On it again. A new black person killed by the United States politi. A new wave of resistance from all ethnicities. A new round of race talk in commercial media. A new round of boasting about tolerance and diversity from neoliberal leaders, and a new white backlash to come. Still, it could be a turning point this time around.
The undeniably barbaric murder George floyd May 25 – but also the inevitable encounter with depraved realities; the unevenly distributed misery of the coronavirus; the enormous unemployment on a par with the Great Depression; and the total collapse of the legitimacy of political leadership (in both parties) – leading to a blanket fall for the American Empire.
The militarization of society
The growing militarizationone of American society is indistinguishable from its imperialist policies (211 deployments of American forces in 67 countries since 1945). The militaristic response to the killing of Floyd tells of an excessive police presence, unprovoked assaults and excessive use of force. Ironically, the deceptive debate about protesters versus insurgents and troublemakers from the outside – versus legitimate local citizens – turns the attention away from the extent to which the massive presence of police forces is stirring up under police scorn. The stark contrast to how police respond to provocateurs on the right – who show up inside and outside public buildings with loaded weapons – casts a harrowing shadow:
I remember very well my own experience from our protests in Charlottesville, Virginia, against hundreds of masked and armed Nazis who had scarlet weapons. The police quietly resigned as we were mercilessly attacked. Without intervention and protection from Antifa (anti-fascist action), some of us would have perished. Heather Heyer died. I consider any attack on an innocent as morally reprehensible – but the focus on protesters' attacks on people and property takes all the attention away from the police killings of hundreds of colored, poor, and working-class people.
This also blurs the oppressive apparatus of power which maintains an unjust and evil order. In our deep concern about police brutality and murder of colored people, we must emphasize how society is governed by the wealthy, by class and gender hierarchies and by global militarism.
The brilliance of the market-driven culture covers a more and more obvious emptiness.
A decadent leadership class
The four disasters Martin Luther King Jr. warned us – militarism (in Asia, Africa and the Middle East), poverty (which is bigger than ever), materialism (with narcissistic addiction to money, fame and show) and racism (against blacks and indigenous peoples, Muslims, Jews and non-white immigrants) – has exposed organized forms of hatred, greed and corruption that govern the United States. But the killing machine of the US defense here and abroad has lost its authority. The profit-driven capitalist has lost its glow and the brilliance of the market-driven culture (including media and education) is increasingly shallow.
Hatred, greed and corruption rule the United States.
The fundamental question is: can this failed social experiment be salvaged? The political duopoly of an escalating neo-fascist Donald Trump-led Republican Party and an exhausted Joe Biden-led neo-Liberal Democrat party – by no means equal, but still in the pocket of Wall Street and the Pentagon – are symptoms of a decadent leadership class. Both the weak labor movement and the radical left's problems of uniting in a nonviolent revolutionary project of democratic sharing and a redistribution of power, wealth and respect – are signs of a society unable to revitalize the best of its own past and present.
Any society that refuses to eliminate or mitigate the problems of dilapidated housing, poor schooling, extensive unemployment and lack of work, unsatisfactory health care and violations of rights and fundamental freedoms – is irresponsible and unsustainable.
Society is governed by the wealthy, by class and gender hierarchies and by global militarism.
The radical democracy
Yet we now see how a grand moral courage and empathy in today's multi-ethnic response to the George Floyd police killing slides into a political opposition to the legalized looting of greedy actors in Wall Street – a plunder of the planet and also a degradation of women and LGBTQ + people. . The resistance proves that we are still fighting, no matter how bad the odds may be.
If America's radical democracy dies, it must still be said that we gave absolutely everything while this American fascism was trying to break our necks.
Cornel West is an American philosopher, critic, civil rights activist and one of the foremost members of Democratic Socialists of America.
(Commentary in The Guardian 1.6.).
Translated by Anders Dunker.