political Mechanics Behind His Gradual Expulsion From Mainstream Media

The prolific author and acclaimed MIT professor is never featured on major networks.

Photo Credit: Stuart Andrews / Flickr

Ralph Nader and leading linguist Noam Chomsky engaged in a much anticipated discussion in early October on Ralph Nader Radio Hour. The two raised questions about changing the media narrative in a totalitarian-like state, and how Chomsky got dismissed from the mainstream altogether.

“How often have you been on the op-ed pages of the New York Times?” Nader asked Chomsky.

For Chomsky, the last time was over a decade ago.

“[I was asked] to write about the Israeli separation wall, actually an annexation wall that runs through the West Bank and breaking apart the Palestinian communities… condemned as illegal by the World Court,” Chomsky told Nader.

Chomsky would later pen a similar piece for CNN on the 2013 Israeli-Palestinian peace talks. But Chomsky has never been interviewed on the network; nor has he appeared on NBC, ABC or CBS.

“How about NPR and PBS, partially taxpayer-supported…more free-thinking and more tolerant [outlets]?” Nader wanted to know.

“I’ve been on ‘Charlie Rose’ two or three times,” Chomsky told Nader, adding that he had a curious story about a particular Boston outlet for NPR based in Boston University.

“They used to have a program in their primetime news programs All Things Considered some years ago at 5:25… maybe once a week or so, a five-minute discussion with someone who had written a new book and there’s a lot of pressure,” Chomsky began.

NPR was going to allow Chomsky to present his 1989 book, Necessary Illusions: Thought Control in Democratic Societies.

“I got a call from the publisher telling me when I should tune in and I never listened [before], so I tuned in [and] there was five minutes of music… I started getting phone calls from around the country asking ‘What happened to the piece?'” Chomsky remembered.

“I then got a call from the station manager in Washington who told me that she’d been getting calls and she didn’t understand it because it was listed… she called back saying kind of embarrassed … that some bigwig in the system had heard the announcement at five o’clock and had ordered it canceled,” Chomsky explained.

The irony of Chomsky’s media criticism being dismissed by the media is not lost on the former MIT professor, who remains in awe of America’s level of censorship.

“Any one of the former Bush-Cheney warmongers like Paul Wolfowitz and John Bolton and others have gotten far more press after they’ve left federal positions; in the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post,” Nader said.

And unlike Chomsky, “They’ve been on television public television, NPR and they have a record of false statements; they have record of deception, they have record of pursuing policies are illegal under our Constitution, under international law and under federal statutes such as criminal invasion of Iraq and other adventures around the world,” Nader pointed out.

But the media problem permeates other industries, like education and government.

“Now, a society that operates in a way where propaganda is not only emanating from the major media but it gets into our schools, the kind of courses are taught, the content of the history, is a society that’s not going to be mobilized for its own survival, much less the survival of other countries whose dictators we have for decades supported to oppress their people,” explained Nader.

Listen to Ralph Nader’s full program with Noam Chomsky:

It’s the 50th Anniversary of the Black Power Movement

The year 2016 marks the fiftieth anniversary of Black Power, one of the least understood and most criminalized and vilified movements in American history.

The raised fist symbolizes revolution and defiance, it is used by various movements including black power and occupy.
Photo Credit: Stefanina Hill

The following is an excerpt from the new book Black Power 50 edited by Sylviane A. Diouf & Komozi Woodward (The New Press, 2016): 

June 1966, Greenwood, Mississippi: Stokely Carmichael of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) introduced “Black Power” as a slogan. His fellow SNCC organizer, Willie Ricks, had tested the phrase at rallies earlier. Like no other ideology before, the heterogeneous and ideologically diverse movement that gave the powerful rallying cry its strength and depth shaped black consciousness and built an immense legacy that continues to resonate in the contemporary American landscape. If the exact chronology of the movement is controversial, it is clear that a decade of struggle, including the ferocious repression against it, has had a tremendous impact on issues of not only race and citizenship in the United States but also identity, politics, criminal justice, culture, art, and education globally. Indeed, Black Power’s successes and weaknesses have largely molded the past half century.

The defense campaign became increasingly important as the FBI and local police sought to destroy the Black Panther Party. Rallies to free all political prisoners mobilized large crowds. Oakland.1968 © Stephen Shames.

