Michael Booth, the creator of TrumpAndAllTheRest.com, is a US-born expatriate journalist, publicist, author and online publisher who has lived in a Spanish village in the foothills of Sierra Nevada for the past five decades. Though better known abroad for his fine-art printmaking sites and online magazine, Booth's day job for the past decade and a half, until recently, was his communications agency, dedicated principally to designing and implementing Internet strategies for Spanish companies and institutions.
His latest project is a photographic homage site to the Spanish village that adopted him many years ago: http://somospineros.com.
What motivates Americans these days? What are their priorities? Where did those convictions come from? Why are the axiomatic American truths so different from those of the rest of the world? What do Americans read? Where are they coming from? Where are they headed? Are they out front, or lagging behind? What is their agenda?
As I see it, our generations’ part of the American story, one of the most truculent in their history, which I have deemed The American Agenda, takes shape at a meeting in Yalta (Crimea, Soviet Union) from February 4th to the 11th, 1945, just before the end of second great war of the 20th century. United there, at their second and last wartime meeting, were the leaders of the three Allied countries that were to be instrumental in the defeat of German nazism, Italian fascism and Japanese imperialism: Premier Joseph Stalin of the Soviet Union, US President Franklin D. Roosevelt of the United States, and British Prime Minister Winston Churchill of Great Britain.
With the war in Europe practically won by these Allies, the grumpy, hard-drinking prime minister’s principal objective at the conference was to save the British Empire, which was retained, if not for long, and the British still have not closed the wound. Premier Stalin felt obliged to emerge from the war with enough control over Eastern Europe to assure that neither the Germans, nor anyone else, could march unhindered into his country. Roosevelt’s goals included consensus on thee creation of the United Nations and gaining Soviet agreement to enter the war against Japan once Hitler was defeated. None of them left Yalta completely satisfied. (Source: Wikipedia)
Roosevelt and Stalin trusted one another and foresaw possible common projects between their two countries after the war. Churchill, a British aristocrat, lifelong anti-communist hardliner, and the one who would betray the other two, felt left alone at the meeting with his big cigar. When the war in Europe ended he actually suggested to American President Harry Truman (Roosevelt having died a couple of months after the Yalta Conference) that, since they were already in Europe, a combined British-American force might invade Russia and nip communism in the bud.
The US Enters an Open Field
It is important to keep in mind at this point that, while Britain and the Soviet Union, along with many other countries in Europe and Asia, were devastated by war on their own ground with massive human and economic losses, the United States was never bombed and never saw an enemy soldier on their land. They fought in Europe and Asia, and didn’t enter the war until more than two years after Britain and six months after the Soviet Union. When the Americans finally did get into the fray it was not to form a western front in order to relieve the hard-pressed Russians who were left virtually alone to face the Germans’ lethal attack (Operation Barbarrosa) on the east beginnning in June of 1941.
Instead the Yanks followed Churchill’s lead, always prioritizing the protection of British colonies and access to Middle-East oil. So the Americans and the British dilly-dallied in North Africa and Italy for a disproportionate long time. The all-important British and American advance across the English Channel did not take place for three more years, during which the Soviet Union fought the Germans almost alone, until the Allied Normandy landing (Operation Overlord) in June of 1944. President Truman actually said, in the meantime, that the more Germans and Russians who killed one another, the better.
The Americans, having pulled themselves out of the tail end of the great depression and gotten rich from their industrial contributions to the war, were sitting on top of the world. It was around that time that a few smart, opportunistic American leaders began to think in terms of American world domination. and to act on their thoughts. What better time than the present, they must have thought, with virtually the entire world at their feet. So they began to lay the ideological groundwork and to create the institutions necessary to work their plans. From there on out, the United States essentially called the shots.
Showdown at Bretton Woods
The first step to enable the projection of American power around the globe, in July, 1944, a few months before the Yalta Conference, was an international meeting at the Mount Washington Hotel in the ski resort of Bretton Woods, New Hampshire. The meeting was called the United Nations Monetary and Financial Conference, though the United Nations would not be created until more than a year later. There, under the undeniable leadership of the United States, 730 delegates from all 44 Allied nations sat down from July 1 to 22, 1944, to regulate the international monetary and financial order after World War II. Out of this meeting came the establishment of the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (IBRD) and the International Monetary Fund (IMF), as well as the International Trade Organization.
The United States and Britain had secretly been planning the economic future of the world since 1940. Their attitude towards the rest of the delegates was hinted at by the economist Lord Keynes, the head of the British delegation, in a recorded conversation:
Twenty-one countries have been invited which clearly have nothing to contribute and will merely encumber the ground… The most monstrous monkey-house assembled for years.
In the accelerated approval of the agreements at Bretton Woods the Soviet Union did not join the newly-created financial entities and Soviet influence on world trade was badly damaged as a consequence. The final agreement replaced the gold standard with the U.S. dollar as the global currency. By so doing, it established America as the dominant power in the world economy. After the agreement was signed, America was the only country with the ability to print dollars. (Source: Wikipedia)
One of the reasons Bretton Woods worked for the Americans was that the U.S. was clearly the most powerful country at the table, thus able to impose its will on the others, including an often-dismayed Britain. At the time, one senior official at the Bank of England described the deal reached at Bretton Woods as “the greatest blow to Britain next to the war”, largely because it underlined the way financial power had moved from the UK to the US. Having become the largest international creditor, the US held nearly two-thirds of the world’s gold reserves and commanded half of all global industrial production. (Sources: Wikipedia and AstuteNews.com)
Three quarters of a century later, Kristina V. Minkova, St. Petersburg State University, writes in the Russian Journal of Global Initiatives: Policy, Pedagogy, Perspective:
It is my belief that Stalin was not fully aware of all the complexity of the big economic and political game between the United States and Great Britain, which gained momentum in 1943. While the latter was struggling to save the remnants of its empire and was bargaining madly for credits vitally important for its survival, the former were clearly demanding the role of world leader.
Over the past half century the majority of the leaders in the American military, especially officers and non-coms were either from Southern States or had been formed on southern military bases. There they absorbed southern-dominated expressions of nationalism, weaponized patriotism and religion. An old friend who did his obligatory military service during the Vietnam War was so repelled by the redneckedness of the US Army that he left the country for good when he was discharged. Looking back a half a century he says with a mock meaningful smile, “I left the US the same year as Stanley Kubrick, 1968.”
Southernization’s Limitations on Voting Rights
The Voting Rights Act of 1965 signed into law on August 6, 1965, by President Lyndon Johnson, outlawed the discriminatory voting practices adopted in many southern states after the Civil War, including literacy tests as a prerequisite to voting. But on June 25, 2013, the United States Supreme Court, in the landmark Shelby County (Alabama) v. Holder case, reconsidered the constitutionality of two provisions of the Voting Rights Act of 1965: Section 5, which requires certain states and local governments to obtain federal preclearance before implementing any changes to their voting laws or practices; and Section 4(b), which contains the coverage formula that determines which jurisdictions are subjected to preclearance based on their histories of discrimination in voting. (Source: Wikipedia)
According to an article by Vann R. Newkirk II in The Atlantic of July 10, 2018:
Just five years after the landmark Shelby County v. Holder decision, it’s become clear that the decision has handed the country an era of renewed white racial hegemony. And we’ve only just begun.
The same author says on July 21, 2018:
Voter suppression almost certainly helped Donald Trump win the presidency. Multiple academic studies and court rulings indicate that racially biased election laws, such as voter-ID legislation in places like Wisconsin, favored Republican candidates in 2016. Like most other elections in American history, this one wasn’t a fair fight. A poll conducted by the Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI) and The Atlantic has uncovered evidence of deep structural barriers to the ballot for black and Latino voters, specifically in the 2016 election. More than that, the survey finds that the deep wounds of Jim Crow endure, leaving America’s democratic promise unfulfilled.
Nor is it necessary to resort to sophisticated big-data techniques to influence voting results significantly. There are effective redneck measures as simple as closing polling stations in Democratic neighborhoods. Unfair, discriminatory voting laws are already in effect. Some of them would be clearly illegal if challenged, but that is a complicated, time-consuming process that not all communities are prepared to face. It’s up to the Attorney General to file those suits, but Jeff Sessions hasn’t take the initiative, so cheated would-be voters–significantly many poor and elderly people and minorities who would vote for Democrats–are cut out of the mix.
What’s Next? Could Southernization Be Reversed?
