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OpEdNews Op Eds    H2'ed 5/13/22

The War on Youth in the Age of Fascist Politics -

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Youth Under Siege

One of the most important registers in measuring the democratic health of a society can be found in how it treats its youth. By any current standard, which includes the quality of public schools to laws that protect the health and well-being of young people, the United States is failing miserably. Youth, especially youth of color, are not only viewed as a liability, much of their behavior is also being increasingly criminalized. When young people are relentlessly and ruthlessly subject to forces that commodify them, criminalize, punish them, and deem them unworthy of receiving a critical and meaningful education, it bodes ill for the nation as a whole. Of course, this attack on youth is not new.

In the 1970s youth were viewed as both predatory and dangerous and in succeeding generations they were increasingly marginalized, terrorized, and written out of the social contract. [1] The United States is one of the few countries in the world that puts children in supermax prisons, tries them as adults, incarcerates them for exceptionally long periods of time, defines them as "super predators," pepper sprays them for engaging in peaceful protests, and describes them as "teenage time bombs."[2] More recently, it has been reported that hundreds of Native American children in the United States and even more Indigenous children in Canada in government and reservation schools were not only separated from their families but also abused physically, emotionally, and sexually. Many others died in these genocidal factories and were buried in unmarked graves. The legacy of violence against children of color runs deep in the United States. [3] Viewed as a long-term investment, they are defined under neoliberalism as both an economic liability and a drain on the resources needed to concentrate wealth in the hands of the ruling classes and financial elite.

What has changed is that the range of laws and sites in which a war is now waged on young people has moved from the streets to all of the major institution in which they inhabit. No space is safe for underserved young people. Schools for poor kids of color are largely modeled after prisons; books are banned; teachers are under siege for not subscribing to the whitewashing of history; public institutions are defunded; tax credits for poor kids are rescinded; student debt forecloses the future of many young people; white supremacists now enact laws against those youth, especially transgender youth, whose sexual orientation and identity do not fit into a white, Christian orthodox notion of both heteronormativity and a regressive notion of who qualifies as a citizen. Under such circumstance, it is not surprising that in a report published in the medical journal The Lancet "The United States ranks lower than 38 other countries on measurements of children's survival, health, education and nutrition - and every country in the world has levels of excess carbon emissions that will prevent younger generations from a healthy and sustainable future."[4]

Inequality, precarity, and moral depravity are now written into the DNA of American politics and those who suffer the most from this form of necropolitics are youth of color and poor working-class youth. Written out of the script of democracy, youth are seeing their future cancelled. Unsurprisingly, a 2021 poll released by the Harvard University Kennedy School's Institute of Politics stated that "52% of young people in the U.S. believe that the country's democracy is either 'in trouble' or 'a failed democracy.' Just 7% said that democracy in the United States is 'healthy.'"[5] Capitalism in its neoliberal fascist register has not only defined young people as the enemy, it is also preparing them for a life of uncertainty, stupidity, ignorance and conformity. And while the future is open and domination is not the only register of power, there has never been a more important historical moment for young people to rise up and fight for a notion of agency, justice, and equality that offers them both hope, freedom, and a sense of equality and justice.

The Disappearing Social

The Gilded Age and its current mix of fascist politics is back with big profits for the ultra- rich and large financial institutions and increasing impoverishment and misery for the middle and working classes. In addition, manufactured ignorance, political illiteracy, and religious fundamentalism have cornered the market on populist rage, providing support for a country in which, as Robert Reich points out, "the very richest people get all the economic gains [and] routinely bribe politicians" to cut their taxes and establish policies that eliminate public goods. [6] It gets worse. Everywhere we look, the current Republican Party with its dedication to white supremacy and fascist politics are using their authority and power to undermine the social contract and the quality of justice, if not life itself, for a range of youth increasingly marginalized from the scripts of power. Shamelessly and without apology, the political and corporate elites use their unchecked power to dismantle public services, denigrate public goods such as schools, infrastructure, health care services, and public transportation. Medical pandemics are now accelerated through political and moral pandemics that prioritize capital over human needs, meaningful health care, and matters of social justice. [7]

Meanwhile, the neoliberal social order embraces the ruthless and punishing values of economic Darwinism and a survival-of-the-fittest ethic. In doing so, the major political parties reward the mega banks, ultra-large financial industries, the defense establishment, and big business as their chief beneficiaries. Regardless of the consequences to the wider public good, including children, the obsessive quest for short-term profits by the apostles of neoliberalism is only matched by an aggressive effort on the part of the ruling financial and political elites to privatize public services, deregulate the financial industry, and depoliticize the public realm in order to replace a market economy with a market society. [8]

