The War on Critical Thought During the Most Dangerous Period of the 21st Century

resistance women's march

If there is no struggle, there is no progress. …This struggle may be a moral one; or it may be a physical one; or it may be both moral and physical; but it must be a struggle. Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will.

–Fredrick Douglass

Henry A. Giroux looks to Frederick Douglass, Hannah Arendt, Chris Hedges, Christine Clement and Michael Lerner in a recent Tikkun editoral that everyone should read.  We are living in an extremely dangerous moment of history, in which a group of mostly White masculinists are assailing hard-won civil liberties:

Trump is the fascist shadow that has been lurking in the dark since Nixon’s Southern Strategy. Authoritarianism has now become viral in America, pursuing new avenues to spread its toxic ideology of bigotry, cruelty, and greed into every facet of society. Its legions of “alt-right” racists, misogynists, and xenophobic hate-mongers now expose themselves publicly, without apology, knowing full well that they no longer have to use code for their hatred of all those who do not fit into their white-supremacist and ultra-nationalist script.

Not simply economic betrayal, but also ideological white-washing has brought us to tis point.  Oppressive institutions and power structures oppress by enforcing collective amnesia, a forgetting of the past and by undercutting critical thinking:

Manufactured ignorance erases histories of repression, exploitation, and revolts. What is left is a space of fabricated absences that makes it easy, if not convenient, to forget that Trump is not some eccentric clown offered up to the American polity through the deadening influence of celebrity and consumer culture. State and corporate sponsored ignorance produced primarily through the disimagination machines of the mainstream media and public relations industries in diverse forms now function chiefly to erase selected elements of history, disdain critical thought, reduce dissent to a species of fake news, and undermine the social imagination. How else to explain the recent Arkansas legislator who is pushing legislation to ban the works of the late historian Howard Zinn? How else to explain a culture awash in game shows and Realty TV programs? How else to explain the aggressive attack by extremists in both political parties on public and higher education? Whitewashing history is an urgent matter, especially for the Trump administration, which has brought a number of white supremacists to the center of power in the United States

When we forget the violence and betrayals of the past, the public is more likely to swallow the toxic pablum that justifies ongoing violence against those who are not dominant.  By eroding educational traditions that encourage critical thought, those in power undercut the public’s ability to resist injustice.

The revival of historical memory as a central political strategy is crucial today given that Trump’s white supremacist policies not only echo elements of a fascist past, they also point to the need to recognize as Paul Gilroy has observed “how elements of fascism appear in new forms,” especially as “the living memory of the fascist period fades.”

Ideological violence–perpetuated by a massive machinery that wipes our memories of what has been done to us, and those like us, in the past–keeps us down because it makes us much more willing to shrug our shoulders and accept discrimination, wage slavery, unfair and deliberately misleading banking and loan policies, excessively expensive health care, the erosion of public schools, police brutality, and rampant, domestic, ecclesiastical and gendered rape and torture.   We are conditioned to accept these forms of violence because through a symbolic, or ideological, violence, that preaches to us that things have always been this way and always will be.  Erasing our memory of the past is crucial to this violence.

But the Republicans are not solely responsible for selling us all down the river and telling us that it is the way of the world.  Democrats, too, have betrayed us:

Trump’s unapologetic authoritarianism has prompted Democratic Party members and the liberal elite to position themselves as the only model of organized resistance in such dark times. It is difficult not to see such moral outrage and faux pas resistance as both comedic and hypocritical in light of these centrist liberals have played in the last forty years–subverting democracy and throwing minorities of class and color under the bus. As Jeffrey St. Clair observes, “Trump’s nominal opponents,” the Democrats Party are “encased in the fatal amber of their neoliberalism” and they are part of the problem and not the solution. Rather than face up to their sordid history of ignoring the needs of workers, young people, and minorities of class and color, the Democratic Party acts as if their embrace of a variety of neoliberal political and economic policies along with their support of a perpetual war machine had nothing to do with paving the way for the election of Donald Trump.

