In the last few decades, the term forever war has come to denote an unpleasant fact for imperial ambition- namely, that superpowers have ceased to exist, dislodged by regional actors limited to their own spheres of influence, while influence itself grows narrower and more abstract. Thirty years after America failed to take Vietnam, it would fail for much the same reason in Afghanistan and Iraq: lately, empire cannot explain its purpose even to itself, much less to its victims, whose soft power must be recruited to win modern wars. But while there is no way to hide material losses in combat, the world’s gradual abandonment of violence will, ironically, do more to expand the concept of ‘forever war’ than the usufructs of empire ever could. That’s because the forever war abroad- wasteful, belligerent, transparent in intent yet maddeningly plausible to the median dolt- is being transformed into a cultural war of attrition at home, through the same loss of purpose. I mean, what is America’s legitimating function anyway? It can’t be to lead the world on climate change. It’s certainly NOT to teach others how to mitigate a global pandemic at a time when infectious diseases are slated to redouble. It has terrible health outcomes, bad infrastructure, political gridlock, and- with crisis after unresolved crisis- doesn’t even pretend to care about the working class. Put another way, America has scrambled its own legitimation story, even though the rest of the world has not believed this story for some time now. And so, America has lost its wars and is in the process of losing the most important one, as faith in democracy collapses at home and authoritarian doldrums envelop abroad. No one, it’s been said, saw this coming, but isn’t that the point? If civic engagement is cratered- that is, if the legitimation story gets rejected- this is less a failure of voters than of the choices they are bullied into. Now that Donald Trump is gone, voter turnout is poised to collapse once more, albeit for Democrats, at first, now that the media must settle for huffing Joe Biden’s farts as the radical right preps from the paddocks it’s been exiled into. Yet the question of why this is and what makes it so predictable is rarely covered, despite it being ‘the’ political question of our time, and thus needs to be understood before any other question gets adjudicated.
As readers of my older blog might know, I’ve only sometimes voted for the Democratic Party, and very reluctantly at that. Yes, I still phonebank and donate to congressional races- most recently to Nina Turner- but in between choices like Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, my vote is best spent on genuine progressives to show that 1) we exist, and 2) can change electoral outcomes, if need be. As it stands, however, neither party is willing to give into populist demands because of massive corporate sponsorships that set the terms of debate. Liberals point out, correctly, that even FDR needed to cooperate with big business to get what he wanted, but ignore the differences between then and now. In 1936, Democrats got corporations on board with massive social spending because the best avenue for growth was free trade abroad and social cohesion at home. FDR- the first modern neoliberal- opened up the economy for capital flight, which generated unprecedented cash for the elite and allowed them to stomach high taxes, unionization, and profit-cutting regulations. By the 1960s, however, taxes were not only cut, but became increasingly regressive. In other words, foreign markets were no longer the new frontier- tax cuts were, and firms insisted on tax cuts a way of staying competitive. Thus, for the first time since before the New Deal, corporate donations were at odds with social spending, and today, as the domestic threat of communism recedes, there is even less motivation to give in. Now, this is rarely considered by Party loyalists, but since corporate cash is the main reason for the success or failure of a presidential bid, there are only two strategies that candidates can use to get votes. The first is to solicit corporate sponsorship at the cost of voter enthusiasm: in 2016, this amounted to $433 million for Trump vs. $770 million for Clinton, with Trump micro-targeting states and districts that Clinton foolishly ignored, including a late injection of cash from Robert Mercer that had as much of an effect on Trump’s win as the Comey letter had on Clinton’s loss. The other strategy is to forego corporate bribes altogether at the cost of cash-on-hand and political endorsements: Bernie Sanders’s 2020 campaign showed this, in particular, which benefited from voter enthusiasm for a fraction of the expected cost. Much has been made of Joe Biden’s record-breaking fundraising, but the reality is that Joe Biden received twice the money that Hillary Clinton did in exchange for barely beating a candidate who had just murdered half a million Americans. That’s the logical ceiling of corporate cash, and it’s coming on quickly- especially since Democrats now lack a polarizing figure in Trump, and must excite their base with ever-smaller programs constrained by deepening tax cuts that their sponsors will not allow them to reverse. This is, of course, the real impetus behind the drive to eliminate the electoral college, since, in a country with depressed turnout, it is far easier to strongarm one’s way into a majority than it is to betray one’s donors and achieve the same effect more democratically. And so, to bridge the enthusiasm gap, both Democrats and Republicans propose all sorts of asinine solutions, with the most damaging- a forever war waged against their own citizens- being quite profitable for donors and politicians alike.