Reinvigorated by the passing of tax cuts for the super-rich and the growing assaults on civil liberties, the right-wing politicians who grovel in Trumpism, a reactionary Supreme Court, and a number of right-wing state governors have launched an ongoing war on women's rights, the welfare state, workers, students, the press, and anyone who has the temerity to speak out against such attacks. The corporate controlled media, especially Fox News, along with wealthy right-wing foundations such as ALEC, the Bradley Foundation, and the Koch Foundations are shaping policies that undermine public education, wage war against women's reproductive rights, and criminalize youth of color. [9] Hiding behind the mantle of balance and objectivism, the mainstream media are too hesitant to make discriminating judgments or take moral positions in the face of a growing authoritarianism. One consequence is that a politics of false equivalency spreads like wildfire among liberals. Everyone from George Packer to Margaret Atwood are claiming that the left is just as responsible as the right for the current attacks on democracy and the war on youth. This is a strange and false argument suggesting that the left bears as much responsibility and power as the Republican Party and its army of servile advocates and followers. Or that it is responsible for passing voter suppression laws, censoring books and history in classrooms, embracing conspiracy theories, advocating white supremacy, supporting white replacement theory, militarizing the planet, promoting ecological devastation, supporting crippling inequality, and prioritizing profits over the sanctity of human life and the planet. This line of argument not only violates any sense of ethical responsibility, it is also politically disingenuous and is code for defending the toxic policies of neoliberal fascism.

Youth in the Age of Necropolitics

Neoliberalism continues unchecked in imposing its values, social relations, and forms of social death upon all aspects of civic life that affect young people. [10] As a form of necropolitics, it produces a form of slow violence that delivers a death blow to the social contract, especially in regard to public health. It is the DNA of gangster capitalism, spreading destruction and death throughout the United States, nowhere more evident than in the bungling of public health services in the early HIV/AIDs crisis and more recently in the handling of the COVID-19 pandemic. With regard to the latter, the CDC reported that "between April 1, 2020 through June 30, 2021 over 121,000 children under age 18 in the United States lost a parent, custodial grandparent, or grandparent caregiver who provided the child's home and basic needs, including love, security, and daily care."[11] This needless orphaning of children illustrates what Achille Mbembe terms the "death-worlds" produced by necropolitics, which amount to "a type of social existence in which vast populations are subjected to conditions of life conferring upon them the status of the living dead."[12] In neoliberal capitalism's "death-worlds," savage market principles are prioritized over meaningful health care for all and access to basic social provisions.

Necropolitics is now driven by a white supremacist Republican Party that bleeds life from the social contract, the welfare state, and the lives of those considered disposable, especially children. How else to explain the attempts by Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton and Governor Greg Abbott to criminalize and terrorize those individuals or institutions who administer gender affirming medical treatment to transgender children, including their parents? This cruel law was introduced in spite of the fact that as Chase Strangio has noted: "In December 2021, the Trevor Project released a peer-reviewed study finding that 'gender-affirming hormone therapy is significantly related to lower rates of depression, suicidal thoughts, and suicide attempts among transgender and nonbinary youth'"[13] What other referent might be used, other than necropolitics, to explain that democracy-hating Texas Governor Abbot is considering challenging a 1992 ruling requiring that states "offer quality free public education to all children."[14] What these regressive and reactionary attacks on youth signal is that the United States now resembles a failed state in which governments work to destroy their own defenses against anti-democratic forces.

Drunk on power and devoid of any responsibility for the public welfare of children, the White power leadership of the Republican Party has abandoned any pretense to moral witnessing, social justice and the defense democracy. Manufactured ignorance, social media induced atomization, the privatization of everything, and the collapse of civic culture and the public imagination have shredded all notions of society bound by shared values, shared trust, and strong institutions. Politics is now militarized, culture has been spectacularized; moreover, cruelty and manufacture ignorance have become central elements of governance. [15]

In the aftermath of endless wars around the globe, the U.S. government has learned nothing from its profligate military spending and embrace of a war culture. Both political parties are enablers of expanding a military-industrial complex that rings the earth with over 700 military bases, has more nuclear weapons than any other country, and has a defense budget as of $778 billion as of 2022. Bernie Sanders, who chairs the Senate budget committee, rightly argues that "At a time when we are already spending more on the military than the next 11 countries combined, no we do not need a massive increase in the defense budget."[16] In the current moment, the bloated financial class and their lobbyists are buying off politicians who are only too willing to squander the public coffers on wars abroad, while attempting to establish across the globe death zones inhabited by drones, high tech weaponry, and increasingly private armies. [17] Curbing such funding is not merely about saving money, it is also about redirecting such funds in order to address a number of issues that directly affect young people. Republican can salivate over increasing the defense budget, but they blocked renewing the enhanced Child Tax Credit payments, which resulted in 3.2 million children falling back into poverty, especially Black and Latino children. [18] Only a gangster state wages a war on young people by refusing to enact social programs that would not only benefit them, especially the most deserving, but also benefit society as a whole. Social programs aimed at children are more than a public investment, they are a moral and political responsibility. As Greg Rosalsky points out:

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Henry A. Giroux currently holds the McMaster University Chair for Scholarship in the Public Interest in the English and Cultural Studies Department and dis the Paulo Freire Distinguished Scholar in Critical Pedagogy. His most recent books are America's Addiction to Terrorism (Monthly Review Press, 2016), and America at War with Itself (City Lights, 2017). He is also a contributing editor to a number of journals, includingTikkun, (more...)

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