THE GREAT SOCIALIST MIRAGE
As the reinvigorated Democrats aggressively move to consolidate their hold over the national political apparatus – presidency, Senate, House – assisted by the corporate media and Big Tech, could their reputed, new-found socialist ideology offer any guide to the future? Could a distinctive American socialism, historically-marginalized up to the present, end up in the present chaos as something of a genuine possibility? Might the seemingly invulnerable capitalist behemoth be thrown into a state of siege by the likes of Joe Biden, Nancy Pelosi, Chuck Schumer, and the small but loud “progressive” squad, all ready for action after having finally dispatched the Orange Menace? Further, could the events of January sixth – a veritable godsend for the Democrats -- serve to heighten such prospects?
We know that something resembling a socialist fantasy has been circulating within Democratic circles for the past few years, accelerated by the arrival of Rep. Alexandria Ocasio Cortez and other squad members, including Reps. Rashida Tlaib, Ilhan Omar, Ayanna Presley, and Cori Bush – three of whom (AOC, Tlaib, Bush) belong to the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA). With the 2016 ascent of Donald Trump to the White House, previously impolite references to a politics associated with Marx, Lenin, and other socialists within American political culture appear to have softened, no longer taboo. Nowadays “socialism” has reportedly become fashionable among cool millennials, though its definition remains elusive. A June 2020 Harris poll showed that 55 percent of women aged 18 to 54 would prefer socialism over capitalism, while a surprising four in ten Americans say they would be perfectly happy living under socialism.
Since 2015 the ranks of DSA have swollen rapidly (reaching 86,000 in December 2020), mostly owing to the influence of Senator Bernie Sanders, who has long identified as a “democratic socialist” – that is, a leftist far removed from the nightmarish legacy of Soviet totalitarianism. We are not talking here about the dictatorial systems of the USSR or North Korea, or even the more recent political directions taken in Venezuela. It is easy to see how a number of familiar Democratic proposals – Green New Deal, Medicare-for-all, free public higher education – could be integrated into Sanders’ reformist agenda, yet that would require no overturning of the modern corporate-state power structure. The reality is that Sanders has always been more social democrat (fitting of modern Denmark) than democratic socialist (visible nowhere).
Elected in 2018 as one of those “democratic socialists”, AOC points out that “when millennials talk about concepts like socialism, we’re not talking about these kinds of ‘Red Scare’ bogeymen. We’re talking about countries and systems that presently exist that have already proven to be successful in the modern world. We’re talking about single-payer health care that has already been successful . . . from Finland to Canada to the U.K.” That model, of course, should not be confused with Stalinism -- though some commentators at Fox and elsewhere do just that. When viewed in Scandinavian terms, 76 percent of Democrats say they would vote for a socialist candidate (presumably with Sanders and AOC in mind), according to a March 2021 Gallup survey.
Senator Ed Markey, co-author of the Green New Deal, appears scarcely bothered by the “socialist” label. Thus: “What I say is: give us some of that socialism for wind, and solar, and all-electric vehicles, and plug-in hybrids and storage-battery technology. And we will be looking at the fossil-fuel industry in the rear-view mirror of history.” Markey, it should be noted, has never been identified as any kind of socialist figure.
Some conservatives, for their part, relish framing Democrats as fire-breathing socialists ready to carry out an American-style Bolshevik revolution. The Finnish and Danish models are, for them, largely irrelevant, relegated to an entirely different universe. Trump, many vocal Republicans, and some FOX pundits routinely claim Democrats want to take the country along the path of socialist (or Communist) disaster. Referring to the November 2020 election, Trump had stated: “Despite all our greatness as a nation, everything we have achieved is now endangered. This election will decide whether we save the American Dream, or whether we allow a socialist agenda to demolish our cherished destiny.” Could the Democrats as we have come to know them, despite their hateful self-righteousness, possibly manage to pull off something than no movement or party has ever pulled off in an advanced capitalist society?