In theory, everything is possible, but the de-southernization of the United States would be difficult to the point of impossible. With more than half a century of head start, southernization has its roots sunk deeply in large parts of the north and west. And let’s not forget the south, which is already southernized. We’re talking about changing people’s hearts and minds, which is never easy, as the Americans discovered in other people’s countries. What would be required? First and foremost: education. Ignorance fertilizes all the ills of an underdeveloped region, and the south is at the bottom of the US totem pole in high-school graduates. This is not because southerners are less intelligent. It’s because the south spends significantly less on public education. Deficient nutrition is also a factor. Hungry kids from poor families make worse students and the south lacks many programs to help them.
Michael Herr, one of the most lucid people I have never met, and who didn’t write much beyond a thin book called Dispatches and two of the seminal film scripts of the 20th century, Apocalypse Now and Full Metal Jacket, said, “They speak about the dumbing of America as a foregone thing, already completed, but, duh, it’s a process and we haven’t seen anything yet.”
A loosening of the grip that fundamentalist Christianity has on the southernized population would also help immensely. The belief in a better life after death is a terrible millstone around the neck of a society. Then there’s economic equality. If people are given real hope they don’t have to rely on charismatic leaders and magical religion.
Of course, the south’s (and the southernized north’s) deep-down racism would have to be tempered. According to the 2010 U.S. Census, 14 percent of all people in the United States are identified as black, either alone or in combination with one or more other races. In 2010, 55 percent of the US black population lived in the South, and 105 Southern counties had a black population of 50 percent or higher. The way things look today the necessity of eradicating the inequality and marginalization of so many innocent people seems to be a virtually insoluble problem.
Overblown, racially-discriminating incarceration rates in the United States are the highest in the world, and their effects on the society are more damaging than most of the original crimes themselves. Not only is prison–especially long mandatory terms– disastrous for the families concerned, but it is a sure generator of more delinquency. What keeps American lawmakers from realizing that? Never lose sight of the fact that a disproportionate number of those in prison are people of color. Could it have to do with racism?
Where’s the Will to Make America Great Again?
Is there a firm determination, or even a mild desire in the American power structure to redress all these wrongs and put the country back on the path of solidarity and sanity? That is to say, to make America great again. Patently not. Such a change of priorities would require tremendous political conviction and the commitment of so many resources that the United States would no longer be able to devote itself to its primary businesses: world domination and never-ending war. Unfortunately, the decision to make any sort of fundamental changes in the country lies in the hands of the same southernized politicians who created the current situation, so any significant change is highly unlikely. Those politicians are too firmly backed by their southernized voters, approximately half the country, along with the big business interests which have financed reelection for most of the United States Congress. Therein lies the problem.
There’s the other inevitable American reality: too many powerful interests are satisfied with the status quo. Workers wages are so low in the south that industries are beginning to relocate their traditional northern manufacturing operations to the south, and even to bring some of them back from Asia. This, however, doesn’t necessarily indicate a bright future. Better than cheap labor is no labor, and most manufacturing jobs will soon be in the “hands” of robots.
In an article for American Prospect, Harold Meyerson says:
The Old South may not be able to bring back the days of unpaid slave labor, but the GOP’s doing the next best thing by shredding our safety net, slashing our wages, and taking aggressive measures to keep us from voting them out of power.
So, could the southernization of America be reversed or tempered? The odds tend towards “not a chance,” save the occurance of some unforseen cataclysmic event or, failing that, a miraculous awakening of the sedated American electorate.
Did you ever wonder how the United States government became dominated by white southern Republicans and their northern cohorts? It was a slow process that began when the South began to move north and west more than half-century ago. They took with them their quaint accent–which sounds powerful endearing coming out of the mouth of Dolly Parton, but not so charming when the speaker is Mitch McConnell. They also took their rural-exploitation economics, their slavers’ racism, their beatification of ignorance, their love for guns and the flag, their fundamentalist Christianity and their faith-based view of reality which admits no common sense, not to mention scholarly thinking. Little by little their influence grew, thanks to factors we’ll look at here. Today they direct the fate–and the fatality–of a great nation.
Disclaimer: This piece is not intended to be a blanket condemnation of southeners and things southern. There are a lot of good and valuable people down there. Nor do I limit the term “toxic redneck” to southerners. There are plenty of them in the north, right up to the northeast, right up to the very, very Toxic Redneck in Chief.
Before we go any further, let’s define “toxic redneck” so we’re on the same page. For our purposes that term–usually, but not always–refers to a rural, southern, white, bigoted, racist with limited education and virulent extreme-right-wing political convictions. Due to the “southernization” of a large part of the northern and western parts of the United States, the rankest versions these values have been adopted in the north, as well. The common denominator in both cases, north and south, appears to be ignorance and intolerance.
The Epidemiology of Southernization
The term “southernization,” for the tendency to adopt traditional down-home customs, mindsets and values was probably borrowed from the title of a 1974 book by John Egerton: The Americanization of Dixie: the Southernization of America. Egerton’s well-documented thesis is that the “Americanization of Dixie” and the “Southernization of America” are complementary social phenomena that migrated respectively from North to South and South to North and have changed the essential character of the nation. He feels that they have cannibalized each other to the detriment of both and, of course, the country, which is currently advancing backwards. Egerton’s book is more than 40 years old but its theses remain surprisingly valid today.
It seems that it was the most brutal and retrograde of plantation values that traveled best, from white supremacy and exploitation mentalities to the most primitive forms of down-home miracle religions. Kevin Phillips, in his 2006 book, American Theocracy, traces the evolution of Christian sects in America from the time of the American Revolution. The trend, he suggests, is toward ever more fundamentalist versions of Cristianity, embodying biblical inerrancy, speaking in tongues, millenarianism, and rebirth in Christ. Phillips traces the trajectory of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC). It was denominated “southern” when it was founded in Atlanta, Georgia in 1845 in opposition to the northern Baptists over the issue of slavery. Today it is the world’s largest Baptist denomination:
In his article “The Southernization of America Religion: Testing a Hypothesis” (Sociological Analysis 1991), Mark A. Shibley undertook a systematic, empirical examination of the Egerton thesis. Using church membership data from the Glenmary Research Center and population and migration data from the U.S. Census, he showed that virtually all the membership growth in evangelical churches during the 1970s could be attributed to growth in historically southern evangelical churches. Moreover, Shibley found that the growth of southern-style religion was especially marked outside the South and corresponds with regions that experienced high levels of in-migration from the South during the same period.
Kevin Phillips quotes the historian, Mark Noll, who says:
The protestant bodies whose rates of growth in recent decades have exceeded general population increases–sometimes far exceeded–are nearly all characterized by such labels as Bible-believing, born again, conservative, evangelical, fundamentalist, holiness, Pentecostal or restorationist.
This is the tenor of the religious beliefs that have migrated north and west and today rule supreme in the United States government. Believe it or not, there are full-fledged members of President Trump’s cabinet–along with scores of other high-level appointees–who sincerely believe that the biblical “end times” are upon us. According to these evangelical Christians all that is necessary is the Jews’ return to Jerusalem followed by the great war of Armageddon which is prophesied in the Bible. Then God will swoop down and lift all of his born-again true believers into Heaven and send the rest of us straight to Hell. This is the “Rapture” that is currently all the rage among born-again rednecks. And these are the people responsible for shaping United States foreign policy. The truth is that God doesn’t have to bother to descend to earth in order for a war in the Mid-East to deteriorate into Holy Hell.
Elizabeth Parker Illuminates the Issues Graphically
In her website, blogger and web developer Elizabeth Parker sums up the southernization process in her commentaries on thirteen carefully-selected maps. She sets the tone with the first one which portrays the division between slave and free states in 1861, just before the Civil War. Its design coincides eerily with today’s map of red and blue states.
And here is the map of red and blue states:
The twelve following maps in her presentation illustrate the “progress” that has been made in various aspects of the American experience since the process of southernization began. The maps shed light, state by state, on such issues as numbers of high-school graduates, gun deaths, encarceration rate, minimum wages, teen pregnancy, etc. Her accompanying explanations and examples further illuminate the uncomfortable truths exposed by the maps. You might want to have a look at the complete 5,000-word article.
The Southernization of the Nation’s Capitol
Washington DC sits on land originally donated by the states of Maryland and Virginia, so it was born with a marked southern character. The city of Washington was declared the national capital in 1791. Then, in 1846, Virginia requested the return of the area they had donated to the capitol in the beginning, fearing that slavery would be banned in the district, and Congress approved. Subsequently the northward march of southern attitudes in increasing numbers had increasing influence on national elections. After–and largely due to–the civil-rights legislation of the mid-sixties the solidly-racist south abandoned the Democratic Party en masse, thus reinforcing the Republicans’ strength both in Washington and throughout the country.
