New rant by me at a-Infos radio. Only 36 mins long as I was feeling merciful:
New rant by me at a-Infos radio. Only 36 mins long as I was feeling merciful:
From the beginning, we knew that this election would never happen. An election of representatives for any office involves the belief that they will represent the electorate. In the past, this system has been imperfect and undemocratic, but developing tools of mass persuasion have taken voting societies further and further away from democracy. In 2016 USA things have reached the logical conclusion wherein the public acts of voting are no longer related to a real act of election by an actual electorate.
I take my title and opening line from Jean Baudrillard who claimed the 1991 “Gulf War” was a literal “non-event”. The USA has now become the Disney version of 1984 and it seems right to draw on Baudrillard’s superposition of Disneyland fakery and the all-too-real atrocities that happened in Iraq and Kuwait. However, though Baudrillard leaves room for anger and anguish at the human suffering from the non-event, he indulges the avoidance of naming the real that hides behind the “hyperreal”. The non-event is an extension of the control of language in what Orwell described as “the defence of the indefensible”. Baudrillard was in some ways determined never to look behind the façade, and the non-event of this fake election of dead politics hides a real dynamic of empire which ordinary people would never countenance if it were shown to them as it truly is. I want to go beyond performing the autopsy of US politics, and find the events that do still take place, the ones that polite people don’t like to talk about.
The time also seems right to revisit some lines in a Yeats poem that was written in 1919: “Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold…. The best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity.” It describes people yearning for a “Second Coming”, and ends prophetically, on the dawn of Fascism and Nazism, with the lines:
“And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?”
We have entered a fact-free zone. Sometimes it seems that the truth has entered a state of quantum indeterminacy where two contradictory things are simultaneously true until the waveform is collapsed by observations by political pollsters. For example, when the Clinton camp attributed their candidate’s 9/11 collapse to overheating, differing journalists and commentators simultaneously reported a that it was an unusually hot day or an unusually cold day. Another instance can be seen in these headlines from editions of the Wall St. Journal:
A lot of amazing things are happening in “journalism” these days. Here’s one that still has me floored. pic.twitter.com/1nN309ZFvp
— E!! (@elizthompsn) September 2, 2016
Events wildly plot a drunken careering narrative and each potential voter is forced into more and more speculative interpretation of what those events actually signify. People want to vote for a candidate according to their interests and principles, but those who still believe with “passionate intensity” that they can do so by voting for Trump or Clinton are dangerously deluded. As everything else about the year 2016 becomes muddier and weirder with each passing day, the only thing that is becoming more clear at every moment is that the 2016 election will not take place.
The Stinking Corpse of Democracy
From January to March 1991 the post-modernist Jean Baudrillard published 3 articles: “The Gulf War will not take place”; “The Gulf War is not really taking place?” and “The Gulf War did not take place”. Baudrillard was describing the war as a hyperreal simulation of something that has no origin in reality. “Hyperreal” refers to a situation where a simulation of a possible reality is indistinguishable from reality and is thus a type of reality itself. What happened in Kuwait and Iraq in 1991 was not war, however it was made into a simulation of war and it was experienced as being war by those watching it on CNN.
“This is why the Gulf War will not take place. It is neither reassuring nor comforting that it has become bogged in interminable suspense. In this sense, the gravity of the non-event in the Gulf is even greater than the event of war: it corresponds to the highly toxic period which affects a rotting corpse and which can cause nausea and powerless stupor.”
Baudrillard put the basic case most succinctly when he wrote: “Since this war was won in advance, we will never know what it would have been like had it existed. We will never know what an Iraqi taking part with a chance of fighting would have been like. We will never know what an American taking part with a chance of being beaten would have been like.”
The Baudrillard articles drew attention to something important (the fact that there was no war) but they also drew attention away from the fact that the “Gulf War” was an act of genocide; a very concrete, banal and definitely not at all “hyperreal” act of co-ordinated mass violence and destruction aimed at the nation and the people of Iraq. Baudrillard may have missed the mark on the Iraq War, but his remarks could be very fittingly adapted to 2016. To paraphrase: “…here comes the dead election and the necessity of dealing with this decomposing corpse which nobody from Washington DC has managed to revive. Trump and Clinton are fighting over the corpse of an election.”
Let me be clear, the people of the US have not lost democracy. They never had it. No modern countries are democracies. In countries with elections undemocratic power is given to numerous people, some of whom are elected. The theory is that by vesting the highest authority in officials who are elected, this will create an electoral process of candidates who seek and receive a mandate. Thus, by acting as a mandated elected official even though the power of the office may be undemocratic, this will bring about democratic governance. This is all jolly good, except that it doesn’t work. Martin Gilens and Benjamin Page made news a couple of years ago by releasing a study in 2014. While they acknowledge that having free speech is an important democratic institution, in policy terms: “Multivariate analysis indicates that economic elites and organized groups representing business interests have substantial independent impacts on U.S. government policy, while average citizens and mass-based interest groups have little or no independent influence.”
One writer called the Page and Gillens paper “the ‘Duh’ report” because anyone paying attention should have already known the truth. It roughly confirms what C. Wright Mills had diagnosed nearly 60 years earlier in his book The Power Elite, which showed the oligarchic nature of US political governance. The US has long had issues of plutocratic corruption intervening in government but the 20th century saw a change from influencing government against the wishes of the electorate to consciously shaping the electorate in order to “engineer the consent” of the governed. Democracy had always been a unrealised promise in the US, shoehorned uncomfortably into the Constitution by anti-Federalists against the wishes of Federalists (like the puzzlingly celebrated Alexander Hamilton). The promise of democracy died with the advent of the Commission on Public Information in 1917 which began an era of “guided democracy” in the US. Oligarchs and bureaucrats turned their minds towards shaping and controlling public opinion while plutocrats still tried to ensure that governance was not overly influenced against the interests of capital by this already mediated public opinion.
We take it all for granted now, but suddenly many different entities wanted to adopt the purposes that had previously been those of politicians, impressarios and snake-oil salesmen. The FBI published heroic literature about “g-men”, and black propaganda smearing Black Power and left-wing movements. The CIA, still one of the biggest publishers in the world, promoted jazz, abstract art and the right sort of academic work. They established themselves in every major news media organ in the “free” world. Hollywood established a close working relationship with different parts of the US government, becoming a willing source of propaganda, and largely integrated into the military-industrial complex (through both ownership and the close working relationship with the Pentagon and CIA). Advertising agencies, over and above the immediate purpose of selling, were slavishly loyal promoters of “free enterprise”, the “American dream”, consumerism, and the values of gendered racialised class hierarchy. For evidence you need look no further than this extraordinary (and ballsy) meta-propaganda about advertising:
Throughout the 20th century, governance in the US also became ever more technocratic and removed from public sight at the same time as the more overt part of governance (elected administrations and legislators) became subject to ever more inescapable and sophisticated perception management. It is difficult to see past the projected self-image of the US as the sort of country that has a minimal government (even to the point of neglecting the vulnerable and allowing infrastructure to crumble) but the truth is that the US has a vast state sector. Combining all levels of government it spent $6.134 trillion in 2010. This is many times higher than China which seems to be a distant second in terms of state sector expenditure.
The machinery of government in the US is enormous and has a Byzantine bureaucratic complexity of overlapping jurisdictions. The documentary above gave an image of a society of free agents with a welfare oriented government. In reality under neoliberalism government, using the pretext of shrinking itself, reallocates resources to state coercion: military, intelligence, police and incarceration. What welfare remains becomes a tool of state control under an ideology that criminalises or pathologises neediness of any form. If you have no home, for example, the state feels it can dictate behavioural and moral codes that are the absolute antithesis of the proclaimed “liberty” that is considered the norm of society.
Meanwhile, the US government at various levels has control of the greatest machinery of state violence and oppression that has ever existed. Some people refer to these capabilities as a “turnkey tyranny” (the phrase existed long before Edward Snowden’s usage) but that creates the unfortunate sense that the entire apparatus is currently turned off (and that some people are conspiring to suddenly turn it on). In reality there is a continuum of state coercion. In the US case the capability for rounding people up and putting them in FEMA camps will probably never be more than a remote, but scary, potential. On the other hand, surveillance, intrusive policing and security, militarised policing, restrictions on liberties, and fear-mongering are already familiar parts of routine and banal oppression. These shape and control people in ways that don’t involve direct physical coercion, but are not merely brainwashing people into happy consumerist zombies either. There is a carrot laced with tranquillisers, but there is also a stick. Sheldon Wolin called the resulting system “inverted totalitarianism”.
The freedom enjoyed by Usanians is the contingent freedom enjoyed by the Eloi in H.G. Wells’ anti-capitalist allegory The Time Machine. They live lives of consumerist luxury right up until the point that some are abducted and eaten. The same is true of those who fall foul of the massive private or governmental bureaucracies that run the USA, and I think that it is good to set-aside our visions of a land with 48-flavours-of-ice-cream and look at the grim, grey inhuman machinery that coexists with consumerist pseudo-liberty.
We have found in all of the former “free world” that our sneers at communist bread queues were premature. We felt superior because capitalism seemed to be designed to meet our needs and desires efficiently, but now that it faces no ideological competition we find that it just wants to sell us barely functional goods and when we call for support or service, to place us on hold for hours. I guess it is better than being hungry waiting in the cold winter, but it is hard to deny that capitalist private bureaucracy is just as entitled and unhelpful as socialist government bureaucracy. In the US it can be deadly. For example, by denying insurance cover to people with life-threatening conditions pen-pushing penny-pinchers from Aetna and other such “providers” hand out death-sentences. The US has a corporatised health sector that is measurably more inefficient, more bureaucratic, more inhumane and much more expensive than actual “socialism”, and it forces people to buy private insurance or face a fine (or, as Forbes spins it, because of exemptions “only 4 million people” are expected to be subject to fines in 2016, and we all know that any law that only affects 4 million doesn’t really count). Employers can also simply garnish wages without permission to enrol workers in the employer’s chosen insurance plan.
Moreover, in this land of private/public dual tyranny, eminent domain laws in the US are often used to forcibly alienate property for the benefit of private capital (because individual states can determine what is “public use”) in the manner that does not happen in other countries.
Meanwhile those who fall into the gears of the “justice” system may find fates that seem akin to terrible stories of mediaeval cruelty, grim totalitarianism, or dystopian science-fiction nightmare. In a Milwaukee gaol, under the jurisdiction of Trump supporter David Clarke, an imprisoned suspect had his water shut off for 6 days. Witnesses heard him beg repeatedly for water as he slowly died of “profound dehydration”.
In many countries the rights of criminal suspects are minimal despite the supposed presumption of innocence, but in the US this can reach a soul-crushing extreme such as in the case of Kalief Browder. He refused to plead guilty to stealing a backpack and because the case against him was thin to non-existent, he spent 3 years, from age 16, enduring terrible conditions and violent abuse at Rykers Island prison. He killed himself 2 years after release. A different horror was endured by Roberta Blake. Not knowing that she had an arrest warrant for returning a rental car late, she was detained in California and spent two weeks in a cage in an overheated van being taken to Alabama to face “justice” for her heinous crime: “Lacking both privacy and sanitary napkins, she had to use a cup in front of the male guards and prisoners when she began menstruating. After another prisoner ripped off her shirt, she spent the rest of the trip in a sports bra.” In most developed countries it would be illegal to treat an animal that way.
Staying on the subject of the accused, I want to remind readers that a Pennsylvania judge received millions in kickbacks for sending thousands of children into institutions. Given the level of corruption victimising so many kids, some of them from white-collar households, is it any surprise that some claim similar corruption is part of the adult incarceration system?
I mention these things to show that “guided democracy” (which is not democratic) produces a tyranny with two faces. These things happen because the accused are unpeople and that itself is a product of an elite “guided democracy” culture in the US that is authoritarian, lacking in empathy, and phobic about poor people.
All I have detailed is just passive and reflexive brutality. It is incidental and can fall on any non-rich person unlucky enough to fall foul of a capricious state, but you will notice that I haven’t even mentioned racialised police violence, the school-to-prison pipeline, and mass incarceration. That is a more active aspect of tyranny that functions (like “anti-terrorism” or the “war” on any other internal or external threat) to normalise oppression and market it to a much wider demographic than that specifically targetted. I won’t waste anyone’s time by detailing the latest horrors of police violence in the US, nor the everyday obscenity of mass incarceration. Readers are probably familiar with the topic, and I just ask that they bear it in mind as being an important element of this story that I am consciously omitting.
The Stinking Corpse of Politics
When Sheldon Wolin wrote Democracy Inc. he was effectively writing the obituary of “guided democracy”. Guided democracy was beginning to give way to something new which Wolin likened to 20th century tyrannies, but characterised as “inverted”. A “new type of political system, seemingly one driven by abstract totalizing powers, not by personal rule, one that succeeds by encouraging political disengagement rather than mass mobilization, that relies more on “private” media than on public agencies to disseminate propaganda reinforcing the official version of events.”
Before continuing, I must clear up a problem I have with the terminology. I cannot endorse Wolin’s (or any) use of the term “totalitarianism” because it has no potential for judicious usage. It was coined to refer to Italian Fascism to refer to the totality of the purview of the state, but both that regime and the current US regime show that defining what is and is not the state is actually subjective. The very concept of “inverted totalitarianism” or “totalitarian democracy” along with new coinages like “globalitarian” show that the word itself is useless. In fact, totalitarianism has primarily been used to create a concept which suggests that Nazism and Communism are of the same essence, but Western liberalism existentially distinct (which, by the way, is why it was one of the academic notions promoted by the CIA). Both the Soviets and the Nazis did the same thing in their time, as Slavoj Žižek explains: “Thus Stalinism in the 1930s constructed the agency of Imperialist Monopoly Capital to prove that Fascists and Social Democrats (‘Social Fascists’) are ‘twin brothers’, the ‘left and right hand of monopoly capital’. Thus Nazism itself constructed the ‘plutocratic-Bolshevik plot’ as the common agent who threatens the welfare of the German nation.”
However, Wolin also referred to inverted totalitarianism as being “a kind of fascism”. “Fascism” is a much better term to use, as I have argued at great length (in two parts). Though “fascism” is clearly too common and low-rent a concept for some people (who maintain their status with claims to exclusive multisyllabic knowledge), it is perfect in conveying an apt historical comparison. Henceforth, therefore, I will use “fascism” because it may be subjective, but even people who disagree with the usage will know exactly what I am referring to and why.
Wolin’s annunciation of the conception of a new fascism should also have pointed to the immanence of a new “rough beast”. We have seen, in the last 14 years, that the “inverted” part of Wolin’s described fascism is unstable and contingent. Like the pluralism of Weimar Germany it could be replaced with leader worship and more conventionally oriented fascism in short order. Ann Coulter, (author of In Trump We Trust: E Pluribus Awesome) recently said: “I worship him like the North Koreans worship the ‘Dear Leaders’ — yes, I would die for him.” Coulter might seem to be a clown or a liar trying to flog a bad book, but we can no longer doubt that Trump does have a cult of personality and very dangerously deranged followers. For example there is this irrational rant from a Trump supporter:
Note that he is wrong in every aspect of what he accusers Shah of being: her candidate is running against Clinton; Shah is US born; and, as it happens, she is not Muslim. His passion for these lies, though, is about as real as anything gets in this time. The self-deception that is so widespread is part of this erosion of the “inverted” corporate and impersonal aspect of US fascism. Obama has very frequently evinced his Christian faith over the years, but millions think he is either Muslim or even the Antichrist. Trump, on the other hand, doesn’t make a big deal out of religion and yet he is still treated as the instrument of God. My argument would be that some feminists have exactly the same faith-based irrational and ironic view of Clinton that these “Christians” have of Trump. Both are equally unlikely avatars of the spirit of each faith and the blindness of the followers is very reminiscent of a fascist cult of personality.
The ever scary nationalist fervour in the US has also entered into the realms of mass hysteria. This year’s DNC and RNC showed plenty of evidence of violent irrationality. Only ten years ago neoconservatives were mocked by the “reality-based community” for saying things like: “That’s not the way the world really works anymore. We’re an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you’re studying that reality—judiciously, as you will—we’ll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that’s how things will sort out. We’re history’s actors…and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do.” Now, their view of history and of the US role in it has gone mainstream. There is no escaping the conclusion politics are dead and the US is taking an extended holiday (or vacation) away from reality.
We have entered what people are calling the “age of post-truth politics”. Here in Aotearoa it happened very suddenly. We went from being very hard on politicians when they were caught lying, to having a Prime Minister who lies constantly and freely and who gets away with it because the media adopted the self-fulfilling prophecy of saying that people are not bothered by his lying and therefore there is little point in drawing their attention to it by making a big deal of it. In short, the media created a new post-truth norm overnight.
In contrast, the US journey towards this post-truth moment has been a long and well sign-posted journey. The practice of “plausible denial” over covert action that began 70 years ago almost immediately became a practice that should more truly be known as “implausible denial” and was extended to overt military action. The system is simple: an official tells a blatant and obvious lie, then reporters report the statement as having been stated. No matter how thin the lie, it is treated as weighty. It is not analysed or fact-checked, because that is reserved for domestic policies that are contended between the two major parties. It may or may not be noted that others dispute the lie, but the real Orwellian and twisted part that occurs is that the media will forever after treat the lie as unquestionably having been believed by the officials in question.