At the Republican National Convention this past summer, Vice President Mike Pence said that “Joe Biden would set America on a path of socialism and decline.” Really, Biden – that most establishment and boring of pols? Others followed the same worn script. RNC Chair Ronna McDaniel announced that “Democrats have chosen to go down the road of socialism”, Lara Trump adding, ominously: “This is not just a choice between Republican and Democrat or left and right – this is an election that will decide if we keep America as itself, America, or if we head down an uncharted, frightening path towards socialism.” Now that the Democrats have accrued such oversized power, might the wonderful blessings of socialism – the utopian longings of Marx, Lenin, and the others -- finally be on the horizon? Could Biden and the squad improbably wind up the bearers of a new society? If so, I would argue, the guiding theorist will likely turn out to be George Orwell, not Karl Marx.
Judging from roughly a century of European history, ambitious reforms of the sort entertained by many Democrats could in fact be adopted without even moderately altering the deeply-entrenched class and power relations of modern capitalism – even if in fact the party elites are serious about such reforms. At best the outcome would be another version of European social democracy familiar to such countries as Denmark, Finland, Sweden, and Holland. There is every reason to believe that Sanders would be happy with that outcome.
Historical socialism, on the other hand, has always meant opposition to capitalism as a system of economic and political power, replacing corporate interests (or “the market”) with public ownership. It follows that the main centers of power (transnational corporations, Wall Street, Silicon Valley, military-industrial complex, corporate media, etc.) would in some manner have to be overturned. Alas, none of the Democrats, including Sanders and AOC, envision a future beyond those centers of power; the best they could offer is reformed capitalism, that is, garden-variety social democracy.
At present the “leftist” (or DSA) strategy is to eventually transform the Democratic party in the direction of something more radical by means of electoral politics, a rather naïve belief considering how wedded to every sector of the power structure the modern Democrats have become. The DSA program, according to official statements, looks toward a “humane social order based on popular control of resources and production, economic planning, equitable distribution, feminism, racial equality, and non-oppressive relationships.” Whatever one thinks of this schema, it lacks the concreteness needed for a genuine socialist politics. Put differently, it would easily coexist with requirements for maximizing elite wealth and power, for solidifying the warfare state.
Other problems loom. One goes to the heart of the matter: just how far can the Democrats, fully aligned with every pillar of the American power structure, be pushed significantly leftward? Deep corporate attachments and dependencies will not be seamlessly pushed aside to satisfy a “more humane social order”, no matter how many enlightened videos are produced by AOC and her comrades of the recently re-labeled #fraudsquad. Decades of experience tells us that routine electoral activity inevitably dictates moderation, “centrism”, accommodation to the ruling interests. Meanwhile, the continued existence of a massive military-industrial complex – never questioned by any of these Democrats -- is by itself enough to turn hopes for socialism in to a sad mirage.
In the end there is nothing very progressive, much less socialist, about American Democrats in their current incarnation, since we are dealing with a party that, in the midst of the Covid disaster, has been gravitating toward the destructive power of Big Pharma, the medical cartels, technology giants, intelligence apparatus, and, as an adjunct of all this, the corporate media. They have become a party of intensified social and ideological controls, embraced naturally in the name of “science” and the “public interest”. As the 117th House was being seated in Washington this past January, the warmonger Pelosi was re-elected speaker, her margin of victory furnished by AOC and the other sanctimonious squad members. Pelosi and allies Chuck Schumer, Adam Schiff, Jerrold Nadler, and Eric Swalwell had been driving forces behind the despicable Russiagate scheme, the Mueller probe, and impeachment, all the while taking the U.S. closer to outright confrontation with a nuclear-armed state. With Schumer and Rep. Jim Clyburn, she worked tirelessly to destroy Sanders’ presidential bid. It was Pelosi, moreover, who orchestrated the CARES Act bailout, facilitating the largest upward transfer of wealth in U.S. history – a scandal later matched by the largely Democratic Covid-justified lockdowns and other unscientific restrictions.
