A Brief History of Activism That Has Made a Big Difference in Society

ACTIVISM
History is shaped through all kinds of activism.

Photo Credit: Eric Crama / Shutterstock

When we reflect on the activists who changed the course of history, we often think of those who showed up and made their presence known: the Civil Rights activists who took to the streets, despite the very real threat of police brutality; the protesters amassing by the hundreds of thousands, signs in hand, like those who participated in the recent Women’s March; the canvassers tirelessly knocking on doors, getting out the vote to shape the future of American politics.

But history has not always been made by those who are so visible.

Martin Luther King Jr. is best remembered for his “I Have a Dream” speech at the Lincoln Memorial — but many are unaware that these most famous lines were reportedly inspired by Baptist minister Prathia Hall, who used the phrase in a public prayer honoring those lost in the Mount Olive Baptist Church arson.

Similarly, “Queen of Gospel” Mahalia Jackson, who performed the last musical act before King’s iconic speech, used her public platform from behind the podium to interrupt King partway through his oration and advise him to “tell them about the dream,” a phrase she had heard him use in previous speeches. At her request, he instantly improvised the next section, which began:

And so even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream.

I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.”

Mahalia Jackson (Credit: Wikimedia Commons)

These kinds of behind-the-scenes actions are often overlooked in favor of more visible activism. But it’s both inaccurate and problematic to dismiss this brand of social justice advocacy—in part because for many, highly visible activism simply isn’t possible.

In January, my Instagram feed was filled with images of friends, family, and acquaintances participating in the Women’s March all over the country, with the highest turnout in my current city of Los Angeles. I got out of bed hopeful that we can make a difference — but I say “we” even though I slept through this monumental event. That’s because I have dealt with many health conditions, including sleep apnea, which can cause severe exhaustion.

Those with visible disabilities often need to work against obstacles and have crucial needs that are frequently overlooked. At the same time, we must also acknowledge those with invisible illnesses — like anxiety, a sleep disorder, or depression — that may hinder their ability to be present for marches, protests, canvassing, and other in-person engagements.

For inspiration and wisdom, we can glean much from examining the history of social change, which has long been shaped in part by those behind the scenes.

The Power of the Pen

As is true today, writers, editors, publishers, and everyday folk were instrumental in the success of the pre-Revolutionary War and Civil Rights Movement, even when they weren’t on the front lines of protest.

Leading up to the American Revolution, the British Stamp Act required “government-issued stamps be placed on all legal documents and newspapers, as well as playing cards and dice,” according to historian Carol Berkin in Revolutionary Mothers. In protest, a group of women in New York City made a public announcement in the newspaper, refusing to marry their fiancés if they applied for a stamped marriage license. This act of opposition was a bold feat at a time when women were discouraged from participating in print dialogue.

In another prime example, this year marks the 50th anniversary of Loving v. Virginia, the Supreme Court case that abolished anti-miscegenation laws. Mildred and Richard Loving, black and white respectively, were not allowed to return home to their state of Virginia after marrying against Virginia law. Mildred, though highly unassuming, wrote a letter to Attorney General Robert Kennedy asking for assistance, which she then received from the ACLU. This simple letter ignited change that has altered marriage laws country-wide and was the inspiration for same-sex marriage equality in the 21st century.

Mildred Loving’s letter launched one of the most important Supreme Court cases in history. (Credit: flickr/Freedom to Marry)

In a different historic Supreme Court case, Daisy Bates, co-publisher of the black newspaper the State Presschronicled the fight for school integration following Brown v. Board of Education in Little Rock, Arkansas. In addition to using her pen to document civil rights issues, Bates acted behind the scenes to protect and support the first nine black students integrating Little Rock Central High School — a group commonly referred to as the “Little Rock Nine.” Bates even penned a letter to President Eisenhower, asking for reinforcements to combat the violence she and other activists experienced as a result of upholding the new legislation. She ingeniously placed “spies” on campus to report both positive and negative truths about what happened inside the school, in order to combat misinformation from both sides.

Bates has inspired me in my own efforts to contribute in part by writing words — words about Gabrielle Gorman and Jesse Williams, about black NASA trailblazers, and about the biased American captivity narrative. This, too, matters.

Boycotting Goods

The Montgomery bus boycotts and the Boston Tea Party are of course the most widely recognized boycotting efforts in the U.S. But other boycotts past and present have played significant roles in the country’s progression.

After the dissolution of the Stamp Act, the colonies began boycotting other British imports, especially luxury items. Sugar, mirrors, silk, lace, and even pickles were renounced in 1769 by the Virginia House of Burgess. It took several years for the boycotts to gain momentum, but we know how the story ends: America was able to release itself from British rule following the Revolution. This type of activism was performed by everyday men and women, all of whom relied on goods and services for their daily needs. While the boycotts themselves became a public force, individuals were able to contribute in small ways with a big impact.

Today, boycotts against companies that financially back Trump and his family have also proven effective. Lyft downloads surpassed Uber for the first time after a recent boycott, resulting in Uber pledging a $3 million defense fund to help drivers with immigration issues. Additionally, following a recent boycott of Nordstrom, the clothing company decided to no longer carry Ivanka Trump’s brand, citing a significant drop in sales due to the boycott as its motivation. Other retailers, such as Neiman Marcus, T.J. Maxx, and Burlington, have followed suit.

Taking Care of Loved Ones

We each have different roles in the current fight for the preservation of our country. While my aunt and uncle (a Democratic county representative and legislative district chair, respectively) participated in the Seattle airport protests against the immigration ban, my cousin, who participated in the Women’s March with my aunt, contributed to the cause that night by watching over our ailing grandmother. My sister, who was well into her third trimester and recently had her baby, sat out the march but contributed to the ACLU.

While we must all push ourselves to do more during this horrific presidency, we should also take advantage of enacting change within our individual spheres of influence and power. Though I cannot participate in everything, I have been able to not only use my writing to speak power to truth, but also to sign petitions and send emails (though still not as much as I should).

Those with invisible illnesses, or who otherwise can’t engage in in-person actions, may fear they can’t do their part. But as essayist Michel de Montaigne so wisely put, “We are all patchwork, and so shapeless and diverse in composition that each bit, each moment, plays its own game.”

ALTERNET 

The bad art of the non sequitur: Gibberish is the White House’s new normal

We’re expected to live in a universe which is not only post-truth but altogether post-language and post-meaning

The bad art of the non sequitur: Gibberish is the White House's new normal
(Credit: Reuters/Carlo Allegri)
This piece originally appeared on BillMoyers.com.

Once upon a time, there were presidents for whom English seemed their native language. Barack Obama most recently. He deliberated. At a press conference or in an interview — just about whenever he wasn’t speaking from a text — his pauses were as common as other people’s “uh’s.” He was not pausing because his vocabulary was impoverished. He was pausing to put words into sequence. He was putting phrases together with care, word by word, trying out words before uttering them, checking to feel out what they would sound like once uttered. It was important to him because he did not want to be misunderstood. President Obama valued precision, in no small part because he knew he lived in a world where every last presidential word was a speech act, a declaration with consequence, so that the very statement that the sky was blue, say, would be scoured for evidence that the president was declaring a policy on the nature of nature.

That was then. Now we have a president who, when he speaks, spatters the air with unfinished chunks, many of which do not qualify as sentences, and which do not follow from previous chunks. He does not release words into a stream of consciousness but into a heap. He heaps words on top of words, to overwhelm meaning with vague gestures. He does not think, he lurches.

Here are some examples from TIME’s transcript of their cover story made out of their phone interview with the president of the United States. I have italicized the non sequiturs, incomplete propositions, indefinite pronouns and other obscurities that amount to verbal mud.

Scherer: So you don’t feel like Comey’s testimony in any way takes away from the credibility of the tweets you put out, even with the quotes?

Trump: No, I have, look. I have articles saying it happened. But you have to take a look at what they, they just went out at a news conference.