Thus when the US destroyed a Sudanese pharmaceutical factory in 1998, newspapers outside of the US reported that Bill Clinton knew that beforehand that it was a civilian factory, but inside the US the cruise missile attack, even after it was found that the target was not a chemical weapons plant, reported that the strike was “an effort to curb the activities of the Saudi exile Osama bin Laden”.
Hillary Clinton and Trump are the logical outcome of a combination of mainstream media permissiveness when it comes to politicians lies, and the existence of partisan spheres or “reference groups”. These spheres have two levels. The inner level is the “partisan echo chamber” where you will never be informed that your chosen candidate lies. Apparently the inhabitants of this bubble are a minority, but the outer sphere is may be more important. In the outer sphere people aren’t like Coulter; they aren’t uncritically loyal and they don’t think of themselves as belonging to the Great Leader; they just know that the lies of the candidate they support are regrettable but not outrageous, unacceptable and dangerous like those of the rival candidate. Clinton supporters know that their candidate has a few imperfections, but Trump threatens all life as we know it and they don’t seem to find it at all remarkable that their opponents feel exactly the same way in reverse. They do not recognise their mirror images because years of something called the “culture wars” (which I won’t get into here) have made them blind to similarities outside of that culture war framework. In fact each stance can be rationally argued and we once again see a kind of political quantum superposition where these contradictory stances are simultaneously true. Both of them are the greatest threat currently facing humanity and they must both be stopped.
That is why I say that this election shows the death of politics, rather then merely democracy. There is no longer a machinery to control public opinion, but rather opinions themselves are rendered meaningless. Only the delusional are still taking the rhetoric of Clinton and Trump as being an indication of ideology and policy intent. People are trying to discern their character, but if they juxtapose each against the other trying to make a relative judgement they get into trouble. Which one is the crook? Which one is the liar? Which one is the warmonger? Which one is pro-corporate? If you think that the answers to that are easy, then you aren’t really paying attention.
Things have gotten so bad that in South Park they clearly struggled to decide which candidate should be represented as a Shit Sandwich and which candidate is really a Giant Douche. The creators are lucky that their storyline depicts their own fictional character opposing Clinton, because otherwise they would have to admit that both candidates this year are Shit Sandwich. Their 12 year-old allegory for no meaningful electoral choice is now too mild for the circumstances. We now choose between a Shit Sandwich made with puffy white bread that has a tendency to go soggy with shit juice, and one made with a stale multigrain that is pretty similar but may or may not be a little bit healthier over time.
The Desert of the Real…
… was a book by Slavoj Žižek published in the same year (2002) as Wolin’s Democracy Inc. It has its faults. Like Baudrillard on Iraq, Žižek imposes an inappropriate, if not offensive, semiotician’s interpretation of the bombing of Afghanistan. Instead of being a brutal act of imperialist aggression that can and should be compared with historical imperialism, Žižek asks if it isn’t “the ultimate case of impotent acting out?” In fact Žižek’s judgement in this ironically similar to the limitations he describes in others who cannot accept answers that fall outside of presupposed truth. As the old wisdom tells us, when you gaze long into Keanu, Keanu gazes also into you – to which I will add that Keanu knows fuck-all about geopolitics.
Another complaint, of a sort, is that reading The Desert of the Real today is somewhat like reading Alvin Toffler’s Future Shock in that events have so overtaken and exceeded the prophetic work that I tend to react by thinking: “You call that future shock? That is not even mild astonishment compared to what we have to cope with nowadays.” Žižek refers to Alan Badiou’s notion that the 20th century was dominated by “the passion for the real” which “was fake passion whose ruthless pursuit of the Real behind appearances was the ultimate stratagem to avoid confronting the Real.” With the benefit of the last 14 years of reality television informing us we can say back to 2002 Žižek: “No shit, Einstein.”
But Žižek was quite perceptive in seeing the beginnings of the regime that we now live in. The world of 2002 was one of “politics without politics” and Žižek saw the potential for a resurgent and dangerous right-wing. One passage should particularly resonate with those who are following the 2016 US presidential race: “A decade ago, in the State of Louisiana’s governor elections, when the only alternative to the ex-KKK David Duke was a corrupt Democrat, many cars displayed a sticker: ‘Vote for a crook – it’s important!’”
The 20th century “pursuit of the Real” may have chased reality away, but clearly Žižek understood early that this would take us back to the dangerous yearning for the authenticity of a Second Coming that Yeats perceived in 1919.
The Desert of the Real ends by asking “What if the true aim of this ‘war [on terror]’ is ourselves, our own ideological mobilization against the threat of the Act?” In many ways the war on terror has made people in Western countries accept discipline, control and surveillance that they would never have accepted otherwise, but in other ways there has been resistance. In some ways the things that are most obvious are the least significant because they are resisted and ultimately rejected. After 9/11 the US rounded up and detained hundreds of Muslims and foreigners. That practice ended. What stayed was the Department of Homeland Security, the Transport Safety Authority, and a new officially promoted “if you see something say something”. The most profound changes have come in those spaces of knowledge where people assent and accept subliminally because they feel no friction of resistance and they are anaesthetised. Some changes are too subtle, but others are too big. People stop thinking about them almost immediately because they become everyday normality very quickly.
As I alluded to earlier, the path to the current US post-truth post-politics moment follows through the territory of imperialist wars justified by a skein of lies that creates a pseudo-history. It is possible to discuss and dispute aspects of the pseudo-history in that same way that people can discuss and dispute aspects of Game of Thrones. It is still fiction.
Žižek described a dearth and death of reality that, to my prosaic mind, was the culmination of post-WWII US hypocrisy and exceptionalism. What is happening in the 2016 election is due to the fact that on September 11 2001, the US stopped merely stringing together lies and launched a “global” war that is framed within one giant fairytale. For 15 years it has been as if every day the US has destroyed another Sudanese factory, but the lies have become to large and too numerous. They penetrate everywhere and inter-penetrate each other so that they cannot be refuted singly.
The real is abolished, and no one really wants it any more. Trump recently rewrote history by saying that a “stop-and-frisk” policing policy worked wonders for New York. Some challenge that, but not because it is untrue, but because they are not on Trump’s side. Yet there is little objection when John Kerry spoke to the UN General assembly:
Yes! we bombed an anti-ISIS #SAA base,killing 60+ soldiers & injuring 100+ more but we apologized now lets move on.. pic.twitter.com/UQ06bRkv8J
— Syricide (@Syricide) September 21, 2016
The gall of the man is not merely from the inappropriate dismissiveness (compare this to attitude towards the attack on the USS Cole which killed 17 sailors), but also in brushing over the very obvious questions raised by claiming that this was an “accident”. It took me all of 5 minutes after putting in the search terms “syria deir ez-zor map forces” to find out that there is a prima facie case that the act must have been deliberate. I could easily just look at news reports from the past 6 months that make it hard to avoid the conclusion that the US-led attack must have been intended to aid the forces of the self-proclaimed “Islamic State”. Once you consider in addition that within minutes of the attack the self-proclaimed “IS” launched an attack that has halted or reversed 6 months of slow SAA progress towards lifting the siege of Deir ez-Zor, then the incident looks very much like air support for “IS” forces. I would defy anyone to give any other explanation as to why the US would suddenly decide to bomb in this area, where the only military forces are the Syrian Arab Army and the “IS”. At the very least every journalist should report that the circumstances suggest that until their actions are explained, US claims should not be seen as credible as they are not reconcilable with the facts as we currently understand them.
Down the Rabbit Hole
I am about to write something that may be the most controversial thing I have ever written. I realise that many people will hate me for this, and I fully expect to be hunted down and savaged by vicious sci-fi nerds. But there comes a time when destiny calls, and it is my destiny to say something heretical about The Matrix…
Here is my testament: If someone called “Morpheus” (the Greek god of dreams) offers to take you “down the rabbit hole” (an allusion to entering “Wonderland”) and you then end up perceiving a new reality in which you are the messiah, but the most fundamental fact of human existence (that people are in a virtual world being used by a machine intelligence as a way of generating electricity) makes absolutely no sense whatsoever, then accepting Morpheus’ offer is choosing delusion over reality. That means that “taking the red pill” means indulging delusions, lies and fantasy.
To recap: 1) Morpheus = god of dreams; 2) “down the rabbit hole” = journey into fantasy; 3) world of people hooked up as batteries = self-evident nonsense; 4) messianic mission = attractive delusion satisfying to ego and superego (and id once you throw in the inevitable “love interest”).
Ironically people refer to “taking the red pill” as being a path to enlightenment. Even more ironically it is linked to “9/11 truth” activism. But the people who took the red pill on 9/11 were the people in the US government, the elected officials, the military personnel, the spooks, the cops, the administrators. They, along with much of the population of the Western world, entered a phantasmagorical parallel universe, the GWOT Wonderland, where the fundamental premise of the main fact shaping the world makes no sense.
The Matrix tricks its viewers in the same way that science fiction author Philip K. Dick would often trick his readers. But where Dick’s deception was either playful or served a serious purpose (or both), the Wachowskis were either more mean-spirited or simply underestimated the human capacity for self-deception. The desire for purpose and the need for meaningfulness in one’s life drives people to perceive Neo’s journey as a revelation of truth rather than a descent into madness despite the heavy-handed hints I mentioned. The messiah figure is enticing because it satisfies narcissism and altruism simultaneously in a way that real life does not offer. As it happens, Phil Dick also explored this desire with black humour in “We Can Remember it for You Wholesale” which formed the basis of the films Total Recall. The short story parallels the Total Recall film adaptations up to a point but has crucial further developments that we omitted from the films. When the protagonist’s belief that he is a secret agent becomes rationally unsustainable he “remembers” that he is actually an alien emissary sent to bring peace and enlightenment to humanity. When the alien emissary narrative is fatally challenged by its own irrational contradictions, then the protagonist “remembers” that even that was actually a cover identity for his real nature which is the actual messiah and saviour of all humankind.
There is a lot of power in the attractiveness of a sense of messianic purpose, but in The Matrix it is used to scam people. They overlook the obvious because that are deceived into doing so. I would even call it the “Neo con” (if I were cruel enough to inflict such a bad pun on readers) because it is a good model of the trickery that keeps people from seeing the obvious lies of the Global War on Terror.
The neocons themselves were and are a mix of scammers and scammed. Whether they believed the lies or not, they evinced a messianic purpose for the US. It is true that the fundamental benevolence of the enterprise did not bear much scrutiny, but then again the fundamental rationality did not bear scrutiny either. The point, like The Matrix, is not to conceal lies but to disincentivise the perception of unhidden lies. As the neocons’ direct influence seemed to fade, the fundamental parts of their worldview were left behind as mainstream political orthodoxy. The distinction between neocons and liberal interventionists (as I have repeatedly written) was never significant anyway and now we inhabit the world they created.
In The Matrix the whole purpose of the eponymous Matrix itself is explained as being a completely infeasible and physically impossible system of generating electricity. It is stated as quickly as possible, and the real trick is that those who do notice the impossibility will blame poor narrative construction and not suspect that it is key evidence of the real nature of what is happening. In the war on terror, Islamic terrorism is constantly highlighted but the connection with foreign policy is passed over very quickly, even though it is the central explanation for why the US needs to invade and bomb so widely. The US military still hands out medals for the GWOT so the basic premise is still that their far-flung interventions are a response to terrorism. The fall-back position is that even if it doesn’t make sense to attack other countries to stop terrorism, it is a real if mistaken belief on the part of officials.
Whether it is the Neocons or the Wachowskis, people never stop to consider whether it is reasonable to think that their unreasonableness is in earnest. Wolin, for example, keeps repeating that “inverted totalitarianism” came about without intention: “It has no Mein Kampf as an inspiration” he tells us in between quotes from various neocon equivalents. The ideology, the strategy, the intention and the foresight of consequences are all there to be seen, for those who will see them rather than asserting that they cannot be there. Once you figure out that the neocons and their allies must have deliberately crafted the terrorism lie, it puts quite a different spin on things.
15 years into this delusion we have seen military actions coalesce into a slow-motion World War. Without citing the threat of terrorism, the US could not have taken military action against Afghanistan or Iraq. Yet we shouldn’t forget that the threat of terrorism is still used to give people the impression that there is some natural and urgent reason for the US to be involved in Islamic countries. If we take the instances of Syria or Libya, they conflate concerns about the crimes of the dictatorial regime with concerns about terrorism. It makes no more sense than when the Nazis claimed that there was a single conspiracy of Communism and Western capitalism. Yet without being able to say the “IS” is a threat to the homeland, moves against regimes like Libya’s and Syria’s might be difficult to explain in light of, say, the ongoing support for Saudi Arabia or Egypt or any of the many brutal regimes that the US considers to be friendly and “moderate”. It makes no sense to attack regimes that oppose the alleged sources of terror, but that doesn’t really matter any more than it makes no sense to provide a massive life support and virtual reality infrastructure to billions of humans just so you can use them as energy cells. The senselessness is irrelevant.
We have gone down the rabbit hole, because even if we know that it is irrational to say that US interventions are against terror or because they oppose the oppression of dictators, we have no other coherent narrative. That is why I am constantly pushing for people to recognise that US interventions are genocides, attacks aimed at extending imperial power by committing violence and destruction against peoples and nations as such. It is that simple. It is also that banal. It is a grey world where even the most cruel of crimes are just another day at the office for some of the perpetrators. People prefer a dramatic fantasy narrative of anti-terror and humanitarian intervention to prevent the “next Rwanda”, yet most highly educated people would consider me a fantasist because suggesting a coherence in US foreign policy is a “conspiracy theory”.
Sauce for the Gander
In the end, if we have accepted irrationality and lies for so long; if we have for 15 years purged those who cannot live with cognitive dissonance from public and private areas of authority; should it surprise us that we have created the circumstances where truth is no longer relevant? Kerry, Clinton, Power and Obama are all capable at any day of the week of telling preposterous and monstrous lies. It is impossible to tell, for example, if Samantha Power is completely insane or not. Like Tony Blair she seems to be so deeply “in character” that the original human host, the once beloved daughter of Mr and Mrs Power, has been murdered by this bloodthirsty monster.
If you think Trump has gumption, think of the sheer chutzpah shown by Power when she turned the US massacre of Syrian personnel into an chance to attack Russia for daring to criticise the US: “even by Russia’s standards, tonight’s stunt – a stunt replete with moralism and grandstanding – is uniquely cynical and hypocritical.” As Gary Leupp writes, she is “condemning Russia for condemning a war crime”.
Our semiotician friends Baudrillard and Žižek like to condemn atrocious actions, but they avoid suggesting that there might be some premeditation and conscious shaping of the semantic. Žižek would probably consider me to be crude, primitive and jarring in my insistence on continually returning to a realist perspective. However Žižek has alienated many on the left with his comments on the European refugee crisis and I like to think that my more pointed view allows me to be honest about the refugee crisis without falling into disproportionate victim-blaming that amounts to xenophobia (regardless of whether it is literally true or not). On this subject Žižek is purely and smoothly in concord with the right. He is effectively like one of those second-degree racists who neatly substitute nurture for nature and justify fear and bigotry on the basis of “environment” instead of genetics. To my mind this is the logical outcome of never being brave enough to go out on a limb and say that there is a locus of power behind the events that shape our narrative perception. It may not be a literal Star Chamber of sinister conspirators, but power coalesces again and again in ways that form virtual Star Chambers and once you understand that mass transformations are often imposed from above then it makes little sense to fret about whether some refugees are rapists in the midst of a metastasising holocaust that has killed millions and threatens tens of millions.
Žižek wants to state a generality that is true and comforting (that the West is not responsible for every bad thing in the world) without testing whether it is actually applicable to the specific case he addresses. For example, Žižek says that the Rwanda genocide can’t be blamed on the West, because he is ignorant of the history. The US acted in co-ordination with Uganda and the Rwandan Patriotic Front to destabilise the country and provoke ethnic violence. Perhaps the resulting genocide was far beyond what they wished for, or perhaps not. It was not the end of US-backed ethnic violence in Rwanda and bordering areas of the DR Congo, so the provocateurs cannot have been too appalled at the violence. Nor does the US history of slaughter in Asia, Latin America and the Middle East allow us to take seriously the horror they evince at the Rwanda Genocide, nor the way they use the memory of it as a pretext for their own acts of genocide.
Likewise, Žižek says that the refugee crisis cannot be blamed entirely on the West because “ISIS” is an “active response”. The problem is that we either have to confront the fact that “IS” is a deliberate creation of the US empire, or we remain in Wonderland where magically, just when the US needs a new pretext to carry on the wars that it is already fighting, “IS” appears. Miraculously, because of “IS”, the US gets to continue the wars it was already fighting for other reasons even when the primary activity of this wars is to attack the enemies of “IS”.
We know that the US armed the “IS” forces, but we are meant to believe that they did it somehow by accident. A country suddenly appeared and found itself governing millions while simultaneously fighting a four-front war against established national armies and ethnic militias. Despite being land-locked and surrounded by putative enemies it has remained in play for 2 years. It is as if the Nazis had consolidated in Bavaria in 1945 and were still there in defiance of the Allies best effort in 1947. It simply makes no sense.