We’ve been told, by both parties, that ‘words have meaning’, but the reality is that few words do. Or rather, fewer and fewer words are allowed to keep their meaning, as some get lassoed in and out of highly technical definitions not many voters care for, while others become so broad as to defect from reality altogether. A good example of this is the phylactery of pragmatism, a word so flayed of substance that it’s now the mantra of liberals who wish to draw a moral distinction between ‘doers’ and the world’s barnacles- you know, anyone who feels no allegiance to the enshrined party. You vote for Democrats, the argument goes, because it’s practical, increasing the odds of passing legislation you care about and thus changing America for the better. The technical trick, of course, is that they’re right: more Democrats, in any given year, might make life a bit less cruel for the average person. Indeed, this is exactly how people of conscience get hooked into attrition. Yet the argument assumes that ‘better-than’, for moral purposes, is equivalent to ‘good enough’ for pragmatic (i.e., electoral) outcomes, which itself is the only real moral question. And because no one seems to have a coherent definition for these terms, I will offer mine: the pragmatic choice, in any election, is the candidate who will deliver policies which are good enough. And what is ‘good enough’? It is merely the set of policies that will bring Americans out of whatever crisis they are presently in- specifically, the generational crises which have been accumulating since Ronald Reagan. By this rubric, it is clear that Barack Obama failed at his primary task: to bring voters, at a minimum, to pre-2008 levels of financial security. This meant, for example, that black wealth needed to be restored after decades of progress was obliterated in a few months. If not, why would blacks- as a PRACTICAL matter- be expected to turn out in 2016 for Obama’s party? This is especially true of swing states, like Michigan, that have seen real median income drop since the 1999 peak, then fail to recover to 2007 levels in time for the election. Put another way, no vote that’s unconditionally Blue can ever be “pragmatic”, since even the goal of Democratic Party cultists (to win at any cost) is doomed by its own idealism. Their failed strategies are many- turnout by guilt and by invective, for instance- but central to each is the assumption that material reality depends on individual free will and voter ‘goodness’, as opposed to a top-down effort by the party to get voters to vote.
The forever war begins in earnest when partisans ignore this last part, thus rewarding their party with haphazard wins that get narrower and narrower, while the opposing party radicalizes. Of course, the radicals are never held to account by their base either, inducing a race to the bottom with the radical party at its vanguard. This is the true endpoint of liberal-style pragmatism, but because elections are seen as spiritual renewals rather than sites of real leverage, it cannot be recognized as such. In this system, the world’s hourglass is turned upside down every 4 years, regardless of outcome, just to gauge points of emotional capture. These emotions are as much the parties’ bargaining chips for gathering votes, as is the vote itself one’s only leverage over the two parties. Yet citizens do not use their votes to extract concessions, but as emotional levers that only the party can pull. As a result, they’ve been taught to engage in all sorts of self-defeating behaviors which can be rationalized away under the party’s guidance: the true cost of attrition, since conditional votes are the only way of making good on left-wing values. In time, it is the principled voter who is deemed self-absorbed by the party’s own narcissists- see Donald Trump’s use of the term RINO for even the mildest GOP rebuke, or the Democrats’ attacks on ‘selfish’ Green Party voters. The only voters with leverage are thus punished for it, while those successfully blackmailed are praised for the sacrifice by their abusers. Indeed, one of the most effective ways for political parties to capture votes is to play language games where individual terms refer back to the categories the parties themselves generate, a feedback loop in which voters are shaped by top-down messaging, then marketed to. And because I am tired of the same old identitarian categories: consider the ‘rational actor’, which Democrats subsidize in coastal cities, academia, and key media channels. There is, on the one hand, an undeniable anti-intellectual bias among ordinary voters, which the GOP cynically cheers, but also a self-interested drive among rational actors to present themselves as more trustworthy than everyone else, despite the long list of disasters behind them. Whether it’s perpetually backing off of tax increases, negotiating trade deals without guardrails, mass incarceration, Clinton-style welfare reform, financial de-regulation, or generic austerity, these things WERE the consensus position…and now, there is real resistance to it, whether or not this resistance (like conservative rage) offers anything better. It’s not so much that the policy wonk is wrong: it’s that the policies as imagined are never enough. Black legislators sought tougher criminal penalties well into the 1990s, but did not also negotiate the kind of redistribution schemes which select against street crime. The masses, it was decided, would pay a highly regressive tax- stricter sentencing and policing- with little guarantee that it’d be worthwhile. In other words, this was supposed to be painful: a policy *designed* to be torturous, delivered by Democrats, to their Democratic Party constituents. Again, this was consensus, and many other failed policies have become associated with liberalism as a whole. And so, experts are trusted less and less, with predictable results: 1) Donald Trump is able to exploit this distrust for his own ends, 2) experts, who get paid whether or not they’re right, simply double down and multiply, 3) Democrats- having mostly given up on the rural vote– become the “educated” and “professional” class, and, even when not experts themselves, begin to tap the language of expertise to rationalize their voting patterns and Other anyone too “stupid” to vote for another party.