Naturally, their racist, white-supremacist values went with them and remain powerful today. How else can we explain the absolute boycott of President Barak Obama’s legislative agenda by both houses of Congress dominated by good ol’ boys who, though they never announced it publicly, considered Obama “just another uppity nigger.” President Trump follows the same tacit policies, going to exaggerated lengths to annul President Obama’s legacy. Needless to say, Trump’s nazi, klan, and white-supremacist followers are delighted with this turn of events and will follow him to the gates of Hell.
What Turned Americans so Virulently Against Socialism?
Socialism, or elements thereof, are commonplace throughout the modern world and they’re generally accepted as just another legitimate political option to be included in the democratic mix. Every place, that is, except the United States, where socialism has been systemically demonized over the last century. Today socialism is almost universally rejected as false, subversive and actually dangerous, as it allegedly leads to communism. Americans appear to have forgotten that their society already embraces many aspects of socialism including the police, fire department and public schools, as well as social security and public employment. The two collectives that benefit most from American socialism are the military, with full health benefits including dentistry, and–oh irony of ironies–the United States Congress, most of whose members shun and berate “socialism” but all of whom enjoy a 72% discount on their healthcare as well as comfortable retirement plans, all of which they awarded themselves.
Meanwhile, the entire civilized world is enjoying the benefits of both capitalism and socialism. There’s Germany populated by consumate capitalists who compete über-successfully in world markets. At the same time all German citizens enjoy the advances of socialism: universal health care, month-long vacations, generous maternity and paternity leaves, living wages, worker participation in company boardrooms, free education through college… The same model prevails in many other countries around the world, starting with Scandinavia. Norway, one of the most socialized countries in the world, also has one of the world’s most successful sovereign investment funds. Most of the European Community has similar rights and benefits. Some extend to foreigners who can go to college for free both in Germany and Scotland, though the latter requires English students to pay. Outside Europe; Japan and Canada, Australia and New Zealand, are all similiar, well-ordered capitalist countries, sweetened with the solidarity and generosity of democratic socialism.
Why hasn’t the United States done something similar? Why must the streets of their cities be populated by cold and hungry homeless families? Why are the young lives of their college students blighted by long-term debt? (On the subject of student debt in America, Derek Newton writing for Forbes.com about Secretary of Education, Betsy deVos, whose family, it is reported, owns ten yachts, says: “As the Queen of Student Debt, DeVos is burdening students with debt she knows many can’t pay in order to advance the interests of those who take advantage of them.” It gets even better. See Newton’s full article here.) Why does the United States have the highest encarceration rates in the world? What about the hopeless working poor and millions of citizens bereft of any health care? Why are their billionaires so obscene and so obscenely rich? Aren’t they taxed? And where did that President come from?
Have the Americans forgotten that theirs is the richest country in the world? Or have they forgotten that riches are not just for buying yachts and wars? These are not rhetorical questions. Why don’t the Americans look around and see what the governments of the rest of the world are achieving for all of their citizens and fix their own country?
Trick Bag, Can’t Fix
They can’t. They’re living in a trick bag, victims of the false American ethos of rugged individualism, the self-made man and dog-eat-dog competitiveness. It’s a country where people are judged primarily by how much they have with all other considerations coming in a distant second. Where did this twisted, unnatural and anti-human set of values come from, and how did it get a death grip on what was potentially the greatest country in the world? The answers to these fundamental questions are not secret. They just require a bit of research.
Ironically, it was a historical coincidence that caused socialism to set the anti-socialism ball rolling. It was during the low point of the 1930s that many American citizens noticed that there was one country in the world that was conspicuously unaffected by the Great Depression. It was not only not affected but actually enjoyed a booming economy. The Soviet Union’s first Five Year Plan in 1928 brought with it redistribution of wealth, universal health care, and full employment. (Source: Wikipedia) There was a period, before Stalin’s brutal excesses became known, when the Soviet system looked attractive to the American Left and the Communist Party enjoyed a honeymoon with the American working class. With unemployment figures hovering around 25% (much higher for minorities), desperate American workers formed long lines to emigrate to Soviet Russia. Business Week reported at the time that the Soviet Union needed 6,000 American workers and more than 100,000 applied.
This unexpected set of economic circumstances (particularly the implicitly negative comparison between America and Russia) sent American businessmen into paroxysms of fear. What would become of their economic dominance if Soviet successes continued? That fear has continued to dominate their world down to our own times. It fueled the First Red Scare (1917-20), which coincided with the Russian revolution, and the Second Red Scare in 1947-60 which was supercharged by Joseph McCarthy, the ambitious and unscrupulous Senator from Wisconsin. McCarthy’s fear mongering to the lowest common American denominator debilitated the labor unions, political associations and cultural organizations of the American left, responsible for the reforms of the 30s and 40s. In the process McCarthy virtually wiped out the American Communist Party, along with the creme of Hollywood talent, which was blacklisted by his House Un-American Activities (HUAC) committee. Ninety percent of the tarnished filmmakers never went back to work in Hollywood. (Source: The Untold History of the United States)
Socialism, Just Vanilla-Flavored Communism
With anti-Communism firmly consolidated as American scripture, the United States moved on to the Cold War, the Soviet-American geopolitical confrontation which lasted from 1946 (with American diplomat, George Kennan’s, “Long Telegram” from Moscow in which he enunciated the United States’ policy of containment of Soviet expansionism), until the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991. (Source: Wikipedia) It was during this period that the United States made maximum use of “the Communist threat” to justify their colonial wars in Korea and Vietnam, as well as American-sponsored proxy wars in Latin America, Afghanistan, Iran and other places.
That’s more than half a century of selling hard-core anti-Communism as one of the basic pillars of American thinking, so it’s no wonder that “socialism” (which, as all American patriots know, is just vanilla-flavored Communism) should be anathema to all right-thinking Americans. For that matter, today perhaps half of Americans consider a “liberal” to be the first cousin to a dangerous commie.
The Future of American Socialism
The upcoming American presidential and congressional elections, scheduled for November 3, 2020, have a lot to reveal about the future of the country. At stake, besides the presidency, are all 435 seats in the House of Representatives and 34 of 100 Senate seats. The choice for American voters is between more of the same and a radical departure from President Donald Trump’s atypical administration. The issues right now, just over a year from the elections, are centered on President Trump’s alleged wrongdoing on several fronts, and his possible impeachment. But all of that could prove irrelevant if his well-entrenched and loyal backers re-elect him or, as he has hinted, he refuses to accept the election results.
If the elections should tilt the other way and the Democrats were to win the presidency, maintain their majority in the House, and gain ground in the Senate, the task of restoring the government to sanity and decency would be massive. There democratic persuasions of all stripes, including socialism, would enter into the mix. The question becomes, would the outrages of the Trump administration persuade middle-of-the-road American voters to opt for more-socialist-leaning solutions: more regulation of big business including a fair tax structure, more robust social programs, investment in public education, a clearer division between church and state, cutting back on military spending, sane administration of international relations… This may sound like a left-wing Christmas list, but everything is possible in turbulent times such as these, and progress on even half of these issues would be a step forward. It will not be easy in any case, considering the considerable influence of corporate money on the United States Congress, on both sides of aisles.
Who would lead the left’s campaign to take responsibility for the government of the United States? Both Bernie Sanders and Joe Biden, who will be, respectively 79 and 77 years of age on election day, might be considered too old. (On the other hand, age connotates wisdom…) That leaves Elizabeth Warren, who would bring competence and decency into the presidency and would not be reluctant to include democratic socialists in her government. Would she include any of the four young ethnic congresswomen the press refers to as “The Squad.” President Trump, himself, is one of their promoters, prompted by the fear they inspire, with comments like, “Go back where you came from!” They look like the future of something. It remains to be seen what.
“We need leaders not in love with money but in love with justice. Not in love with publicity but in love with humanity.
If you’re reading this you will agree that some profound changes in the American government are urgently needed. (How can I be so sure you’ll agree? Because the people who disagree don’t read.) The questions remaining are:
What changes are required?
Who’s going to carry them out?
When and how?
The most obvious answers seem to be:
A clean sweep of the Trump government
A citizens’ initiative
ASAP, and the How is more complicated
The prevailing wisdom seems to be that President Trump needs impeaching. It’s hard to disagree with that, but it’s equally hard not to notice that it wouldn’t do a great deal of good. Besides impeaching (being brought to trial by a simple majority of the House of Representatives where Democrats outnumber Republicans 235 to 198) he also needs convicting by a two-thirds vote in the Senate, and with a Republican-controlled Senate that’s not going to happen. Let’s fantacize a little bit. If it did happen and President Trump were booted out of office, what then? There’s Vice President Pence, waiting in the wings, drooling scripture. Then comes the three-year legal process to get rid of him. Clearly, this is too clunky, and it’s not feasible.
