In the United States, everything is about race. We are, after all, the inheritors of racial capitalism, of the racialized settler-colonization of this hemisphere, of racialized genocide and expropriation, of wealth built up on race-based slave labor, of racialized imperial expansion, embedded in a racial “progress” myth . . . and we live today with official xenophobia, with the New Jim Crow of redlining and mass incarceration, and stubbornly well-sustained racial gaps on every social index.
Our public discourse is still white, phallocentric, imperial, and capitalist — this is part of what hegemony means, and why it’s so difficult to uproot. The colonizers oversee the development of land and labor; but they also oversee the colonization of our minds. White supremacy, male supremacy, imperial noblesse oblige, “social hygiene,” and the myth of progress are the epistemic architecture of capitalism. Historically speaking, white, phallocentric, and imperial have always been constitutive of real capitalism (and inextricable from it).
Celebrity worship is part of that epistemic architecture, too. In a world with no afterlife, public esteem becomes a sort of desperate currency, a check written against the perceived nothingness of eternity. We worship celebrities, but also celebrity itself, something about which we can fantasize ourselves. This is the world of modern simulation, our entrapment by modernity’s cold, sterile objectivism, our attempted escape into representation.
The problem, from the perspective of some of us, is that social orders become self-organized within their hegemonic frameworks, almost like a biome wherein each organism finds its niche until the whole becomes cyclically stable. The difference being that capitalism is a biome that systematically destroys its own diversity — a slow suicide system.
When social orders are generalized across large scales, this niche-maximization (by post-subsistence people who have to seek out money to survive) becomes niche-dependency. I have my little spot, my little job, my little home, and I have to protect it to survive. In this way, I come to protect the larger social order by protecting my little piece of it, situated there in the stable whole.
Cognitive dissonance kicks in around the contradiction between my belief in some form of justice and my need to survive as a dependent within hegemonic structures. To live with myself I seek out narratives that seem to reconcile my actions with my sense of justice. I rationalize, extensively and elaborately, and find that I have now accepted, even naturalized and become apologists for, the epistemic architecture of capitalism.
This phenomenon is even more powerful when we leave the context of one “individual” in his or her niche to encounter actual people — who live in families, with obligations to others that further complicate the moral dilemmas of the subaltern. I could rebel, but what will that mean for my children? I think it was David Harvey who said something like, “The greatest force for working-class conformity in the United States was the 30-year mortgage.” Defy the establishment, and your children will suffer.
Within the United States, there is another nation (in the older sense of a shared history, language, and culture, not a nation-state) we might call African America. As a whole, this nation is very like a colony — colonies being subaltern social formations that are simultaneously politically suppressed and mined for profit.
World system theorists divide the world into centers, or metropolitan cores, and peripheries (colonies or post-colonies, where value is extracted under the supervision of colonial surrogates, and that value is returned to the cores where even the working classes can get an imperial benefit). There are also semi-peripheries — places like India, for example — where the colonial surrogates begin to amass enough power vis-à-vis the cores to begin building up a “middle-class” base of support for colonial and post-colonial ruling classes. African America is further complicated by geography, because it is an internal periphery (and, for some privileged few, a semi-periphery).
Peripheries adapt, and one of those adaptations is this generation of liaisons between the white capitalist core and the most powerful members of the periphery which develop into political alliances. These alliances are developmental of colonial surrogates. In many cases, colonial surrogates become powerful in their own right. In the US, this often means “delivering votes,” in exchange for support of careers and pet projects. But again, we come back to that cognitive dissonance. If one is performing as a power-broker between the periphery and the core, that person needs a rationalization. No one, even the most cynical, believes he or she is a bad person. We can’t. We need rationalizations, and when there is a threat to our sense of justifiable personhood, we can be quite aggressive in our own defense. People readily believe their own rationalizations.
It’s more complicated still, because one might become part of what I’ll call African American civil society for the genuine purpose of helping one’s community. When you live in a stable biome, you seek out the niches that are available. Let me do a short excursus on this thing I call “civil society.”