To be sure, the rational actor isn’t merely annoying, but the most important part of Joe Biden’s America. Yes, he is a corporate production, and is marketed to as such, but the forever war persists because of how synthetic categories get leveraged as emotional ploys. A “smart” liberal recognizes poverty, disenfranchisement, xenophobia, and imperialism as objective ills which must be addressed, then uses the Democratic Party as the release valve for GOP-induced emotions. But while the abstract goal (“save the world”) is the liberal’s banner, there is also an incentive to believe that Democrats- who pull the emotional lever- are the ones who will achieve it. As Democrats repeatedly fail to do so, the attractiveness of this goal runs up against the self-indulgent pleasure of not only continuing to vote for one’s team, but that of justifying it through an elaborate business of op-eds, academia, and ritualized media. There are many examples of this, but perhaps the most telling is Joe Biden’s reversal on a $2000 in-your-pocket stimulus and the Snopes “fact-check” claiming this did not happen. I mean, let’s set the context: Americans had to endure not only the Trump administration’s criminal response to COVID-19, but the Democratic Party’s virtue-signals about Republican stinginess on direct payments, among other things. They demanded hazard pay for frontline workers in the HEROES Act, knowing it would never pass, and continued to point to this bill well into the election. Then what? Well, Democrats actually won, had to govern without excuses, and passed a stimulus whose (new) income threshold exempted the average nurse in a large number of states- including New York, which was singled out as especially challenging for medical workers all through 2020. So, no hazard pay “because Republicans”, then no stimmies because nurses are too rich- not the biggest deal in the world, I suppose, but “pragmatic” it is not. As for the rest of the country: one can simply look at Raphael Warnock’s campaign ad featuring a $2000 check to be cashed as-is, then reiterated in the same ad as a rhetorical question: “WANT A $2000 CHECK?” And the price? Why, getting Warnock into the US Senate, silly- isn’t THAT how political leverage works? You vote Warnock and you get $2000- really, the dumbest if/then statement imaginable, and one that all pragmatists should get behind. Yet if Democrats are this stingy about a measly $600, what else will they skimp on? Partisans get this, and so the rational actors among them try to convince voters to behave. Snopes, for example, argues that “these promises were always made in the context of legislation blocked by the Senate in late December that attempted to raise the per person payment from $600 to $2,000” – a word-salad that 1) is MEANINGLESS to voters outside of the Party cult, 2) is demonstrably false, as long as one doesn’t cherry-pick sources. Interesting too that Snopes does not include an image of the Raphael Warnock ad in its fact-check- I mean, how could they when the “context” they’re referencing appears nowhere in the ad? There is no fine print, nor any…ah, fuck it, it’s hard to believe that this is even a point of contention during (to quote Democrats in 2020) “the worst crisis of our generation”. Do party loyalists not get that ‘winning’ such debates is the mirror image of losing at the ballot box? Yet in the span of months, the progressives who promised to “hold Biden accountable” are now sharing think-pieces to avoid doing just that. This is partly why Democrats have cultivated a base of coastal elites, since, beyond the cash this generates, politicians can leave their agitprop to zombies with enough leisure time to feed upon the psychodrama of politics.
