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Friday, October 6, 2017

Democracy Now: Where Marsha Gelen missed the white supremacy

On Thursday, 5 October 2017 Amy Goodman interviewed the Russian American journalist Masha Gessen on Democracy Now. Gessen made some very important points drawn from her study of totalitarianism in Russia, and what it says about the rise of Trump in America, but when the discussion turned to the main reason Trump won the election, her explanation fell fatally short because the adopted framework was designed to obscure the main problem. The problem I am pointing to is crucial, but easy to miss because it relates to what is assumed and not said when they speak of American voters as the single, undivided entity. In their discussion, it seemed like when they spoke of the American voter, they were thinking only about the white voter.

Given Democracy Now's support for Putin's objectives in the US presidential election, Amy Goodman was most interested in knocking down stories about Russian interference in the election, and any talk of collusion, so she points Gessen in that direction, but Gessen has limited interest in that. She see's it as a distraction. Her main point is that "Americans elected Trump," which leaves her a little short when it comes to explaining why:  
AMY GOODMAN: Masha, you are the author of The Future is History: How Totalitarianism Reclaimed Russia. You’ve been fiercely critical of Russia. You’re fiercely critical of the Trump administration. But you’re also fiercely critical of the story that has predominated now of Russia’s interference with the U.S. election that ended in the victory of Trump. Why?

MASHA GESSEN: Well, because, you know, I just need more things to be fiercely critical of, obviously. But I think—and this is a word that also has almost lost its meaning, because we use it so much—in a way, it’s a distraction. Right? And this is a very difficult point to try to convey—right?—that I think that conspiracy thinking is really dangerous to culture and to political culture. And it’s very hard to stay away from conspiracy thinking when there may have been a conspiracy. Right? We don’t know if there was a conspiracy.

But more important, it creates this fantasy that we can find a reasonable explanation for the election of Trump that will somehow let us out of this national nightmare. And the national nightmare is that Americans elected Trump, and he’s president. Russians didn’t elect Trump. Even if there was collusion, even if every hypothesis that has—that is at play in the Russia investigation is proved, still, Americans elected Trump, and he is president.[my emphasis] 
It is a hopeless banality to point out that Americans elected Trump because the truth it hides is that white supremacists elected Trump. True enough, Russians didn't elect Trump, but neither did black Americans. They voted 88% for Hillary Clinton.  This is a very significant statistical difference given the role that racism has played as one of the foundation stones of American capitalism. Drowning, and then ignoring that difference with the banality "Americans elected Trump" may be par for the course on Democracy Now, but it is most unhelpful in understanding what has happened and why.

Most voters that didn't define themselves as white voted in opposition to Trump because they could see what Trump was peddling. What Trump was peddling, and now, thanks in part to the "don't vote for the lesser of 2 evils" politics of the likes of Democracy Now, is peddling from the White House, more than anything else, is a white supremacist vision of America, codenamed #MAGA. He was elected president because a majority of the white voters bought into it. According to the Pew Research Center:
White non-Hispanic voters preferred Trump over Clinton by 21 percentage points (58% to 37%), according to the exit poll conducted by Edison Research for the National Election Pool.
Clinton held an 80-point advantage among blacks (88% to 8%)
It is not true that everyone who voted for Trump defines themselves as "white." Trump got 8% of the "black" vote. It is also not true that every "white" who voted for Trump was conscious of doing it for racist reasons, although they had to be willing to overlook his obvious racism, but this was also true of those that argued there was no meaningful difference between the two contenders. What is true is that from the moment Donald Trump came down the escalator to announce his candidacy by denouncing Mexicans as rapists, allegiance to the basic tenets of white supremacy have been the hallmark of his candidacy, and now his presidency. This was something all but overlooked by the white Left as it focused on defeating Trump's main adversary, and it is something they downplay today.

Sensing that it wasn't enough to leave it at "Americans elected Trump," Nermeen Shaikh tried to get Gessen to expand on her answer:
Can you say what you think some of the historical—although not that long ago—reasons are that Trump was elected?
Masha Gessen responds with this "distraction." She talked about how Hitler used the Reichstag fire as an excuse to seize power in Germany in 1934, and added:
Well, I think that that has all happened in this country, and it happened in the wake of September 11th. The state of emergency that went into effect three days after September 11th has never been lifted. It was renewed by President Obama every September for seven years of his presidency, the seven Septembers that he was president. We continue to be in the state of emergency. The War Powers Act passed with one dissenting vote three days after September 11th, continues to be in effect and has been used by President Obama and now by President Trump. And there’s also been a 16-year run of concentrating—increasing concentration of power in the executive branch—under George W. Bush, basically, in the interest of shoring up more military and surveillance power; under President Obama, for some of the same and some other reasons, having to do with a Congress that was intent on paralyzing him. But basically, I think that chain of events did a lot to create the possibility of Trump, to create the very possibility of a politician who could run for autocrat in this country and get elected.
Her answer is a distraction because it really doesn't even address the question, let alone provide a meaningful answer. We aren't suppose to notice because she gives us a history of the growth of presidential powers since 9/11/2001, and then tries to turn that into an answer by saying that created the possibility of someone running for autocrat and getting elected. But Trump won votes by promising to "Make America Great[white] Again", not because he promised to be an autocrat.  His dog whistles are all about racism, not autocracy.

True enough, the legal changes since 9/11 may now legitimize autocratic president powers, but that is a very different thing from exercising them, and Gessen puts forward a very dangerous proposition when she implies "our Reichstag fire" has already happened. It has not. Trump does not yet hold the kind of absolute power wielded by the post-Reichstag Hitler. There may already be laws on the books that would legitimize those powers, and Trump certainly wants them, so we must vigorously fight his attaining them, and it is most unhelpful to say it is a done deal already.

Although, I have learned to expect nothing less from Democracy Now.

The white nationalism of Trump supporters found its compliment in the white Left around such forces as the US Green Party and Jill Stein, Democracy Now and Amy Goodman. They both enjoyed the support of Vladimir Putin in Moscow, who fancies himself the leader of a worldwide white nationalist movement. This is the central problem of our time and these people that fancy themselves "the Left" had better get a grip on it if they are to be of any use to anyone.

What many on the Left don't seem to understand is that capitalism will run its course, sooner or later, given enough time. It is its byproduct, racism, that today poses the greatest threat to the future of humanity.

Syria is the Paris Commune of the 21st Century!

Click here for my posts on the 2016 US Election
Click here for a list of my other blogs on Syria
Click here for a list of my other blogs on Libya

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