We can do something to create a more just society.  We must actively remember the past and critique the present.  Only by doing so can we resist what Giroux calls “the armed ignorance of the Trump disimagination machine.”

While such knowledge is the precondition for militant resistance, it is not enough. A critical consciousness is the precondition of struggle but is only the starting point for resistance. What is also needed is a bold strategy and social movement capable of shutting down this neo-fascist political machine at all levels of government through general strikes, constant occupation of the political spaces and public spheres under the control of the new authoritarians, and the creation of an endless wave of educational strategies and demonstrations that make clear and hold accountable the different ideological, material, psychological, and economic registers of fascism at work in American society. This is a time to study, engage in critical dialogues, develop new educational sites, support and expand the alternative media, and fight back collectively. It will not be easy to turn the tide, but it can happen, and there are historical precedents.

Giroux calls for a paradigm shift that will come about when the very people whose labor and passivity keep the power structures intact begin to think for themselves and resist.

This would also suggest building up unions again and putting their control in the hands of workers; working to build sanctuary cities and institutions that would protect those considered the enemies of white supremacy – immigrants, Muslims, Blacks, and those others considered disposable. Politics has to be revived at the local and state levels, especially given the control of 56 percent of state legislatures by right-wing Republicans. There is also a need to make education central to the formation and expansion of study groups throughout the country and to further a public pedagogy of justice and democracy through the alternative media and when possible in the mainstream media.

The dominant powers in society repress people through various material strategies–housing, wages, access to healthcare–but also through ideological and psychological strategies.

While it is crucial to address the dramatic shifts economically and politically that have produced enormous anger and frustration in American society, it is also important to address the accompanying existential crisis that has destroyed the self-esteem, identity, and hopes of those considered disposable and those whom Hillary Clinton shamelessly called a “basket of deplorables.” The ideological mix of untrammeled individualism, self-reliance, a culture of fear, and a war against all ethic has produced both a profound sense of precarity and hopelessness among not only immigrants, poor people of color, but also among working class whites who feel crushed by the economy and threatened by those deemed other as well as demeaned by so called elites.

It is not enough simply to point and complain at the ways the powers that be have enervated and disabled us.  Learning from the past, we need to produce new visions of egalitarianism and prosperity.  This will involve weaning ourselves from the mythologies of neoliberalism.

 As Michael Lerner insightfully observes, rather than engaging in a politics of shaming, progressives have to produce a discourse in which people can recognize their problems and the actual conditions that produce them. This is not just a political but a pedagogical challenge in which education becomes central to any viable notion of resistance. Making education central to politics means the left will have to remove itself from the discourse of meritocracy that often is used to dismiss and write off those who hold conservative, if not reactionary, views.

Progressives need to transcend the smug, self-congratulatory discourse of shaming and engage in the ” hard political and pedagogical work of changing consciousness, producing new modes of identity, desires, and values conducive to a democracy.”  Theroux continues,

Resistance will not be easy and has to take place on multiple fronts while at the same time enabling a view of politics that understands how a new class of financial scavengers operates in the free flow of a global space that has no national allegiances, no respect for the social contract, and exhibit a degree of power that is unparalleled in its ability to exploit, produce massive inequality, destroy the planet, and accelerate human suffering across and within national boundaries. Resistance is no longer an option, it is now a matter of life or death. The lights are going out on democracy across the globe and the time to wake up from this nightmare is now. There are no guarantees in politics, but there is no politics that matters without hope, that is, educated hope.

Required Reading: “GOP: Tax breaks for everyone, except those pregnant teenage rape victims, the dirty whores”

I’m reproducing major portions of Amanda Marcotte’s post because if you are a feminist, you need to read it:

HR3, misleadingly named the “No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act”, is a perfect storm of everything that’s nasty about the modern, hyper-conservative Republican party.  It’s dishonest, since women who have federal health insurance are already banned from using that money for abortion care.  This bill is actually an attempt to shut down abortion coverage through all private insurance, including employer-provided insurance, which means that it’s beyond even the dreadful Stupak-Pitts amendment/executive order.  Some “small government”.  As Rachel Maddow documented, this bill is just the most egregious example of how the GOP basically hoodwinked the voters.  They ran on “creating jobs”, which they clearly have no intention of doing, since they’re going to be too busy looking for ways to put the screws to everyone they hate, a long list that includes poor people, people who read a lot, gays, and basically all women, but especially the most vulnerable in our society.

