By Sam Husseini, August 18, 2017.
On Monday, the same day Trump read a scripted condemnation of white supremacist violence, Airwars.org reported that in Syria: “Marwa, Mariam and Ahmad Mazen died with their mother and 19 other civilians in a likely Coalition strike at Raqqa.”
You’d be hard pressed to find a “news” story about them. That’s the concern with the effects of “violence” when it emanates from the U.S. government.
But the threats and use of violence are not new, nor is the hypocrisy. As he was ordering the ongoing bombing of Yugoslavia in 1999, President Bill Clinton took time out of his schedule to address the shooting at Columbine High School: “We must do more to reach out to our children and teach them to express their anger and to resolve their conflicts with words, not weapons.”
The words Trump uttered seemed to echo Saint Augustine. Charles Avila in Ownership: Early Christian Teaching, outlines Augustine’s beliefs: “The Creator, who alone is Absolute Owner, did not make us human beings so many ‘islands,’ without any relation to each other, but one human family, ‘made from one mud’ and sustained ‘on one earth.’…We enjoy the same natural conditions: ‘born under one law, living by one light, breathing one air and dying one death.'”
Thus, what seemingly originated as a universal theological admonition — to attack the notion of private property no less — has been perverted into a narrow nationalist one with universalist trappings. It simultaneously seems to condemn violence while actually facilitating it.
Nor is this new, either. during the presidency of Bill Clinton, he ordered up an “Initiative on Race”. It’s largely forgotten because its primary goal wasn’t actually improving relations between different ethnic groups. Its goal was noted in its title: “One America in the 21st Century”. Not “Finally Overcoming Racism.” Not “Towards an America of Equality.”
National cohesion is the driving concern here. How can we make these differing ethnicities get along well enough to ensure that this stays one nation is a question elites must ask themselves. See my piece at the time: “‘One America’ — To what Ends?”
There’s a tightrope being walked here. There’s a functionality to the “debate” between “both sides”. The system requires a great deal of tension to keep people in their partisan boxes. The main thing that each political faction has going for it is the hatred towards the other.
But there’s the threat that it could reach a threshold that tears at national unity, which is why you get Terry McAuliffe and other political figures making Trump-like brazen contradictory statements, pleading for unity one minute and denouncing white supremacists as being repugnant to American values the next, wholly unworthy of engagement.
The Democratic Party has to offer people something more than Russia-bashing, and that something seems to be opposition to a war that the party of Jefferson was on the losing side of.
Many were aghast at Trump’s remarks about Washington and Jefferson: “So this week, it is Robert E. Lee. I noticed that Stonewall Jackson is coming down. I wonder, is it George Washington next week? And is it Thomas Jefferson the week after? You know, you really do have to ask yourself, where does it stop?”
If we do honest history, it doesn’t stop. That’s the point. It condemns most of the political class. And would do so to most of current political class. But that’s not a conclusion many in the political class are interested in. A line can certainly be drawn from Washington to Lee, as Confederates frequently argued.
As historian Gerald Horne has argued, the U.S. Revolutionary War was largely a war to ensure the continuation of slavery. Part of the “genius” of the U.S. was the “unification” of many non-black and non-native people as “white”, including southern and eastern Europeans and some Arabs. So you have a large immigration pool to forge the nation.
Nor of course is slavery the only crime. It’s perhaps focused on to at least some extent in our current political discourse because it’s the main aspect of the imperial project that created, rather than destroyed, a major domestic constituency that was a victim of it. Native Americans are not a major domestic constituency because, unlike black folks in the U.S., their ancestors were not chained and brought to U.S. shores as slaves, but were driven out, killed en mass or made to die or be confined and marginalized.
And that project predated the formal creation of the United States. Kent A. MacDougall notes in “Empire—American as Apple Pie” in Monthly Review that “George Washington called the nascent nation ‘a rising empire.’ John Adams said it was ‘destined’ to overspread all North America. And Thomas Jefferson viewed it as ‘the nest from which all America, North and South, is to be peopled.'”
Comments like those about U.S. violence or the history of Washington give Trump a legitimacy of sorts. The establishment media effectively keep the microphone away from anyone else who would note such defining facts, while giving reams of coverage to Trump. He effectively becomes the leading “dissident” while also being the head inquisitor. This discourse effectively immunizes the establishment from meaningful change or even dialogue.
Both sides limit who they mean by “lives.” They effectively exclude the victims of the U.S.’s highest officials. When most people use #BlackLivesMatter, they seem to be saying that all black U.S. lives matter when taken unlawfully by the government. And when most people who use #AllLivesMatter use it, they seem to be saying all U.S. lives matter when taken at the hands of police authorities — not just black U.S. lives. But the formulation effectively excludes the lives of millions of people who U.S. officials have deemed expendable for reasons of state.
There are many ramifications of the nationalistic blinders that are dutifully imposed by so many. Take the discussion of the ACLU’s role in defending the white supremacists marching. The “both sides” here are: We should care so much about bigotry and violence that we should curtail the right of gun wielding white supremacists to march wherever they want. The other side is: Our devotion to free speech is so great that we should even allow this.
Indeed, perhaps we need more — not fewer — monuments to the Civil War, to all wars. If done right, they would actually be monuments for peace. Consider the nature of war, the consequences, the actual reality of mangled corpses beneath the “great men” atop their horses.
But there are perils at every turn. When the U.S. Treasury decided to put Harriet Tubman on the $20 bill last year, many welcomed it. But it seemed to me to be a subtle but real step to co-opting the legacy of the Underground Railroad to one that could be used to help justify “humanitarian interventionism” — ie, U.S. militarism with some bogus moral pretext attached. That is, the language of the U.S. Civil War could be used to “free” people around the world as the State Department sees fit, as now with Venezuela. As Simon Bolivar said: “The United States seems destined by Providence to plague America with torments in the name of freedom.”
Special thanks to Berkley Bragg.
Sam Husseini is founder of VotePact.org, which advocates principled left-right cooperation to break the duopoly. He’s also the founder of CompassRoses.org, an art project to make apparent the one world we inhabit.