Hillary & The Donald: Symptoms, But Not the Disease — Reflections on First Principles for Our Revolution
DEALING WITH SYMPTOMS
Like many of you, when it comes to this election, I feel pretty fucked over and left behind. At present, I have no desire to address the problems of crazy Hillary supporters, Hillary’s innumerable issues or Hillary in-fucking-general. Either she or Trump — both “greater evils” to my way of thinking — will win the presidency in November. I have come to terms with that, and the reality we are all in for a world of shit regardless of whomever occupies the Oval Office come Inauguration Day.
Fortunately, there are numerous great writers and bloggers who continue to address the failings of our two major party candidates. In particular, many of you are doing the work of knocking down the the straw men arguments Hillary supporters rattle off to argue she must be elected to save the world from the Devil incarnate, Donald Trump, and anyone who dares to think or vote otherwise is an evil, childish, unfeeling moron. Indeed, so many other bloggers and writers have that beat covered that I see no need to do it anymore myself.
Instead, I’ve begun to the process of deciding how to best use my time after the election is over. Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump are both disastrous candidates, and I am convinced either of them is capable of criminal acts if elected, but they are merely representative of the end stage symptoms of a disease with which our body politic, and global society, was infected with decades ago by, to quote from a fake Bible verse recited by Samuel Jackson’s character, Jules, in the film, Pulp Fiction, “the inequities of the selfish and and the tyranny of evil men.”
We know that this particular disease has been a constant throughout history, but its present form can be dated back to an infamous memo written in 1971 by a then corporate lawyer, Lewis Powell, to a friend of his at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, two months before President Nixon nominated Powell for a seat on the Supreme Court. Powell was distressed by what he considered a series of “attacks” over the previous three decades on the rights and privileges of the only class of people who really mattered to such a sycophantic and antidemocratic ideologue as himself: the wealthy and the large corporations they controlled. While I urge you to read the entire text of the “Powell Manifesto” if you haven’t before, here’s the opening lines, which gives you a taste for the manufactured crisis Powell believed had arisen from the few advances in human rights, and particularly civil rights for minorities and the rights of the working class that had been achieved since FDR first became President:
No thoughtful person can question that the American economic system is under broad attack. This varies in scope, intensity, in the techniques employed, and in the level of visibility.
There always have been some who opposed the American system, and preferred socialism or some form of statism (communism or fascism). Also, there always have been critics of the system, whose criticism has been wholesome and constructive so long as the objective was to improve rather than to subvert or destroy.
But what now concerns us is quite new in the history of America. We are not dealing with sporadic or isolated attacks from a relatively few extremists or even from the minority socialist cadre. Rather, the assault on the enterprise system is broadly based and consistently pursued. It is gaining momentum and converts.
One would think from the tone of Powell’s memo that communists were in charge of the country, instead of a corrupt, corporatist, warmongering Republican President, Richard M. Nixon. In fact, his concern was not that leftists or communists or even fascists (a term he used loosely and inaccurately) were about to use the government to takeover the “means of production” of the economic powerhouse that the United States had become following WWII and the New Deal reforms. No, his sole concern was that the owners of large multinational businesses were not benefiting enough from that economic growth, and that their managers, directors and shareholders, respectively, would lose ground in their ability to keep the “little people” under their collective thumb.
Powell’s vision of the golden age of America was the notorious “Gilded Age,” and the inaptly named “Progressive Era” that followed it. This period stretched from the latter part of the 19th century into the first two decades of the twentieth. It was an era that led to the greatest wealth and income inequality in our nation’s history, one that ultimately resulted in the Great Depression and the collapse of the world’s economy in the twenties and early thirties. As any decent historian will tell you that economic collapse played a central role in the rise of Fascist states in Europe and Latin America, and the totalitarian militaristic regime in Japan, regimes that brought on the mass conflagration known as WWII.
It would be unfair to say that Powell’s memo created the virus that led to our current political polarization, racial division, income inequality and economic hardship for all but the wealthiest on our society. However, it it certainly provided a spark that ignited the counter-revolutionary and reactionary “Conservative Movement.” Movement conservatism was an all out assault from the right on the values and institutions that promoted economic and social justice from the New deal era and labor movement of the thirties and forties, to the civil rights movement, feminism, and those worker and environmental protections that Nixon himself signed into law.
