Wednesday, June 03, 2020

Is This Terminal-Stage Neoliberalism?

If there was an anthem for the times at hand it might be Buffalo Springfield's "For What It's Worth."

There's something happening here
What it is ain't exactly clear
There's a man with a gun over there
Telling me I got to beware

There is something happening today and I think we're struggling to make sense of what it might be. Covid-19, Donald Trump, mass protests across the United States that are sweeping through Canada, Europe, Africa, down to New Zealand and Australia. That's a pretty wide swathe of discontent. It's both easy and almost impossibly hard to define.

The National Observer's Bruce Livesey thinks we may be witnessing the death of the neoliberal order in America, the country where it first took hold. This may be the way neoliberalism ends - by taking us down with it.
Empires tend to decline over decades, and then often very rapidly. While the U.S. remains the world’s preeminent economic and military power, internally it’s bedevilled by a host of problems that just keep getting worse. And the two most significant are the abandonment of its working class, and the corruption of its political system.

...But beginning in the 1980s, America’s business class decided that the American working class — white, black or Latino — was expendable. They embraced neoliberalism, and went to war against workers with the goal of taking away the post-war gains unions had won. “Neoliberalism is an attack on working class expectations and working class strength,” explains Sam Gindin, the former research director of the Canadian Auto Workers union (now called Unifor). “And the most important thing was how to weaken (organized labour) and weakening it actually required changing labour laws making it harder to organize. But it especially meant letting unemployment rise.” 
In 1981, Ronald Reagan broke the air traffic controllers during a bitter strike, which opened the door to union-busting across the U.S. 
But the 1980s also marked another threat to American workers — the arrival of free trade. In 1988, the U.S. and Canada signed a free trade agreement. Six years later, Mexico, the U.S. and Canada put NAFTA into effect, which made free trade continent-wide. Other free trade agreements soon followed. 
The result was American workers found themselves competing for jobs with cheap labour in other parts of the world, especially Latin America, China and India. And they lost: Well-paying, unionized blue collars jobs vanished. Now only nine per cent of the American workforce toils in manufacturing. Wages stagnated and debt levels rose, as did permanent economic uncertainty.
...Indeed, one of the symptoms of working class alienation and frustration is the inflaming of racial tensions. White workers who’ve lost good jobs are encouraged by business leaders, political elites and the right-wing media to blame minorities — African-Americans, Mexicans, women, LBGQT people — for their growing economic and political disenfranchisement. This has been the overt agenda of Trump and the alt-right. 
Lay on top an American justice system and police forces which are institutionally racist and militarized and voilĂ , you have the mess Americans find themselves in. 
Will America tear itself apart? 
When you have so many people who corporations feel they don’t need anymore — and a political system that doesn’t respond to workers’ problems — then there’s a very high probability it will. 
Indeed, while these protests may eventually dissipate, the underlying reasons that gave rise to the tensions are not going away any time soon — even if Trump loses the White House this fall. 
In short, the abyss beckons.
Few of us grasp the depth of racism in America. Consider the Red Summer of 1919 when white Americans rose up against black Americans in uniform returning from France.

