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The Advantages of an Elite Education

Kavanaugh and Trump Photo credit: journallaband.com

Published at CounterPunch on October 3, 2018.

The Advantages of an Elite Education

If the Kavanaugh nomination to the Supreme Court didn’t reveal the extreme right-wing nature of the contemporary U.S., then nothing will. We are living in a right-wing society made up of endless wars, the unlimited power of corporations, the destruction of the natural environment, and the near-total lack of individual rights. That the boy-president Trump can call white supremacists and neo-Nazis “fine people,” while they beat and murder the opposition, makes his nomination of the front man for the corporate and political elite all the more reprehensible.

This is all the final beer hall putsch of the contemporary heirs to Hitler and Mussolini. Kavanaugh is not even needed on the Supreme Court to destroy union opposition since that movement has been going on beginning with the deindustrialization of the U.S. in the 1970s and the march of globalization, which has made goods relatively cheap in the U.S. and made the precipitous decline in union membership a given.

Professor Christine Blasey Ford was revictimized before the Senate Judiciary Committee, and the good-old, elitist frat boy Kavanaugh broke into tears. The political landscape has become pure theater. Readers may wonder just how the majority of non-college educated women, the 64 percent who voted for the misogynist Trump, felt as Ford was dehumanized in front of an audience of millions. Readers know how the majority of black and Latino women, who didn’t vote in a majority for Trump, must have felt!

Where and when did the political, economic, and social system all go so wrong? It is not the intention here to blame the political left, but a decent measure of responsibility lies right at its feet, so to speak. And as a member of the New Left of the 1960s and early to middle 1970s, I’ll shoulder some, but not all, of the blame.

For the most part, the New Left abandoned the streets after the Vietnam War antiwar movement and left politics to the far-right culture warriors, the warmongers, the fundamentalists of a religious bent, and those in the economy who sold out without a scintilla of ethical consideration. Remember the transition from being on the streets to careerism?

The right wing had money, and money buys influence—look to Kavanaugh and the Clintons and the Bushes as just a few of the examples of what schooling at Yale and places like Yale can do. A person can go in as an average or near-average Joe or Jane, as the Clintons did, and come out fabulously wealthy with influence that often is as corrupting as wealth itself.

In the Guardian’s “Yale students condemn Kavanaugh case as ‘symptom of a larger problem’” (September 30, 2018), students at this edifice of privilege realize that while most don’t end up like the examples cited above, most of their lives will be blessed through the privilege of an elite education, while those in the surrounding communities of color may often become the victims of the flip side of privilege in a system of jurisprudence that has seen criminal cases “settled” by plea bargains rising from 84 percent in 1984 to 94 percent in 2001. A good guess is that trend continues and I know which side of the divide I would want to be on. In fact, the common wisdom is that if a defendant refuses a plea deal with the state (and that holds for local, state and federal governments), then resulting sentences are often of a draconian nature compared to the deal offered. Equal justice under the law: What an absolute and horrific joke! The right to trial by one’s peers has been essentially eliminated through racism and classism and poverty.

We on the left were atomized in almost everything we did after the middle of the 1970s. The late left revolutionary and counterculture icon (warts and all), Abbie Hoffman, said in his autobiography Soon To Be A Major Motion Picture and in later writing that the victories of the 1960s of the civil rights movement, the antiwar movement, and the women’s movement would never be reversed. How wrong! Every single movement has seen significant reversals from endless wars to mass incarceration of black people, to the attacks against Professor Ford endured in front of the U.S. Senate. It all went so damn bad!

There were some gains, however: Women moved into the workforce in significant numbers in traditionally male-dominated industries, gay people began the long struggle toward acceptance in all of the society, but the gains never translated into across the board improvement in society. A black middle class emerged from the 1960s, but so did a skyrocketing prison population of people of color.

