Category Archives: Racism

Steve Bannon Is Urging Others to Read ‘The Camp of the Saints’ and It’s More Dangerous Than You May Think

During Barack Obama’s tenure as president, he and Michelle Obama recommended a number of books to reveal truth about racism. They cited iconic works like W. E. B. DuBois’ “The Souls of Black Folks” and Ralph Ellison’s “Invisible Man,” as well as contemporary gems like Isabel Wilkerson’s “The Warmth of Other Suns,” which chronicles generations of Black citizens fleeing racial terrorism in the southern United States. The Obamas recognize the immense influence books have on a person’s thoughts and behavior. The prestige of the Oval Office amplified their ability to showcase literature that best represents their values and political leanings.

President Donald J. Trump’s administration and his Republican allies have a different syllabus. Chief White House strategist and Breitbart News founding board member Steve Bannon and Republican Congressman Steve King have each publicly recommended the 1973 dystopian French novel “The Camp of the Saints.” A Huffington Post review brands Jean Raspail’s fictional narrative “nothing less than a call to arms for the white Christian West, to revive the spirit of the Crusades and steel itself for bloody conflict against the poor Black and brown world.” Like Pierre Boulle’s 1963 “Planet of the Apes,” “The Camp of the Saints” was originally published in French. Raspail flawlessly imports racial stereotypes about shiftless brutal and “sexually” dangerous Black males. The book’s anti-Black, anti-immigrant sentiment mimics the 2016 campaign rhetoric that netted Trump the presidency.

Bannon served as chief executive director of Trumps campaign and repeatedly invokes Raspail’s fiction when articulating what the Los Angeles Times calls, “a dark view of refugee and immigration flows from majority-Muslim [non-white] countries.” Trump’s chief strategist is a primary architect of the immigration ban on people from predominantly Muslim nations. In January of 2016, Bannon justified the need for the draconian restrictions, declaring that non-white Muslims are not “migrating” to the United States. From Bannon’s perspective, “It’s really an invasion. I call it the ‘Camp of the Saints.’”

Congressman King mirrors Bannon’s talking points, promoting what Atlanta Black Star Political Editor Kamau Franklin classifies as “the centralization of whiteness to politics.” Earlier this month, Talk radio host Jan Mickelson asked Congressman King, the Iowa Republican about the threat posed to white civilization in the form of “whatever washes up on our shore and makes a claim on our territory.” Representative King replied by spelling Raspail’s whole name while recommending the Frenchman’s work.

University of Texas Austin English professor Martin Kevorkian rejects trivializing the suggested reading of powerful white men and white men who feel powerless and cautions against minimizing Raspail’s work as a distasteful oddity.

“That idea of a non-white threat to whites is extremely common” in United States literature, Kevorkian said. He reminds us that racist themes in “The Camp of the Saints” are identical to one of the most significant novels in United States history, Thomas Dixon’s 1905 “The Clansman: A Historical Romance of the Ku Klux Klan.” The book, which became the basis for D. W. Griffith’s 1915 landmark film “The Birth of a Nation” which was screened at the White House, resurrected the Ku Klux Klan as the protectors of white society and white female virtue against Black “incompetence” and lustful desire of white women.

Literature like “The Clansmen” and “The Camp of the Saints” simultaneously inspires white angst and white violence against anyone not white. The story lines invariably depict a time when whites fail to maintain power over Black people. These “scary stories” motivate racists to remain committed to the preservation of collective white power, which often necessitates force. Dark people are relentlessly depicted as subhuman monstrosities capable of one thing: soiling white rule.

“The Turner Diaries,” published in 1978 by William Luther Pierce and described by the New York Times as “a classic among white supremacists,” is indistinguishable from the recommended reading of King and Bannon. Pierce imagines a world where white domination is in decline, evidenced by gun prohibition and the nagging pestilence of Black males attacking white women.  Timothy McVeigh, the Oklahoma City bomber read “The Turner Diaries” before bombing the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City, Okla., and killing 168 people in 1995. The novel includes a scene where a government building is bombed. The New York Times reports that one of the items recovered from his vehicle at the time of his arrest was “a clipping from the novel, which prosecutors have described as a blueprint for the bombing of the federal building.”

Tariq Nasheed, creator of the Hidden Colors documentary series, encourages Black people to review King and Bannon’s reading material.

“It’s imperative that Black people read and study these books that white supremacists keep putting out,” Nasheed said. Classifying “The Camp of the Saints” and “The Turner Diaries” as assaults on Black people, he stressed that racists “weaponize everything, including so-called ‘fictional’ novels.’” As opposed to dismissing these texts as racially insensitive but harmless, we should view these works as public transcripts of white supremacy culture and strategy.

