Cornel West, a prominent African-American professor and man of letters, has recently ruffled feathers in parts of the liberal class, by calling President Barack Obama "a black mascot" in the service of Wall Street. The president was already stung by accusations from West that he is not much of a progressive. Such criticisms were not well received by some of the president's admirers either. West played a prominent role in Obama's 2008 campaign.
Chris Hedges has argued for a long time that liberal institutions, which were operating as a political safety valve for justice in American history, have largely failed now, because they have basically become derelict. The universities, the liberal church, the labor unions, the national press, have been made complicit in the country's rush to war, or were bought off, cowed into silence, driven further away from responsibilities they once took seriously; meanwhile, democracy and the law are hauled down, bit by bit.
There is pressure to control the conversation: pressure on teachers who answer to an increasing corporate structure in universities; and there is never-ending pressure on working people to surrender more of their dignity and security in the workplace. There is so much tragic pressure put on our jobless youth, to turn themselves over to the military and its wars of occupation, the madness that destroys minds and bodies.
Bernie Sanders, in his famous Marathon Speech on the floor of the Senate, said "...more tax breaks for the very rich is only one symptom of an economic and political system that is grotesquely failing the average American. The simple reality is that the middle class of America is collapsing, poverty is increasing, and the gap between the very wealthiest people and everyone else is getting wider. How did this happen?"
I saw the other day a story about the protests in Madrid. These are real protests that shake up the establishment. When Hedges writes that liberals have become pragmatists about the choice of lesser evils, that they fancy themselves as a respectable liberal class, it is on condition that they comply with the narrow parameters of political discourse, as it is permitted. The morally courageous are viewed with alarm as soon as they reveal too much. This is the sense I take from what he suggests is prophetic. This is painful in a personal sense because our commitment to justice does not compare favorably with that of protesters on the streets in Tahrir Square or in Madrid.
Nader was vilified in an irrational welter of emotion where it is endlessly claimed that he cost Gore and the country the election in 2000; this is the default position because either this is true or there was coup d’etat that was the beginning of the end of the rule of law in this country. It is too dangerous from a psychological viewpoint to accept responsibility for what happened. Much safer and more comfortable by far to shift the blame.
Reverend Wright was demonized of course for denigrating the idea that God reflexively blesses America. Every US president ends an oration with the words “May God Bless the United States of America”. Many in this country go all clammy and dread the uncomfortable topics whenever conversation turns to our own imperial slaughters abroad, the CIA’s political assassinations, torture, and other of America’s chronic crimes against peace.
Cornel West is revealing the betrayal. And he is attacked as hysterical and trivialized and is accused of petty spite. One would think from the moralizing language of some of his detractors that they suggest that he is like a rejected, wounded suitor. Is it too much to confront the implications of betrayal that is at once personal and political? No we have to go on believing in Obama’s good intentions. In the end the servants and courtiers in the liberal class will rally to his support and will recommend this course of action; moreover they will be crying that the system can still represent the people.
In Madrid, the masses have figured out that the Spanish government doesn’t represent the people. Winner-take-all parties want to bar smaller parties from representation. Voices of the people have been pushed into a place of obscurity, where no elected official hears or responds to them. And the representatives are seen now as wholly owned by corporate powers.
Liberals as a political class have participated in their own moral uprooting, as Chris Hedges has consistently warned us. This is the prophetic part and the sounding of an alarm. All this fiddling with designer politics and “boutique activism of political correctness” distracts us. Those who are committed to the primacy of justice can often be vilified, and have been vilified. We have to be clear about the warning signs in this country; just as a people can civilize themselves and defend what is just, they can also lose sight of justice, and can even debase themselves in the long run, and effectively censor the subjects which are considered unsafe to discuss. They can walk carelessly over virtues they once possessed and be uncivilized.
On Sunday, a couple was arrested for slow dancing in DC inside the Jefferson Memorial. And in other news this past week, the president has shrugged off the legal requirements of the War Powers Act of 1973. He doesn't know what all the fuss is about; after all, Libya is just a little war. The law demands one of these three conditions to be met: "...a declaration of war, specific statutory authorization, or a national emergency created by attack upon the United States, its territories or possessions, or its armed forces."
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