In fact, maybe this whole scenario is based on the liberals’ denial of the real situation. Perhaps their obsession with freeing the country from Trumpism just forms part of their aversion to cell phones, killer drones and Marvel movies. Maybe they should let nature take its course. President Trump was elected, after all. The rest is history in the making.
People who disagree profoundly with President Trump feel they need not only a new President but a clean sweep of the government. To achieve that objective by legal means is virtually impossible, given the extent to which Republican elected officials and appointees control the government, with the sole exception of the Supreme Court, which has its own impediments, i.e. a conservative majority. That situation could get even worse. It’s not clear how much longer Ruth Bader, the charming little 86-year-old weight-lifting justice who has been on the Court for the past 26 years, might last. If President Trump gets to appoint her successor the Supreme Court could be monopolized by powerful reactionaries for decades.
Another possibility is civil war. (Yes, it could happen there.) But that has serious drawbacks, too. In the first place, it would be messy, as Americans discovered in their first civil war, a century and a half ago. Then there’s the question of doubt about its outcome. Would President Trump’s well-armed-and-de-cerebrated Nazis, Klansmen (Klanspeople?) and White Supremacists prevail? Even worse, it’s not clear whether the military and the police would come down on the side of the conspirators or the armed militias. No, the civil-war option is entirely too risky.
What possible solution to America’s current political dilemma does that leave? They could try some sort of covert operation to bring about what the Americans refer to as “regime change.” The mere mention of that provokes a shudder among even the most hardened proponents of getting rid of Trumpism. “Yes, but these are trying times and this is a special case,” they will say, “and there will be time later to justify the more extreme measures.” That is if those measures work, something that is not assured.
If progressive Americans should decide to take the first step down that slippery slope, how would they go about it? It’s a massive project, like building a dam. They would need some experts, though they wouldn’t have far to look. The world regime-change capital is in Virginia, the home of Washington and Jefferson. The CIA headquarters is in McLean, just 20 minutes down the George Washington Memorial Parkway from Washington, DC. They’re not short of tried and tested experts in the business of changing regimes. As far as we know, until now their activities have been limited to other people’s countries, but it wouldn’t take a great deal of adjustment for them to adapt their methods to their home ground.
Tutti Frutti Regime Change
The CIA regime-change specialists have several flavors to choose from. There’s the straightforward invasion mode, which sounds like a good idea given the size and technological level of the American military. Though it didn’t work in Vietnam, Iraq or Syria, it was successful in smaller, less advanced countries like Panama and the Caribbean island of Grenada. But it isn’t a first-choice option for their own country. Nobody–or almost nobody–would look kindly upon the bombing of Boston.
A subtler approach is the proxy mode in which the CIA recruits, equips and trains an army of mercenaries (hereafter known as “the opposition”) with sufficient clout to bring down the existing (usually elected left-wing) government and install a strong man of their own choosing. This model has worked in Central America (since time immemorial) and East Timor (1975–1999), but not so well in Korea (1950-1953), Vietnam (1953-1975), Angola (1974–2002) or Syria (2011-2019). American proxy wars have been known to get out of hand and require American troops to intervene, as was the case in Korea and Vietnam.
A proxy operation would seem redundant in the United States, which already has a massive military, poised and ready to intervene anywhere in the world. Why not start in Washington? This would require years of careful grooming of key military officers capable of commanding a coup détat when the time comes. Does that mean this Manchurian-army ploy would take 10 or 20 years to execute? Yes, unless they already started 10 or 20 years ago…
Wait, Hasn’t the United States Already Undergone Regime Change
It can be coherently argued that the election of President Donald Trump and the government he subsequently formed was a de-facto regime change. After all, their objective was to dismount virtually the entire government by eliminating or privatizing existing programs in all areas, from environmental protection to education, health care and government regulation of the financial sector. And they are moving briskly backward with that program. So, yes, there is regime-change underway, though many thoughtful Americans would affirm that it’s changing in the wrong direction and needs to be re-directed.
That is to say, they would advocate a regime change of the regime change. It sounds almost as silly as the Brits Brexiting the Brexit, but there you have it. How simple it would have been for the Americans to head Trumpism off at the pass in the last presidential election, but for some reason they didn’t. So now they find themselves facing a bear that is potentially bigger and hairier than the Russian bear they’ve been threatening us with all these years.
Whatever they decide to do, they had better do it quickly, in view of President Trump’s latest declaration on his pullout from the contested border areas between Turkey and Syria, populated by the long-suffering Kurds. They were the main players in the recent American-sponsored “victory” over ISIS. Last Sunday’s American withdrawl opened the way for Turkish troops to sweep into Syria, wiping out the Kurds, now abandoned by the US, along the way. Turkey has the largest army in NATO, and according to yesterday’s papers they’re ready to roll.
It seems that some of the President’s advisors have belatedly warned him that turning the Turks loose to slaughter the Kurds and invade Syria is a singularly bad idea that would open up a whole new can of worms in the Middle East. So the President, never at a loss for words, excreted this declaration yesterday (as reported by The Guardian, October 7, 2029):
“As I have stated strongly before, and just to reiterate, if Turkey does anything that I, in my great and unmatched wisdom, consider to be off limits, I will totally destroy and obliterate the Economy of Turkey (I’ve done before!),” Mr Trump wrote on Twitter Monday morning.
He continued: “They must, with Europe and others, watch over the captured ISIS fighters and families. The US has done far more than anyone could have ever expected, including the capture of 100% of the ISIS Caliphate. It is time now for others in the region, some of great wealth, to protect their own territory. THE USA IS GREAT!”
It may be too late for regime change in the United States. Don’t you wish you’d built a bomb shelter?
If you look up definitions of “patriotism” you will find a collection of innocuous platitudes about love of country, shared values, pride, etc. It is as if the people who wrote those definitions were unaware that their loveable patriotism has metamorphosed from a cute little yellow worm to a giant venomous butterfly and that it has been instrumentalized as a tool used to justify all sorts of outrages all over the world. Those bland representations of patriotism have been largely out of date for centuries, perhaps as far back as the time when the ancient Greeks coined the word “patris,” meaning “fatherland,” in order to legitimize their own wars of conquest.
It’s patriotism in the hands of cynical politicians and dark interests that not only authorizes, but glorifies the United States’ least noble machinations both inside and outside their own country . It was a curious mousse of patriotism, anti-communism and business-as-usual that justified more than a century of American subversions, bombings, regime changes, invasions and occupations of other people’s countries around the world. It started in Massachusetts and Virginia in the 16th and 17th centuries against the native Americans and went from there to Mexico, Cuba, all of Central America and the Philippines, later to pass to Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Libia and Syria, among others. No country with strategic locations, sugar plantations or oil-and-gas deposits escapes American patriotism. “But that doesn’t make any sense,” you say, “no decent country can pretend to justify grave abuses worldwide on such flimsy, false thinking.”
How did such a pure and noble concept as the natural love of one’s country degenerate into murderous havoc? It didn’t happen haphazardly. It was carefully planted and nurtured throughout the history of American society, in their schools, churches, the media, the men’s clubs, the Boy Scouts, the military, the government, the think tanks, and Hollywood. John Wayne did more damage than napalm. Almost everybody was–and remains–on board.
I wonder if American school-children still recite the Pledge of Allegiance to the Flag every morning. That would be considered insidious mind bending of innocent children in any advanced country except the United States. From 1892 until December 22, 1942, the Pledge was accompanied by the “Bellamy salute,” with the hand outstretched toward the flag, palm down. It was not until the middle of World War II, that Congress noticed the uncomfortable similarity to the Nazi salute and derrogated the Bellamy salute in favor of the familiar hand-over-heart gesture.
The same goes for the American flag fetish, which I have written about earlier in this series. One of the first things that first-time visitors to the United States notice is the abundance of American flags adorning the facades of private homes. Seen from abroad, this looks like just another of the standard trappings of right-wing authoritarian regimes. And, in the eyes of the world, it is not a pretty sight.
We Can Often See the Beginning but not the End
Patriotism is one of humanity’s great concepts. It hits many buttons: idealism, emotion, empathy, inspiration, to name a few. But like virtually all of the other great concepts–think Christianity, democracy, socialism–it has been perverted, twisted over the centuries by shrewd, self-serving opportunists to hoodwink the populace and advance their own dubious and dangerous agendas. First they convert patriotism into a lie. Then they use that lie to justify their injustices.
