“Replacing Magical Thinking with Rational Discourse”:

a talk to the American Ethical Union’s national Sunday meeting on January 31, 2021.

(What is magical thinking? )

What is magical thinking? It is fanciful, associative, and

emotional thought. It is making mental connections by associations of images, elaborating dramatically engaging or emotionally satisfying stories. 

Its stories are often soothing, personally sustaining, even dramatically engaging. It is often psychologically encouraging, providing us with quite satisfying experiences. But it is thinking that Is neither empirically tested nor critical re-evaluated in the light of experienced consequences.

We all are tempted by such ways of thinking – and probably indulge in them quite often. We fantasize, we daydream, sometimes we even pray. And we certainly love dramatic stories, many of which are really quite imaginatively fantastic. We probably all want the world to be one that embodies our hopes, desires, and needs. To be a world in which we feel we belong, where we feel at home, and safe. In short, to feel that we are in a world that assuages our fears, and anxieties, uncertainties and powerlessness. How else are we to understand the pervasiveness of human beliefs in eternal beings, or in heavenly fathers who look out for our well being?

Of course, imaginative thinking can often take us out of our ordinary humdrum reality and our daily routines. It can not only contribute to flights of fancy, but even sometimes nourish our creativity, originality, and artistic innovation. 

But unless it is intelligently re- connected to the objectively existing social and natural world, it remains  nothing but a personal flight of fancy – magical thinking without constructive practical or social relevance. 

Even worse, however, it often invites identification, and even possibly infatuation, with its emotionally satisfying scenarios, thus presaging disaster when taken as an interpretation of reality and as a guide to action. For magical thinking is not empirically accountable, nor rationally coherent.

Rather, its associative imagery is fanciful, sometimes delusional, and thus not constrained by the need to take into account the real patterns of society and nature. As a guide to action, therefore, it almost inevitably leads us in inappropriate, self-defeating, and likely destructive directions. That’s why we need rational thought and critical thinking. 

So What then is rational thought?

It is thought that is internally coherent, and objectively attentive, and responsive, to the experienced consequences of events. The best way to understand the function of rational thought is to compare it to the using of tools. And thus to think of ideas as mental tools. 

(Ideas as mental tools.) 

Of course, We all know what a tool is? A material object a) made by someone; b) for a purpose; c)  with reference to a job to be done. 

If the tool is the right one for the job, it will facilitate our task.  

But If the tool is not well made, or is not appropriate or well designed for the job to be done, it will certainly make a mess of the work.

Now consider a map, which is a kind of tool to guide us around a terrain.  

To be useful, the map must be appropriate to the task: for example, a geological survey map would not be very helpful if we are trying to find what roads to take to get us to our destination. 

But the road map, or today the GPS, will only be helpful if it correctly maps the actually existing road patterns.  Otherwise it will be worse than useless. 

Similarly with thinking. 

All thinking involves some mapping of our world, and that means, some interpretation of how things fit together. We have to decide what part of the world we are concerned with, and what we want to do with it. To this end, we need ideas that accurately map that world, that is, that make sense of its structure, selecting the relevant causal interactions, and the likely practical consequences of different possible actions. 

That’s the very meaning of science. Empircal, experimental, self-correcting science, is clearly the most reliable way to map our world, and thus our best guide in successfully navigating our interaction with that world. 

If, on the other hand, in place of scientifically-based rational thinking, we were to rely on magical thought, and the associative emotional patterns that make us feel good, it would be just like using the wrong or poorly designed tools: we are almost certainly going to make a mess of whatever we undertake. 

Just briefly consider a couple of examples: 

[ Of criminals] 

If you think it is obvious that crime is simply caused by criminals – you will probably conclude that the best way to reduce crime is to focus your research on the criminals that create it. For example, what is it about these criminals that causes them to engage in crime? Have you noticed that every time there is a mass murder, we become so focused on understanding the nature and motives of the killer. Focusing on the criminal, we will look to their background, perhaps their genetic endowment, and we’ll probably increase law enforcement and even enhance legal penalties in order to repress crime and remove these criminals from society.  

But, of course, with such a criminal character based focus as your critical conceptual mapping, you are quite unlikely to even consider such possible social determinants of crime, as poverty, joblessness, community deterioration, inadequate education, lack of social supports, family disintegration, even economic exploitation, political oppression, or cultural dehumanization. Wrongly mapping the conceptual and causal terrain is like using the wrong tool to do a job – and with similar results. 

[Of Trump, race and deaths of despair]

Or consider the Trump phenomenon. If you neglect the significant role that race plays, you will certainly miss an important element. But, if you also think that race is the sole or central motive for most Trump supporters, you will completely fail to appreciate those “deaths of despair” that has devastated much of white middle America, so brilliantly diagnosed recently by Anne Case and Angus Deaton. 

Did you know, for example, that for the period since 2000, the average life expectancy for white Americans between 45 and 54 years of age has actually been declining — and that this is a pattern that is seen almost nowhere else on Earth, and that includes among people of all races or ethnicities?

It would thus be neither sensitive, nor respectful, to respond to the desperation of such people, as often too many well meaning people have done, to claim that they benefit from white privilege. Not only would that be personally insensitive, but it is almost certainly counter-productive, communicating one’s disdain for their suffering and driving them more firmly into the arms of those who do not insult them. 

(In Conclusion)

So let us take our humanistic values and our rational and scientific analyses seriously, but also self-critically, and with sufficient humility, always remaining on guard against the natural tendencies for self-reinforcing group thinking. We should recognize that our values and goals are never realities to be imposed upon the world as if they embody a perfected ideal, but rather we should treat them as continually révisable moral and theoretical guides in furthering our present undertakings. That is the path forward of a rationally responsible humanism. 

Sartre: Resistant or Collaborator?

A fabricated history of an anti-nazi resistance fighter has become the almost universally accepted truth about Jean-Paul Sartre’s activities under Nazi occupation during World War II. This history was primarily concocted by Simone de Beauvoir with Sartre’s support, in order to cover up the couple’s acquiescence and relative collaboration with the Nazi occupation of France. And it was only with the liberation of Paris, and with the assistance of Albert Camus, that the couple’s politics and public persona was completely transformed. To what extent the vitriol of Sartre’s later personal attack on Camus during their historic confrontation several years later was fueled by Sartre’s guilt and resentment directed at Camus, whose personal history was certainly not so morally compromised, is a legitimate matter for speculation.

These issues are addressed in my recently published controversial re-thinking of the historical relation of these key intellectual and cultural leaders in post-war European and American civilization. That article, “Sartre and Camus: a much misunderstood relation,” a brief excerpt of which is reproduced below, appeared in Brill’s Companion To Camus: Camus Among The Philosophers. For more information about, or to receive a complete copy of, the article, simply contact me at dsprintz@me.com. Questions, comments, and discussions of the continuing relevance of these issues are, of course, more than welcome.

The Excerpt.

“I think that it is also fair to say that the pre-wwii Sartre was essentially oblivious to political matters. He spent the academic year 1933–1934 studying philosophy in Berlin with no obvious reference to or effective realization of the significance of the rise to power of Adolph Hitler. We cannot know his actual thoughts at that time, because, quite remarkably, practically all of his correspondence from that period is missing. But Simone de Beauvoir does report on a trip that they took to Fascist Italy in 1936, for which they availed themselves, with no expressed misgivings, of a discounted train trip, which required them to visit a display of Fascist military equipment, and with no comment made on the political situation by either of them.

Then there was the war itself, for which de Beauvoir, with Sartre’s apparent approval, later concocted a series of fabrications of resistance activity that apparently did not exist. Contrary to their fabrications, Sartre did not escape from a German prison camp, but was freed by the Germans, probably upon the request of the notorious collaborator, Pierre Drieu la Rochelle. Furthermore, there is absolutely no evidence for the existence of the purported underground group, “Socialism and Liberty”, that Sartre was supposed to have created, nor for the purported French constitution that he was supposed to have written, even supposedly having sent a copy to Charles de Gaulle. In fact, what evidence there is suggests both his and de Beauvoir’s limited collaboration with the German occupation: Sartre writing a couple of articles for “Commoedia” and serving on an artistic jury for them in 1943, and de Beauvoir producing a series of brief programs for Radio Vichy as late as 1944. Thus the almost universally accepted version of a “Sartre of the Resistance” is a complete fabrication, apparently primarily concocted by de Beauvoir with Sartre’s approval.