Civil society has several meanings, but for our purposes, it means influencers. In capitalist society, there is a hierarchy of power. The ultimate power resides with the ruling class — the big bourgeoisie, the mega-money folks . . . in our neoliberal phase over the last four-plus decades, these are Wall Street types . . . or finance capital, to which productive capital has become subordinate. These capitalists exist in a partnership with the state, the state-finance nexus if you will. The state is the official arm of power with its legal monopoly on violence. So far, this class is a fraction of around one tenth of one percent.
On the other end, there is the bottom 90 percent of the people have no appreciable power at all . . . unless they unite against the ruling class.
In between is civil society, the retainer class. Civil society, this class of influencers, are in that zone between the one-percenters and the 90 percent. This civil society fraction (9.9/100?) is what stands between the tiny ruling class and that vast working class. They engage with the working class on behalf of the ruling class (knowingly or not) to prevent and-or attenuate any restlessness among the 90 percent that might threaten the ruling class. They influence the working class to accept and even embrace the existing hierarchies. Civil society does this through media, entertainment, think tanks, non-profits, churches, businesses, and charities.
I worked for and with non-profits for a while, and we were plugged into think tanks, other bigger non-profits, churches, businesses and charities. Some do projects, some do issues. We did issues. One was money-and-politics (for which we received some of the actual “Soros money”), another was nuclear power, still another was Veterans For Peace against war, yet another dealt with labor and environmental justice . . . all these are good things. In the current system, the only way to get the resources (money) to advance our cases (and construct a few jobs [niches] in the process) was by filing for corporate status as 501-whatevers. Availability, right? Maybe not, as we’ll see further down.
In subaltern communities — like African America — fewer people have the means and opportunity to get the formal education alongside the informal cross-cultural competencies of relative privilege to participate in African American civil society. Liaison with the white “core” is among the key duties and responsibilities of African American civil society, and it creates a kind of brain drain from the working class into this hazardous demilitarized zone of liberal civil society, by those of good will as well as opportunists. There are many non-profits, for example, that are organized to answer real crises, crises created by the very structures whose epistemic architecture we are obliged to inhabit.
All that to say, I am not conflating all non-profits. Some folks inhabit structures tactically for the purpose of deconstructing them. But in the larger scheme of things, where capital calls the shots, those initiatives that support capital or give it cover will be better resourced than those that do not. The rest will be used as pressure release valves. Whoever pays the piper calls the tune.
Historically speaking, African America — from Reconstruction forward — has struggled to exist inside this white supremacist nation-state. During Reconstruction, African American civil society germinated among self-help groups, schools, churches, funeral societies, cooperatives, and other formations. The general belief (though not totalizing) was that African America might be eventually incorporated into the surrounding society as equals.
With no access to the means of production, however, upward mobility was restricted. The emergent African American sub-bourgeoisie did not control banks or factories, and so could only engage in entrepreneurial activities that remained dependent on credit from white financial capital and supply chains from white productive capital. Wealth within the internal colony was accumulated by church leaders alongside retail and service enterprises — barber and beauty shops, funeral homes, corner stores, etc. Big capital cashed in from afar, concealing their presence behind black bodies, but retaining all power.
These were the upwardly mobile families that learned two things: first, you have to be able to work with suppliers (white folks), and second, your credibility depends on performing white respectability. The latter emphasis on respectability politics remains powerful today. In 1998, Randall Kennedy wrote about the struggle for respectability in African America:
A . . . core intuition of the politics of respectability is that, for a stigmatized racial minority, successful efforts to move upward in society must be accompanied at every step by a keen attentiveness to the morality of means, the reputation of the group, and the need to be extra-careful in order to avoid the derogatory charges lying in wait in a hostile environment.
This kind of grasping at respectability, especially among classes of people who are trying to “move up,” for whatever group in whatever time, is not primarily motivated by economic concerns; money is a means to an end, but the goals are status and acceptance. This grasping for status, however, has powerful economic consequences. Respectability has fashion and consumption codes; but they materially demand the circulation and accumulation of money. Respectability, then, lives inside the epistemic architecture of capitalism, and its closest material companion is consumption.
Complicating an already contradictory situation is the struggle of any subaltern community to overcome the dominant narrative of innate inferiority and its attendant self-loathing and loss of self-esteem. The fightback against these conjoined phenomena includes “proof of equality” strategies and the quest for paragons.
In a world of limitations, the most privileged, talented, and driven will press into those arenas which are available. In the US, those available arenas for racial paragons have been entertainment — whether media or sports (often the same thing) — both of which remain dependent upon “white money.” Now, some few African Americans are actual members of the haute bourgeoisie, and identify with its interests completely, which means stability in a system where the subjected status of African America is built into its structures.
Politics has also become one of those arenas . . . Democratic Party politics, that is, for our day and age.
Barack Obama went to law school, worked in non-profits, and rose up as a political figure inside Chicago’s “Daly machine.” Comfortably bi-racial, with an uncanny practical political instinct, he fitted himself into that bourgeois racial demilitarized zone where the one-percent celebrates its own diversity without challenging the structures of capital still dependent on the broader stability of racial capitalism.
Barack Obama became, as the first African American head of the American settler-colonial state, a racial paragon. And I cannot dismiss this . . . our own biracial children were buoyed by his victory, and it gave them — and millions of other black kids (including ours) — a refreshed sense of their own potential. Symbolism is not mere. It has material force.
Obama was not only a paragon and a symbol. He fitted in with a form of African American political conservatism that is still dominant. It is not ideological conservatism, but tactical conservatism.
Joe Biden’s candidacy is a perfect example or this. Black folks know damn well that Biden was one of the chief attack dogs against Anita Hill, that he was an apologist for racist opposition to busing, that he promoted the carceral state, that voted consistently for war, that he peddled influence, and that he can drift into incoherence at the drop of a hat.
The political calculus — possibly from long association with the multiracial Democratic Party — is based on a linear-continuum theory of American politics. The theory goes: there is an ideological left, a center, and a right — equally populated by the white majority — and that to win against the right (read, hostile racist Republicans), it’s necessary (as a form of collective self-defense!) to have candidates that are marginally better than Republicans who can “appeal to the (white majority) center.”
This is a niche-protection strategy, and it’s generational. As a rule, the older we get, the more firmly we are committed to our beliefs and the more conservative we become with regard to dramatic change, or the threat of it. One thing that most, older Democratic voters agree on, white, African American, and other, is this linear-continuum theory of American politics. Because, for a time, it was true during that generation’s most politically formative years.
The problem is that it was true only with respect to defeating the rightest right-wing electorally. This culminated with Bill Clinton, who once elected rode the speculative wave of the nineties to sustained popularity (a highly leveraged speculative orgy that went bust a few years later under Bush with little modification), and it has not worked since. Gore, Kerry, and Clinton all crashed and burned. Obama defied the trend with a powerful grassroots ground game and strong youth and African American support — riding Hope-and-Change to victory against dreadful Republican opponents who were strapped to the Bush II legacy like a giant shit-bomb.
There’s no doubt that Obama is a skilled politician, as well as a skilled orator, and a man who, with his family, exudes respectability. “They’re such a classy family.” It’s a potent mix, and all of us can remember how people admired the First Lady’s social skills, civility, and decorum . . . which has come into stark relief as a comparison with Trump’s family of psychopathic opportunists, mashers, thieves, and bullies.
The irony is that black respectability — once seen as a way of gaining white acceptance — has not won over white society except among a fraction of white civil society that was already in Obama’s camp. As African America performed respectability all the way up into the Oval Office, the most reactionary fraction (and a big one at that) of white society has abandoned respectability altogether in favor of open fascistic intimidation and terror.
It was an easy transition, because behind the public political scenes, this intimidation and terror remained part and parcel of black life in America, even with a select group of black leaders and influencers invited into the champagne rooms of the capitalist retainer class.
All of this is new and not new. There is an echo of the historic struggle within African America here, between the ideas and practices of accommodationists, separatists, and rebels — each of whom presented compelling narratives. If we think back to W.E.B. DuBois, Marcus Garvey, and Booker T. Washington, we can find it. DuBois embraced a race-conscious class struggle narrative. Garvey was one of several popular separatists. Washington was an accommodationist. Of all these, it’s easiest to denounce Washington (from this far distance) for being unmanly or whatever; but we have to bear in mind that Washington did not see the struggle as between rebellion and accommodation — as DuBois had framed it. These debates were backgrounded by waves of lynching. Washington saw the choice as one between accommodation and extermination. It’s never simple.
Right or wrong, this is the essence of tactical political conservatism. There are still black communities where this stark choice is closer to the surface than any white community can fully comprehend. White “progressives” (I hate that word!!!) would do well to get their teeth into this reality and not let go. There is a lot more to reasonably fear from dramatic change of any kind for subaltern communities than there is for white people drinking overpriced coffee as they discuss how they want to “build a new future,” engaging in facile and wholesale reductions of Obama to (oh, ick) a neoliberal. (Yes, he is, but there’s more to it than that!)
Surely we remain aware of the ways we who opposed Clinton in 2016 and critically supported Obama in 2008 and 2012 had to call out Obama and Clinton on their dreadful policies on the one hand, while defending them against attacks that were explicitly sexist and racist on the other.
It’s a delicate dance for anyone — especially white folks — to criticize Obama. Obama-as-paragon and Obama-as-symbol are not going away. Because, while it should not be a totalizing idea, it’s still important. And I will say this to the chagrin of some, but white people have no standing to judge on this account. Nonetheless, this has to be understood and further elaborated as part of a shared, and yet unshared, political reality.
What is shared is a ruling class, money-dependency, and the state. What is not shared, or partially-shared, is a great deal of lived experience. Even in our multiracial family, the white folks have a different experience of the world outside our homes.
The background is changing. For starters, the capitalist end-game is coming into view right now — with runaway climate catastrophe less than two decades away, the house of financial cards growing higher and more precarious, and a resurgence of fascistic political tendencies (capitalism will always rely on the mailed fist in the end). The latter is mirrored by a growing anti-austerity movement around the world . . . and one growing inside the United States, embodied for the time being in the Sanders electoral challenge — essentially an anti-austerity campaign by another name. Anti-austerity — whether in Haiti or Spain or Ireland or Iraq or Sudan or Chile — means anti-neoliberal.
The present-day African American political establishment has been thoroughly incorporated into Democratic Party politics. The way up, through civil society, was a selection process. Whether through non-profits, small business, or the Academy, the way up is competitive. When I was getting paid with Soros money, we were in a cutthroat competition for grant money, even against our ideological allies . . . sometimes especially against out ideological allies. Upward mobility means pleasing the money-people, and pleasing the money-people means delivering something in return. You have to demonstrate your ability to persuade and organize a real base. You have to have influence.
It should be unsurprising that much leadership in black communities emerges from the church. Preachers are, by definition, influencers. Among black academics, business administration remains the most popular major.
Every gate upward is controlled by capital; and they make people compete with their peers to get through them. Here is a niche, if you can “earn” it. Once you’ve earned it, be aware, you can always lose it again. This demand to fit in is closely related to the respectability politics that was embodied by Obama, a veteran of non-profit-dom.