Scherer: Mitch McConnell has said he’d rather you stop tweeting, that he sees it as a distraction.

Trump: Mitch will speak for himself. Mitch is a wonderful man. Mitch should speak for himself.

Trump: Now the problem, the thing is, I’m not sure they are watching anything other than that, let’s see members of Donald Trump transition team, possibly, oh this just came out.

Trump: I took a lot of heat when I said Brexit was going to pass. Don’t forget, Obama said that UK will go to the back of the line, and I talked about Sweden, and may have been somewhat different, but the following day, two days later, they had a massive riot in Sweden, exactly what I was talking about, I was right about that.

Trump: And then TIME magazine, which treats me horribly, but obviously I sell, I assume this is going to be a cover too, have I set the record? I guess, right? Covers, nobody’s had more covers.

Trump: But the real story here is, who released Gen. Flynn’s name? Who released, who released my conversations with Australia, and who released my conversation with Mexico? To me, Michael, that’s the story, these leakers, they are disgusting. These are horrible people.

Scherer: And apparently there is an investigation into that as well.

Trump: Well should be, because that’s where the whole, who would think that you are speaking to the head of Mexico, the head of Australia, or Gen. Flynn, who was, they are not supposed to release that. That is the most confidential stuff. Classified. That’s classified. You go to prison when you release stuff like that. And who would release that? The real story is, they have to work, intelligence has to work on finding out who are the leakers. Because you know what? When things get involved with North Korea and all the problems we have there, in the Middle East, I mean, that information cannot be leaked out, and it will be by this, this same, and these people were here in the Obama years, because he had plenty of leakers also.

Trump: I inherited a mess in the Middle East, and a mess with North Korea, I inherited a mess with jobs, despite the statistics, you know, my statistics are even better, but they are not the real statistics because you have millions of people that can’t get a job, OK. And I inherited a mess on trade. I mean we have many, you can go up and down the ladder. But that’s the story. Hey look, in the meantime, I guess, I can’t be doing so badly, because I’m president, and you’re not. You know. Say hello to everybody, OK?

So it goes.

Now, TIME’s cover headline for this mishmash is pointed as well as clever: “Is Truth Dead?” — clever, at any rate, in the eyes of readers old enough to remember the 1966 prototype: “Is God Dead?” A still more pointed treatment is that of Ellie Shechet at Jezebel — a redaction, or what be called reporting by subtraction. In the words of headline, “We Redacted Everything That’s Not a Verifiably True Statement From Trump’s Time Interview About Truth.” Unsurprisingly, Jezebel ended up having to edit the transcript so that the passages blacked out were lengthier than the words left in.

But the problem is not just that Trump lies, or that he lies about having lied. The problem is not just that he distracts — for example, changing the subject from his entanglements with Russians to the leakers who leak stories about his entanglements with Russians. The problem is that he insinuates more than he argues. He disdains not only evidence but logic. He asserts by indirection. This is bubble-think. It makes a sort of sense only if you’re trapped in the bubble with him.

What explains this? Is Donald Trump the heir of generations of avant-garde poetry?

Probably not. What’s more likely is that he is deranged. It is a peculiar sort of derangement. It is the derangement of a man who is used to getting what he wants, and arranging his mental universe so as to convince himself that what he has gotten is what he wanted. His operating theory is that he makes things so because he is powerful. His power is such that he is not subject to laws of ordinary grammar.

These bursts of speech are like the announcements that shriek “TRUMP” from the walls of many of his hotels. They do not signify ownership. They signify…something. Whatever. They add up to a haze of indefinite implication. They constitute, in our contemporary discourse, a brand. They signify that Trump has something to do with this building. Something. If you’re privy to the code, you know that there’s a licensing arrangement. Trump has been paid to grant the use of his name. If you think it’s a good thing to be associated with his name, then he has some water, some steaks, some vodka — even a “university” — to offer you.

Trump has moved the sign system of modern capitalism toward a whole new capitalist art form — the free-floating name that describes nothing. Trump has peeled language away from meaning.

He has brought to fruition the title of the 1984 Talking Heads album: “Stop Making Sense.” His regime is a nonstop exercise of “Let’s Pretend.”

His con game requires the bending of millions of knees. Americans are invited to willingly suspend disbelief, play dumb and collude in his cynicism. We agree not to notice the nonstop gibberish that spreads from the Oval Office outward. We agree to brag about our democracy when the president of the United States is responsible neither to logic, nor to evidence, nor to the American people, nor to the English language. We are expected to live in an alternative universe which is not only post-truth but altogether post-language and post-meaning. Any journalist, any talking head, any pundit, any commentator, any politician who pretends that Donald Trump makes sense has volunteered to go to work in the tailor shop where his invisible clothes are weaved.

Todd Gitlin teaches at Columbia University, writes regularly for BillMoyers.com and Tablet, and is the author, most recently, of Occupy Nation: The Roots, the Spirit, and the Promise of Occupy Wall Street.

Kochs Bankroll Movement to Rewrite the Constitution

NEWS & POLITICs
Austerity advocates claim that they need only to convince five of seven targeted states to get on board.

Photo Credit: GongTo / Shutterstock

A constitutional convention, something thought impossible not long ago, is looking increasingly likely. Under Article V of the U.S. Constitution, if 34 state legislatures “issue a call” for a constitutional convention, Congress must convene one. By some counts, the right-wing only needs six more states. Once called, delegates can propose and vote on changes and new amendments to the U.S. Constitution, which, if approved, are currently required to be ratified by 38 states.

There are two major legislative pushes for a convention at the state level. One would attempt to engineer a convention for a balanced budget amendment only, and the other tries to secure an open convention for the purpose of limiting the power and jurisdiction of the federal government. But once a convention is underway, all bets are off. The convention can write its own rules, resulting in a wide-open or “runaway” convention that can make major changes to the constitution and even change the number of states required to ratify those changes.

If America gets saddled with a runaway convention, the Koch coterie of funders will be to blame. Most of the groups pushing the convention idea are being underwritten by one or more institutions tied to billionaire industrialists Charles and David Koch.

Attempts to Limit Topic of the Convention Likely to Fail

On Feb. 24, Wyoming became the 29th state to pass a resolution requesting a convention specifically to add a single balanced budget amendment to the Constitution. Many of these legislative resolutions also attempt to set the rules for the convention and limit who can attend it to a select list of largely GOP state leaders.

Austerity advocates claim that they need only to convince five of seven targeted states—Arizona, Kentucky, Minnesota, Montana, South Carolina, Virginia, and Wisconsin—to get on board, and they will have enough states to convene a convention. As the Center for Media and Democracy has reported, three linked measures were just introduced in Wisconsin and were placed on a fast track to approval.

Another faction representing a broader “Convention of States” initiative is advocating an open constitutional convention to limit “the power and jurisdiction of the federal government.” Because this open convention format would be called on a particular subject rather than a particular amendment, representatives would likely vote on any number of measures.

Legislatures in nine states—Arizona, Georgia, Alaska, Florida, Alabama, Tennessee, Indiana, Oklahoma, and Louisiana—have signed on to the Convention of States resolution,. Texas appears likely to join in, as the state Senate approved a Convention of States bill in February. Republican Gov. Greg Abbott is fiercely campaigning for a convention and has deemed it an “emergency issue.” In 2016, he published a 70-page plan that includes nine proposed amendments aimed at severely limiting federal authority, even allowing a two-thirds majority of the states to override a Supreme Court ruling or a federal law.

Groups like the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, Common Cause, and the Center for Media and Democracy have raised the alarm about these efforts. No convention has been called since 1787 in Philadelphia where George Washington presided.

The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities explains why any convention call, no matter how narrowly written, is likely to result in a “runaway” convention. A convention is empowered to write its own rules, including how delegates are chosen, how many delegates attend and whether a supermajority is required to approve amendments.

