Political Chemotherapy

Amongst those agreed that the storming by white supremacist QAnon fanatics of the US Capitol last Wednesday – and, more, the movement underpinning that storming – represent a danger to the future of our flawed, but still vibrant, democracy, a divide of opinion has emerged with respect to the appropriate response, a divide which can be boiled down to the following opposition: Neo-fascist white supremacists pose a threat to US democracy, but so does the ever-growing authoritarianism of the US ruling class (call it the Wall Street-DC-Silicon Valley nexus, or the Deep State, for ease).

Sometimes, when a person develops cancer, the only available treatment – given our current state of technomedical advancement – is chemotherapy, and sometimes, even when treated with chemotherapeutical agents, a person afflicted with cancer dies. (Anyone whose seen/experienced the ravages of these drugs on a human body understands the obscenity of calling them “therapeutic” at all.) Analogies are very often imperfect, and yet they can also be instructive. In this instance, with respect to cancer prevention, it is best that a person not be immersed in a comprehensively toxified environment (and that a person avoids harmful habits, though so often habits are dictated by that same environment and its toxicity), and – in the instance that someone is cured of cancer – it is best that that fortunate person then take every possible step to avoid exposure to risk factors that could lead to a recurrence of the disease.

With respect to our politics, white supremacy is a cancer, and a congenital one at that, for the United States was born with and founded in this ideology. It would have been better to find less catastrophic means of extirpating it (especially after the Civil War, and I’ve appreciated and learned from the explosion of attention paid in recent years to the Federal betrayal of the Reconstruction project in the US South), but we live in the present and face the urgent, contemporary impasse at which we’ve arrived in real time. Relying on the Deep State to rid our body politic (another problematic but useful metaphor) of white supremacy in the name of democracy is both dodgy in principle – given how steeped that Deep State itself has long been in the white supremacist project of the United States – and risky, existentially, given that the Deep State, especially post-9/11, has posed, year by year, an every greater threat to our civil liberties.

Unfortunately, I see no other option in the near term but to count on an enraged establishment to lash out and take vengeance on those who so humiliated it. (Of course, given the utter lack of any attempt to prevent the rioters from looting the Capitol, there is also a scenario in which this outcome was allowed to unfold so as to empower – through public shock and outrage – those very forces in the Deep State that have been back-footed by Trumpism.) As the arrests proliferate, and further light is shed on Wednesday’s grotesqueries (the man who died of a heart attack after inadvertently tasing his own genitals; the woman trampled to death by her fellow looters; the Capitol Police officer who was bludgeoned to death with a fire extinguisher by rioters; the other officer who evidently committed suicide); as a second-round of impeachment proceedings against the President kick-off (on the same day that the second-round of the PPP opens for applications from small businesses hammered by the pandemic to which the President has done next-to-nothing to respond); as calls for the resignations of Senators Cruz and Hawley mount, I agree with Ruth Ben-Ghiat, who was featured on this morning’s Democracy Now!: “If there are not severe consequences for every lawmaker & Trump […] official who backed this, every member of the Capitol Police who collaborated with them, this ‘strategy of disruption’ will escalate in 2021.”

Clearly, we should not be relying on tech monopolies to police the public sphere, anymore than we should be lionizing an FBI that has a long history of infiltrating and crushing movements for justice, but this is the impasse we now confront: Die from cancer? Or risk the chemo and face the long road to recovery if we survive?

I’ve written enough on these issues elsewhere – including in recent days on the riot itself, in all its tragicomedy, and the prospect of a second civil war in the US (tl;dr: its clickbait for the corporate media) – so I’ll end here by just pointing out, as my friend Evan did yesterday, that perhaps lawmakers (some of whom came remarkably close to being executed on Facebook livestream); police officers (many of whom aren’t white supremacists and may now be imagining themselves on the losing end of another such incident); executives (many of whom had been all-too-comfortable to live in complicity with neofascism until about five days ago); and a great many others will now, at last, decide to confront the issue of white supremacist neofascism with the seriousness that it demands.

That, however, is not an agenda for radical change, and as the pivot to security intensifies (Axios reports: “D.C. lockdown for inauguration to start Wednesday”), we’d do well to remember that one doesn’t continue taking chemotherapy after the cancer is cleared, and to prevent recurrence – or malignancy in the first place – one does best in creating conditions conducive to health and human thriving. It is not a coincidence that the rise of neoliberalism (with its assault on working people, organized labor, social welfare, and public goods) has been accompanied by a rise in authoritarianism (embodied, in the US, by the emergence of a unitary executive in the form of our increasingly imperial presidency). Our democracy is sick. Much of the morbidity dates back to our country’s founding (white supremacy, settler colonialism, etc., etc.), while other aspects of our unwellness are of more recent provenance. We need secure voting rights for all; checks on the power of money in politics; and robust anti-trust enforcement, and that’s before getting into the question of Medicare for All and a Green New Deal. (Or of the military-industrial-intelligence complex. Or of statehood for DC and Puerto Rico. Or of independence for Puerto Rico and, perhaps, the rest of the US territories. Or of term limits for Federal judges. Etc. Etc.)

I wish this wasn’t our predicament, but it is. Here’s hoping the cure isn’t worse than the disease. We have our work cut out for us, but we also have the opportunity – as I wrote in March, as on other occasions – to rise to the occasion and make this a transformative decade for which future generations will thank us, and for which we’ll be able to thank ourselves.

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