I want to apologize for calling out ‘privilege.’ The other day I used this as a hit-and-run critique of people ‘withholding’ votes because they find the Democratic ticket unpalatable, or because they think ‘there’s no difference between the two parties.’
‘Privilege’ is a gauzy, personalized notion that maps easily onto white-liberal guilt and white-liberal (or leftist) virtue-signalling. I used it as shorthand, something social media has us doing so often we can confuse these little squirts of pseudo-thought with actual critical thinking. It devolves into meme-warfare, the laziest form of political struggle. I fed into that so I could make a hit and get back upstairs to cook. I’ll come back to this.
I went fishing yesterday. A place here in Lenawee County, Michigan, called Devil’s Lake — a beautiful, natural, clear-water, glacial lake. Eleven years ago, there were cottages all around the lake with a few big houses. But the lake shore has been under construction almost constantly, and as I was casting under docks trying to tease out the bass, I couldn’t help noticing that the cottages are all gone. Real estate has gone through the roof there, and now the entire shore is lined with homes that probably begin at $500,000 — the equivalent here of about $1 million back in Raleigh where we lived for fourteen years. A fair number of them are seasonal homes with more space and amenities than most people’s regular homes. The lake itself belongs to the people of Michigan. And yet, four years ago, these rich pricks — many flying Trump flags btw — prevailed on some agency to have a marina installed, with a latticework of docks for pontoon and jet ski rentals, gobbling up a big chunk of shore and surface water.
As I was sitting there, waiting for a chatterbait to hit bottom and thinking to myself, “The rich want to own every fucking thing,” my phone rang.
It was Sherry, my wife. She was quite agitated, because she’d just driven past armed yahoos in the cabs and beds of three trucks festooned with Confederate and KKK flags. They were just roaming around Adrian — our town of 20,000 or so souls — like their own little Klan parade.
Later, I’d return home — skunked as it were, because drunks on speedboats and jet skis over the weekend had the fish freaked out and dispersed — and scan my list of current events podcasts. (I can’t watch network news without taking Valium.) As it turned out, there was some kind of national, social-media-coordinated thing for neo-fascist loons that had broken out in several cities, including Kalamazoo just a couple of hours away.
Our town is around 78 percent white, 18 percent Latin American (many second or third generation, and there’s been a lot of intermarriage), and less than five percent African American. Being black in Adrian, I imagine, can be challenging. When our mixed race grandchildren come to visit and we accompany them around town, we draw a lot of attention and generate that unspoken discomfort some of you will know only too well. A tiny taste of what resident African Americans have to put up with in a town teeming with reaction. But Klan trucks zooming through the streets! That’s a whole nuther level of ‘discomfort.’ Or should I say, terror? That’s what the Klan trades in — terrorizing people. So I’m not focusing on ‘privilege’ in this little jeremiad. I’m focusing on terror.
As some of you may know, I was in the Army for quite some time. During that career, I spent a good deal of time in places where armed men roaming the streets in vehicles were as common as taxicabs. El Salvador and Guatemala during the eighties were emblematic, Colombia and Peru in the nineties.
Reactionary governments, supported by the US, had destroyed social services and deepened poverty — a huge advantage for the rich, because desperate people will work for poverty wages. In the interstices of these dissolving social orders, gangs of right-wing thugs appeared, developing into the personal militias of the rich. Eventually, these were coordinated with government forces, until they became a network of little fiefdoms with the government acting as an executive committee for the most powerful families. In 1991, if I recall correctly, the US Departments of State and Defense assisted the right-wing government of Colombia in the integration of the armed forces with right-wing militias by developing coordinating staffs. I helped train them in 1992.
Let me tell you what this is like for the people. First, their basic services disappear. They lose access to things like electricity. Then there is the mass unemployment, and petty crime — often the only option left to people. Then there are the predators who target the poor. And the women and girls? Many, many women— especially women who are single-parenting, but some who have partners, too — are forced to allow themselves to be prostituted to feed their children. The girls are trafficked. Children die more often and earlier. Disease and parasites take over. Some places I’ve seen, people haven’t the energy left to wave the flies off of them. Everyone lives in terror of the roaming trucks full of thugs — whose thugs, fuck knows! They’re everywhere, and they are dangerously unpredictable. They are the predators, and everyone else is the prey.