Clearly, the Democratic Party has a smugness problem, and it appears in unexpected places, especially if one’s education provides so many ‘reasons’ not to look. Let’s take conspiracy-theory discourse, for example. In Joe Biden’s America, the forever war has expanded into fearmongering about QAnon, an Internet-native cult with a tiny number of violent incidents to its name. To the extent that QAnon has an official function, it is a chiliastic one, with adherents speculating about government pedophile rings, the deep state, and other right-wing tropes, all to be washed away, Travis Bickle style, by the hand of Donald Trump, or perhaps some other Christ-like figure. But while Wikipedia upgrades their shitposting to “information warfare”, the reality is that QAnon is a dumping ground for the purposeless and mentally ill. I mean- in between leaders like the Q Shaman, and indiscriminately generic stories, like these, it’s obvious that the “millions of Facebook posts” from adherents have amounted to little, if only because the people behind them cannot ever be the basis of a mass movement. And yet, the role that QAnon plays in the liberal imagination is similar to what Antifa does for the conservative one. In short, both conservatives and liberals have a vested interest in the visibility of both: 1) right-wingers, in order to inflate the stakes of liberal power and self-mythologize with a millenarian touch; 2) liberals, to simultaneously laugh at the stupidity of Trump supporters while self-victimizing about the world’s ‘dangers’. The liberal strategy is especially toxic, however, because while QAnon types can be dismissed as ignorant freaks, liberals- by virtue of their education- can proudly say that they would never be susceptible to such. And as with most liberal dogma, there is an allure here because, technically, they’re right: the educated ARE less likely to believe a certain genre of absurdity with ever-multiplying parts. But that’s only because the liberal world has strict rules about what it allows in, while dressing the more dubious stuff in its own rococo. There are many examples of this, especially in the last few years: Trump is an illegitimate president installed via bot-campaign by the Russians, human nature is a blank slate waiting for an imprint, Raphael Warnock’s ad didn’t really show a $2000 check, Joe Biden is the next FDR, the deep state isn’t real, elected leaders (on our side) are here to help, “the walls are closing in”, or that- weirdly enough- “there is no consensus criteria for assigning sex at birth” – a sentiment expressed by my own anthropology professor more than a decade ago, and most famously presaged by the case of David Reimer, whose abuse was fueled by a particularly vicious form of liberal arrogance. Sure, a few of these ideas have more objective merit than the worst right-wing lunacy, but that’s why they’re so tantalizing to the well-educated- one can gild, emboss, and bejewel their details, in self-serving fashion, until they are the limit and extent of one’s reality. On balance, however, I’d argue this is FAR more dangerous than fringe stupidity, since, by being all-encompassing, the stakes are that much higher. If voters who care about global warming are convinced the Democratic Party can avert disaster, such values and the energy behind them are wasted on self-deceit. If Donald Trump is a Russian asset, national security concerns- another right-wing trope- become the focus while real problems pile up. And if Trump “stole” the election in 2016, then Joe Biden stole the election in 2020 – and guess which political party has a loyal base that will act on this conviction, while others mope and tweet with safety pins next to their hearts? Nor does it help that liberals wield their status as cultural hegemons to bully voters into accepting these brittle narratives, with decades of ‘left-wing’ misappropriation of race now leading to a racial realignment that liberals have no answer to.