 In addition, Sartre’s philosophical and dramatic writing up to that time shows no signs of any left-wing political consciousness. There is certainly none in Being and Nothingness. Sartreans often claim that Sartre’s mid-war plays, The Flies and No Exit, are expressions of his political commitment to human liberation, being hidden critiques of Nazi occupation and invitations to resistance. Of course, such interpretations fail to explain how the Nazi censors could have been so dense as to miss those meanings when they approved these plays for presentation under the Occupation. But I think that the reality is less confusing, because in fact both of these plays say nothing about political oppression and rebellion, but rather direct themselves only to the question of the human being’s ontological freedom. This is a position that perfectly represents the existential philosophy developed in Being and Nothingness.

 Actually, it is Camus who plays a major role in what we might understand as the beginning of Sartre’s political rehabilitation, specifically, in providing Sartre with resistance credibility by using his position as editor of Combat to assign Sartre the task of writing about the liberation of Paris, an article that in fact was probably written by de Beauvoir. It is only with the liberation of Paris and the consequent defeat of the Nazis that Sartre becomes politically engaged. While there is no adequate account of the nature of his conscious transformation, that transformation is announced with his call for the death penalty for collaborators, then with his creation of what becomes the premier journal of the French Left, Les Temps modernes, along with his subsequent articles on “Reflections on the Jewish Question”, and with his existential critique of Marxism in Materialism and Revolution. All this not only served to completely erase any knowledge of his ambiguous war-time activities, but also required him to begin theoretically to confront the profound tension that existed between the ontological celebration of unlimited human freedom that is existentialism and the historical materialism and apparent causal determinism that was central to Marxism, or at least to official Communist interpretations of it.

Thus begins a profound redirection that will thematically define much of the rest of Sartre’s life, playing a crucial role in the slow transformation of his relationship with Camus, and culminating with their definitive break following the publication by Camus of The Rebel in late 1951. Initiated by Francis Jeanson’s obviously polemical review of The Rebel in Les Temps modernes, the break was consummated by the responses of Camus, Sartre, and Jeanson a few months thereafter. While I will have more to say about that controversy shortly, what I want to note here is the divergent political paths that led from Camus’s and Sartre’s post-wwii personal, social, and political alignment—can I say “friendship”?—to their passionately ideological and political antagonism that endured until the end of Camus’s life in 1960.”

On the Sidelines: DSA’s Abstentionism on Biden vs. Trump

I think the following article critical of DSA’s position during the recent election deserves wider publicity – as it highlights a problem of a tendency toward destructive ideological purity in segments of the Left.

The heroes of this election victory are the thousands of grassroots political activists who busted their butts to defeat Trump by working for Biden, particularly in the key battleground states. Now we need to focus on Georgia and two Senate seats.

Not on the Sidelines: Bernie Sanders, AOC, and Illinois State Senator Robert Peters promoted a “Deep Canvass to Defeat Donald Trump” at a People’s Action forum last October. The results are in: Trump was defeated and Joe Biden will be sworn in as the 46th president on January 20, 2021.

This victory is the product of a broad, popular united front. Popular, because there was an alliance of cross-class forces that opposed Trump. United, in that these forces agreed on a shared objective – electing Biden and Harris – to remove him from office. In such a broad front, the reasons for uniting to throw out Trump were varied. Many were offended and outraged by his anti-democratic rhetoric and conduct. He repulsed millions with his overt racist, jingoist and sexist behavior, and his cultivation and encouragement of white supremacists.Activists in the labor movement saw his attacks as weakening our already feeble bargaining power and ability to fight for our members. Regulations protecting everything from air quality and wilderness areas to labor and occupational health standards were gutted.

The left clearly understood that four more years of Trump and his deepening authoritarianism would make it nearly impossible to realize progressive reforms like Medicare for All, a Green New Deal and the much needed labor law reforms proposed in the Protecting the Right to Organize (PRO) Act.The heroes of this election victory are the thousands of grassroots political activists who busted their butts to defeat Trump by working for Biden, particularly in the key battleground states. Thousands of our comrades in the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) and other socialists worked side-by-side with leaders and activists in black and brown organizations, women’s organizations, and labor unions like UNITE-HERE and SEIU.

Because of our collective participation in this struggle to elect Biden and Harris we have forged new or deeper ties with organizations and individuals open to discussion and struggle over the way forward in the future Biden administration.Few, if any, of the comrades we campaigned with had illusions about the reality of who Biden actually is or what he represents. They can recite chapter and verse his personal flaws and long history of complicity with the neo-liberal project. Nevertheless, there was a broad understanding that Trump had to go — and that our efforts would be key to an electoral victory.

BERNIE OR BUST.

But where was DSA — the largest socialist organization in the U.S. — during this Presidential election? While many members individually were leaders in the work to elect Biden — as an organization, we sat on the sidelines. This was the result of a “Bernie or Bust” position requiring DSA to abstain from supporting Biden pushed through by a narrow majority of delegates at DSA’s 2019 convention. That puts DSA in the embarrassing position of now advancing a program and promoting actions for the first 100 days of the Biden administration, while as an organization it played no formal role in achieving that opportunity. Are we to understand that it would have been an equally useful result to be heading into the first 100 days of a Trump administration? Of course not!

As long time trade unionists, we view this refusal to come off the sidelines as analogous to a faction within the union deciding that they don’t like the leaders of a strike or their politics. The faction doesn’t participate in picketing, or the strike kitchen, or the mass demonstrations. Then, these “do nothings” who essentially sat out the strike, come to the union hall insisting on a major role in determining the terms of the strike settlement.

A SOCIALIST’S PLACE IS IN THE STRUGGLE.

DSA’s formal abstention from the Biden campaign reflects a larger ideological issue that plagues the organization: a flawed understanding of the “special role of socialists.” The constant refrain from many members is, “We are socialists and we have a special role!” Yes, socialists do have a special role to play in leading popular movements by being the most active and dedicated fighters in the struggle. That dedication and commitment — not pontificating about the problems with the “misleaders/sheepherders” or the neo-liberal from Delaware — is what opens up the opportunity to win the “uninitiated” to our socialist ideas and class analysis.

If this simple concept needs political window dressing from the socialist liturgy, here is a quote from Karl Marx from 1875 in a letter to Wilhelm Bracke: “Every step of real movement is more important than a dozen programmes.”Bernie Sanders’s entrance onto the national election stage as a Democratic Socialist in the 2016 Democratic primaries was one of the principal causes of DSA’s rapid growth. Instead of choosing a third party route, Sanders wisely jumped into the admittedly murky swamp of Democratic Party politics. And by doing so, his socialist message and working class perspective blossomed and flourished in the mainstream in ways that were hitherto unimaginable.

Again in 2020, Sanders ran as a Democrat in a much more complicated candidate field. Bernie’s campaign forced the other candidates to contend with his programmatic initiatives addressing a rigged economy and our broken democracy. After the Democratic Party consolidated its support behind Biden and Bernie withdrew, he clearly understood what was at stake. Facing “the most dangerous president in US history,” he actively campaigned to get his base to support Biden and Harris.DSA’s experience in the 2020 election can be a teachable moment.

It’s time to acknowledge that “Bernie or Bust” was a major tactical and strategic error. Now, with critical reflection, it can lead to a more mature approach to our electoral politics. That maturation should begin with a disavowal of the position taken by many DSA chapters in local races that they can only support self-proclaimed socialist candidates. This too has again led to the isolation of socialists from the actual struggle over the needs and interests of our class. Many candidates stand with us on the issues. They stand for positions that will benefit the lot of working people and people of color. Their successful election would result in policies benefiting the lives of the working class. Again, this abstention is contradictory to the needs and interests of the people we purport to fight for. It just isolates us from the potential to make gains, win reforms and win respect for our analysis and ideas.

Let’s learn from 2020. Now it’s time to fight for two Senate seats in Georgia to create the most favorable playing field on which to challenge — and push — the neo-liberal President-elect Joe Biden.…

Authors:

Peter Olney is on the Steering Committee of DSA’s Labor Commission and a lifelong union organizer. In 2020, he volunteered with Seed the Vote (STV) to work on the Biden campaign in Maricopa County Arizona.