The sad truth is that American Democrats, fully embedded in the largest power structure the world has ever known, now veer much closer to fascism than to socialism, whatever their ideological rhetoric. In possession of many trillions of dollars in material resources and monetary wealth, that power structure could never be challenged, much less overturned, by such a grouping of bankrupt poseurs. Beneath all the talk of diversity and multiculturalism, all the wokeness, all the empty virtue-signaling, the Beltway Democratic elites are nowadays more than anything hellbent on single-party domination, at which point even mild deviations from establishment political norms will likely be verboten, taboo, indeed criminalized, at which point ordinary dissent will no longer be tolerated. We have already moved too far along this road to disaster – a far remove from socialism.
As the corrupt, deceitful, and easily-manipulated Biden staggers through his pathetic presidency, the Covid pandemic furnishes new opportunities for heightened authoritarianism and repression, surrounded as he is by a bureaucratic stratum of fearmongering lockdown fanatics. The January Sixth events have presented the Democrats with yet another pretext for authoritarian controls, if indeed that was needed. As for the fantasy (or conceit) of “democratic socialism”, its extreme Orwellian character should be laid bare for everyone but the pundits at CNN, the New York Times, and Washington Post to adequately grasp.
January Sixth as Godsend
By Carl Boggs
The January Sixth events in Washington D.C., depicted in the corporate media as Donald Trump’s epic “incitement to riot”, were instantly greeted by Democrats as the worst assault ever on American democracy, the plot to establish a police state -- a coup d’etat, the final desperate act of a deranged tyrant. That might be considered the surface reality. Framed differently, the Dems could not have been happier, for these same events opened up the floodgates: total war against the despised Republicans, now easily demonized as “domestic terrorists”, could finally be taken up in earnest. A perfect scenario for winning maximum power had been laid.
Beyond the moment of Capitol pandemonium the Democrats could uncover, without much difficulty, the finest of all gifts -- a political godsend. Like Pearl Harbor and 9/11, excruciating national trauma would give the power elite just what it coveted – here the great opportunity to frame Trump and his circle as enemies of the state, collectively damned to ideological purgatory. January Sixth, like December Seventh before it, would serve as political code for converting national calamity into wondrous new possibilities, new victories.
The Democrats, having already solidified power in the White House, Congress, and the media, could now move toward a scorched-earth strategy – a war of annihilation. And that is precisely what has been occurring for the past several months: a media feeding-frenzy around all Republicans deemed yahoos, white supremacists, and terrorists; an endless round of “investigations” revealing (once-again!) the venality, and banality, of anyone who ever voted for the evil Donald Trump; a series of Moscow-style show trials depicting trespassers as a gang of barbarians at the gate, ever prepared to “destroy our democracy”.
In his book Cultures of Militarism, historian John Dower describes the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor as “political godsend”, a moment when humiliating military defeat (“day of infamy”) would allow president Franklin Roosevelt to do what he desperately wanted to do but could not in the face of an “isolationist” American public opinion—bring the U.S. into World War II. Pearl Harbor turned out to be a great blessing in disguise for FDR, whose famous eight-point program effectively provoked the Japanese into attacking the Pacific fleet in Hawaii. In the end, after four difficult years, victory would be heroically wrestled from defeat.
After what was portrayed as a “sneak attack” (military operations are supposed to be advertised in advance?), the New York Herald Tribune could exalt: “Since the clash now appears to have been inevitable, its occurrence brings with it a sense of relief. The air is clearer. Americans can now get down to their task [of waging war] with the old obstacles finally removed, forgotten.” All opposition to U.S. entry into the war was effectively obliterated in two hours one early Sunday morning. Democratic politicians, joined by a good many Republicans, were now ready to bring military combat to Japan: the attack had given FDR all the power, not to mention legitimacy, any president could possibly desire. Since 1941 Pearl Harbor has been ideological code for maximum executive freedom, and Roosevelt enthusiastically took up the challenge.
In the aftermath of Pearl Harbor, shock turned to resolve, momentary defeat to righteous commitment. Victim status would be quickly transformed into its opposite. Roughly the same dynamic would be repeated at the time of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, which gave president George W. Bush “permission” to do what he and the neocons were already hellbent on doing – invading Iraq and “finishing the job” of overthrowing Saddam Hussein. In both cases – Pearl Harbor and 9/11 – national humiliation was mobilized to “reset” U.S. foreign policy.