That is why a lying reality show personality and probable child rapist can make a credible run for the highest office in the US. It is because we have had 15 years of deluded and/or shameless US imperialists doubling down over and over and over again on their lies. We are trapped in Wonderland, because it hurts people to think of reality; because people want to believe Žižek’s announcement that not everything is the West’s fault; and they want to join in with his implied sneer at those who say otherwise.
The 2016 US election will not take place because reality is in abeyance. Young people might not even know what it is any more. They see all the shades of grey, but they can no longer conceptualise black or white, so it is hard to find meaning. The trivial and the profound are no longer distinguishable, not because of some general social evolution, but because managed democracy evolved as a system of political domination. This is the result of astroturfing, greenwashing, pinkwashing, native advertising, product placement, grey propaganda, and so forth. We did not just end up like this because we are spoilt and spend too much time on social media. This was done to us.
So there is Trump. He is a sick joke. His party, which he seems almost completely detached from, is like magician’s illusion: a giant edifice that seems to be levitating with no visible means of support. He has the endorsement of the patriarch of the “Duck Dynasty” Phil Robertson who offered to baptise him on camera to get “God on our side”. Apparently even God no longer believes in the Real until it is on reality television. But it takes two to tango; Hillary Clinton is no more real than Trump and the polls show that ordinary people know it.
The 2016 election will be a non-event. The way the votes are counted will shape the destiny of the world, but the voting itself will be an empty ritual. That is not a reason not to vote, it is actually a reason to reject the idea that your vote was wasted. The votes are not wasted, but even if they are counted they are stolen. Stolen by fictional candidates like Trump and Clinton and stolen by the death of politics. Vote your conscience and then live according to it. Let everyone know that your vote was stolen by a system that is fraudulent. Make sure that everyone remembers that it is a lie every time they tell you that you might not like what the President does but you have to accept it because that is the way democracy works.
One day they will push the lies too far and Wonderland will shatter, releasing us from this dark sphere back into the light.
In Part 1 of this article I argued that the 2016 US presidential race is the Alien vs. Predator election. The joke, which is at the expense of everyone on this planet, is that they are both aliens and both predators. Many ordinary people understand the situation perfectly well. A South Carolina real estate billboard shows Trump and Clinton and reads: “Moving to Canada? We can sell your home.” Even a month ago you could read this Onionesque headline at The Hill: “Poll: 13 percent prefer meteor hitting earth over Clinton, Trump”. It is even heard “out of the mouths of babes”. My 11 year-old daughter and her friend just told me a joke they heard in school:
Q: Clinton and Trump are together in a plane crash, who survives?
Many ordinary US folks get it. They understand. Some may grit their teeth and vote for Clinton, but most people do not have positive feelings about her. A small number of others feel the same about Trump and argue that he is actually the lesser evil. I will return to that subject later.
Clinton and Trump are much more similar to each other than they are to any ordinary mortals. The Clintons are estimated to be worth $110 million in wealth. Trump is clearly also obscenely rich (even if it is partly delusional). It is widely known that Ivanka Trump and Chelsea Clinton are friends, but Bill and Donald are much closer than people think. In 2012 Clinton said of Trump: “I like him. And I love playing golf with him,” and Trump called Clinton “a really good guy”.
The other link between Bill and Donald is their mutual friend, the paedophile billionaire Jeffrey Epstein. It is very important, if indirect, evidence that Clinton and Trump inhabit an elite sociopathic world where ordinary people’s lives are insignificant and expendable. People might think I am making the following stuff up, so I will simply quote from named news sources:
Daily Wire: “Both presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump and former President Bill Clinton have ties to convicted pedophile and Democratic donor, billionaire Jeffery Epstein and ‘Sex Slave Island.’”
Fox: “Former President Bill Clinton was a much more frequent flyer on a registered sex offender’s infamous jet than previously reported, with flight logs showing the former president taking at least 26 trips aboard the “Lolita Express” — even apparently ditching his Secret Service detail for at least five of the flights, according to records obtained by FoxNews.com.
…The tricked-out jet earned its Nabakov-inspired nickname because it was reportedly outfitted with a bed where passengers had group sex with young girls…”
New York magazine: “’I’ve known Jeff for fifteen years. Terrific guy,’ Trump booms from a speakerphone. ‘He’s a lot of fun to be with. It is even said that he likes beautiful women as much as I do, and many of them are on the younger side.’” [This is from 2002. The investigation leading to Epstein’s conviction for child-sex offences began 3 years later.]
VICE: “In 2010, Epstein pled the Fifth when asked by a lawyer representing one of Epstein’s victims about his relationship with Trump: ….
Q. Have you ever socialized with Donald Trump in the presence of females under the age of 18?
A: Though I’d like to answer that question, at least today I’m going to have to assert my Fifth, Sixth, and 14th Amendment rights, sir.”
Epstein was also allegedly involved as the procurer of the 13 year-old who was allegedly raped by Trump in Epstein’s apartment. As both Lisa Bloom and Drew Salisbury point out, these are not accusations that can be dismissed out of hand.
Hillary Clinton cannot wash her hands of Bill’s record of sexual violence, in part because her denials have helped him escape the consequences. Particularly damaging is Juanita Broaddrick’s belief that Hillary tried to ensure her silence after Bill almost certainly raped Broaddrick in 1978. The National Review reports: “Juanita Broaddrick’s claim was supported by not one but five witnesses and a host of circumstantial (though no physical) evidence.” The allegation seems difficult to deny because Broaddrick never voluntarily came forward. Rather, she was served with a subpoena and then taped without her knowledge after years of rumours. Hillary’s approach to this has been to brazen it out in a frankly Trumpian show of denial: “On December 3, a couple of weeks after Clinton tweeted, ‘Every survivor of sexual assault deserves to be heard, believed, and supported, ‘a woman at an event in Hooksett, New Hampshire, asked, ‘Secretary Clinton, you recently came out to say that all rape victims should be believed. But would you say that Juanita Broaddrick, Kathleen Willey and Paula Jones be believed as well?’ Clinton replied, ‘Well, I would say that everyone should be believed at first until they are disbelieved based on evidence.’ The audience applauded.”
These rape allegations are symptomatic of an aristocratic system in which Marie Antoinette would feel at home. Epstein, for example, received a secret “sweetheart” non-prosecution deal from the FBI and only served 13 months. There is no equality under the law and many ordinary people are becoming acutely conscious of the divide between Us and Them.
A good argument can be made that voting for Trump or Clinton is essentially exactly the same thing. They are friends, peers, comrades and co-conspirators. Trump puts on a good show of dirty negative campaigning, but remember that this guy really does come from the entertainment world and even from pro-wrestling. His CV includes “body-slamming, beating and shaving” WWE owner Vince McMahon, and anyone who doesn’t at least entertain some doubts about the sincerity of his campaigning trash-talk is simply refusing to see what is in front of them. It is possible that this invective is just his natural way of being, but if that is true then he isn’t actually sincere in anything he does. The only question is whether he remains friends with the Clintons after this campaign.
We have now reached a point where both of these super-rich aristos are campaigning for the votes of the working class. Trump knows that he gets far more votes campaigning against trade liberalisation than he does by pushing xenophobia, and it was a key component of his recent speech in Detroit (though he did promise jobs to “titties like… Detroit” instead of “cities”). But he mixed “fiscal conservative” tax-cut rhetoric with anti-trade-deal rhetoric in a way that was unconvincing. Trump runs as an outsider and a maverick, but so has every Republican candidate since 1996. He decries Clinton as a creature of Wall St., but his own economic team includes several billionaires including financier John Paulson.
In essence Trump and Clinton also have identical stances on the TPP, a point that should give as much pause to Clinton supporters as to Trump supporters. Tim Kaine, who went against most Senate Democrats in support of TPP “fast-track” authority and defended the decision hours before being nominated as VP candidate, stands out because his flip-flop objections to the TPP (a transparent ploy to dilute the left-wing anger against his nomination) differ sharply from Trump and Clinton in that they reference unfairness in practical, ethical, and moral terms. Clinton’s TPP stance agrees with Trump’s and his implication that the problem with the TPP is that US negotiators were outsmarted and outmanoeuvred by us cunning foreigners with our underhanded slyness. Indeed, while some of us here in Aotearoa are wondering why our government is signing us up to a pact which will hurt and alienate our biggest trading partner (China), Trump is saying that the TPP “was designed for China to come in, as they always do, through the back door and totally take advantage of everyone.” The media don’t particularly care to highlight the fact, but Clinton has stuck to the same risible line: “We can not let rules of origin allow China — or anyone else, but principally China — to go around trade agreements. It’s one of the reasons why I oppose the Trans-Pacific Partnership because when I saw what was in it, it was clear to me there were too many loopholes, too many opportunities for folks to be taken advantage of.”
Understanding the dynamics of these elections, and the ramifications of taking one stance or another, cannot be reduced to “candidate X says they support A and I support A, therefore I support X”, but our journalists and pundits are simply not capable of dealing with the reality of the politics we have to live with.
Broadcaster Paul Jay (who would much prefer Clinton as POTUS than Trump) put his finger on something when he observed that people should choose the lesser evil but “the problem is… they don’t call them the ‘lesser evil’; they start saying good things about them.”
Trump and Clinton are both vicious parasitic lifeforms too loathsome for people to bear in ordinary circumstances, but the people’s instincts are blunted and confuted by a journalistic and academic culture that gets stuck in half-think. Half-think, I should explain, is the process by which some people take the surface appearance of things and then apply fatuous received wisdom. Half-thinkers apply pre-fabricated generalities to any situation in order to make all things conform to an established ideology of complacent authoritarianism. Thus, when the common plebeians of Pompeii became alarmed by a smoking mountain and shaking ground they were probably reassured by one of their social betters: “Well actually, according the Greek authorities on such phenomena, belching is a healthy response for the human body and if the earth itself should belch it is surely a good omen. Quod erat demonstrandaaaaaaaah!”
Those who use half-think gain a sense of superior education and intellect, having gone past the mere vulgar issues of “plain fact” and “common sense”. However, this is no process of interrogation in which the half-thinker delves beneath the surface. It is an unthinking response that can be arrived at instantaneously, or sheltered behind over a long period. The half-thinker simply grabs onto any generality which they can pass off as being an educated insight in order to defend the status quo. That is to say that half-think is used to defend racism, inequality, war, state violence and so forth. It is fundamentally conservative in nature and often revolves around defending the indefensible because it is natural, unavoidable, part of human nature, or what anyone would expect of any “red-blooded male”.
I mention all of this because in times of political and social decadence and dysfunction, half-thinkers will always do their best to convince people that there is “nothing to see here”. Chris Trotter, who readers may remember from Part 1, has been employing the phrase politics is the “art of the possible” as a kind of snobby way of blocking his ears and going “lalalalala I’m not listening, I’m not listening lalalalala”. On one hand he is using a commonplace generality to assert something that he could never safely assert in specific reference to Clinton herself, and on the other hand, in doing so, he is performing the standard half-think trick of making remarkable things unremarkable.
I do agree with the half-thinkers on one thing, because they believe that there is nothing new under the sun. Where I differ from the half-thinkers is that for them this means: Western liberalism is the acme of civilisation; the people in charge are there for a reason; the police are doing their best in a difficult situation; North Korea is a rogue nation; ordinary people are dangerously stupid; Putin is a villain; our politicians mean well; you have to have a seat at the table to enact real change.
Half-thinkers like Trotter never examine their assumptions, they just use safety in numbers to avoid being challenged. They use their compatibility with power to keep real intellectuals at the margins.
In contrast to Trotter, Luciana Bohne, compares Clinton to Bertie Wooster’s Aunt Agatha: “the one who chews broken bottles and kills rats with her teeth.” She casts Trump as Charybdis, “a huge bladder of a creature whose face was all mouth and whose arms and legs were flippers”, and Clinton as the Basilisk. “I’m raving, you say? This is the Age of Empire, and empire breeds monsters.”
Bohne’s imagery is extravagant because her eyes are open and the times demand it. Man-eating giants are striding the land stuffing screaming peasants in their maw by the handful, like so many jelly-babies, and people like Trotter are saying: “What giants? I can only see windmills and people have always been crunched up in windmill accidents. It is nothing new. Yelling about it will only cause more windmill deaths.”
Trotter wants us to be practical, but is his business-as-usual, vote-for-the-lesser-evil-then-appeal-to-her-progressive-principles actually practical? Or is it based on Panzaist delusions that turn a bloodthirsty mass-muderer into a well-meaning advocate of the rights of children? To counter cliché with cliché, is supporting Clinton the “art of the possible” or is it sticking your head in the sand?
Trotter doesn’t simply rely on the threat of Trump to argue that the US electorate should settle for Hillary, he also claims “This was the battle that Bernie won. As he told the Convention: ‘This is the most progressive platform in the history of the Democratic Party!’ Yes, he endorsed Hillary, but in doing so he took care to bind her to that progressive platform with chains of rhetorical steel.”
In reality the platform is fatally flawed. Cornel West abstained from passing the platform because it did not oppose the TPP, acknowledge the occupation of Palestine as an occupation, or call for universal healthcare: “I have no other moral option”, he explained. Worse still, by stating “we will not hesitate to take military action if Iran violates the agreement”, the platform is advocating illegal aggression. The US has no right to take military action if Iran breaks its nuclear deal. Moreover the threat of a war with Iran horrifies most of the US public, particularly Democrats, so slipping a phrase like that in without mass protest shows how US exceptionalism and these “lesser evil” oligarchic politics create a massive and dangerous cognitive dissonance.
Even if the platform did have stronger and less ambiguous commitments, it is still nothing more than rhetoric. In the US system, there is no comeback for an administration or a caucus that does not abide by a platform. The platform means nothing. Obama entered his first term with Democrats in control of both houses of Congress so the 2008 Democratic platform should have been more binding than ever, right? Here are some of my favourite excerpts from that 2008 platform so you can judge for yourself:
* “We believe that the people of Puerto Rico have the right to the political status of their choice, obtained through a fair, neutral, and democratic process of self-determination. The White House and Congress will work with all groups in Puerto Rico to enable the question of Puerto Rico’s status to be resolved during the next four years.” [Under the Obama administration Puerto Rico has just been stripped even further of self-determination and been placed under similar governance to that which worked so well for Flint, Mi.]
* “We support equal rights to democratic self-government and congressional representation for the citizens of our nation’s capital.” [For the actual situation here is John Oliver’s rant]
* “We will close the detention camp in Guantanamo Bay,….” [No comment]
* “We support constitutional protections and judicial oversight on any surveillance program involving Americans.” [LOL]
* “Working together, we can cut poverty in half within ten years. We will provide all our children a world-class education, from early childhood through college.” [Data from Feb. 2015: “The official poverty rate is 14.5%, meaning 45.3 million people in the US live in poverty, up by over 8 million since 2008. An additional 97.3 million (33%) of people living in the United States are low-income, defined as incomes below twice the federal poverty line, or $47,700 for a family of four. Taken together, this means that 48% of the US population is poor or low income, 1 in every 2 people. More than 1 in 5 children in America (21.8%) are living under the official poverty line. Half of all children will be on food stamps before they turn 20, including 9 out of 10 African American children. ]
* “To renew American leadership in the world, we must first bring the Iraq war to a responsible end. … At the same time, we will provide generous assistance to Iraqi refugees and internally displaced persons. We will launch a comprehensive regional and international diplomatic surge to help broker a lasting political settlement in Iraq, which is the only path to a sustainable peace. We will make clear that we seek no permanent bases in Iraq. We will encourage Iraq’s government to devote its oil revenues and budget surplus to reconstruction and development.” [The US just announced 400 more troops deploying to Iraq: “Last month, President Obama raised the “cap” on the number of ground troops in Iraq to 4,647. This cap has become something of a running joke, as the Pentagon has repeatedly admitted to having well more troops than that. Most recent estimates have over 6,000 US ground troops in Iraq already, before this new deployment.”]
The 2008 Democratic Party platform also promised to end nuclear weapons, whereas Obama has launched the biggest nuclear weapons programme since the Cold War. They promised to institute transparent government, but “transparency” and the FOIA system has become even more of a farce than under Bush II. Redactions are so commonplace and arbitrary that they release whole redacted pages that now have “redactions within redactions”, as if redacting something once is not enough any more.
So much for this year’s allegedly “progressive” platform, but we are still left with the major practical argument that supporting Clinton is necessary to stop Trump, even if she is not a desirable leader in her own accord. There are several important assumptions behind that which should be interrogated. One: can Trump win, and under what circumstances? Two: does supporting Clinton actually help stop Trump? Three: is Trump actually worse than Clinton? Four: balancing all these factors and more, what are the practical repercussions of supporting Clinton?
Like most people, I am frightened of what Trump might unleash on the world, but I have become much more relaxed on the specific subject of him winning the Presidency. All things being equal, Trump really doesn’t have a chance simply because this is a negative election (where the vote is decided on whom you most hate) and Trump alienates more people in swing states, while Clinton alienates people in populous safe Democrat states. In practical terms, as Rik Andino has pointed out, it is hard, if not impossible, to see a scenario in which Trump wins 50% of electoral college votes.