Nothing in the Constitution prevents a convention, once convened, from setting its own agenda, influenced by powerful special interests like the Koch groups. A convention could even choose an entirely new ratification process. “The 1787 convention ignored the ratification process under which it was established and created a new one, reducing the number of states needed to approve the new Constitution and removing Congress from the approval process,” writes CBPP.

Legal uncertainly surrounds the entire effort, which is sure to be litigated if successful. For instance, are states bound by resolutions passed many years ago? Will states withdraw their approval? Some states, like Delaware and New Mexico, have already moved to do so.

The Koch Connection to the Push for a Constitutional Convention

Libertarian billionaires Charles and Dav id Koch have long opposed federal power and federal spending. Koch Industries is one of the nation’s biggest polluters and has been sanctioned and fined over and over again by both federal and state authorities. In response, the Kochs have launched a host of “limited government” advocacy organizations and have created a massive $400 million campaign finance network, fueled by their fortunes and those of their wealthy, right-wing allies, that rivals the two major political parties.

The Kochs’ Americans for Prosperity says it favors a balanced budget convention. Such an austerity amendment would drastically cut the size of the federal government, threatening critical programs like Social Security and Medicare and eviscerating the government’s ability to respond to economic downturns, major disasters and the climate crisis.

AFP has opposed an open convention, calling it “problematic.” But whatever qualms the Kochs might have, they continue to be a bedrock funder of the entire convention “movement.”

Running the “Convention of States initiative” is an Austin, Texas-based 501(c)(3) nonprofit called Citizens for Self-Governance (CSG). CSG reported revenue of $5.7 million in 2015, more than double its haul from two years earlier, when it launched its Convention of States Project, according to Dallas News. It now boasts 115,000 “volunteers,” although that figure may represent the number of addresses on its email list.

The group is not required to disclose its donors, but research into other organizations’ tax records by the Center for Media and Democracy, Conservative Transparency and this author show a web of Koch-linked groups having provided nearly $5.4 million to CSG from the group’s founding in 2011 through 2015:

  • Donors Trust, a preferred secret money conduit for individuals and foundations in the Koch network of funders, has given CSG at least $790,000 since 2011.
  • The Greater Houston Community Foundation, which is funded by Donors Capital Fund (linked to Donors Trust) and the Kochs’ Knowledge and Progress Fund, has donated over $2 million since 2011.
  • The Vanguard Charitable Endowment Program, which has received hundreds of thousands of dollars from Donors Capital Fund, gave $2.5 million from 2012-2013.

Citizens for Self-Governance also has two Koch-connected board members. Eric O’Keefe is a director of the Wisconsin Club for Growth, a group which has taken in considerable funding from Koch-linked groups like the Center to Protect Patient Rights, and was at the center of the long-running “John Doe” criminal investigation of Scott Walker’s campaign coordination with dark money groups.

O’Keefe was thenational field coordinator for the Libertarian Party when David Koch ran for Vice President in 1979 on the Libertarian Party ticket. The party’s platform called for the end of campaign finance law, the minimum wage, “oppressive Social Security,” Medicaid, Medicare and federal deficit spending.

The Koch agenda has not changed much since.

Another board member is Tim Dunn, an oilman from Midland, Texas who is vice chairman of the Texas Public Policy Foundation (TPPF), a right-wing think tank that’s raked in over $1 million from Koch family foundations, $160,000 from Koch Industries in 2012 alone and at least $1.8 million from Donors Trust and Donors Capital Fund.

Dunn runs another political group, Empower Texans, which supports Republican candidates and has taken in funds from Donors Trust and “Americans for Job Security,” a Koch-tied dark money group that was slapped with a severe fine by the FEC for its involvement in a dark money shell game intended to disguise the origin of its funds.

Both TPPF and Empower Texans back the constitutional convention idea.

What’s more, a 501(c)4 nonprofit connected to CSG, the Alliance for Self-Governance (which does business as Convention of States Action), received $270,000 in 2012 from Americans for Limited Government, which has received funding not only by Donors Capital Fund but by two Koch-funded political groups, the Center to Protect Patient Rights and Americans for Job Security.

Those two groups exchanged millions of dollars in 2010 and 2012, illegally hiding the source of funding for political expenditures, lying to the Internal Revenue Service and making unlawful contributions to pass-through groups, prompting investigations and historic fines by the both the State of California and the Federal Elections Commission. Eric O’Keefe’s Wisconsin Club for Growth also funneled $450,000 to Alliance for Self-Governance in 2012, at a time when WCFG was battling the Walker recall.

Any time any organization is named “self-governance” or “limited government” you can be sure that Wisconsin’s Eric O’Keefe is either a founder or on the board, and indeed O’Keefe is tied to all three organizations: CSG, the Alliance for Self-Governance and Americans for Limited Government.

If the Kochs and their friends don’t want an open constitutional convention, they’ve sure done a lot to aid the effort.

American Legislative Exchange Council

CSG also has ties to the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a corporate bill mill that unites conservative politicians with big-business lobbyists who develop cookie-cutter “model” legislation behind closed doors at ALEC meetings.

ALEC has long been funded by Koch Industries and a representative of Koch Industries sits on its executive board, while representatives from the Kochs’ Americans for Prosperity groups fund and sit on various committees. ALEC has also received funding from Koch family foundations. CMD estimates this funding to be over $1 million, though the actual total could be much higher. In addition, ALEC gets funding from Donors Trust and Donors Capital Fund.

According to Common Cause, “no group has been more influential” in promoting an Article V convention than ALEC. In 2011, ALEC commissioned a handbook for state legislators on how to push for a constitutional convention. The group has produced at least three model balanced budget amendment bills and has endorsed several model bills calling for a convention to vote on constitutional amendments, such as requiring Congress to get approval by two-thirds of the states before imposing new taxes or increasing the federal debt or federal spending.

CSG has sponsored ALEC conferences and led sessions focused on a constitutional convention. In 2015, ALEC’s board of directors officially endorsed CSG’s open convention plan as a “model” bill. The group had previously endorsed a balanced-budget-only plan. ALEC’s Jeffersonian Project, a 501(c)(4) nonprofit formed in 2013, has been lobbying state legislators to propose such a convention, CMD reports.

More Koch Money Pushing Austerity Amendment

Another group, the Florida-based Balanced Budget Amendment Task Force, is backing a balanced budget convention bill that 29 states have approved. In its effort, the group has lobbied for the bill and attended ALEC conferences and other similar events. On its website, the task force lists ALEC and the Heartland Institute as partner organizations.

“ALEC has been instrumental in providing us a forum within which to present our campaign, recruit sponsors, and approve model legislation that legislators can be confident in,” claims the site.

Another big backer of the balanced budget amendment approach is the Chicago-based Heartland Institute, which is also tied to the Koch brothers. A member of ALEC, it has received $5.6 million from the Donors Capital Fund since 2011 and tens of thousands of dollars each from the Charles Koch Foundation and the Claude R. Lambe Foundation. Heartland publishes posts praising or defending the Kochs and even put out an annual environmental report from Koch Industries.

“The Heartland Institute has put the full weight of its influence behind the BBA Task Force as well as other campaigns in order to encourage the states to use their power to amend the U.S. Constitution,” reads the site.

Compact for America, formed by a former counsel with the conservative Goldwater Institute and staffed by more Goldwater alumni, has its own balanced budget convention proposal, which only four states have signed on to. The institute, which promotes many of ALEC’s model bills, has taken in big donations from Donors Trust, Donors Capital Fund and the Charles Koch Foundation.

If America faces the madness of a runaway convention, voters of both parties will know whom to blame.

Mary Bottari contributed to this article.

Alex Kotch is an independent investigative journalist based in Brooklyn, NY. Follow him on Twitter at @alexkotch.