Rand Wilson, also a lifelong union organizer, has been a member of DSA since 1986. After Sanders declared for the Democratic nomination in 2015, Wilson registered as a Democrat for the first time. He was elected a delegate to the 2016 DNC convention and was a member of the DNC Credentials Committee for the 2020 convention.[Peter Olney is retired Organizing Director of the ILWU. He has been a labor organizer for 40 years in Massachusetts and California. He has worked for multiple unions before landing at the ILWU in 1997. For three years he was the Associate Director of the Institute for Labor and Employment at the University of California. View all posts by Peter Olney →Rand Wilson has worked as a union organizer and labor communicator for nearly forty years and is currently an organizer and Chief of Staff for SEIU Local 888 in Boston. Wilson was the founding director of Massachusetts Jobs with Justice. Active in electoral politics, he ran for state auditor in a campaign to win cross-endorsement (or fusion) voting reform and establish a Massachusetts Working Families Party. In 2016 he helped to co-found Labor for Bernie and was elected as a Sanders delegate to the Democratic National Convention. Wilson is board chair for the ICA Group and the Local Enterprise Assistance Fund; and a director of the Center for the Study of Public Policy. He also serves as a trustee for the Somerville Job Creation and Retention Trust.

“Reflections on Race in the United States”

  1. From practically the inception of the European settlement of North America the emerging societies have been marked by racial oppression, first of the indigenous population, and then of the imported and enslaved Africans. For almost the entire history of the United States, this state of affairs was taken as normal, and quite acceptable. Only slowly, over time, did white voices begin to be raised, first against the institution of slavery, and then more basically against the treatment as second class citizens of both of these oppressed races. But never has there been official public acknowledgement of these pervasive crimes, and the appropriate assumption of collective national responsibility for them. It is certainly long past time for such action, and the reparations appropriate thereto. 
  2. The challenge before us as a nation is, therefore, profound and historic. It is to build a public consciousness and consequent effective majoritarian movement for social and racial justice that will finally remedy these deep-seated and pervasive injustices.    
  3. But if we are to successfully address these challenges, we need to build the widespread social support that any such profound movement of public opinion and official policy directed toward such collective national healing requires. I have been troubled by the tendency of many progressive groups to speak in simplistic and ideological terms, while creating a climate of group think in which sensitive and thoughtful discussion of values, policies, and programs are effectively suppressed. But it is vital that we think and speak with the sensitivity, care, and appropriate nuance about issues as emotionally charged as those of race, of its intimate connection to our personal and social identity as “Americans”, and of the place of each of us within the unfolding drama that is the history of the United States. It is in that spirit of mutual respect, cultural sensitivity, commitment to human dignity, appreciation of historical context and the complexities of social and institutional development, and our determined and abiding commitment to advancing that inclusive vision of social justice, that I offer the following remarks. 
  4. It should be obvious that the US was founded for the most part by Europeans, primarily English, and then Scots-Irish, who effectively invaded North America – they didn’t “discover” it since it wasn’t lost, however new it was to them. They then proceeded to practically exterminate the indigenous population, and build a good part of their society on the enslaved labor of Blacks purchased from Africa. As they expanded across the continent, economic growth required a rapidly expanding population which widened the pool of primarily European Immigration, first from Great Britain and Northern Europe, then southern, and Eastern Europe. In addition, from the mid-19th Century on the US incorporated a significant number of Mexicans in the process of appropriating large areas of the now United States Southwest and Far West. Only in the later part of the 19th and early 20th centuries did the European transplanted civilization of the United States expand further to include significant numbers of people from Asia. 
  5. Nothing that I have so far said is particularly controversial. It is thus quite clear that the United States (and to a large extent Canada, also), was founded, controlled, and developed primarily by Europeans. Thus it was a civilization essentially created by white people, who, in the process, imported and enslaved Africans and drove the native population into ghettos, euphemistically called reservations. It is thus understandable and completely non-surprising that, as the book White Fragility correctly asserts, the United States established “a society in which all key political, economic, social, and cultural institutions are overwhelmingly controlled by white people.” Throughout human history, the politically primary, culturally dominate, and majority population have always determined the structure of normality in the societies they controlled. Thus, there was nothing exceptional about this state of affairs, in which “white control of society became … ‘normal’ or ‘standard’” in the United States.  
  6. What was probably exceptional, however, and certainly completely indefensible, was precisely the nature and extent to which the developing American society was built upon the systematic destruction of the culture of the indigenous population and the enslavement, systematic degradation and pervasive exploitation of its Black population. 
  7. As Peter Nabokov comments, reviewing Jeffrey Ostler’s carefully researched study, Surviving Genocide, “For the new republic and its pioneering settlers to thrive, the aboriginal citizens had to be displaced, removed, extirpated, eliminated, exterminated….(thus) during the formative years of our republic and beyond, there was a mounting, merciless, uncoordinated but aggressively consistent crusade to eliminate the native residents of the United States from their homelands by any means necessary ….” (NYR, LXVII, #11, p. 52, “The Intent Was Genocide”, Peter Nabokov). 
  8. A couple of illuminating examples of this attitude are provided by the notorious comments of two celebrated Northern Civil War Generals. Philip Sheridan’s statement that, “The only good Indians I know are dead,” was far from an unusual expression of prevailing sentiment. And similarly with General William Tecumseh Sherman’s directive that “his troops must confront the enemy Sioux ‘even to their extermination, men, women, and children.’” In short, the European invasion, conquest, and settlement of the North American continent involved the more or less explicit destruction of the civilization, and most of the people, that were native to the land. 
  9. Further, white political domination produced, once again in the words of White Fragility, “centuries of history during which people of color (especially black people) were systematically enslaved, expropriated, disenfranchised, segregated, and marginalized.” While the nature of that degradation in the pre-Civil War period could vary from the gang labor plantations of South Carolina to the possibilities of domestic servitude in some northern communities, it became increasingly clear that legally, in the words of the infamous Dred Scott Decision of 1857, the Negro “had no rights which the white man was bound to respect.” Blacks were to be treated as legal non-persons, chattel property, whose owners could do with them as they wished. And, of course, that is precisely what they all too often did. 
  10. Then, after the Civil War, in spite of the legal abolition of slavery, and the constitutional guarantee of full voting citizenship for Blacks, racist attitudes continued to prevail, North and South, finding increasingly innovative and violent ways to institutionalize that racism, with Blacks treated, at best, as second-class citizens, when not further subjugated, exploited, oppressed, and even lynched. 
  11. No adequate discussion of the history of the United States can fail to address these profound injustices. And no comprehensive current political programs should be developed that do not seriously attempt to address their on-going consequences. 
  12. This sad history, nevertheless, should be seen as the United States’ unique development of slavery’s long history in the West. Even more, slavery is practically universal throughout all human history. It was certainly pervasive and accepted as normal in Africa long before the Europeans arrived. However, even though it is clearly approved of in both the Judeo-Christian Bible and the Islamic Koran, its racialization in early modern Europe is, to my mind, without historical precedent. With the possible exception of earlier suggestions in the development of Christian anti-Semitism, this racialization involved the claim that Africans were, somehow by nature, not only inherently inferior to whites, but not really fully human. Often, they were even identified with monkeys or orangutans, while the indigenous population of North America came to be viewed as nothing more than savages. Once you designate a group as less than, or even, non-human, it is not surprising that they can be considered as having no rights that humans need respect. Then you can feel free to treat them however you will. 
  13. American racism emerged out of this historic development in early modern Christian Europe, that had its initial roots in large part in the Spanish Inquisition’s concern to insure the purity of blood of true Christians. Racial slavery and the Atlantic slave trade followed in its wake, growing with European overseas expansion, and fueling early European capitalist development, particularly with the wealth generated by the fantastically profitable sugar plantations, initially in the Caribbean, but then migrating to include rice, tobacco, and cotton plantations in North America.   
  14. Here is not the place for an extensive discussion of the history of slavery and racial oppression. Rather, my concern is to understand the scope of the United States’ continuing struggle with racism, and its institutional operation, and to place it in its appropriate cultural context so that we may more adequately address its continuing significance. It is vitally important in discussions of race that we avoid falling into the trap of thinking that one race is inherently good, and another race is inherently bad. We must avoid viewing the world like the ancient Manichaeans, for whom the world was divided between the Forces of Light and the Forces of Darkness. A racialized Manichaeism of the good race and the bad race, endowing one race with intrinsic goodness or innocence, and another with intrinsic badness or evil, is just a reversed modern version of deplorable racist thinking. Such an either/or perspective is neither adequate nor constructive, but rather quite socially harmful, and in the long run politically self-defeating.