Since Clinton’s nomination, Trump is looking even less viable. In fact, with Clinton’s nomination it was as if a switch was thrown and suddenly the media that had previously made it seem that Trump could get away with murder, found his standard daily outrages now damaging and intolerable. Tellingly, it all began with him saying of Gazala Khan: “Maybe she wasn’t allowed to have anything to say. You tell me, but plenty of people have written that.” Suddenly this typical Trump comment was unacceptable, with news reports switching from telling people that Trump can say these things with impunity to running pompous features like this Guardian piece about how the dead “hero” Humayun Khan “could derail his campaign”.
Meanwhile, Trump has plummeted in the polls. Even previously safe Republican states , like Georgia, seem to be leaning towards Clinton. In Republican Arizona Clinton now leads in the polls. On the one hand this might seem to be expected in a state that is nearly 30% Hispanic, but on the other, Arizona has a history of supporting some extremely Trumpish policies including the notorious SB 1070 “Support Our Law Enforcement and Safe Neighborhoods Act”. This is widely felt to have encouraged racial profiling and was formally opposed by 11 other states, Mexico, large numbers of Obama administration officials and Obama himself, law enforcement heads, 68 national members of Congress, and dozens of human rights and civil liberties organisations. The state also banned successful Mexican-American studies programmes after Arizona Superintendent of Public Instruction John Huppenthal had been horrified to find that “they were portraying Ben Franklin as a racist”, and “they got a poster of Che Guevara.” Many books were banned from schools including important texts from James Baldwin, Isabelle Allende, and Howard Zinn along with Chicano writers that include some of the most important literary and scholarly figures in Arizona itself. They banned Martin Luther King’s “Beyond Vietnam” speech, and the novelist and professor Manuel Muñoz is banned in the school just across the street from where he lectures.
In Maricopa County, which is home to 4.2 million of Arizona’s 6.8 million population, SB 1070 was welcomed by 4 term “toughest Sheriff in America” Joe Arpaio. To call Arpaio controversial simply cannot do justice to his proven hatefulness, dishonesty, sadism, xenophobia (or crypto-racism), corruption and abuse of power. Arpaio is a Trump supporter who makes Trump himself seem like Mahatma Gandhi. I cannot detail his impressive record of lunacy, so I will take the unusual step of recommending this section of his Wikipedia page.
Arizonan’s have stuck with Arpaio through thick and thicker. They voted for a State Congress that banned hundreds of books from schools and a Senate that passed SB 1070. Yet they are turning away from Trump (perhaps they are also belatedly having qualms about their “tough” sheriff). It really doesn’t bode well for Trump’s bid for the White House.
There is also the question of how serious Trump is in his Presidential bid. From the beginning, on an escalator, his campaign has played out like a prolonged amateurish publicity stunt. A tax specialist who examined the possible reasons that Trump would continue to refuse to release his tax returns could only conclude: “Donald Trump will not publish his tax returns because he does not expect to be President, or at best has not internalized what becoming President actually entails. Trump’s tax return strategy is directed at a future in which he is not President, but is an even richer self-promoter.” More recently still, Representative André Carson (D-Ind.) claimed that Trump is “trying to sabotage himself to clear the way for President Clinton”: “It appears as if he knows he will not be the next President of the United States, so he’s trying to sabotage this thing because he’s not used to losing.”
Perhaps it is irrelevant whether Trump really wants to win or not. Trump is a threat and he has the potential to unleash violence upon the world, but it does not follow that supporting Clinton lessens that threat. As Kshama Sawant (a socialist city councillor from Seattle) suggested on Democracy Now!, if people to the left of Clinton give her their support out of fear, then they will drive masses of ordinary people into Trump’s camp. It is actually the politics of the lesser evil that have given us Trump. What is more Trump is not necessarily going anywhere.
If Trump is just playing a game, using extremist rhetoric to stampede people into the Clinton camp (like a sheepdog, but with rabies) then an electoral loss may or may not mean the end of Trump’s political career. If Trump is earnest, however, then everything we know about him suggests that he will not accept defeat in the way we have come to expect. Defeated major party Presidential candidates have a tendency to recede like clumps of rotting matter back into the roiling mire of party politics, thereafter surfacing occasionally or not at all. But Trump, if he is what he appears to be, will not accept defeat. He has repeatedly claimed in advance that the election will be rigged and one of his Republican Party supporters warned that there will be a “bloodbath” if he loses in November.
People are understandably concerned that Trump’s loaded language, such as his recent hint about “2nd amendment people” taking action, will inspire political violence, but let’s keep this in perspective: Trump may inspire some lone nutcases, but whoever is next President will be killing thousands of people with the US military.
The most tangible and certain fact about the Trump campaign is that his campaign is shifting the discourse of politics altogether. From that perspective it fits a long tradition of pushing rightwards, of increasing oversimplification, of increasing extremism, of increasing self-righteous chauvinism, and of decreasing empathy. It is a slow drift into what can best be described as a type of fascism. It is a one-way street, a ratchet system that can only go towards fascism and never away from it (though it may feature socially liberally aspects which are very different from historical fascism). The thing that makes this drift so certain and unremitting is the politics of the lesser evil. Democrat and Republican leaders have been playing Good Cop/Bad Cop since the Reagan years. The very logic of the lesser evil ensures that each new election cycle will see both greater and lesser evils being more evil than the last time around. We might worry about what Trump might hypothetically do if he takes office, but this is an effect that we know he is having. It is happening now and supporting Clinton only strengthens the shift towards a more encompassing and total fascism.
Not only does supporting Clinton empower Trump’s transformation of politics (bearing in mind that Trump and Clinton are merely the latest in a line of electoral double-acts), but some people see Trump as the lesser evil. Anthony Monteiro, for example, is an activist and African-American studies scholar linked to Black Agenda Report and Counterpunch: “His positions come as close to the working class as you’re going to get.” Talking to Don Debar and Glen Ford he says “he is to the left of Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama….” He and others like him point out that Clinton is supported by the neoconservatives, Wall St., the military-industrial-complex, and appears much closer to overt plutocrats like the Koch brothers than Trump.
Those who see Trump as the lesser evil point out that Hillary Clinton is an undeniable war hawk, whilst Trump is an advocate of détente. Clinton has a public and undenianble track record of advocating, supporting, and committing war crimes that is far more significant from any perspective (including a feminist perspective) than Trump’s overt misogyny and probable history as a rapist. But then again, Trump is a monster, so treating him as the lesser evil is no more sensible than treating Clinton as the lesser evil.
Listening to Anthony Monteiro talk about Trump is exactly like listening to apologists for Clinton. The polemic follows exactly the same formula for either: Find the positive things and avoid testing them to see of they actually make sense; point out how scary the opponent is; state that there really are good reasons to treat the nicer rhetoric as substantive (like “chains of rhetorical steel”); find some reason to say that unlike the opponent this particular very rich powerful establishment figure is actually on the side of the common people; don’t mention the long public record that shows your candidate is against the common people (but do mention the corresponding record of the opposing candidate); et cetera.
In the end it is impossible to support Clinton or Trump in good conscience and that in itself is a practical consideration. Trump supporters should be aware of his extensive record of scams, lies and ties to organised crime. David Cay Johnston, for example, has been reporting on Trump for 27 years: he is not some stooge for the Clinton campaign; he isn’t protecting Wall St. from the new champion of Joe Lunchbox (quite the opposite really); he just reports that Trump has a long ongoing close working relationship with organised crime and reaches the conclusion (which is amply supported by evidence) that Trump is a dangerous “world-class narcissist”.
I am personally less interested in the individual character of a candidate than in the political dynamic that they create and that would result form their taking office. From that perspective Trump is terrifying. Almost everything that Trump says stokes anger. He is not only inflaming aggrieved white male entitlement syndrome, he is appealing to all who believe in US exceptionalism. He paints a picture of a noble and strong USA belittled and persecuted by inferior foreigners. This trope has historical roots from 19th century nationalism that continue through Fascism and Nazism. In the US context the conceit was a staple of the most violent hard-line Cold Warriors, but went mainstream under Ronald Reagan. Most relevant to Trump, however, was when it was used to justify one of the greatest war crimes of the 20th century by Richard Nixon – the invasion of Cambodia, which was followed by bombing that killed hundreds of thousands and is significantly responsible for the Khmer Rouge takeover and subsequent autogenocide. Nixon justified his act of aggression by saying that if the US “acts like a pitiful, helpless giant, the forces of totalitarianism and anarchy will threaten free nations and free institutions throughout the world.”
Trump is openly Nixonian, which again suggests that he is not very serious about winning the Presidency. Aides avowed that Trump’s nomination acceptance speech was modelled on Nixon’s 1968 acceptance speech. There are many similar themes, but in fact Trump’s speech was far more alarmist and negative, and thus more inflammatory. The scariest thing for me is that Nixon’s speech was a launching pad for a campaign of right-wing authoritarian law-and-order at home combined with a crucial promise of “peace with honor” abroad. Trump 2016 and Nixon 1968 are part of a US tradition of loudly avowing peace in an election campaign when you are set on war. Other examples include Wilson’s 1916 slogan “He Kept US Out of the War” and Lyndon Johnson’s 1964 declaration “we are not about to send American boys 9 or 10,000 miles away from home to do what Asian boys ought to be doing for themselves”. Nison’s “Peace with honor” meant 7 more years of war, in which millions died. Incidentally Nixon had recruited the Democrat and liberal Henry Kissinger (who was on LBJ’s staff at the time) to sabotage the 1968 Paris peace talks thus guranteeing more war.
Another war hawk who donned the election-year dove suit was George W. Bush. He opposed military over-commitment and nation building. He said, “I just don’t think it’s the role of the United States to walk into another country and say: ‘We do it this way, so should you!’” Trump has reprised Bush’s semi-isolationist pragmatic deal-maker rhetoric in its entirety. People seem to have forgotten that this was the platform on which Bush campaigned because he did exactly the opposite when he was in office but that should be a lesson about how we really need to view political rhetoric. Rhetoric has meaning, but it is not as simple as equating an expressed wish with an actual desiure or inclination. Sometimes it means exactly the opposite. In taking the same pragmatic dove stance (which does not reject chauvinist patriotism or exceptionalism) Trump is positioning himself exactly as Bush, Johnson, Wilson and Nixon did. He is stating a desire for peace in order to create political space to wage war.
Choosing between Trump and Clinton is a lot like choosing between Nixon and Kissinger. Clinton is unashamedly close to Kissinger and is rumoured to be seeking his endorsement. Clinton and Trump, by their positive referrals to the widely loathed Nixon and Kissinger, are showing how contemptuous they both are of ordinary people.
I tend to see Trump as more dangerous, but someone responded to my stance by pointing out that Clinton is more dangerous because she would have bipartisan support for waging war. In parliamentary terms (not in terms of public opinion) this is certainly true and may or may not become crucial to the future of the world. GOP senators and congressional representatives will support every military adventure, every increase in surveillance and secrecy, every assassination, every arms deal, and so forth. Like Tony Blair in the UK, the only legislative opposition that Clinton will face will come from a weak sub-group of her own party. So as well as being like the choice between Nixon and Kissinger, this election presents a choice akin to voting either for Tony Blair or George W. Bush: one is unstoppable because she has captured and controls the one party that might oppose her warmongering, the other is unstoppable because he has created the space to govern as a partisan rogue who is not subject to congressional restraint or restraint by public opinion.
In the final analysis, any acquiescence to Trump or Clinton is a grovelling surrender to a sick slave-master who is demanding that we eat a pile of steaming dog turds. People like Chris Trotter lick their lips at the prospect and expect us to do the same, but how can supporting for Clinton not be an act of self-debasement? The FBI, predictably, decided not to prosecute her even though it is clear from their account that they believe that she committed a serious crime, but their account contradicts what Clinton said on three occasions under oath. As Clinton will be aware, that perjury makes her eminently impeachable, which really should have ended her presidential run then and there. How can people be expected to vote for someone who could be impeached on the moment she takes office? Now she is involved in a “pay-to-play” scandal from her time in the State Department that, among other things, is the perfect example of why her attempt to keep her emails private was a serious crime. Clinton will enter office with a number of unresolved scandals that should disqualify her. The worst thing is that she will probably do so with impunity, revealing that she is above the law and that people like her can openly mock the law. To support Clinton is to support demockracy [sic] – the farce of elections that are used to legitimate an actual kakistocracy.
Chris Trotter recently compared Clinton to F. D. Roosevelt and claimed that the US role in Libya was just lending “support to British and French efforts in the UN Security Council to provide air support to Libyan rebels fighting Muamma Gaddafi.” He is coming very close to simple outright lying and seems completely unfazed by the masses of negative comments he receives and equally disinclined to answer any of the arguments and evidence presented within them.
I agree with Paul Jay that our best hope for the future is that Clinton becomes President, but then becomes the immediate focus for discontent and agitation. If we support Clinton (by “we” I mean those of us who know more than what is fed to us by a mendacious system of mass media) we will undermine our own future. Mumia Abu Jamal said “If Trump is the price we have to pay to defeat Clintonian neoliberalism – so be it.” I want to suggest that Trump is not likely to become POTUS and the we already pay the price of having Trump in our world. The real issue whether we are willing to risk an outside chance of a Trump presidency, or whether we will be self-defeating losers who let ourselves be spooked by the scary clown. People in the US and outside need to gear up to oppose the next President, whoever she may be.
Many Trump supporters are like Brexit supporters who, as Jonathan Pie pointed out, made an almost rationally irrational decision to choose a self-destructive hopeless gamble over the certainty of slow neoliberal degradation. They weren’t really being offered a choice, because the entire referendum was framed so that voting stay would be taken as an endorsement of the wider status quo. US voters are faced with a similar non-choice. Clinton’s election will be taken as a mandate for war, empire and neoliberalism. Moreover, if people do not make a show of rejecting both Trump and Clinton it will validate and consolidate the demockracy. It will be a watershed in the slow murder of democracy, perhaps not as irremediable as the 1932 Nazi electoral victory, but a definite goose-step in the same direction.
As a long-standing student of US history and wars, this election reeks to me of the election before a major war. I suspect that we will be tested by the next administration and our responses will write the future for us and our children. The distinction between war abroad and war at home has always been blurry and it looks like becoming much more so. The US is heading back into the Middle East at a time when conflict in the Middle East and North Africa is metastasising and consolidating into a single historic bloodletting.
It is time to ask the question, which side are you on? Supporting Trump could be hateful or delusional or simply the product of desperation, but supporting Clinton (even out of fear) is a clear endorsement of neoliberalism, neoconservatism and empire. Do you think that your hatred of Trump can justify supporting the killing of tens of thousands in the Middle East? the suffering of tens of millions as whole countries are slowly ground up and turned into failed states to maintain US hegemony? the immiseration of hundreds of millions as neoliberalism continues its march towards a nightmare future? If you choose Clinton, whether you are witting or only half-witting, you are the enemy of humanity.
In a post on Aotearoa’s The Daily Blog, a supposedly “leftist” blogger, Chris Trotter, took “Bernie’s die-hard supporters” to task for being “ridiculous”. He was endorsing Sarah Silverman’s words, but after some inconsequential waffle, he took it a bit further: “That makes the ‘Bernie or Bust’ crowd something much more than ridiculous, Sarah, it makes them dangerous.”
Trotter is not alone in this sentiment, but it is highly arrogant to presume to criticise without showing any insight or seeming to know much about the subject at all. Not only is the disruption and protest valid, the circumstances that lead them to it have a significance even broader than this US general election. Trump v. Clinton is the Alien vs. Predator election. Those who refuse to reject the two-party system agree that they prefer Predator, but they disagree about which candidate that is. Meanwhile a growing number of people, with varying levels of politeness, are trying to get them to realise that Alien and Predator are both aliens and both predators. But this predicament facing US voters is to some extent faced everywhere that neoliberalism holds sway, it is just more scary and funny when you put it in the deranged context of US electoral politics.
In my country, as fellow Kiwi Patrick Gower explained to Democracy Now!, we have a “morbid fascination” with the political rise of Donald Trump, but our media have been much kinder to Hillary Clinton. I can only liken the phenomenon to US news media reporting on Israel which is far more obsequious and uncritical than Israel’s own media. I don’t know why our media gloss over the faults, weaknesses, scandals and crimes of Clinton, but they do. They also followed a script in which Bernie Sanders was a wannabe spoiler, threatening to hand the USA over to Trump by prolonging his primary campaign and splitting the Democrats (a narrative similar to that in which Nader is blamed for giving the 2000 election to Bush).
In reality, if you look for them even from half a world away, there are clear reasons why Clinton is so unpopular with the people of the USA. In fact, she and Trump currently have equal pegging in dislike with both having “unfavourable” responses of 58% according to Gallup. No past Democrat or Republican candidate “comes close to Clinton, and especially Trump, in terms of engendering strong dislike.” In ordinary circumstances neither Clinton nor Trump would be electable with that level of public disdain. The very fact that either could become POTUS is purely because they face each other.