Depeche Mode’s “Spirit” is a reminder of how political the band can be

“Grabbing hands, grab all they can”:

The group’s latest studio LP is a byproduct of and commentary on today’s global political upheaval

"Grabbing hands, grab all they can": Depeche Mode's "Spirit" is a reminder of how political the band can be
Depeche Mode (Credit: Sony Music)

The members of Depeche Mode spent the weeks leading up to the release of their 14th studio album, “Spirit,” fending off an association with the far-right movement. In late February, white nationalist Richard Spencer — a self-avowed “life-long Depeche Mode fan” — facetiously called the influential synthpop group the “official band of the Alt-Right.” The act swiftly issued a crisp statement through a rep: “Depeche Mode has no ties to Richard Spencer or the Alt-Right and does not support the Alt-Right movement.”

The exchange was a reminder that Depeche Mode was actually tangling with politics more than it had in recent years. The Martin Gore-penned “Where’s the Revolution,” the first single from “Spirit,” encourages people to engage in mutiny against oppression. Although not explicitly liberal, a sampling of chorus lyrics (“They manipulate and threaten/ With terror as a weapon,” “Who’s making your decisions?/ You or your religion/ Your government, your countries/ You patriotic junkies”) points to a left-leaning perspective.

As many reviews have noted, the rest of “Spirit” also has an overt political bent. However, it’s more precise to say that the album features commentary on (and is a reaction to) the societal and cultural elements that led to 2017’s global political upheaval.

“Going Backwards” juxtaposes technological progress with decaying morals and devolution to “a caveman mentality,” while “Worst Crime” calls for people to own up to corrupt behavior: “We are all charged with treason/ There is no one left to hiss.” The electro-dirge “Poorman” is specific about its stance: “Corporations get the breaks/ Keeping almost everything they make/ Tell us just how long it’s going to take/ For it to trickle down.” And “Scum” pulls no punches in how it portrays a faceless person presumably abusing their position: “Hey scum, hey scum/ What are you going to do when karma comes?”

Speaking to Rolling Stone about the album, Gahan didn’t necessarily reveal inspiration specifics. “We called the album ‘Spirit,’ because it’s like, ‘Where’s the spirit gone?’ or ‘Where’s the spirit in humanity?’” he said. Earlier in the article, he admitted he “wouldn’t call this a political album, because I don’t listen to music in a political way. But it’s definitely about humanity, and our place in that.”

One could argue that the latter idea — someone deeply considering where they fit in the world among their fellow citizens — is inherently political. However, Gahan has a good reason for demurring on specifics. In a recent Billboard interview, he discussed not just the Spencer incident, but also how his band’s music has been misunderstood. “I think over the years there’s been a number of times when things of ours have been misinterpreted — either our imagery, or something where people are not quite reading between the lines.

“If anything, there’s a way more sort of socialist — working class, if you like — industrial-sounding aesthetic to what we do,” Gahan continues. “That’s where we come from. We come from the council estates of Essex, which is a really s—-y place, just 30 minutes east of London, where they stuck everybody when London was getting too overpopulated in the late ’60s.”

From a sonic perspective, Depeche Mode’s early music captures the cloistered existence Gahan describes. The fogged-up-window synths of 1981’s debut, “Speak and Spell,” give way to sharply modern keyboards on 1982’s “A Broken Frame.” That record’s programming conjures textures that are simultaneously drab and chirpy: dripping faucets, a dull church service or a melodramatic sitcom theme.

On subsequent records, Depeche Mode employs clanking production and scraping sound effects, as well as midnight-hued keyboards and generous slathers of reverb, to convey increasingly hollowed-out angst. The sounds of industry remain an aesthetic influence on a song such as “Black Celebration,” which resembles a bustling, belching factory, and on the “electronic metal” the band embraced as the ’80s progressed. But although modern technology and different production techniques changed the band’s sound — giving it a sleeker, dystopian and minimalist vibe — Depeche Mode has never lost its utilitarian, greyscale synthpop essence.

What’s more intriguing is how the thematic bent of “Spirit” revisits and amplifies aspects of the band’s past. Notable parallels can be made to 1983’s “Construction Time Again,” the record containing the greed-demonizing “Everything Counts.” That LP’s cover image features a chiseled, real-life ex-Royal Marine hoisting a sledgehammer. From an iconography perspective, it was a striking statement — even if its intent had many layers.

In a documentary about the record, Martyn Atkins, a longtime Depeche Mode-associated designer who worked on “Construction Time Again,” said “The kind of political look of the things was more fashion than a specific statement. If you look back, you’ll see a lot of those kind of elements creeping in, of both fascist and communistic kind of iconography. It was exciting looking stuff. And I think that nobody had really plundered it to market an everyday product like a record.”

Yet in an interview with NME journalist X. Moore, the members of Depeche Mode were firm about their political awakening and how the concept of “The Worker” dominated the record.

“The general tendency of the album is very socialized and The Worker sums it up — it’s the obvious image to get across socialism,” said keyboardist Alan Wilder. “It’s like, the first thing you think seeing the cover is that the hammer is smashing down the mountain, but not to destroy. Because he’s a worker, it’s to rebuild it, it’s positive. That was the overall idea of the album, to be positive — that’s why it’s construction time, not destruction time.”

Later in the article, Gore was more explicit about the ways his lyrics dealt with greed and money, and the disproportionate way wealth is distributed. “The thing is, the people in power don’t care about someone with a low wage, they only care about their own power. But I think people should care about other people, y’know, ’cause from the moment we’re born we’re put into competition with everybody else.”

Going forward, that kind of direct commentary emanated from Depeche Mode’s catalog only occasionally, although these moments resonated. “People Are People” somewhat clumsily (but sincerely) addresses bigotry: “It’s obvious you hate me, though I’ve done nothing wrong/ I’ve never even met you, so what could I have done?” The murky “New Dress” criticizes tabloid frippery (“Princess Di is wearing a new dress”) that is focused on to the detriment of more important matters: “If you change points of view/ You may change a vote/ And when you change a vote/ You may change the world.” And uproar over the sexual overtones of “Master and Servant” obscured the song’s coded societal commentary: “Domination’s the name of the game/ In bed or in life/ They’re both just the same/ Except in one you’re fulfilled.”

Still, it’s not like the group was an apolitical entity the rest of the time. Mat Smith’s excellent essay about the band’s political nature points out how ’80s Depeche Mode reverberated “in places like East Germany or Russia that were divided and separate from the West by ideology. Depeche Mode’s music spoke to a generation of young people that felt betrayed by Communism, capturing the hearts and minds of a youth who heard something in this music that we’ll probably never fully appreciate unless we were living through it with them.” And Gore’s lyrics very much politicize personal matters: His vignettes about spiritual struggles, romantic turmoil and internal battles with the self are charged with divisive emotions.

Depeche Mode might have been seen as comparatively lighter, because ’80s synthpop tended to deal with surprisingly weighty issues. Industry’s “State of the Nation” condemns needless (and deadly) wars, as does Frankie Goes to Hollywood’s “Two Tribes.” The Human League’s monstrous “Dare” LP features “Seconds,” a song about the assassination of John F. Kennedy from the perspective of the shooter. Bronski Beat’s sociopolitical statement “Smalltown Boy” is about someone leaving home after being bullied about his sexuality. And nuclear war or nuclear apocalypse were popular thematic jumping-off points; Ultravox’s “Dancing with Tears in My Eyes,” OMD’s “Enola Gay” and even Modern English’s “I Melt With You” all fit into this category.

These topics might seem quaint or retrograde now, but as Depeche Mode cautions on “Spirit,” political backsliding is lurking around every corner. Speaking about new song “The Worst Crime” to NPR, Gahan says “The way we divide each other — you know, racial divides. [It’s] kind of calling out to really question that, to kind of check yourself — me included, everyone else included.

“Like, where do you really stand, what are the choices you’re really making? Do you really love thy neighbor, and are you willing to accept the differences? We just seem to be slipping backwards.”

 

Annie Zaleski is a Cleveland-based journalist who writes regularly for The A.V. Club, and has also been published by Rolling Stone, Vulture, RBMA, Thrillist and Spin.

A socialist response to Brexit

No to British nationalism and the European Union!

By Chris Marsden
25 March 2017

The following article is being distributed at today’s Unite for Europe demonstration in London.

With Prime Minister Theresa May set to trigger Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty on March 29, warnings as to the impact of Britain’s exit from the European Union (EU) abound.

May is touring the UK promising to “deliver a deal that works” for everyone and describing Wednesday’s beginning of the two year process of exiting the EU as a “historic event [that] will precipitate a shift in our role in the world and see Britain begin a bold new chapter as a prosperous, open and global nation.”

But she does so amid demands for a £57 billion “divorce” settlement from the EU, threats of punishment by the 27 remaining member states, reports of economic dislocation including banks such as Goldman Sachs and HSBC leaving London that in total threatens 230,000 finance jobs, and of a 92 percent fall in EU nationals registering as nurses in England.

The announcement will, moreover, be made under conditions in which the Scottish National Party-led parliament at Holyrood has made an official demand for a second independence referendum and with Sinn Fein in Ireland raising the issue of the continued status of Northern Ireland’s six counties as British territory.

It is against this background that the Unite for Europe national march to parliament has been organised.

There are clear and valid reasons for the concerns of those who will take part, including repugnance over the government’s refusal to guarantee the rights of EU nationals already residing in Britain. In addition, the attacks on such protests that are centred exclusively on the insistence that they are impermissible because they seek to flout the “public will,” as expressed in last year’s referendum, have wholly reactionary implications.

Dissent with the result among the 48 percent who voted against Brexit is entirely legitimate and its suppression has nothing to do with a genuine concern for democracy. It merely gives carte blanche to the reactionary pro-Brexit wing of the British ruling class to complete what they describe glowingly as the “Thatcher revolution,” based on slashing corporation tax and public spending while stepping up the exploitation of the working class to ensure that the UK business can go “out of Europe and into the world.”

However, neither are those individuals and political tendencies leading the Unite for Europe protest and the broader opposition to Brexit the “friends” of democracy and “progressive values,” or the future of the younger generation, as they claim to be. Their sole genuine and overriding concern is that alienating the UK from Europe, above all exclusion from the Single Market, is damaging to the interests of Britain’s capitalists. Everything else they say, centred as it is on a politically degraded apologia for the EU, is moral effluvia and lies.

That is why, having first opposed efforts to “incite hate and divide communities,” etc., the number one demand of Unite for Europe’s “open conversation where the UK’s civil society is consulted and where Parliament or the people have the final say on our future” is: “We want to remain a member of the Single Market.”

In the Brexit referendum campaign, the Socialist Equality Party refused to support either a Remain or a Leave vote because neither represented the interest of working people. We called instead for an active boycott and dedicated our efforts above all to explaining the fundamental issues posed for workers, not just in Britain but throughout Europe.

We wrote that the EU “is not an instrument for realising the genuine and necessary unification of Europe”, but rather “a mechanism for the subjugation of the continent to the dictates of the financial markets…”

The EU and its constituent governments have spent years imposing a social counterrevolution on Europe’s workers through unending cuts in jobs, wages and social conditions–in the process impoverishing millions and bankrupting entire countries.

As to associating the EU with “free movement,” its proper designation is that of “Fortress Europe.” It is a continent surrounded by razor wire, concrete walls and concentration camps, whose leaders have the blood of thousands of desperate refugees—forced to flee the consequences of wars waged by the US, Britain and Europe—on their hands.

It is for this reason that the xenophobia whipped up by Brexit finds its corollary throughout Europe, above all in the rise of fascistic movements such as the National Front in France.

Likewise, the claim of Unite for Europe, whose real leadership is an alliance between the Blairite right of the Labour Party and the Liberal Democrats—to be “resisting” not only “hard Brexit” but also US President Donald Trump—is equally bogus.

It is essential to distinguish between genuine popular opposition to Trump’s nationalism, militarism, racism and misogyny and the use that it is being put to by the pro-Remain forces. They view Trump’s presidency and May’s alliance with him as antithetical to the interests of British imperialism for two related reasons:

· His “America First” doctrine makes Trump an active opponent of the EU, because he sees it as a trade rival dominated by Germany that must be curbed.

· He has expressed reservations over the US commitment to NATO and the focus of the previous Obama administration on stoking up military hostilities with Russia, when China should be America’s main concern.

The response to this among Trump’s political opponents—the Democrats in the US and the European powers led by Berlin—is wholly reactionary.

On both sides of the Atlantic, the main charge levelled against Trump is that he is a stooge of Russian President Vladimir Putin for opposing NATO’s military build-up on Europe’s borders. In Europe, all talk is of building an independent military capability to project the interests of the major powers on the world arena—combined with efforts to capitalise on US hostilities with Beijing by signing trade deals that make a clash with Washington ever more certain.

To side with the EU against Trump is therefore to tie the working class to an escalating drive towards trade war and militarism that can only mean accelerated austerity and a potentially catastrophic confrontation with Russia.

Brexit, Trump and the ongoing fracturing of the EU along national lines are all rooted in the irreconcilable contradiction of capitalism that twice in the 20th century plunged Europe and the world into war—between the integrated and global character of production and the division of the world into antagonistic nation states.

Following the Second World War, the European powers, with the support of the US, sought to stabilise the continent and regulate such hitherto disastrous national rivalries through ever-closer economic and political integration.

This project has failed and cannot be revived. Only the unified and independent political mobilisation of the working class against all factions of the bourgeoisie, in Britain, Europe and internationally, offers a way forward.

The task at hand is the struggle for a workers’ government in Britain and the United Socialist States of Europe within a world federation of socialist states.

An essential foundation for such a movement is the conscious rejection by the most thoughtful elements—above all by young people attracted to the pro-EU protest due to its support for “free movement” and declared hostility to xenophobia—of all efforts to divide the working class along pro- and anti-Brexit lines.

 

WSWS

“There’s a smell of treason in the air”

Things in Washington start to drip, drip, drip

FBI and NSA chiefs verify a Russia probe and refute the president’s claims

"There’s a smell of treason in the air": Things in Washington start to drip, drip, drip
President Donald Trump pauses while speaking at a rally at the Kentucky Exposition Center in Louisville, Ky., Monday, March 20, 2017. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)(Credit: AP)
This piece originally appeared on BillMoyers.com.

Monday’s hearing of the House Intelligence Committee was proof positive of the absolute need for both a special prosecutor and an independent, bipartisan commission with subpoena power to conduct a full investigation of the Trump campaign’s connections with Russian intelligence — as well as Russia’s multi-pronged attack on our elections and Trump’s business connections with that country’s oligarchs.

And it’s proof now more than ever that even if we get that prosecutor and inquiry, a free and independent press may be the only real way to ever get to the bottom of what ranking committee member Adam Schiff said may represent “one of the most shocking betrayals of our democracy in history.”

Just as FBI Director James Comey officially revealed for the very first time (finally!) that since late July the FBI has been investigating whether members of Trump’s campaign colluded with Russia’s interference with our elections and if Republicans, led by committee chair and Trump enabler Devin Nunes, did their best to blow smoke aimed at deflecting attention from what Trump and his team may or not have done. Instead, they asked question after question about the illegality of leaks of confidential material to the media — in particular, leaks about former Trump national security adviser Mike Flynn’s contacts with Russia.

(Note that there was agreement that leaks are illegal but no one mentioned that it’s the media’s complete and constitutionally guaranteed right to report on them. Nor was anyone asked how many times GOP members of the committee have done their own leaking.)

Trump did what he could to distract as well, firing a volley of five heated early-morning tweets just before testimony began, reiterating claims that disgruntled Democrats manufactured charges about Russia’s involvement in the election and contact with Trump aides. There were more during the hearing itself — from Trump or someone at the White House tweeting in his name — twisting the day’s testimony by Comey and National Security Agency chief Mike Rogers. Bizarrely, the two men then were placed in the position of having to rebut Trump’s allegations while they still were in the witness seats, correcting and putting the president in his place — virtually in real time.