The Americans have elevated lying to high art. Since the conception of advanced persuasion techniques in the 1920s by professional communicators like the Austrian-American pioneer in the field of public relations and propaganda, Edward Bernays (1891-1995). Bernays, who was Sigmund Freud’s nephew, was a pioneer in using communication both for business and political purposes. It was he who coined the term “psychological warfare” while working for the CIA on the overthrow of the democratically-elected Arbenz government in Guatemala in 1954. Bernays, a fascinating-if-sinister character is one of the principal figures in The Century of the Self, an award-winning four-part documentary produced for the BBC by Adam Curtis in 2002. It’s worth a look-in.
Do you remember the Boy Scouts, where we had such great times as kids? Remember their salutes and handshakes, their uniforms and their survival skills, their patriotism, and their inevitable links to magical religion? Our troop meetings were held in the basement of the Methodist church. In short, the Boy Scouts were–and are–a lightly-camouflaged paramilitary organization.
Patriotism Has Always Loomed Large in the Repertoire of Authoritarian Regimes
That’s because it’s a cheap and effective resource for promoting their sick agendas.It’s a great recourse because it cannot be combated by reasoning. It’s like old-time religion in that respect. Its effectiveness is based entirely on emotion which, unlike facts, can be easily manipulated but not so easily refuted. And a skilfull, oft-repeated call to patriotism can be powerful beyond belief. It can lure young men and women off to unjust and inhuman wars with their statistical possibilities of returning diminished or dead. And, when they are brought back home in black plastic body bags, patriotism can convince their mothers that theirs was a worthwhile sacrifice. She loses a child, with all that implies, and in return receives a “beautiful funeral,” and a ceremoniously-folded American flag.
Congressman William McHenry has another point of view:
“Patriotism inspires us. It unites us. It fills our hearts with pride and optimism. And sometimes it brings us to tears. Simple but poignant acts of American patriotism occur every day. They rarely attract headlines but these are the actions that strengthen this great nation – and teach us the true meaning of patriotism.
The families of American troops make great sacrifices for this nation. Believing in the cause for which their loved ones fight, military families bear great burdens and ask little in return. As we pray for our troops, we must not forget the hardships of their families and pray that God watches over them as well.”
Patriotism and Militarism
How neatly America’s seemingly innocent patriotism lends itself to military applications. It can be converted, virtually overnight if deemed necessary, into aggressive nationalism. From there to blood lust is but a short step. Anyone who has been through basic training in any branch of the military, or seen Stanley Kubrick’s Full Metal Jacket, knows this.
Some Americans can see through the sham, especially military veterans who have lived it in person, but unfortunately there are not enough of them. The old scam continues to bilk both young and old, year after year, war after war… What we’re looking at here is obviously brainwashing, but it’s not easy to convince Americans of that. Having drunk the Kool-Aid along with their mothers’ milk, they’re too thoroughly indoctrinated to believe anything else..
The 1918 Sedition Act, enacted during World War I, made it a crime to “willfully utter, print, write, or publish any disloyal, profane, scurrilous, or abusive language about the form of the Government of the United States” or to “willfully urge, incite, or advocate any curtailment of the production” of the things “necessary or essential to the prosecution of the war.” (Source: thirteen.org) More than 700 people were convicted under this scurrilous legislation and its validity was upheld by the courts. It is still applied today, notably in whistleblower cases. Since 2001 they have a newer law. It’s designed along the same lines but washes whiter. Officially its objective is, “Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism.” That mission statement leaves a lot of room for maneuver–some would say too much–to all American law enforcement and intelligence agencies. It’s aptly called the “Patriot Act.”
Patriotism Laid the Foundations for American Exceptionalism
American Exceptionalism has several faces, all stemming from the fact that the history of the United States is inherently different from those of other nations due to its being blessed with liberty, egalitarianism, individualism, republicanism, democracy and laissez-faire. Therefore, Americans have a duty to ensure Lincoln’s dream that “government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.” All of this goodness obliges the United States to assume the mantle of superiority over all other nations. You couldn’t make this up, but there it is, one of today’s rock-solid tenets of American ideology. Among other benefits this simple platitude insures that the United States enjoys immunity from international law. This whole system of patriotic values in an empty box has gotten them into some trouble and will get them into some more.
Historian Sheldon Stern, who served as the historian at the John F. Kennedy Library in Boston from 1977 to 1999, had this to say recently:
The idea of “American exceptionalism” has, in fact, become a political hot potato—reflexively embraced on the right and passionately denounced on the left. Perhaps we can gain some valuable insight into the historical merits of this concept by turning to one of the most underappreciated, but arguably the most brilliant of the Revolutionary generation, John Adams.
Adams was confident that the new United States was on the cusp of a brilliant future. But he did not believe that Americans, as a people, were exempt from the flaws and faults of other nations and peoples. “There is no special Providence for Americans … and their nature is the same with that of others. …We are not a chosen people … and we must and we shall go the way of all earth.” Americans, he warned, were not immune to the hubris, greed, and foolishness of the rest of mankind. He was convinced that negative rather than benign forces had largely shaped—and would continue to shape—human political behavior; and Americans were no exception. (Source: HistoryNewsNetwork.org)
The Future of American Patriotism
Regarded from a discreet distance with a cold eye, old-fashioned American-style patriotism doesn’t seem to have a brilliant future. Its practitioners, victims of lifetime chauvinistic training, are either in plastic garden bags or Congress, are washed-up presidential advisors to alcoholic presidents or undereducated industrial and agricultural residue, demented billionaires hell bent on buying the world, or elderly white men with dual doctorates in cynicism and opportunism. Patriotism has taken their country into permanent war and a domestic dead end. Despite their military’s highly-touted “full spectrum dominance,” the last wars they won were against Panama and the tiny Caribbean island of Grenada, and their fifth-generation allegedly-invisible “stealth fighters” can be detected by the antique radars that spotted Hitler’s luftwaffe headed across the English Channel towards London. What is the solution? “Hopes and prayers” probably won’t get the job done. It looks as if the Yanks won’t be waving their aircraft carriers for much longer unless some bright young American comes along with magical powers. Do you believe in magic?
Racism is as American as apple pie. It’s a tradition that has been ongoing on many fronts, starting even before shiploads of African slaves began landing in the New World. Its first victims were the “savage and godless” Native Americans. But their wildness and heathenism were not the worst of it. They were also the “proprietors” of two entire continents that were fabulously rich in natural resources and potential for “development.” That anomalous situation simply would not do. It was imperative that they should be relieved of those lands and riches by members of a superior godfearing white race. From the very beginning racism was linked with profit and religion was used as a blunt instrument.
What made the white race superior, after all? It was mainly horses and gunpowder and, ironically, savagery. With these advantages the white European riff-raff overwhelmed the noble American Indians, whose values were arguably superior to those of the Europeans. They inhabited a humane society based on solidarity, tolerance, and respect for their natural surroundings and everything that inhabited them. But they were destined to succumb utterly to a series of rapacious European invaders driven by predatory greed and an intolerant religious ideology. And, as we shall see, in half a millenium not much has changed.
Though the United States’ racist ideology has been tempered by legislation, both out of fairness and for reasons of political correctness, much of its effectiveness was–and is–thwarted by shrewd racist maneuvers like election tampering. So not much has changed. They celebrate fewer lynchings today but new procedures have arisen to take their place, such as white police officers killing colored men and boys with total impunity. It is, after all, more pragmatic. They don’t need a rope.
Let’s Talk About Lynching
According to the Wikipedia:
Lynching is the practice of murder by a group of people by extrajudicial action. Lynchings in the United States rose in number after the American Civil War in the late 19th century, following the emancipation of slaves; they declined in the 1920s. Most lynchings were of African-American men in the Southern United States, but women and non-blacks were also lynched, not always in the South. White lynchings of blacks also occurred in the midwestern United States and the border states, especially during the 20th-century Great Migration of blacks out of the Southern United States. The purpose was to enforce white supremacy and intimidate blacks through racial terrorism.
First You Must De-Humanize the Victims
Despite the fact that some white people were also lynched, the practice always has been a special atrocity aimed at people of color. It occurred most often in the Southern United States, where slavery had paved the way for dehumanizing black folks as sub-human or even non-human and, therefore, subject to be bought and sold as personal possessions (hence “chattel slavery”), treated like beasts of burden, having their families broken apart, and murdered with impunity. Even slaves born on American soil enjoyed no rights, no personal freedom, insofar as they were not recognized as “persons.”
