Democrats debate identity politics

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By Niles Niemuth
15 December 2016

In the aftermath of the victory of Donald Trump over Hillary Clinton, a heated debate has been raging in Democratic Party circles over the efficacy of identity politics and its role in the party’s electoral debacle.

Some figures within the party and its periphery have raised concerns that the overriding focus on racial and gender politics has prevented the Democrats from making an effective appeal to broader segments of society beyond those in better-off and more privileged layers of the middle class.

In a November 18 New York Times op-ed column titled “The End of Identity Liberalism,” Columbia University humanities professor Mark Lilla, seeking to draw the lessons of Clinton’s loss to Trump, writes: “In recent years American liberalism has slipped into a kind of moral panic about racial, gender and sexual identity that has distorted liberalism’s message and prevented it from becoming a unifying force capable of governing.”

While Clinton was “at her best and most uplifting when she spoke about American interests in world affairs and how they related to our understanding of democracy,” he asserts, “when it came to life at home, she tended on the campaign trail to lose that large vision and slip into the rhetoric of diversity, calling out explicitly to African-American, Latino, LGBT and women voters at every stop.”

This focus on identity was a “strategic mistake,” Lilla writes. He calls instead for a “post-identity” liberalism that places a greater emphasis on civic duty and a new nationalism, drawing inspiration, in part, from Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal.

Lilla’s column corresponds to remarks made by Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders following the election. Sanders campaigned for Clinton after failing in his bid to win the Democratic nomination, but now he is implicitly criticizing her focus on racial and gender politics. “It is not good enough for somebody to say, ‘I’m a woman, vote for me!’” he said in a recent speech. “What we need is a woman who has the guts to stand up to Wall Street, to the insurance companies, to the drug companies, to the fossil fuel industry.”

The actual content of Sanders’ proposals is reactionary. In the name of “taking on the corporations” he advocates an aggressive economic nationalism that echoes the “America-first” trade war program of Trump. Nor does Lilla propose any serious program to challenge the interests of the corporate elite. In his commentary he makes a vague reference to the Democrats’ long-abandoned policies of social reform, but he does so to advocate not a struggle against the corporate elite, but rather a new, “left” form of American nationalism. His “post-identity liberalism” would “speak to the nation as a nation of citizens who are in this together and must help one another.”

What is most striking, however, is the hysterical response such muted criticisms have evoked. The most vociferous attack on Lilla’s article has come from Columbia University law professor Katherine M. Franke, who equates Lilla with the former head of the Ku Klux Klan, David Duke, in a blog post published by the Los Angeles Review of Books on November 21.

“In the new political climate we now inhabit, Duke and Lilla were contributing to the same ideological project, the former cloaked in a KKK hood, the latter in an academic gown,” Franke writes. “Both men are underwriting the whitening of American nationalism, and the re-centering of white lives as lives that matter most in the US. Duke is happy to own the white supremacy of his statements, while Lilla’s op-ed does the more nefarious background work of making white supremacy respectable. Again.”

For Franke, any move away from a politics based on racial and gender identity is equivalent to the promotion of racism and misogyny. “Let me be blunt: this kind of liberalism is a liberalism of white supremacy,” she declares. “It is a liberalism that regards the efforts of people of color and women to call out forms of power that sustain white supremacy and patriarchy as a distraction. It is a liberalism that figures the lives and interests of white men as the neutral, unmarked terrain around which a politics of ‘common interest’ can and should be built.”

These remarks are echoed by Guardian columnist Hadley Freeman, who denounces criticism of identity politics as the “primal scream of the straight white male.” She argues that those who want to “emphasise what we have in common instead of focusing on the differences” have a “delightfully kumbaya view of the world.”

Journalist Tasneem Raja, in a commentary published on National Public Radio’s Code Switch blog, which is dedicated to racial and identity politics, rejects Lilla’s criticisms as support for white supremacy. She accuses Lilla of being “keen on pulling the plug on conversations about multiculturalism and diversity” and thereby unconsciously playing “right into the hands of the newly emboldened neo-Nazis who helped put Trump in office…”

The unhinged response to Lilla’s column reflects entrenched social interests. Franke speaks on behalf of a layer of American academics for whom the politics of identity is a central mechanism for accessing positions of affluence and privilege.

Identity politics has become an entrenched industry. Many of its professional proponents have high-paying academic positions in black and gender studies. Such institutions are funded to the tune of billions of dollars and politically tied to the Democratic Party and corporate America.

According to her university biography, Franke’s research is focused on feminist, queer and critical race theory. She is the director of Columbia University’s Center for Gender and Sexuality Law, a member of the Executive Committee for the Institute for Research on Women, Gender and Sexuality, and a member of the Steering Committee for the Center for the Study of Social Difference.

The relationship of the Democratic Party–and bourgeois politics as a whole–to identity politics is not accidental or secondary. The fixation on the politics of race and gender is inextricably bound up with the protracted shift of the Democratic Party to the right, in line with the drive by the ruling class to claw back all of the gains that workers won through bitter struggle, particularly in the 1930s and the decades following the Second World War.

For the past half century, as it abandoned any commitment to social reform, the Democratic Party adopted identity politics and programs such as Affirmative Action as its modus operandi, building up around it a privileged layer of the upper-middle class on this basis. This period has at the same time seen a historic growth in social inequality, including, and especially, within minority groups and among women.

Between 2005 and 2013, black households earning more than $75,000 were the fastest growing income group in the country, while the top one percent possessed more than 200 percent the wealth of the average black family. Despite the enrichment of this small but substantial and influential layer, the vast majority of African Americans remain deeply impoverished. Half of black households, nearly 7 million people, have little to no household worth.

