The Return of American Race Laws
The warmup act for a full-blown American fascism and orchestrated race war is taking place in immigrant and marginal communities across the United States: Racial profiling. Random police stops. Raids at homes and businesses. People of color pulled from vehicles at checkpoints. Seizures of individuals with no criminal records or who never committed a serious crime. Imprisonment without trial. Expedited deportation hearings and removal proceedings that violate human rights. The arrest of a beneficiary of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, Daniel Ramirez Medina, 23, who along with the program’s other 750,000 successful applicants had revealed all personal history to the government in applying for DACA status. Parents separated, perhaps forever, from their children. The hunted going underground. The end of the rule of law. The abandonment of the common good. The obliteration of a social state in which institutions and assistance programs—from public education to Social Security and welfare—make justice, equality and dignity possible.
White Europeans who are undocumented are not being targeted. The executive orders of President Trump are directed against people of color. They begin from the premise that white Americans are the true victims of neoliberalism, deindustrialization and falling living standards. The Trump orders are written not to make America great again but to make America white. They are an updated version of the Nazis’ Nuremberg race laws, the Jim Crow laws, the Chinese Exclusion Act and the Naturalization Act of 1870. They are intended to institutionalize an overt racial hierarchy in the United States, one already advanced by the miniature police states in which marginal communities of color find themselves. In these impoverished enclaves there is no right to trial or due process. Militarized police kill with impunity, and the courts lock people away often for life. Rights are treated as privileges that can instantly be revoked. The poor, especially poor people of color, have been exempted from moral consideration. They are viewed as impediments to social cohesion. And these impediments must be eliminated. This is the template for what will come. Jews — their community centers under threats of violence and their graveyards being desecrated — will be persecuted. American fascism will be cemented into place by uniformed and heavily armed paramilitary squads clutching the flag and the cross and reciting the Pledge of Allegiance and the Lord’s Prayer.
“Little or no prospect of rescue from individual indolence or impotence can be expected to arrive from a political state that is not, and refuses to be, a social state,” the sociologist Zygmunt Bauman warned in “Collateral Damage: Social Inequalities in a Global Age.” “Without social rights for all, a large and in all probability growing number of people will find their political rights of little use and unworthy of their attention. If political rights are necessary to set social rights in place, social rights are indispensable to make political rights ‘real’ and keep them in operation. The two rights need each other for their survival; that survival can only be their joint achievement.”
Presidential chief strategist Stephen Bannon, in his public comments and his films such as “Generation Zero,” has embraced a historical determinism worthy of Karl Marx. He posits that Western culture has been contaminated and is being destroyed by darker races and barbaric religions and belief systems. His conspiratorial view of history and society sees a global war between the white race and the lesser breeds of the earth as not only inevitable but one that will reinvigorate and purify America.
Racists and conspiracy theorists such as Bannon, Michael Anton, Stephen Miller and Sebastian Gorka constitute Trump’s ideological brain trust. Gorka goes so far as to argue that the failure to understand the evil of radical Islam stems from a “systematic subversion of the national security establishment under the banner of inclusivity, cultural awareness and political correctness.”
In a 2014 speech, Bannon said, “I believe we’ve come partly off-track in the years since the fall of the Soviet Union and we’re starting now in the 21st century, which I believe, strongly, is a crisis both of our church, a crisis of our faith, a crisis of the West, a crisis of capitalism.” (He delivered the talk via Skype to a group of other right-wing Catholics gathered in the Vatican. For a transcript posted by BuzzFeed, click here.)
“There is a major war brewing, a war that’s already global,” Bannon said. “It’s going global in scale, and today’s technology, today’s media, today’s access to weapons of mass destruction, it’s going to lead to a global conflict that I believe has to be confronted today. Every day that we refuse to look at this as what it is, and the scale of it, and really the viciousness of it, will be a day where you will rue that we didn’t act.”
Bannon, as Micah L. Sifry points out in The Nation, is a proponent of the theory popularized by authors William Strauss and Neil Howe in their books “Generations: The History of America’s Future, 1584 to 2069” (1991) and “The Fourth Turning: An American Prophecy—What the Cycles of History Tell Us About America’s Next Rendezvous With Destiny” (1997). This theory holds that roughly every 80 years, roughly an average human life span, the country goes through a cataclysmic crisis. This crisis unleashes genocide and other killing that last a decade or more. In its aftermath the social order is rejuvenated. Strauss and Howe highlight the American Revolution of 1775-83, the Civil War, the Great Depression and World War II as examples of how the cycle works.“Inside each 80-year saeculum, Howe and Strauss argue, there are four turnings, each a generation long, and each as inevitable as the coming of the seasons,” Sifry writes. “In the first turning, for the generation that survives the prior catastrophe, the newly restored society reaches a collective apex of social order and economic power. Think of America in the post-war boom of 1945 to 1965. Then comes the awakening, as the first new generation of post-catastrophe children enter adulthood and, unlike their traumatized parents, let loose with their emotions and take risks that their forebears would never have imagined. Hello to the long 1960s. Then comes the unraveling, as the once robust order starts to fall apart, people question the eternal verities and institutions weaken. The fourth turning is kicked off and punctuated by ongoing crises, out of which a whole new order is born.”
Pseudo-intellectuals such as Strauss and Howe play the role that Paul de Lagarde, Julius Langbehn, Arthur Moeller van den Bruck and Alfred Rosenberg played for the Nazi Party. They give an intellectual veneer to racist conspiracy theories, a virulent nationalism, a hatred for culture and the lust for domination through violence.