When Randall Kennedy — himself a promoter of respectability politics — described “the need to be extra-careful in order to avoid the derogatory charges lying in wait in a hostile environment,” he could have been describing what I saw in the non-profit world. Any black director was subject to the most vicious kinds of opposition research, something true in the larger political world as well. Any misstep drew glee from the right and “what a shame” horseshit from liberals. One particularly poisonous thing a friend described to me was how 501(c)(3)s that were floundering would hire a black female director. The gamble was (in the “social change” non-profits) that a token of diversity might improve fundraising, and if the already-failing project went belly-up, the white liberal funders could cluck their tongues and say . . . “What a shame,” meaning she just wasn’t ready, or some comparably insipid trope. The she would be saddled with the failure, while her white predecessors would have already been hired elsewhere.
Once you’ve earned it, be aware, you can always lose it again. That’s the white establishment’s finger trap. Remember, we can always shake our heads and mutter, “What a shame!”
All these interfolding phenomena, over time, have involved a trialectic between deterministic generalities and structures, particularistic histories and relations, and singular local realities, as well as the dominant perceptions and misperceptions of each era. Sometimes — in fact, most times — the perceptions and misperceptions are based on “legacy-thinking” that hasn’t caught up with existing reality except “at home.” Most legacy-thinking originates at home. That’s why belief systems are so generationally resilient. Our families were our first and most formidable interpretants of the world.
The power of legacy-thinking can be summed us thus:
I can describe with great accuracy what is going on in this room right now.
If I’m describing the town I live in, there are more legacy-thoughts — ideas about things I have formed earlier and not yet been disabused of — in my perception of the town’s realities.
If I’m describing the nation or the world, I have an even greater reality-deficit.
This spatiotemporal lag is something with a military analog.
In Korea, they fought using WWII tactics through serial failures, then in Vietnam, they fought using Korea tactics through serial failures, then in Iraq, they began using Vietnam ideas that resulted in serial failures, and so on. If the Peter Principle for bureaucracies says that “One moves up to his or her first level of incompetence,” then my own principle for these warfighting doctrines would say, “We always fail with the old tactics first.”
Legacy-thinking may be right or wrong; but what is right one day can be wrong the next. The antidote is more information in new interpretive frameworks.
The same thing applies more generally to us older folks — of all ethnicities — because we coast similarly into new realities with old ideas . . . new wine in old wineskins. President Obama’s popularity is based in part on this, too. Older white liberals are among the most ardent Obama-worshippers I’ve encountered. “He has such a classy family.” “He is so articulate.” (yup)
Older white liberals, however, are not in anyone’s gunsights the way black folks are. Their perception of Obama-as-respectable-paragon is not the same kind of paragon as he is in African America. White liberals approve of him because he is, for them, “one of the good ones,” meaning he fits white-established norms of education, polish, and respectability. He can be every white liberal’s proverbial “black friend.”
White liberals will never fully comprehend the attitude of self-defense that African America lives inside every day. African Americans cannot escape their “blackness” in an increasingly dangerous white world, where the only political bunker seems to be the perfidious Democratic Party. And for white liberals, Obama cannot have the same meanings as he does for a people who are constantly bombarded with messages of inadequacy, who are starved for the counter-fact that a black man was once the chief-of-state for “the most powerful nation.”
Does all this lead to reflexive defenses of the indefensible? Of course. It’s an aspect of hero-worship that’s generalizable. On the other hand, what indefensible actions taken by President Obama were consistent with likewise indefensible actions by his white predecessors and successors? It’s a negative defense, but sometimes that’s what you have. And yes, Obama substantially strengthened the executive security-state power that Trump has now inherited.
Bringing me to our situation at the beginning of the year 2020.
We’ve emphasized race so far, but let’s not lose track of class relations. As I suggested earlier, the US ruling class is all about diversity these days. There is no problem bringing a few people of color, a few women, and a few sexual minorities into the ruling class. As long as they understand their duties and responsibilities. In fact, the more vulnerable on other accounts the better, because people are going to protect their niche . . . they will conform. They will not rock that little boat. And the boat they’re not rocking is built around a framework of structural inequality.