The year 2016 marks the fiftieth anniversary of Black Power, one of the least understood and most criminalized and vilified movements in American history. Too often presented or remembered primarily as the violent, villainous urban northern counterpoint to the nonviolent, virtuous rural southern civil rights movement, the Black Power movement has been eclipsed in the general public’s memory. That blinding binary is an obstacle to our understanding of a more complicated past. Recent scholarship suggests that the civil rights movement in the Jim Crow North preceded the one in the Jim Crow South; and that Black Power emerged in the Jim Crow South simultaneously with its ascent in the Jim Crow North and the Jim Crow West. But everywhere, young adults and teenagers led the Black Power movement. Whether they were in Boston, Chicago, or Los Angeles the activists were often the sons and daughters of southern migrants or Caribbean immigrants. Between 1966 and 1976, they developed countless cultural, political, social, and economic programs under the banner of the Black Power ideology. Those programs and organizations, and the art, literature, drama, and music they created, galvanized millions of people in the broadest movement in African American history.

This new generation had become impatient with the civil rights’ leadership and limited goals. They were suspicious of official declarations and legislation that suggested an official end to segregation, when they could see that the walls of employment, housing, and school segregation were becoming newly fortified from New York to California. Indeed, the 1964 Civil Rights Act specifically excluded any attack of segregation in the Jim Crow North. Thus, a heated debate developed in the civil rights movement between leaders who declared the struggle for desegregation was over and those who argued it had to continue. Even Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was attacked by the more conservative leadership, including Roy Wilkins of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, who insisted the time for protest was over after the 1965 Voting Rights Act.

Kathleen Cleaver and fellow Black Panthers sporting Afros. Oakland. 1968 © Stephen Shames.

Of course, the movement, just like the concept of Black Power itself, was never monolithic. Black Power was heterogeneous, fusing together a number of ideologies and programs, including not only cultural nationalism, socialism, Marxism, and Islam, but also revolutionary nationalism, welfare rights, tenant rights, student voices, revolutionary union movements, Pan-Africanism and so forth—not to mention the rise of black elected officials. The crowded field of organizations included a bewildering spectrum of groups as diverse as SNCC, the Republic of New Afrika (RNA), the Revolutionary Action Movement (RAM), the National Welfare  Rights Organization (NWRO), the Black Panther Party (BPP), the African Liberation Support Committee (ALSC), Us Organization, the Congress of African People (CAP), Third World Women Alliance (TWWA), the Organization of Afro-American Unity (OAAU), the Young Lords Organization (YLO), the Black Students Unions (BSU), and the Black Arts Movement (BAM). All of those voices came under the Black Power umbrella.

If Black Power was heterogeneous, it was also fluid. Some activists moved from one organization to the other or belonged to several at the same time. Stokely Carmichael and H. Rap Brown were members of SNCC before joining the Panthers. Carmichael then moved on to the All African People’s Revolutionary Party, influenced by Kwame Nkrumah, the deposed former president of Ghana. Muhammad Ahmad, a co-founder of the Revolutionary Action Movement, was also a founder of the African Liberation Support Committee and the African Peoples Party (APP). Robert Williams, formerly of the NAACP, and Queen Mother Moore, once a Communist Party member, were leaders of the Republic of New Afrika and RAM. Some activists belonged to the BPP and the Young Lords. Japanese American Richard Aoki, a field marshal for the BPP, was also the spokesperson for the Asian American Political Alliance (though recent evidence suggests he might have worked for the FBI).

Despite their diversity and, for some, antagonism, all Black Power organizations shared a few fundamental features: they saw themselves as heirs of Malcolm X, defined Black America as an internal colony of the United States, and demanded self-determination.

The awareness of forming a “black nationality,” a nation within a nation, and of being subjected to systemic racism, became central to the vibrant, self-confident expression of the new black urban experience that marked the era.

While the movement organized countless peaceful demonstrations, the exacerbation of racial conflicts and police brutality led also to increasingly violent confrontations. In the early 1960s, over 320 major rebellions erupted in 257 cities. Following Dr. Martin Luther King’s assassination on April 4, 1968, 200 uprisings shook 172 cities. A year later, 500 racial clashes electrified young people, reshaping black consciousness and reinforcing the quest for autonomy.