I called the Democratic Party’s ‘rational actor’ a skeleton-key to understanding Joe Biden’s America not because it is the ideal voting base, but because of how influential such voters are. If they devise a politically expedient academic theory, the Party will listen. If they demand a culture war because their leisure affords them no other purpose, the Party will ingeminate just that- and escalate things in the process. As I’ll later explain: a too-large chunk of Biden voters have no material interest in left-wing policies, as they are too cushioned to really care, but still want the feeling of being ‘good’. Add to this septic quaff four centuries of white guilt, and there’s the recipe for total abnegation: black Americans, who effectively lack rights in a large number of circumstances, must now be subject to liberal neuroses whose only solution – genuine, top-down equality – the liberal rejects. This is because policies like forced de-segregation are too troublesome, re-distribution too expensive, and corporate accountability a direct threat to their jobs. I mean, why would some mid-level manager at Amazon agitate about workers having to shit in grocery bags? And so, a noxious relationship plumes between white and black Americans in which white guilt cannot be assuaged, but still needs an outlet. Under capitalism, this looks like corporatized diversity training, lucrative book deals for self-flagellating nonsense, racial pandering, cynical marketing campaigns, and- worst of all- genuine expressions of rage which get domesticated, subsumed, and so scrambled in the guts of dopes and careerists that they boomerang towards the most vulnerable in America under the guise of anti-racism. Of course, white liberalism doesn’t only include white liberals- it must recruit ladder-climbers of all types in order to massage liberal guilt, while pretending to cede power to marginalized groups. One (infamous) example is Bret Weinstein’s altercation at Evergreen State College a few years back, in which students held him and other professors hostage and humiliated them over perceived racial slights. Later, Weinstein was physically threatened by a roving mob of kids and his students stalked as collaborators, while the police declined to protect him under the university’s orders. According to Weinstein, the administration “wanted [us] to leave permanently”. Now, besides the fact that this is a clear violation of labor rights (Weinstein and his wife ultimately received a $500,000 settlement), it is obvious that, whatever the students wanted, they would certainly NOT get any racial justice beyond Evergreen’s dumb-shit platitudes and HR-speak, which they foolishly accepted as the real thing. And how could it be otherwise? As universities become corporatized, they bloat as corporations do, hiring consultants and VPs for ‘diversity and inclusion’, needlessly multiplying their departments, then marketing themselves to students who get treated more and more like customers to be pampered- the actual fate of Evergreen State, as the administration bullied its employees and gave its students the illusion of power by coddling their insecurities. In short, these are the skills being cultivated (“you taught us to do this shit!”, as one student taunted) because these are the theatrics which play best with white guilt. Yet this is an exchange of goods on the liberal’s terms, as the marginalized get all the trappings of power while accumulating debt, and liberals chase ever more elaborate justifications for why this is acceptable.
After the murder of George Floyd, the energy of the protests was co-opted in much the same way. Big business pulped Black Lives Matter into little more than a marketing blitz, using a tiny slice of 2020’s market returns on yet more diversity training and consultancies, as the forever war heated up with mass firings for the most minor infractions, including a boycott against a Palestinian caterer, Majdi Wadi, over his daughter’s racist social media posts from when she was a teen. But while black Americans were said to be the beneficiaries of this moral panic, it was, as before, all about satisfying well-to-do liberals: down to the cash-grab, with Wadi promising to hire race consultants in exchange for (white) forgiveness. In the meantime, the Democratic Party pandered to its base in Kente cloth, ignored protesters’ demands, and drafted a law that was dead on arrival. Now, after gaining the Senate, Democrats refuse to kill the filibuster, ensuring that the bill will stay dead- not exactly pragmatic, given that Trump increased his vote share with black Americans despite years of race-baiting and violent threats against protesters. Democrats then reneged on a campaign promise to establish a White House commission on police violence, ignored a fresh round of police killings, bucked pressure to end police militarization by simple executive order, and accelerated the transfer of military gear to police departments in the first quarter of 2021- outdoing all quarters under Trump the previous year. If anything, the killing of George Floyd has, at least in the short-term, made things a bit worse for blacks, despite a majority of Americans believing Derek Chauvin guilty of wrongdoing and lifelong reactionaries pretending to believe this too. But beyond a change of heart that wore out even the white liberals who’d profit most off of the unrest, politicians are reluctant to fight police – even in Minneapolis, where activists complain of mere cosmetic changes and a pitiful 4% shift of police resources to other forms of intervention. It’s not surprising, then, that marginalized groups are so skeptical of both parties – meaning, Democrats are not exempt here, and liberals might very well find themselves voting for a party “for the good of black people”, even as black Americans increasingly won’t.