At the same time, large parts of the country populated by supposedly privileged white workers, particularly in the so called Rust Belt states where Trump defeated Clinton, have been devastated economically by deindustrialization.

Identity politics found its consummate expression in the Clinton campaign, which was based on an alliance of Wall Street, the military-intelligence apparatus and the right-wing purveyors of racial and gender politics.

The proponents of identity politics such as Franke are opposed to economic and social equality. They regard any orientation to working people on a class basis as a threat to their own racial- or gender-based privileges. They are deeply hostile to the working class—black and Latino as well as white.

The anger that these forces direct toward Lilla will be turned with even greater intensity against a politically independent movement of the working class

http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2016/12/15/iden-d15.html

It’s Worse Than You Think

Posted on Nov 11, 2016

By Chris Hedges

New York City police officers guard Trump Tower, President-elect Donald Trump’s Manhattan home. (Richard Drew / AP)

Widespread social unrest will ignite when Donald Trump’s base realizes it has been betrayed. I do not know when this will happen. But that it will happen is certain. Investments in the stocks of the war industry, internal security and the prison-industrial complex have skyrocketed since Trump won the presidency. There is a lot of money to be made from a militarized police state.

READ: Revenge of the ‘Deplorables’

Our capitalist democracy ceased to function more than two decades ago. We underwent a corporate coup carried out by the Democratic and Republican parties. There are no institutions left that can authentically be called democratic. Trump and Hillary Clinton in a functioning democracy would have never been presidential nominees. The long and ruthless corporate assault on the working class, the legal system, electoral politics, the mass media, social services, the ecosystem, education and civil liberties in the name of neoliberalism has disemboweled the country. It has left the nation a decayed wreck. We celebrate ignorance. We have replaced political discourse, news, culture and intellectual inquiry with celebrity worship and spectacle.

Fascism, as historian Gaetano Salvemini pointed out, is about “giving up free institutions.” It is the product of a democracy that has ceased to function. The democratic form will remain, much as it did during the dictatorships in the later part of the Roman Empire, but the reality is despotism, or in our case, corporate despotism. The citizen does not genuinely participate in power.

“It is very similar to late Weimar Germany,” Noam Chomsky told me with uncanny insight when I spoke with him six years ago. “The parallels are striking. There was also tremendous disillusionment with the parliamentary system. The most striking fact about Weimar was not that the Nazis managed to destroy the Social Democrats and the Communists, but that the traditional parties, the Conservative and Liberal parties, were hated and disappeared. It left a vacuum which the Nazis very cleverly and intelligently managed to take over.

“The United States is extremely lucky that no honest, charismatic figure has arisen,” Chomsky went on. “Every charismatic figure is such an obvious crook that he destroys himself, like [Joseph] McCarthy or [Richard] Nixon or the evangelist preachers. If somebody comes along who is charismatic and honest, this country is in real trouble because of the frustration, disillusionment, the justified anger and the absence of any coherent response. What are people supposed to think if someone says ‘I have got an answer: We have an enemy’? There it was the Jews. Here it will be the illegal immigrants and the blacks. We will be told that white males are a persecuted minority. We will be told we have to defend ourselves and the honor of the nation. Military force will be exalted. People will be beaten up. This could become an overwhelming force. And if it happens, it will be more dangerous than Germany. The United States is the world power. Germany was powerful but had more powerful antagonists. I don’t think all this is very far away. If the polls are accurate, it is not the Republicans but the right-wing Republicans, the crazed Republicans, who will sweep the next election.”

The repression of dissents will soon resemble the repression under past totalitarian regimes. State security will become an invasive and palpable presence. The most benign forms of opposition will be treated as if they are a threat to national security. Many, hoping to avoid the wrath of the state, will become compliant and passive. We, however, must fight back. We must carry out sustained acts of civil disobedience, as many have done in streets around the country since the election. But we must also be aware that the democratic space allotted to us in our system of inverted totalitarianism has become much, much smaller.

Trump, with no democratic institutions left to restrain him, will accelerate the corporate assault, from privatizing Social Security to exonerating militarized police forces for the indiscriminate murder of unarmed citizens, while he unleashes the fossil fuel industry and the war industry to degrade and most probably extinguish life on earth. His administration will be populated by the lunatic fringe of the Republican Party, men and women characterized by profound intellectual and moral impoverishment, as well as a stunning ability to ignore reality. These ideologues speak exclusively in the language of intimidation and violence.

Half the country lives in poverty. Our former manufacturing centers are decayed wrecks. Our constitutional rights, including due process and habeas corpus, have been taken from us by judicial fiat. Corporations and the billionaire class carry out legal tax boycotts. Police gun down unarmed citizens in the street. The military, under Section 1021 of the National Defense Authorization Act, is empowered to carry out the extraordinary rendition of U.S. citizens within the United States, strip them of due process and hold them indefinitely in our black sites. We are the most spied upon, watched, eavesdropped, photographed and monitored population in human history. When the government watches you 24 hours a day, you cannot use the word “liberty.” That is the relationship between a master and a slave. And governments that wield this kind of surveillance power swiftly become totalitarian. Trump and his cronies have been handed by bankrupt elites the legal and physical mechanisms to instantly transform America into a brutal police state.

Rudy Giuliani; Newt Gingrich, who advocates stripping U.S. citizens of their citizenship if they are deemed to be terrorists; retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn and John Bolton—these men will not exhibit legal or moral restraint. They see the world through the Manichaean lens of good and evil, black and white, patriot and traitor. Politics have been transformed, as philosopher Walter Benjamin wrote of fascism, into aesthetics. And the ultimate aesthetic experience for the fascist, Benjamin warned, is war.