It is important to note that this dehumanization process occurred mainly in the South and spread from there over the decades as proponents of the Southern way of life moved North and into positions of power in the United States government. Racism migrated north not only with the good old boys in government, but with workers seeking northern jobs, and it went hand-in-hand with the increasing adoption of Southern-style Evangelical religion and the South’s switch from the Democratic to the Republican Party. In 1948 all the states of the “solid South” voted Democratic majorities. By 1972, thanks largely to the Democrats’ embracing the cause of civil rights, the South was solidly Republican.
Obviously, most of the racism that spread around the country was not openly declared, rather of the wink-and-nod variety, such as President Trump’s declaration after the May 2017, Charlottesville Unite the Right white-supremacist rally. That was where the Nazis and the Klan played starring roles and a woman was killed by a car that was deliberately driven into a crowd of peaceful anti-fascist protesters. Afterwards, the President highlighted his comments with, “You also had people that were very fine people on both sides.”
American racism is not just attributable to bands of fanatical crazies loose on the streets. Its also woven into the fabric of American institutions from top to bottom. Here’s the National Football League’s response to San Francisco quarterback Kevin Kaepernick’s gesture of solidarity with the black victims of police shootings, by kneeling during the national anthem. On Sept. 7, 2016, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said this about Kaepernick’s one-man protest:
“…we believe very strongly in patriotism in the NFL. I personally believe very strongly in that. I think it’s important to have respect for our country, for our flag, for the people who make our country better; for law enforcement, and for our military who are out fighting for our freedoms and our ideals.
He concludes: “…clearly we have things that can get better in society, and we should get better. But we have to choose respectful ways of doing that so that we can achieve the outcomes we ultimately want and do it with the values and ideals that make our country great.”
Goodell’s first paragraph is a cheap shot, pulling out the patriotism card. The issue here has nothing to do with patriotism, as he well knows, but he also knows that just mentioning it will warm up an American audience. The operative word in his closing remarks is “respectful,” as if kneeling weren’t a respectful way of expressing dissent. The subtext here is thinly-disguised racism. If Kaepernick had been white, addressing a non-racial issue, might the story not have been a little different?
An Intellectual’s First-Hand Observations of Racism
James Baldwin said this in a 1962 article in The New Yorker:
But the Negro’s experience of the white world cannot possibly create in him any respect for the standards by which the white world claims to live. His own condition is overwhelming proof that white people do not live by these standards. Negro servants have been smuggling odds and ends out of white homes for generations, and white people have been delighted to have them do it, because it has assuaged a dim guilt and testified to the intrinsic superiority of white people.
In any case, white people, who had robbed black people of their liberty and who profited by this theft every hour that they lived, had no moral ground on which to stand. They had the judges, the juries, the shotguns, the law—in a word, power. But it was a criminal power, to be feared but not respected, and to be outwitted in any way whatever. And those virtues preached but not practiced by the white world were merely another means of holding Negroes in subjection.
Every Step Is Loaded
Every step of the American justice system, from the police to the prosecutors to the judges and the prison system, is loaded with explicit or implicit racism, and the proof is in the pudding. Let’s take a look at the statistics. Here’s what Republican Congressman Rand Paul has to say on on his website on March 9, 2015, regarding America’s overall prison population:
“Though only five percent of the world’s population lives in the United States, it is home to 25 percent of the world’s prison population. … Not only does the current overpopulated, underfunded system hurt those incarcerated, it also digs deeper into the pockets of taxpaying Americans.”
Even more alarming are these “incarceration trends” compiled by NAACP.org:
Incarceration Trends in America
Between 1980 and 2015, the number of people incarcerated in America increased from roughly 500,000 to over 2.2 million.
1 in every 37 adults in the United States, or 2.7% of the adult population, is under some form of correctional supervision.
Racial Disparities in Incarceration
In 2014, African Americans constituted 2.3 million, or 34%, of the total 6.8 million correctional population.
African Americans are incarcerated at more than five times the rate of whites.
The imprisonment rate for African American women is twice that of white women.
Nationwide, African American children represent 32% of children who are arrested,
42% of children who are detained, and 52% of children whose cases are judicially
waived to criminal court.
Though African Americans and Hispanics make up approximately 32% of the US
population, they comprised 56% of all incarcerated people in 2015.
If African Americans and Hispanics were incarcerated at the same rates as whites,
prison and jail populations would decline by almost 40%.
Drug Sentencing Disparities
In the 2015 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, about 17 million whites and 4 million African Americans reported having used an illicit drug within the last month.
African Americans and whites use drugs at similar rates, but the imprisonment rate of African Americans for drug charges is almost 6 times that of whites.
African Americans represent 12.5% of illicit drug users, but 29% of those arrested for drug offenses and 33% of those incarcerated in state facilities for drug offenses.
The deck is clearly stacked and the principal motor of this curious situation is not a mystery. In one form or another it is racism .
Lee Atwater on The Southern Strategy
Lee Atwater was an atypical rock ‘n rollin’ Republican strategist, and later chairman of the Republican National Committee who died at 40 of a brain tumor. Born in Georgia and raised in South Carolina he was southern through and through. He is interesting to us for an anonymous interview he gave to political scientist Alexander Lamis in 1981, while he was working for the Reagan government. This interview, which wasn’t made public until 11 years after his death, surfaced as an audio published by The Nation on November 1, 2012. Its content gives us a privileged peek into the underlying thinking behind the almost subliminal use of racism in the Southern Republican strategy:
Atwater: As to the whole Southern strategy that Harry S. Dent, Sr. and others put together in 1968, opposition to the Voting Rights Act would have been a central part of keeping the South. Now you don’t have to do that. All that you need to do to keep the South is for Reagan to run in place on the issues that he’s campaigned on since 1964, and that’s fiscal conservatism, balancing the budget, cut taxes, you know, the whole cluster.
Questioner: But the fact is, isn’t it, that Reagan does get to the Wallace voter and to the racist side of the Wallace voter by doing away with legal services, by cutting down on food stamps?
Atwater: Y’all don’t quote me on this. You start out in 1954 by saying, “Nigger, nigger, nigger”. By 1968 you can’t say “nigger”—that hurts you. Backfires. So you say stuff like forced busing, states’ rights and all that stuff. You’re getting so abstract now [that] you’re talking about cutting taxes, and all these things you’re talking about are totally economic things and a byproduct of them is [that] blacks get hurt worse than whites. And subconsciously maybe that is part of it. I’m not saying that. But I’m saying that if it is getting that abstract, and that coded, that we are doing away with the racial problem one way or the other. You follow me—because obviously sitting around saying, “We want to cut this”, is much more abstract than even the busing thing, and a hell of a lot more abstract than “Nigger, nigger”. So, any way you look at it, race is coming on the backbone.
Atwater, the Republican insider, is notable for this devastating statement he made in a Life magazine article in February of 1991, a month before he died:
My illness helped me to see that what was missing in society is what was missing in me: a little heart, a lot of brotherhood. The 1980s were about acquiring – acquiring wealth, power, prestige. I know. I acquired more wealth, power, and prestige than most. But you can acquire all you want and still feel empty. What power wouldn’t I trade for a little more time with my family? What price wouldn’t I pay for an evening with friends? It took a deadly illness to put me eye to eye with that truth, but it is a truth that the country, caught up in its ruthless ambitions and moral decay, can learn on my dime. I don’t know who will lead us through the ’90s, but they must be made to speak to this spiritual vacuum at the heart of American society, this tumor of the soul.
By Way of Homage to Martin Luther King
This is the full text of Martin Luther King’s “I’ve been to the mountaintop…” speech, given in Memphis, Tennessee, April 3, 1968, the day before he was assassinated.
Thank you very kindly, my friends. As I listened to Ralph Abernathy and his eloquent and generous introduction and then thought about myself, I wondered who he was talking about. It’s always good to have your closest friend and associate to say something good about you. And Ralph Abernathy is the best friend that I have in the world. I’m delighted to see each of you here tonight in spite of a storm warning. You reveal that you are determined to go on anyhow.
Something is happening in Memphis; something is happening in our world. And you know, if I were standing at the beginning of time, with the possibility of taking a kind of general and panoramic view of the whole of human history up to now, and the Almighty said to me, “Martin Luther King, which age would you like to live in?” I would take my mental flight by Egypt and I would watch God’s children in their magnificent trek from the dark dungeons of Egypt through, or rather across the Red Sea, through the wilderness on toward the promised land. And in spite of its magnificence, I wouldn’t stop there.
I would move on by Greece and take my mind to Mount Olympus. And I would see Plato, Aristotle, Socrates, Euripides and Aristophanes assembled around the Parthenon. And I would watch them around the Parthenon as they discussed the great and eternal issues of reality. But I wouldn’t stop there.
I would go on, even to the great heyday of the Roman Empire. And I would see developments around there, through various emperors and leaders. But I wouldn’t stop there.
