How Do We Change America?

tags: racism, neoliberalism, inequality, Protest, social democracy, racial capitalism

The current climate can hardly be reduced to the political lessons of the past, but the legacy of the nineties dominates the political thinking of elected officials today. When Republicans insist on tying work requirements to food stamps in the midst of a pandemic, with unemployment at more than thirteen per cent, they are conjuring the punitive spirit of the policies shaped by Clinton, Biden, and other leading Democrats throughout the nineteen-nineties. So, though Biden desperately wants us to believe that he is a harbinger of change, his long record of public service says otherwise. He has claimed that Barack Obama’s selection of him as his running mate was a kind of absolution for Biden’s dealings in the Democrats’ race-baiting politics of the nineteen-nineties. But, from the excesses of the criminal-justice system and the absence of a welfare state to the inequality rooted in an unbridled, rapacious market economy, Biden has shaped much of the world that this generation has inherited and is revolting against.

More important, the ideas honed in the nineteen-eighties and nineties continue to beat at the center of Biden’s political agenda. His campaign advisers include Larry Summers, who, as Clinton’s Treasury Secretary, was an enthusiastic supporter of deregulation, and, as Obama’s chief economic adviser during the recession, endorsed the Wall Street bailout while allowing millions of Americans to default on their mortgages. They also include Rahm Emanuel, whose tenure as the mayor of Chicago ended in disgrace, when it was revealed that his administration covered up the police murder of the seventeen-year-old Laquan McDonald, who was shot sixteen times by a white police officer. But Emanuel’s damage to Chicago ran much deeper than his defense of a particularly racist and abusive police force. He also carried out the largest single closure of public schools in U.S. history—nearly fifty in one fell swoop, in 2013. After two terms, he left the city in the same broken condition he found it, with forty-five per cent of young black men in Chicago both out of school and unemployed.

This points to the importance of expanding our national discussion about what ails the country, beyond the racism and brutality of the police. We must also discuss the conditions of economic inequality that, when they intersect with racial and gender discrimination, disadvantage African-Americans while also making them vulnerable to police violence. Otherwise, we risk reducing racism to the outrageous and intentional acts of depraved individuals, while downplaying the cumulative impact of public policies and private-sector discrimination that, regardless of personal intent, have crippled the vitality of African-American life.

When the focus narrows to the barbarism of the act that stole George Floyd’s life, it allows for the likes of the former President George W. Bush to enter the conversation and claim to deplore racism. Bush wrote, in an open letter on the Floyd killing, that “it remains a shocking failure that many African Americans, especially young African American men, are harassed and threatened in their own country.” This would be laughable if George W. Bush were not the grim reaper who hid beneath a shroud he described as “compassionate conservatism.” As the governor of Texas, he oversaw a rampant and racist death-penalty system, personally signing off on the execution of a hundred and fifty-two incarcerated people, a disproportionate number of them African-American. As President, Bush oversaw the stunningly incompetent government response to Hurricane Katrina, which contributed to the deaths of nearly two thousand people and displaced tens of thousands of African-American residents of New Orleans. That Bush is able to sanctimoniously enter into a discussion about American racism while ignoring his own role in its perpetuation and sustenance speaks to the superficiality of the conversation. Although many are becoming comfortable spurting out phrases like “systemic racism,” the solutions proposed remain mired in the system that is being critiqued. The result is that the roots of oppression and inequality that constitute what many activists refer to as “racial capitalism” are left in place.

Read entire article at The New Yorker

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