From Smirking Chimp
The U.S. already has over one million confirmed cases of Covid-19 and tens of thousands of deaths. Victims of the disease are disproportionately black and working class. What explains our failure to build a more caring state? Princeton Professor Eddie Glaude Jr. argues that we must grapple with the divides at the core of our society in order to reimagine the U.S. with a fully inclusive sense of "us." "What we have to do is tell the truth about who we are. We're not the best country in the world. We're not the most powerful people on the planet. We're fallen, finite creatures who in this moment in most cases are dying alone..." Glaude says. This week's thoughtful conversation ranges from the impact of decades of Neoliberalism on the American consciousness to the need for a return to compassionate, human-centered governance, to Glaude's forthcoming book, Begin Again: James Baldwin's America and Its Urgent Lessons for Our Own. We need a national reckoning.
Dr. Eddie Glaude: The contradictions of our current economic system, they are fully in view. A pandemic that in some ways is indiscriminate, [inaudible 00:00:11] and revealed all of those cracks and fissures and the bankruptcy of a political and economic ideology that has had the country by the throat.
Laura Flanders: And still coming up on the Laura Flanders show, the place where the people who say it can't be done take a backseat to the people doing it, welcome. (silence)
Laura Flanders: Hi, I'm Laura Flanders. Welcome to these special home recorded episodes of the Laura Flanders show, I'm glad to have you. Princeton professor Eddie Glaude Jr. writes about the ways in which these United States of ours are often not very United, nor even very state-like when it comes to serving the public good. His latest book is, Democracy In Black, How Race Still Enslaves the American Soul. His forthcoming volumes tentatively titled, Begin Again, James Baldwin's America and It's Urgent Lessons for Our Own. Professor Glaude is joining me now. Welcome professor, how are you today?
Dr. Eddie Glaude: How are you? It's such a delight to be here with you to have this conversation and to see you.
Laura Flanders: All right, so you said back in 2016, or you may have written it in '15, "That the times are dark and the choices are to wake up or watch America burn." That's something that you wrote in Democracy and Black. As I thought about that today, I thought, "Oh, is this it? Is this the burning, has our waking up come too late? What do you think?
Dr. Eddie Glaude: Perhaps. The contradictions of our current economic system, the contradictions of an ideology that has in some ways had the country by the throat for 40 to 50 years. I mean they are fully in view where you have a society organized around competition, the pursuit of self interest and greed. Where you have a society that presupposes disposable people. Where you have politicians exploiting fears, deepening divides. A pandemic that in some ways is indiscriminate, well, has swooped in and revealed all of those breakages, all of those cracks and fissures and has in some ways revealed the bankruptcy of a political and economic ideology that has had the country by the throat.
Laura Flanders: No, it's an ideology, but it is also a state of affairs. And you have another great line in that book where you say, "In the end, this is the society we have. This is the society we have all built." It doesn't feel like a whole lot of a society in the response to this COVID, everyone doing things differently and differently for different people.
Dr. Eddie Glaude: I mean, it's absolutely true. What I was trying to suggest there is that we've built this place true, America reflects in all of it's contradictions, in all of it's inequalities it reflects a set of commitments, a set of values that we need to understand. So this idea of some kind of collective sense, a sense of mutual obligation, an idea that we live together in pursuit and in light of certain goods has been tossed to the side. So in this moment of crisis, you have to deal with death alone. You have to deal with grief alone. Government is bad, right? Your trauma is yours alone. And so the fact that policy decisions have been made that have really exacerbated the devastation of this catastrophe, right? We can't really talk about it as a kind of collective, a collective moment, right? It's reduced to these very individualized private experiences because we have lost an idea in some ways an experience of mutuality.
Laura Flanders: Did we ever have it? I mean, did we ever have that sense of a we in this country that was truly a we?
Dr. Eddie Glaude: Well, it's always been a we that has been deeply racialized, deeply classed, gendered, it's hetero-normative, it's shot through with all sorts of limitations. The we has always been a source of contestation in this place. So I don't want to say we've never had it. I think we've had a more robust idea of it being an aspiration, right? That the idea of we the people, has been an aspiration in moments that we've tried to strive for. But over the last few decades we've thrown that aside. We the people has been reduced to the top 1%, top 1/10th percent, those folks in gated communities, we the people has been really just an idea suited for a crew crass ideology of greed.
Laura Flanders: I mean, I've been so struck by it in these times where in this pandemic era we realized we really don't have a public infrastructure that is up to snuff. Why? Why have we not the richest country in the world over these centuries built such a basic thing that most countries have, most developed western societies have, they may not be great, but they have them?
Dr. Eddie Glaude: I mean, I think it has something to do with a certain understanding of the role of government, right? There's a particular political position that holds that big government is always bad. It is intrusive with regards to liberty and freedom, where people appeal to notions of liberty and freedom as a way to protect their advantage. And so the idea of the public good has in some ways been under assault by an ideology that views government, that pursues an idea of public good, as necessarily bad. And this is really rooted in critiques of The Great Society and critiques of The New Deal, right? When you think about these moments as moments of government trying in some significant way to address in one instance, economic devastation and understanding that government has to play a certain role. And then in the context of The Great Society government trying to address deep inequality, racial inequality, that's the legacy of white supremacy and slavery, right?
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