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OpEdNews Op Eds    H2'ed 6/5/20

Institutional Racism, the George Floyd Murder, and the Fascist Threat

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"Either this nation shall kill racism, or racism shall kill this nation." (S. Jonas, August, 2018)

George Floyd Memorial at Chicago Avenue and 38th Street.
George Floyd Memorial at Chicago Avenue and 38th Street.
(Image by (From Wikimedia) Fibonacci Blue from Minnesota, USA, Author: Fibonacci Blue from Minnesota, USA)
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I am coming up on two years during which I have been using the mantra above to lead each and every column that I write for OpEdNews. Of course, never has it been more apt than it is now in the light of George Floyd murder. The good news is the absolutely remarkable national response to this particular police murder/lynching, with demands that are not going to go away, from a remarkably broad national coalition of white, black, and brown people, of ages from teenage through mine (I'm 83), and across a broad range of social classes.

As I said just below in an unpublished letter to The New York Times on Senator Tom Cotton's proposal to send in the: "10th Mountain Division of course, Tom, there are plenty of mountains where the protests are taking place), 82nd Airborne (just parachuting into concentrated urban areas they would be), 1st Cav. (with horses or tanks for urban "warfare," Tom?), 3rd infantry (well yes, at least they are trained for urban warfare, you know house-to-house fighting with rifles, machine guns, grenades, and etc.), no quarter for insurrectionists, anarchists, rioters, and looters" (I wonder if, sounding really angry --- about some looting and fire-setting, all paleing against the backdrop of hundreds of thousands of persons protesting about issues ranging from police brutality to institutional racism --- Cotton meant drawing and quartering). At any rate, here's the letter:

"Know thine enemy. Tom Cotton presents to us the full face of fascism. Fascism is the unification of all governmental power and authority in the nation's Executive, eliminating any separation of powers. A central element of that unification is the use of the military to enforce and maintain the Executive's control. In Nazi Germany the prime imposer of the domestic terror that helped the Nazis to stay in power was the Gestapo (Secret State Police), which was a branch of the elite paramilitary force called the Schutzstaffel (SS). Of all the alleged crimes that Sen. Cotton describes none amounts to 'insurrection,' for which use of the military might be justified. In fact, crime occurs all the time, in every state. Not all crimes are solved, not all criminals are punished. That Sen. Cotton proposes to 'send in the troops' to deal with crime that has arisen in the context of a nation-wide protest against the systemic racism that has plagued our nation since the end of Reconstruction, tells one something about Sen. Cotton and the forces in our society that he represents."

And this indeed is the central issue that has been brought to a head by the George Floyd murder and the incredible, mass, national reaction to it: "the systemic racism that has plagued our nation since the end of Reconstruction." And of course right behind it in the current circumstance of the Trump Administration's drive towards fascism, is the use of the military for domestic policing on the one hand and suppression of dissent on the other (see both the Gestapo and the SS, mentioned above). I have summarized the history of U.S. systemic racism under the theme of "How the South Won the Civil war." Racism is based on the concept of "White Supremacy" which was artificially developed by the slave owning class in the 17th century in order to justify the ownership of one human being by another. And while before the U.S. Civil War, the doctrine was not totally confined to the South, one of the triumphs of the South following the military end of that war was the spread of the doctrine and its progeny, institutional racism, over the whole of the land and getting it entrenched in the entire social system.

Now when doctrines like this become entrenched into a society and its whole system of political economy there is a good reason for that. The reason is that it has proven most useful for the ruling classes to keep the white working class "in their place." Just as the slave-owners were able to get non-slave-owning poor white farmers to go out and die in their hundreds of thousands in the attempt to preserve the system of chattel slavery by telling those poor whites that whatever else, they were better than "those blacks," so the modern capitalists have been able to do the same thing to their workers, even as the owning class was getting evermore wealthy, with increasing numbers of folk left behind. The modern representative of this policy has been the Republican Party.

This has been no secret. As a once promising Southern U.S. politician said, not so long ago:

"For 12 years, the Republicans have tried to divide us, race against race. . . Here in the shadow of this great building, all of us, we know all about race-baiting. They've used that old tool on us for decades now. And I want to tell you one thing: I understand that tactic, and I will not let them get away with it in 1992."

Unfortunately, Bill Clinton did next to nothing to deal with the problem that he defined so succinctly and so well. Actually, policies that he pursued to the hilt ---- mass incarceration, welfare "deform," and the ending of the separation of investment and commercial banking --- over time have made things worse for both white and non-white workers. Pres. G.W. Bush was not openly racist himself. But certainly his party, which had been becoming ever more racist since the Goldwater years and Nixon's "Southern Strategy," was not going to do anything at all to tackle the problem other than to exploit it where they could without being too obvious about it. The next Democratic President was of course (literally) an African-American, but while he did certain things around the edges, he did little to address the central issues of systemic racism. And then came Trump, who as is only too well known, openly ran on racism and has governed from that perspective as well.

