Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea
I delayed writing this reflection until after midnight on Thursday Nov. 5, so essentially early Friday, Nov. 6. As I write, the election of a president has still not as yet been accomplished, even though a clear and insurmountable majority of all the votes cast for the office has been won by one of the two major candidates.
The very fact that the outcome is still unclear is a measure of the bizarrely undemocratic nature of the US electoral, political and governmental system, not only the absurd winner-take-all state by state mechanism of the Electoral College, but the racist, unrepresentative, and disproportionate nature of the allocation of electoral votes to each state based on the sum of Congressional seats and Senate seats for each state, so that states smaller in population than the city of Los Angeles get three electoral votes. It may be that unlike the election in 2000 and the election in 2016, the actual winner of the popular vote will also win the office of the presidency, but that is not yet definite, and not a given. A few hundred votes one way or the other could tip Nevada, Arizona, Georgia and Pennsylvania to the opposite outcome.
What becomes clear in this election is why we sit still for this — because the United States is a deeply flawed society, rooted in the material realities and the psychological and social manifestations of the lie of white supremacy, the belief that so-called white people are superior to other so-called races of people, and that the only ‘true’ Americans are white. Even the very use of the term “white supremacy” to describe that social system, culture and psychological makeup is a lie — it is not white supremacy, but white depravity.
Because the clear belief and value system of at least half of the US electorate is depraved. This depravity is manifested in a lack of social responsibility, empathy or concern in the midst of a pandemic. It is seen in a religious belief system that views the living embodiment of the seven deadly sins as a god-sent agent of divine will. What other word than depravity accurately describes the conscious determination that the maintenance of the entire eco-system and the planetary basis for life is less important than good-paying jobs in energy extraction, low taxes on corporations and the wealthy, and rising stock prices?
Where is the televangelist or preacher who will say that a quarter of a million dead and 120,000 new cases of COVID-19 a day is god’s judgment on the United States of America for its sins of avarice, arrogance and racism? The tremendous political and spiritual power and impact of Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X, despite the differences between them, arose because they were both self-critical, individually and collectively of their own people, as well as unrelenting and uncompromising in their commitment to justice, equality, and rights, and in their critique of the system that oppressed and exploited Black people.
Where is there the equivalent today on the scene anywhere among so-called white people or white political or religious leaders? Malcolm spoke of the American nightmare. Martin declared prophetically that this nation was approaching spiritual death more than half a century ago.
If we deny to ourselves that his prophecy has already been fulfilled by this empire, we will be incapable of resurrecting and reviving a just and equitable and liberated society in its place. Realism and self-criticism are essential to such a process.
Yet white people who address issues of white supremacy, white privilege, white complicity are denounced as being the police of political correctness, as haters who want to tear the country down and deny people their right to say what they think. Jewish people who criticize the state of Israel, or the US Jewish establishment that has bought into and upheld US empire and Zionist aggression, are denounced as self hating Jews. Evangelicals who dared to question the hypocrisy involved in supporting a blatant racist and abuser of women at the helm of the government would have been excommunicated, if that practice existed among Protestants.
Even worse on a certain level is the widespread willingness, not only on the right but throughout the population, to accept the constraints of the US political duopoly and the narrow political spectrum it legitimizes. People compare Trump to the growing trend of authoritarian leaders in other countries; but the bigger conundrum is that in the US the so-called left, certainly within government, is to the right of the right wing in many or most other countries. Because the way to challenge and engage with racism, sexism and settler colonialism on the right is to acknowledge and fight it within ourselves and the so-called left; not with holier-than-thou finger-pointing, but with an unflinching and self-critical evaluation of our own complicity, complacency and compliance.
Why do we stand for the curtailment of meaningful and thoroughgoing political and social transformation? Jimmy Carter, whom many revere today, put into motion a massive buildup in the US military and a deregulation of US industries before Reagan, as well as using reactionary Muslim fundamentalists to counter social revolutionaries in Afghanistan, Palestine and elsewhere. Bill Clinton not only served to normalize Reaganomics, he went the Republicans one better by ending welfare as we know, launching Operation Gatekeeper on the border and intensifying the new Jim Crow of mass incarceration, mandatory minimum sentences and limits on habeas corpus or the right to appeal a sentence of death. Obama sanctioned Bush’s war crimes, functioned as Deporter-in-Chief, and paved the way for Trump when he bailed out not “main street” but Wall Street and General Motors, passing an Affordable Care Act without even a public option, let alone universal health care for all, in a blatant giveaway to the insurance industry and Big Pharma.
If Joe Biden — assuming that what now looks like the likely victory of the Biden-Harris Democratic ticket holds up — is not going to be the president who normalizes Trumponomics, the president who legitimizes the new Cold War against China with our European imperial allies, who uses the totally inadequate Paris Accord and a PR move like stopping fracking on federal land to try to quiet demands to keep fossil fuels in the ground, the president who substitutes police reforms, training and increased funding for the cry to end racist policing — if Joe Biden is not to be that president, the responsibility sits squarely on our shoulders to overcome the desire to sit back and heave a sigh of relief at his election. Our long national nightmare is not over. The political, economic, environmental, psychological and spiritual crises of this society are only deepening further unless we act.
We are like the dog that has internalized the radius of its leash. We have lost the sense of our own collective power, agency and creative capacity to build a different way of life based on solidarity with all humanity and harmony with all the rest of nature. We identify with our oppressors — and that is true not only for the authoritarian personality structures on the right who mistook Trump for a strong man because he plays one on TV, but also for people of good will, liberal inclinations and good intentions who have become compliant to the limits on freedom and the imagination that this system imposes.
Imagine if just ten or 20% of the 70 million people who voted for Biden were in the streets tomorrow — as the women of Poland most recently have been. We could be demanding not just that Trump respect the results of the election and stop being such a sore loser, but that militarism and mass incarceration be defunded, that fossil fuels stay in the ground, that the US repair the damages it has done through land theft and genocide, racial chattel slavery and institutionalized racism, that health care, housing and education are human rights, that women should be able to control their own bodies and their reproductive capacity, that working people have the right to dignity, safety and control of their work spaces and work processes.