Sadly, the mainstream media (outside of a handful of awesome fighters, like Rachel Maddow, Nicholas Kristof, and Bob Herbert) has gotten inured to relentless attacks on women from conservatives, and subsequently fail to properly understand that a bill like this is pure misogyny, with a giant side dose of class warfare.  They’ve failed to cover the nefarious workings of Rep. Chris Smith from New Jersey, who competes regularly in the heavy competition in Congress for the title Biggest Misogynist, and who has made a special pet project out of trying to shut down any foreign aid that would include contraception, and who has accused Secretary Clinton of being a friend to child rapists because she believes child rape victims should get medical care.  But as you’ll see, Chris Smith is actually the worst enemy in Congress a minor victim of rape could have, starting with the fact that he seems to believe they’re lying sluts who need to be punished.

See, HR3 has—like the Hyde Amendment—a provision in it that carves out an exception for rape, incest, and the health/life of the mother. But because anti-choicers like Smith are such ruthless misogynists, they tend to believe the misogynist stereotype that all women, especially those who claim to be ill or victims of crimes, are lying whores until proven otherwise.  Or just lying whores, regardless of the evidence they produce.  And so, to make sure those lying whores don’t get their hands on those delicious, orgasm-inducing uterine scrapings, the bill has language in it that, in essence, assumes that 70% of rape victims weren’t really raped.  The exception is only for “forcible rape”, which is vaguely defined, but in practice tends to mean that anything short of getting your ass beat down means you weren’t “really” raped.  Even if you’re a 13-year-old who was impregnated by a 30-year-old.  Also, if you happen to get pregnant by your abusive, rape-y father on your 18th birthday, you will get no funding to make sure you don’t give birth to your own brother.  Consent is implied if you’re female under these guidelines, and consent to sex with your male relatives is implied the second you turn 18.

Don’t simply stare in speechless disgust.  Get your fingers to work, and talk about this!  Write to your representatives in the House.  Tweet (Marcotte suggets that you tweet against it with the hashtag #dearjohn).

Republicans wage class warfare for the rich

Meteor Blades, a writer for Daily Kos, has composed such a cogent, brief summary of the current economic situation in the United States, that I want to reproduce it in full:

Recession definitely over for some

by Meteor Blades

Tue Oct 05, 2010 at 07:22:03 AM PDT

As noted in Banana republic last week, the Census Bureau reported that 49.4 percent of all income in 2009 went to Americans in the top 20 percent of the population – those making $100,000 or more a year. The top 5 percent of Americans got 22 percent of total income. On the other hand, people falling below the federal poverty line earned 3.4 percent. The poorest of the poor, those under half the poverty line, have hit record numbers. The rich-poor ratio clocked in for 2009 at 14.5 to 1, a big jump in the continuation of a skewing that makes the U.S. the most unequal in income among the developed democracies.

There are plenty of other grim statistics in the Census reporttoo, except for those folks on the top of the heap. At the Center for American Progress, Michael Linden and Heather Bousheydug into them and found one interesting tidbit. While every income category – rich to poor – took hits during the first year of the Great Recession, in 2009, the upper 5 percent managed to average an increase in their income of $1800, and the upper 20 percent boosted their average income by about half that.

The other quintiles saw their incomes continue to fall.

Median household income continued to slide from 2008 to 2009, falling by $335. In fact, the median household has lost almost $2,200 in annual income since the recession began. That is the largest two-year decline in at least 35 years and amounts to a drop of more than 4 percent.

