By Vijay Prashad. This article was first published on Daily Hampshire Gazette.
Vijay PrashadYou reap what you sow. The Republican Party – pushed along by large segments of the “Third Way” Democrats – crafted policies that allowed the American rich to go on tax strike, that allowed them to deindustrialize the United States and that allowed their banks to control the destiny of people from the redwood forest to the gulf stream waters.
This land is their land. Democracy is the mask of the 1 percent.
The detritus of those policies created under-employment and endemic social crises. Between the prison industrial complex and the opioid crisis lies the fault line of race: otherwise these are identical. Wages plummeted, but debt-fueled consumption allowed the American Dream to remain alive. The Great Recession of 2007 awoke sections of the country from its credit card somnolence. For the first time in decades, the American Dream seemed unrealistic. The lives of American children would most certainly be economically more fragile than those of their parents.
Race stayed the hand of unity. The Tea Party movement covered itself in the old rags of racism to blame migrants and minorities for the degradation of their country. Egged on by the Republican elites, this movement took the hatred of government and of outsiders to the limit. Out of it came Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio, with fire against Washington as their ammunition. It is fitting that the old Gadsden flag was taken up by the Tea Party – with its rattlesnake above the sign, “Don’t Tread on Me.”
To associate oneself with the rattlesnake is a curious gesture. This is venom incarnate.
The Great Recession hit black and Latino families hardest, but there was no room for them in the Tea Party consensus. It was Obama’s presidential campaign that became their ark. That Obama did little to constrain the banks and force the rich to pay tax was disappointing, but not sufficient for disillusionment. What choice has there been? It was organizations such as Stand Up United, Black Lives Matter, Dream Defenders, Defend the Dream, Stand Up/Don’t Shoot and Black Youth Project that drew in the more critical segments – spurred on by Ferguson.
They are the antithesis of the Tea Party, although survivors of a similar dynamic set in motion by the American rich’s tax strike.
Many of these young people have now taken refuge in the Sanders’ campaign. Hillary Clinton was part of the “Third Way” Democrats that allowed Wall Street its excesses. She does not have the compass to bring in this segment. It is fitting that the wife of Eric Garner (killed by the New York police department) supports Clinton, while their daughter – Erica Garner – who is an activist in these movements supports Sanders.
Donald Trump and Ted Cruz are the end-points of Republican policy. They are what emerge when the rich don’t pay their fair share of taxes and the working poor cannot any longer dream of a better life. But they are particularly the salvation of the white working poor. Theirs is a populism narrowed by racism and misogyny.
Stop Trump, goes the slogan. But replace him with what? Ted Cruz, who is not only as bellicose as Trump (bomb the desert to “make it glow”), but is also a zealot? These men are mirror reflections of each other. They are Crump.
Both Trump and Sanders attract the white workers who had been battered by the trade agreements of the 1 percent. Trump’s rhetoric is familiar to the American right, which heard it from Pat Buchanan in an earlier era. Sanders comes from a long line of Democratic barnstormers who opposed these recent trade deals – whether Tom Harkin or Sherrod Brown and most recently the Sanders’ supporter Keith Ellison. These are Mid-western politicians who know how the trade deals eviscerated the working class of their heartland. In this skepticism of the 1 percent’s trade deals there is the potential of great unity, but again race is the obstacle. Buchanan’s fulminations on the “end of White America” are far from Harkin’s 1992 objections to NAFTA on the grounds that the U.S. protects “everything that deals with capital and property but we cannot deal with protecting basic human rights.”
Exit from this current nightmare is not evident. Until the American Rich give up their tax strike, there is little hope for necessary social investments. Unity is impossible as long as the toxicity of racism diminishes social life. Trump and Cruz offer bluster, empty slogans that reduce the potential of people. Clinton and Rubio have little to offer beyond the prattle of the Beltway, which is continued adherence to Wall Street’s failed dogmas and belief in the Security establishment’s failed imagination for the world. The Republican elite wants to sow fear of Trump in order to sneak in Cruz. Under both shells sit rotten peas. It is better to pick neither.
Vijay Prashad lives in Northampton and teaches at Trinity College. His most recent book is the edited collection “Letters to Palestine: Writers Respond to War and Occupation” (Verso, 2015).