Not only did Comey verify that the FBI was actively investigating Trump and his associates, he also flatly denied on behalf of his agency and the Justice Department that prior to January’s inauguration now-former President Obama had ordered eavesdropping on Trump Tower. Under normal circumstances this would seem to neutralize yet another of Trump’s wacky tweet storms, this one from two weeks ago, but as we’ve learned so well, the truth has never been a barrier to the social media madness of King Donald I.

And yet, as presidential historian Douglas Brinkley told The Washington Post, “There’s a smell of treason in the air. Imagine if J. Edgar Hoover or any other FBI director would have testified against a sitting president? It would have been a mindboggling event.”

But here we are, adrift in a Cloud Cuckoo Land of prevarication and incompetence in which little seems capable of boggling or driving our minds agog these days and where the truth shall not set you free but subject you to ridicule from the rabid trolls of the right.

And still there is hope. Even though neither Comey nor Rogers would reveal much of what they are discovering — continually citing the confidentiality they said was necessary to an ongoing investigation — the questions asked, despite the “no comment” answers, suggested ongoing areas of inquiry not only for investigating committees but also for the press.

For it is the free and independent media that continue to provide our clearest window into the extent of the investigation and the possible interface among the Trump campaign, Russia and the right. Late Monday, for example, McClatchy News reported:

“Federal investigators are examining whether far-right news sites played any role last year in a Russian cyber operation that dramatically widened the reach of news stories — some fictional — that favored Donald Trump’s presidential bid, two people familiar with the inquiry say.

“Operatives for Russia appear to have strategically timed the computer commands, known as ‘bots,’ to blitz social media with links to the pro-Trump stories at times when the billionaire businessman was on the defensive in his race against Democrat Hillary Clinton, these sources said.”

McClatchy reports that most of the stories were linked from social media posts and many of them connected to stories at Breitbart and Alex Jones’ InfoWars, as well as Russia Today and Sputnik News:

“Investigators examining the bot attacks are exploring whether the far-right news operations took any actions to assist Russia’s operatives. Their participation, however, wasn’t necessary for the bots to amplify their news through Twitter and Facebook.”

The spin machines are twirling at cyclonic speeds as the White House and the Republican Party counterattack or try to act as if none of this is happening. Like the refugee couple in “Casablanca”, they pretend to hear very little and understand even less. At the end of Monday’s testimony, intelligence committee chair Nunes actually told David Corn of Mother Jones that he had never heard of Roger Stone or Carter Page, two of the Trump/Russia story’s most prominent and tawdry players. Ingenuous or ignorant? You be the judge.

“Is it possible that all of these events and reports are completely unrelated and nothing more than an entirely unhappy coincidence?” Adam Schiff asked at Monday’s hearing.

“Yes, it is possible. But it is also possible, maybe more than possible, that they are not coincidental, not disconnected and not unrelated, and that the Russians use the same techniques to corrupt US persons that they employed in Europe and elsewhere. We simply don’t know. Not yet. And we owe it to the country to find out.”

During Schiff’s questioning on Monday, Comey seemed to nod toward agreeing that Russia’s hacking of the Democratic National Committee was not unlike the 1972 physical break-in at the DNC. You know, the one that precipitated the revelations, resignations and prison convictions of Watergate. Drip, drip, drip.

Michael Winship is senior writing fellow at Demos and a senior writer of the new series, Moyers & Company, airing on public television.

The Culture of Cruelty in Trump’s America

Posted on Mar 22, 2017

By Henry A. Giroux / Truthout

For the last 40 years, the United States has pursued a ruthless form of neoliberalism that has stripped economic activity from ethical considerations and social costs. One consequence has been the emergence of a culture of cruelty in which the financial elite produce inhuman policies that treat the most vulnerable with contempt, relegating them to zones of social abandonment and forcing them to inhabit a society increasingly indifferent to human suffering. Under the Trump administration, the repressive state and market apparatuses that produced a culture of cruelty in the 19th century have returned with a vengeance, producing new levels of harsh aggression and extreme violence in US society. A culture of cruelty has become the mood of our times—a spectral lack of compassion that hovers over the ruins of democracy.

While there is much talk about the United States tipping over into authoritarianism under the Trump administration, there are few analyses that examine how a culture of cruelty has accompanied this political transition, and the role that culture plays in legitimating a massive degree of powerlessness and human suffering. The culture of cruelty has a long tradition in this country, mostly inhabiting a ghostly presence that is often denied or downplayed in historical accounts. What is new since the 1980s—and especially evident under Donald Trump’s presidency—is that the culture of cruelty has taken on a sharper edge as it has moved to the center of political power, adopting an unapologetic embrace of nativism, xenophobia and white nationalist ideology, as well as an in-your-face form of racist demagoguery. Evidence of such cruelty has long been visible in earlier calls by Republicans to force poor children who get free school lunches to work for their meals. Such policies are particularly cruel at a time when nearly “half of all children live near close to the poverty line.” Other instances include moving people from welfare to workfare without offering training programs or child care, and the cutting of children’s food stamp benefits for 16 million children in 2014.  Another recent example of this culture of cruelty was Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) tweeting his support for Geert Wilders, a notorious white supremacist and Islamophobic Dutch politician.

Focusing on a culture of cruelty as one register of authoritarianism allows us to more deeply understand how bodies and minds are violated and human lives destroyed. It helps us to acknowledge that violence is not an abstraction, but is visceral and, as Brad Evans observes, “should never be studied in an objective and unimpassioned way. It points to a politics of the visceral that cannot be divorced from our ethical and political concerns.” For instance, it highlights how Trump’s proposed budget cuts would reduce funding for programs that provide education, legal assistance and training for thousands of workers in high-hazard industries. As Judy Conti, a federal advocacy coordinator [at the National Employment Law Project] points out, these cuts would result in “more illness, injury and death on the job.”

Rather than provide a display of moral outrage, interrogating a culture of cruelty offers critics a political and moral lens for thinking through the convergence of power, politics and everyday life. It also offers the promise of unveiling the way in which a nation demoralizes itself by adopting the position that it has no duty to provide safety nets for its citizens or care for their well-being, especially in a time of misfortune. Politically, it highlights how structures of domination bear down on individual bodies, needs, emotions and self-esteem, and how such constraints function to keep people in a state of existential crisis, if not outright despair. Ethically the concept makes visible how unjust a society has become. It helps us think through how life and death converge in ways that fundamentally transform how we understand and imagine the act of living—if not simply surviving—in a society that has lost its moral bearing and sense of social responsibility. Within the last 40 years, a harsh market fundamentalism has deregulated financial capital, imposed misery and humiliation on the poor through welfare cuts, and ushered in a new style of authoritarianism that preys upon and punishes the most vulnerable Americans.

The culture of cruelty has become a primary register of the loss of democracy in the United States. The disintegration of democratic commitments offers a perverse index of a country governed by the rich, big corporations and rapacious banks through a consolidating regime of punishment. It also reinforces the workings of a corporate-driven culture whose airwaves are filled with hate, endless spectacles of violence and an ongoing media assault on young people, the poor, Muslims and undocumented immigrants. Vast numbers of individuals are now considered disposable and are relegated to zones of social and moral abandonment. In the current climate, violence seeps into everyday life while engulfing a carceral system that embraces the death penalty and produces conditions of incarceration that house many prisoners in solitary confinement—a practice medical professionals consider one of the worse forms of torture.

In addition, Americans live in a distinctive historical moment in which the most vital safety nets, social provisions, welfare policies and health care reforms are being undermined or are under threat of elimination by right-wing ideologues in the Trump administration. For instance, Trump’s 2017 budgetary proposals, many of which were drafted by the hyperconservative Heritage Foundation, will create a degree of imposed hardship and misery that defies any sense of human decency and moral responsibility.