This year we approach a crucial election, faced in the immediate term with the necessity to rid ourselves of the self-serving pyscho-infant in the White House, and faced with the longer (but still short) term crises of resurgent fascism, climate destabilization, ecocide, mass migration, civil war, and financial collapse.
Not everyone is aware of how immanent these crises are — in many respects they are already here. Ruling class perception managers are hard at work to provide us with the rationalizations we need to reassure ourselves that we are good people and that things will somehow work out. They’ve already been effective at convincing most of us that they are motivated by more than the desire to accumulate more, by some Pollyanna version of the common good (that only incidentally requires us to buy their shit).
The persistence of Joe Biden’s popularity in the face of his personal history is in part attributable to his association in the popular imagination with President Obama. We already know, some of us at least, that the ruling class, embodied in part in the Democratic Party establishment, knows how to tip their spears against the left with women, sexual minorities, and people of color — how to weaponize identity. And that has worked to an extent. But just as importantly, or more so, Biden is the tactically conservative choice as legacy-thinking leads us back to the linear continuum theory of elections.
Seldom mentioned nowadays is that Obama tactically selected Biden as running mate/VP precisely to appeal to that mythical white center that leans slightly to the right. And this might suggest that it worked because of that tactic. It was not. President Obama was the beneficiary of a confluence of factors, including that phenomenal ground game, strong establishment backing, really incompetent Republican challengers, strong youth support, and record turnouts among African Americans. Given his margins of victory, that five percent that is the actual shifting white center — which includes the Obama-Trump voters. Obama-Trump voters are those who voted for Obama in 2008–2012 then switched to Trump in 2016.
The white-right center represented by Biden was insufficient to account for Obama’s victory . . . but this 2016 defection from Obama to Trump (13% of Trump’s vote!) was determinative of Hillary Clinton’s 2016 debacle.
The reality, which flies in the face of our legacy-thinking, our old wine in the new wineskins, is that this fraction of voters, who rejected Clinton but would have substantially supported Sanders, and who finally voted with Trump, hated “free trade” agreements, had experienced decades of Democratic neglect and bullshit, and they registered their boiling resentment in a fuck-you-all vote for the Orange Baboon.
I believe to this day, as a resident of Michigan — one of those key states Clinton lost — Sanders would have defeated Trump. I believe he is the only candidate who can defeat Trump in 2020, but let me not digress. [I totally failed to anticipate Covid-19, eh!]
In 2016, Sanders may have lost to Clinton even without the DNC’s relentless cheating. We’ll never know. This year, he has a real path to the nomination. As of now, capital has no candidate. Capitalists are not cooperative. They are all spending most of their time figuring out how to seagull each other’s customers by any means necessary and drive competitors into bankruptcy. Capitalism is a blood sport.
We don’t see this clearly here, but during my many sojourns in Haiti, a nation with the population of North Carolina, this was easier to see because there were still two distinct opposing ruling classes . . . the land-bourgeoisie (grandons) and the merchant-bourgeoisie (compradors), whose rivalry actually included murder from time to time. Their very interests were antithetical. There was only one thing that could consistently unite them: assertions of popular will. Any time the great mass of Haitians became restless and started making demands, the grandons and the compradors went shoulder to shoulder in support of violent repression of the masses.
What the Haitian ruling class — divided most times against itself — feared was not (in my day) Aristide, the populist President who was elected twice and twice deposed by US-supported coups. Aristide was the point of attack, the head of the snake as they saw it; but the real fear was of all those people, millions of people seething with resentment and not a hell of a lot to lose.
What the US ruling class fears right now is not Bernie Sanders — who they do consider to be an existential threat. But their real fear is of us — a politically mobilized population. And as the social democratic rebellion expands, which it will ,being a youth-driven movement, capital’s perception of the threat will become more vivid and compelling. These insurgents, we insurgents, are already talking about wiping out insurance companies and fossil fuel industries, about breaking up monopolies.