Raspail writes, “A disturbing trend in our present moment is seeing blatantly [white] supremacist material treated in a positive light,” Kevorkian notes. When anti-Black literature is acclaimed from the loftiest corridors of white power, Black life is threatened and aggressively devalued.

By Gus T. Renegade/AtlantaBlackStar

Posted by The NON-Conformist

Ta-Nehisi Coates Calls for Harvard to Pay Reparations; University President Says ‘No’

In an attempt to atone for its role in human bondage, Harvard University on Friday, March 3, hosted a conference addressing the institution’s historic, and oftentimes forgotten, ties to slavery, with some participants even advocating for monetary reparations.

The conference, titled “Universities and Slavery: Bound by History,” was the latest in a series of efforts taken by the Ivy League university to confront its dark history of enslavement, The Harvard Crimson reported. The day-long symposium drew hundreds of guests from all over, featuring historians and representatives from several universities and a keynote address by writer Ta-Nehisi Coates of The Atlantic.

University President Drew G. Faust delivered the opening remarks.

“Harvard was directly complicit in slavery from the college’s earliest days in the 17th century,” said Faust, who announced plans for the conference in March 2016. “This history and its legacy have shaped our institution in ways we have yet to fully understand. Today’s conference is intended to help us explore parts of the past that have remained all but invisible.”

Coates built upon the president’s remarks in his keynote address, describing slavery and the impacts of racial discrimination that arose from it as “systems of plunder that haunt us to this day.” As an outspoken advocate for reparations, the well-known journalist pushed the idea on conference attendees Friday, asserting that racial progress requires institutions like Harvard to pay its debts to those that it enslaved.

“I think every single one of these universities needs to make reparations,” Coates said, as the audience erupted in applause. “I don’t know how you get around that, I just don’t. I don’t know how you conduct research that shows that your very existence is rooted in a great crime, and just say ‘Well,’ shrug — and maybe, at best, say ‘I’m sorry’ — and you walk away.

“I think you need to use the language of ‘reparation,‘” he continued. “I think it’s very, very important to actually say that word, to acknowledge that something was done in these institutions.”

In the past few years, the Cambridge, Mass., university has taken a number of steps to acknowledge its connection to slavery. In March of last year, the institution bent to mounting pressure to remove the family seal of notorious slave owner Isaac Royall. The controversial seal represented the law school for nearly a century and was adopted in 1937 to honor Royall’s contribution to the university, according to Atlanta Black Star.

Months later, the prestigious university recognized four enslaved persons — Titus, Venus, Jubah and Bilhah — who lived and worked on university grounds by dedicating the official residence of Harvard’s presidents in their honor.

Harvard isn’t the only university that has come clean about the role of slavery in its establishment. Earlier this year, a history professor at Columbia University published a report detailing how the transatlantic slave trade helped finance the school in its humble beginnings, while Georgetown University extended legacy admissions privileges to the descendants of 272 enslaved workers who were sold to keep the institution financially afloat in 1838.

History professor Sven Beckert, who has investigated Harvard’s ties to slavery in the past, said the process of unearthing this bitter history started in 2007 with a self-led seminar on the history of slavery at the university. Over the years, Beckert said his students discovered stories of enslaved Blacks who worked on campus under two Harvard presidents and uncovered endowment investments tied to the slave economy. One student, who presented the findings as part of her senior thesis on Friday, revealed that Harvard had used the Caribbean plantation of a former slave-holding donor as a botanical research outpost until 1961.

“When the students began to uncover a different history, they and others who listened to them were surprised,” Beckert said. “Yet, in retrospect, it seems that the only thing that should surprise us was our surprise and that it took so long for us to allow ourselves to be surprised by that history.”

Unlike Coates, Faust has stopped short of supporting reparations. In an interview with The Harvard Crimson last fall, Faust said offering repayment or preferential treatment like Georgetown University has wouldn’t be appropriate for Harvard, since it didn’t directly own slaves.

“I am not aware of any slaves that were owned by Harvard itself, and slavery was much less of a presence and an economic force in New England than it was in Washington, D.C., and the South,” she said. “Mostly, slave records were kept as economic records, business records, and the records we have of slaves at Harvard are much scarcer and less complete.”

Coates disagreed at Friday’s conference, asserting that atonement must involve some sort of monetary repayment.

The institution’s faculty committee is expected to continue studying Harvard’s ties to slavery and plans to release a set of recommendations to the University in the coming months, according to the newspaper.