In line with Malcolm X’s emphasis on the model of the 1955 Bandung Conference that united African and Asian newly independent countries, Black Power also inspired a “Bandung West” of antiracist movements organized by communities of Puerto Ricans, American Indians, Chicanos, Asian Americans, and impoverished working-class whites. Coalitions beyond race, ethnicity, geography, and social origin emerged to fight injustice, discrimination, and economic inequality. Organizations supported each other’s struggles, and together their members and sympathizers attended rallies to demand the release of political prisoners. In Chicago, under the leadership of Illinois Black Panther Party deputy chairman Fred Hampton, black, Puerto Rican, and white activists founded the Rainbow Coalition. The 1970 Revolutionary People’s Constitutional Convention organized by the BPP in Philadelphia gathered ten thousand to fifteen thousand people with, among others, delegates from the American Indian Movement, the Chicano Brown Berets, the Puerto Rican Young Lords, the Asian American I Wor Kuen, and the mostly white Students for a Democratic Society. Similarly, in the Newark Black Power experiment, the United Brothers—who wanted to achieve Black Power through the electoral process—and the Young Lords signed a mutual defense pact against white terror. They joined together in the 1969 Black and Puerto Rican Political Convention, running candidates on a Rainbow political slate. Los Angeles SNCC’s Ralph Featherstone and Us’s Maulana Karenga established an alliance at the Alianzasummit in Albuquerque, New Mexico, with Chicano leader Reies Lopez Tijerina and Hopi chief Tomas Ben Yacya.

In addition to unifying various segments of the American population, the Black Power movement also resonated abroad. Black Power became a global phenomenon, capturing the imagination of anticolonial and other freedom struggles. From Great Britain to the Caribbean and from India to Israel, colonized or marginalized young people rallied around slogans fashioned after “Black Power,” and organizations were modeled or named after the Black Panther Party. Young Samoans, Tongans, Cook Islanders, and Maoris founded the Polynesian Panther Movement in New Zealand in 1971, which later became the Polynesian Panther Party. In Israel, Mizrahi, mostly immigrant Jews from the Middle East and North Africa, called themselves Black Panthers and demanded equality with the European Jews. Dalits, who belong to the lower echelon of society and are outside of the rigid Indian caste system, formed the Dalit Panthers in Bombay. Globally, where youth were denied full citizenship or where governments questioned their very humanity, activists claimed the language of Black Power in the fight for their human rights. Ironically, this suggests the rarely understood paradox that ultimately Black Power was not racial but rather a movementagainst racism.

The radicals in the Black Power movement believed that their antiwar, anticolonial, anti-imperialist, revolutionary stance made the movement a natural ally of the countries that were part of the Soviet bloc during the Cold War: Cuba, Vietnam, China, Ghana, North Korea, Algeria, Tanzania, and Guinea; and of the liberation movements of the Portuguese colonies of Africa as well as of South-West Africa (Namibia) and Rhodesia (Zimbabwe). Whereas few African Americans had actively supported or even been aware of the decolonization movement in Africa in the early 1960s, by 1970 the efforts by Black Power nationalists to support  African liberation reflected the sentiments of millions of African Americans.

Copyright © 2016 by The Schomburg Cernter for Research in Black Culture, The New York Public Library. This excerpt originally appeared in Black Power 50 by Sylviane A. Diouf and Komozi Woodard, published by The New Press Reprinted here with permission.

This is not about Donald Trump: The age of decline, apple pie and America’s chosen suicide bomber

Voting for Trump, among other things, will be an act of nihilism, a mood that fits well with imperial decline

This is not about Donald Trump: The age of decline, apple pie and America's chosen suicide bomber
Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks during a town hall with the Retired American Warriors, Monday, Oct. 3, 2016, in Herndon, Va. (AP Photo/ Evan Vucci)(Credit: AP)

This piece originally appeared on TomDispatch.

This is not about Donald Trump. And I mean it.