  15. Perhaps nothing makes this clearer than considering some key facts concerning the early history of the Atlantic slave trade itself. As historians have now well documented, “European[s] and [the] white Americans who succeeded them did not capture and enslave people themselves. Instead they purchased slaves from African traders . . . . 
  16. Sometimes African armies enslaved the inhabitants of conquered towns and villages. At other times, raiding parties captured isolated families or kidnapped individuals. As warfare spread to the interior, captives had to march for hundreds of miles to the coast where European traders awaited them. The raiders tied the captives together with rope or secured them with wooden yokes around their necks. It was a shocking experience, and many captives died from hunger, exhaustion, and exposure during the journey. Others killed themselves rather than submit to their fate, and the captors killed those who resisted….” (Hine, Hine, & Harold, The African-American Odyssey, 2ed., vol. 1, Prentice Hall, 2005, pp.27, 30)
  17. African rulers “restricted the Europeans to a few points on the coast, while the kingdoms raided the interior to supply the Europeans with slaves . . . . Tribe stalked tribe, and eventually more than 20 million Africans would be kidnapped in their own homeland….” (Drescher and Engerman, Historical Guide to World Slavery, pp. 370-375) 
  18. Historians estimate that ten million of these abducted Africans “‘never even made it to the slave ships. Most died on the march to the sea’—still chained, yoked, and shackled by their African captors—before they ever laid eyes on a white slave trader.” (Johnson, et al., Africans in America, pp. 69-70)   “The survivors were either purchased by European slave dealers or ‘instantly beheaded’ by the African traders ‘in sight of the [slave ship’s] captain’ if they could not be sold.” (Drescher and Engerman, p. 34)
  19. In sum, “the idea of European responsibility for disrupting an Eden-like continent” rests on promoting “the false impressions that Europeans had themselves gone ashore to kidnap Africa’s people . . . . Africans had themselves captured and sold nearly all the people that Europeans had bought as slaves along the coast.” (Finkelman and Miller, Ed’s., MacMillan Encyclopedia of World Slavery, vol. 1, 1998, p. 34) Thus virtually all Africans brought forcibly to the Western Hemisphere in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries had been enslaved long before they left Africa. 
  20. Let me reiterate, however, so that there is absolutely no misunderstanding. I do not report these facts in order to justify the role of Europeans involved in the slave trade. Nothing can justify their actions, which are outrageous, and completely morally indefensible. I only wish to underline the complicity of many communities, and particularly in this context, of the contribution of African tribes in order to make quite clear how indefensible and unjustifiable is the use of racialized categories and simple “black and white” Manichaean thinking for understanding and addressing the issues of race in America. 
  21. In sum, as expert historical analysis makes quite clear, the history of the slave trade proves that everyone participated and everyone profited—whites and blacks; Christians, Muslims, and Jews; Europeans, Africans, Americans, and Latin Americans. Once we recognize the shared responsibility for sustaining and profiting from the Atlantic slave trade, we can turn our attention to what we must do together today to eradicate its corrosive legacy.
  22. While it is obviously true, therefore, that it was a white European society that essentially built its American empire in significant part through the enslavement of black Africans, there is nothing in European whiteness that by nature predisposes them to oppress and subjugate, any more than there is anything that by nature predisposes black Africans to be enslaved. Clearly, there were numerous theoretical and pseudoscientific efforts developed, particularly in the West in the 19th Century, to provide a moral justification of such enslavement. Modern scientific research has, however, quite convincingly, and I believe definitively, refuted all aspects of such racialized “science.” The human race is one race, tracing its evolutionary origin to the east Africa of some two million years ago. And there are no biologically fundamental differences among humans across the globe today.
  23. Nevertheless, in so far as racist attitudes continue to have a grasp on the minds and sentiments of far too many people, there remains a large receptive audience for such racialized propaganda. We have even seen it appear in the US in recent years in pseudoscientific studies of IQ and academic performance, to be used to justify racist policies. 
  24. Perhaps not surprisingly, but unfortunately, there have also been counter-movements, even spurred by humanitarian sentiments, that have tended to demonize all white people as racists and oppressors, while often romanticizing oppressed blacks and native Americans. Some quite recent examples of such Manichaean “reverse racism” can be seen in such popular books as White Fragility, How To Be An Anti-Racist, and Journeys of Race, Color, & Culture. Consider a brief example – which could be in essence replicated in the others – from the latter book, which speaks of “the sin of Whiteness,” claiming that all “White People” are inescapably racist; that all have a common nature and a common way of thinking, while people of color similarly have a singular opposed narrative. But whiteness and blackness are not essential characteristics that define the natures of two distinct races, as if they were distinct species. It is neither correct nor constructive to promote such black and white racialization, however well-meaning may be the intent. 
  25. Further, if we are to successfully address and redress this sad history of oppression, we need to maintain an historical perspective, one that does not simply demonize Western civilization, but also appreciates its accomplishments, particularly its continually expanding efforts on behalf of human rights and social justice. For example, it remains true, in spite of, and to some extent even because of, the indefensible exploitation of oppressed minorities, (even including at different times and places, Hispanics, Asians, and diverse Europeans) which I have described, that American society has been able to produce one of the wealthiest, most powerful societies, with one of the highest standards of living the world has ever seen. And that is true for practically all of its citizens, however unequally those benefits have been distributed. Using only one measure of that success, average life expectancy has essentially doubled since the founding of the United States. Currently that life expectancy, even for its generally and often systematically disadvantaged African-Americans, is significantly greater than that for the vast majority of people in today’s “Third World,” including sub-Saharan Africans. And I have said nothing of the effective institutions of representative government and official commitment to human rights, however flawed both of those are in their actual execution. I have further said nothing about the advances contributed by Eurasian civilization to: the scientific revolution, technological advances made possible by the quantum revolution in the natural sciences, as in communication and transportation, advances in industrial and food production, modern medicine, public health, and in the creative arts.
  26. In short, Eurasian civilization, and particularly its “American” offshoot, has contributed unprecedented and truly astounding advances in the quality of life of the human species. And yes, this has been primarily the work of “privileged white people.” Unfortunately, however, this development has a tortured legacy, as I have clearly said and continually underscored, involving completely indefensible subjugation and exploitation, most particularly of many non-European peoples, and non more heinous than the indefensible enslavement and oppression of the ancestors of our current African-American citizens. The consequences of that legacy are, of course, still with us, in both personal and institutional forms. Those unacceptable consequences are the legitimate target of today’s mass protests, on behalf of Black lives, the rights of indigenous peoples, on behalf of gender diversity, and in numerous, diverse, and contested efforts to insure the effective implementation of equal and fair treatment for all people, regardless of race, religion, ethnicity, or gender identification. 
  27. But it is important to note, however, that these struggles are undertaken in the effort to realize ideals and values which are themselves, for the most part, the product of that very same Eurasian civilization that gave birth to this United States in the first place. Those ideals were the product of centuries of political, social, economic, religious, and philosophical struggles. Struggles pursued by people of many nationalities, ethnicities, races, and religions, but who for the vast majority were also white people. However painful be our civilization’s legacy of indefensible historical oppression, its legacy of internal struggles against all forms of human enslavement, and for these higher ideals of human rights and equal justice before the law is truly unprecedented in the human history of all peoples. In what other civilization do you have such material advances in the quality of human life joined with such sustained and increasingly effective campaigns on behalf of the human rights and dignity of people of all races, religions, and ethnicities? 
  28. One of the greatest of all Americans, and a particular hero of mine, was Frederick Douglass. I will not repeat his astounding career, a self-educated escaped slave who became a brilliant advocate for American blacks. I know of no more brilliant and chilling indictment of American racism than Douglass’ 1852 address “What to the Slave is the Fourth of July?” And yet, through all his years of struggle, he never lost his faith in that promise of America, of its ideals, of what he called in an 1883 address “making the nation’s life consistent with the nation’s creed.” And he maintained his faith and trust in, and commitment to, the numerous forces and people in the US working with him for social justice to the end of his life. 
  29. We, residents of the US who were born in the late 20th or early 21st Centuries, are the inheritors of that complex and scarred tradition. We are responsible neither for its successes nor its failures, no more than are we responsible for who our parents were, nor for their economic and social position, nor for our genetic endowment, including the color of our skin. But as we mature, we do become increasingly responsible for what we do with the particular historical condition into which we find ourselves to have been “thrown,” to use the suggestive Existentialist expression. 