State terror and state violence, familiar to poor people of color in our internal colonies, will become familiar to all of us. Racism, nationalism, misogyny, Islamophobia, anti-Semitism, intolerance, white supremacy, religious bigotry, hate crimes and a veneration of the hypermasculine values of military culture will define political and cultural discourse. The ruling elites will attempt to divert the growing frustration and rage toward the vulnerable—undocumented workers, Muslims, African-Americans, Latinos, homosexuals, feminists and others. White vigilante violence will be directed at those the state demonizes with little or no legal ramifications. New enemies, at home and abroad, will be manufactured. Our endless wars in the Middle East will be expanded, perhaps to include a confrontation with Russia.

There were some, such as Ralph Nader, who saw this dystopia coming. They desperately tried to build a viable third party and empower citizen movements to give the dispossessed working class a vision and hope. They knew that the longer corporate power had a stranglehold on the economic and political system, the more we seeded the ground for an American fascism.

The elites put up numerous obstacles—refusing to let Nader or later, Jill Stein, into the debates, making ballot access difficult or impossible, turning campaigns into long, money-drenched spectacles that cost billions of dollars, and skillfully using the politics of fear to intimidate voters. But the elites were aided by a bankrupt liberal class. In presidential election after presidential election, especially after Nader’s success in 2000, so-called progressives succumbed to the idiotic mantra of the least worst. Those who should have been the natural allies of third parties and dissident movements abjectly surrendered to the Democratic Party that, like the Republican Party, serves the beast of imperialism and makes war on the poor, the working class and the middle class. The cowardice of the liberal class meant it lost all credibility, much as Bernie Sanders did when he sold his soul to the Clinton campaign. The liberal class proved it would stand and fight for nothing. It mouthed words and ideas it did not truly believe. It bears significant responsibility for the phenomena that created Trump. It should have had the foresight to abandon the Democratic Party after President Bill Clinton passed the 1994 North American Free Trade Agreement, to build parties and institutions that defended the interests of the working class. If it had stood up for working men and women, it might have prevented them being seduced by protofascists.

The rot of our failed democracy vomited up a con artist who was a creation of the mass media—first playing a fictional master of the universe on a reality television show and later a politician as vaudevillian. Trump pulled in advertising dollars and ratings. Truth and reality were irrelevant. Only when he got the nomination did the mass media see their Frankenstein as a threat, but by then it was too late. If there is one vapid group that is hated even more than the liberal class, it is the corporate press. The more it attacked Trump, the better Trump looked.

Trump is emblematic of what anthropologists call “crisis cults.” A society in terminal decline often retreats into magical thinking. Reality is too much to bear. It places its faith in the fantastic and impossible promises of a demagogue or charlatan who promises the return of a lost golden age. The good jobs will come back. The nation will again be prosperous. The decrepit cities will be rebuilt. America will be great again. These promises, impossible to achieve, are no different from those peddled to Native Americans in the 1880s by the self-styled religious prophet Wovoka. He called on followers to carry out five-day dance ceremonies called the Ghost Dance. Native Americans donned shirts they were told protected them from bullets. They were assured that the buffalo herds would return, the dead warriors and chiefs would rise from the earth and the white men would disappear. None of his promises was realized. Many of his followers were gunned down like sheep by the U.S. army.

We face the most profound crisis in human history. Our response is to elect a man to the presidency who does not believe in climate change. Once societies unplug themselves from reality, those who speak truth become pariahs and enemies of the state. They are subject to severe state repression. Those lost in the reverie of the crisis cult applaud the elimination of these Cassandras. The appealing myths of magical thinking are pleasant opiates. But this narcotic, like all narcotics, leads to squalor and death.

Truthdig

Why Trump Won and Why Clinton Lost

Published on
by

Hillary Clinton’s stunning defeat reflected a gross misjudgment by the Democratic Party about the depth of populist anger against self-serving elites who have treated much of the country with disdain

A sign supporting Donald Trump at a rally at Veterans Memorial Coliseum at the Arizona State Fairgrounds in Phoenix, Arizona. June 18, 2016 (Photo: Gage Skidmore/flickr/cc)

In the end, Hillary Clinton became the face of a corrupt, arrogant and out-of-touch Establishment, while Donald Trump emerged as an almost perfectly imperfect vessel for a populist fury that had bubbled beneath the surface of America.

There is clearly much to fear from a Trump presidency, especially coupled with continued Republican control of  Congress. Trump and many Republicans have denied the reality of climate change; they favor more tax cuts for the rich; they want to deregulate Wall Street and other powerful industries – all policies that helped create the current mess that the United States and much of the world are now in.

Further, Trump’s personality is problematic to say the least. He lacks the knowledge and the temperament that one would like to see in a President – or even in a much less powerful public official. He appealed to racism, misogyny, white supremacy, bigotry toward immigrants and prejudice toward Muslims. He favors torture and wants a giant wall built across America’s southern border.

But American voters chose him in part because they felt they needed a blunt instrument to smash the Establishment that has ruled and mis-ruled America for at least the past several decades. It is an Establishment that not only has grabbed for itself almost all the new wealth that the country has produced but has casually sent the U.S. military into wars of choice, as if the lives of working-class soldiers are of little value.

For this dangerous and uncertain moment, the Democratic Party establishment deserves a large share of the blame. Despite signs that 2016 would be a year for an anti-Establishment candidate – possibly someone like Sen. Elizabeth Warren or Sen. Bernie Sanders – the Democratic leadership decided that it was “Hillary’s turn.”

