I thought I’d wade into the current conversations going on regarding violence within the leftist, activist movement, and whether or not it is justified. Furthermore, is it a Machiavellian justification, the ends justify the means, or is it a Kantian necessity.
I recently saw this video posted up by a family member of a man explaining his take on why identity politics and intersectionality are wrong headed, and that the working class was lost to “liberals” due to paying any attention to that, to fully understand what I’m referencing I would recommend watching it: https://www.facebook.com/myiannopoulos/videos/840123842792179/.
Knowing what is being sold to folks who take an opposition position is important to overcoming that gap. His nonsense wraps up with the concept that liberals are normalizing physical violence, and then he goes on to make the threat: “Step out of the liberal cities and look at the rest of the country. You’re outnumbered, out manned and out gunned. You cannot win this if it turns violent. If you normalize violence you cannot win.”
This isn’t the position of a singular Trump supporter, but a belief held and shared deeply within the Trump base of support. As such I want to take a look at this through three primary points, in an intentionally basic level. As always, I’ll have a syllabus of deep-dive material at the end, and recommend you take a look through as much of it as possible as it is meant to support my argument, but will also help you to form or strengthen your own arguments and opinions.
First, the Trump supporter’s argument really makes no sense on a number of levels, but not on every level. For the purpose of this essay I’m going to use the lens of violence to explain what I believe are the problems with the argument, as well as the one thing I believe is correct.
Supporting Trump or the broader GOP agenda has, since at least the Nixon era, been an act of cutting off the nose to spite the face for the poor — regardless of ethnic background. Intersectionality is exactly the fact that this is class warfare, that we can all care about our individual “identity politics” (e.g. that a black person has a certain set of concerns that may not be an issue for a white person), but that we all need to come together (intersect) and bring about a change that is about overcoming the need to exploit one-another. The irony of this video example itself is that anti-identity-politics Milo Yiannopoulos titled it “Asian Trump Supporter…” and thus has himself made this identity driven. The reason is that white-males, and those who aspire to being a white male, are confident in arguing against identity politics is because they see their own identity as normative – but I digress.
Capitalism is, by definition, a system of exploitation of resources. To capitalize upon something is to take advantage. It demands that there are a few individuals at the top stepping on everyone else below them. It demands individuals to take advantage of other individuals. As such, capitalism requires unemployment as a component of being able to exploit labor. In its worst, unlivable wages or outright slavery is utilized as a way of further increasing profit and allowing for ever greater exploitation. A confusion that exists broadly amongst conservative voters, and narrowly in the post-Reagan “It’s the economy stupid” leadership of the Democratic Party, is a conflation of what neo-liberalism is versus what it is to be a liberal. Neo-liberalism is an imperialist movement based on capitalism. The lynch-pin of neo-liberalism is the constant expansion of free-market capitalism through tactics such as trade deals and military action. Fascism is the far end of the neo-liberal ideal. As benign as a trade deal may seem, international trade is usually heavily in favor of corporate rights over both individual entrepreneurial rights; and much more importantly, over worker and human rights because the workers are trapped within the national borders and economies.
So while I agree with the video’s Trump supporter that neo-liberalism is bad – that neo-liberalism has been embraced by every capitalist politician in my lifetime, from Trump to the Clintons. I’m not convinced that many (if any) Trump supporters actually understand the difference, which is clearly demonstrated in this Yiannopoulos example. Trump ran on an anti-trade-deal platform and has already backtracked on that … and who will pay for his wall … and his hatred of the ultimate capitalist – Goldman Sachs bankers – who have made up a significant number of his cabinet members. In his two-week term, he has already essentially broken every campaign promise, resulting in the lowest approval rating of any newly elected president.
It is by no means just Trump’s lies and platform reversals makes me cringe at the idea of Trump being elected on the, primarily white, working class vote. Neo-liberalism aside there remains a significant difference between the parties and their processes. Trump and the GOP, through their words and their actions, are fueling racism, anti-intellectualism, and competition between underprivileged individuals and individual groups. The intended result is a populace majority tearing itself apart, marginalizing the working class, instead of working to topple the 1-percent. And in another irony, a significant component of the GOP strategy is to discredit the systemic abuses of marginalized groups. In doing so, the conservatives goal (seemingly succeeded) is to enrage underprivileged whites to the point of making them blind to the true struggle – a widening income gap, the death of a middle class, and a return to a form of feudalism wherein the working class is forced to survive off of indebtedness.