At this stage, that has meant promoting the Biden-electability myth, the linear-continuum theory of elections and the tactical conservatism that goes with it. They pump the bellows around this epistemic flame, and it’s holding a few lines . . . including the line in African America, especially African Americans who are over 40.
In 2020, this “Southern wall” has come up against a bloc of equal strength — the renewed movement-centric, multiracial, explicitly working class campaign/movement of Senator Sanders. The movement is heavily weighted toward the young, including substantial numbers of African American youth.
In February, the voting begins. If Sanders wins Iowa, then New Hampshire, he has a good chance of taking Nevada, too. Trends indicate that this is very possible. In South Carolina, Sanders has climbed to 20 percent as this is written, decreasing Biden’s lead (now at 27 percent). This is obviously the strategy of the Sanders campaign. Moreover, Sanders just broke the five million mark on individual donors in the last quarter of 2019, putting together almost $35 million in one quarter while Biden’s campaign is in the red.
In December, we saw the establishment media suddenly take notice of Sanders’ durability and strategic acumen. This is the media of the ruling class, the Svengalis of spin . . . or once they were. Even they are being hollowed out by popular exhaustion with thirty-five years of the same meaningless pap, but they still have a hold on those of us over 50 who still get most of our news from television.
Network media are kind of a barometer. That barometer just registered alarm. The ruling class is marshaling its forces. We already see a sustained and expensive campaign against Medicare For All. They are trying to figure out how to kill the Sanders candidacy without leaving their fingerprints at the scene.
This year, we can expect ex-President Obama, in accordance with all the norms of establishment respectability, to assist in the sabotage of the Sanders campaign. Big threats requite big guns. Obama is a big gun, especially on Super Tuesday when much of the South will vote at once.
Obama’s power is considerable, given his unshakable popularity among the majority of black voters and the fact that the bloc of black voters now has the limited but substantial power to select nominees and the unlimited potential power to stop the Democratic Party in its tracks. This power, however, is a based on mutually assured destruction — the Democratic Party as institution versus African America’s voting bloc . . . each can kill off the other by walking out. They are bound together, because they can no longer exist without each other, even if and when the Democratic Party establishment forgets most of African America once they’re in office.
The Democratic Party itself is an institution in deep crisis with a lengthening track record of political incompetency. Black leadership within the Democratic Party and its civil society cohort are now in the unenviable position — only years after African Americans gained real power within the party — of being locked into a room with a bomb . . . or a corpse. The real danger is that when this moribund party fails — barring a social democratic takeover and makeover — African America might be left politically homeless in an increasingly dangerous milieu.
The insularity of the ruling class means the ruling class perceives “through a glass darkly.” As society becomes less stable — and we are inside a deep political crisis in the US — the old epistemic architecture shudders on its foundations. As of now, the tattered Democratic establishment (a party that is now broke and in debt) is seeking a new position — further to the right, of course, that’s their MO — alongside Bush neoconservatives. The new line is that of the national security state. MSNBC and CNN feature dozens of talking heads from the FBI, the CIA, the National Security Agency — a national security establishment with a long history in African America . . . as its implacable enemy. This is their answer to Trump. It’s not working. His minions do not follow the rules, and even the rule-breaking is a cause for celebration by the Trump cult — a huge rump of white proto-fascists, many of whom fantasize about race war . . . and genocide.
Here is where the Democratic Party establishment strategy is aimed directly at another defeat in 2020 if they come to the fight with Joe Biden (or, as I will explain, Elizabeth Warren). Biden’s “moderate” appeal in the Democratic Primary will spin down and burst into flame in the General Election campaign. [Again, this prognostication failed . . . Covid-19 and Trump’s horrifically exterminist response handed the game to Biden.]
The electorate is not particularly political, not in the way people who read political blogs are. But as the grinding insecurity and subterranean anger of the post-2007–8 crash continues, it sensitized voters to political bulshittery. We’ve heard politicians spout glittering generalities and obvious equivocations while doing jack shit for decades. Part of Trump’s appeal, especially among that Obama-Trump voter fraction, but more generally as well, is what-you-see-is-what-you-get: that mysterious quality called “authenticity.”