On foreign policy, the Establishment had turned decision-making over to the neoconservatives and their liberal-interventionist sidekicks, a collection of haughty elitists who often subordinated American interests to those of Israel and Saudi Arabia, for political or financial advantage.

The war choices of the neocon/liberal-hawk coalition have been disastrous – from Iraq to Afghanistan to Libya to Syria to Ukraine – yet this collection of know-it-alls never experiences accountability. The same people, including the media’s armchair warriors and the think-tank “scholars,” bounce from one catastrophe to the next with no consequences for their fallacious “group thinks.” Most recently, they have ginned up a new costly and dangerous Cold War with Russia.

For all his faults, Trump was one of the few major public figures who dared challenge the “group thinks” on the current hot spots of Syria and Russia. In response, Clinton and many Democrats chose to engage in a crude McCarthyism with Clinton even baiting Trump as Vladimir Putin’s “puppet” during the final presidential debate.

It is somewhat remarkable that those tactics failed; that Trump talked about cooperation with Russia, rather than confrontation, and won. Trump’s victory could mean that rather than escalating the New Cold War with Russia, there is the possibility of a ratcheting down of tensions.

Repudiating the Neocons

Thus, Trump’s victory marks a repudiation of the neocon/liberal-hawk orthodoxy because the New Cold War was largely incubated in neocon/liberal-hawk think tanks, brought to life by likeminded officials in the U.S. State Department, and nourished by propaganda across the mainstream Western media.

It was the West, not Russia, that provoked the confrontation over Ukraine by helping to install a fiercely anti-Russian regime on Russia’s borders. I know the mainstream Western media framed the story as “Russian aggression” but that was always a gross distortion.

There were peaceful ways for settling the internal differences inside Ukraine without violating the democratic process, but U.S. neocons, such as Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland, and wealthy neoliberals, such as financial speculator George Soros, pushed for a putsch that overthrew the elected President Viktor Yanukovych in February 2014.

Putin’s response, including his acceptance of Crimea’s overwhelming referendum to return to Russia and his support for ethnic Russian rebels in eastern Ukraine opposing the coup regime in Kiev, was a reaction to the West’s destabilizing and violent actions. Putin was not the instigator of the troubles.

Similarly, in Syria, the West’s “regime change” strategy, which dates back to neocon planning in the mid-1990s, involved collaboration with Al Qaeda and other Islamic jihadists to remove the secular government of Bashar al-Assad. Again, Official Washington and the mainstream media portrayed the conflict as all Assad’s fault, but that wasn’t the full picture.

From the start of the Syrian conflict in 2011, U.S. “allies,” including Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Turkey and Israel, have been aiding the rebellion, with Turkey and the Gulf states funneling money and weapons to Al Qaeda’s Nusra Front and even to the Al Qaeda spinoff, Islamic State.

Though President Barack Obama dragged his heels on the direct intervention advocated by then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Obama eventually went in halfway, bending to political pressure by agreeing to train and arm so-called “moderates” who ended up fighting next to Al Qaeda’s Nusra Front and other jihadists in Ahrar al-Sham.

Trump has been inarticulate and imprecise in describing what policies he would follow in Syria, besides suggesting that he would cooperate with the Russians in destroying Islamic State. But Trump didn’t seem to understand the role of Al Qaeda in controlling east Aleppo and other Syrian territory.

Uncharted Territory

So, the American voters have plunged the United States and the world into uncharted territory behind a President-elect who lacks a depth of knowledge on a wide variety of issues. Who will guide a President Trump becomes the most pressing issue today.

Will he rely on traditional Republicans who have done so much to mess up the country and the world or will he find some fresh-thinking realists who will realign policy with core American interests and values.

For this dangerous and uncertain moment, the Democratic Party establishment deserves a large share of the blame. Despite signs that 2016 would be a year for an anti-Establishment candidate – possibly someone like Sen. Elizabeth Warren or Sen. Bernie Sanders – the Democratic leadership decided that it was “Hillary’s turn.”

Alternatives like Warren were discouraged from running so there could be a Clinton “coronation.” That left the 74-year-old socialist from Vermont as the only obstacle to Clinton’s nomination and it turned out that Sanders was a formidable challenger. But his candidacy was ultimately blocked by Democratic insiders, including the unelected “super-delegates” who gave Clinton an early and seemingly insurmountable lead.

With blinders firmly in place, the Democrats yoked themselves to Clinton’s gilded carriage and tried to pull it all the way to the White House. But they ignored the fact that many Americans came to see Clinton as the personification of all that is wrong about the insular and corrupt world of Official Washington. And that has given us President-elect Trump.

Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories in the 1980s for the Associated Press and Newsweek. His latest book, Neck Deep: The Disastrous Presidency of George W. Bush, was written with two of his sons, Sam and Nat. His two previous books are Secrecy & Privilege: The Rise of the Bush Dynasty from Watergate to Iraq and Lost History: Contras, Cocaine, the Press & ‘Project Truth’.

How religion has shaped American politics over the past 50 years

Inside the evangelicals: 

North Carolina exemplifies how the Christian left’s past informs its present — it’s not just the Christian right

Inside the evangelicals: How religion has shaped American politics over the past 50 years

A stained glass window adorns Mother Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Philadelphia, Wednesday, July 6, 2016. The church marks its 200th anniversary in the city where it was founded by a former slave. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)(Credit: AP)

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

On Oct. 3, Longwood University, a public university in Virginia, hosted the first and only 2016 vice presidential debate. In what were described as the debate’s “most sincere” and “most honest” moments, Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA) and Gov. Mike Pence (R-IN) discussed their religious faiths.

