"Welcome to the Fourth Reich"
Reflections on the Comments of Harry Belafonte and Noam Chomsky at Democracy Now!'s 20th Anniversary Celebration
by Sunsara Taylor
December 8, 2016 | Revolution Newspaper | revcom.us
On December 5, at the 20th year anniversary of Democracy Now, Harry Belafonte, the legendary singer, actor and activist, commented, “In a few weeks from now, if there is a platform on which I will be privileged to stand and speak, my opening remarks will probably be something like, 'Welcome to the Fourth Reich.'”
To make very clear what he meant, he followed this up by referencing a friend who had survived the Holocaust that had been carried out by Hitler. This analogy is entirely fitting. It is incredibly important that Trump and Pence not be normalized, but called out for the extreme and unprecedented danger they represent for the people of the world.
Belafonte Calls for Courage
Later, Belafonte emphasized that this is a time for unparalleled courage. He insisted that people need to have “rebel hearts” and be willing to sacrifice. He invoked the legacy of Michael Schwerner, Andrew Goodman and James Cheney, the three civil rights workers who were murdered by racists in the South in 1964. He said that those kinds of extremes will come and that the real nobility is being prepared to pay that price. He insisted that ISIS must not be the only force in the world willing to die for their beliefs, that workers and other oppressed people must also be willing to make whatever sacrifice is necessary to stop what is coming.
Warns Against Anti-Communism
Belafonte made a number of other comments, most of which I am not reflecting on here and not all of which I agree with, but one other thing I want to mention is extremely important. He is now almost 90 and he drew from his long experience in the struggle to share a warning. He said it had been a mistake the way that, over the years, many people in the movements were affected by society's anti-communism. He said it had done harm, including to the struggle of Black people, to turn away from any open consideration of communism. Even if he meant this in reference to the old Communist Party, which has actually been against revolution and genuine communism for many decades, his point is still well taken. In my view, the reason to reject the old Communist Party is precisely because they were no longer remotely communist, not because communism is something bad or scary.
Chomsky Invokes Hitler…
Noam Chomsky also weighed in on world events. On the one hand, he started out by recalling watching Hitler speak to crowds at rallies on television during Hitler's Germany when he was much younger and that watching the election results on November 8 conjured up those memories in a very disturbing way. This was very important.
But Downplays Trump's Danger
However, Chomsky went on to downplay much of what makes Trump so dangerous. He explicitly said that the world as we know it might come to an end due to events that took place on November 8, but insisted that the key event wasn't the election of Trump/Pence, but the failure of an international meeting of governments about climate change in Marrakesh, Morocco. Chomsky is absolutely correct to sound the alarm about the catastrophic danger of climate change – and many more need to heed this warning. But, despite his long-demonstrated opposition to all the major pillars of Trump and Pence's program, he still seemed to be missing the qualitative and paramount danger it poses. This includes their promise to crush and criminalize all dissent (witness the threat to shred the Constitution by imprisoning and stripping flag-burners of their citizenship, for one potent example), their genocidal views towards immigrants, Muslims and Black people, their vicious hatred of women, as well as their denial of climate change and promotion of climate change deniers to key positions of authority.
Its Not Just Economics—This is About Fascist, White Supremacist, Misogynist, America-First Revenge
Later, Chomsky was asked by Juan González how we should respond to so many “white workers” voting for Trump. First, Chomsky wrongly conceded that the white people who voted for Trump are largely workers. This is not true. Some are, but a great many aren't. Overall the median household of primary Trump voters was $72,000—a full $16,000 higher than the national median household income.
Then, he insisted that many of those who voted for Trump voted for Obama eight years ago. He said they had been sold on Obama's promise of “hope and change,” and when Obama betrayed that promise they were sold on the Con Man Trump. He insisted that, if people came up with a viable program for hope and change, we could win those same voters back over pretty easily. He insisted that we were much further along than at darker times in the past, insisting that organizing white workers in Indiana today is nothing compared to what the Freedom Riders did during the Civil Rights Movement.
This is wrong and misleading. It was not simply hope for change and an improved economic situation that drew people to Trump. The main attraction was precisely the vicious reassertion of open white supremacy and vile revenge against women, along with jingoistic America-first-ism overall.
The fact that many who voted for Trump once supported Obama does not contradict this. Part of the “sell” of Obama's campaigns and presidency was that America would finally “move beyond race.” He didn't make this promise by doing anything meaningful to address the genocidal white supremacy and oppression of Black people and others. Rather, Obama held out the promise that finally these white people could “wash their hands” of responsibility for the millions of Black people who were locked out and locked down. With a Black man as president, the vicious logic went, no Black person had any excuse for not “making it,” if they were still poor or imprisoned it was “their own damn fault.”
Many of these same white people now voted for Trump, a man whose calling card is to demonize immigrants, whip up genocidal support for killer cops, boasts about sexual assault, and hatred of Muslims. This is definitely a very dangerous escalation, but it is not a contradiction.
Peeling Trump Supporters Away
Yes, it is possible – and it is definitely necessary – to win many of these white people over, to break them out of this terrible shit. But not by appealing to their economic interests and leaving all this hatred, bigotry, revenge and frustrated sense of entitlement intact. Only by directly taking on and challenging the white supremacy, the hatred of women, the xenophobia and often Christian fascist foundations of their outlook can any of them be peeled away from helping to cement fascism.
In this, the analogy to the Freedom Rides is very apt. Both in terms of the monumental stakes for the future of oppressed people and in terms of the risks that must be shouldered by those who undertake this work. A powerful – though far from the only – example of this were the vitriolic and physically threatening mobs of many hundreds that amassed on multiple occasions in Mt. Greenwood, Chicago within recent weeks. These mobs, filled with off-duty police officers, firemen and other residents of a nearly all-white neighborhood, openly celebrated the police murder of Joshua Beal, a Black man, during his cousin's funeral. They shouted racist epithets at Black people, threatened to break the bones of a prominent Catholic priest, and chanted repeatedly, “Trump! Trump! Trump!” As we saw when the Revolution Club spearheaded broad protests out there, it is possible to peel away some of that fascist social base, and to begin to crack open the mentality behind it. But again, this can only be done by mobilizing growing numbers of people to fiercely and directly take on the white supremacy, patriarchy, and jingoism that coheres it.
Throughout the evening, there was a constant theme in the remarks of all the speakers and performers that we have the ability to secure a brighter future through struggle. This is an important orientation, but it can only be made real if we soberly confront the full scope of the unprecedented danger before us and if we, on that basis, rise to the challenge in ways that are even more courageous, even more determined, even more rigorous in our understanding, even more broad and widespread, even more uncompromising, and even more willing to sacrifice than even the best among us have before. It is in the spirit that I share these reflections on both the strengths and the weaknesses of the comments from these two individuals who have contributed so much over so many years.
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