Public policy analyst Robert Reich argues that “the theme that unites all of Trump’s [budget] initiatives so far is their unnecessary cruelty.” Reich writes:

His new budget comes down especially hard on the poor—imposing unprecedented cuts in low-income housing, job training, food assistance, legal services, help to distressed rural communities, nutrition for new mothers and their infants, funds to keep poor families warm, even “meals on wheels.” These cuts come at a time when more American families are in poverty than ever before, including 1 in 5 children. Why is Trump doing this? To pay for the biggest hike in military spending since the 1980s. Yet the U.S. already spends more on its military than the next 7 biggest military budgets put together. His plan to repeal and “replace” the Affordable Care Act will cause 14 million Americans to lose their health insurance next year, and 24 million by 2026. Why is Trump doing this? To bestow $600 billion in tax breaks over the decade to wealthy Americans. This windfall comes at a time when the rich have accumulated more wealth than at any time in the nation’s history.

This is a demolition budget that would inflict unprecedented cruelty, misery and hardship on millions of citizens and residents. Trump’s populist rhetoric collapses under the weight of his efforts to make life even worse for the rural poor, who would have $2.6 billion cut from infrastructure investments largely used for water and sewage improvements as well as federal funds used to provide assistance so they can heat their homes. Roughly $6 billion would be cut from a housing budget that benefits 4.5 million low-income households. Other programs on the cutting block include funds to support Habitat for Humanity, the homeless, energy assistance to the poor, legal aid and a number of antipoverty programs. Trump’s mode of governance is no longer modeled on “The Apprentice.” It now takes its cues from “The Walking Dead.”

If Congress embraces Trump’s proposal, poor students would be budgeted out of access to higher education as a result of a $3.9 billion cut from the federal Pell grant program, which provides tuition assistance for low-income students entering college. Federal funds for public schools would be redistributed to privately run charter schools, while vouchers would be available for religious schools. Medical research would suffer and people would die because of the proposed $6 billion cut to the National Institutes of Health.

Trump has also called for the elimination of the National Endowment for the Arts, the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and the Institute of Museum and Library Services, making clear that his contempt for education, science and the arts is part of an aggressive project to eliminate those institutions and public spheres that extend the capacity of people to be imaginative, think critically and be well-informed.

The $54 billion that Trump seeks to remove from the budgets of 19 agencies designed to help the poor, students, public education, academic research and the arts would instead be used to increase the military budget and build a wall along the Mexican border. The culture of cruelty is on full display here as millions would suffer for the lack of loans, federal aid and basic resources. The winners would be the Departments of Defense, Homeland Security, the private prison industry and the institutions and personnel needed to expand the police state. What Trump has provided in this budget proposal is a blueprint for eliminating the remnants of the welfare state while transforming American society into a “war-obsessed, survival-of-the fittest dystopia.”

The United States is now on a war footing and has launched a war against undocumented immigrants, Muslims, people of color, young people, the elderly, public education, science, democracy and the planet itself, to say nothing of the provocations unfolding on the world stage.  The moral obscenity and reactionary politics that inform Trump’s budget were summed up by Bernie Sanders: “At a time of massive income and wealth inequality, when 43 million Americans are living in poverty and half of older Americans have no retirement savings, we should not slash programs that senior citizens, children and working people rely on in order to provide a massive increase in spending to the military industrial complex. Trump’s priorities are exactly the opposite of where we should be heading as a nation.”

As more and more people find themselves living in a society in which the quality of life is measured through market-based metrics, such as cost-benefit analyses, it becomes difficult for the public to acknowledge or even understand the cost in human misery and everyday hardship that an increasing number of people have to endure.

A culture of cruelty highlights both how systemic injustices are lived and experienced, and how iniquitous relations of power turn the “American dream” into a dystopian nightmare in which millions of individuals and families are struggling to merely survive. This society has robbed them of a decent life, dignity and hope. I want to pose the crucial question of what a culture of cruelty looks like under a neofascist regime, and in doing so, highlight what I believe are some of its most crucial elements, all of which must be recognized if they are to be open to both criticism and resistance.

First, language is emptied of any sense of ethics and responsibility and begins to operate in the service of violence. This becomes evident as social provisions are cut for programs that help poor people, elderly people, impoverished children and people living with disabilities. This is also evident in the Trump administration’s call to scale back Medicaid and affordable, quality health insurance for millions of Americans.

Second, a survival-of-the-fittest discourse provides a breeding ground for the production of hypermasculine behaviors and hypercompetitiveness, both of which function to create a predatory culture that replaces compassion, sharing and a concern for the other. Under such circumstances, unbridled individualism and competition work to weaken democracy.

Third, references to truth and real consequences are dismissed, and facts give way to “alternative realities” where the distinction between informed assertions and falsehoods disappears. This politics of fabrication is on full display as the Trump administration narrates itself and its relationship to others and the larger world through a fog of misrepresentations and willful ignorance. Even worse, the act of state-sanctioned lying is coupled with the assertion that any critical media outlets and journalists who attempt to hold power accountable are producing “fake news.” Official lying is part of the administration’s infrastructure: The more authority figures lie the less they have to be taken seriously.

Fourth, in a culture of cruelty, the discourse of disposability extends to an increasing number of groups that are considered superfluous, redundant, excess or dangerous. In this discourse, some lives are valued and others are not. In the current moment, undocumented immigrants, Muslim refugees and Black people are targeted as potential criminals, terrorists or racial “others” who threaten the notion of a white Christian nation. Underlying the discourse of disposability is the reemerging prominence of overt white supremacy, as evidenced by an administration that has appointed white nationalists to the highest levers of power in the government and has issued a racist appeal to “law and order.” The ongoing rise of hate crimes should be no surprise in a society that has been unabashedly subjected by Trump and his cohorts to the language of hate, anti-Semitism, sexism and racism. Cultures of cruelty slip easily into both the discourse of racial cleansing and the politics of disposability.

Fifth, ignorance becomes glamorized, enforced through the use of the language of emotion, humiliation and eventually through the machinery of government deception. For example, Donald Trump once stated that he loved “uneducated people.” This did not indicate, of course, a commitment to serve people without a college education—a group that will be particularly disadvantaged under his administration. Instead, it signaled a deep-seated anti-intellectualism and a fear of critical thought itself, as well as the institutions that promote it. Limiting the public’s knowledge now becomes a precondition for cruelty.

Sixth, any form of dependency in the interest of justice and care for the “other” is viewed as a form of weakness, and becomes the object of scorn and disdain. In a culture of cruelty, it is crucial to replace shared values and bonds of trust with the bonds of fear. For the caste of warriors that make up the Trump administration, politics embraces what might be called neoliberalism on steroids, one in which the bonds of solidarity rooted in compassion and underlying the welfare state are assumed to weaken national character by draining resources away from national security and placing too large a tax burden on the rich. In this logic, solidarity equates with dependency, a weak moral character, and is dismissed as anaemic, unreliable and a poor substitute for living in a society that celebrates untrammeled competition, individual responsibility and an all-embracing individualism.

Seventh, cruelty thrives on the language of borders and walls. It replaces the discourse of bridges, generosity and compassion with a politics of divisiveness, alienation, inadequacy and fear. Trump’s call for building a wall on the Mexican border, his endless disparaging of individuals and groups on the basis of their gender, race, religion and ethnicity, and his view of a world composed of the deadly binary of “friends” and “enemies” echo the culture of a past that lost its ethical and political moorings and ended up combining the metrics of efficiency with the building of concentration camps.

Eighth, all cultures of cruelty view violence as a sacred means for addressing social problems and mediating relationships; hence, the criminalization of homelessness, poverty, mental illness, drug addiction, surviving domestic violence, reproductive choice and more.  The centrality of oppressive violence in the United States is not new, of course; it is entrenched in the country’s origins. Under Trump this violence has been embraced, openly and without apology, as an organizing principle of society. This acceleration of the reality and spectacle of violence under the Trump administration is evident, in part, in his call for increasing an already-inflated military budget by $54 billion. It is also evident in his efforts to create multiple zones of social abandonment and social death for the most vulnerable in society.