In 1919, as soldiers returned from the first world war, many white Americans saw African American men in military uniforms for the first time. That sight, and the challenge it posed to the political, social and economic order, was deeply threatening to them. Groups of armed white men hunted down and slaughtered hundreds of black Americans across the country. The wave of lynchings and race riots came to be known as the Red Summer
The black community did its best to fight back, without protection from the state. In some cases, police actively participated in the lynchings. The US attorney general, A Mitchell Palmer, claimed that leftwing radicals were behind the uprisings – a false charge and one that further endangered African American lives. Palmer worked for President Woodrow Wilson, an ardent segregationist who screened Birth of a Nation in the White House and praised the Ku Klux Klan even as it deployed terrorism to keep blacks away from the voting booth. Wilson had been silent while whites slaughtered African Americans in East St Louis in 1917, and he did little to nothing in 1919 when they again attacked and killed black people, this time on an even more horrific and grisly scale. 
When African Americans fought back, when they protested, when they made clear they would not quietly accept the destruction of their lives, Palmer mobilized the power of the federal government to brand black unrest as the work of the enemy of the state – communists. It was his version of peace without justice. To do this he ignored the destructive and violent white supremacy that his president had helped unleash. He remained unconcerned about the bold, brazen killing of black people. And he had no qualms about a criminal justice system in which being black meant the presumption of guilt. 
More than 100 years later, in the wake of the brutal, merciless killings of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery and Breonna Taylor – not to mention an incident in which a white woman (last week) attempted to put a black birdwatcher in the crosshairs of the NYPD – our current attorney general, Bill Barr, does not appear to see injustice. Instead, he sounds much like his ancient predecessor, A Mitchell Palmer.
How many of us realize that some southern states used vagrancy and other ordinances to keep the vestiges of slavery functioning right up until the outbreak of WWII?
By the first years after 1900, tens of thousands of African American men and boys, along with a smaller number of women, had been sold by southern state governments. An exponentially larger number, of whom surviving records are painfully incomplete, had been forced into labor through county and local courts, backwoods justices of the peace, and outright kidnapping and trafficking. The total number of those re-enslaved in the seventy-five years between the end of the Civil War and the beginning of World War II can’t be precisely determined, but based on the records that do survive, we can safely say it happened to hundreds of thousands.
What next? Who knows? The most likely outcome is a continued descent into chaos, especially for the United States.  That nation is so deeply divided across so many fault lines - race, class, ideology, religion, and more - that it may already be lost. Imagine what will befall the States and the American people when new stressors, far greater than a novel coronavirus, begin to hammer away at its foundations. Imagine America facing a "cascade" of impacts - severe storm events, sustained droughts and floods, sea level rise, fresh water shortages, food insecurity and crippling heatwaves across the semi-tropical south. How does a society cope with so many challenges of such enormity when social cohesion is lost?

- illustration: Mark Twain's take on the Stars and Stripes


rumleyfips said...

The strange thing here is that Putin recognized America's schizophrenia and used it to elect Trump. He recognized the damage Trump and the Republicans and the economic elite could do. And he was right.

Toby said...

"Is This Terminal-Stage Neoliberalism?"

Could be but I doubt it. As you have often pointed out the Americans have done this, and worse, before and they usually got away with it. There are truly ugly Americans who would happily round up any and all whom they disliked and throw them in concentration camps. Many Trump supporters would bring back slavery in an heartbeat.

It would probably take a shooting war to end Neoliberalism. The problem with that is Trump's supporters have most of the guns.

John B. said...

We don't have to think about it anymore when we already know that the Antifa guys did it. All we have to do now is find out where they're hiding and tell them we're onto them. Maybe bust a few heads for Jesus while we're at it.

the salamander said...

.. would argue Toby's thought 're Trump supporters & guns'
Perhaps better said..
'Trump supporters talk & flaunt more about their guns'

A lot of 'gun talk' is .. well.. uh.. noyz, posturing..uh 'VENOM'
(pleez refer to Jason Kenney re freaked out Albertan farmers under coyodog siege)
Sure, some is reckless threat, public preening, or psycho domestic implosion
.. gotta get to a daycare centre & eliminate the 7 year old threats..
which is capitalized upon by Excra Levant - Alex Jones - Faith Goldy slime
claiming the massacre of the innocents 'never happened'
and the doxxing of the parents, friends, associates well deserved

The people with guns best to fear ?
The ones you will never see or hear from
who give not a shit about Trump or Barr 'Edicts'
Will blast up the road like Paul Revere
or clamber through the brush like Laura Secord

If the likes of Jason Kenney or Donald Trump
tickle yer fancy.. 'well, good luck then'
As in every punk NHL wanna be tough guy
thought dropping the gloves on George Laraque was a good idea
for about 5 seconds..

The Disaffected Lib said...

How can America continue to function with every branch of government so deeply corrupted? It is deeply fractured and across many fault lines which empowers the corrupt. It's how the GOP play to their numbskull 'base' who are so easily manipulated. Even the evangos have succumbed to these rackets, scouring the Old Testament for bits that let them cast Trump as a latter-day David - deeply flawed, licentious, corrupt but still God's man on Earth.