U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics from 2013 show that 37 percent of prisoners in the U.S. were black. Compare the latter with the stunning fact that the black percentage of the population in the U.S. in 2016 was 12.7 percent. Compare those figures for a moment: 12.7 of the population percent makes up 37 percent of the U.S. prison population. So much for most of the gains of the hard-fought civil rights movement…

In “The Shocking Abuse of Solitary Confinement in U.S. Prisons,” Amnesty International holds no punches in scrupulously documenting how prisoners at all levels of the so-called criminal justice system are systematically exposed to horrific and extended incarceration in isolation cells that amount to prisons within prisons. The worst cases exist in Louisiana, Colorado, California, Arizona, Illinois, and at Guantanamo, but the list is not limited to those states and prison sites. The report is worth quoting at length:

How many people are held in solitary?

More than 3,000 prisoners in California are held in high security isolation units known as Security Housing Units, where they are confined for at least 22 and a half hours a day in single or double cells, with no work or meaningful rehabilitation programs or group activities of any kind.

More than 500 prisoners had spent 10 or more years in the Pelican Bay SHU, with 78 in solitary more than 20 years.

No other US state is believed to have held so many prisoners for such long periods in indefinite isolation.
But California is not alone in using prolonged, indefinite solitary confinement. The U.S. has become a world leader in the practice, holding people in inhumane conditions of isolation from Arizona to Illinois to Louisiana to Guantánamo. Reportedly, the U.S. holds “at least 25,000 inmates in isolation in supermax prisons.”

Solitary confinement amounts to torture and torture is banned by international human rights law, but its use in U.S. prisons remains beyond shocking and yet another example how laws in the U.S. comprise a two-tier system where privilege and torture stand at opposite sides of a huge divide.

A livable society and world has all almost unwound now and buffoons like Trump and Kavanaugh are in the spotlight of the three-ring circus in which we now all live.

Howard Lisnoff is a freelance writer.

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The Long Road to Far-Right Extremism in the U.S.: It didn’t Have to End This Way

Photo credit: huffingtonpost.com

The Long Road to Far-Right Extremism in the U.S.: It didn’t Have to End This Way

It’s not difficult to take a long view of the trajectory of political, social and economic life in the U.S. that has led to the extremist right-wing society in which we now live.

Some may argue correctly that elements of right-wing extremism were always present in U.S. society. Whether it was slavery, or the long march to militarism that began at the beginning of the 20th century (actually, much earlier, but it became highly mechanized in the 20th century), or an economy that catered and enhanced the wealth of the few, these forces moved all of the questions and the policies and attitudes of the government and lots of people toward the right and against the self-interests of the majority.

The debacle I now see has led to gross income inequality, extreme militarism, and hatred of the other and all began to coalesce and grow following the Vietnam War. When protest shifted its emphasis toward identity politics rather than identification with the common good, then the road was clearly marked for disaster and only some took the exits marked sanity.

Those familiar with U.S. history will object and rightly state that the removal and murder of Native Americans and the institution of slavery began before the establishment of the nation state The forces of the extreme right, however, took root in the 20th century. The Cold War put extremism on steroids! September 11, 2001 was extremism’s final nail.

The economy underwent seismic changes in the 1970s. The stage was set for globalization and the movement of industries and jobs and money to where the costs of labor and production were the cheapest. Witness the plethora of cheap and accessible goods existing side by side with increasing environmental destruction that is one of the obvious costs of a global economy. The U.S. became an Amazon and mall economy with masses of jobs flowing overseas with the deindustrialization of the U.S. The working class was split along a color line as was witnesses by the barbarism of the reaction to civil rights in the 1940s, 1950s, and 1960s. White workers began to identify with scum like George Wallace. Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan garnered more and more votes from the white working class, and particularly among disaffected male members of the working class. Recall the vicious attack against Vietnam antiwar protesters in lower Manhattan in May 1970.

The return of white working-class voters to the Democratic Party has been touted over the last few years, but witness the majority of these voters who supported Trump, who then immediately attacked those voters’ interests, in the 2016 election.