  30. Being so born, we are all among the truly privileged, in comparison with most all people that have ever lived, as well as with the vast majority of those alive today. And that is basically true for the vast majority of people living in the United States today, regardless of race, religion, ethnicity, or system of belief. But, of course, those privileges are not shared equally – far from it!! And that leaves much for all of us to do: to address and correct those continuing injustices, and to make real and significant progress toward the equitable realization of those ennobling American ideals. 
  31. But let me take a moment to talk about this notion of privilege, and particularly the increasingly popular discussions of “white privilege,” and the related notions of “white fragility” and “white supremacy.” Privilege means unearned benefit. Is there only one kind of unearned benefit in the world? Or many? For example, I feel blessed that I do not suffer from any debilitating inherited disease, from which many others unfortunately do suffer. There is nothing I did to earn that benefit, that privilege? What about you? Are you similarly privileged? Or are you one of the unfortunate in this matter? And if you are healthy, and black, are we entitled to say you are similarly privileged?
  32. But, of course, one can benefit from many privileges, and also many disadvantages at the same time. For example, I had the misfortune to have a father who died when I was six years old, a mother who was certified paranoid-schizophrenic, and ultimately institutionalized. I had no significant supportive extended family, and, around the age of ten, experienced being evicted from the house, and displaced from the community, in which I had grown up. In these matters, I was clearly disadvantaged, to say the least. But certainly, there are many, even in the US, who have had it far worse. And certainly many, of all races, who were more fortunate. I do not mention these events to bemoan my fate, but only to point out that privileges and disadvantages come in many forms, and are not simply aligned in accord with the color of one’s skin, however significant that certainly is in many contexts. 
  33. For example, is an unskilled white worker born and raised in an economically devastated former coal mining town in West Virginia, living amid the ruins of abandoned hills of coal slag, suffering the “deaths of despair” ravaging his community, privileged in comparison with an educated middle class black professional living in New York City? Does it make sense and is it humanely sensitive and personally respectful to claim that he benefits from “white privilege”? Of course, in most circumstances, all things being equal, even less qualified whites are likely to be treated better than more qualified blacks. That has certainly been true, even to this day, for example, in purchasing a house, in encountering the police, in dealing with the criminal justice system, in applying for a job – except perhaps in those few situations in which affirmative action requirements are at work. And all such examples of systemic racism must be brought to light and effectively remedied. But such wide spread and indefensible injustices do not exhaust, or simply define, American society. There are important counter movements, multi-racial and multi-ethnic, committed to rectify these injustices, and many social situations and groups in which all people are treated with respect and dignity.  
  34. Let me offer a simple – and possibly trivial – thought experiment on privilege in America, if only to suggest the diversity of its manifestations. Who is more privileged, a black Christian or a white Atheist? Of course, it may depend where in America you live, and who your neighbors are. But, can you imagine the Supreme Court upholding the right of Atheists to deny service to a religious Christian? Or, can you imagine America electing a white atheist as President? Or even a black Christian? But wait a minute, didn’t they just do that? What should we make of that? Who even thought a few years ago that that might be possible?
  35. As for the more recent views of White Fragility, they are still more dubious, making completely unsubstantiated claims about what all “white people believe.” The author claims “White people, … derive enormous material and psychological advantages from this racist organization of society—whether they believe they do or not.” I’ll leave you to apply this claim to the unemployed ex-coal miner possibly suffering from black lung disease, that I have described above. But the author further claims that “White beliefs in objectivity are closely related to the myth of individualism. Because white people believe that they are unique individuals unshaped by history or society, they also come to believe that their views of the world are entirely objective.” That claim is not only an example of that simplistic racialized thinking of which I have spoken, but actually reveals remarkable ignorance of some of the most obvious facts of American intellectual history. To quite briefly explain: 1) By all accounts, the premier philosophical movement in America is Pragmatism, and the foremost exponents of that movement, particularly C.S.Peirce, John Dewey and G.H.Mead, directed the brunt of their critical analyses against that very doctrine of Individualism. More to the current point, in a book I published more than a decade ago, I devoted an entire chapter to a critique of Individualism. No, all white people are not devotees to Individualism. 2) Concerning her claim that “objectivity” is the ideology of white “individualists,” we can observe that numerous complex and subtle inquiries have been undertaken over the last several hundred years to understand the possibilities and limitations of the intellectual ideal or goal of scientific objectivity. Increasingly, more and more thinkers (regardless of race) have come to understand the perspectival limitations built into every inquiry, while valuing objectivity as an ideal to pursue in the service of truth. Does the author of White Fragility, when she claims that objectivity is simply a white man’s ideal, not mean us to understand that what she is saying is objectively true because it describes the real situation of white people, or should we see it as simply her partisan perspective and personal racial stigmatization? Thus, 3) To claim that she knows what all “White People” believe, and that they have to believe what she says they do because they are “White People,” is to attribute to each and every “White Person” a fixed nature and a label, regardless of what they say or do. How does that differ in principle from what the Nazis said about Jewish nature, or what Racists or Eugenicists said about Black nature? No, it is pure and simple racism, even if coming from the ‘other side” of the political debate, and meant to be sympathetic to the condition of oppressed minorities. And no less faulty, and socially reprehensible for that. 
  36. The incoherence of the Manichaean reasoning of White Fragility was nicely pointed out by Carlos Lozada, the Washington Post’s nonfiction book critic, who noted that with Robin DiAngelo’s circular reasoning “any alternative perspective or counterargument is defeated by the concept itself. Either white people admit their inherent and unending racism and vow to work on their white fragility, in which case DiAngelo was correct in her assessment, or they resist such categorizations or question the interpretation of a particular incident, in which case they are only proving her point.”
  37. Then there’s the issue of “white supremacy.” Clearly there are racists who actively subscribe to that belief. And many who have joined in organized movements to promote their beliefs, and, if possible, to impose them on American society. But there are also many Americans, hopefully, including a significant majority of white people, who do not share those beliefs. Many of them are even deeply and personally offended by such beliefs, and have actively organized and mobilized in opposition to all forms of white supremacy. In fact, I personally know many individuals and organizations that are continuing to devote much time, effort, and emotion to this struggle. So it is both incorrect, even offensive, and certainly not politically effective, to claim that “white supremacy” defines American society. Further, it is wrong and self-destructive to say that white supremacy is in “the DNA” of America. DNA refers to the inherited nature of a person, or people. It would be racist to claim that that is the essential nature of all white Americans. But I think it is clear from what I have said, that such a description of an essential “white” human nature is false, and further, that we can, and many have been struggling for many years effectively to, change the prevailing patterns of race relations in America. The problem is not in our supposed DNA – where science has well established the essential biological unity of the human species – rather, the problem, and the possibilities for constructive change, are in our confrontation with our historic practice in the light of our historic ideals.  
  38. Turning, finally, to more practical political concerns. We have heard quite recently many claim that the 99% of Americans have been victimized by the 1%, that “Main Street” is being taken advantage of by “Wall Street.” That suggests a stark class divide in the US, in which a small quite wealthy few individuals and corporations have been “calling the shots” at the expense of the vast majority. That majority is quite diverse, racially, ethnically, religiously, even regionally and culturally. Clearly some are more privileged than others in many different ways. Yet all are seriously disadvantaged compared to the 1%, not to speak of the 1/10th of 1%. If the 99% are to effectively correct this situation, it will require the effective unification and mobilization of a significant majority of the 99%, not their racial division.
  39. There is no question that as a nation we have serious and often systematic injustices that have lasted far too long, and it is well past time for sustained efforts to rectify them. They must be recognized, publicly acknowledged, and wide public support generated on behalf of movements for systemic change. But we must, at the same time, not unnecessarily alienate and offend the broad public whose support is vital if our efforts are to succeed. We should appreciate and treasure those hard fought historic accomplishments and noble ideals that have made possible the profound enhancements of human living that have also been the result of European, and particularly of American, civilization. If we are to build that movement for deep and sustained progressive social change, we need to avoid all forms of racist, Manichaean, black and white thinking, and the denigration of people of any race, so many of whom can be, if they are not already, actually committed to working on behalf of the equitable enhancement of human living for everyone.   

