Power of child-like logic
Without a centralised leadership BLM risks playing into Trump’s hands, argues Daniel Lazare
Now that Donald Trump has gone on the offensive against Black Lives Matter with a rip-roaring Independence Day speech, the verdict from the liberal press is in: it won’t work.
The reason, supposedly, is that the country is so up in arms about racism, according to The New York Times, that Trump “risk[s] coming across as out of sync with the concerned mood of the country”. The Washington Post agrees, declaring that the administration’s disastrous mishandling of coronavirus means that a “vicious culture war is all Trump has left”. The liberal website, Vox, adds that Trump is “out of touch not only with most Americans, but even much of the Republican Party”, because a poll last month found that 53% of Republicans support the George Floyd protests.1 So not only will Trump infuriate Democrats by attacking BLM: he will likely wind up alienating his own base as well.
Thus the people who said Trump could not possibly prevail in 2016 - “Donald Trump’s chances of winning are approaching zero,” The Washington Post announced two weeks prior to election day back then - now assure us that his latest gambit will not work in 2020 either.2
But is it true? The short answer is no. Contrary to the Times, the Post, CNN and other such beasts of the apocalypse, Trump’s July 3 speech at the foot of South Dakota’s Mount Rushmore was actually quite good, objectively speaking - which is to say tough, combative and canny. His homilies to Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln and Theodore Roosevelt - the four dead white males carved into the mountain’s granite face - were one-sided or incomplete. But they were no worse than the self-serving rhetoric that US bourgeois politicians routinely serve up across the spectrum. Whether the topic is civil rights, America’s triumph over the Soviets, or its infinite goodness, the general assumption is that Americans are children who need a regular supply of platitudes and fairy tales to keep them going. Trump’s contribution was merely to give the old clichés a malevolent twist by using them against the “new far-left fascism” that Black Lives Matter supposedly represents.
In attacking statues of American heroes, he thus declared, BLM’s goal is nothing less than to “overthrow the American Revolution” and, in so doing, “destroy the very civilisation that rescued billions from poverty, disease, violence and hunger, and that lifted humanity to new heights of achievement, discovery and progress”. If you love America, in other words, then you’ll hate BLM. And if you hate BLM, you’ll love America - and vote for Trump in the fall.
It is simplistic, but the power of such child-like logic should not be dismissed out of hand. What is more, Trump’s job would be a good deal harder if BLM did not provide him with a target that is fatter and juicier than America’s ideologically-blinkered media establishment seems to realise.
The poll that Vox cites as proving that Republicans and Democrats alike support the George Floyd protests, for instance, was conducted in the first week of June, when images of his slow and painful death were fresh and the country was still in shock. So powerful was the upsurge that even Republicans felt obliged to tell pollsters what they assumed they wanted to hear.
But much has happened in the weeks since. Looting broke out in dozens of cities from New York and San Francisco to small towns like Scottsdale, Arizona. After attacking Confederate memorials, protestors took aim at other monuments as well: statues of people like Washington, Jefferson, and Lincoln, Union General Ulysses S Grant, a Danish-American abolitionist named Hans Christian Heg, who died fighting slavery, and even Miguel Cervantes, who was briefly a slave himself, after being captured by Barbary pirates in 1575. The famous Boston memorial to the 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry - the all-black regiment that was the subject of the 1989 movie Glory - was defaced, as was a statue of a Philadelphia abolitionist and civil-rights advocate named Matthias Baldwin.
It is one thing to topple statues of people who fought in favour of slavery. But why deface those of heroes who fought against it? If BLM was a regular organisation with a centralised leadership and a press office, it would presumably have issued a statement dissociating itself from such acts and setting the record straight about what it believes. But, since it prides itself on being spontaneous and decentralised, “leaderful” rather than simply led, no such statements have been forthcoming. Instead, ordinary Americans were left with no choice but to conclude that this is what the movement really stands for.
The result was a gift-wrapped present for Trump, which is why he told the crowd at Mount Rushmore:
We will never let them rip America’s heroes from our monuments, or from our hearts. By tearing down Washington and Jefferson, these radicals would tear down the very heritage for which men gave their lives to win the civil war ...
If BLM had been savvier, it would not have let him get away with it. But, since it said nothing, his words rang out unopposed.