But now that BLM is safely back on the shelf, the identitarian whack-a-mole continues, with new groups vying for the Democratic Party’s attention. This time, it’s due to a spike in anti-Asian hate crimes- almost certainly exacerbated by Donald Trump’s COVID19 rhetoric- which has left Asians shunned, harassed, beaten, and killed. Although this has been happening for a year now, the tipping point was (as of the date of this posting) not a hate crime in the legal sense of the term: the 2021 Atlanta shootings perpetrated by Robert Aaron Long against alleged sex workers whom he blamed for his sexual addiction. And yet, the conversation around this was stripped of all context the moment rational actors became its moderators. In short, I’ve often argued that human behavior is a probability space, and that POVs which try to elide this fact are ideologically motivated. Structurally, if one rolls a simulation (say) of a police officer kneeling on a man’s neck 1000 times, 1) a disproportionately large number of these simulations will be defined by class, which means 2) a disproportionately large number will involve a white cop and a black man, and 3) race and class will trend towards one another, capturing a huge subset of people- male, poor, black- that could reasonably end up asphyxiated. I am especially interested in #3, since the common refrain of black America- “that could have been me!”- is undeniably true. In other words, for the median black person, there is nothing structural to prevent this scenario: he is in the same neighborhoods, walking the same streets, and defined as the same receptacle for a cop’s anxieties- real and imagined- about his race. Put another way, there can be no exit, if only because the bottleneck is so goddamn narrow. Now contrast this with the narrative being pushed by liberals that the spa shootings ought to be seen through the lens of “historical fetishization of Asian women, which has made them uniquely susceptible to sexual and physical violence” – an odd frame, given that Asian women, partly due to their socioeconomic privilege, are the least likely to suffer violence compared to most groups. Instead of addressing this, however, rational actors have put on a kind of blackface as they repeat, unashamedly, that “this could have been me”. Um, ok– but, going back to simulation theory, in what world are lawyers, academics, and the directors of nonprofits- basically, everyone who has dominated this conversation- liable to be murdered in a structure that corrals sex workers and trafficking victims into its necropolis? In one especially trite article, the author repeats black America’s refrain, yet conditions it with: “Had I not come to this country with a degree…” But isn’t that the point? Erasing one’s most consequential set of defenses against murder (money, education, career) while inverting the true day-to-day reality of one’s race isn’t a valid way to construct hypotheticals, but a form of self-Orientalizing in which the most superficial aspects of race become the chief basis for camaraderie. By that token, “if I hadn’t come from São Paulo for a Ph.D. in quantitative finance, but swum across the Rio Grande, I’d now be one of Joe Biden’s kids-in-cages” is technically true, yet trilling with the same stolen valor that rational actors are increasingly guilty of.
In the best (and best-written) essay on the shooting that I’ve read, former sex worker Tracey Quan argues that, if these murders could be termed hate crimes, they are likelier to be hate crimes against sex workers- a non-protected class- than Asian women more generally:
Race is public and sex private, but the Atlanta shootings have upended this arrangement. Racialized feelings are beginning to look like more of a taboo than sexual obsessions. The killing of an Asian American is described as a hate crime, while killing a sex worker is seen as a mental health issue. The scarlet R demotes Nathaniel Hawthorne’s scarlet letter A to a venial sin, now standing for (masculine) addiction rather than (female) adultery. Racism is stigmatized, while sex is pathologized. This new chapter in American life requires a closer reading.
“Sex addiction” is seen by many as empty psychobabble, a daft metaphor at best, dangerously weaponized on “a really bad day.” The rehab center the shooter attended offers “clinically effective and Christ-centered” treatment for this nebulous condition, in essence a medicalization of Christian morality. To me, the doctrine of sex addiction is the erotic equivalent of race science. And yet the killer’s belief is probably sincere: News accounts portray his spa visits as an addict’s relapse, as if sexual contact were a liver-destroying chemical. He may have been confused by appetites that are normal in 21-year-old males.