I share Bannon’s distaste for globalization, free trade agreements, the failure to put Wall Street bankers in jail, the bank bailouts and crony capitalism and would even concede that Americans wallow in the moral swamp of a culture of narcissism. He is right when he attacks the two major political parties as the one “party of Davos.” But his solution to the purported crisis—total war by the white race to regain its ascendancy—is insane, as are the causes he cites: a New Deal that turned citizens into whining dependents; the permissiveness of the 1960s; white guilt that made the country cater irresponsibly to African-Americans by giving them social service programs and undeserved mortgages that led to the 2008 financial meltdown; an intellectual and a liberal class composed essentially of traitors; and the “new barbarity” of “Jihadist Islamic fascism.”
Racism, misogyny, the inherent cruelty of capitalism and the crimes of empire, from Wounded Knee to Vietnam and Iraq, simply do not exist in Bannon’s mystical nationalist worldview. He insists that the white male aristocratic elites who formed a republic that enslaved African-Americans, exterminated Native Americans and denied the vote to women and white men without property created “a church and a civilization that really is the flower of mankind.” This is what he wants to recover.
Fritz Stern, in his book “The Politics of Cultural Despair: A Study in the Rise of the Germanic Ideology,” wrote of the early fascists in Germany, “The movement did embody a paradox: its followers sought to destroy the despised present in order to recapture an idealized past in an imaginary future. They were disinherited conservatives, who had nothing to conserve, because the spiritual values of the past had largely been buried and the material remnants of conservative power did not interest them. They sought a breakthrough to the past, and they longed for a new community in which old ideas and institutions would once again command universal allegiance.”
Bannon shares these fascist yearnings. He excoriates leftist and liberal elites for supposedly poisoning the minds of young people, a point he luridly makes in his film “Occupy Unmasked” (2012). A new generation, he says, has been brainwashed to see America as evil and the status quo as repressive. His mythical past will return through a crusade both domestic and international. All forms of coercion, from torture to murder, are justified. Any suffering along the way is the price that has to be paid for this white, Christian paradise.
The central tenet of fascism is always that war cleanses society and that the “virtues” that war inculcates in its combatants and survivors provide a new moral vigor. Bannon knows no more about war’s reality, which I endured for two decades covering conflicts in Central America, the Middle East, Africa and the Balkans, than he sees in Hollywood movies. But war for him, which will come in a confrontation with the Islamic world and perhaps China, cannot arrive too soon.
This clash of civilizations will be prosecuted in the homeland, too. Within the United States it will spawn the darkness endemic to all wars—sadism, hypermasculinity, blind obedience to authority, a belief in the efficacy of unrestrained violence, racism, hate crimes and the use of the organs of internal security and wholesale surveillance to crush all dissent and eradicate groups seen as opponents of authority. Those who orchestrate such crusades ultimately sacrifice themselves and their nations on the altars of the idols they worship. The conflict desired by Bannon and those around him could mean the extinction of the human race.
The paramilitary forces of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, which will hire 10,000 more agents, and the Border Patrol, which will hire 5,000 more agents, along with the Homeland Security Investigations unit of the Department of Homeland Security, have deputized local and state police to function as their auxiliaries. These paramilitary forces will not disband once they have finished terrorizing and deporting some of the 11 million undocumented immigrants in the U.S. They will turn on their next victims—Muslims, African-Americans, Asians and dissidents.
The paramilitaries relish their power to kick down doors while wearing body armor and pointing weapons at terrified women and children. They are not warriors, as they imagine, but goons. They have few actual skills. And they intend to remain steadily employed by the state. The for-profit prisons, reopened for business by Attorney General Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III, a man named not for one Confederate traitor but two, intend to remain full. The state will make America and the global community inhospitable for people of color and all those who attempt to stand with them.Trump is stoking the darkest and most destructive strains of the American psyche. Congress, controlled by the Republicans, is unlikely to use impeachment powers to stop him. The courts are spineless subsidiaries of the corporate and security and surveillance state. The elites will not save us. If we fail to build mass protest movements, ones that cripple the ability to govern, we will be enslaved.
Sebastian Haffner (1907-1999) in his book “Defying Hitler” describes being a law clerk at the Prussian Supreme Court. The courthouse was raided in March 1933 by Nazi thugs. They grabbed the Jewish judges and lawyers and hauled them outside; never would the jurists return to their posts. A Jewish attorney, a former army captain who had been wounded five times and lost an eye fighting in World War I, resisted. He was beaten. “It had probably been his misfortune that he still remembered the tone to use with mutineers,” Haffner wrote.
“I put my head down over my work,” Haffner went on. “I read a few sentences mechanically: ‘The defendant’s claim that … is untrue, but irrelevant. …’ Just take no notice!”
A brown shirt approached him and asked: “Are you Aryan?
Haffner shot back, “Yes.”
“A moment too late I felt the shame, the defeat,” he wrote. “I had said ‘Yes! Well, in God’s name, I was indeed an ‘Aryan.’ I had not lied, I had allowed something much worse to happen. What a humiliation, to have answered the unjustified question as to whether I was ‘Aryan’ so easily, even if the fact was of no importance to me! What a disgrace to buy, with a reply, the right to stay with my documents in peace! I had been caught unawares, even now. I had failed my very first test.”
Haffner left the Kammergericht, Prussia’s highest state court, and stood outside.
“There was nothing to show that, as an institution, it has just collapsed,” he wrote. “There was also nothing about my appearance to show that I had just suffered a terrible reverse, a defeat that would be almost impossible to make good. A well-dressed young man walked down Potsdamer Street. There was nothing untoward about the scene. Business as usual, but in the air the approaching thunder of events to come.”