For the contemporary incarnation of Democratic elites – Joe Biden, Kamala Harris, Nancy Pelosi, et. al. – January Sixth at the Capitol could not have been more timely, more opportune. Truly another godsend. A jolt to the system, however feeble, partial, and ill-fated, would demand sustained vigilance, pursuit, and monitoring across the public landscape. Viewed as thoroughly complicit, Republicans would be thrown onto the defensive, completely immobilized. Pelosi, ready as ever for vengeful action, would say: “The situation of this unhinged president could not be more dangerous. He chose to be an insurrectionist.” Trump’s behavior (in riling up demonstrators) was nothing short of seditious, a crime deserving severe retribution. Other Democrats quickly followed this template, amplified by a monolithically frenzied media. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, vocal as ever and presumably speaking for the squad, said: “I do believe we should exercise every avenue possible because the president has shown that his mental status and his actions are wildly eroding at a rapid pace.” Trump represents a “clear and present danger to our democracy”, and must be removed from office by any means possible.
Not to be overshadowed, Senator Chuck Schumer, reprising “Pearl Harbor” no less, would state: “I have never lived through or even imagined an experience like the one we have just witnessed in this Capitol. President Franklin Roosevelt set aside December 7, 1941 as a day that will live in infamy. Unfortunately, we can now add January 6, 2021 to that very short list of dates in American history that will live forever in infamy.” Oblivious to months of fire bombings, lootings, beatings, and killings across the streets and buildings of dozens of American cities (criminality with apparently no end in sight), Schumer would add: “The temple of democracy was desecrated, its windows smashed, our offices vandalized.” More recently, President Biden has rendered his own insightful opinion: January Sixth is the worst thing to happen to American society since the Civil War!
The authoritarian, virtually fascistic response of the media and political establishment was swift and, well, unhinged: the House was moving to impeach the president, again, Trump was banned from Twitter and other social-media outlets, with Republicans (even those with no complicity in the Capitol actions) facing censorship, blacklisting, job loss, and smear campaigns. The silencing of conservatives across the Internet had predictably reached new heights. The long-entertained Beltway goal to destroy Trump, his family, and associates seemed near fruition, hopefully given adequate momentum by all the trials, investigations, and media hysteria. Democrats are fully resolved to make sure Trump cannot run for the presidency in 2024. The threat of “domestic terrorism” calls, as always, for a sharp Hobbesian response: intensified state power, greater elite vigilance, the crushing of political opposition. For the immediate future, at least, any Republican hopes for blowback would have to pass through a few ideological minefields.
As Dower noted, the ideological code emanating from “Pearl Harbor” included yet another motif: the familiar stereotype of Asians (at that time) as sneaky, backstabbing, irrational, uncivilized was clearly validated on December Seventh. Who else could carry out such a dastardly “sneak attack”? Precisely the same ideological code would apply to those deplorable Trump supporters – a motley assemblage of gun-toting racists and neo-Nazis. Didn’t those sanctimonious CNN pundits always warn about the backward, rightwing white-supremacists congregating around the Orange Menace? Indeed. The truth was finally brought home for every Beltway dweller to relish: Trump followers, including tens of millions of voters, would now have to pay, their collective guilt obvious amidst the ashes of January Sixth.
So when enlightened Democrats proclaim their heartfelt sadness for the fate of the Republic, for that evil subversion of “our democracy”, it might be time to look more closely beneath the surface – or maybe to head for the hills. If there were any bars open in their neighborhoods, that is probably where Pelosi, AOC, Adam Schiff, and other “victims” of the Orange Menace might be found gathering to celebrate, toasting to their good fortune. Whether such celebrations might be long-lived, however, could be another matter. Fascistic politics has a tendency to devour its own ruthless protagonists.