Clinton failed the authenticity test in 2016. Kamala and Beto failed it in 2019. When and if Joe Biden goes up against Trump, Trump’s campaign will only have to run loops of his idiotic gaffes, punctuated by the fact that he used his power to enrich his family.
Once the Democratic Party’s stupid impeachment strategy of focusing exclusively a campaign finance violation in Ukraine — where the trail leads to Biden’s influence peddling — has been a gift to Republicans. Trump’s popularity has increased with this limitation strategy (necessary, because wider investigations open up questions about many, many Democratic party elected officials).
This strategy on impeachment will result in (1) pulling Democratic Senators running for the nomination, Sanders and Warren, i.e., off the campaign trail for the Senate trial, (2) forcing Biden to continue his indefensible defense of his own actions as a self-serving influence-peddler, and (3) giving the Trump campaign the beautiful gift of “Biden The Inauthentic” against whom they can run . . . and win. This is real, and it’s scary as hell. We are on the cusp of a dangerous war this moment because this jackass plays with the military like he’s a four-year-old general. He still has access to nuclear launch codes.
In the past couple of weeks, it has come to light that ex-President Obama’s surrogates have been linking in to the Warren campaign. As every tactic they’ve used so far to stop the social democratic rebellion in the party has failed, and as a Sanders victory becomes a real possibility, this sad vestige of an establishment has been forced to consider a retrenchment with Elizabeth Warren. Warren has repeatedly signaled that she is open to this approach.
Obama is likely reluctant to associate himself with any failed project, which is a tricky position today in the Democratic Party; but if Sanders walks into South Carolina with a big bag of delegates in his knapsack and pulls 25 percent (the split-and-share threshold is 15 percent), Obama might be tapped as the artillery cover for that retrenchment. If Biden appears to be dissolving, Obama might endorse Warren before Super Tuesday.
I’ve explained elsewhere why Warren would also be a precious gift to Trump, because — Pocahantas, Pow-Wow Chow, the beer commercial — inauthenticity. But these are the moves left for a disorganized army in retreat. I give an Obama endorsement of Warren a 50–50 chance, because a legacy is not something an ex-President wants to subject to any hazard, especially by submitting to be a cynical weapon in a losing battle — a person who might be reasonably held responsible in any degree for a 2020 Trump victory.
There is only one candidate in the Democratic race right now who is most immune to the charge of inauthenticity: Bernie Sanders. He is also the Democrat who beats Trump in head-to-head polls among that Obama-Trump fraction — the fraction of Trump’s victory over Clinton. Of course, these voters are not going to the polls on Super Tuesday (with the exception of Minnesota).
Do I believe that Super Tuesday will determine the rest of the race? Yes, and no. Yes, Arkansas, Alabama, Tennessee, North Carolina, and Virginia are voting that day (March 3rd). African America will have a strong voice that day, as African Americans are a huge fraction of Southern Democrats. But the other states include Texas, a giant, and California, a leviathan. Sanders is very competitive in Texas and already dominating in California.
What does this all mean, apart from horse race analysis and who and what-to-others is Barack Obama? It means we have to patiently engage with our elders, white and black and other (I’ve not excluded “others,” but contained my focus to Obama and African America for this piece). We aren’t looking at just an election. We are looking for a strategic orientation that is aimed at rescuing the world from a calamity that is already a rumbling dark cloud on the horizon.
Capital will kill every one of us to stay in power, the most vulnerable first, and they will destroy a planet as well. Everything must be oriented on this. The election is only a first small but essential step, gaining a hand hold on the state.
African America is high on capital’s kill-the-most-vulnerable-first target list. That’s why I hope fewer and fewer people will listen to ex-President Obama; but we better understand his positives, his enduring status as The First, the Paragon, the Symbol. It’s not simple, and it’s never easy.