This new form of “conservative activism”had its initial and most most prominent success when it managed to elect Ronald Reagan twice as President. All of the changes to American society that I have witnessed over the last four decades flow from the Reagan era. Reagan triggered a backlash against gains made by labor unions, poor people and minorities while shifting the burden of paying for the Federal Government’s undying support for the gluttonous Military Industrial Complex upon the backs of the middle class.
Reagan’s popularity and ability to raise funds for a Republican political resurgence also led to the makeover of the Democratic Party into a right-center party that rejected its core base of supporters in favor of the financial interests of Wall Street and other transnational corporations. You know, the takeover of the party by the Democratic Leadership Council, among whose founders included Bill and Hillary Clinton.
To cut to the chase, the end result of these behind the scenes machinations by the “tyranny” of rich and powerful men and women, united only in their selfish desire for monetary success for themselves and the companies for whom they worked, can be seen in the seminal work of Gilens and Page (tip of the hat to SnappleBC’s essay), “Testing Theories of American Politics: Elites, Interest Groups, and Average Citizens.” Their study demonstrates that our current political system can best be characterized as an oligarchy posing as a sham of representative democracy. No wonder “we can’t have nice things,” like universal single payer healthcare, as Hillary herself is so fond of reminding us.
ADDRESSING THE DISEASE: The Example of Martin Luther King Jr.
Now, there have been many who have presented far better explanations and historical analyses of the process by which our current political system was corrupted and taken over by the “Billionaire Class” as Bernie Sanders called them. But what I’ve described above, and the actions and strategies that the Powell Memo promoted to take back the government from the “common people” and return it to the oligarchs essentially covers the broad outlines of how our democracy, which in our history was in its infancy, was strangled and left for dead by the powerful elites in Business, Government and the Military.
What the Powell Memo represented was a “call to arms” on behalf of the entrenched establishment, and most of the policies and tactics he recommended were effectively employed by said elites to undermine the minor advances that ordinary citizens benefited from during the New Deal Era, which for my purposes ended with the re-election of Nixon in 1972. Powell’s vision of a future in which “free enterprise” (his term) rules the day has come to pass. Like a cancer it has metastasized throughout our global society and eradicating it simply by working within the system, or opposing the leaders chosen for us by our betters will. in my view lead to failure.
However, a few years before Powell wrote his missive to Eugene B. Sydnor, Jr. of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, another man presented a vision diametrically opposed to the one proposed by Lewis Powell. It also did not present a new vision for organizing and addressing the ills of society, but it has perhaps never been more powerfully and cogently expressed in our times than it was by one man on April 3, 1968. I speak, of course, of Martin Luther King Jr. and the last speech he ever gave before his assassination the following day, the speech presented in Memphis, TN on behalf of the striking sanitation workers of that city.
It has often been labeled his “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop” speech for its eerie and seemingly prescient inclusion of the scene from the Biblical story of the Exodus where Yahweh, the Israelite God, took Moses to the summit of Mt. Nebo to see the land of Canaan, the land that Moses himself would never enter and make his home despite leading his people out of bondage under the Egyptian Pharaoh. It’s easy to see why so may gave the speech this title, considering that King was literally killed the next day. However, had MLK lived, it might just as easily have become known as his “Good Samaritan” speech, for the core of the message he gave to the people present at the Bishop Charles Mason Temple Church of God where he spoke relied heavily on that specific parable described in the Gospel of Luke.
It’s easy to romanticize the Civil Rights era and the iconic figure that King has become. At the time, however, King’s movement was facing stiff resistance from local governments and the courts, who opposed his activism at every turn. Indeed, his support for the Memphis sanitation workers, and the march he planned to lead were directly prohibited by a temporary restraining order obtained by the City of Memphis. Nonetheless, King was determined to march, and he gave his last speech for the direct purpose of encouraging and galvanizing his supporters to participate on behalf of the striking workers of Memphis, despite the TRO which made any such demonstration illegal and which the City of Memphis no doubt intended to use as a justification for the use of excessive force and mass arrests against King and his supporters.