BLM has provided Trump with other material as well. CHAZ, the Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone - also known as CHOP (Capitol Hill Occupied Protest) - was a liberated zone that protestors set up in downtown Seattle following days of street battles and demonstrations. It started out as a second summer of love, but soon turned ugly when self-appointed security guards showed up with high-powered assault rifles. Beginning on June 20, four shootings occurred over a span of 10 days - one of which killed a 19-year-old named Horace Lorenzo Anderson Junior and severely wounded another person. After Anderson’s father appeared on Rupert Murdoch’s Fox News, Trump phoned him himself, telling him, according to a family spokesman: “Your son is looking down on you and watching over you.” The spokesman added: “He was incredibly gracious, and it gave Horace some extra help, as he buried his son.”
This was another gift-wrapped present - not only for Trump, but for the right in general. “This is the closest I’ve ever seen our country, let alone the city here, to becoming a lawless state,” a police union leader told Fox. “Do Americans need any more evidence that the talk of ‘defunding the police’ is crazy?” added a conservative journalist named Byron York.3
Abolishing the bourgeois police is a time-honoured socialist demand. But instead of replacing cops with a workers’ guard or militia, the utopians of CHAZ replaced them with … nothing. Guns and violence - the twin spectres of the American scene - quickly ensued. Worse than a crime, it was a blunder that played straight into Trump’s hands.
“We support the courageous men and women of law enforcement,” he told the crowd at Mount Rushmore. “We will never abolish our police or our great Second Amendment, which gives us the right to keep and bear arms.” The audience roared its approval.
Finally, there is the question of racial sectarianism. This is supposedly a rightwing chimera, as far as BLM is concerned, and anyone who dares say otherwise will be immediately accused of racism and bigotry. But the record says otherwise. In 2014, Alicia Garza, one of BLM’s three co-founders, called for “strategy and action centred around blackness, without other non-black communities of colour - or white folks, for that matter - needing to find a place and a way to centre themselves within it”. Translation: non-blacks must go to the back of the bus, as far as the struggle against police violence is concerned. “We perpetuate a level of white supremacist domination,” Garza went on, “by reproducing a tired trope that we are all the same, rather than acknowledging that non-black oppressed people in this country are both impacted by racism and domination, and simultaneously benefit from anti-black racism.”4
Native Americans, Chinese immigrants and Hispanics profit from racism, according to BLM’s strange calculus, despite being massacred, exploited, deported and lynched. Black Lives Matter’s pointed rejection of “all lives matter” - in 2015, Garza described the rival slogan as “a demonstration of how we don’t actually understand structural racism in this country”5 - is cut from the same cloth. Rather than contradictory, BLM and ALM are mutually reinforcing, in the same way that “all for one and one for all” is mutually reinforcing. But Black Lives Matter has sought to banish ALM for no other reason than to safeguard an increasingly profitable trademark.
Socialists cannot help but shake their heads in dismay. But, then, BLM is not socialist. To the contrary, it is a classic American start-up, no different from any other branding exercise. Since it began in 2013, it has received donations from entertainers Jay-Z and Beyoncé, from George Soros and from corporate giants like Cisco, Intel, Amazon and Microsoft. Along with other black-oriented organisations, it is the recipient of a six-year, $100-million grant by the Ford Foundation and other philanthropies, whose goal is to “deepen and expand this community of social justice funders”.6 Given the Ford Foundation’s historic ties to the American foreign-policy and intelligence apparatus - it was a major supporter of the CIA’s Congress for Cultural Freedom in the 1960s and 70s - we can assume that its interest in promoting proletarian solidarity is somewhere around absolute zero. Its goal, rather, is the opposite: ie, to split the working class along racial lines.
“The white left needs to embrace black leadership,” The Nation magazine proclaims, adding: “We are seeing one of the largest uprisings in US history, and black leftist organisers and black working class people are leading it.”7 But what bourgeois liberals are incapable of understanding is that a white left - whatever that means - is not the goal. Rather, it is an international workers’ movement that is both racially integrated and anti-racist.
If he is smart, Trump will tweet out that Nation headline as further evidence that, instead of combating racism, BLM’s goal is merely to impose a new pecking order. This is political dynamite in a society as tense and fear-ridden as the United States - something that will ignite racism rather than overcoming it. So, when corporate media outlets tell us that Trump cannot possibly succeed, the safest course is to assume the opposite.
nytimes.com/2020/07/03/us/politics/trump-coronavirus-mount-rushmore.html; washingtonpost.com/opinions/a-vicious-culture-war-is-all-trump-has-left/2020/07/05/4ca0986c-bca1-11ea-8cf5-9c1b8d7f84c6_story.html; vox.com/2020/7/5/21313762/trump-mount-rushmore-speech-independence-day.↩︎