Democratic Presuppositions

Democratic Presuppositions

A two-party democratic political system is not sustainable if one of the parties is not fundamentally committed to abide by the democratic process. That means that for the most part they accept the rules of the game, they essentially accept the norms of political contestation, and abide by the results of elections, including the peaceful and legal transfer of power. 

It has become increasingly clear over the last 30 years – essentially since the ascension to power of Newt Gingrich and Tom Delay in the early 90s – that the Republican Party has been moving away from being a legitimate participant in a democratic system of representative government. This process has clearly been exacerbated during the four years of the Trump Administration. Now, with the most recent actions of the Trump campaign, after bringing one outrageous law suit after another seeking to delegitimize the recent election, reaching the heights of calling upon the Supreme Court to authorize a bloodless coup d’état; and with 17 elected Republican state Attorneys General and some 125+ elected Republican members of Congress signing on, there can be no further doubt at the authoritarian and completely non-democratic character of the current (Trumpian) Republican Party. 

While this latest assault on our democratic institutions is clearly seditious, in the words of the Pennsylvania AG’s submission to the Supreme Court, it can no longer be acceptable for any public spokespeople to continue to act as if we still have a normal, functioning representative democracy, and to continue treating the Republican Party as a legitimate participant in the democratic process. For public people and media spokespeople to continue to so act as if representative normality continues to reign across this country, is to be morally irresponsible and to lack journalistic integrity. It is, in effect, to become, at best, an unwitting co-conspirator in the systematic subversion of US democracy.

From these facts emerges the profound and clearly existential challenge facing this country. Can we re-fashion our institutions and cultures so as to preserve the essentials of a representative democratic system? And what may be a path toward that outcome?

I pose this question in the most direct and starkest terms because I honestly believe this is the reality we are facing. And because I think that only by expressly appreciating our threatening current national political and cultural reality do we have the possibility of constructively addressing it. But I do not have any clear answers to the challenge I have posed. Only a series of quite diverse and uncertain possibilities. It is in that state of anxiety and uncertainty, that I detail this challenge, in the hope that I might help stimulate a series of creative and constructive responses that offer us a more fruitful path out of this yawning authoritarian abyss.             

On The Roots ofTrumpism

There has been much concern and speculation about the roots of Trump’s support, certainly an issue of deep and I suspect lasting cultural significance. Let me contribute to these reflections, by offering a few historically focused observations.

The right-wing corporate offensive in the US began in earnest in the early seventies, with a coordinated institutional buildup around a growing Neo-Liberal campaign, featuring globalization, deregulation, relatively unconstrained free market liberalization, systematic tax cuts on corporations and the wealthy, and attacks on the social wage, social safety net, etc. All well detailed in Hacker and Pearson’s incisive “Winner Take All Politics.”

This built on the Southern evangelical base – itself the historical legacy of Southern slave culture – that was mobilized after the 1954 Supreme Court decision, and ultimately funded and guided by the Koch brothers (see Nancy McLean’s brilliant “Democracy in Chains.” The Democratic Establishment essentially capitulated to this Neo-Liberal attack on the “welfare state”, first with Carter, against his initial program, and then more systematically with Clinton and Obama, both essentially trying to go so far as to undercut Social Security. (See Thomas Frank’s “Listen Liberal.”)

Among other things, one of the major consequences of this Neo-Liberal policy, identified with and benefitting primarily the urban educated elites of the coast, has been the deindustrialization of much else, particularly small town and rural America, the so-called “heartland”, etc., resulting in the reality so painfully detailed by Deaton and Case in “Deaths of Despair,” the vast increases in drug overdoses, alcoholism, and suicide in small town essentially white America over the last 40+ years.

And then all they seem to hear from progressives is concern for black and brown people, for immigrants, claims that they are the beneficiaries of “white privilege,” and demands for “political correctness.” None of which sounds at all sensitive to their suffering. These observations obviously do not provide a complete explanation. But they are, I believe, essential components of the neo-fascist counter movement to the perceived establishment main stream, by which they feel betrayed, sold our, and deeply resentful. It has produced Trump, sustains Trump and, I fear, Trumpism, and does not bode well for our democratic future.           

On Trumpian Strategy

On Trumpian Strategy

Have you perhaps wondered what’s going on in Georgia? What’s up with Trump and his supporters not only continuing to pursue their claim that the election there was fraudulent, but even going so far as to call for his supporters not to vote for the two Republican Senatorial candidates unless they join in with his attack on the election’s credibility? Does he not risk undermining their campaign by driving many Republican voters away from the polls? Would not such behavior be self-destructive? Let me suggest why not, and why Trump may not only not care if the Republicans are re-elected, he may actually prefer that they lose.

The usual interpretation is that Trump would not want to act so as to weaken the Republican Party. But I think another game may be at work here. I think Trump is playing the traditional game of the mob boss. He is seeking to insure that he controls the Party. And that anyone that crosses him will pay the supreme political cost: defeat, even ridicule, and perhaps even threats to their person and family. Sort of a political version of Don Corleone. 

It doesn’t matter how supportive, even obsequious, one has been. Any failing at complete subservience will be met with devastating consequences – and you will pay the ultimate political price. A power he can effectively exercise precisely due to his cult-like following of so many Republican voters. Remember Jeff Sessions. 

And if the two Republican Senators fail to publicly attest to the fraudulent nature of the past election – no matter how absurd the claim – they will serve as perfect sacrificial examples of what happens to you if you cross the Boss. 

In fact, the very absurdity of Trump’ electoral challenges is key to the strategy. It’s just like the gang leader making a new recruit engage in an outrageous and personally compromising act as an initiation process by which the recruit testifies to his or her complete loyalty and subservience to the Boss. Thus intimidation is key to the emerging Trump’s MO to control the Republican Party. 

We should not downplay the significance of his continuing absurd challenges to the recent election. Nor to the intimidation strategy by which he is seeking to insure his complete control of the Republican Party. And thus to the fundamental threat posed to the possibility of the continuation of our democratic institutions and processes when one of our two major parties – and one considered legitimate by all official sources – is controlled by a gangster mobster, with a mass mobilized following of more than 70,000,000 voters.        

Promoting a Progressive Strategy in the Presidential Campaign

Promoting a Progressive Strategy in the Presidential Campaign

With his incompetent response to the virus and its disastrous economic consequences finally undermining important segments of his previously impregnable political base, Trump is becoming increasingly desperate facing what seems to be a looming electoral disaster. Further, he has shown absolutely no appreciation for, or sympathy with, the growing protests against racial oppression that has so powerfully emerged in the aftermath of the video showing the police murder of George Floyd.

Rather, his response has increasingly been to focus his election strategy on seeking to mobilize fear of growing social lawlessness purportedly driven by radical leftists. His particular target has become suburban whites, who are to be made fearful of increasingly violent protests, purportedly led by inner city black and brown people.

These protests are themselves the long overdue efforts, initiated by the Black Lives Matter movement, to mobilize America to finally come to terms with its history of racial oppression. They have been particularly remarkable by their cultural and geographical reach, their multi—racial constitution, and their remarkably non-violent character.

Trump has, of course, no sympathy for efforts to address racial injustice, to counter its institutional forms, and to address its human consequences. Rather he sees these protests as offering him an opportunity to re-focus his floundering campaign, by stoking any and all forms of latent white racial resentments. To do this he needs to create a violent reality that can be used as public propaganda in support of the fear mongering political narrative that is to drive his campaign.

To do this he is sending official militarized personnel into Democratically-run urban centers, under the claim of protecting federal property and preserving law and order. These Trumpian troopers then provoke the protesters (perhaps even seeding these protests with a handful of right-wing provocateurs). The aim is to create the violent conditions that play into his political narrative, in order to retrospectively justify the claim that Democratically-led urban centers are out of control, having been taken over by dangerous and violent radical mobs.

This being Trump’s key electoral strategy, it is vital that protestors themselves, mostly youth-led and multi-racial, not play into this Trumpian Trap. This is a truly remarkable moment in American history, with great possibilities for beginning to seriously address a profound historical injustice. For the first time there are real signs of a truly national awakening to the nature, extent, and ongoing consequences of America’s racial history. And there is remarkable wide-spread popular support for this national movement.