These are strange times. We should reflect on the fact that each party can afford to put forward such a loser of a candidate only because both parties are doing so at the same time. Polls clearly showed that Bernie Sanders would have been able to beat Trump overwhelmingly in the popular vote (despite the vagaries of the electoral college system, this is historically reliable as an indicator of who will win ). Even though they come many months before the election these polls are not just an irrelevance and they probably even understate the advantage Sanders would have had over Trump. Like Clinton, and unlike Sanders, Trump is embroiled in ongoing scandals (over taxes, business practices and child rape allegations) that would in ordinary circumstances have made a presidential campaign highly problematic. Moreover, his campaigning style is key to his base of supporters, but the same theatrics and incendiary rhetoric inevitably make most people dislike him all the more. The only thing that keeps Trump in the race is Clinton, and vice versa.
Instead of feeling entitled to lecture and scold from afar, Chris Trotter should have taken the time to engage with the substance behind the discontent of Sanders delegates (not to mention the masses of protesters on the streets of Philadelphia, far greater in number than those protesting the RNC in Cleveland). To be “ridiculous” or even “dangerous”, as Trotter claims, the dissident Democrats would have to have no grounds to contest the legitimacy of Clinton’s selection as Democratic presidential candidate, no grounds to contest the legitimacy of the dominance of the two main parties in the electoral process, and no grounds to reject Clinton as morally unacceptable and insupportable as an elected representative. On all three counts those who refuse to accept Clinton have very safe and justifiable grounds.
Clinton’s selection as candidate has been far from democratic. She did not, as Trotter claims, win “fair and square”. There is evidence of systematic fraud in the Democratic primaries (the source is not a peer-reviewed paper, but this Snopes article confirms that there is substance to the claims). Similar findings come from a more recent non-partisan report (written in collaboration with Fritz Scheuren, former President of the American Statistical Association). In addition there has been voter suppression, most significantly in the psychologically and politically important states of California and New York. Then there is the media bias against Sanders (not to mention CNN dramatically biasing the electorate on the eve of the California primary).
Moreover leaked DNC emails clearly show that the primary process was unfair. DNC officials on DNC time were conspiring against a candidate and, by extension, the democratic process itself. How could anyone in good conscience simply brush this off as unworthy of examination? How much these DNC officials biased the process may be up for debate, but the fact that they did cannot be questioned. They were acting in bad faith all along, and decisions such as when and where to debate seemed to favour the Clinton campaign throughout. Politifact fatuously claims that there is no evidence in the DNC emails that they set out to rig the debates, but it is clear that important DNC staffers were willing and able to work to get Clinton the nomination, and her weakness as an orator is well recognised. To ignore these impacts also reeks of bad faith.
Perhaps we should also consider the fact that one of the leaks from Guccifer 2.0 showed that DNC staffers were planning Clinton’s strategy against the GOP “field” of candidates in May of 2015. This means that as far as they were concerned Clinton was already the anointed presidential candidate of their party. They were right: even though Clinton is highly unpopular; had to fight off a Sanders insurgency; and has been plagued by scandals about DNC emails, her own emails, and an FBI investigation, they were right to presume that she would get the nomination. The implications of this are that democracy is not really a factor in Democratic primaries and that insiders do not expect it to be.
And then there is the role of money in US politics. In simple terms, Clinton was given a lot more money than Sanders. According to the BBC in March, Sanders had received large numbers of small donations, but Clinton’s money was mostly from large donations with the finance industry being a crucial source. I would call that undemocratic whichever way you cut it, and while money is so crucial to the US electoral process, it can never ever be called “fair and square”.
Even if the #NeverHillary people did not have every right to reject the Democratic primary process in itself, they would still have grounds to reject it as part of a greater undemocratic system that maintains a duopoly of political power. Third parties are systematically excluded from publicly visible politics by the corporate news media. Social media has allowed third parties make a small amount of headway, just as soapboxes and pamphlets once did for Populists and Socialists, but now, as then, it is far from a level playing field. There is a media “blackout” of third parties. This became an issue in 2012, and it will be an even bigger issue this time. Not only are they quantitatively biased, but there is a qualitative bias in the news media with mentions of third parties being dismissive, mocking or negative. If Trump wins, for example, you can be certain that they will use the spoiler argument about Jill Stein, even though the most clear and direct cause will be the alienation of voters by the DNC’s decision to put forward a right-wing corporate-linked hawkish Clinton-Kaine ticket. And then there is the money thing, because the big corporate interests and billionaire donors have a huge sway in US elections (because of “Citizens United”) and they don’t like independent parties.
Yet the two-party system has never looked more undemocratic, more ridiculous, nor more fragile. The Republican primaries have become some sort of freak show and the party itself seems to teeter on the edge of a descent into a comical mash-up where crass aspirational consumer capitalism collides with Fascism and Torquemada’s Spanish Inquisition. The Democrats, meanwhile, continue a process that dates back to 1968 (though it has changed somewhat) of carefully canvassing their support base to find who would best represent everything that epitomises Democrat ideals, and then trying their best to paint their pro-corporate elitist neoliberal candidate as being something like that person.
The chaos in both parties shows that the chronic malaise of democratic deficit that has been eating away at the US for decades, has entered a terminal phase. Chris Hedges, prophet of doom and hope par excellence, has changed his metaphorical placardbycrossing out “The End is Nigh!” and replacing it with “Told You So!”.
People have every right to reject Clinton’s selection and to disrupt this burlesque parody of a democratic process because it is demonstrably undemocratic and because their rights are being violated, but they also have a clear moral claim to reject and disrupt as a matter of conscience. Make no mistake that among other things Clinton is a grade A war criminal with the blood of thousands on her hands. Even as First Lady she took a key role in Operation Desert Fox (an air war, justified with blatant lies, which killed thousands of Iraqis). She was a key exponent of the Libya intervention which, after securing UNSC approval, immediately (and with clear premeditation) exceeded its legal mandate and became a regime change operation. That is the crime of waging aggressive war, the greatest war crime that there is. Libya has been turned into a nightmare that quite literally makes Ghadafi’s period of rule seem like a Golden Age of freedom and prosperity. As Eric Draitser reports, we can now confirm that accusations of atrocities against the Ghadafi regime were lies; that the US intent was always regime change; and that Libya is now a festering sore of instability, ethnic cleansing, terrorism, militia violence, political repression and economic disintegration.
Libya has also been used to ship arms and fighters to Syria, fuelling a civil war which has caused 250,000 deaths. Not only do these arms go to some very brutal people in their own right (from the FSA leader who bit into a dead enemy’s heart or lung in 2013 to the US-backed Islamists who posted video of themselves beheading a 12 year-old boy last week) but, predictably, they have also been a major source of arms for the self-proclaimed “Islamic State”. As for Clinton’s part, Jeffrey Sachs writes that “In 2012, Clinton was the obstacle, not the solution, to a ceasefire being negotiated by UN Special Envoy Kofi Annan. It was US intransigence – Clinton’s intransigence – that led to the failure of Annan’s peace efforts in the spring of 2012….” She supports current US airstrikes in Syria, such as that killed at least 28 civilians just this Thursday (only a week after a nearby strike killed at least 74 civilians). Because the Syrian government has not given permission, these airstrikes are themselves war crimes. Not only are acts such as this crimes, threatening such acts is itself a war crime. Therefore Clinton, who advocates imposing a no-fly zone on Syria, is both advocating and arguably committing a war crime as a central plank of her campaign. Given that military and diplomatic officials reject the plan as unworkable and irrational this is Clinton’s equivalent of Trumps’ wall except that it is also a war crime. She even has a bizarre “Mexico will pay” twist in that she has proposed “sharing” the no-fly zone with Russia. She should be pilloried, but she gets a free pass because people don’t understand what a no-fly zone is. This, in turn, is because they have intentionally been left in the dark in order that they think of a no-fly zone as a passive act, rather than what it is: a violent form of aggressive warfare that requires the destruction of all air defences on the ground as well as the destruction of aircraft.
Another country that owes much suffering and loss of life to Clinton is Honduras. After a coup there, as Adam Johnson of FAIR writes: “Fifteen House Democrats joined in, sending a letter to the Obama White House insisting that the State Department ‘fully acknowledge that a military coup has taken place and…follow through with the total suspension of non-humanitarian aid, as required by law.’ But Clinton’s State Department staunchly refused to do so, bucking the international community and implicitly recognizing the military takeover. Emails revealed last year by the State Department show that Clinton knew very well there was a military coup, but rejected cries by the international community to condemn it.”
Post-coup Honduras has seen the return of right-wing death squads and political murders such as that of Berta Caceres, an activist who, before her death, had herself singled out Clinton as responsible for the coup. Ironically, Clinton’s running mate Tim Kaine frequently refers to his time in Honduras in 1980, decrying the dictatorship without ever acknowledging that it was installed and supported by the US, and showing no shame over sharing a podium with someone who helped destroy democracy and unleash violence there 3 decades later.
But if there is a people that has suffered most at the hands of Hillary Rodham Clinton, it may actually be the people of Haiti. In January of 2011 Hillary Clinton flew into Port-au-Prince to resolve an electoral dispute in this manner: the person who came third in the first round of Presidential elections should be bumped up to 2nd place because the US thinks he should and he should then compete in the run-off election. That is how Michel Martelly came to be President of Haiti. After 3 years the terms of the parliament’s deputies all ended, with Martelly refusing to hold elections. He ruled for a year by decree (without the international news media seeming to care in the slightest) before holding elections that were so fraudulent that they were scrapped after 8 months (in June). New elections are set for October of this year.
All of this was happening in a country tortured by an earthquake in 2010 that killed 220,000; a UN “stabilisation” mission, MINUSTAH, that acts more like a hostile violent occupying force; a cholera epidemic brought by MINUSTAH that has killed thousands; rampant corruption; and brutal political violence against the poor and the left. Meanwhile, Bill Clinton was put in charge of a much of the overseas construction funds and Hillary announced that they would test “new approaches to development that could be applied more broadly around the world.”
Instead of rebuilding Haiti it was decided to “rebrand” Haiti. After 5 years $13.5 billion of aid had been spent with little or no assistance being given to those affected. The money is systematically disbursed in ways that make the poor poorer and the rich richer. It goes to line the pockets of US contractors. It maintains a privileged class of NGO executives who wield regnal rights (those usually reserved for the sovereign) as if they were feudal lords. It goes on constructing enterprises that destroy farms and small enterprises to return only a pittance in slave wages (incidentally, during Clinton’s time heading the State Department, US embassy staff opposed a minimum wage rise and cables released by Wikileaks in 2011 showthat they helped block a law passed unanimously in Haiti’s parliament raising minimum wage from $US0.24 to $US0.61).
“Reconstruction” money also gets spent on luxury facilities for the rich on the theory (or rather the pretext) that poor homeless people will be able to get jobs. The US Red Cross raised $500 million for Haiti and only built 6 permanent houses, (note: this is not the International Red Cross, but rather the US organisation which also gained notoriety and condemnation for their response to Hurricane Sandy).
Meanwhile connected people from the US have found that Haiti is “open for business” (the actual slogan promoted by Clinton), with natural wealth to plunder and cheap labour to exploit. Among them is Hillary Clinton’s brother Tony Rodham, whose company scored a “sweetheart” concession to mine gold that had not been given for 50 years. The mining threatens to inflict severe environmental and humanitarian consequences. So when Clinton castigates Trump for ripping-off small businesses and workers, as she did in her acceptance speech, just bear in mind that her corruption hits people who are even more vulnerable. Like the no-fly zone issue she gets away with it because nobody knows about Haiti.
These are just some of the moral grounds on which people can legitimately refuse to support Hillary Clinton. Others have been highlighted by Black Lives Matter, often dating back to Bill Clinton’s terms as President. She was supportive of welfare reform, the drug war, and justice reform which all led to the current neoliberal security state. Complementing this are her ties to Wall Street, her immense wealth, her obscene speaking fees, and her clear political expediency and flexibility on issues that should be matters of conscience. Any real leftist should loathe Clinton in the same way that they would loathe Tony Blair and George Bush. They are a new aristocracy that have proven that they will steal and kill. These are all warmongering neoliberal neoconservative neofeudalist neofascists and it is time we finally understood that none of those labels is in conflict with any other of those labels. People like Trotter have an authoritarian streak that makes him far more offended by those who try to make themselves heard by disruption from below, then he does by a stinkingly corrupt decadent system that is far more offensive. His tone suggests that he views himself as being well above the ill-behaved rabble as if, despite his evidently ignorant and vulgar apprehension of the issues, he has some paternal wisdom. It is not a good look, but he is hardly the only example of his species abroad. He also has prior form: in 2007 when armed police terrorised an entire rural community with “anti-terror” raids on Māori and anarchist activists, he wrote “it wasn’t the actions of the police that provoked my fury, but of those who’d forced their hand.”
And yet, Hillary Clinton and the undemocratic behaviour of the “Democratic” party are not the only things that make disobedience and disruption a legitimate response. The Democratic National Convention showed extremely disturbing signs of militarist nationalism and fanatical fervour. Eddie Glaude described it as “retooling Ronald Reagan’s morning in America, the shining city on the hill”. That day a 4-star General marched out to a military drum-roll proclaiming Clinton’s credentials as a war leader. He scowled and yelled, probably trying to look like Churchill, but actually ending up looking more authentically Mussoliniesque than Trump: “To our enemies; we will pursue you as only America can. You will fear us!”.
And then there was the unforgettable end of Joe Biden’s speech. Long considered a non-entity only distinguished by his blinding teeth, Biden became a man possessed: a fist-pumping spittle-flecked vessel for the spirit of GI Joe and John Wayne: “We are America! Second to none. And we own the finish line. Don’t forget it! God bless you all, and may god protect our troops. Come on. We’re America! Thank you.”
Most significant of allwasthe moment that many considered the highlight of the entire conference. The crowd erupted when Khizr Khan,the father of a GI who died in the illegal and immoral occupation of Iraq, rhetorically asked Trump: “Have you even read the US constitution?” And then proffered his own copy from the left-hand shirt pocket (next to the heart).
Judging from the response on twitter Khan’s act was adored by nearly everyone, and that itself should be frightening because the moment carried many implications, and not one of them is good. Firstly we need to recognise that this is a ritual gesture popularised by the nationalistic right-wing Tea Party movement and linked in the public mind to that ideology. Secondly, as the US-Iraqi activist and writer Dahlia Wasfi commented: “the message that a ‘good Muslim’ is one who kills for US empire, oil, and Israel is no less offensive to me than whatever Trump has to say about Muslims or Islam.” Thirdly this is a type of disingenuous appropriation of Islam equivalent to greenwashing, pinkwashing or femiwashing. Even Piers Morgan tweeted: “Something very distasteful about Hillary using Khans as political pawns vs Trump given she’s partly responsible for their son’s death”. Fourthly it signifies that in the space of just 8 years, the Democratic Party has gone from viewing the Iraq War as a “war of choice” (which has connotations, if noticeably inexplicit ones, of immorality and illegality) to viewing the Iraq War as a fight to protect US freedoms.
The entire DNC was so nationalistic and militaristic that the actor and activist Margot Kidder was evidently driven to publish a cri de coeur in Counterpunch: she begins “the words are gagging my throat and my stomach is twisted and sick and I have to vomit this out”, and ends: “And there you all are tonight, glued to your TVs and your computers, your hearts swelled with pride because you belong to the strongest country on Earth, cheering on your Murderer President. Ignorant of the entire world’s repulsion. You kill and you kill and you kill, and still you remain proud.” My question is this: if Margot Kidder can see this clearly from within the belly of the beast (well, Montana), how can Chris Trotter, an Aotearoan and putative leftist, be such a blithe apologist for a mass-murderer like Hillary Clinton.
In all I have written I have focussed on morals and reasons of principle. They alone should make it clear that only thing that is “ridiculous” is the conceit of loftily condemning those who refuse to be drawn by fear into supporting the insupportable. I am aware, however, that there are many practical issues I have not dealt with. I am aware that some people will think that US voters, facing the possibility of Trump, do not have the luxury of rejecting Clinton. These are very important issues, because time and again even those who refuse to be chained to the “lesser-of-two-evils” cede the realist high-ground to intellectually and morally compromised dullards; dullards who insist, like broken records stuck in the era of vinyl, that we must play the game and change it from the inside. I do not intend to leave such claims unchallenged, so check back here for Part 2 of this article in which, amongst other things, I will test how strong “chains of rhetorical steel” are (hint: about as strong as chains of rhetorical butter).
(or Why US Politics Turns Ordinary People into Drooling Morons)
The problem, in a nutshell, is this: when people decide to support a prospective candidate in the US primary races they are putting themselves in the position of defending the indefensible. The very nature of this politico-Darwinist death match means that once you pick your chosen leader you must reject all criticism and suppress all doubt. You must become aggressively defensive and you must, above all, prevent your own wayward brain from thinking those bad thoughts that weaken the image of the immaculate leader. Any chink in their armour will be exploited by the enemies that surround them. Loyalty must be automatic and unconditional. Vigilance must be constant.
Triumph of the Ill
Gloria Steinem caused some kerfuffle this week by saying:
“Women are more for [Clinton] than men are. Men tend to get more conservative because they gain power as they age, women get more radical because they lose power as they age.