The June 6-7, 2021 issue of The Nation features an article by the iconic environmentalist Bill McKibben on what is presented as the “politics of junk food”, based on references to Mark Bittman’s latest volume Animal, Vegetable, Junk. McKibben begins by arguing that Bittman “offers us his most thoroughgoing attack on the corporate forces that govern our food, tracking the evolution of cultivation and consumption from primordial to modern times and developing what is arguably his most radical and forthright argument yet about how to address our contemporary food culture’s many ills.” Since food and agriculture lie at the center of any deep understanding of the modern ecological crisis, this McKibben/Bittman motif would seem to provide an especially wide and critical perspective on that crisis. The outlook here could eventually intersect with the abundant work of McKibben and his colleagues over many years, focused largely on the threat of global warming. I am much less concerned here with Bittman’s work than with McKibben’s own interpretation and analysis.
According to McKibben, based on the line of analysis offered by Bittman, a key historical factor in the United States and elsewhere has revolved around two types of foods consumed by humans (plants and animals), more recently joined by a third type: “processed foods”, otherwise regarded as “junk foods”. This third type would bring a wide range of poisonous and fatal elements to a diet that, thanks to mass production, has grown increasingly popular across the industrialized world. Such an epic shift in eating habits has “diminished the lives of perhaps half of all humans”. The rise of industrialized, mass-produced food has been accompanied by the triumph of gigantic food corporations such as Cargill and McDonalds, responsible for unprecedented levels of agricultural waste and harmful dietary caloric intake across the world. The resulting onset of extremely high incidents of obesity, in turn linked to debilitating afflictions and diseases, corresponds to soaring profits for the enormous food conglomerates. As the system makes available a constant stream of less-expensive processed foods, people gorge on products harmful to both human health and the natural environment. Within this dynamic, as Bittman had noted, global sugar consumption has virtually tripled in just the past half-century.
This line of argumentation, typical of such writers as Michael Pollan as well as Bittman, has become rather commonplace in recent decades. It contains abundant truths – above all, that the onset of mass food production and consumption, integral to capitalism, has contributed to the rise of obesity and such related health problems as cancer, diabetes, and heart disease. This is what has come to be defined as the “modern Westen diet”. A central feature of this diet is corn and its associated products, including corn syrup – a staple of processed foods.
The glaring problem here ought to be apparent to anyone who has devoted serious attention to both the modern food and ecological crisis – namely, the far more debilitating consequences of spiraling levels of meat and dairy consumption, especially in the United States but also globally. What is most distressing is that McKibben, like Bittman, makes no effort to even address this problem, much less explore it or analyze it. The most severe – and glaring -- challenge to both food and ecological sanity is simply ignored, thrown aside.
McKibben (and to some extent Bittman) tends to conflate “junk” foods and “processed” foods, which overlap but ultimately involve different kinds of consumption. The first of these can be associated with the phenomenon of McDonaldization – that is, foods comprised mainly of meat and dairy products (hamburgers, fried chicken, milk shakes, etc.). The collective intake of these junk foods has increased dramatically since the 1950s and shapes the modern diet throughout most industrialized societies. That diet is unbelievably high in salt, sugar, and saturated fats. As for processed foods, on the other hand, they are far more diversified and, for the most part, significantly less harmful, extending to much of what is available at typical grocery stores and restaurants: canned goods, breadstuffs, pastries, even items such as nuts. From this standpoint, “processed foods” in the McDonalds sector ought to be differentiated from these other products. While the former is surely harmful to human health, its impact scarcely compares to the immense destruction resulting from the mass consumption of meat and dairy products – destruction extending not only to human health but to the natural habitat (McKibben’s primary focus), animals, and the capitalist workplace.