Pence, a Roman-Catholic-turned-evangelical, appealed to familiar concerns of the Christian right, such as abortion and “the sanctity of life.” Kaine, a Roman Catholic, emphasized the moral responsibility of honoring individual choice.

That Pence pivoted toward abortion is not surprising. Since 1973 — when the landmark Supreme Court decision Roe v. Wade legalized the right to an abortion — the Christian right has put abortion, as well as homosexuality and “family values,” at the center of conservative politics.

This particular focus stemmed from the fear, particularly among white southern evangelicals, of disturbing an old order based on white supremacy, heterosexuality and female domesticity. Decades of judicial and legislative progress toward a more inclusive and democratic nation as a result of the civil rights, women’s rights and gay liberation movements of the 1960s and 1970s only increased that fear. It also consolidated southern white evangelicals’ political strength in the Christian right.

It is not surprising, therefore, that since the 1970s, it is the Christian right that has set the discourse about religion in America. What has remained unrecognized is the important role the Christian left has played during the last 50 years.

What is the “Christian left” really?

Generally, left and left-leaning Christians seek religion not so much in expressing faith in social justice. Sociologist Nancy T. Ammerman has found that these “lay liberals” are “defined not by ideology, but by practice.” They especially value practicing Christianity according to the Golden Rule, or Jesus’ message,

“In everything do to others as you would have them do to you.” (Matthew 7:12)

Their concerns include income inequality, racism, violence, hunger and homelessness. They do not necessarily support the hard-line ideological positions of the Christian right, including those regarding LGBTQ Americans and marriage equality.

The Christian left does not easily fit within traditional organizational structures, though they do value church membership.

The Pew Research Center’s 2014 Religious Landscape Survey is suggestive of this trend. In the American South, where 34 percent of residents identify as evangelicals and 14 percent as mainline Protestant, the survey found that at least 21 percent of adults identify as liberal and 32 percent as moderate. These data suggest that the Christian left has found space within evangelical and mainline Protestant southern churches.

A historic tradition, a southern legacy

The Christian left is not a new phenomenon. American Christians have played important roles in many progressive movements dating back to the anti-slavery movement of the early- to mid-19th century.

After the Civil War, many Christians championed workers’ rights, orphanages and schools, women’s suffrage and resistance to American intervention in World War I. During this time, the black church, particularly in the South, became an important instrument in promoting social activism based on ideas of “social responsibility and good works” grounded in Christianity.

The black church was integral to the civil rights movement. At the time, both black and white Christians living in the South confronted head-on the Jim Crow laws, which enforced segregation and voting rights.

In the aftermath of the Supreme Court’s historic decision in Brown v. Board of Education (1954), which made racial segregation illegal, many white Christian leaders joined hands with African-Americans to advocate for racial justice within their white congregations, as racial injustice continued.

One of the most well-known Christian left organizations at the time was the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC). Formed in 1957, the SCLC put black evangelical clergy at the forefront of the movement, including Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. It coordinated with local civil rights organizations and played a role in voter drives and the 1963 March on Washington. That was where King delivered his famous “I Have a Dream” speech.

Perhaps King best summarized his vision for the Christian left, shared by the SCLC, when he wrote from inside a Birmingham jail cell,

“Was not Jesus an extremist in love?”

It is important to note that the Christian left did not limit its reach to racial justice, nor did its significance wane in the 1970s and 1980s, when the Christian right consolidated its political base.

For example, it is not widely known that some Christian denominations welcomed LGBTQ Americans. According to historian Jim Downs, churches for gay men and women, including those located in the South, played an important role in gay liberation in the 1970s. In the 1980s, mainline Protestant denominations such as the Episcopal Church formed support ministries for LGBTQ members. Episcopalians also took a lead role in affirming women’s rights by ordaining women.

A southern phenomenon then and now

This history of Christian activism in the South continues today. North Carolina — a state that has been the focus of my own research — exemplifies how the Christian left’s past informs its present.

Historically one of the most progressive southern states, North Carolina is home tothe Moral Monday Movement. Formed in 2013 by Rev. Dr. William Barber, president of the North Carolina National Association for Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), the movement raises its voice against a wide range of issues related to unfair treatment and discrimination such as restriction of voting rights and cutting funding for Medicaid, welfare and education.

When the Moral Monday Movement began in North Carolina in 2013, religious leaders issued a joint statement urging activism not along partisan but religious lines.

The movement has since spread to other southern states, including Georgia, Floridaand Mike Pence’s home state of Indiana. Moral Monday rallies have also been held inAlabama and Missouri.

Lost in media coverage

Despite the growth of movements such as Moral Mondays, however, the Christian left often gets lost in media coverage during election cycles.

This is not surprising as media coverage of religion is limited. In 2008 and 2012,merely one percent of media coverage concerned religion, and 2016 appears to be no different.

Furthermore, whatever coverage does take place is often limited to conservative Christians and the “red states” of the South.

Unfortunately, the “red state” identification does not capture the region’s social, political and racial diversity. It is true that religion is important in the South. In 2014,62 percent of adults in the South reported that religion was “very important” to them. However, the percentage of religious southerners who lean Republican and Democrat are roughly the same (approximately 40 percent).

The voices that have been missed

It is important to note that even in this election cycle, the South’s Christian left has not been silent.

On Sept. 26, in the aftermath of the fatal shooting of Keith Lamont Scott by a Charlotte police officer, Rev. William Barber led a “unity rally for justice and transparency” at a historic black church in North Carolina, where he asked his audience to hold up their “faithful voter cards.” He led the gathering in a civil rights marching song.