She correctly points out that sex work is stigmatized- particularly in more conservative immigrant communities- which forces me to ask: what IS this newest crop of rational actors looking for, and why? The huge relative uptick of anti-Asian hate crimes obscures what’s happening in absolute terms: in New York City, 3 (reported) incidents in 2019 versus 27 in 2020. Yet the same statistics show 116 incidents against Jews despite roughly similar population sizes, and similar rates for anti-black crimes. On the other hand, people as a rule never seem to pay attention to the biggest and most probable threats in life, which is why visceral but extraordinarily rare edge-cases (like a mass shooting) provide one of the few opportunities to actually get shit done. I mean, why should it take the murder of an unarmed black man to protest a multi-dimensional, centuries-long war of attrition waged by the state against black America? Yet that’s life, and if these incidents can inject a few hundred million dollars into more vulnerable parts of the Asian community, that is an objective good. The issue, however, is that this energy is being scattered into hate-crime legislation of dubious worth, demands- then prompt walk-backs– for greater diversity in government, and ridiculous assertions about ‘visibility’ as a real solution for systemic issues defined by capital. If the Atlanta spa shootings are supposed to be a turning point, why have we heard absolutely nothing about sex work itself: whether it’s legalization, better security, or whatever else that might help prevent the low-grade versions of this event which go unreported every single day? Further, why is there no attempt to differentiate between Asian sub-groups when the most vulnerable populations, by far, are the refugees and children of refugees of American bombing campaigns in Southeast Asia? In other words: why have we not heard the words ‘Laos’, ‘Cambodia’, and ‘Vietnam’, and why aren’t the rational actors agitating for their representation? Is there really so much shame about these outliers to the model minority narrative? Or is it simply too inconvenient to tackle the end-result of American imperialism when the rational actor merely wants to solidify her already-impressive gains within the status quo? Call me cynical, but when I see no demands whatsoever for the most obvious and impactful policies- all of which would require tax hikes and changes to culturally ingrained POVs- I become suspicious of ‘good liberals’. Or perhaps I’m being too harsh here, and they just don’t fucking get it? At any rate, I still remember a time when the loudest activism around Asian issues was bitching about affirmative action, even as most Asians support these polices– more proof that there’s a disconnect between the self-appointed vanguard, for ANY ethnic group, and people who, with just a bit of goading, could become the Democratic Party’s most reliable voters.
To be sure, visibility is nice, and has important psychological effects for society, but visibility is a red herring without de-segregation. As I’ve argued elsewhere, racial bias- which is objectively bad but not inherently evil- can only be resolved through physical proximity, and by interacting with people who don’t look like you in healthy, positive contexts. For this reason, calls for racial visibility among CEOs, television networks, and government positions aren’t wrong, but can only capture a tiny percentage of people. The median can never attain these positions of power while the rational actors can, which explains at least some of the reason why they’re agitating to enter the rat-race. By contrast, de-segregation encourages rational actors to live in neighborhoods they do not wish to live in, around people they fear, and are then forced to subsidize this through taxes. Remember, even IF we assume the terms of today’s hate crime discourse, it is black Americans who disproportionately victimize Asians, a fact which cannot be resolved unless the realities of stratification are also resolved. Yet black people are (once again) recruited as meat-shields in the forever war, as self-serving articles get written blaming white supremacy for black violence in the most reductive terms. The “fear of disease” that Jennifer Ho cites isn’t a white supremacist idea that’s been gyved to black Noble Savages, but an extremely common, inborn aversion to ‘dirtiness’ which the least educated and most volatile people express through violence. (For what it’s worth, the homeless and the mentally ill are responsible for a good chunk of these crimes.) But black Americans are useful to the Democratic Party, and so, the rational actors are sent to ‘protect’ them by way of narrative-shaping and feel-good nonsense in order to avoid the far more difficult work of restructuring society, or even just acquiring fresh votes by giving into black demands. And make no mistake: this IS about the Democratic Party and its recruitment tactics, since the price of getting new votes (as opposed to barely hanging on to legacy gains from decades past) is a unilateral disarmament by way of rejecting corporate cash. In other words, the liberal MUST be perceived as nonracist and ‘safe’ by the growing black intelligentsia- which itself is more and more disconnected from black America- since this emotional release is the limit of what the Democratic Party can offer. Thus, the cross-racial alliance that Democrats seek is based on mutual recognition between rational actors who might drum up increasingly sporadic support among the lumpenprole – a de-segregation in the abstract, one that accepts the meat of my own argument, yet uses the more superficial aspects of color as color’s substance, with decidedly un-pragmatic results.