That a writer of McKibben’s stature could somehow overlook the horrific impact of meat and dairy consumption within modern societies, in a lengthy article for a progressive magazine, seems hard to fathom. After all, this phenomenon is hardly a secret: dozens of books and videos on this very topic have appeared in just the past several years, while the urgency of challenges related to food and agriculture were powerfully brought to public attention in the 1980s by such writers as John Robbins. Yet the words “meat” and “dairy” never even appear in McKibben’s pretentious article. This void is all the more astonishing given the well-known consequences of animal-based food production for both resource utilization (water, arable land, etc.) and worldwide carbon footprint. McKibben’s well-known organization, 350.org, is dedicated to combating climate change, yet he completely sidesteps perhaps the worst of all ecological harms – and one that is steadily and rapidly expanding. Instead, he chooses to emphasize the far more amorphous and all-consuming category of “processed foods”. The planet can easily survive continued mass consumption of processed foods that predominate at most supermarkets. The meat and dairy regimen, on the other hand, is entirely unsustainable in terms of human health, animal welfare, and ecological rationality. Why environmentalists like McKibben are so ethically, politically, and ecologically blind to perhaps the most pressing challenge of our time should itself be a topic of further critical investigation.
The mounting Democratic assault on free speech is finally producing blowback – most lately, from a bill proposed by California State Senator Melissa Melendez to protect diversity of political belief and affiliation. Her much-overdue legislation (Senate bills 238 and 249) are together known as the Diversity of Thought Act, which seeks to modify both California Government and Education Codes, ensuring citizens cannot be discriminated against based on political views. That such a bill is needed speaks loudly to the sad deterioration of American political culture. In an age of multiculturalism, the woke frenzy, and identity-politics mania it appears that every known human property has been legally protected but one: that of political belief.
In the supposed land of freedom and democracy, Californians – like other Americans – do in 2021 require special legislation to protect free speech. A brief glance at U.S. history reveals a tortured legacy of political repression directed against those daring to hold unpopular beliefs: suffragists, anarchists, socialists, Communists, antiwar and civil rights activists to name some. Now? Well, after years and decades of free-speech activism in defense of First Amendment rights, the country has once again descended into a reign of bigotry and censorship – this time orchestrated by sanctimonious Democratic elites and their shills in the media and Big Tech.
Melendez notes that “it is unfathomable to me that corporations and members of the public would ruin a person’s career, business, and family because of their political ideology. A free society should not allow thoughts and ideas to be censored. Free speech covers all speech –not just that with which you agree.” But thanks to small-minded Democratic politicians, censorship has indeed been the order of the day, and it’s getting steadily worse in schools, on college campuses, in businesses, in the political system, across Silicon Valley and the corporate media. Though scarcely necessary, the Senator added: “A climate of intolerance has been established and has stifled healthy and normal debate.”
As if to immediately validate Melendez’ claims, Democratic Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzales, based in San Diego, fired back on Twitter: “I don’t know who needs to hear this today, but your racist, pro-domestic terrorism, xenophobic, misogynist views do not warrant protection from discrimination. Your choice to hate does not make you part of a protected class.” If this crude outburst happened to be directed specifically at Melendez, then charges of racism and misogynism, not to mention “domestic terrorism”, could be nothing more than another mindless episode of hate speech. In fact Gonzales never identified any concrete example related to Melendez, so best to assume she has in mind some larger targeted collective.
Xenophobia? Can Gonzales be taken seriously? She is a fiercely partisan member of a party that has spent five years promoting the nonstop Russiagate hoax – probably the most disgraceful episode of media-fanned xenophobia in American history. Here was an entirely contrived hatred that brought the U.S. and Russia, heavily-armed nuclear states, disturbingly close to military conflict. There is no sign that Gonzales ever spoke out against such national outrage, which continues into the present. Further, if she has condemned the months of ongoing domestic violence carried out by Antifa and Black Lives Matter, still visible in a few cities, we have no record of it.
Being free to speak one’s political mind, without fear of retribution, has deep psychological meaning for me. I happened to be one of those students who occupied Sproul Hall to protest crackdowns on free speech at U.C., Berkley in fall 1964. I still own the original hand-painted button that spells “FSM”. Later, for the crime of political deviance (as a Gramscian Marxist) I was purged from my reputedly safe job as professor at Washington University in St. Louis. Calling the shots for the university were three giant corporations – Monsanto, McDonnell-Douglas, Ralston-Purina. Aside from my activism against the Vietnam War during the early 1970s, I helped organize the infamous McDonnell-Douglas Project as well as the local underground newspaper, The Outlaw. Any right to combat political repression I had was strictly formal – and my fate was hardly unusual.