Ninth, cultures of cruelty despise democracy and work incessantly to make the word disappear from officially mandated state language. One example of this took place when Trump opted not to utter the word democracy in either his inaugural address or in his first speech to Congress. Trump’s hatred of democracy and the formative cultures that sustain it was on full display when he and his top aides referred to the critical media as the enemy of the American people and as an “opposition party.” A free press is fundamental to a society that takes seriously the idea that no democracy can exist without informed citizens. Trump has turned this rule on its head, displaying a disdain not only for a press willing to pursue the truth and hold politicians and corporations accountable, but also for those public spheres and institutions that make such a press possible. Under these circumstances, it is important to remember Hannah Arendt’s warning: “What makes it possible for a totalitarian or any other dictatorship to rule is that people are not informed … and a people that no longer can believe anything cannot make up its mind. It is deprived not only of its capacity to act but also its capacity to think and to judge.”

Tenth, all fascist regimes disparage, dismantle and destroy institutions, such as public and higher education and other public spheres where people can learn how to think critically and act responsibly. Evidence of an act of war against public spheres that are critical, self-reflective and concerned with the social good is visible in the appointment of billionaires, generals and ideological fundamentalists to cabinet positions running public agencies that many of them have vowed to destroy. What does it mean when an individual, such as Betsy DeVos, is picked to head the Department of Education even though she has worked endlessly in the past to destroy public education? How else to explain Trump appointing Scott Pruitt to head the Environmental Protection Agency, even though he does not believe that climate change is affected by human-produced carbon dioxide emissions and has spent most of his career actively opposing the authority of the EPA? At stake here is more than a culture of incompetency. This is a willful assault on public goods and the common good.

Eleventh, cultures of cruelty thrive when shared fears replace shared responsibilities. Under such conditions, an ever-expanding number of people are reduced to the status of a potential “terrorist” or “criminal,” watched constantly, and humiliated under the watchful eye of a surveillance state that inhabits practically every public and private space.

Twelfth, cultures of cruelty dispose of all vestiges of the welfare state, forcing millions to fend for themselves. Loneliness, powerlessness and uncertainty—fueled by the collapse of the public into the private—create the conditions for viewing those who receive much needed social provisions as cheaters, moochers or much worse. Under the Republican Party extremists in power, the welfare state is the enemy of the free market and is viewed as a drain on the coffers of the rich. There are no public rights in this discourse, only entitlements for the privileged, and rhetoric that promotes the moral superiority and unimpeachable character of the wealthy. The viciousness of these attacks is driven by the absolute idolatry of power of wealth, strength and unaccountable military might.

Thirteenth, massive inequalities in power, wealth and income mean time will become a burden for most Americans, who will be struggling merely to make ends meet and survive. Cruelty thrives in a society in which there seem to be only individual problems, as opposed to socially-produced problems, and it is hard to do the work of uniting against socially-produced problems under oppressive time constraints. Under such circumstances, solidarity is difficult to practice, which makes it easier for the ruling elite to use their power to engage in the relentless process of asset-stripping and the stripping of human dignity. Authoritarian regimes feed off the loyalty of those who benefit from the concentration of wealth, power and income as well as those who live in stultifying ignorance of their own oppression. Under global capitalism, the ultrarich are celebrated as the new heroes of late modernity, while their wealth and power are showcased as a measure of their innate skills, knowledge and superiority. Such spectacles function to infantilize both the general public and politics itself.

Fourteenth, under the Trump administration, the exercise of cruelty is emboldened through the stultifying vocabulary of ultranationalism, militarism and American exceptionalism that will be used to fuel further wars abroad and at home. Militarism and exceptionalism constitute the petri dish for a kind of punishment creep, in which “law and order” becomes code for the continued rise of the punishing state and the expansion of the prison-industrial complex. It also serves to legitimate a war culture that surrounds the world with military bases and promotes “democracy” through a war machine. It turns already-oppressive local police departments into SWAT teams and impoverished cities into war zones. In such a culture of cruelty, language is emptied of any meaning, freedom evaporates, human misery proliferates, and the distinction between the truth and lies disappears and the governance collapses into a sordid species of lawlessness, emboldening random acts of vigilantism and violence.

Fifteenth, mainstream media outlets are now a subsidiary of corporate control. Almost all of the dominant cultural apparatuses extending from print, audio and screen cultures are controlled by a handful of corporations. The concentration of the mainstream media in few hands constitutes a disimagination machine that wages a pedagogical war on almost any critical notion of politics that seeks to produce the conditions needed to enable more people to think and act critically. The overriding purpose of the corporate-controlled media is to drive audiences to advertisers, increase ratings and profits, legitimate the toxic spectacles and values of casino capitalism, and reproduce a toxic pedagogical fog that depoliticizes and infantilizes. Lost here are those public spaces in which the civic and radical imagination enables individuals to identify the larger historical, social, political and economic forces that bear down on their lives. The rules of commerce now dictate the meaning of what it means to be educated. Yet, spaces that promote a social imaginary and civic literacy are fundamental to a democracy if the young and old alike are to develop the knowledge, skills and values central to democratic forms of education, engagement and agency.

Underlying this form of neoliberal authoritarianism and its attendant culture of cruelty is a powerfully oppressive ideology that insists that the only unit of agency that matters is the isolated individual. Hence, mutual trust and shared visions of equality, freedom and justice give way to fears and self-blame reinforced by the neoliberal notion that individuals are solely responsible for their political, economic and social misfortunes. Consequently, a hardening of the culture is buttressed by the force of state-sanctioned cultural apparatuses that enshrine privatization in the discourse of self-reliance, unchecked self-interest, untrammeled individualism and deep distrust of anything remotely called the common good. Once again, freedom of choice becomes code for defining responsibility solely as an individual task, reinforced by a shameful appeal to character.

Many liberal critics and progressives argue that choice absent constraints feeds the rise of Ayn Rand’s ideology of rabid individualism and unchecked greed. But they are only partly right. What they miss in this neofascist moment is that the systemic cruelty and moral irresponsibility at the heart of neoliberalism make Ayn Rand’s vicious framework look tame. Rand’s world has been surpassed by a ruling class of financial elites that embody not the old-style greed of Gordon Gekko in the film Wall Street, but the inhumane and destructive avarice of Patrick Bateman in American Psycho. The notion that saving money by reducing the taxes of the rich justifies eliminating health care for 24 million people is just one example of how this culture of cruelty and hardening of the culture will play out.

Under the Trump administration, a growing element of scorn is developing toward the increasing number of human beings caught in the web of oppression, marginalization, misfortune, suffering and deprivation. This scorn is fueled by a right-wing spin machine that endlessly spews out a toxic rhetoric in which all Muslims are defined as “jihadists;” the homeless are cast as “lazy” rather than as victims of oppressive structures, failed institutions and misfortune; Black people are cast as “criminals” and subjected en masse to the destructive criminal punishment system; and the public sphere is portrayed as largely for white people.

The culture of hardness and cruelty is not new to American society, but the current administration aims to deploy it in ways that sap the strength of social relations, moral compassion and collective action, offering in their place a mode of governance that promotes a pageant of suffering and violence. There will, no doubt, be an acceleration of acts of violence under the Trump administration, and the conditions for eliminating this new stage of state violence will mean not only understanding the roots of neofascism in the United States, but also eliminating the economic, political and cultural forces that have produced it. Addressing those forces means more than getting rid of Trump. We must eliminate a more pervasive irrationality in which democracy is equated with unbridled capitalism—a system driven almost exclusively by financial interests and beholden to two political parties that are hardwired to produce and reproduce neoliberal violence.

http://www.truthdig.com/report/item/the_culture_of_cruelty_in_trumps_america_20170322