They’re going to get more activist as they grow older. And when you’re younger, you think: ‘Where are the boys? The boys are with Bernie.’”
When you let it sink in the implications of what Steinem said are quite stunning in their utter stupidity. Here is a feminist icon suggesting that young women support Sanders only to impress or be with “boys”. As some have pointed out, this is a sexist generalisation that is disrespectful, demeaning and disempowering of young women.
Steinem apologised for being “misinterpreted” and clarified her position by contradicting herself entirely: “What I had just said on the same show was the opposite: young women are active, mad as hell about what’s happening to them, graduating in debt, but averaging a million dollars less over their lifetimes to pay it back.” Because she is not retracting her repeated contention “women are more conservative when we’re young and we get more radical as we get older” she seems to be quite happy to believe two contradictory things and just pick whichever seems right for the occasion.
Steinem also tacitly declares that supporting Hillary Clinton is an act of radicalism. This is demonstrably false. Clinton is a former First Lady, former US Senator, and a former Secretary of State. Clinton and her spouse are among the richest people on the planet and have been paid $153 million in speaking fees. Her own personal income for 2014 was $30.5 million. Clinton is arguably the most “establishment” person seeking candidacy – even more than J. E. Bush the (wannabe) Third.
So what makes Gloria Steinem spout nonsense and contradict herself? Aside from the general human idiocy in which we all partake, it is that most glorious of institutions: US presidential politics. More specifically it is the bipartisan electoral process which is formally and informally constituted of tribal factionalism, cult of personality, manipulative marketing campaigns, dog-whistle invective, incendiary rhetoric, buzzwords, patriotism, sentimentality and many other components. These components all have one thing in common; they bypass thought. They direct decisions and impel action through impulse, emotion and herd reflex. US Presidential electoral politics is the epitome any such electoral process. It is like other elections, but even more so. It is dominated by deception, manipulation and sentiment.
Throughout the history of politics, popular appeals have been divided into appeals to reason and appeals to unreason. Technology, scale, and the narrow control of mass media have conspired to bring a moment of near total triumph for unreason. The individual voter will be profiled and targeted with anything from the scale of the tear on the cheek of a pretty 5 year-old girl, to the roar of a stadium of roaring mass fervour. The result of such mass unreason is, among other things, an ostensibly political electoral system that is devoid of substantive politics. But it is also a totalising ideology. It tells people that it represents the entirety or near-entirety of the legitimate political spectrum. People in countries with multi-party elections for central government seem universally to accept that the breadth of political ideology is largely represented by the competing parties and that the space between the two (or more) camps is the ideological “centre”.
In reality, regardless of the political system, political elites are inclined to be elitist and authoritarian. They like to think of themselves as more enlightened and progressive than the reactionary masses, but by nature their “centre” is to the right of popular sentiment, sometimes drastically so.
We don’t have to settle for defining left and right in relative terms set by political elites. The left/right division has a clear historical basis and can be defined in absolute terms. In these terms we see that each person, each party and each ideology has left and right elements. There is no pure Left or pure Right out there. We can also see that Republicans and Democrats have always been broadly right-wing. (In other countries there were once broadly left electoral choices in Labour, Socialist or Social Democrat parties, but these have all since embraced broadly right-wing liberal/neoliberal policies, along with military nationalism and Western interventionism). Electorates are regularly presented with two right-wing alternatives, one of which is falsely labelled as “left”.
The Authoritarian’s Dilemma
There is incessant propaganda screaming over and over at people that if they do not partake in the electoral process they are deficient and delinquent and it is their fault that the government is crap. In the US, where everything apparently needs to be taken to self-parodic extremes, this spawned the “Vote or Die” movement.
Small wonder then, that people get involved in electoral politics. But instead of choosing a person who actually represents their own interests blended with their own sense of what is morally and ethically right, people choose according to irrational criteria. Citizens are lured by many things, but mostly by the deliberately fostered delusion that a particular candidate will in some way embody and be responsive to the will of that citizen. They are led to believe that the candidate wants what they want, sees things as they do, and will make the same choices that they would. Their candidate is a version of themselves, but a superior version. It is a sad and pathetic spectacle. It gets even sadder when a candidate takes office and the citizen must continually reassess their beliefs because the former candidate makes choices that must be right because they know and understand more.
People like that are referred to as “right-wing authoritarians”. This is a description used by some psychologists for a group of inter-related psychological tendencies which add to a desire for authoritarian leadership in politics, in the workplace, in religion, and in the domestic sphere. Obviously such people tend to be attracted to right-wing politics, but they can also be attracted to authority in left-wing or ostensibly left-wing politics. These people are authoritarian followers. They seek the certainty of strong leadership.
Party politics, or any form of popular politics, will always attract authoritarians. But in our time, if you are not an authoritarian you must become one just to participate. If you choose to support Clinton, for example, there is a ton of baggage that comes with it. Her wealth, her power, her history of warmongering, and the blood on her hands are a much bigger burden to her supporters than to her. Clinton is a media-trained expert hack who only ever faces comparative softball questions. Her supporters might find themselves asked to give real answers to justify Clinton’s record, and there are none. Judged by the standards of ordinary mortals she is pondscum and a war criminal. The best moral justification you can give for her is that she is deranged by power and hence has diminished responsibility.
Can anyone actually give a real defence of her actions in helping to bring war to Libya? She has the blood of thousands on her hands. Daughters, sons, fathers, mothers – real people who suffered and died, for what? So she could gloat like a demented crime boss: “We came, we saw, he died”? Would it be okay if it was a failed attempt to do good (if anyone can believe that), or was the plan destroy Libya and create yet another failed state of lingering suffering, violence and death so that US oil hegemony remained unchallenged by any strong nationalism or anticolonial internationalism? Murderously incompetent and arrogant, or murderously power-mad and Machiavellian? Either way, she cannot be defended if someone is willing to put things in those terms
Hillary supporters cannot even defend Hillary to themselves. They must lash out by delegitimising opposition. Steinem’s now retracted criticisms of of Sanders supporters were pure ad hominem of the vilest sort. She created a caricature, a generalisation about those who felt differently by imposing on them a personal trait. This is a technique used against feminists so often that you might think her scruples would have stopped her.
To take another example, it is impossible in moral and legal terms to justify the support that Hillary Clinton has given to Israel. Bear in mind that this is not solely about Israel’s 1967 occupation of land and its illegal settlements. As a UN signatory that shares responsibility for the initial 1948 seizure of Palestinian property and flight of Palestinians from the self-declared state of Israel, the US is obliged to find a “just and lasting settlement” to the plight of 1948 Palestinian refugees. Because the state of Israel is dependent on US support it can be argued that high-level US politicians are actually more culpable than high Israeli politicians without even having any false justifications of an “existential threat”. Clinton is responsible for Israel’s crimes in a very real sense.
This brings me to Bernie Sanders. He too is responsible for Israel’s crimes. As Thomas Tucker wrote in August 2014:
“Let’s not be fooled by any politician appealing to high ideals when they are in the business of war and empire.
Sanders not only defends military contracts that benefit his constituents in Vermont, he also joined the 100 to 0 vote in the Senate to give unalloyed moral and political support to the state of Israel during its most recent bombing campaign against Gaza.”
Someone also pointed out that criticism of Sanders foreign policy record is only half of the story. On domestic issues he voted “for continuing intelligence gathering without civil oversight; opposing local attempts in Vermont to impeach Bush II (however he advocates prosecuting Snowden in some capacity if he returns to the US!); …against ending offshore tax havens and promoting small businesses; …for legislation that extended and, in some areas, made fourteen provisions of the Patriot Act permanent and extended the FBI’s power to perform roving wiretaps and access certain business records; …repeatedly against the Brady Bill that mandated waiting times and background checks for firearms purchases.” What a guy!
How do you defend such a record? The same way you defend Clinton’s record. You yell. You employ ad hominems. You employ the “appeal to consequences”, another fallacy which goes something like this:
Q: How do you justify Sanders‘ bloody militarism, pork-barrel cynicism, support for war crimes, support for restricting liberties and complicity in Israel’s occupation of Palestine?
A: Donald Trump!
March Of The Swivel Heads
Speaking of Donald Trump, everything I have written so far is about Democrat supporters. Would anyone be so silly as to think that Republicans are any better? In some respects Republican supporters have less need to be defensive of their chosen candidate because Republicans don’t try to hide their warmongering and racism, they simply embrace it with a patriotic exceptionalism beneath which is an unstated thuggish sensibility that says we are strong and we will crush those who transgress against us (transgression being subject to broad interpretation).
Republicans have the same situational factors shaping them into right-wing authoritarians, but the Republican Party has been quite a home for right-wing authoritarians for years, so in a way the fact that this has worsened to any degree is not much of a story in itself. The reason that we should fear the spread of right-wing authoritarianism is that once an authoritarian has chosen their leader they will be loyal regardless of any actions that leader takes. The structure and the discourse of electoral politics in the US (which is setting a standard for other countries) are such that people are forced into the position of becoming mindless shambling followers of each Great Leader.
People who support Obama, for example, have become as immune to reason and evidence as any George W. Bush supporter in 2008. Obama attracted those supporters with a very personal charismatic style, and his policy messages were overtly about emotions of hope and belief rather than a coherent platform based on an articulated ideology. (You won’t get anything different from US politics: Bernie, for example, has substantively replicated the style, shape and colour of Obama’s “Change We can Believe In” placards to create “A Future to Believe In”.) This is all great fertiliser in which to cultivate uncritical worship and obedience, but I think the real kicker is the way people have been conditioned to reject criticism of Obama by the constant unprincipled, unfair, untrue, hyperbolic and hysterical criticisms levelled at him by Republicans and other right-wingers. This ranges from the “Birther” movement to simple blatant and hateful racism.
The same can be said of Hillary Clinton. The whole Benghazi issue was turned into a type of fake witch-hunt against Clinton. This not only gave her a much need new layer of Teflon, but helped to conceal the stunning blatant illegality of US government acts that went far further than just Clinton and the State Department. Partisan badgering, real or fake, creates the sense that the person that supporters place their hope in is constantly under siege. Under the siege mentality it begins to feel dangerous to question anything about the Leader. Any admission against them can be exploited and abused and so you must steel your mind to perfect unquestioning loyalty.
Because it is a bipartisan framework and not a dictatorial one, this regime of leader worship differs in many ways from historical Fascist or Communist “cult of personality” regimes. The US regime blends aspects of that nationalistic “One Leader, One People, One Empire” style with a more fragmented style of right-wing factionalism akin to a milieu of organised crime interests that may co-operate, compete, or fight.
The Price of a Special Place in Hell is Worth It
Linked to the Gloria Steinem story has been a prominent story about Madeleine Albright. Albright once said that she thought that the “price” of 500,000 dead Iraqi children was “worth it”. She is also the Godmother to a cluster of humanitarian interventionists and liberal imperialists dominated by Clinton that is linked (by revolving door) to NGO’s such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch.
Regarding support for Clinton, Albright said: “There’s a special place in hell for women who don’t help each other!” She used exactly the same words in 2008, for the same candidate. In fact she claims she has used the phrase for 40 years. That does not change the fact that she was equating failure to support Hillary with betraying one’s own gender, as if the election was a giant job interview and women had an obligation to give poor Hillary a shot. The extreme and hateful implications stand regardless of how “lighthearted” Clinton says they were.
Like the extreme rhetoric of Republicans, Albright’s words show a distinct lack of any brain activity. I am the last person to suggest that political elites are actually stupid, but they are deeply out of touch with normal life. Despite all of their focus groups and messaging specialists, politicians at this level are as tone-deaf as any inbred 18th century aristocratic dandy. Albright has angered people on many fronts, in many ways. The Intercept’s Jon Schwarz tweeted the blurb from a book specifically exploring the immense harm done to Iraqi women by the sanctions that Albright supported. She is damned by her own words, so to speak.
Albright and Clinton being who they are, much of the angry reaction has suggested that electing an elitist warmonger is not feminism if the warmonger happens to have internal genitalia and wear skirts. Rania Masri put it thus: “Feminism demands a critique of U.S. policies, both domestically and internationally. It demands a critique of all wars and all hegemonies and of all structures of oppression.”
Independently engaged people get angry, but most people blind themselves to the gulf that separates them from their political masters. The system continues because people foolishly believe that they have to choose within the candidates of the major parties, or they are effectively disenfranchised. The fear of one side makes people stampede into the other camp. Once again they are avoiding the process of thinking when making the decision to commit. They end up in positions that are morally and intellectually indefensible, but they can get away with it by only associating with like-minded fools and by snarling viciously at the unrealistic people who point out the immorality and/or foolishness of their choice.
When they have safety in numbers; when the harsh light of reality will not intrude; believers may debate within accepted bounds of disagreement. They are thus secure in the knowledge that no one will point out that they are all backing different naked emperors who are engaged in an unflattering unclothed brawl that is just as revolting in actuality as my metaphor suggests. That is when they say really stupid things. For example, in response to the fact the policies under Bill Clinton had a terrible impact on black people Madeleine Kunin said that “Bill Clinton was called ‘the first black president.‘” She followed by saying of Hillary “she’s been voted the most admired woman in the world, year after year, because people respect her.” I am not sure what world she is referring to, but it is not the planet Earth. In fact she is probably referring to a Gallup poll that asks “Americans” which woman they admire anywhere in the world. Kunin probably doesn’t understand the difference.
Not to be outdone Kunin’s debate opponent, Ben Jealous, said that “on the issues that Dr. Martin Luther King referred to as the ‘giant triplets of evil’—racism, militarism and greed—Bernie is the clearest and the most consistent.” Not only is that only true if you preclude third party candidates, but there is a piece of authoritarian lunacy hidden there in plain sight. If you care about what Dr King believed in, why endorse someone that he would never have endorsed? King might have forgiven the banal ways in which Sanders has soiled himself in the pits of DC muck, but he would never have tolerated Sanders‘ embrace of militarism and empire. Perhaps the scariest thing is that people do not see this immediately. People seem to have forgotten what it means to have principles around the same time they forgot what it means for their country to be at war.
Kunin and Jealous would probably feel a need to pick a prospective winner because they are immersed in this sort of politics. “Relevance” is capital to such people, but ordinary folks are also drawn to power. People want to feel they are part of something. The fervour of manic Trump supporters is really only the shabby and slack-jawed version of the credulousness of Democrats who are seeking to be part of “history” by supporting the first woman president or the first black president. The mania is the same regardless of how noble the pretext.
Women who support Clinton in the belief that it is somehow feminist or will advance the cause of women in general are zombiefied. They brainlessly shuffle through an undead parody of a political process, immune to the ample evidence that in actions, rather than rhetoric, Clinton is not a great supporter of women’s rights. Nor can Obama supporters process the reality that his administrations have deported more immigrants than any others in US history; have slowly reconstituted the wars he was supposed to end; and have carried out the largest international assassination programme in history; and numerous studies over the years show that the vast majority of his victims are civilians.
Third Party Insurance
My concluding advice to US voters: vote for a 3rd party candidate in any election that you can. People mistakenly believe that votes do not count if your candidate is not elected. That is stupid. How many elections come down to just one vote? More to the point, how responsive to the voters are people once elected? Studies have shown that elected officials do not carry out the will of voters and that “mandate theory” is empirically invalid. A vote is only good as an official statement of your belief, so it is not “tactical” to compromise on beliefs. Quite the opposite. Voting for a 3rd party in the US (assuming that votes are recorded honestly) is a message to your fellow citizens. If enough people do it, then the usual plutocrats will be weakened when they campaign in 2, 4, or 6 years because they will have to forestall any emerging alternative. Furthermore, they are so entrenched and decadent that they may fail to quell a growing alternative despite the resources at their command. Then you will have a real choice.
Be smart. Do not put your faith in elected leaders. Vote 3rd party, then continue to fight for democracy in other ways. The current electoral process is not real democracy, it is the dance of the dead – the Nazi Zombie Shuffle.
“They killed Habyarimana because they knew he was the only one who could stop the Hutus from killing Tutsis. That is why, every day, I say that: the genocide was not planned by Hutus, it was planned by Tutsis: it was planned by the RPF. Even after the Interahamwe killed my wife, even after all the horrible things that have happened to me, I believe the Tutsis created the genocide. And for me it was a war between brothers: the Hutus had an army and the Tutsis had an army and there was fighting at every level.”i
Rwanda has a special place in genocide scholarship as one of only three acknowledged paradigmatic examples (the others being the Shoah and the Armenian holocaust). Vahakn Dadrian refers to ‘the three principle genocides’;ii Jones refers to three ‘“classic” genocides’;iii Levene calls them the ‘prototypical examples’.ivYet one would not normally expect a survivor of a ‘classic’ and ‘prototypical’ genocide to say that the planners of the genocide were the enemies of those who actually carried out the genocide. In what other case would a victim make that claim?