Indeed, it is stunning how quickly the rational actors co-opted ‘white supremacy’ for their own purposes, then stripped it of all explanatory power. Recently, this has found its loudest expression with the growth of actual neo-Nazis in the military, a problem that is both undeniably real yet vaguely propagandistic in its framing. I mean, much of the past century has been defined by America’s brutality in Asia, South America, and the Middle East, and Joe Biden- whom the Democratic Party presented as a corrective to Donald Trump’s racism- was at the vanguard of the forever wars abroad and antiblack legislation at home. In Iraq alone, the war and its side-effects killed over 500,000 Arabs, while regime-change in Libya- which Biden, to his credit, was against- helped create the refugee problem that Trump successfully weaponized. Decades of US-backed military coups in South America have destroyed millions of lives, fueling a border crisis that the US is unwilling to tackle, while American drug prohibition- which almost all Democrats support- adds to both of these tallies. More recently, Joe Biden expanded Donald Trump’s enormous military budget, with Biden’s proposed 2022 budget increasing military spending even further (to help deal with “the China threat”) while making substantial cuts to nonmilitary expenditures. Donald Trump’s augmented mandatory minimum sentencing- once decried by liberals as proof of systemic racism- will not be allowed to lapse this May, as promised, but will likely continue into next year. These are, of course, highly illiberal decisions that overwhelmingly target nonwhites for discipline and death, but will the AAPI community call out the Democratic Party for its renewed belligerence? More importantly, will ‘antiracists’ as a group hold their vote hostage in exchange for dismantling white supremacy as practiced? Or will the rational actors simply agitate for what the Party itself wants, high off the detumescence of a short-term win, as they try to squeeze as many votes as possible without attempting to restore their broken coalition? Yet the Party must know how little the average American cares about the big picture, and foreign policy in particular. Indeed, for he was made to not care- then punished by the liberal establishment for straying. And so, white supremacy in the hands of rational actors becomes nothing more than the sum of naughty words, because these words are angry, because they are individually willed, while the blithe ‘X’ on some kill-directive gets ignored on account of its quiet. Is it a surprise, then, that the Party’s response to Derek Chauvin’s guilty verdict is grotesque platitudes re: bodily “sacrifice”? Yet it has always been this way: a one-off event that everyone is watching and has the same (public) opinion on becomes evidence of broader reform despite no real effort in its direction. This is why top Democrats felt the need to break legal norms and pressure the jury, as the price of the wrong verdict would have been renewed calls for social transformation and another summer of rioting that Joe Biden would have responded to with yet more militarism.
If I’ve spent too much time on race, this is because race has always been a proxy for America’s health as a whole. On some level, both parties understand this: the Democrats in their pandering to white guilt and a self-justifying intelligentsia, and Republicans in their willingness to tap white resentment without a plan to ever address it. Neither party will achieve much for its constituents due to the williwaw of corporate cash, but Democrats have an additional problem. As they become more and more the party of rational actors and suburbanites, its primary voting bloc will have little investment in working-class politics. Yes, a few of these voters might like the sound of a minimum wage hike, but unless the Party’s most reliable voters can actually benefit from this, their time and attention will continue to go towards 1) forever war issues, such as ‘antiracism’ in the abstract; 2) material self-interest, which can include everything from the careerism inherent in #1, to a distaste for social spending and tax hikes. The fact is, it was the disgusted suburban voter that brought Joe Biden victory, while liberal pundits said not to worry, that political re-alignments happen all the time. I want to say that this is a toxic dynamic, that this will force a chunk of the Party’s (whilom) base to disappear, but one should not underestimate the capacity for self-delusion, especially when there are material benefits to the Party’s treacle, on the one hand, and liberal guilt on the other. In this system, the liberal must deal with the exhausting knowledge that one’s life-station, good or bad, is not any more deserved than any other. Yet the response in such cases is to double down and protect the civic ego, which is the next phase of this administration. In time, we will see elements of the black intelligentsia pivot to, if not conservatism, then at least its synesthetic trappings, drawing on culture, entrepreneurial propaganda, and the outright apolitical to further winnow black America from black America. And why should it be otherwise? For this has already happened to white America, which only has race-consciousness in its most inoperative form, fighting, as it now does, only the unwinnable wars, just as black America eventually will too. And the Democratic Party is here to encourage this, ever changing its own habitat, if only because it is incapable of changing its habits.
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