In his final speech on the night of April 3rd, King’s desire heal the divisions between poor blacks and whites and unify them behind a simple yet still radical attitude toward changing our society was never more eloquently expressed. As with most great leaders and visionaries, it’s best to let his words speak for themselves (Note: I have edited the transcript to eliminate audience responses and also highlighted certain phrases for emphasis).
… The nation is sick, trouble is in the land, confusion all around. … But I know, somehow, that only when it is dark enough can you see the stars. And I see God working in this period of the twentieth century in a way that men in some strange way are responding. Something is happening in our world. (Yeah) The masses of people are rising up. And wherever they are assembled today, whether they are in Johannesburg, South Africa; Nairobi, Kenya; Accra, Ghana; New York City; Atlanta, Georgia; Jackson, Mississippi; or Memphis, Tennessee, the cry is always the same: “We want to be free.”
And another reason I’m happy to live in this period is that we have been forced to a point where we are going to have to grapple with the problems that men have been trying to grapple with through history, but the demands didn’t force them to do it. Survival demands that we grapple with them. Men for years now have been talking about war and peace. But now no longer can they just talk about it. It is no longer a choice between violence and nonviolence in this world; it’s nonviolence or nonexistence. That is where we are today.
But in a world where the authorities are more than willing to use whatever means they have at their disposal to suppress dissent, including state acts of violence, what did King advise people to do? For the situation he and his followers faced is not much different from our own situation today, where government at all levels is organized to use violence as a tool to enforce order, and propaganda to keep the masses of common people divided and fighting among themselves. Here is where King invoked the Bill of Rights as justification for continuing a non-violent struggle against the powers that be.
The issue is injustice. The issue is the refusal of Memphis to be fair and honest in its dealings with its public servants, who happen to be sanitation workers. [Applause] Now we’ve got to keep attention on that. That’s always the problem with a little violence. You know what happened the other day, and the press dealt only with the window breaking. I read the articles. They very seldom got around to mentioning the fact that 1,300 sanitation workers are on strike, and that Memphis is not being fair to them, and that Mayor Loeb is in dire need of a doctor. They didn’t get around to that. […]
I call upon you to be with us when we go out Monday. Now about injunctions: We have an injunction and we’re going into court tomorrow morning to fight this illegal, unconstitutional injunction. All we say to America is, “Be true to what you said on paper.” [applause] If I lived in China or even Russia, or any totalitarian country, maybe I could understand some of these illegal injunctions. Maybe I could understand the denial of certain basic First Amendment privileges, because they hadn’t committed themselves to that over there. But somewhere I read of the freedom of assembly. Somewhere I read of the freedom of speech. Somewhere I read of the freedom of the press. Somewhere I read that the greatness of America is the right to protest for right. And so just as I say we aren’t going to let any dogs or water hoses turn us around, we aren’t going to let any injunction turn us around. We are going on. […]
Now let me say as I move to my conclusion that we’ve got to give ourselves to this struggle until the end. Nothing would be more tragic than to stop at this point in Memphis. We’ve got to see it through. And when we have our march, you need to be there. If it means leaving work, if it means leaving school, be there. Be concerned about your brother. You may not be on strike, but either we go up together or we go down together. Let us develop a kind of dangerous unselfishness.
Dangerous unselfishness? What did King mean by that term? The answer is that he invoked the parable of the Good Samaritan to make it clear what he meant, and the attitude he believed was best to advance the cause of social and economic justice for all.
One day a man came to Jesus and he wanted to raise some questions about some vital matters of life. At points he wanted to trick Jesus, and show him that he knew a little more than Jesus knew and throw him off base. … Now that question could have easily ended up in a philosophical and theological debate. But Jesus immediately pulled that question from midair and placed it on a dangerous curve between Jerusalem and Jericho. And he talked about a certain man who fell among thieves. You remember that a Levite and a priest passed by on the other side; they didn’t stop to help him. Finally, a man of another race came by. He got down from his beast, decided not to be compassionate by proxy. But he got down with him, administered first aid, and helped the man in need. Jesus ended up saying this was the good man, this was the great man because he had the capacity to project the “I” into the “thou,” and to be concerned about his brother.