The narrative known by most Westerners is deliberately and pointedly distorted. Every fatuous overprivileged liberal hack will, as if by compulsion cite the racial slur inyenzi (cockroaches). The infamous Radio Mille Collines told people to kill the inyenzi. But somehow everyone neglects to mention that this was the name adopted by Tutsi guerillas for themselves in the 1960s. They called themselves cockroaches in reference to their own ineradicability. So this idea that this radio station simply called Tutsi vermin is actually a lie. That summarises their approach quite well. They try to shape the events into something as closely resembling the Shoah as possible by elision and miscontextualisation while attacking those who overstep the line as deniers. I am not going to excuse the actions of mass murderers or of propagandists at Radio Milles Collines who fomented violence against innocents, but the fears and instability without which these crimes would not have occurred were themselves fomented by Paul Kagame’s Rwandan Patriotic Army (RPA) and his Western backers. The violence of the “100 Days” was preceded by violence and it was followed by violence and further genocide.
We are meant to believe that some unexplained racial hatred simply exploded as if randomly, but the hatred and fear were the results of actual events not primitive tribalism. After the RPA invasion Rwanda’s Juvenal Habyarimana, who had many Tutsi friends and had appointed many as colleagues, increased racial tension as a way of using the threat of massacres as a bargaining chip with the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF).v As will be shown this was as tragic as it was ruthless, because the equally, or more, ruthless RPF knew that their only path to power lay over a mountain of corpses of their fellow Tutsivi – showing that the chauvinist Tutsi ideology which many of their number openly espousedvii was equally contingent. Ultimately, as with other genocides, the victims of this genocide were not victims of blind hatred, but victims of political machinations which fostered and harnessed hatred, and much of that was emanating from Washington DC.
As Hitler analogies and Munich analogies wear out from overuse, ‘genocide’ has become the keystone accusation in a new discourse of ‘humanitarian intervention’. A ‘Rwanda analogy’ on the dangers of inaction has replaced the ‘Munich analogy’ on appeasement. Of course, many historians will point out that, against the wills of their own peoples, the US and UK governments did a great deal more than to merely ‘appease’ Hitler,viii and similarly it is not US inaction, but rather the fact that the Clinton administration enforced inaction on others which became their most noted contribution to slaughter which occurred in Rwanda.ix So having prevented others from intervening to stop one of the greatest slaughters in history, the US begins an elaborate hand-wringing exercise in order to give itself license to intervene wherever else it likes. The resulting discourse of ‘humanitarian intervention’ and ‘responsibility to protect’ (or ‘R2P’x) is a direct attack on norms of state sovereignty which offer some protection for weak states against strong states.
The Rwanda genocide was significant and dramatic. In terms of human suffering it should rightly be remembered as one of the most horrific events of its time. But like the Democratic Kampuchea autogenocide before it, it was so unusual as to be patently useless as any form of paradigmatic model. In fact, it is probably no coincidence that atypical genocides are such a focus, and that it is they that have become fodder for the Hollywood vision of genocide. What happened in Rwanda has no parallels. The Shoah has been described as a “uniquely unique genocide” but it can be understood as having typical characteristics taken to atypical extremes, but the Rwanda genocide not in ferocity but in complexity and confusion. The Anglophone world has created a mythological Rwandan Holocaust with cartoon villains, victims and heroes. The US, in particular, wrings its hands over its inaction, but deliberate US actions played a significant role in causing the violence that took so many lives.
Of late the orthodox or as genocide scholar René Lemarchand would have it, the ‘politically correct’) interpretation Rwandan history has been brought into question in broader circles than previously. Recent elections have highlighted the questionable use of the criminal charges of genocide denial, most notably when leading opposition figure Victoire Ingabire was charged with ‘association with a terrorist group; propagating genocide ideology; negationism and ethnic divisionism.’ A month later, the lawyer who flew from the US to defend her was arrested and later proffered charges which included ‘denying and downplaying genocide through his publications and conferences,’ and ‘spreading rumours that are capable of threatening the security of the Rwandan people.’xi Late last year she was sentenced to 15 years in prison. A leaked draft of a UN report claims that if proven in court, actions testified to by victims of Rwandan forces in Congo/Zaire would constitute genocide.xii And perhaps most telling of all, Tony Blair has posted an opinion piece in the Guardian praising Rwanda as a “beacon of hope”. I am not being flippant when I say that praise from Blair, a personal associate of fellow war criminal Paul Kagame, should be read as an admission of oppression and injustice.
There is some acknowledgement in the literature that Rwanda was an unusual case of genocide in that there was genuine fear amongst the perpetrators. There is even a significant article in the Journal of Genocide Research supporting the survivor testimony above to the effect that the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) provoked genocide.xiii In another article René Lemarchand writes: ‘To put it baldly: Jews did not invade Germany with the massive military and logistical support of a neighboring state….’xiv But to extend the analogy, this was a genocide in which Jews were massacring Germans, in which Himmler was born a Jew, in which Hitler had Jews in his cabinet and as close friends, and in which the most celebrated rescue of Jews was carried out, in part, by the Wehrmacht. All of these factors tend to be elided in the orthodox literature, and the only reasonably contextualised narrative is found in the writings of those who are, more or less, deniers of genocide. I don’t agree with the genocide deniers, to me they are ignoring the elephant in the room, which is to say the ample evidence that there was a dramatic mass-murder of Tutsi as such in Rwanda which constitutes one of the most deadly genocides of history. Those who support the orthodox interpretation, on the other hand, deny the existence of any sort of room and call the elephant a camel.
The Genocide: Some Questions and Answers.
Former UN special rapporteur on genocide Keith Harmon Snow, in an article that won him the a Project Censored award for suppressed is news, writes, ‘Hundreds of thousands of people were killed, that’s clear. There was large-scale butchery of Tutsis. And Hutus. Children and old women were killed. There was mass rape. There were many acts of genocide. But was it genocide or civil war?’xv There are two things to consider here: First, should the events of 1994 be referred to as a genocide or as a civil war in which a genocide occurred? Second, were there mutual genocides of Hutu and Tutsi in 1994, in short a ‘double genocide’?
In the first instance, I believe any given set of events should only be characterised as a genocide if the majority of victims are victims of genocide. In this case, there are simply no trustworthy sources available to make that determination. For example, in ‘testing the double genocide thesis’ Philip Verwimp finds from household sampling that 79 of 138 deaths in 1994 (57.2%) were Tutsi.xvi Given that Tutsi represented only 8.4% of the sample (which, interestingly enough, is exactly the percentage of Tutsi in the 1991 census),xvii this certainly proves genocide. The problems with this are that the sampling is from central and southern Rwanda and that it avoids any killing before 1994. Verwimp admits on both counts that this avoids counting the victims of RPF massacres, but explains that ‘very few scholars will use the word genocide to describe the killings committed by the RPF before, during, and after 1994.’xviii So far from actually ‘testing the double genocide thesis’ Verwimp actually makes an a priori exclusion of the possibility. In terms of the problem of whether the bulk of those killed in the period were Tutsi we are left with no answers except that, given that there is such an evident bias in sampling, one might tentatively infer that the bulk of victims were not Tutsi. According to Harmon Snow: ‘Professors Christian Davenport (U. Maryland) and Allan Stam (Dartmouth) published research in 2004 that showed that the killings began with a small, dedicated cadre of Hutu militiamen, but quickly cascaded in an ever-widening circle, with Hutu and Tutsi playing the roles of both attackers and victims. Their team of researchers also found that only 250,000 people were killed, not the 800,000 plus advanced by the RPF, and that for every Tutsi killed two Hutus were killed. The research unleashed a firestorm: the media jumped on them for denying genocide.’xixShould it then be considered a civil war? That too is problematic due to the fact that only a minuscule percentage of those killed were combatants.
As for the double genocide thesis, this is nearly as difficult. Certainly before April 1994 there are good reasons to believe that RPF massacres were indiscriminate in the matter of ethnicity. Largely this seems to be because they were primarily interested in ‘refugee generation.’ According to Harmon Snow ‘The RPF practiced a scorched earth policy: they did not want to have to administer a territory or deal with local populations. The RPF displaced people, shelled the IDP camps, and marched on. They killed some captives, buried them in mass graves or burned corpses, and used survivors as porters to transport ammunition, dig trenches or cook their meals.’xx Sometimes this involved the massacre of Tutsis, as Joan Casòliva and Joan Carrero report: ‘In some regions there were attacks and killings directed against the Tutsi population. Principal amongst these were those against the Bagogwe, a Tutsi sub-group from the north, in January 1991, and against the Tutsis of Bugesera in March of 1992.’xxi Other reports, particularly from the ‘100 days’ period in which enormous numbers of Tutsis were being massacred, suggest that RPF massacres were directed against Hutu, which may well be true but might equally be a presumption. On the whole, however, the ‘double genocide thesis’ is somewhat of a red herring. Structurally, as I will show, it was more the case that having ‘provoked’ the Tutsi genocide, Rwanda’s RPF controlled Government of National Unity (GNU) exploited the initial genocide to launch a subsequent genocide of Hutu.
The initial RPA invasion of Rwanda was in effect an invasion by the Ugandan military with US backing. RPA forces were uniformed Ugandan military using Ugandan arms which were supplied throughout the civil war thanks to an increase of US and UK military aid after the invasion.xxii At this time Tutsi refugees enjoyed a stable privileged position in Ugandaxxiii while those who remained in Rwanda, or had subsequently returned, formed the ‘majority of economic operators’.xxiv The RPF attack intentionally pre-empted Rwandan President Juvenal Habyarimana’s moves towards allowing the peaceful return of all Tutsi refugees, because the RPF felt that this would be of detriment to their plan to take control of Rwanda.xxv Uganda’s military dictator, Yoweri Museveni (whom Madeleine Albright spoke as ‘a beacon of hope for Africa’),xxvi feigned shock and surprise that a massive proportion of his military forces had mutinied, but continued supplying them with arms supplied to him mainly by the US. The orthodox explanation, ascribed to even by Kuperman, is that he was going to disarm the RPA but had his feelings hurt when Habyarimana publicly accused him of involvement.xxvii In fact Museveni was deeply complicit. He even gave a speech to his military officers which, in Philpot’s words, ‘reads like a blueprint for the invasion and war that some of his officers were soon to conduct in Rwanda….’xxviii In it he said:
We had to reject the concept of ‘a small but efficient’ army…. This notion is nothing but suicidal. Insurgents do not have to do much, but they will have succeeded in their devices if they simply terrorize the population, stop them from producing wealth for the country, dismantle the network of civil administration and block communications. Once the state does not stop insurgents from doing this on a large scale, the country will rapidly lose income and find it impossible to support the army… Insurgents will be in a position to create a situation of strategic stalemate or even to launch a strategic counteroffensive to seize state power.xxix
This is a far cry from normal asymmetrical guerrilla warfare, instead it is a way for a small force (but not a noticeably inferior one) to effect an invasion and occupation of a country with a hostile population in a manner that would normally take a large superiority of forces. The FAR was a government force vulnerable to the degradation of the Rwandan state, while the RPA was superior in arms and had invulnerable external supply and a safe rear area in Uganda. Accordingly they depopulated Rwanda’s most productive agricultural region.
Two and a half years after the invasion, only 1800 people lived in an area of northern Rwanda that previously had a population of 800,000. As the “liberators” advanced, the Hutu peasants fled. By April 1993, Rwanda had more than one million internal refugees. That means one million farmers (one seventh of the total population) who are no longer producing on the most fertile lands in the country. It also means one million people to house and feed, and hundreds of thousands of children absent from school which caused great anxiety among parents.
The Rwandan Minister of Agriculture, Husbandry and Forests in 1992, James Gasana, described the situation in the war torn Byumba prefecture north of Kigali in a book published in 2002. “A prefecture that had been the country’s breadbasket now had the largest population in need of welfare and the highest mortality rate due to malnutrition.”xxx
In Kigali and elsewhere large numbers of clandestine RPF cells operated, often using ‘human rights’ NGOs as cover.xxxi They carried out sabotage, bombings of public places, and an eliticidal assassination campaign in order to terrorise the population and destabilise the government.xxxii At the same time the Rwandan government was also destabilised by what amounted to an attack by the US dominated International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the ‘donor institutions’ of the West, who demanded that, in the midst of civil war, Rwanda must dismantle its interventionist state apparatus.xxxiii During this time the RPF avoided a peaceful settlement, despite increasingly large and clearly desperate concessions by Habyarimana and despite the fact that they knew that Tutsi massacres were an almost inevitable outcome of the growing chaos and fear.xxxiv According to testimony obtained by French prosecutor Jean-Louis Bruguiere, RPF leader Paul Kagame was consistent in telling RPA troops that he had no intention of honouring peace accords.xxxv
Then, in what one RPF defector described as ‘a macabre plan to drive the country into chaos’ the RPF assassinated Habyarimana.xxxvi A UN report describes the assassination merely as ‘a plane crash’.xxxvii Similarly Adam Jones notes only that the plane ‘was shot down’ without addressing the impolitic issue of who exactly shot it down.xxxviii Kuperman merely notes that ‘Hutu extremists’ blamed the RPF.xxxix For Lemarchand, writing in 2002, ‘responsibility remains a mystery’.xl Even for the earlier pieces this is an act of willful blindness. In 1997 an ICTR team recommended that RPF leaders be prosecuted (although the report was quashed and the lead investigator told to burn his notes, it survived and is now part of the ICTR record).xli In 2003 the ICTR itself announced plans to indict RPF leaders, but the US and UK had the chief prosecutor, who announced these plans, replaced. By 2005 a Spanish court which indicted 40 members of the RPF/GNU leadership for war crimes and crimes against humanity cited RPF responsibility for the assassination.xlii Finally, in France, Bruguiere issued a detailed indictment of 9 RPF leaders in 2006.xliii
The RPF decision to pursue violent means was not surprising. By 1993 their strategy of terror and massacre had driven away the support they initially received from Rwandan opposition partiesxliv and they had been handed a resounding defeat in election in September of 1992, showing that they could not hope to gain control of Rwanda by democratic means.xlv
What ensued definitely involved a massive genocidal slaughter of Tutsis, primarily by the Interahamwe and other militias. However, the fact that the Interahamwe leader was a Tutsi/former Tutsi, and other members were Tutsi including a district president, should be a source of considerable interest for scholars, but it is seldom remarked. Levene does mention it in his introductory volume, but only to stress its lack of import.xlvi
Beyond the fact that there were large scale massacres, little is said that is credible. Consider that there were only 650,000-800,000 Tutsi in Rwanda.xlvii Most accounts would have it that the vast majority (around 80%) were killed. This is not inconceivable, but it seems highly unusual for a 100 day period of largely civilian orchestrated massacres – especially considering that through that time the Tutsi-led RPF controlled ever more of the country. Naturally, the number of Tutsi brings into question some of the high-end estimates of total mortality. For example, Adam Jones gives the following interesting snippet:
About 80 percent of victims died in a “hurricane of death . . . between the second week of April and the third week of May,” noted Gérard Prunier. “If we consider that probably around 800,000 people were slaughtered during that short period . . . the daily killing rate was at least five times that of the Nazi death camps.”xlviii
Further, ‘[o]n April 20, at the parish of Karama in Butare prefecture, “between thirty-five and forty-three thousand people died in less than six hours.”‘xlix For someone like Jones who, no doubt, has read many accounts of mass killing, it should be obvious that ill-equipped militia led civilians could not round up such a number and could not physically kill so many in such a short space of time using small arms and machetes. Nor does anyone explain how this occurred without the same sort of compunction and reticence which people ordinarily feel on some level when it comes to taking human life – especially when in close proximity, especially for non-military, and especially when it is someone who has not killed before.l Although some writers do delve into the factors that caused 175,000 to 210,000 to participate in murder,li I can’t help but feel that such uncritical acceptance of hyperbole indicates in many a racially informed vision of orgiastic bloodletting. As for Jones’s source, it is an organisation called African Rights. According to Philpot they were involved in financing the RPF,lii and, he later quotes, Professor Filip Reyntjens: “As for African Rights, the political and historical analyses made by that group have a flagrant pro-RPF bias that is incompatible with the mission and code of conduct of any serious association devoted to promoting human rights.”liii
As surely as there were massacres of Tutsi by the Interahamwe and others, there were also massacres by the RPA during the ‘100 days’, the extent of which are likewise impossible to determine at this stage. Even Roméo Dallaire did not deny this, and originally denied any co-ordinated genocide:
On September 14, 1994, on CBC’s French language magazine, Le Point, General Roméo Dallaire answered the following question from a Rwandan who lived in Quebec City: “In your opinion, was there a genocide in Rwanda, that is the carrying out of a plan to eliminate ethnic Tutsis in Rwanda?”
“I would say there was a national genocide, a genocide based on a political basis, not only ethnic,” replied Roméo Dallaire. “Many Hutus and many Tutsis were killed… I think that the explosion we saw could not have been planned. I don’t think that anybody could ever have planned an explosion of that magnitude.”liv
Bear in mind that Dallaire was anything but neutral:
“Romeo Dallaire was very close to the RPF”, says Gilbert Ngijol, political assistant to Jacques-Roger Booh-Booh. “He let the RPF get arms. He allowed UNAMIR troops to train RPF soldiers. United Nations troops provided the logistics for the RPF. They even fed them.”