Yiannopoulos’ Trump supporter in the video is absolutely on point about the true struggle, even if he immediately misplaces his anger. He provides a parable about how working class people of all backgrounds and situations are struggling today to maintain employment, to afford healthcare and education, and to have access to the financial system the way the privileged do.
To effectively overcome this struggle there has to be a recognition of what exactly is being struggled against. Yiannopoulos’ Trump supporter in the video is absolutely wrong about this point. For poor whites this includes things like the opioid epidemic; for other marginalized groups this also includes legal discrimination and violence – both physical and mental – being enacted upon them. Instead in the video the Trump supporter refuses to see the multiple facets to the struggle, assuming the only thing that matters is jobs. Not fair wages, not single-payer universal healthcare, not equality and justice. Essentially the Trump supporter believes he hates neo-liberals while generally arguing directly in favor of extreme neo-liberalism.
He may claim that this is an issue of free speech, but it is hate-speech being wielded as a tool to divide the majority class of Americans, the poor and working class, and to incite violence within its ranks.
Yiannopoulos hides behind the first amendment while personally attacking individual students during campus presentations. In his speeches and his writing for the white-nationalist media outlet Breitbart Yiannopoulos regularly pits people against each other. His defense of Trump only further clarifies how he (and subsequently his supporters) believe opposition should be handled — by bullying through the courts or through physical confrontation. On the campaign trail Trump regularly instigated violence. He continues that.
When I state that there is a distinct difference between the two parties, it is not because I take solace in the Democratic party, even if I tend to vote democrat as a worker who lives in a swing state. I accept some level of pragmatism in my national votes and the democratic candidate is usually the lesser evil. I claim this as the party doesn’t actively attempt to divide the working class, or incite violence. Regardless their policies often do divide the working class and lead to violence – again with the question of Machiavelli-ism v. Kantian ideals.
Trump explicitly is committed to both divisiveness and violence via his rhetoric and policy. Over 100,000 fully screened and vetted individuals, potential immigrants – a process that take years to complete – have had their lives upended over Trump’s “Muslim Ban.” For many this means they have to start that process over from square one, leaving them for years to come in war zones and refugee camps. That is violence.
Trump and the GOP’s defunding of the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) is already effecting prescription drug costs. In my house, all of our prescriptions have doubled in cost in the past week due to that executive order and congressional vote. Again, two examples from the first two weeks of Trump’s first term. There are many more.
So would Clinton have done anything to truly help the poor? No, no she wouldn’t. Her and her husband have a history of implementing policy that ultimately has further hurt the poor and working class (welfare and prison reform being standouts). That said, she also wouldn’t have explicitly blown shit up with zero fucks given to how the majority of Americans will deal with no safety nets, with a reduction in educational opportunities, etc. The Democratic party (and in this election, Clinton herself) have repeatedly shown a willingness to roll over and accept questionable results of elections, that oddly have consistently favored Republicans and the implicit violence their policy brings, instead of fighting to have those questions answered – even if the result remains the same.
The age old adage of “If voting made any difference they wouldn’t let us do it” seems to receive further support when examining election inconsistencies. Additionally, waiting two years until the 2018 election cycle to make a change through the vote is an exceedingly questionable tactic given another age old adage of relevance in the current political climate: “just because something is legal, doesn’t make it right.”
Or, in a more eloquent form, “One has not only a legal but a moral responsibility to obey just laws. Conversely, one has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws.” (Martin Luther King, Jr.; Letter from a Birmingham Jail).
One of most anti-democratic and unjust laws that has been harshly enforced, specifically since the 1990s, but stretching back to the late 1960s, is the government permitting process for protests and the concept of the “free-speech zone.” According to court decisions, the bases for these permits and the containment of protests to specifically cordoned off areas is to all for equal public access and enjoyment of public areas. While the ACLU has had mixed success with arguing against these protest pens, it is not a majority vote that will reinstate more liberal first amendment rights.
In an interview on The Dig podcast, leftist intellectual George Cicariello-Maher talks about this specifically in relation to the recent arrests during Trump’s (very poorly attended) inauguration.
“[There are] protestors facing 10 years on felony riot charges, yet people are still talking about property damage being unnecessarily provocative,” Cicariello-Maher said, referring to some vehicles being set ablaze by Black Bloc provocateurs, he being more concerned about the unjust nature of felony charges in the face of non-lethal property damage. “There’s a lot of fetishization going on all around … first thing is we need to de-fetishize what I call the theological assumptions of non-violence … which is the assumption that history moves forward through reason, and people getting together, and that good ideas defeat bad ones … that’s never how these things happened … we don’t have civil rights because we convinced white people they were wrong … we have it because nonviolent movements worked alongside violent actions and riots … in an attempt toward pushing the viewpoint.”