Now, you know, we use our imagination a great deal to try to determine why the priest and the Levite didn’t stop. At times we say they were busy going to a church meeting, an ecclesiastical gathering, and they had to get on down to Jerusalem so they wouldn’t be late for their meeting. At other times we would speculate that there was a religious law that one who was engaged in religious ceremonials was not to touch a human body twenty-four hours before the ceremony. And every now and then we begin to wonder whether maybe they were not going down to Jerusalem, or down to Jericho, rather, to organize a Jericho Road Improvement Association. That’s a possibility. Maybe they felt it was better to deal with the problem from the causal root, rather than to get bogged down with an individual effect.
But I’m going to tell you what my imagination tells me. It’s possible that those men were afraid. You see, the Jericho Road is a dangerous road. I remember when Mrs. King and I were first in Jerusalem. We rented a car and drove from Jerusalem down to Jericho. And as soon as we got on that road I said to my wife, “I can see why Jesus used this as the setting for his parable.” It’s a winding, meandering road. It’s really conducive for ambushing. You start out in Jerusalem, which is about twelve hundred miles, or rather, twelve hundred feet above sea level. And by the time you get down to Jericho fifteen or twenty minutes later, you’re about twenty-two feet below sea level. That’s a dangerous road. In the days of Jesus it came to be known as the “Bloody Pass.” And you know, it’s possible that the priest and the Levite looked over that man on the ground and wondered if the robbers were still around. Or it’s possible that they felt that the man on the ground was merely faking, and he was acting like he had been robbed and hurt in order to seize them over there, lure them there for quick and easy seizure. And so the first question that the priest asked, the first question that the Levite asked was, “If I stop to help this man, what will happen to me?”
But then the Good Samaritan came by, and he reversed the question: “If I do not stop to help this man, what will happen to him?” That’s the question before you tonight. Not, “If I stop to help the sanitation workers, what will happen to my job?” Not, “If I stop to help the sanitation workers, what will happen to all of the hours that I usually spend in my office every day and every week as a pastor?” The question is not, “If I stop to help this man in need, what will happen to me?” The question is, “If I do not stop to help the sanitation workers, what will happen to them?” That’s the question. [Applause]
Let us rise up tonight with a greater readiness. Let us stand with a greater determination. And let us move on in these powerful days, these days of challenge, to make America what it ought to be. We have an opportunity to make America a better nation.
FIRST PRINCIPLES GOING FORWARD FOR OUR REVOLUTION
In my view, for any political revolution to succeed, it cannot rely upon changing established institutions from within, whether they be political parties, governments or the courts. While tactically, all of the above may need to be prodded and challenged and presented with dissent and opposition, we cannot expect the people, structures and systems that exist to perpetuate the status quo to ever accept change or give up power willingly.
And even more than the particular actions, strategies and tactics we employ to accomplish our ends, the most important thing we must do first is to unify behind a core set of values. And I say to you that a good starting point is the value that Martin Luther King Jr. expressed in his very last, and perhaps most important speech: the value of caring for others and standing with them regardless of the risk we ourselves may face by doing so.
As King put the question regarding the injustices of his era, many of the same injustices we see being perpetrated in our own time, if we do not stop to help our neighbors, our fellow citizens in their struggles, whether that means standing with the Black Lives Matter in Charlotte or the Standing Rock Sioux in North Dakota, or any other aggrieved person facing injustice, facing the wrath and power of the corporate controlled state, we have already lost any chance to effect real change, and any chance of a revolution in our politics and our society.
It’s a simple but still radical attitude we must adopt if, as King himself noted, we are to survive in an era of gross political, economic, racial and environmental injustice: Love your neighbor as yourself, and your neighbor in this regard mean anyone and everyone who is facing injustice, whose rights and existence itself are under threat. To do less is court failure.
Although King couched his message in the religious tradition of Christianity, this is not a religious imperative, but a moral imperative, and, I might add, a pragmatic and necessary one, as well. To paraphrase another man, Benjamin Franklin, we can all stand together in unity to combat oppression wherever it appears, or we can all stand alone and suffer alone the oppression that falls down upon us. Put even simpler: United we stand, divided we fall.
As hard as it may be to achieve, and as futile as some may imagine it to be, unity of purpose, and support for all who suffer, must be our revolution’s first principle. For without it we are truly lost in the wilderness, beset on all sides by “the inequities of the selfish and and the tyranny of evil men.”