For people in the bottom quintile, most of whom fall under the federal poverty line, the situation, already bad, worsened for the third year in a row, putting one out of five children into poverty and lowering the already low average income of their parents by another 3.3 percent.

What is the Republican response to this growing income inequality and steadily worsening impoverishment that has put the rich-poor ratio at its worst level in the past 110 years? Dumping the minimum wage for the poor. Cutting taxes for the rich to create jobs overseas. Trashing Medicaid. And putting a $2000 deductible on Medicare.

Sounds like a plan. But be sure not to call it class warfare.

  • ::
  • The Hard Road to Freedom

    What does it all mean?  And why am I still ANGRY?  Why are the National Organization of Women and NARAL, our nation’s strongest advocates for women women’s health, upset?

    The mostly male members of the House and Senate managed to bring a little sanity to our insane health care system last night.   With nearly all Republicans voting against health–which in my book amounts to the same thing as voting for death– the Democrats took a first and very timid step towards better health care for all Americans last night.  But they caved into right-wing demagoguery and big-business interests anyway.  When will they learn?

    Here’s how this bill, if it is allowed to stand, will reduce the liberty of women in our country:

    1.  It will severely curtail women’s access to abortion.  Employers and employees will now have to write two checks EVERY MONTH, one for health care, and another for an “abortion rider,” if they want to have coverage for abortion.

    WHY THIS IS BAD:  Before the bill, 85 per cent of insurance companies covered abortion without stigmatizing it.  : it imposes new restrictions–burdens and cumbersome procedures–that will effectively limit women’s access to choose, which is exactly what the religious zealots and terrorists wanted all along.

    2. It will effectively cement the power of the Hyde amendment, which is not an established part of the law, but rather a measure tacked on to the appropriations bill every year.  Why?  Because the President agreed to issue an executive order that will lend the weight of his office to the anti-abortion measures included in the bill.

    WHY THIS IS BAD: It shows us that the guys in government are willing to trade away women’s rights to get what they want.  The end does not justify the means. By strengthening the Hyde amendment, which prohibits federal funding for abortion, this order weakens women’s constitutional right to choose to end unwanted or dangerous pregnancies.

    3.  It will allow insurance companies in the health exchanges to discriminate against women and the elderly, most of whom are women, to charge women and the elderly more for health care –if the pool of people to be covered is greater than 100.

    WHY THIS IS BAD:  It penalizes women for being female.  In the case of elderly women, who are poorer because they’ve been discriminated against in the workplace for their entire lives, it redoubles the penalty against women for being female.

    4. It imposes cruel and unreasonable limits on health care coverage for immigrants.  Legal residents must wait a for five years to be eligible for Medicaid and other assistance, and undocumented workers cannot even use their own money to purchase health insurance through an exchange!

    WHY THIS IS BAD: It’s racist and classist and backwards.  We are a nation of immigrants, and every one of us deserves equal access to health care.   And by the way–did you know that 25 per cent of all Black people in American immigrated to this country at the end of the 20th century?  So this policy is going to hurt, badly, at least 25 per cent of Black women in our country today. That’s shameful!

    A good end does not justify bad means.  You can’t achieve justice for all by trading away the rights of some.

    But WHY AM I STILL PISSED OFF?  Because religious extremists and religious terrorists are steadily eroding our basic freedoms!!!

    Women have a basic right to bodily integrity and subjectivity.  By limiting our rights to the governance of our own bodies, by telling us that women do not have the ability or the freedom to choose what happens to their own bodies–a right they would never dare to take away from men–the lawmakers are attacking women’s fundamental rights to subjectivity, to personhood, to liberty.

    I’m mad because these guys don’t care about my freedom, about my liberty–in fact they’ve shown me again and again that they’re perfectly happy to treat me as a less human than men, less entitled to basic freedoms than men.

    Not enough Democrats and Pro-choice Republicans seem to be getting this message:  Women’s basic liberties are  falling under the monster-truck tires of the demagogues and the religious terrorists, who are determined to grind women into the mud.