This year’s presidential election might be an opportunity for the Christian left to become more visible. There were indications of this when on Oct. 6 more than 100 evangelical leaders denounced Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump and warned the media against viewing evangelicals as a monolithic group.

Of course, the “Christian left versus Christian right” discussion is itself limiting. In the context of the rich religious pluralism of the United States, we must ask more broadly what the religious left can do collaboratively to affect change in American political discourse.

There is movement in this direction, including in the federal government. For example, in 2009, just two weeks into his first term, President Barack Obama established the White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships. The office has embraced core principles of the Christian left, including social and economic justice. This year it appointed Barbara Stein to the advisory council, who is the first openly transgender appointee and an active member of the United Church of Christ.

Such examples can prove instructive, especially to local, grassroots organizations. As election day approaches, the Christian left can play an important role in taking a stand in favor of this progress.

The Conversation

Timothy J. Williams is a visiting assistant professor of history at the University of Oregon.

SALON

Tell the Negroes to Wait: Obama, Black Lives Matter, and Compromising with White Supremacy

Many are quick to echo Steve Harvey and tell those that push President Obama to be more responsive to the needs of black folks that he is not just President of Black America, but, in fact, he is the President of the United States of America. The point they attempt to make is that the President cannot just cater to the needs of one constituency. He must, being president of all, cater to all perspectives. His recent comments should appease the All Lives Matter vote.

Recently, the Movement for Black Lives was discussed while President Barack Obama spoke at a London town hall. He praised Black Lives Matter for its ability to highlight issues, but criticized what he felt were lackluster efforts to create solutions. He said that “they yell too much” and that “yelling is not what will get the job done.”

We are disappointed. Almost hurt. And it’s not the first time.

The implication that Black Lives Matter is not doing its job correctly because they are not being polite in their dealings with lawmakers and politicians reeks of respectability politics. Somehow, the President has placed the responsibility of implementing socially just policy on private citizens, not the elected officials. He has shifted the burden onto BLM, but none of the support or benefits.

Like all citizens, members of the Black Lives Matter movement have a first amendment right to “petition the government for a redress of grievances”, even if that means they need to yell to get a point across. Also, to refer to the movement’s actions strictly as “yelling” distracts from their accomplishments and is a thinly-veiled attempt to silence them, or at the very least, make dealing with them more convenient. Black Lives Matter has no obligation to comply with either wish. This is all reminiscent of what happened on April 12, 1963.

A little over fifty years ago this month, eight white clergymen taught us that expressions of injustice do not always take the form of harmful language or acts of violence. In response to the civil rights protests taking place in their city, these men penned an open letter entitled “A Call For Unity.” They urged the “Negroes” of Birmingham, Alabama to exercise patience with what was, up until then, glacial racial progress. In the letter they stated:

…We are now confronted by a series of demonstrations by some of our Negro citizens, directed and led in part by outsiders. We recognize the natural impatience of people who feel that their hopes are slow in being realized. But we are convinced that these demonstrations are unwise anduntimely. (Emphasis my own)

These men are all but saying, “The good Negroes are being incited to action by those bad, outsider Negroes.” Their words reek of xenophobia (fear of the ‘other’) and unconscious racism (racial animus that the holder is unaware they possess).

In response to the clergymen, King felt compelled to respond. Sitting in a jail cell for the very demonstrations “A Call For Unity” decries, Martin King writes:

Just as Socrates felt that it was necessary to create a tension in the mind so that individuals could rise from the bondage of myths and half-truths to the unfettered realm of creative analysis and objective appraisal, so must we see the need for nonviolent gadflies to create the kind of tension in society that will help men rise from the dark depths of prejudice and racism to majestic heights of understanding and brotherhood.

In just one paragraph, King links the struggle for racial justice in Birmingham to the cosmic struggle for justice everywhere. He even implies that Socrates (the father of the Western philosophical tradition) would approve. For King—who once said that if he was stranded with only two books to read, he would want a copy of the Bible and Plato’s Republic— one could have no greater intellectual ally.

The eight clergymen’s plea for patience rings hollow. They sit in relative comfort, and either fail or refuse to see that they are benefactors in a racial system that exploits black folks in the South. Of course they sense no urgency. Their lives are not in danger. I cannot help but notice an echo in what the president said about those in BLM. Yes, President Obama is a black man in the White House—but as Louis Farrakhan reminds us, we should never lose sight that it is stillthe WHITE house. That is, the Presidency in this country is an office invested in maintaining and acting out the norms of white supremacy.

For the past seven years, many Black folks have been less critical of President Obama because we finally had someone who looked like us in the country’s highest office. As valuable that imagery is, we cannot forget that, as our grandmothers said, all your skinfolk ain’t your kinfolk—meaning, people that look like us are still capable of perpetuating anti-Blackness. President Obama has lectured us on respectability for the last time. We must hold Black leaders to the standards they inspire. Oppressed people need more than rhetoric. They need policy. He spent the first two years in office trying to build bridges with those who maintain white supremacy and now he wants to lecture those engaged in a movement to that was formed under his watch. What oppressed people need is neither always convenient nor expressed according to the expectations of those who need to hear them. If we were politely asking for our needs to be met, we would die before we attracted the attention of those in power. In fact, many already have.

We aren’t asking President Barack Obama to hold a sign with the words Black Lives Matter—we don’t need the spectacle of support. We need actions that stem from support. He certainly should not spend the last months of his presidency lecturing those dying on how to die quietly. But, for many, seeing President Obama have moments of public blackness have been enough to appease them. That’s just not enough for us; not anymore. After all, it’s nice to hear Amazing Grace sung at memorial services, but we can get that at the church ‘round the corner.