Such popular support further undermines Trump’s policies, programs, and narrow political base. It thus constitutes a significant additional impediment to his re-election. If he is to regain the political momentum, he needs to undermine this popular support, while mobilizing white resentment, and turning public attention away from the disasters of his economy and his response to the virus. For it is clearly far too late for him to constructively address the virus before the election. And without a real solution to the virus, there is little hope for any real economic improvement. Hence, mobilizing racism may well be his only electoral hope.

It is thus vital that the “movement for Black lives,” and the on-going and necessary nation-wide protests not fall into the Trumpian Trap by engaging in, approving of, or failing to inhibit violent confrontations with Trump’s occupying forces. It should be clear by now that Trump is only sending these troops into Democratically-run urban centers in order precisely to instigate the violent unrest that his campaign so desperately needs to seem to be quelling in order to regain the political momentum. Protesters must not lend any credence to this Trumpian narrative. Rather, strict adherence to, and active and public promotion of, non-violent confrontation must be the order of the day.

Op-Ed: U.S. leaders knew we didn’t have to drop atomic bombs on Japan to win the war. We did it anyway

Op-Ed: U.S. leaders knew we didn’t have to drop atomic bombs on Japan to win the war. We did it anyway
By GAR ALPEROVITZ AND MARTIN J. SHERWIN
(published by LA Times, on August 5, 2020. I thought it with being reproduced.)

At a time when Americans are reassessing so many painful aspects of our nation’s past, it is an opportune moment to have an honest national conversation about our use of nuclear weapons on Japanese cities in August 1945. The fateful decision to inaugurate the nuclear age fundamentally changed the course of modern history, and it continues to threaten our survival. As the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists’ Doomsday Clock warns us, the world is now closer to nuclear annihilation than at any time since 1947.

The accepted wisdom in the United States for the last 75 years has been that dropping the bombs on Hiroshima on Aug. 6, 1945, and on Nagasaki three days later was the only way to end the World War II without an invasion that would have cost hundreds of thousands of American and perhaps millions of Japanese lives. Not only did the bombs end the war, the logic goes, they did so in the most humane way possible.

However, the overwhelming historical evidence from American and Japanese archives indicates that Japan would have surrendered that August, even if atomic bombs had not been used — and documents prove that President Truman and his closest advisors knew it.

The allied demand for unconditional surrender led the Japanese to fear that the emperor, who many considered a deity, would be tried as a war criminal and executed. A study by Gen. Douglas MacArthur’s Southwest Pacific Command compared the emperor’s execution to “the crucifixion of Christ to us.”

“Unconditional Surrender is the only obstacle to peace,” Foreign Minister Shigenori Togo wired Ambassador Naotake Sato, who was in Moscow on July 12, 1945, trying to enlist the Soviet Union to mediate acceptable surrender terms on Japan’s behalf.

But the Soviet Union’s entry into the war on Aug. 8 changed everything for Japan’s leaders, who privately acknowledged the need to surrender promptly.

Allied intelligence had been reporting for months that Soviet entry would force the Japanese to capitulate. As early as April 11, 1945, the Joint Chiefs of Staff’s Joint Intelligence Staff had predicted: “If at any time the USSR should enter the war, all Japanese will realize that absolute defeat is inevitable.”

Truman knew that the Japanese were searching for a way to end the war; he had referred to Togo’s intercepted July 12 cable as the “telegram from the Jap emperor asking for peace.”

Truman also knew that the Soviet invasion would knock Japan out of the war. At the summit in Potsdam, Germany, on July 17, following Stalin’s assurance that the Soviets were coming in on schedule, Truman wrote in his diary, “He’ll be in the Jap War on August 15. Fini Japs when that comes about.” The next day, he assured his wife, “We’ll end the war a year sooner now, and think of the kids who won’t be killed!”

The Soviets invaded Japanese-held Manchuria at midnight on Aug. 8 and quickly destroyed the vaunted Kwantung Army. As predicted, the attack traumatized Japan’s leaders. They could not fight a two-front war, and the threat of a communist takeover of Japanese territory was their worst nightmare.

Prime Minister Kantaro Suzuki explained on Aug. 13 that Japan had to surrender quickly because “the Soviet Union will take not only Manchuria, Korea, Karafuto, but also Hokkaido. This would destroy the foundation of Japan. We must end the war when we can deal with the United States.”

While a majority of Americans may not be familiar with this history, the National Museum of the U.S. Navy in Washington, D.C., states unambiguously on a plaque with its atomic bomb exhibit: “The vast destruction wreaked by the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and the loss of 135,000 people made little impact on the Japanese military. However, the Soviet invasion of Manchuria … changed their minds.” But online the wording has been modified to put the atomic bombings in a more positive light — once again showing how myths can overwhelm historical evidence.

Seven of the United States’ eight five-star Army and Navy officers in 1945 agreed with the Navy’s vitriolic assessment. Generals Dwight Eisenhower, Douglas MacArthur and Henry “Hap” Arnold and Admirals William Leahy, Chester Nimitz, Ernest King, and William Halsey are on record stating that the atomic bombs were either militarily unnecessary, morally reprehensible, or both.

No one was more impassioned in his condemnation than Leahy, Truman’s chief of staff. He wrote in his memoir “that the use of this barbarous weapon at Hiroshima and Nagasaki was of no material assistance in our war against Japan. The Japanese were already defeated and ready to surrender …. In being the first to use it we had adopted an ethical standard common to the barbarians of the Dark Ages.”

MacArthur thought the use of atomic bombs was inexcusable. He later wrote to former President Hoover that if Truman had followed Hoover’s “wise and statesmanlike” advice to modify its surrender terms and tell the Japanese they could keep their emperor, “the Japanese would have accepted it and gladly I have no doubt.”
Before the bombings, Eisenhower had urged at Potsdam, “the Japanese were ready to surrender and it wasn’t necessary to hit them with that awful thing.”

The evidence shows he was right, and the advancing Doomsday Clock is a reminder that the violent inauguration of the nuclear age has yet to be confined to the past.

Gar Alperovitz, author of “The Decision to Use the Atomic Bomb,” is a principal of the Democracy Collaborative and a former fellow of King’s College, Cambridge. Martin J. Sherwin is a professor of history at George Mason University and author of the forthcoming “Gambling With Armageddon: Nuclear Roulette From Hiroshima to the Cuban Missile Crisis.” Historians Kai Bird and Peter Kuznick contributed to this article.

A comprehensive strategy for progressives

The attached summary of an excellent recently published book, Merge Left, contains what I have been arguing for several years ought to be the strategy for progressives. It’s worth careful attention. Unfortunately, too many on the “Left” have lost sight in recent years of the comprehensive vision of a unified progressive strategy that is required if we are to be successful in the long run.

MERGE LEFT
Fusing Race and Class, Winning Elections, and Saving America
By Ian Haney López
“With great clarity and thoughtfulness, Ian F. Haney López shows why the path to a truly just society lies in a multi-racial coalition of poor, working and middle-class Americans. . . . Powerful, urgent, and timely.”
—Robert B. Reich
From presidential hopefuls to engaged voters to journalists to activists, people across the country are grappling with how to think and talk about racism in American politics. Ian Haney López, a distinguished UC Berkeley professor and the acclaimed author of Dog Whistle Politics, offers clear insights and a way forward in his highly anticipated new book. Endorsed by Robert Reich, Van Jones, Jane Fonda, and the leaders of the AFL-CIO, SEIU, Voto Latino, Color of Change, Equal Justice Society, ROC United, and more, MERGE LEFT: Fusing Race and Class, Winning Elections, and Saving America (October 1, 2019; $26.99) offers a powerful, truly original, and even hopeful new strategy for defeating the Right’s racial fearmongering and achieving bold progressive goals.
In 2014, Haney López in Dog Whistle Politics named and explained the coded racial appeals exploited by right-wing politicians over the last half century—and thereby anticipated the 2016 presidential election. Now, the country is heading into one of the most consequential elections ever, with the Right gearing up to again exploit racial fearmongering to divide and distract. Meanwhile, the Left is splintered. Some want to confront the Right’s racism head-on; others insist that a race-silent emphasis on class avoids alienating white voters. Can either approach—challenging white racism or going colorblind—build the progressive supermajorities necessary to break political gridlock and fundamentally change the country’s direction?
After the 2016 election, Haney López co-founded the Race-Class Narrative Research Project. With the Right utilizing focus groups, polling, and careful message testing to hone their dog whistles, Haney López and his collaborators—including union activists, racial justice leaders, pollsters, and communications specialists—set out to use the same tools against them. Based on conversations, interviews, and surveys with thousands of people all over the country, the team found a way forward. By reframing racism as a weapon of the rich, the race-class approach shifts people’s conception regarding whom to view as their allies and enemies—and thereby builds greater enthusiasm for racial justice, economic populism, and the cross-racial solidarity needed to win elections.