Next, people had to accept endless wars following the horror of Vietnam and the existence of what is called the Vietnam Syndrome. As an aside, my military experience during that era notes that I have Vietnam Syndrome, as if it were a condition a person could contract, rather than a principled stand against the horror of war fought on behalf of the few and the wealthy. Ronald Reagan began the long march toward the acceptance of extreme militarism with his low-intensity wars in Central America and his asinine plan to militarize space through his so-called Star Wars spending debacle. Next, George H.W. Bush, the ass-grabber-in-chief (the U.S. electorate that does actually vote certainly elects “classy” people), talked openly about ending the Vietnam Syndrome through the first Persian Gulf War following Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait. Readers will recall that Iraq’s plans for aggression were initially ignored in 1990 and the U.S. “turkey shoot” that followed was swallowed hook, line and sinker by most in the U.S. The false story about invading Iraqi soldiers throwing newborn infants onto the floor in a hospital in Kuwait was debunked, but the U.S. public has a short memory and those lies had their intended effect. The rest of the long march to extreme militarism is now history. Witness the mass media’s recent treatment of the late Senator John McCain and the glorious bipartisan sendoff of a person who unquestioningly and ceaselessly beat the drums for endless U.S. wars on a global scale. Only a society primed for insanity can celebrate someone who sang about bombing a country with which we were not at war and posed no immediate danger to the U.S.

This discussion has not included the horrific attacks of September 2001, but those attacks found their inception, in part, through the U.S. support of militant jihadists in Afghanistan in the 1980s as a foil to Russian involvement there. Neither is the fact that the oil giant and militaristic Saudi Arabia was the home country to two-thirds of the September 11, 2001 murderers, or Saudi Arabia’s funding of extreme religious militants. These issues are off of the radar screen of the mass media and most of the public in the U.S.

Militarism is as old as apple pie and the viciousness of Andrew Jackson’s wars against Native Americans and Native American removals, Theodore Roosevelt’s militaristic machismo and murderous disdain for those deemed enemies of this nation, and Woodrow Wilson’s messianic vision of U.S. militarism, complete with its attendant attacks against antiwar activists and civil liberties, all have contributed to the the simmering pot of U.S. extreme militarism. Observers of U.S. history didn’t have to be present on the killing fields of Kent State and Jackson State in May 1970 to know what the outcome would be in terms of the government’s perceived right to kill its own children.

Finally, there is the horrific reality of extreme racism in the U.S. Racism has always been part of U.S. society with the horror of slavery, Jim Crow, and the prison-industrial complex that followed on the heels of the civil rights movement and its victories in the middle of the decade of the 1960s. Police murders of black people are a hideous footnote to the long history of racism in the U.S., as is the gun industry and lobby that has convinced some white males that they have to be armed to protect against the “threat” of black people.

Racism’s stepchild, anti-Semitism, had its most egregious expression in the August 12, 2017 murder of Heather Heyer during the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia. In Virginia, both neo-Nazis and white supremacists gathered and gave the racist and anti-Semitic Trump more fuel for hate by stating that there were “fine people” on both sides of the rally, meaning that both Nazis and counterprotesters were equally “fine” people: “You had some very bad people in that group, but you also had people that were very fine people, on both sides.”

The move toward economic globalization that began in the 1970s required that a huge segment of unneeded U.S. workers had to be put somewhere and that place increasingly became prison. The U.S. now has the largest percentage of its population in jail among major industrial economies. People of color then became prime targets of the prison-industrial complex that had its racist roots in Reconstruction following the Civil War. Racism had its most obvious expression in the Trump campaign for president and his presidency, with its constant demonization of immigrants. Hillary Clinton’s categorization of people of color as superpreditors, in reference to the ongoing and useless drug wars in the U.S., was yet another bipartisan expression of racism, as was Bill Clinton’s successful attack against the social safety net and his support of sending more people to prison. The latter is part of the bipartisan nightmare of U.S. politics!

It’s not hard to stand back and look at the long road to oblivion that this society has been traveling. The political, economic and social landscape didn’t have to turn out this way, but it did.

Howard Lisnoff is a freelance writer.

He is author of Against The Wall: Memoir Of A Vietnam-Ear War Resister.

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