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Archive for the ‘Culture Critique’ Category

The world has gone crazy. How do we count the ways? Politics. Social media. Pandemic. So much is coming at us on a daily basis that it is difficult to sort it out. But that does not mean we should not try.

Take Los Angeles Times writer David L. Ulin: He has embarked on the first step toward a post-Trump presidency recovery — by admitting what many have not: Trump Derangement Syndrome is a genuine phenomena. “For five years I believed — I still believe — that Trump represented an existential threat to the republic,” Ulin writes. “One way or another, though, we’ve all been traumatized by the Trump administration and the lawlessness and cruelty it encouraged or enacted as policy.”

Indeed.

Donald Trump’s participation in the “Save America” rally on January 6, 2021 confirmed worst fears: that the former President would not abide by a peaceful transition of power, a crucial element in a democratic Republic.

In a presidency marked by controversy, the Capitol breach stands apart — and rightly has been broadly condemned. Few supporters, for that matter, deny that the stream-of-consciousness Tweeting Trump often dug his own pits into which to fall. Time and time again, Trump departed from the usual presidential speechwriters and handlers to directly engage the public in unscripted, fact-check free, off-the-cuff remarks. For all his criticisms of “fake news“, he apparently has never met a TV camera or a microphone he did not like — all of which qualifies the former president as a loose cannon in the truest sense of the word. Still, there comes a time when one must step back. A new administration has been ushered in. And yet before we can move on — in order to move on — a less emotionally-charged look at the Trump presidency is in order.

For leaders who are looked upon more favorably, the long view of history may nonetheless bring to light significant, yet lesser-known, failings. In Donald Trump’s case, however, no stone has been left unturned in effort to call out his many flaws in real time. Consequently, recovery from TDS requires the counter-intuitive: Refrain from giving Trump more credit — power — than he deserves.

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If you do not quite grasp how the occupied zone in downtown Seattle, known as CHOP — formerly known as the Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone (CHAZ) — relates to George Floyd’s death, social media calls to “defund the police“, HBO’s decision to pull “Gone with the Wind” and recent flashpoints around historic statues and monuments, you are not alone.

The denizens of CHOP not only wish to dispense with law enforcement but prisons and even courts. Objectives include drug decriminalization, disbandment of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), dismantling of immigration courts, and the legalization of undocumented migration (“open borders“). Media has grappled with how to cover this latest chapter. Some reporters have described CHOP as a “commune“, others as a “street festival” — both of which have drawn the ire of participants, many of whom identify as activists.

Mainstream media has been slow — reluctant, even — to connect the dots between academia, social justice advocacy, legal system reformers and street activism. The backstory is long — decades long — and controversial. Broadly put, the scenes unfolding on our streets reflect less the late Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s nonviolent approach to Civil Rights — although his actions have since been interpreted through an “anti-Capitalist” lens — and more the revolutionary roots of Black Liberation.*

Liberationists’ embrace a Marxist view of Abolition, a key goal of which is to tie America’s “original sin” of slavery to capitalism.

“The new history of slavery seeks to obliterate the economic and moral distinction between slavery and capitalism, and between the South and the North, by showing them to have been all part of a single system”, Nicholas Lemann for The New Yorker writes, in “Is Capitalism Racist?“.

Criminal justice reform is, perhaps, the most widely recognized facet of contemporary Abolitionism. Proponents of “defund the police” do not merely wish to redirect law enforcement funds into community programs. To them, law enforcement is a manifestation of white supremacy — irrevocably illegitimate.

Prof. Willem De Haan, a University of Amsterdam criminologist, writes “Abolitionism emerged as an anti-prison movement when, at the end of the 1960s, a destructuring impulse took hold of thinking about the social control of deviance and crime…. Crime’ is a social construction, to be analysed as a myth…. As a myth, crime serves to maintain political power relations … Abolitionists do not share the current belief in the criminal law’s capacity for crime control. They radically deny the utility of punishment and claim that there can be no valid justification for it…. They discard criminal justice as an absurd idea.”

While it may be tempting to dismiss modern Abolitionism as a product of a radical fringe, it is anything but.  Its analytical framework rests upon Critical Race Theory, which explicitly promotes activism as a goal. CRT has made inroads into numerous fields of study within academia over the past two decades: criminal justice, feminism, African American studies, critical whiteness studies, political science, economics and American studies, among others. CRT, in a nutshell, evaluates the world through a hierarchal lens comprised of white oppressors and non-white victims. On the heels of Black Lives Matter, which was founded in 2013 to counter police brutality, activists within various movements have found common cause. To cite one of the better known examples, philanthropists and presidents, alike, have called for an end to mass incarceration in recent years.

“The broadening bipartisan consensus on the need for criminal justice reform offers promise to build on this trend, and we intend to exploit it” [p. 31],  documents a U.S. Programs board meeting of the Open Society Foundation, a George Soros-backed nonprofit that supports many similarly-aligned interests. “The path to ending mass incarceration requires fundamentally changing laws that inappropriately criminalize certain conduct …. We believe continued support of a group of key partners working nationally is essential to maintain the broad call for substantial reform, but recognize that most reform activity must take place at the state level. … Our strategy includes efforts to […] correct the public perception of crime survivors … and shift the culture of prosecution” [p.32]. Crime victims, the board wrote in 2015, have a “disproportionate influence” on criminal justice [p.33].

“This is what we have been waiting for”, says Angela Davis, author, activist, self-described Communist, onetime prisoner and longtime University of California Santa Cruz college professor, of Black Lives Matter. “All of this is connected and I think that is a moment when there is so much promise, so much potential. Of course we never know what the outcome is going to be, we can never predict the consequences of the work that we do. But as I always like to say, we have to act as if it is possible to build a revolution and to radically transform the world.”

If we can right the wrongs of oppressors past by radically transforming our present legal, political and economic systems, some would argue not only that the benefit outweighs the risk — but that it is a moral imperative.

What is less clear to the Abolitionist occupiers of CHOP, and their ideological luminaries in academia and activism, is this: What comes next? (more…)

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