    These people are not just against health care, not just against abortion, they are against WOMEN.  (And on Stupak’s resolute disregard for women, especially for Nuns, see Jodi Jacobson).

    And yes, some of these extremists and terrorists are women, but that means nothing.  Women have historically traded away their liberties in exchange for financial and emotional support from men–Women are not the only group of oppressed persons who believe what their oppressors tell them to believe, and who would rather take the lazy road of slavery than the hard road towards freedom.

    Let’s all of us stop going along with the people who hate women.  Let’s all of us get on that road to freedom.

    The sick men (and women) who want the middle class to be sick

    What is with these guys? Why are they blocking legislation that would expand health-care coverage to people in the middle class, who are already paying taxes for it, and who need it?  As a new report from the non-partisan Robert Wood Johnson Foundation finds, the health-care crisis in our country hits the working people, the middle class women and men who pay the taxes that keep this country going, harder than anyone else.  According to this report:

    • More middle-class Americans are uninsured.
      Nationwide, the total number of uninsured, middle-class people increased by more than 2 million since 2000, to12.9 million in 2008.
    • The average employee’s costs for health insurance rose, while income fell.
      Nationwide, the average cost an employee paid for a family insurance policy rose 81 percent from 2000 to 2008. During the same period, median household income fell 2.5 percent (adjusted for inflation).
    • Fewer people were offered, eligible for, or accepted insurance coverage through their jobs.
      As costs of health insurance premiums rose, some employers stopped offering coverage benefits to employees, or changed the criteria for employees’ eligibility. While most employers still paid the lion’s share of their employees’ insurance premiums, rising costs have been passed on to workers—with some choosing to drop insurance.

    How many people do YOU know who have lost ground in the health care industry lately?  Just about everyone I know has.  How many people do you know who are miserably stuck in jobs in which they have never flourished, and never will, because they are afraid to lose their health insurance?   Think of how much more productive we would be as a society if people took and stayed in jobs because they liked the jobs, not because they needed health care, or because they know that if they leave, they’ll join the ranks of the unfortunate persons who, often for very trivial reasons, are tagged with “pre-existing conditions,” and who will never be able to afford private insurance? How well, how energetically, how creatively, how industriously, do you think the people who stay in stupid jobs they hate because they’re afraid to lose their employer-sponsored health care, do their jobs?

    And why should employers have to pay?  How much more productive an economy do you think we’d have if small businesses didn’t have to pay health care premiums?  Think of the great county we could be if employers were not hampered in this broken system.

    How can these guys in any kind of conscience, much less good conscience, stand up and block health care to millions of American people?  How can these people call themselves “representatives”?  Who are they representing?  Who are these mythical people they claim do not “want” health care reform?  Who does not need health care?  And how do you think these Republicans, and the few wacko Democrats who have been LYING about what the bill will do (as has been exhaustively demonstrated, the bill will not make federal tax dollars go to fund abortions) live with themselves?  How would you like to go down in history as the guy who was against health?  It’s kind of like going down in history as Hades, or Hitler, or Nero.

    How can anyone be against health?  Why would anyone want to prevent sick people from getting medicine, treatment, and care?  How can these guys insist, which is what they are doing, that Americans who get sick (and that would be all of us, because we all get sick at some time or another), should STAY SICK?  Is this the voice of reason?  Is this the voice of sanity?  In what lunatic cosmos do these people live?  And why aren’t their constituents throwing these anti-health, pro-sickness bums out on their bums?

    How are we supposed to recover from the worst economic depression that we have had in nearly 100 years, and get back to work, when we are sick because these guys don’t want us to have health care?  Why do they want us to be sick?  Don’t they think Americans deserve to have productive, healthy lives?

    And they say they’re the party of fiscal sense?  In what universe does a country full of sick people who have been denied health care constitute a healthy economy?  These guys must be sick–they’ve been thinking out of the wrong end for so long that they’ve gone mad on the gas fumes.