Letter to My Nephew: On Power, Privilege, and Passage
This article also appeared in CounterPunch.
I wish I could tell you that the road ahead was going to offer clear choices, or change without risk, but that is highly unlikely. It is a gut-wrenching time and my guts roil too.
What lies ahead is uncertain, but all the major trends on war, climate change, and democracy are very disturbing. The challenges are steep and anything that appears to be an easy way out is but a mirage.
I know that opposition to the two-party system and the established order seems risky and confusing, and it is. I am certainly not suggesting anyone should vote for Trump under any conditions.
It’s true that just flipping the script on “lesser of two evils” does not get us anywhere. We have to write our own history and our own narrative. That is why I support Jill Stein. It’s not just that Green politics provide a vision for a way forward, it’s because we deserve democracy and the two-party system has none to offer.
That system, now a century and a half old, is one of the most powerful forms of control the establishment has. But, its bankruptcy is screamed aloud by the choices we are offered.
We have Trump enhancing his already convincing credentials as an all-purpose, full-spectrum bigot, misogynist and would-be fascist unqualified for public office of any kind. And Clinton, the manipulating, calculating master of empire and corporate power willing to frack, provoke war with Russia and invite disaster to maintain the status quo and cover her tracks.
What a contest! I aim a lot of my fire at Clinton because Trump is such an obvious target it really does not take much to critique him. So I focus at the part of the system — the Clinton machine— that has the most success in winning allegiance to a government that no longer represents us.
It might sound easy, but it’s really hard to appreciate that the two-party system is a system.
If you are inside its logic it seems like there is real debate between Democrats and Republicans. But, if your perspective is outside the two parties then the view changes. On the major issues of power and social control — war and empire, corporate power, the vast militarized penal system, mass media, and mass surveillance — they agree. The Democrats and Republicans have shared power over the last 50 years to create the world we now inhabit.
And, it is the Clinton Foundation that has become a global clearinghouse where governments and corporate interests that profit from war and fossils fuels can wield political power, undermine democracy and poison the planet.
The privilege arguments are another case of flipping the script. Privilege discourse was originally a way for white people to understand how the system used benefits and bribes to control us. Privilege discourse was originally aimed at educating white people to see that we are being used as tools and fools. Armed with this knowledge we could build solidarity and make alliances with others to better resist the system.
Now the Democrats have flipped the privilege script to shame and guilt-trip privileged people into supporting the system. The not-so-hidden message is that the system really does work for us white people, that the system really does represent the white working class. The Democratic version of privilege is not a discourse of resistance but one of passivity and acquiescence. If you obey the machine, instead of resisting it, you will never learn that your privileges are also chains.
Think of Bob Dylan singing “Only a Pawn in Their Game” at the legendary 1963 March on Washington. Our privileges turns us into pawns and all these years later, it’s still their game, not ours; not yet anyway.
The ugly fact is that many marginalized people can not wait out the existing order. We confine two million to cages, and have a million prison slaves. How many killed in extra-judicial executions? The Obama administration does not count the dead. How many in poverty? How many killed in the Greater Middle East? How are we to interpret the record suicide rates of our veteran as we sit here in the comfort of our “imperial privilege.” The bombs do not fall on us, and we are not in jail, well not yet.
So many cannot wait. What is the message of the new civil rights movement and BlackLivesMatter? The standoff at Standing Rock? The nationwide strike of prison workers? What do you think the message is?
People are not just resisting some awful future, they are resting the awful present.
We should let people speak for themselves. If we listen closely we will hear that every community has differences. I do not claim the right to represent the marginalized. I am content to speak for myself and engage people in the discussion that democracy demands. And for than I am grateful to you and millions of younger Americans that are willing to think, question, and to act. It is, after all, your future too.
I hope it does not take world war, but it might. The peace movement against the Vietnam War was revolutionary because it forced people to a deep understanding: a war designed and conducted by liberals had the support of Democrats and Republicans all. Opposition to the war opened a passageway beyond the “liberal” worldview of the established order.
But things will have to get bad, real bad. When you can no longer tell your courage from your desperation then the passage beyond the two-party system and the existing order will open wide.
We are approaching a shift in the equation of risk. The dangers we face in making the big political changes are becoming less threatening than the dangers we face in continuing on the current course. Perhaps we are already there.