In part because of continued devotion to the doctrine, this year he did appear to be gliding towards an electoral win, at least in the Electoral College, in November. But then came the first of the Big Three Calamities of his reign (at least the last word is definitely what he would like to be able to use to describe his Presidency and his approach to it): what I like to call the Trumpidemic2020©. Then of course secondary to it came the oncoming Next Great Depression, and finally the fantastic, ongoing, multi-racial, totally peaceful national demonstrations inspired by the police-murder of George Floyd but now broadening into demands that our political economy and government begin to seriously deal with the problem that has in various forms overlain this society since 1619. Gliding towards re-election he is no longer.

It happens that the President is a major cause of the pandemic and thus in turn the Depression. He is not a cause of the perpetuation of the Doctrine of White Supremacy and the perpetuation of institutional racism that accompanies it. They have lives of their own, infecting the "Soul of America" (see John Meacham) since the beginning. (And when a careful historian like John Meacham worries about oncoming "authoritarianism" in the form of Trump, you should get worried too.) But it is the Doctrine of White Supremacy (over not only "black" but "brown" also) that Trump ran for President on.

And so, in these concurrent crises what does he do? Calm the troubled waters? No, he roils them. He throws gasoline on the fire. Why? Because he is insensitive, or stupid, or ignorant? No. (Well yes, he is those things but that's not why he is doing what he is doing.) He does so for exactly the same reason that he has done everything else he has done since the pandemic first broke out and he refused to do anything about it because he was worried about his election chances and what "doing something" might do to the stock markets that might hurt those chances, and so on and so forth. But further, to repeat, very importantly he knows that he won the Presidency by running on racism. (That he is a personal racist himself just reinforces the politics of the matter for him.) And so here is the perfect opportunity to re-furbish his bona fides as the Nation's No. 1 Racist. And he is doing it.

BUT. A serious problem for Trump is that the mass protests, which occur during the daylight hours, themselves are peaceful. It's what happens after dark that is sometimes not. Likely there are instigators: organized White supremacists and other Trump allies (you know, those "very fine people"), anarchists, the garden variety looters (mostly but not exclusively poor black young men who come out of the woodwork at times like this, times made worse for them by the virus and the Depression). (As much as Barr would like it to be, "Antifa" is not an organization. It is an ideology/action-network, focused on combating, physically at times, fascism and White Supremacy. And in any case thus far there is no evidence that Antifa, the non-organization that it is --- is somehow connected to the violent fringes of what is going on.)

Nevertheless, Trump is moving rapidly in the direction of trying to instigate the policies that Sen. Cotton has summarized, and actually, I'm glad The Times published that piece. As I said in my letter: "Know thine enemy." Because we get to see the enemy is full battle-garb, unadorned. When folks like Gen. Mattis and Admirals Mullins and Stavridis express their fear of Trumpite fascism --- they use the euphemism "authoritarianism" or "dictatorship" ---one knows that there is real danger afoot.

Coming back to the theme of the broad societal problem that has afflicted our nation since its beginnings, that of institutional racism, let me finish with some of the words that the Rev. Al Sharpton spoke at the first of the services being held to honor the memory of George Floyd. After criticizing Trump for how he did and did not use the Bible he was holding in his hand (both upside down and backwards at the beginning of the photo op) the Rev. Al went on to quote Scripture, the famous passage from Ecclesiastes 3:1: "To every thing there is a time, a purpose, and a season under the heavens. . . ."

And further, he said: "I think that it is our job to let the world know that when we see what is going on in the streets of this country and in Europe and around the world that you need to know what time it is. We cannot use Bibles as a prop. And for those that have agendas, that are not about justice, this family will not let you use George as a prop. . . . I want us to not sit here and act like we had a funeral on the schedule. George Floyd should not be among the deceased. He did not die of common health conditions. He died of a common American criminal justice malfunction. It is not a normal funeral. It is not a normal circumstance. But it is too common and we need to deal with it."

And then Mr. Floyd's lawyer, Benjamin Crump, to reinforce what the Reverend had said, added: "It was not the coronavirus pandemic that killed George Floyd. It was that other pandemic of racism and discrimination that killed George Floyd."

The Trumpidemic2020© is new. The other pandemic is very old. One wonders whether this tragedy and the incredible nationwide response to it may be the beginning of a political mass movement that will finally enable us to put it in the rear view mirror.

For as I say at the beginning of every column I publish, regardless of its subject matter: "Either this nation shall kill racism, or racism shall kill this nation." (S. Jonas, August, 2018)

(Article changed on June 6, 2020 at 02:29)

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Steven Jonas, MD, MPH, MS is a Professor Emeritus of Preventive Medicine at StonyBrookMedicine (NY) and author/co-author/editor/co-editor of over 35 books. In addition to his position on OpEdNews as a "Trusted Author," he is a Senior Editor, (more...)
 
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