So here’s the thing. The US encouraged and supported the fascist bastards in these colonies, because this is a necessary feature of international capital. But the US — as beneficiary of this system, and where a large base must be kept mollified — kept these realities out of sight and at a distance. But as the peripheries dry up this form of social control encroaches on the US, like the water steadily rising. The floods covered El Salvador down in the low ground in 1985 when I was a thug with a gun riding around in an armored Suburban, but the water’s edge is now here, with us.
Yes, both parties were complicit in these depredations in Latin America and elsewhere. Yes yes yes, the Democrats have done bad things and the worst news for the people is always that some sort of ‘bipartisan consensus’ has happened. You can bet that’s rich people taking more somehow. They want to own every fucking thing.
But the reason KKK trucks rolled through Adrian yesterday, and it would not have happened in 2015, is that there is a fascist-enabler in the Oval Office. The reason the black and brown residents of Adrian now have reason to feel chronically afraid is that the President of the United States is Donald Trump with his staff of fascist advisors.
I don’t want white folks to wring their hands and admit their ‘privilege.’ I want them to cast this motherfucker into the outer darkness, because under his protection and with his encouragement, these armed maniacs will congeal into militias, and it can, by God, happen here! No one thought prior to Charlottesville that we’d see a thousand torch-wielding Nazis marching through the streets . . . and had Trump not been in office, that would not have happened.
Now, I’m going to say something that will trigger virtue-signalers and purity cops and ultra-leftists, because they have no clue that politics is an instrumental as well as expressive activity.
It’s not about the figureheads. It’s about the base. Trump has the biggest, unified popular base of any politician in the US, steady at around 35 percent that will not waiver and more than 40 percent of the electorate.
Unfortunately, there is another development in the news that ominously corresponds to Trump’s solid base . . . and that is Democratic establishment hypocrisy and incompetence.
So here is the situation. Either Trump or Biden will win the 2020 General Election. Anyone who wants to deny this, I ain’t even hearin’ it! Barring one of them dropping dead, there are two outcomes, and only two outcomes.
You have four choices: Don’t vote, vote third-party, vote for Trump, or vote for Biden. Only one of these choices will help oust Trump, who if reelected will consolidate and expand this armed neo-fascist tendency on the ground, continue to tear up social support services and regulations (Hellooooo, third world!), and strengthen his own autocratic power . . . with little resistance from a craven Democratic establishment.
Right now, the Democratic establishment and the Biden campaign seem to be doing everything they can conceive of to take a dive in 2020. They are pissing off the social democratic wing, refusing to stand up to Trump, and running an anemic campaign that offers nothing to their essential constituencies. They are counting on letting Trump trip himself up; and this is a completely irresponsible, nay insane, strategy . . . the very one that put that venal sack of shit in office in the first place.
So here’s why I put up a trigger warning for those who think politics is nothing more than taking self-righteous moral ‘stances,’ and that the most important thing is to punish the bad Democrats and wait for the good fairy to usher in a unicorn revolution.
The very popular organizations that supported Bernie Sanders — and I emphasize organization — the people who have learned how to do mass electoral politics, need to step up and put their full force to work for the Biden campaign with our enthusiastic support, because without it . . . Biden could lose.
Let me put that another way. Trump will be in office for four more wretched, horrific years — emboldened now to go even further than he has this time around.
Here are the advantages, apart from getting a fascist enabler out of the White House. First, winning. That’s an advantage for all of us. But, in addition, these networks and organizations will get the exercise, and exercise builds muscle. With those muscles, on the day after the election, these networks and organizations can pivot from Biden back to left challengers against neoliberal Democrats. We have to save these fools to rid ourselves of a cancer, like taking chemo; then we can return to the business of increasing our overall health. In particular, this means voter education and voter turnout, because we are also facing a massive voter suppression campaign.
Hey, if the Soviets could work with the Americans to crush Nazism, we can throw our full weight behind this effort.
Or, we can let the Klan roam our streets in monster pickups, while some of us bask in the self-referential glow of not supporting the lesser evil. That’s not just privilege, its staggeringly obtuse. I did that in 2016, and I’ve seldom regretted anything more. Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa. People are being terrorized because of Donald Trump, and that terror will escalate unless we put a stop to it. Right now, there is only one way to do that.