From the moment the first scribe etched a paean of praise to Nebuchadnezzar into a stone tablet, it’s reasonable to conclude that never in history has the media covered a single human being as it has Donald Trump. For more than a year now, unless a terror attack roiled American life, he’s been the news cycle, essentially the only one, morning, noon and night, day after day, week after week, month after month. His every word, phrase, move, insult, passing comment, off-the-cuff remark, claim, boast, brazen lie, shout or shout-out has been ours as well. In this period, he’s praised hissecret plan to destroy ISIS and take Iraqi oil. He’s thumped that “big, fat, beautiful wall” again and again. He’s birthered a campaign that could indeed transport him, improbably enough, into the Oval Office. He’s fought it out with 17 political rivals, among others, including “lyin’ Ted,” “low-energy Jeb,” Carly (“Look at that face! Would anyone vote for that?”) Fiorini, “crooked Hillary,” a Miss Universe (“Miss Piggy”), the “highly overrated” Megyn Kelly’s menstrual cycle (“You could see there was blood coming out of her eyes, blood coming out of her wherever”), always Rosie O’Donnell (“a slob [with] a fat, ugly face”), and so many others. He’s made veiled assassination threats; lauded the desire to punch someone in the face; talked about shooting“somebody” in “the middle of Fifth Avenue”; defended the size of his hands and hisyou-know-what; retweeted neo-Nazis and a quote from Mussolini; denounced the outsourcing of American manufacturing jobs and products while outsourcing his own jobs and products; excoriated immigrants and foreign labor while hiring the same; advertised the Trump brand in every way imaginable; had a bromance with Vladimir Putin; threatened to let nuclear weapons proliferate; complained bitterly about arigged election, rigged debates, a rigged moderator, and a rigged microphone; swore that he and he alone was capable of again making America, and so the world, a place of the sort of greatness only he himself could match, and that’s just to begin a list on the subject of The Donald.

In other words, thanks to the media attention he garners incessantly, he is the living embodiment of our American moment. No matter what you think of him, his has been a journey of a sort we’ve never seen before, a triumph of the first order, whatever happens on Nov. 8. He’s burnished his own brand; opened a new hotel on — yes — Pennsylvania Avenue (which he’s used his election run to promote and publicize); sold his products mercilessly; promoted his children; funneled dollars to his family and businesses; and in an unspoken alliance (pact, entente, détente) of the first order, kept the nightly news and the cable networks rolling in dough and in the spotlight (as long as they kept yakking about him), despite the fact that younger viewers were in flight to the universe of social media, streaming services and their smartphones. Thanks to the millions, billions, perhaps trillions of words expended on him by nonstop commentators, pundits, talking heads, retired generals and admirals, former intelligence chiefs, ex-Bush administration officials and god knows who else that have kept the cable channels churning with Trump on a nearly 24/7 basis, he and his remarkable ego and his now familiar gestures — that jut-jawed look, that orange hair, that overly tanned face, that eternally raised voice — have become the wallpaper of our lives, something close to our reality. If he were an action film, some Hollywood studio would be swooning, because never has a single act gotten such nonstop publicity. We’ve never seen anything like him or it, and yet, strange as the Trump phenomenon may be, if you think about it for a moment, you’ll realize that there’s also something eerily familiar about him, and not just because of “The Apprentice” and “Celebrity Apprentice.”

In a world where so many things deserve our attention and don’t get it, rest assured that this is not about Donald Trump. It really isn’t.

In terms of any presidential candidate from George Washington to Barack Obama, Trump is little short of a freak of nature. There’s really no one to compare him to (other, perhaps, than George Wallace). Sometimes his pitch about America — and a return to greatness — has a faintly Reaganesque quality (but without any of Ronald Reagan’s sunniness or charm). Otherwise, I dare you to make such a comparison.

Still, don’t be fooled. As a phenomenon, Donald Trump couldn’t be more American — as American, in fact, as a piece of McDonald’s baked apple pie. What could be more American, after all, than his two major roles: salesman (or pitchman) and con artist? From P.T. Barnum (who, by the way, became the mayor of Bridgeport, Conn., late in life) to Willy Loman, selling has long been an iconic American way to go. A man who sells his life and brand as the ultimate American life and brand… come on, what’s not familiar about that?

As for being a conman, since at least Mark Twain (remember the Duke of Bridgewater and the Dauphin, who join Huck and Jim on their raft?) and Herman Melville (“The Confidence Man“), the charm of the — excuse the phrase under the circumstances — huckster in American life can’t be denied. It’s something Donald Trump knows in his bones, even if all those pundits and commentators and pollsters (and for that matter Hillary Clinton’s advisers) don’t: Americans love a conman. Historically, we’ve often admired, if not identified with, someone intent on playing and successfully beating the system, whether at a confidence game or through criminal activity.

After the first presidential debate, when Trump essentially admitted that in some years he paid no taxes (“that makes me smart”) and that he had played the tax system for everything it was worth, there was all that professional tsk-tsking and the suggestion that such an admission would deeply disturb ordinary voters who pay up when the IRS comes knocking. Don’t believe it for a second. I guarantee you that Trump senses he’s deep in the Mississippi of American politics with such statements and that a surprising number of voters will admire him for it (whether they admit it or not). After all, he beat the system, even if they didn’t.