Here’s what their research brought to light:
• Most white people hold contradictory views about race
Against the prevalent assumptions of many progressives, they found that most whites hold egalitarian views on race—although they also swing back and forth to deeply internalized racist beliefs. This is relatively good news, Haney López says, because it means that the Left does not need to tear down a mountain of white racism. Instead, the task is to help the majority of whites connect their economic self-interest to the antiracist values most already hold.
• Voters of color also accept messages about “undeserving” people Again contra the conventional wisdom, the majority of Black and Latinx voters find large parts of the Right’s coded rhetoric convincing—the use of terms like “criminals” and “welfare cheats” resonates powerfully within communities of color. This means that neutralizing the Right’s narratives of racial fear and resentment is key when addressing white voters and communities of color.
• The political “middle” toggles between progressive and reactionary The Left’s base, roughly one-fifth of all voters, embrace racial equality, believe circumstances more than individual effort explain wealth inequalities, and want government to regulate the market. Opposite them and just slightly fewer in number, the Right’s core supporters resent people of color, credit hard work for economic success, and want government out of the way. That leaves three-fifths of Americans—including a majority of people of color—in between. They agree with and bounce between both progressive and reactionary views, largely without noticing the tensions between them.
• The persuadable majority gives more credence to messages of racial fear than to color-blind language or to challenges to white racism
The persuadable middle finds messages promoting economic populism that ignore racial issues less convincing than the Right’s racial fear message. And the other main progressive response—calling for racial justice in ways that implicitly condemn white racism—is even less popular, including with people of color. In other words: With the crucial persuadable middle, neither of the Left’s two principal responses defeats Trump’s racial fearmongering.
• Retelling the story of America in terms of class war waged through racial division is more convincing than racial fear messages
The good news is that the Right’s racial fear message loses decisively to a narrative condemning fearmongering by greedy elites and calling for cross-racial unity. Explicitly urging voters to distrust economic elites sowing racial division and to join together across racial lines to demand that government promote racial and economic justice beats dog whistling. This race-class message consistently proved more convincing—to whites as well as people of color—than the Right’s racial fear story.

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HOW THE RACE-CLASS STRATEGY WORKS
The GOP shifts attention from economic to racial concerns
As early as 1963, Republicans recognized they could win votes by fashioning a new identity for themselves as the defenders of white America. There would be no open references to maintaining white dominance. They would use dog whistles. But even so, the GOP’s basic strategy would be to shift attention from class to race by encouraging voters to focus their social and economic resentments on nonwhite groups rather than on concentrated wealth. This con, writes Haney López, “fits Trump to a fake-gold T.”
Typical Democratic and progressive messages fail
With racial conflict as the core threat narrative promoted by the GOP and right-wing media, the two dominant progressive responses struggle. One, a race-silent emphasis on class, leaves messages of racial fear and fundamental racial division operating without challenge. The other, attacking Trump as a racist, actually helps him—it deepens the panic that the country is splintering into racial sides.
Fusing race to class shifts voters’ sense of the source of danger in their lives
The race-class approach transforms voters’ sense of the root conflict in society. Dog whistling implies the fundamental conflict pits whites against nonwhites. The race-class narrative says it those sowing division against the rest of us, whether we are Black, brown, or white, native or newcomer. The race-class approach shifts the conflict from whites versus nonwhites to a racially-divisive 1 percent against a race-conscious 99 percent. It specifically names whites as beneficiaries of cross-racial solidarity.
Economic inequality threatens everyone, but racial division is the key
The race-class strategy is not a “class more than race” frame. Yes, it says that class war threatens almost every family. But it insists that racial division is the principal weapon and must be directly addressed rather than pushed to the back burner. The race-class approach is not colorblind but instead race-forward.
Ending state violence against people of color requires cross-racial solidarity
The single greatest driver of state violence against nonwhite communities is dog whistle politics. When politicians campaign by demonizing “thugs,” “illegals,” and “terrorists,” they govern through mass incarceration, mass deportation, and mass surveillance. This makes cross-racial coalitions to defeat dog whistle politics an indispensable step toward racial justice.
Connecting race and class in our narratives and politics is a must
Many progressives understand that racial as well as class injustices should be addressed. The race-class approach makes clear that in fact “should” is “must.” The race-class strategy starts by recognizing that race and class in the United States are welded together by history as well as current politics. Haney López argues that the Left can prevail only by turning this fusion to progressive advantage. He maintains that the Left must not only pursue racial and economic justice simultaneously, but must consistently link the two in voters’ minds in order to make big gains on either front.

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THE RACE-CLASS STRATEGY AND TODAY’S POLITICS
MERGE LEFT places the findings of the race-class narrative project in a larger political and racial context, offering practical insights into the most troubling dilemmas and explosive elements of today’s politics, such as:
The evolution of dog whistling
• Attacks against Latinx and Muslim communities accelerated during the Obama era to become today’s most pervasive forms of racial fearmongering.
• Trump won through dog whistling and has NOT shifted to a bullhorn of white supremacy, at least as far as the vast majority of his supporters are concerned.
• Racial fearmongering has destroyed moderation within the Republican Party but they cannot walk away from it. Every GOP candidate knows that in the primaries the most racially reactionary candidate will have a leg up.
Flaws in the Democratic response to dog whistling
• Democratic party leaders for five decades and counting distance themselves from racial justice arguments, hoping dog whistling will fade on its own.
• The Clintons’ responded to dog whistling by imitating it in the 1990s, and it came back to bite Hillary in the 2016 election, even though she adopted strong racial justice positions in that campaign.
• Economic populists like Bernie Sanders and Robert Reich rely on impoverished accounts of race when they take a “class first” approach.
Centering and mobilizing communities of color
• Dog whistling is at the root of most state violence against communities of color.
• Among activists, there’s a strong demand that racism be directly challenged—but in the larger community many people struggle with concepts like pervasive white
supremacy and structural racism.
• A narrative of strategic racism resonates within communities of color: divide-
and-conquer is easier to understand than structural accounts, and also raises the prospect that whites have their own interests in fighting racial division.
Dangerous trends among whites
• Trump draws on and also accelerates dangerous new trends in white identity.
• The Left already competes effectively among white voters who are not evangelical
Christians, coming close with the working class and winning big among women.
• The Left must promote racial solidarity even among whites in the Democratic
base, because white liberals remain susceptible to racial fear.
• Moral suasion, while it can be genuine and galvanizing, by itself will not move
most white voters to actively support racial justice. They must also see that their
own interests are served by it.
• Explicitly naming whites as beneficiaries of cross-racial solidarity significantly
boosts support among both whites and people of color.

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EVERY PROGRESSIVE GOAL REQUIRES CROSS-RACIAL SOLIDARITY
Today, Haney López maintains, every bold progressive vision depends on building cross-racial solidarity first. This is obviously important to assembling broad support for racial justice initiatives like abolishing mass incarceration and creating a humane immigration system. But it is also pivotal to enacting progressive legislation seemingly distant from racial issues, such as publicly funded child and elder care, affordable and excellent healthcare, or a Green New Deal. Only a sense of linked fate across color lines will foster the supermajorities necessary to sweep away the politicians who dog whistle on behalf of rule by the rich. The best response to divide-and-conquer, Haney López says, is unite-and-build.
“Our fates have always been bound together,” Haney López writes. “For centuries, our greatest heroes—radicals like W. E. B. DuBois, Martin Luther King, Jr., and César Chávez—have insisted that American salvation requires cross-racial alliances. Repeatedly, this insight has been suppressed, forgotten, and abandoned. Today, some of the wealthiest, most powerful forces in this country bend their will and money toward driving us apart so they can tighten their grip on government and the economy. Yet the very wreckage they have created—and the president they helped elect—open up another opportunity to build a broad cross-racial movement with the will and the political power to promote racial reform and shared economic prosperity. This book explains the good evidence that cross-racial solidarity for racial and economic justice is possible, today.”
In this lively, provocative, and often surprising narrative, MERGE LEFT draws on important new research to explain where the Right’s racial strategy came from, how it works, and how it can be beaten in the coming election and beyond.