Lawrence Ware is an Oklahoma State University Division of Institutional Diversity Fellow. He teaches in OSU’s philosophy department and is the Diversity Coordinator for its Ethics Center. An advisor to Democratic Left and contributing editor at RS: The Religious Left, he has also been a commentator on race and politics for the Huffington Post Live, NPR’s Talk of the Nation, and PRI’s Flashpoint. He is an ordained minister in the Progressive Baptist Convention. Find him on Twitter @law_ware. He can be reached at: Law.writes@gmail.comLauren Whiteman is an Assistant Director of Student Life and Coordinator for African American Student Programs and Services at the University of Oklahoma. She serves as the advisor for African American Student Life, the Black Student Association, the National Pan-Hellenic Council and OU Unheard. Lauren’s work focuses on the miseducation of Black and African American students in higher education, advocacy, and student development. Find her on Twitter @Lwhiteman_9.

http://www.counterpunch.org/2016/04/27/tell-the-negroes-to-wait-obama-black-lives-matter-and-compromising-with-white-supremacy/

Why Apple’s response to Charleston is so stupid

Banning games isn’t the answer: 

When it comes to disowning the Confederate battle flag, there’s a right way and a wrong way. Apple chose the latter

Banning games isn't the answer: Why Apple's response to Charleston is so stupid
Tim Cook (Credit: AP/Richard Drew)

Earlier this week, in response to South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley’s call for the Confederate battle flag to be removed from the state’s Capitol grounds, I wrote a post commending the governor for doing what was obviously right.

But I also expressed concern that she was doing the right thing for the wrong reasons, and that, by defending her move with the language of feelings, she risked perpetuating a misunderstanding of why so many find the Confederate battle flag objectionable. It’s not about politeness or manners, I argued; it’s about fighting white supremacy.

In the mere two days since that post went live, it has become clear that Haley’s break with the flag, that once-unimpeachable shibboleth of Southern politics, wasn’t an act of bravery so much as good professional instincts. Not only has Haley been followed by fellow Southern Republicans in the South Carolina legislature, as well as inMississippi and Alabama, but private sector behemoths like Walmart, Amazon, Sears and eBay have decided to ditch the flag, too. And now comes word that mighty Apple has hopped on the bandwagon, kicking multiple rebel-flagged games from its App Store.

Unfortunately, however, it appears that Haley was ahead of the curve in more ways than one. Because just as Apple has joined her in no longer wanting to legitimize the trademark of the Army of Northern Virginia, its seems to have also done so without actually understanding why. The company claims it’s only zapping apps that feature the flag “in offensive or mean-spirited ways.” But when you look at some of their targets, including many games about the Civil War itself, that doesn’t hold up. A different, stupider explanation — that the company is treating the flag as if it were no less dangerous than the eyes of Medusa — makes more sense.

Take the “Civil War” game series by HexWar Games, for example, which saw at least four of its editions banned by Apple. To state the obvious, there are war games; and they’re war games about the Civil War. When it comes to the mission of the Confederate army, I’ll agree with Ulysses S. Grant’s famous description of it as “one of the worst for which a people ever fought, and one for which there was the least excuse.” But that hardly makes the use of the flag in a game about the war “mean-spirited” or “offensive.” Apple says they won’t touch apps that “display the Confederate flag for educational or historical uses,” and though I doubt these war games are educational, they are historical, at least.

Now, if these games soon get their App Store privileges back and once again find themselves on Apple’s virtual shelves, I won’t be surprised. According to Kotaku, this isn’t the first time the people running the App Store have shown signs of being either confused or incompetent. And despite what the angry young men of #GamerGatemay argue in dozens upon dozens of ever-so-angry tweets, this is not exactly the greatest infringement on liberty the world has ever seen. Stipulating all of that, though, I still think Apple’s decision was ominous; and I still believe it should especially concern sincere anti-racists.
Because if we adopt a zero-tolerance policy regarding the Confederate flag, you can guess, looking at the present, where it’s likely to lead. The idea that white supremacy is a distinctly Southern affliction would likely be reinforced, even though it has always been a fantasy. The mistaken view of racism as an artifact of history would likely get strengthened, too. People would likely treat the flag like we treat the word “nigger,” hoping that if they ban it from their consciousness, they can make racism disappear. And the myth that we can wall ourselves off from the nasty parts of our heritage, which is one of American society’s more distinctive neuroses, would become even harder to shake.

A superior course, I’d argue, would be to deepen our understanding of our past, so that we can see the connections between the injustices of history of history and the iniquities of the present. Instead of exiling the flag from the culture as if it never existed, we’d acknowledge how the legacy of the Confederacy is still with us today. We’d recognize white supremacy as an inextricable part of the country’s founding, but not one we can’t defeat so long as we have purpose and conviction. And the cherry on top? Nobody would have to give up their video games.

Elias Isquith is a staff writer at Salon, focusing on politics. Follow him on Twitter at @eliasisquith.

The mass killing in Charleston, South Carolina

dylann-roof-g-320

19 June 2015

The mass killing of six women and three men at an African American church in Charleston, South Carolina Wednesday evening is a horrific event that speaks to a deeply dysfunctional and diseased society.

The alleged gunman, 21-year-old Dylann Roof, of Columbia, South Carolina, was apparently motivated by racist and right-wing nationalist sentiments. He reportedly told those he was about to shoot in cold blood, “You rape our women and you’re taking over our country, and you have to go.”