It turned out that this personal experience would soon intersect with the life and work of Frank Wilkinson – for decades known as “Mr. First Amendment” – lasting more than 30 years. We were close friends. As visiting professor at Carleton University in Ottawa during 1985, I invited Frank (a spellbinding orator on behalf of free speech) for a lecture tour of Ontario. Wilkinson passed away in January 2006 after a prolific career of speaking, writing, and activism dedicated to First Amendment rights. Knowing him as I did, he would be outraged today at the despotic attitude of Lorena Gonzales and other Democratic admirers of Big Brother.
For more than 50 years, Wilkinson was indefatigable and uncompromising: he knew that, without free speech, efforts to challenge any power structure were doomed. So too were any prospects for personal freedom. At the time of his death, ACLU president Nadine Strossen would describe Wilkinson as “a towering and inspiring figure throughout his entire career, starting from when he was a young person advocating for equal rights for the poor and racial minorities.” She added: “He was constantly challenging governmental power to restrict First Amendment freedoms of belief, speech, and association, as well as privacy, which continues to be relevant today.” For his tireless work, Wilkinson was targeted by J. Edgar Hoover, Senator Joe McCarthy, and the same intelligence agencies that Democrats today have come to embrace.
In 1958, during a visit to Atlanta in support of civil-rights activists called before the notorious House Un-American Activities Committee, Wilkinson was subpoenaed and then cited for contempt of Congress when asserting his own First Amendment right to refuse to testify. He was sentenced to one year in federal prison, serving nine months.
Wilkinson helped form the National Committee to Abolish HUAC in 1960, later renamed the National Committee against Repressive Legislation (NCARL) in 1975, when HUAC was finally disbanded. Wilkinson took serious personal risks to ensure political dissent would be protected -- the same protection Gonzales and her righteous party hacks now want to destroy. The dark, repressive side of American history associated with Hoover and McCarthy, the FBI and CIA, is now being revived with sanctimonious fury by current defenders of unfettered corporate-state power.
For Wilkinson – in stark contrast to the bigoted, iron-fisted Gonzales – the Bill of Rights was a living document in need of constant renewal. In 1986 he filed a Freedom of Information Act suit against the FBI and eventually was sent 132,000 pages of files spanning 38 years of federal surveillance and espionage. The story of Wilkinson’s ordeal would find its way into Robert Sherrill’s appropriately-titled biography, First Amendment Felon, in 2005.
In the 15 years since Wilkinson’s death, matters have only gotten worse; the Gonzales diatribe, unfortunately, perfectly fits the Democratic modus operandi. Ordinary conservatives are denounced as “white supremacists”, “Nazis”, and “domestic terrorists”, many targeted for personal ruin even where evidence of such transgression is nowhere to be found. Collective guilt is blithely imputed to broad groups of people simply going about their everyday lives. Medical professionals daring to veer from official narratives are smeared and cancelled, their jobs and careers jeopardized. Vaccine doubters can encounter a similar fate. Questionable opinions expressed years in the past nowadays come back to haunt, if not destroy. Anyone brazen enough to criticize the actual domestic terrorism of Antifa and BLM -- spanning several months, not a few hours -- will be smeared as a vile “white nationalist”.
While Red Scares of earlier years originated from the pathetic schemes of Hoover and McCarthy, today the threats are far more pervasive, cloaked (as before) in the language of moral enlightenment. Dissidents are nowadays savaged as wretched haters, extremists, terrorists – not to mention, in a period of extreme Russiaphobia, as “foreign agents” or “traitors”. CNN pundits, typically at the forefront, routinely parrot blind hate when referring to Russians, oblivious to meaningful facts and context. Centers of power work to impose ideological conformity: corporate media, Wall Street, deep state, Big Tech, academia, military-industrial complex. Stripped of binding protections, individuals and groups targeted are much too weak and isolated to effectively fight back.