The [UN] Secretary General’s Special Representative to Rwanda, Jacques-Roger Booh-Booh confirmed this when he broke 10 years of silence regarding Rwanda in an interview published in Africa International. “In the field, he abandoned his work as military commander and got involved in politics; he violated the principle of UNAMIR’s neutrality and became the objective ally of one of the parties in the conflict.”lv
There are also suggestions that RPF massacres have wrongly been blamed on Interahamwe:
The Belgian Marcel Gerin concluded … that in 1994 he and his wife were left trapped by the Rwandan war. They were witnesses to the indiscriminate killings in the area they lived in and they were able to confirm, through the fact of having been held prisoners, how those who apparently seemed to be Interahamwe militia were no more than mercenaries in the pay of the Tutsi army. … Although they state that in their residential zone the Interahamwes killed a thousand people in the church, the majority of the massacres were carried out with the arrival of those mercenaries who killed whoever they met without any ethnic discrimination, in a clear operation of whole-territory cleansing. Whatever images of the situation emerged gave one to believe that the authors were the Hutu Interahamwe militia. Santos Ganuza, a Navarrese missionary, was the rector of the Kiziguro parish, also in the east of the country. He says:
“For many years I was the parish rector in the east of the country. In 1994 the Interahamwearrived and killed some 1,000 Tutsis who had taken refuge in the church without my being able to do anything to prevent it. A few days later, the Tutsi military arrived and killed 10,000 Hutus. The Western world’s televisions broadcast pictures of these Hutus assassinated in my parish, identifying them as Tutsis”.lvi
Deniers, Distorters and Hypocrites
Among those who are ‘more or less’ deniers of genocide are Edward Herman and David Peterson. In The Politics of Genocide the 18 pages which they devote to events in Rwanda and what is now the Democratic Republic of Congo have provoked considerable criticism.lvii The problem I have is that Herman and Peterson never actually come out and say that there was never a genocidal mass-murder of Tutsi. Instead they imply as much with statements to the effect that the orthodox ‘propaganda line on Rwanda … turned victim and perpetrator upside down.’lviii Perhaps I read too much into this lack of a positive stance because the authors themselves do not counter allegations of genocide denial in responding to Caplan and to a short piece by Adam Jones.lix On the other hand, they quote with approval a study which found that 300,000 Tutsi were killed, around 50% of the population.lx How that could have happened in a matter of 100 days and not constitute genocide is rather hard to fathom
It is also the Rwanda/DRC (Democratic Republic of Congo) section of the book which I find most problematic. The authors have no problem in levelling very accurate criticisms of the orthodox narrative. On the other hand they often overstep the mark. For example, all of the complexities of Ugandan and Anglo-US support for Paul Kagame’s Rwandan Patriotic Front, which are detailed below, are reduced to the statement that the RPF was ‘a wing of the Ugandan army’.lxi Perhaps it is unfortunate that one cannot make such a statement baldly when it probably gives a perfectly accurate understanding of the underlying situation, but it is nevertheless a prima facie falsehood. This leaves the authors open to critiques like that of Gerald Caplan who uses this to mock the very idea that the RPF was effectively a proxy force for the US.lxii Interestingly, Herman and Peterson are able to refute this by citing Caplan’s own earlier work,lxiii but that still does not make the RPF a literal and overt ‘wing’ of the Ugandan army. In fact, authors undermining their own arguments is a very minor matter. More important is the fact that it is symptomatic of a narrative of events which is the mirror-image of that which it opposes. The authors over-simplify in this matter and others because they, as much as their opponents, seem driven to produce a childish vision of simplistic moral significance.
The whole polarised debate over Rwanda reveals something very rotten pervading the discourse of genocide and genocide denial. There is an intellectual reason for avoiding the attachment of a particular moral weight to the concept of genocide in that it can only confuse analysis. There is also, however, a psychological reason. The moral weight given to genocide also seems to produce what can only be described as an atavistic or childish manichaean narrative of victim and perpetrator populations as essences of good and evil. The dangers of this can be seen in the strikingly similar, but diametrically opposed, narratives produced by Adam Jones with regard to RPF killings of Hutu, and that of Herman and Peterson with regard to Interahamwe and/or Forces Armées Rwandaise (FAR) killings of Tutsi.
When it comes to the RPF led slaughter of hundreds of thousands of Hutu, Jones is very keen on emphasising the agency of the ‘Hutugénocidaires‘ who had, in his interesting turn of phrase, ‘staged a mass evacuation’. Translated, this means that millions fled in the face of the RPF takeover of Rwanda. When the RPF led an invasion of Zaire (later the Democratic Republic of Congo) it was because the génocidaires had ‘reconstituted themselves as a terrorist force, brutally controlling the refugee population and launching attacks against Tutsis in both Congo and Rwanda.’ They invaded again because the man they themselves had put into power in Kinshasa ‘fell under the sway of Hutu representatives in Kinshasa, supporting renewed cross-border killing operations in Rwanda.’ Jones writes this even though he acknowledges that both Rwanda and Uganda ‘have experienced miraculous leaps in their export of key commodities – diamonds, gold, timber, and coltan (an ore used in computer chips and cell phones) – at levels that exceed total domestic production, providing vivid evidence of the pillaging.’ Jones uses génocidaire to mean anyone who was in a position of power in Rwanda before the RPF takeover. More than that he means the ‘double-plus bad’ people. He doesn’t concern himself with issues like which among them actually were guilty of committing genocide. The impression he gives is that it is the evil génocidaires who are ultimately responsible for the RPF having entered Zaire/DRC and having massacred hundreds of thousands while Rwandan sponsored Congolese rebels, according to Jones himself (citing a 1999 UN report) were “running torture centers that amounted to ‘extermination’ sites.”lxiv Much of his contextualisation of Rwandan aggression and genocide is exactly that given by the Rwandan government. Thus it is deeply ironic when Jones writes of Herman and Peterson: “Herman and Peterson none-too-subtly adopt Hutu Power’s justification for slaughtering Tutsi civilians: that they constituted a ‘fifth column,’ indistinguishable from the invading RPF. This casual parroting of the most virulent Hutu-extremist propaganda effectively blames Rwanda’s Tutsis for their own extermination. It is a disgraceful ploy, and by itself it casts Herman and Peterson’s ‘analysis into utter disrepute.”lxv
Herman and Peterson are more blatantly partisan than Jones. Despite apparently believing that hundreds of thousands of Tutsi were slaughtered, as mentioned above, they create a simple narrative of good Hutus and bad Tutsis. It is worth quoting Jones at length:
“Would it not have been incredible for Kagame’s Tutsi forces to conquer Rwanda in 100 days, and yet the number of minority Tutsi deaths be greater than the number of majority Hutu deaths by a ratio of something like three-to-one? Surely then we would have to count Rwanda 1994 as the only country in history where the victims of genocide triumphed over those who committed genocide against them, and wiped the territory clean of its ‘genocidaires’ at the same time.”
Of course, no mainstream authority has ever claimed that the Tutsi “victims of genocide” in Rwanda in 1994 were drawn from “Kagame’s Tutsi forces.” The latter were invading from Uganda, as Herman and Peterson themselves emphasize. They were outsiders with no connection to, and apparently no particular sympathy for, the Tutsi civilian population of Rwanda. It was the Rwandan Tutsi population which, by all serious accounts, bore the overwhelming brunt of the Hutu Power genocide.
So Herman and Peterson’s mocking reference to the “minority Tutsi” population supposedly bearing the brunt of the massacres, then assuming “complete control” of Rwanda, is pure sleight-of-hand. To repeat the indisputable: it was the foreign-based RPF that took “complete control” in July 1994 and “wiped the territory clean of its ‘genocidaires’”….lxvi
It seems likely that the understandable anger that Herman and Peterson feel at the misuse of accusations of atrocities, fuelling far greater atrocities, causes an over-identification with the villainised attacked in Western propaganda. However, this should not be a reason for excusing the crimes committed by members of a denigrated group against members of another group, even if that group has members who are even greater perpetrators of atrocities. Caplan evinces great indignation that Herman and Peterson should call him a ‘genocide facilitator’ when he has ‘spent the past decade immersed in genocide prevention,’lxvii but the description aptly fits Caplan and many others who may genuinely believe that they are working to prevent genocide. Even Jones, who tries very hard to avoid siding with the predominant discourse of apologism and denial of Western crimes, is pulled by emotionality and the very weight of the orthodoxy into the position of minimising the most deadly genocides perpetrated by recidivists who are still very powerful and emphasising the crimes of official enemies of the West who no longer pose a threat to anyone. As Herman and Peterson write regarding Genocide: A Comprehensive Introduction:
Jones’s chapter on Bosnia and Kosovo also flies in the face of his claim that he “adopt[s] a comparative approach that does not elevate particular genocides over others, except to the extent that scale and intensity warrant special attention.” Measured by “scale and intensity,” the civil wars in Bosnia-Herzegovina and Kosovo were not remotely in the same league as the U.S. assault on Vietnam, the killings in Indonesia (in the mid-1960s, during and after the overthrow of Sukarno), the two phases of the Iraq genocide (the sanctions era and then war of aggression-occupation), or the still ongoing invasion-occupation of the Democratic Republic of Congo. Furthermore, his treatment of numbers in Bosnia is deceptive. Jones asserts that “a quarter of a million people died in Bosnia and Herzegovina” in the years up to the Dayton accords in late 1995. But by the time Jones wrote this, two important establishment studies had shown that the total number of war-related deaths on all sides, soldiers as well as civilians, totalled approximately 100,000. Of these deaths, some 40,233 are now reported as non-soldiers (39,199 civilians, and 1,035 policemen). So Jones suppresses information that would show the earlier standard claim of 250,000 deaths to have been an inflation of wartime propaganda.lxviii
Simply glancing at the contents page of Genocide: A Comprehensive Introduction confirms that Jones comes nowhere close to basing his emphasis on ‘scale and intensity’. A chapter is dedicated to Bosnia and Kosovo, while none of the larger genocides mentioned above get similar treatment.
With regard to Rwanda, there is no question, however, that killings occurred on a scale warranting considerable attention, the problem is rather, as I have written the creation of a highly politicised mythological narrative of the genocidal killing of Tutsi which is problematic. Here, once again, Jones is merely one of the better of an extremely bad lot. The ‘Rwandan holocaust’ is rather like the mythic and equally political creation based on the Shoah which Norman Finkelstein calls ‘The Holocaust’: ‘Like most ideologies, it bears a connection, if tenuous, with reality.’lxixFinkelstein’s ‘The Holocaust’ has its origins in imperial geopolitics: ‘Impressed by Israel’s overwhelming display of force, the United States moved to incorporate it as a strategic asset. (Already before the June war the United States had cautiously tilted toward Israel as the Egyptian and Syrian regimes charted an increasingly independent course in the mid-1960s.) Military and economic assistance began to pour in as Israel turned into a proxy for US power in the Middle East.’lxx In Rwanda the geopolitical imperatives existed before the genocide actually took place, and the resulting myth, which would have it that what happened in Rwanda was very similar to the Shoah, has a far more tenuous connection with reality than the mythical ‘Holocaust’.
Kagame’s “Beacon of Hope”
After the RPF takeover the Tutsi genocide was exploited to create what ‘even Britain’s Economist has called “the most repressive in Africa.”‘lxxi This has been recognised by some in the genocide field including Kasaija Phillip Apuuli,lxxii and Lars Waldorf.lxxiii The GNU claimed that it governed a ‘criminal population’.lxxiv According to the GNU themselves, there were 109,499 imprisoned by 2000 awaiting genocide charges.lxxv They widely accused any political opponents of being génocidaires and when that label ceased its usefulness, switched to accusing people of ‘divisionism’, ‘negationism’ and ‘genocide ideology.’lxxvi The latter, of which the GNU accuses those such as the famed rescuer Paul Rusesabagina for having denounced RPF atrocities and two of their own government’s former Prime Ministers, now attracts a 10 to 50 year prison sentence in Rwanda.lxxvii
Though many thousands suffer terribly due to this form of genocide exploitation, this pales in comparison with the hundreds of thousands who died when the RPF used the Tutsi genocide to launch their own genocide. One might think that this would be of considerable interest to genocide scholars, but apparently it is not. When the RPF took over Rwanda 2 million people fled, 1.2 million of them into Zaire.lxxviii Meanwhile, the US was advancing certain plans:
At the very moment the tragic refugee operation was underway, French journalist Jean Daniel was meeting the assistant Secretary of State, John Kornblum, in his Washington office. His account of that meeting is hair-raising.
“France? We want to get along with France. Chirac? A man of good will. We like him. But: (1) no question of keeping Boutros-Ghali; (2) no question of keeping Mobutu in power… … Let’s get together again in six months time. We’ll see if I am mistaken. Watch out for Africa: France has it all wrong. The strong man is in Uganda, not in Kinshasa.”
In his own words, Jean Daniel left that meeting “dumbfounded by the cynical detailing of events to come, and the arrogance of the vocabulary used”lxxix
Kornblum was prophetic. To revisit Jones’s orthodox rendition:
Hutu génocidaires staged a mass evacuation of populations under their control, across the Congolese border to the city of Goma. Ironically, it was this humanitarian crisis that galvanized the world, not the genocide against Tutsis. Ironically, too, the outside aid that flooded in was instrumental in permitting the génocidaires to reconstitute themselves as a terrorist force, brutally controlling the refugee population and launching attacks against Tutsis in both Congo and Rwanda.
In the face of this threat, in 1997 Rwanda assisted the overthrow of the Mobutu regime by Laurent Désiré Kabila….lxxx
Jones doesn’t bother with details such as how or why a campaign against some guerillas turned into the invasion of the massive country the DRC – then known as Zaire.
Hundreds of thousands of refugees were killed or starved to death with 50% of the victims being under 15 years of age.lxxxi A UN report on the genocide mysteriously dropped the use of the word in its final draft. ‘In the UN it is explained that ‘following deep discussions’ in New York the report’s authors ‘themselves’ decided to retract the term ‘genocide’.’lxxxii It is reasonable to expect that the more recently leaked draft UN report on the genocide was leaked because it too was unlikely to be released in unadulterated form. As of the time of this writing it seems that the report may never be released in any form. Meanwhile, Western interests were amply served. As Philpot puts it:
It has been said that the invasion of Rwanda by Ugandan troops in 1990 was aimed at Kinshasa not Kigali. The war that has followed in the Congo and the scramble by Western corporations for control of the vast Congolese natural resources makes that interpretation very plausible. …
Since the war began in the Congo in 1996, the rush of American, Belgian, Canadian, British and French corporations for diamonds and gold and other natural resources in the region has been widely documented and denounced.lxxxiii
Despite the space I have devoted to it, this is by no means a full account of just how problematic the Tutsi genocide/’Rwandan genocide’ is as a paradigmatic exemplar of genocide, less still of the role of Western complicity and of hegemonic distortion of unwanted truth. My point is that, for all of their seeming ignorance, genocide scholars know enough to know that the events of 1994 in Rwanda do not warrant inclusion as one of the three main genocides of the 20th century, yet somehow none challenges that. Jones even as much as accuses François Mitterand of genocide denial:
The president (François Mitterrand) of the same French state that prosecuted Robert Faurisson not only actively supported Rwanda’s génocidaires – before, during, and after the 1994 catastrophe – but when asked later about the genocide, responded: “The genocide or the genocides? I don’t know what one should say!” As Gérard Prunier notes, “this public accolade for the so-called ‘theory of the double genocide’ [i.e., by Tutsis against France’s Hutu allies, as well as by Hutus against Tutsis] was an absolute shame.” It advanced a key thesis of genocide deniers: that the violence was mutual or defensive in nature.lxxxiv
But though Jones equates Mitterand’s failure to unequivocally toe the line with denial, he himself makes the observation that in the former Yugoslavia genocidal acts were ‘implemented in systematic fashion – primarily, but not only, by Serb military and paramilitary forces.’lxxxv The mythical ‘Rwandan holocaust’ must be defended stridently, not so much because the construction of the genocidal mass-murder of Tutsi is tenuous (I think there is considerable uncertainty about that issue) but because even if the central events of the myth are all portrayed accurately, the events surrounding them cannot be mentioned. Why? Because the RPF were acting as agents of the US and they ‘provoked’ one genocide and committed another, bringing death to anything between 450,000 and 1.5 million people. Along with Uganda they committed 3 acts of aggression, described at Nuremberg as ‘the supreme international crime differing only from other war crimes in that it contains within itself the accumulated evil of the whole.’lxxxvi Those acts of aggression have brought about 10 million deaths or more. This makes it even more imperative that we view the RPF as heroic leaders of a victimised people – the ‘Jews of Africa’. Why? Because if it is admitted that Museveni and Kagame are war criminals then we are brought one step closer to having to admit that Albright, Clinton, Bush and Blair (to name a few) are guilty of crimes far beyond the scale of which Jean-Paul Akayesu or those in Rwanda have been convicted.
The discourse of the ‘Rwanda holocaust’ suffers from exactly the same selective failure to ask or answer the obvious questions that afflicts the scholarly discourse about US genocides. As Orwell has his character Syme (who ‘sees too clearly and speaks too plainly’) say: ‘Orthodoxy means not thinking – not needing to think. Orthodoxy is unconsciousness.’lxxxvii