On his Facebook profile page, Roof included a photograph of himself wearing a jacket with badges representing the flags of apartheid-era South Africa and Rhodesia. According to the Anti-Defamation League, the 1928 South African flag in particular has been adopted around the world in right-wing circles “as a symbol of white supremacy.”

The response of the political establishment in general has been hypocritical and empty to an obscene extent. Whatever the immediate political or psychological driving forces behind Roof’s alleged action, such a killing emerges in a specific political and social context.

The most obvious hypocrisy came from leading political figures in South Carolina. Various individuals associated with the South Carolina Republican Party have been exposed as members of the blatantly racist Council of Conservative Citizens (CCC), the descendant of the old White Citizens Council, the “respectable” version of the Ku Klux Klan in the 1950s and 1960s.

South Carolina’s Republican Governor Nikki Haley declared Thursday that the state’s “heart and soul…was broken” by the mass killing. In 2014 she defended the flying of the Confederate flag at the statehouse on the grounds that “not a single CEO” had complained to her.

In his statement, President Barack Obama expressed on Thursday his “deep sorrow over the senseless murders” in Charleston. Obama continued, “Any death of this sort is a tragedy. Any shooting involving multiple victims is a tragedy.” The president suggested that “At some point, we as a country will have to reckon with the fact that this type of mass violence does not happen in other advanced countries.”

Yes, but at which point exactly? Obama, like his predecessors George W. Bush and Bill Clinton, has had to make this sort of ceremonial appearance following a killing rampage on numerous occasions. If the president needs reminding about what has occurred during his administration alone, one could point to the April 2009 massacre of 13 people at a civic center for immigrants in Binghamton, New York; the attempted assassination of Rep. Gabby Giffords and the killing of six other people in Tucson, Arizona in January 2011; the mass killing at an Aurora, Colorado movie theater in July 2012; the murder of six people and wounding of four others at a Sikh temple in Oak Creek, Wisconsin in August 2012 by a white supremacist; the killing of 26 people, including 20 children, in Newtown, Connecticut in December 2012; and there are many more.

Following each killing, one portion of the media, looking to Scripture for its inspiration, asserts that the tragedy proves the existence of “evil” and presumably Man’s Fallen Nature; another, more officially liberal-minded, claims that gun control will somehow mysteriously solve everything; a third sighs over the “senselessness” of it all and collectively shrugs its shoulders. The cluelessness of the official punditry is one indication of the moral and political bankruptcy of the American social order.

There is, of course, an irrational element in each of these tragic episodes, including the most recent one. Roof apparently let one elderly woman live because, he told her, “I need someone to survive,” indicating that he planned to kill himself, “And you’ll be the only survivor.”

But the claim by the media that such mass killings are incomprehensible is a self-serving lie. The commentators, along with Obama and the political officialdom, cannot and will not “reckon with” the phenomenon because even to begin probing the various massacres would be to lift the lid on the reality of American life and, above all, the atmosphere of unrelenting violence and aggression that has been generated by two decades or more of almost nonstop war.

The alleged actions of Roof, who was obviously unbalanced and disoriented and came under the influence of pro-Confederate and white supremacist propaganda, have a racist coloring. But, changing what must be changed, is there much of a difference in terms of social type between the Charleston suspect and the young killers at Columbine High School in 1999; or Seung-Hui Cho, the South Korean immigrant, who murdered 32 people and wounded 17 others on the Virginia Tech campus in April 2007; or James Eagan Holmes, the Aurora, Colorado shooter, and the various others?

What psychological and sociological features do the various perpetrators share in common? A highly advanced state of social alienation, great bitterness at other human beings, self-hatred, isolation, general despondency and the recourse to extreme violence to solve their real or imagined problems.

These tendencies recur too often and too devastatingly to be mere personal failings; they clearly come from the broader society. They reflect a terrible malaise, the mentality of individuals living perpetually under a dark cloud, who have no hope for the future, who can only imagine that things will get worse. Only look at the Facebook photograph of Dylann Roof if you want some idea of this bleakness and despondency!

The generation to which Roof belongs, unlike any other in American history, has known nothing but the combination of war and the building up of immense social inequality. If one sets aside with contempt the media’s fantasy version of American life, in which things have never been better—and, after all, don’t young people have Facebook, Twitter and iPhones?—no generation in modern times has experienced such harsh and discouraging circumstances. Capitalism, the subordination of every aspect of life to the drive for profit and personal wealth by the corporate elite, is at the heart of the problem.

The American ruling elite would have us believe that endless war, belligerence, aggression and threats of new, more catastrophic wars, part of the drive for US global domination, have no consequences. Violence and killing on the part of the American military or intelligence apparatus is a daily occurrence. US officials and politicians, mafia-like, blandly discuss “killing” alleged terrorists or “eliminating threats” to “America’s national interests.” Murder, whether by drone or other efficient modern means, has become routinized, banal. The president, as we know, meets with his advisers every Tuesday, to go over “kill lists.”

Someone like Roof, if he turns out to be the culprit, has known nothing but this expanding and escalating violence all his life. And not only violence overseas. Police in the US have been given a green light to open fire and kill innocent civilians. Only two months ago, in North Charleston, South Carolina, less than 10 miles from the scene of Wednesday night’s mass killings, a local police officer murdered Walter Scott in cold blood with five bullets in the back.

The crisis of American society is reaching a breaking point. It cannot go on like this. Roof’s is the unhealthy, twisted response of an infinitesimal portion of his generation. Masses of young people and masses of working people will respond to the crisis in a rational, progressive manner, by turning against the criminals and liars in power and their rotten economic and social system.

David Walsh

 

http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2015/06/19/pers-j19.html