In earlier days dissent was said to be the work of “heretics” or “subversives”, marginal Commies readily hunted down by the Feds. (In American society, the CPUSA was always something of a joke, yet still targeted for years as a major threat.) Nowadays the morality police, backed by the usual oligarchs and billionaires, are ready to pounce on sinful transgressions large and small: white supremacy, transphobia, Covid denial, scheming with the Russians. Those stepping outside the ideologically-vetted discourses of CNN, Washington Post, and New York Times will be identified, demeaned, censored, and (where possible) punished. Reality cops guard against the evils of “misinformation”, “disinformation”, and “conspiracy theories” that undermine “our democracy”. In the case of California, the bill proposed by Melendez will be seized upon by Gonzales and identity-politics fanatics as a sign of guilt, of sinful deviance.
Recently two California members of the U.S. Congress, Democrats Anna Eshoo and Jerry McNerny, sent letters to twelve cable, satellite, and streaming companies – AT&T, Verizon, Apple, Alphabet among them – urging management to shut down centers of “misinformation”, starting with FOX TV. These ideological guardians believe media outlets are contributing to a “polluted environment”, spewing lies that lead to “seditious behavior” and, worse, Covid “science denial”. The problem for Eshoo and McNerny, however, is that pandemic tropes advanced by their favorite corporate-media outlets veer toward fear-rattling propaganda more than established medical science: false computer projections, wildly-inflated death rates, unscientific lockdown orders, needless school closings, mixed signals on facemasks, over-hyping of vaccines. Eshoo and McNerny are best advised to look closer to home, to their own conduits of false information.
Could liberal Democrats, in past years known as champions of free speech and civil rights, have now become so embedded in the power structure that their authoritarian impulses reflect a new-found hubris? Could Gonzales and her anointed elites be imbued with the level of political certitude their censorship zeal seems to imply? Could the party that has carried out years of witch hunts linked to debunked tales of Putin-Trump collusion actually believe in its political integrity? My guess is that Democratic righteousness really masks insecurity and deceit: those responsible for the endless lies and myths must know those lies and myths cannot survive the test of open debate. Easier to denounce your critics as “white nationalists”, cancel their speech platforms, than close off discussion. The shutting down of oppositional speech reflects acute intellectual weakness, not strength.
In the end, the “diversity” and “inclusion” that Gonzales and Democrats piously celebrate is nothing but a sham. Those words have relevance only within a single narrative – a tightly-regulated, fiercely-guarded worldview consistent with elite agendas. Where real diversity should matter most – regarding conflict over how power is exercised, over economic policy and job concerns, over matters of war and peace – genuine debate is largely absent, overridden by an ensemble of authoritarian codes, norms, and practices. Corporate-state rulers manage what is truly important. As with earlier lies and myths about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq or “humanitarian crises” in Serbia and Libya, years of Russiagate tales of a stolen election would never be “fact-checked”, but instead repeated monotonously by liberals and their stable of media propagandists. According to Gonzales, all this deceitful manipulation at the hands of Democrats must fall into the category of “protected speech”.
Oligarchical power rules American society more thoroughly than ever, its conformist ideology the true measure of political speech. Identity politics furnishes an opportune facade behind which those in control can expand their power, wealth, and technological advantage never having to worry about anti-system insurgency (keeping mind that January Sixth was no more than a primitive, entirely ineffective revolt). Supposedly progressive figures like Gonzales, fearing real diversity, serve as valuable instruments of such rule and its legitimation, which those figures always embellish with an ethos of righteous arrogance.
In years past the break with political orthodoxy was denounced as un-American, disloyal, a fifth-column menace, targeted now and then for blacklisting. Nowadays even moderate dissidents are accused of “domestic terrorism” – a charge dutifully repeated by Gonzales. Contemporary dissidents are in fact no better than Nazis, or at least neo-Nazis, meaning they are eligible to be “de-platformed”, sent before a “Reality Czar”. Yet it is Gonzales and her power-mongering ideologues who wind up closer to the monolithic, hateful spirit of fascism than their hapless targets of collective guilt owing to mere association with a political party or outlook. Those ideologues turn out to be the biggest threats to “our democracy”. As Wilkinson had long ago recognized, the struggle against such malevolence is not simply legal but cultural and political – and is never finished.