By Tanasia Kenney
Posted by The NON-Conformist

Texas: The Fight Against Vouchers Begins Again

Texas has a Lt. Governor named Adan Patrick who hates public schools. Before he was elected to the legislature, he was a radio talk show host, a small-time rightwing shock jock. Patrick’s favorite cause is vouchers and defunding public schools.

He needs to be reminded that “school choice” originated as the battle cry of white segregationists after the Brown decision of 1954. But maybe he knows that.

More from Diane’s Blog

Posted by Libergirl

Voter suppression helped make Donald Trump president — now he’ll make it worse

President Trump will get at least one Supreme Court pick, and maybe more. That’s devastating for voter rights

Donald Trump is going to be president. That not only means he will be able to fill Justice Antonin Scalia’s vacant seat on the Supreme Court, but he will also quite likely get to replace one of the liberal members of the court, such as Ruth Bader Ginsburg (age 83) or Stephen Breyer (age 78). As I previously reported, same-sex marriage and to a lesser extent abortion rights are both shielded from immediate legal threats, thanks to protections offered by previous Supreme Court decisions.

Unfortunately, the same cannot be said of voting rights, which are in serious and pressing danger from a Trump presidency.

“It’s not the apocalypse yet,” Dale Ho, the director of the voting rights project at the ACLU, explained over the phone. “It could be the apocalypse. I’m not going to say it’s not going to be the apocalypse. But on voting, we’re obviously not in as good a position as we expected to be in, and we’re going to have to wait and see.”

Ho cautioned supporters of voting rights not to give up and not to feel hopeless. For instance, he noted, the Fifth Circuit Court, which is the  most conservative in of the circuit courts, struck down a restrictive Texas voter ID law in July. Nine out of the court’s 15 judges — five Democratic appointees and four Republican appointees — backed the decision to strike down the law.

This suggests, Ho said, “that we have penetrated the consciousness of moderate conservatives on this issue.” For instance, he suggested, we cannot prejudge how Justice Anthony Kennedy, the court’s most prominent middle-road conservative, is likely to rule on voting-rights cases.

But while it’s not yet time to give up hope entirely and move to New Zealand, there is real reason to be worried about the fate of voting rights in this country. The possibility of Trump getting not just one but two right-wing justices on the high court creates two major sources of headaches for voting rights advocates.

The first is the current right-wing incursions into voting rights.

“For the last five years, we were largely in a defensive posture on voting rights,” Ho explained, noting that Scalia joined the 5-4 majority in voting to weaken the Voting Rights Act in 2013. There has also been an onslaught of attacks on voting rights on the state level, from voter ID restrictions to restrictions on voter registration to attacks on efforts to make the voting process itself easier. In response, there has been a rash of lawsuits attacking these restrictions.

“The hope was that, in the course of litigating these cases, a new set of legal rules, whether under the Voting Rights Act or under the Constitution, would emerge that would stop or at least put a dent into some of these voter suppression tactics,” Ho continued.

Now the concern, he added, is that “many of these voter suppression tactics that we’re seeing are either going to be left in place or spread.”

But with another conservative certain to replace Scalia, the chance of that happening just dimmed dramatically. If Trump gets to replace a liberal judge with a second conservative, that will make it particularly hard to cobble together five votes to shoot down these kinds of voting restrictions.

The second problem for voting rights under a Trump presidency is that it’s going to be much harder to expand voting rights. As Ho explained, there’s a fledgling wave of efforts to challenge both partisan gerrymandering and felon disenfranchisement in the lower courts. This election can only diminish the likelihood that the Supreme Court will agree, for instance, that it’s wrong to ban someone for voting for life because they committed one felony in their youth.

Existing attacks on voting rights already did a lot to help elect Trump. As my colleague Matthew Rozsa reported, “swing states were able to restrict the franchise in ways that may have been consequential in Trump’s winning the Electoral College (he lost to Hillary Clinton in the popular vote).”

“In Wisconsin, for example, voter ID laws disproportionately targeted nonwhite voters and, according to the executive director of Milwaukee’s Election Commission, resulted in the city’s turnout dropping by roughly 41,000 voters,” Rozsa writes. “Trump won the state by fewer than 18,000 votes.”

Trump campaigned on a platform that, at the very least, channeled and evoked white-nationalist sentiment. That dovetailed perfectly with attacks on voting rights, which are often explicitly aimed at reducing the number of people of color who show up at the polls. In case there was any real hope that Trump didn’t mean all that racist stuff he said to get elected, his initial staffing decisions suggest he’s dead serious about pursuing an agenda rooted in white-supremacist ideology — which has always been centered on voter suppression, from the days of Jim Crow to the modern era of voter ID laws.