Whenever I see Trump and read accounts of his business dealings, I’m reminded of what 1920s Chicago crime boss Al Capone told British journalist Claud Cockburn: “Listen, don’t get the idea I’m one of those goddamn radicals …. Don’t get the idea I’m knocking the American system. My rackets are run on strictly American lines. Capitalism, call it what you like, gives to each and every one of us a great opportunity if only we seize it with both hands and make the most of it.” Trump’s “rackets” are similarly “run on strictly American lines.” He’s the Tony Soprano of casino capitalism and so couldn’t be more American.

My father was a salesman. I grew up watching him make his preparations to sell. I existed at the edge of his selling universe and, though I thought I rejected his world, the truth is that, given the chance and under the right circumstances, I still love to sell myself. It’s addictive in the most American way. There was as well another aspect of that commonplace world of fathers I once knew and that I now recognize in Trump’s overwhelming persona: the bully. That jut-jawed stance, the pugnacious approach to the world, that way of carrying both one’s body and face that seems inbuilt and offers the constant possibility of threat — it was the norm of the world I grew up in. It was what fathers looked like (and must still in so many families). It was, in short, an essential part of the pre-Trumpian world, a manner, a way of being that The Donald has distilled into an iconically brutal version of itself, into not the commonplace bully — schoolyard variety — but The Bully. Still, at least to me, and I think to many Americans, it couldn’t be more recognizable and, I suspect, for people raised among the bullies, the thought of having such a bully in the Oval Office and speaking for you for once is strangely appealing.

Just in case you were wondering at this point, I’m serious: this is not about Donald Trump.

And yet, don’t believe that everything about The Donald is old hat and familiarly American. In this strange election season, there are aspects of his role that are so new they should startle us all. Begin with the fact that he’s the first declinist candidate for president of our era. Put another way, he’s the only politician in the country who refuses to engage in a ritual — until now a virtual necessity for American presidential wannabes, candidates and presidents: affirming repeatedly that the United States is the greatest, most exceptional, most indispensable nation of all time and that it possesses the “finest fighting force in the history of the world.”

Undoubtedly, that by-now-kneejerk urge to repeat such formulaic sentiments reflects creeping self-doubts about America’s future imperial role. It has the quality of a magic mantra being used to ward off reality. After all, when a great power truly is at its height, as the United States was in my youth, no one feels the need to continually, defensively insist that it’s so.

Trump broke decisively with this version of political orthodoxy and it tells us much about our moment that he is now in the final round of election 2016, not in the trash heap of American history. His claim, unique to our moment, is that America is not great at all, even if he (and only he) can — feel free to chant it with me — make America great again! Add to that his insistence that the U.S. military in the Obama era is anything but the finest fighting machine in history. According to him, it’s now a hollowed-out force, a “disaster” and “in shambles,” whose generals have been “reduced to rubble.” Not so long ago, such claims would have automatically disqualified anyone as a candidate for president (or much of anything else). That he can continually make them, and make the first of them his T-shirt-and-cap campaign slogan, tells you that we are indeed in a new American world.

In relation to his Republican rivals, and now Hillary Clinton, he stands alone in accepting and highlighting what increasing numbers of Americans, especially white Americans, have evidently come to feel: that this country is in decline, its greatness a thing of the past or as pollsters like to put it, that America is no longer “heading in the right direction” but is now “on the wrong track.” In this way, he has mainlined into a deep, economically induced mindset, especially among white working class men facing a situation in which so many good jobs have headed elsewhere, that the world has turned sour.

Or think of it another way (and it may be the newest way of all): A significant part of the white working class, at least, feels as if, whether economically or psychologically, its back is up against the wall and there’s nowhere left to go. Under such circumstances, many of these voters have evidently decided that they’re ready to send a literal loose cannon into the White House; they’re willing, that is, to take a chance on the roof collapsing, even if it collapses on them.

That is the new and unrecognizable role that Donald Trump has filled. It’s hard to conjure up another example of it in our recent past. The Donald represents, as a friend of mine likes to say, the suicide bomber in us all. And voting for him, among other things, will be an act of nihilism, a mood that fits well with imperial decline.

Think of him as a message in a bottle washing up on our shore. After all…

This is not about Donald Trump. It’s about us.