I am in absolute disagreement that leftist intellectuals and “elites” are responsible for the direct person-on-person violence Yiannopoulos’ supporter ascribes to them. There is an abundance of physical evidence to the contrary. Police and politicians use direct and indirect violence against the people in protest on a daily basis. Jail and job loss lobbed at leftists as easily as flash-bang and tear gas grenades. Law and order often inflicted on activists through unjust and questionably lawful orders.
I do agree there is some level of personal violence against fascism coming from leftists here in the US, but I believe it is in response to the systemic violence I described earlier in this essay. Destruction of property associated with neo-liberal policy should be fair game as it is the diametric opposite of the violence inflicted by those policies. When workers destroy the property of anti-worker capitalists, neo-liberals, and outright fascists they are inflicting a toll in retribution for unpaid public shares. When protestors choose their place of protest instead of agreeing to the pens, the free-speech-zones, so often placed out of eye and ear-shot of the policy makers, then the protest actually has power.
Does violence rule then? Yes, yes it does.
Political violence through policy and policing is the ruling power even in our purported democracy. It is working to maintain the power of the 1%. For the working class, the proletariat, the people – non-violent protest of the past is now interpreted by law as violent. The disruption of commerce in the form of blocking entry to buildings (intentionally or not – public or private), the parading of protests that impede vehicular traffic, these are examples of cause which the police use as legal excuse to take physical action against protestors, leading to arrests. Following arrest, prosecutors and politicians push for impossibly high penalties. Trump himself is pursuing language to classify these protest tactics as “economic terrorism.”
There are tons of examples of countries around the world who offer all of their citizens (immigrants included) a true chance to pursue happiness, to feel as though justice is served, and that they have the liberty and freedom to live their lives to the fullest. Many of those looked at the flawed, imperfect American experiment of the 1700s and 1800s. Unfortunately, our country continues to fall further and further from those foundational ideals, explicitly because we continue to put people in power who have the express interest in screwing over the majority for their individual gain.
Long gone from the US lexicon is the term citizen, replaced with consumer. The term immigrant replaced with illegal. Liberty now as liability. Community pride gives way to cobranded naming rights.
American capitalism at its finest.
Below is my complimentary syllabus of further reading associated with this video, please consider supporting your local indie book store or radical infoshop where possible. If you’re using Amazon as your source for some of these materials, please consider using the Amazon Smile feature to donate a portion of your purchase to a pro-worker, pro-education, and pro-equal rights organization. Finally, I would recommend using a Google search or similar on all of these pieces as they’ll turn of innumerable critical essays worth reading for even further context – something my brief videos can only scratch the surface of. My books and more of my writing can be found via Andrew-Miller.com.
AJ+ “We Spoke to Protesters and Asked Which Protest Tactics Work”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q_nfvAWEfjE
Birth of a Nation: A Comic Novel (Aaron Mcgruder 2004): https://www.amazon.com/Birth-Nation-Comic-Aaron-Mcgruder/dp/1400048591/ref=sr_1_5?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1487188435&sr=1-5&keywords=birth+of+a+nation
Black bloc protests return for Trump era, leaving flames, broken windows from D.C. to Berkeley: https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/morning-mix/wp/2017/02/02/black-bloc-protests-return-for-trump-era-leaving-flames-broken-windows-from-dc-to-berkeley/
Deeper Dive “The Philosophies and Tactics of War and the DAPL Protesters”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NqEc5RzpNG4
Jacobin “The Party We Need” (Fall 2016): https://www.jacobinmag.com/
James Baldwin Debates William F. Buckley:
The Autobiography of Malcom X (1965): https://www.amazon.com/Autobiography-Malcolm-Penguin-Modern-Classics/dp/0141185430/ref=pd_sbs_14_t_1?_encoding=UTF8&psc=1&refRID=2W4J27FP0TYMH7EBSM6J
The Dig “Geore Cicariello-Maher on Violence and Free Speech” podcast (Feb 7, 2017): https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/the-dig/id1043245989?mt=2
Think Like a Cop “Riot Control Tactics by Police – Understanding how Government Controls People”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6JJMxHQvfRM
Think Like a Cop “Riot Police Tactics – Arrest Teams Snatch & Grabs”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ToTLyYNIC0I