I would even come up to the day of the Renaissance, and get a quick picture of all that the Renaissance did for the cultural and aesthetic life of man. But I wouldn’t stop there.
I would even go by the way that the man for whom I am named had his habitat. And I would watch Martin Luther as he tacked his ninety-five theses on the door at the church of Wittenberg. But I wouldn’t stop there. I would come on up even to 1863, and watch a vacillating President by the name of Abraham Lincoln finally come to the conclusion that he had to sign the Emancipation Proclamation. But I wouldn’t stop there.
I would even come up to the early thirties, and see a man grappling with the problems of the bankruptcy of his nation. And come with an eloquent cry that we have nothing to fear but “fear itself.” But I wouldn’t stop there. Strangely enough, I would turn to the Almighty, and say, “If you allow me to live just a few years in the second half of the 20th century, I will be happy.”
Now that’s a strange statement to make, because the world is all messed up. The nation is sick. Trouble is in the land; confusion all around. That’s a strange statement. But I know, somehow, that only when it is dark enough can you see the stars. And I see God working in this period of the twentieth century in a way that men, in some strange way, are responding. Something is happening in our world. The masses of people are rising up. And wherever they are assembled today, whether they are in Johannesburg, South Africa; Nairobi, Kenya; Accra, Ghana; New York City; Atlanta, Georgia; Jackson, Mississippi; or Memphis, Tennessee — the cry is always the same: “We want to be free.”
And another reason that I’m happy to live in this period is that we have been forced to a point where we are going to have to grapple with the problems that men have been trying to grapple with through history, but the demands didn’t force them to do it. Survival demands that we grapple with them. Men, for years now, have been talking about war and peace. But now, no longer can they just talk about it. It is no longer a choice between violence and nonviolence in this world; it’s nonviolence or nonexistence. That is where we are today.
And also in the human rights revolution, if something isn’t done, and done in a hurry, to bring the colored peoples of the world out of their long years of poverty, their long years of hurt and neglect, the whole world is doomed. Now, I’m just happy that God has allowed me to live in this period to see what is unfolding. And I’m happy that He’s allowed me to be in Memphis.
I can remember — I can remember when Negroes were just going around as Ralph has said, so often, scratching where they didn’t itch, and laughing when they were not tickled. But that day is all over. We mean business now, and we are determined to gain our rightful place in God’s world.
And that’s all this whole thing is about. We aren’t engaged in any negative protest and in any negative arguments with anybody. We are saying that we are determined to be men. We are determined to be people. We are saying — We are saying that we are God’s children. And that we are God’s children, we don’t have to live like we are forced to live.
Now, what does all of this mean in this great period of history? It means that we’ve got to stay together. We’ve got to stay together and maintain unity. You know, whenever Pharaoh wanted to prolong the period of slavery in Egypt, he had a favorite, favorite formula for doing it. What was that? He kept the slaves fighting among themselves. But whenever the slaves get together, something happens in Pharaoh’s court, and he cannot hold the slaves in slavery. When the slaves get together, that’s the beginning of getting out of slavery. Now let us maintain unity.
Secondly, let us keep the issues where they are. The issue is injustice. The issue is the refusal of Memphis to be fair and honest in its dealings with its public servants, who happen to be sanitation workers. Now, we’ve got to keep attention on that. That’s always the problem with a little violence. You know what happened the other day, and the press dealt only with the window-breaking. I read the articles. They very seldom got around to mentioning the fact that one thousand, three hundred sanitation workers are on strike, and that Memphis is not being fair to them, and that Mayor Loeb is in dire need of a doctor. They didn’t get around to that.
Now we’re going to march again, and we’ve got to march again, in order to put the issue where it is supposed to be — and force everybody to see that there are thirteen hundred of God’s children here suffering, sometimes going hungry, going through dark and dreary nights wondering how this thing is going to come out. That’s the issue. And we’ve got to say to the nation: We know how it’s coming out. For when people get caught up with that which is right and they are willing to sacrifice for it, there is no stopping point short of victory. We aren’t going to let any mace stop us. We are masters in our nonviolent movement in disarming police forces; they don’t know what to do. I’ve seen them so often. I remember in Birmingham, Alabama, when we were in that majestic struggle there, we would move out of the 16th Street Baptist Church day after day; by the hundreds we would move out. And Bull Connor would tell them to send the dogs forth, and they did come; but we just went before the dogs singing, “Ain’t gonna let nobody turn me around.”
Bull Connor next would say, “Turn the fire hoses on.” And as I said to you the other night, Bull Connor didn’t know history. He knew a kind of physics that somehow didn’t relate to the transphysics that we knew about. And that was the fact that there was a certain kind of fire that no water could put out. And we went before the fire hoses; we had known water. If we were Baptist or some other denominations, we had been immersed. If we were Methodist, and some others, we had been sprinkled, but we knew water. That couldn’t stop us.
And we just went on before the dogs and we would look at them; and we’d go on before the water hoses and we would look at it, and we’d just go on singing “Over my head I see freedom in the air.” And then we would be thrown in the paddy wagons, and sometimes we were stacked in there like sardines in a can. And they would throw us in, and old Bull would say, “Take ’em off,” and they did; and we would just go in the paddy wagon singing, “We Shall Overcome.”
And every now and then we’d get in jail, and we’d see the jailers looking through the windows being moved by our prayers, and being moved by our words and our songs. And there was a power there which Bull Connor couldn’t adjust to; and so we ended up transforming Bull into a steer, and we won our struggle in Birmingham. Now we’ve got to go on in Memphis just like that. I call upon you to be with us when we go out Monday.
Now about injunctions: We have an injunction and we’re going into court tomorrow morning to fight this illegal, unconstitutional injunction. All we say to America is, “Be true to what you said on paper.” If I lived in China or even Russia, or any totalitarian country, maybe I could understand some of these illegal injunctions. Maybe I could understand the denial of certain basic First Amendment privileges, because they hadn’t committed themselves to that over there.
But somewhere I read of the freedom of assembly. Somewhere I read of the freedom of speech.
Somewhere I read of the freedom of press. Somewhere I read that the greatness of America is the right to protest for right. And so just as I say, we aren’t going to let dogs or water hoses turn us around, we aren’t going to let any injunction turn us around. We are going on.
We need all of you. And you know what’s beautiful to me is to see all of these ministers of the Gospel. It’s a marvelous picture. Who is it that is supposed to articulate the longings and aspirations of the people more than the preacher? Somehow the preacher must have a kind of fire shut up in his bones. And whenever injustice is around he tell it. Somehow the preacher must be an Amos, and saith, “When God speaks who can but prophesy?” Again with Amos, “Let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream.” Somehow the preacher must say with Jesus, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he hath anointed me,” and he’s anointed me to deal with the problems of the poor.”
And I want to commend the preachers, under the leadership of these noble men: James Lawson, one who has been in this struggle for many years; he’s been to jail for struggling; he’s been kicked out of Vanderbilt University for this struggle, but he’s still going on, fighting for the rights of his people. Reverend Ralph Jackson, Billy Kiles; I could just go right on down the list, but time will not permit.
But I want to thank all of them. And I want you to thank them, because so often, preachers aren’t concerned about anything but themselves. And I’m always happy to see a relevant ministry.
It’s all right to talk about “long white robes over yonder,” in all of its symbolism. But ultimately people want some suits and dresses and shoes to wear down here! It’s all right to talk about “streets flowing with milk and honey,” but God has commanded us to be concerned about the slums down here, and his children who can’t eat three square meals a day. It’s all right to talk about the new Jerusalem, but one day, God’s preacher must talk about the new New York, the new Atlanta, the new Philadelphia, the new Los Angeles, the new Memphis, Tennessee. This is what we have to do.
Now the other thing we’ll have to do is this: Always anchor our external direct action with the power of economic withdrawal. Now, we are poor people. Individually, we are poor when you compare us with white society in America. We are poor. Never stop and forget that collectively — that means all of us together — collectively we are richer than all the nations in the world, with the exception of nine. Did you ever think about that?
After you leave the United States, Soviet Russia, Great Britain, West Germany, France, and I could name the others, the American Negro collectively is richer than most nations of the world. We have an annual income of more than thirty billion dollars a year, which is more than all of the exports of the United States, and more than the national budget of Canada. Did you know that? That’s power right there, if we know how to pool it.
We don’t have to argue with anybody. We don’t have to curse and go around acting bad with our words. We don’t need any bricks and bottles. We don’t need any Molotov cocktails. We just need to go around to these stores, and to these massive industries in our country, and say, “God sent us by here, to say to you that you’re not treating his children right. And we’ve come by here to ask you to make the first item on your agenda fair treatment, where God’s children are concerned.