Steve Bannon, the former executive chairman for Breitbart News, which has frequently been described as a white nationalist website, was not only the Trump campaign’s CEO, but has now been appointed as Trump’s chief White House strategist. This move cements Bannon’s role as the Joseph Goebbels of the Trump operation, and suggests that white nationalist ideology will be central to the Trump administration. In addition, Trump has hired Kris Kobach, the Kansas secretary of state who has a long career working against immigrant rights and voting rights, as part of his transition team.

Voter suppression is about winning elections, but it’s also about racism. In North Carolina, a voter suppression law was struck down by the Fourth Circuit Court in August. In its decision, the court said that the law targeted “African Americans with almost surgical precision.” Four Supreme Court justices were ready to side with the state and against the circuit court. But with Scalia’s seat vacant, there was no fifth vote in favor of this overtly racist law.

With Trump at the helm, and his well-documented enthusiasm for racism in play, getting that fifth vote to further restrict voting rights in the future is much less likely to be a problem.

Written by Amanda Marcotte

Posted by The NON-Conformist

Bill Clinton’s odious presidency: Thomas Frank on the real history of the ’90s

Welfare reform. NAFTA. The crime bill. Prisons. Aides wondered if Bill knew who he was. His legacy is sadly clear

 

 Everyone remembers the years of the Bill Clinton presidency as good times. The economy was booming, the stock market was ascending, and the mood was infectious. You felt good about it even if you didn’t own a single share.

And yet: What did Clinton actually do in his eight years on Pennsylvania Avenue? While writing this book, I would periodically ask my liberal friends if they could recall the progressive laws he got passed, the high-minded policies he fought for—you know, the good things Bill Clinton got done while he was president. Why was it, I wondered, that we were supposed to think so highly of him—apart from his obvious personal charm, I mean?

It proved difficult for my libs. People mentioned the obvious things: Clinton once raised the minimum wage and expanded the Earned Income Tax Credit. He balanced the budget. He secured a modest tax increase on the rich. And he did propose a national health program, although it didn’t get very far and was in fact so poorly designed it could be a model of how not to do big policy initiatives.

Other than that, not much. No one could think of any great but hopeless Clintonian stands on principle; after all, this is the guy who once took a poll to decide where to go on vacation. His presidency was all about campaign donations, not personal bravery—he basically rented out the Lincoln Bedroom, for chrissake, and at the end of his time in office he even appeared to sell a presidential pardon.

It’s easy to remember the official, consensus reasons why we’re supposed to admire Bill Clinton—the achievements which the inevitable Spielberg bio-pic will no doubt illustrate with poignant and whimsical personal glimpses. First was the economy, which did really well while he was in office. So well, in fact, that we had something close to full employment for several years while the Dow hit 10,000 and the Nasdaq stock index went effing vertical—flush times that are almost inconceivable from our present-day vantage point. Yes, the bubble burst soon after he left office, but so what? Surely those glory years of Wall Street trump everything.

The other great source of the Clinton myth is the insane vendetta against him launched by the Republicans—what his former aide Sidney Blumenthal has called the “Clinton Wars.” The attacks began soon after Clinton took office—the Whitewater pseudoscandal actually made page one of The New York Times in 1992—and the Clinton Wars were so outrageously unfair that you couldn’t help but stand behind their victim. Clinton’s enemies spent millions trawling Arkansas for his old paramours. Congress actually impeached the guy for lying about a blowjob.

For many of the authors who have examined the Clinton presidency, the Clinton Wars eclipse everything else. For instance, take Carl Bernstein, the eminent journalist who wrote a meticulously researched biography of Hillary Clinton, Bill’s wife and “co-president.” So many of the pages Bernstein allots to the couple’s White House years are filled with details about Vince Foster and the Travel Office and the Independent Counsels and the Grand Juries and the missing billing records that Bernstein ultimately relegates Bill Clinton’s actual achievements as president to a few desultory paragraphs here and there.

The Clinton Wars were what politics was all about, and Bill Clinton won those wars. The priggish, boorish, pharisaical right raged against him, and he soldiered on. He defied the Republicans and got himself reelected even as his party lost control of Congress. He outmaneuvered the GOP during the budget wars of 1995 and ’96 and convinced the public to blame his rivals for the government shutdown.

Good economic times and victory in the Clinton Wars: These two are enough to secure the man a spot among the immortals. In fact, before the Crash of 2008, my fellow Washingtonians tended to regard the Clinton administration as an obvious triumph. This was what a successful Democratic presidency looked like. This was the model. To do as Clinton did was to follow the clearly marked path of wisdom.

Evaluating Clinton’s presidency as heroic is no longer a given, however. After the bursting of the dot-com bubble in 2000, the corporate scandals of the Enron period, and the collapse of the real estate racket, our view of the prosperous Nineties has changed quite a bit. Now we remember that it was Bill Clinton’s administration that deregulated derivatives, that deregulated telecom, and that put our country’s only strong banking laws in the grave. He’s the one who rammed the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) through Congress and who taught the world that the way you respond to a recession is by paying off the federal deficit. Mass incarceration and the repeal of welfare, two of Clinton’s other major achievements, are the pillars of the disciplinary state that has made life so miserable for Americans in the lower reaches of society. He would have put a huge dent in Social Security, too, had the Monica Lewinsky sex scandal not stopped him. If we take inequality as our measure, the Clinton administration looks not heroic but odious.

*

Some believe it is unfair to criticize President Clinton for these deeds. At the time of his actions, they recall, each of the initiatives I just mentioned were matters of almost universal assent. In the tight little group of credentialed professionals who dominated his administration as well as the city they worked in, almost everyone agreed on these things. Over each one of them there hovered a feeling of inevitability and even of obviousness, as though they were the uncontroversial policy demands of history itself. Globalization wanted these things to happen. Technology wanted them to happen. The Future wanted them to happen. Naturally the professional class wanted them to happen, too.

The term Clinton liked to use to summarize this sense of inevitability was “change.” This word is, obviously, a longstanding favorite of politicians of the left; what it means is that We the People have the power to shape the world around us. It is a hopeful word. But when Clinton said in a speech about free trade in 1993 that

“Change is upon us. We can do nothing about that.”

he was enshrining the opposite idea as the progressive creed. Change was an external force we could neither escape nor control; it was a reality that limited what we could do politically and that had in fact made most of our political choices for us already. The role of We the People was not to make change but to submit to its dominion. Naturally, Clinton thought to describe this majestic thing, this “change,” by referencing a force of nature: “a new global economy of constant innovation and instant communication is cutting through our world like a new river, providing both power and disruption to the people and nations who live along its course.”

Clinton spoke of change the way other politicians would talk about God or Providence; we could succeed economically, he once announced, “if we make change our friend.” Change was fickle and inscrutable, an unmoved mover doing this or that as only it saw fit. Our task—or, more accurately, your task, middle-class citizen—was to conform to its wishes, to “adjust to change,” as the president put it when talking about NAFTA.

The first time I myself tuned in and noticed some version of this inevitability-speak was in 1993, during that fight over NAFTA. The deal had been negotiated by the departed president, George H. W. Bush, but the Democratic majority in Congress had balked at the original version of the treaty, forcing the parties back to the table. As with so many of the achievements of the Clinton era, it eventually took a Democratic president, working with Republican members of Congress, to pass this landmark of neoliberalism.

According to the president himself, what the agreement was about was simple: “NAFTA will tear down trade barriers,” he said when signing it. “It will create the world’s largest trade zone and create 200,000 jobs in this country by 1995 alone.” The stationery of an outfit that lobbied for the treaty was emblazoned with the argument: “North American Free Trade Agreement—Exports. Better Jobs. Better Wages.”

But it wasn’t reason that sold NAFTA; it was a simulacrum of reason, by which I mean the great god inevitability, invoked in the language of professional-class self-assurance. “We cannot stop global change,” Clinton said in his signing speech.

The phrase that best expressed the feeling was this: “It’s a no brainer.” Lee Iacocca uttered it in a pro-NAFTA TV commercial, and before long everyone was saying it. The phrase struck exactly the right notes of simplicity combined with utter obviousness. Globalization was irresistible, the argument went, and free trade was always and in all situations a good thing. So good, it didn’t even really need to be explained. Everyone knew this. Everyone agreed.

Yet there were people who opposed NAFTA, like labor unions, for example, and Ross Perot, and the majority of Democrats in the House of Representatives. The agreement was not a simple or straightforward thing: it was some 2,000 pages long, and according to reporters who actually read it, the aim was less to remove tariffs than to make it safe for American firms to invest in Mexico—meaning, to move factories and jobs there without fear of expropriation and then to import those factories’ products back into the U.S.

One reason the treaty required no brains at all from its supporters is because NAFTA was as close to a straight-up class issue as we will ever see in this country. It “boils down to the oldest division of all,” Dirk Johnson wrote in The New York Times in 1993: “the haves versus the have-nots, or more precisely, those who have only a little.” The lefty economist Jeff Faux has even told how a NAFTA lobbyist tried to bring him around by reminding him that Carlos Salinas, then the president of Mexico, had “been to Harvard. He’s one of us.”

That appeal to class unity gives a hint of what Clintonism was all about. To owners and shareholders, who would see labor costs go down as they took advantage of unorganized Mexican labor and lax Mexican environmental enforcement, NAFTA held fantastic promise. To American workers, it threatened to send their power, and hence their wages, straight down the chute. To the mass of the professional-managerial class, people who weren’t directly threatened by the treaty, holding an opinion on NAFTA was a matter of deferring to the correct experts—economists in this case, 283 of whom had signed a statement declaring the treaty “will be a net positive for the United States, both in terms of employment creation and overall economic growth.”

The predictions of people who opposed the agreement turned out to be far closer to what eventually came to pass than did the rosy scenarios of those 283 economists and the victorious President Clinton. NAFTA was supposed to encourage U.S. exports to Mexico; the opposite is what happened, and in a huge way. NAFTA was supposed to increase employment in the U.S.; a study from 2010 counts almost 700,000 jobs lost in America thanks to the treaty. And, as feared, the agreement gave one class in America enormous leverage over the other: employers now routinely threaten to move their operations to Mexico if their workers organize. A surprisingly large number of them—far more than in the pre-NAFTA days—have actually made good on the threat.

Mexico has not fared much better. In the decades before NAFTA, its economy often grew rapidly; since NAFTA was enacted, Mexico has experienced some of the feeblest growth of any country in Latin America, despite all the stuff it now makes and exports to the U.S. The country’s poverty rate has not changed much at all while every other country in the region has made considerable progress. One reason for all this is the predictably destructive effect that free trade with American agribusiness has had on the fortunes of millions of Mexican family farmers.

These results have never really shaken the self-assured “no-brainer” consensus. Instead, the phrase returns whenever new trade deals are on the table. During the 1997 debate over “fast track,” restricting the input of Congress in trade negotiations, Al From, the founder of the Democratic Leadership Council, declared confidently that “supporting fast track is a no-brainer.” For some, free-trade treaties are so clearly good that supporting them doesn’t require knowledge of their actual contents. The influential New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman, for example, still thought so when the debate was over an altogether different treaty. “I wrote a column supporting the CAFTA, the Caribbean Free Trade Initiative,” he told Tim Russert in 2006. “I didn’t even know what was in it. I just knew two words: free trade.”

Twenty years later, the broader class divide over the subject persists as well. According to a 2014 survey of attitudes toward NAFTA after two decades, public opinion remains split. But among people with professional degrees—which is to say, the liberal class—the positive view remains the default. Knowing that free-trade treaties are always for the best—even when they empirically are not—seems to have become for the well-graduated a badge of belonging.

*

One of the strangest dramas of the Clinton literature, in retrospect, was the supposed mystery of Bill’s developing political identity. Like a searching teenager in a coming-of-age movie, boy president Bill roams hither and yon, trying out this policy and that, until he finally learns to be true to himself and to worship at the shrine of consensus orthodoxy. He campaigned as a populist, he tried to lift the ban on gays in the military, then all of a sudden he’s pushing free trade and deregulating telecom. Who was this guy, really?

How the question used to vex the president’s friends and advisers! There was “a struggle for the soul of Bill Clinton,” said his aide David Gergen just after the Republicans took Congress in 1994. A month later, Clinton’s press people (to quote the hilarious deadpan of the Washington Post) were actually forced to deny “that Clinton lacks a sense of who he is as president and where he wants to go.”

Clinton’s wandering political identity absorbed both his admirers and biographers, many of whom chose to explain it as a quest: Bill Clinton had to prove, to himself and the nation, that he was a genuine New Democrat. He had to grow into presidential maturity. And the way he had to do it was by damaging or somehow insulting traditional Democratic groups that represented the party’s tradition of egalitarianism. Then we would know that the New Deal was truly dead. Then we could be sure.

This was such a cherished idea among New Democrats that they had a catchphrase for it: Clinton’s campaign team called it “counter-scheduling.” During the 1992 race, as though to compensate for his friend-of-the-little-guy economic theme, Clinton would confront and deliberately antagonize certain elements of the Democratic Party’s traditional base in order to assure voters that “interest groups” would have no say in a New Democrat White House. As for those interest groups themselves, he knew he could insult them with impunity. They had nowhere else to go, in the cherished logic of Democratic centrism.

The most famous target of Clinton’s counter-scheduling strategy was the civil rights leader Jesse Jackson, the nemesis of the party’s centrists and the living embodiment of the politics the Democratic Leadership Council had set out to extinguish. At a 1992 meeting of Jackson’s Rainbow Coalition, with Jackson sitting to his left, Clinton went out of his way to criticize a controversial rapper called Sister Souljah who had addressed the conference on the previous day. The exact circumstances of Clinton’s insult have long been forgotten, but the fact of it has gone down in the annals of politicking as a stroke of genius, an example of the sort of thing that New Democrats should always be doing in order to discipline their party’s base.

Once Clinton was in the White House, counter-scheduling mutated from a campaign tactic to a philosophy of governance. At a retreat in the administration’s early days, Bill’s chief political adviser, Hillary Clinton, instructed White House officials how it was going to be done. As Carl Bernstein describes the scene, Hillary announced that the public must be made to understand that Bill was taking them on a “journey” and that he had a “vision” for what the administration was doing, a “story” that distinguished good from evil. The way to dramatize this story, the first lady continued (in Bernstein’s telling), was to pick a fight with supporters.

You show people what you’re willing to fight for, Hillary said, when you fight your friends—by which, in this context, she clearly meant, When you make them your enemy.

NAFTA would become the first great test of this theory of the presidency, with Clinton defying not only organized labor but much of his own party in Congress. In one sense, it achieved the desired results. For New Democrats and for much of the press, NAFTA was Clinton’s “finest hour,” his “boldest action,” a deed befitting a real he-man of a president who showed he could stand up to labor and thereby assure the world that he was not a captive of traditional Democratic interests.

But there was also an important difference. NAFTA was not symbolism. With this act, Clinton was not merely insulting an important constituency, as he had done with Jesse Jackson and Sister Souljah. With NAFTA he connived in that constituency’s ruin. He assisted in the destruction of its economic power. He did his part to undermine his party’s greatest ally, to ensure that labor would be too weak to organize workers from that point forward. Clinton made the problems of working people materially worse.

It is possible to regard this deed as fine or brave, as so many New Democrats did, if you understand the struggles of workers as a Depression-era cliché you’ve grown sick of hearing. However, if you understand those workers as humans—humans who contributed to Bill Clinton’s election—NAFTA starts to appear like a betrayal on a grand scale. To this day, for working people, the lesson of NAFTA glares like the headlight of an oncoming locomotive: These affluent Democrats do not give a damn about inequality except as an election-year slogan.

Workers were the first casualties of Bill Clinton’s quest for his New Democratic self. But the journey went on. The next great milestones were his big, first-term legislative accomplishments: the great crime crackdown of 1994 and the welfare reform measure of 1996. Both were intended to swipe traditional Republican issues and to demonstrate Clinton’s independence from the so-called special interests.

Back in 1992 Clinton had briefly departed the campaign trail to return to Arkansas and be visibly present while his state went about executing one Ricky Ray Rector, a convicted killer who was so mentally damaged he had no idea what was happening to him or why. Clinton’s design was to signal his toughness and thus avoid the fate of Michael Dukakis, whose presidential run had been done in by TV commercials suggesting he was too much of a wuss to keep dangerous black men behind bars. In the precise words of Christopher Hitchens, Rector was a “human sacrifice” for Clinton’s presidential ambition.

The reasoning that led Clinton to turn the Rector execution into a ritual appeasement of the electoral gods brought him, in 1994, to call for and then sign his name to the most sweeping police-state bill that postwar America has seen. Among other things, the measure provided for the construction of countless new prisons, it established over a hundred new mandatory minimum sentences, it allowed prosecutors to charge thirteen-year-olds as adults in some cases, and it coerced the states into minimizing parole. It also increased the number of federal death penalties from three to sixty, including some for nonlethal offenses—and this from a political party that in 1972 had called for the abolition of capital punishment in its platform.

This was the age of “three strikes,” of “truth in sentencing,” of “zero tolerance,” and Clinton’s aides referred to their bid for mass imprisonment as “upping the ante,” as though it were a poker game with the Republicans. Winning that game was the subject of boasting for Democrats. Said Joe Biden, then a Democratic senator from Delaware, during the debate on the bill:

The liberal wing of the Democratic Party is now for 60 new death penalties. That is what is in this bill. The liberal wing of the Democratic Party has 70 enhanced penalties.  . . . The liberal wing of the Democratic Party is for 100,000 cops. The liberal wing of the Democratic Party is for 125,000 new State prison cells.

None of this happened because of an increase in crime, by the way—violent crime had actually crested several years before—but rather to demonstrate Clinton’s hard-heartedness. “The one way Bill Clinton defined himself as a different Democrat was his tough position on crime,” said Senator Joe Lieberman on the occasion of the bill’s passage. “And he has redeemed that promise.”

In an ugly coda that was delayed by about a year, the ’94 law also allowed President Clinton personally to decide the fate of the infamous 100-to-1 sentencing disparity between crack and powder cocaine.  The former drug was thought to be the scourge of the planet—and 88 percent of the people arrested for it were black—while the latter, even though it was essentially the same thing, was regarded as just another harmless yuppie crime. Handing down prison sentences of many decades for one drug but not the other was both racist and insanely cruel. But Clinton went out of his way to ensure that this practice continued. The number of young black citizens who, in this manner, lost years of their lives to advance Bill Clinton’s journey to political manhood will probably never be known. Let a thousand Ricky Ray Rectors burn, but please God, get this man reelected.

Unfortunately for Bill Clinton, building the greatest gulag in the world was not enough to demonstrate his disregard for the lives of the poor. The right actually mocked the 94 crime bill as a kind of government handout to the poor. He would have to do more.

*

Historians of the Clinton presidency generally skip over the punishment craze into which he led the country in the mid-Nineties. It is hard to account for if the framework you’re applying to those years is one in which Clinton was the victim of right-wing persecution. Those who do acknowledge Clinton’s part in the Big Clampdown either depict it as a great success in the fight against crime—which it was not—or else describe it in superficial Washington terms: He got a great big law passed through Congress, thus proving that he could be an effective bipartisan leader.

Besides, in rhetorical terms, Bill Clinton has always been a steadfast opponent of mass incarceration. In 1991, he said he thought it was awful that “we are now the number one nation in the world in the percentage of people we put in prison.” In 1995, just two weeks before he signed the crack/powder cocaine law, he declared that

blacks are right to think something is terribly wrong . . . when there are more African American men in our correction system than in our colleges; when almost one in three African American men in their twenties are either in jail, on parole or otherwise under the supervision of the criminal system.

In an interview with Rolling Stone in 2000, Clinton said, “the disparities are unconscionable between crack and powdered cocaine. I tried to change that.” In 2008, he said he was sorry for the crack/powder cocaine law. And then, when every presidential candidate began talking up prison reform in 2015, he apologized again, this time saying that the 1994 crime bill was “overdone” and thus implying that he hadn’t really meant to throw so many people in prison.

And maybe that’s what really matters. Maybe that will suffice to get Clinton off the hook on the day when some future Truth and Reconciliation Commission finally starts parceling out the blame for the generation-destroying policies of those years.

But I doubt it. Someday we will understand that the punitive hysteria of the mid-1990s was not an accident; it was essential to Clintonism. Taken as a whole with NAFTA, with welfare reform, with his plan for privatizing Social Security and, of course, with Clinton’s celebrated lifting of the rules governing banks and telecoms, it all fits perfectly within the new, class-based framework of liberalism. Clinton simply treated different groups of Americans in radically different ways—crushing some in the iron fist of the state, exposing others to ruinous corporate power, while showering the favored stratum with bailouts, deregulation, and a frolicking celebration of Think Different business innovation.

Some got bailouts, others got “zero tolerance.” There was really no contradiction between these things. Lenience and forgiveness and joyous creativity for Wall Street bankers while another group gets a biblical-style beatdown—these things actually fit together quite nicely. Indeed, the ascendance of the first group requires that the second be lowered gradually into hell. When you take Clintonism all together, it makes sense, and the sense it makes has to do with social class. What the poor get is discipline; what the professionals get is endless indulgence.

Excerpted from Thomas Frank’s new book, “Listen, Liberal”

Written by Thomas Frank/Salon

Posted by The NON-Conformist

 

US Justice Department shows interest in NAACP lawsuit challenging NC voter roll purges

The U.S. Justice Department has filed a statement of interest in the NAACP lawsuit challenging elections boards in three North Carolina counties where voters complain they were inaccurately purged from voter rolls.

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Image: AP

The NAACP went to federal court in Winston-Salem on Wednesday seeking intervention from U.S. District Judge Loretta Biggs.

In their lawsuit filed Monday, the NAACP and voters from Beaufort, Moore and Cumberland counties contend that local elections boards were violating federal law that prohibits voter roll purges within 95 days before an election.

In North Carolina, which has been a pivotal battleground state in the national elections, state law allows any registered voter to challenge another voter’s registration.

Challenges in Beaufort, Moore and Cumberland counties were done with the help of the Voter Integrity Project, a conservative-leaning organization that contends voter fraud is a problem, though very few cases have been prosecuted or proven either nationally or locally. Some of the challenges were based on the fact that campaign mailings sent to voters at a particular address were returned unopened.

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Dakota Access Oil Pipeline Protesters Brace for Confrontation With Police

(CANNON BALL, N.D.) — Protesters trying to stop construction of the Dakota Access oil pipeline are bracing for a confrontation with police Thursday after the demonstrators refused to leave private land in the pipeline’s path. A months-long dispute over the four-state, $3.8 billion pipeline reached a crisis point when some 200 protesters set up camp…

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