Now, if you are not prepared to do that, we do have an agenda that we must follow. And our agenda calls for withdrawing economic support from you.”
And so, as a result of this, we are asking you tonight, to go out and tell your neighbors not to buy Coca-Cola in Memphis. Go by and tell them not to buy Sealtest milk. Tell them not to buy — what is the other bread? — Wonder Bread. And what is the other bread company, Jesse? Tell them not to buy Hart’s bread. As Jesse Jackson has said, up to now, only the garbage men have been feeling pain; now we must kind of redistribute the pain.
We are choosing these companies because they haven’t been fair in their hiring policies; and we are choosing them because they can begin the process of saying they are going to support the needs and the rights of these men who are on strike. And then they can move on town — downtown and tell Mayor Loeb to do what is right.
But not only that, we’ve got to strengthen black institutions. I call upon you to take your money out of the banks downtown and deposit your money in Tri-State Bank. We want a “bank-in” movement in Memphis. Go by the savings and loan association. I’m not asking you something that we don’t do ourselves at SCLC. Judge Hooks and others will tell you that we have an account here in the savings and loan association from the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.
We are telling you to follow what we are doing. Put your money there. You have six or seven black insurance companies here in the city of Memphis. Take out your insurance there. We want to have an “insurance-in.”
Now these are some practical things that we can do. We begin the process of building a greater economic base. And at the same time, we are putting pressure where it really hurts. I ask you to follow through here.
Now, let me say as I move to my conclusion that we’ve got to give ourselves to this struggle until the end.
Nothing would be more tragic than to stop at this point in Memphis. We’ve got to see it through. And when we have our march, you need to be there. If it means leaving work, if it means leaving school — be there. Be concerned about your brother. You may not be on strike. But either we go up together, or we go down together.
Let us develop a kind of dangerous unselfishness. One day a man came to Jesus, and he wanted to raise some questions about some vital matters of life. At points he wanted to trick Jesus, and show him that he knew a little more than Jesus knew and throw him off base…. Now that question could have easily ended up in a philosophical and theological debate. But Jesus immediately pulled that question from mid-air, and placed it on a dangerous curve between Jerusalem and Jericho. And he talked about a certain man, who fell among thieves. You remember that a Levite and a priest passed by on the other side.
They didn’t stop to help him. And finally a man of another race came by. He got down from his beast, decided not to be compassionate by proxy. But he got down with him, administered first aid, and helped the man in need. Jesus ended up saying, this was the good man, this was the great man, because he had the capacity to project the “I” into the “thou,” and to be concerned about his brother.
Now you know, we use our imagination a great deal to try to determine why the priest and the Levite didn’t stop. At times we say they were busy going to a church meeting, an ecclesiastical gathering, and they had to get on down to Jerusalem so they wouldn’t be late for their meeting. At other times we would speculate that there was a religious law that “One who was engaged in religious ceremonials was not to touch a human body twenty-four hours before the ceremony.” And every now and then we begin to wonder whether maybe they were not going down to Jerusalem — or down to Jericho, rather to organize a “Jericho Road Improvement Association.”
That’s a possibility. Maybe they felt that it was better to deal with the problem from the causal root, rather than to get bogged down with an individual effect.
But I’m going to tell you what my imagination tells me. It’s possible that those men were afraid. You see, the Jericho road is a dangerous road. I remember when Mrs. King and I were first in Jerusalem. We rented a car and drove from Jerusalem down to Jericho. And as soon as we got on that road, I said to my wife, “I can see why Jesus used this as the setting for his parable.” It’s a winding, meandering road. It’s really conducive for ambushing. You start out in Jerusalem, which is about 1200 miles — or rather 1200 feet above sea level. And by the time you get down to Jericho, fifteen or twenty minutes later, you’re about 2200 feet below sea level. That’s a dangerous road. In the days of Jesus it came to be known as the “Bloody Pass.”
And you know, it’s possible that the priest and the Levite looked over that man on the ground and wondered if the robbers were still around. Or it’s possible that they felt that the man on the ground was merely faking. And he was acting like he had been robbed and hurt, in order to seize them over there, lure them there for quick and easy seizure. And so the first question that the priest asked — the first question that the Levite asked was, “If I stop to help this man, what will happen to me?” But then the Good Samaritan came by. And he reversed the question: “If I do not stop to help this man, what will happen to him?”
That’s the question before you tonight. Not, “If I stop to help the sanitation workers, what will happen to my job. Not, “If I stop to help the sanitation workers what will happen to all of the hours that I usually spend in my office every day and every week as a pastor?” The question is not, “If I stop to help this man in need, what will happen to me?” The question is, “If I do not stop to help the sanitation workers, what will happen to them?” That’s the question.
Let us rise up tonight with a greater readiness. Let us stand with a greater determination. And let us move on in these powerful days, these days of challenge to make America what it ought to be. We have an opportunity to make America a better nation. And I want to thank God, once more, for allowing me to be here with you. You know, several years ago, I was in New York City autographing the first book that I had written. And while sitting there autographing books, a demented black woman came up.
The only question I heard from her was, “Are you Martin Luther King?” And I was looking down writing, and I said, “Yes.” And the next minute I felt something beating on my chest. Before I knew it I had been stabbed by this demented woman. I was rushed to Harlem Hospital. It was a dark Saturday afternoon. And that blade had gone through, and the X-rays revealed that the tip of the blade was on the edge of my aorta, the main artery. And once that’s punctured, your drowned in your own blood — that’s the end of you.
It came out in the New York Times the next morning, that if I had merely sneezed, I would have died. Well, about four days later, they allowed me, after the operation, after my chest had been opened, and the blade had been taken out, to move around in the wheel chair in the hospital.
They allowed me to read some of the mail that came in, and from all over the states and the world, kind letters came in. I read a few, but one of them I will never forget. I had received one from the President and the Vice-President. I’ve forgotten what those telegrams said. I’d received a visit and a letter from the Governor of New York, but I’ve forgotten what that letter said. But there was another letter that came from a little girl, a young girl who was a student at the White Plains High School. And I looked at that letter, and I’ll never forget it. It said simply,
“Dear Dr. King, I am a ninth-grade student at the White Plains High School.”
And she said,
“While it should not matter, I would like to mention that I’m a white girl. I read in the paper of your misfortune, and of your suffering. And I read that if you had sneezed, you would have died. And I’m simply writing you to say that I’m so happy that you didn’t sneeze.”
And I want to say tonight — I want to say tonight that I too am happy that I didn’t sneeze. Because if I had sneezed, I wouldn’t have been around here in 1960, when students all over the South started sitting-in at lunch counters. And I knew that as they were sitting in, they were really standing up for the best in the American dream, and taking the whole nation back to those great wells of democracy which were dug deep by the Founding Fathers in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution.
If I had sneezed, I wouldn’t have been around here in 1961, when we decided to take a ride for freedom and ended segregation in inter-state travel.
If I had sneezed, I wouldn’t have been around here in 1962, when Negroes in Albany, Georgia, decided to straighten their backs up. And whenever men and women straighten their backs up, they are going somewhere, because a man can’t ride your back unless it is bent.
If I had sneezed — If I had sneezed I wouldn’t have been here in 1963, when the black people of Birmingham, Alabama, aroused the conscience of this nation, and brought into being the Civil Rights Bill.
If I had sneezed, I wouldn’t have had a chance later that year, in August, to try to tell America about a dream that I had had.
If I had sneezed, I wouldn’t have been down in Selma, Alabama, to see the great Movement there.
If I had sneezed, I wouldn’t have been in Memphis to see a community rally around those brothers and sisters who are suffering.
I’m so happy that I didn’t sneeze.
And they were telling me –. Now, it doesn’t matter, now. It really doesn’t matter what happens now. I left Atlanta this morning, and as we got started on the plane, there were six of us.
The pilot said over the public address system, “We are sorry for the delay, but we have Dr. Martin Luther King on the plane. And to be sure that all of the bags were checked, and to be sure that nothing would be wrong with on the plane, we had to check out everything carefully. And we’ve had the plane protected and guarded all night.”
And then I got into Memphis. And some began to say the threats, or talk about the threats that were out. What would happen to me from some of our sick white brothers?
Well, I don’t know what will happen now. We’ve got some difficult days ahead. But it really doesn’t matter with me now, because I’ve been to the mountaintop. And I don’t mind.
Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will. And He’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over. And I’ve seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the promised land!
And so I’m happy, tonight.
I’m not worried about anything.
I’m not fearing any man.
Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord.