Vincent Kelley’s attempt to “unveil the unstated premises and class perspective of (Chomsky’s and my) argument” does nothing of the kind. Rather, it mainly succeeds in revealing Kelley’s inability to understand basic English and to apply elementary logic. The following are four indications.
1) Kelley attributes to us “an implicit claim to have a clear picture of life under a Trump presidency” and that it “will drastically increase human suffering as a result of Trump’s reactionary policies.”
Nowhere do we claim to have “a clear picture”. What we suggest is that there is a reasonable basis for concluding that a Trump presidency will inflict significantly more harm on the most vulnerable constituencies than will a Clinton presidency. We base this tentative conclusion on Trump’s numerous statements many of which are either explicitly racist or contain coded racist appeals, his commitment to violently reactionary policies such as banning Muslims, and his promotion of vigilante mob violence as he has repeatedly done, egging his supporters on to commit racist hate crimes. These do not point to a “clear picture” but to a serious danger to those groups most likely to be effected, a conclusion which 94% of African Americans who strongly disapprove of Trump appear to agree with but which certain “benighted elements” of the ultra left insist on ignoring.
They also ignore apocalyptic conditions resulting from climate change denialism endorsed by Trump and the Republican caucus, these existing not in some speculative future but in the present, with hundreds of millions in Bangladesh now beginning to flee the coastal plains due to sea level rise as well as 300 million Indians lacking water from an historically unprecedented drought. It is a scandal that it is left to the corporate media, most notably the New York Times to describe and explain these conditions while performative leftists like Kelley, besotted with the supposed “anti-capitalist” rhetoric of Trump, avert their eyes to the suffering.
2) Furthermore, it is not us but Kelley who claims to have “a clear picture” of the future. Specifically, he claims that in answering the question “is capitalism worth keeping alive? For Chomsky and Halle, the answer will always be an implicit ‘yes’ because the moment will never be quite right for revolution.”
Unlike our perspective on the Trump presidency, Kelley expresses not the likelihood, but the certainty that we “will” be joining the forces of reaction in opposition to “the revolution”. More significantly, he fails to provide the slightest basis for his conclusion: He cites no statements either of us has made which provide any indication of counter-revolutionary sympathies or any degree of confidence or tolerance of the capitalist system. The reason he does not do so is that he can’t. Indeed, a key rationale for our proposal is the recognition that a Clinton presidency will make principled, as opposed to opportunistic, opposition to neoliberalism the focus of protest. In contrast, as we specifically note in the piece, protests of Trump will take for granted a solution inhering in electing the next in a succession of centrist, corporate Democrats. Those like Kelley welcoming a Trump presidency make it more likely that neoliberal capital will continue its lock on institutional power thereby effectively answering “yes” to the question of “is capitalism worth keeping alive”.
3) A third misreading is contained in Kelley’s suggestion that we “obscure the fact that (our) fundamental moral adherence to lesser evil voting is premised on a comparison between two evils.” Not only do we not “obscure the fact” that LEV involves the choice between two evils, we insist on it, as lesser evil voting, by definition, unambiguously asserts that both choices are evil. Furthermore, rather than endorse a “moral adherence” to voting, we specifically repudiate it noting that “voting should not be viewed as a form of personal self-expression or moral judgement.” Kelley may have been confused by our response to advocates of the “politics of moral witness” that even if one accepts the premise that one should attach a moral judgement to electoral choices, their argument fails on its own terms. But as should be apparent, and as we note in point 1), our endorsement of LEV is in no way on moralistic grounds. Indeed, we regard the high dudgeon but ultimately empty moral posturing of those opposing LEV as both an obstacle to clear thinking and to progressive change.
4) Finally, Kelley describes me as “a trenchant critic of race-first identity politics,” but complains that I “revert to identitarian banalities about ‘white skin privilege.’”
While I have indeed criticized some of those deploying the term, only a fool or a racist would suggest that “white skin privilege” has ceased to exist or that exposing it among “benighted sectors of the ultra left” constitutes “identitarian banality”. That’s particularly so when the shoe fits so naturally those who insist on minimizing the dangers of racist violence which the Trump campaign has at the core of its identity. To blithely ignore the alarm communicated by 94 percent of the African American population speaks to a form of narcissistic self aggrandizement unseen since the days of the Weathermen. In what is a typical display of performative ultra leftism, Kelley mounts his high horse to assault academics who, he claims (without evidence), fail to “talk to and learn from workers”. What is again revealing is his failure to include the word “listen”, something that he and others appears to be incapable of when it comes to the likely victims of Trump’s policies.
These are only four of the more tendentious and trivial misreadings in Kelley’s piece. Others making similar and generally equally bankrupt claims have been routinely posted to me via social media or to Professor Chomsky via email, typically with headers hyping the contents as “a devastating takedown of Chomsky” or “brutally laying waste to the LEV argument.” Often laced with obscenities and infantile name calling, the schoolyard epithets “Killary” or “Shillary” repeatedly invoked, in the pre-internet period when minimal editorial standards were in force, they would not have found their way into print. Had they somehow appeared, they would not have merited a response.
Nor do they merit a response now. My purpose in drawing attention to them here is that they are indicative of broader tendencies which both Chomsky and myself have discussed in the past, specifically, the willful blindness to facts and logic among sectors of the left, whether these are academic post modernists questioning the validity of established science, anti-vaxxers, 9/11 “truthers” or Kennedy assassination conspiracy theorists. Anyone who has attempted to advance electoral or non-electoral activist campaigns is well aware that these elements exist and pose a significant obstacle to our capacity to organize a viable alternative to elite hegemony.
Those blithely minimizing the dangers of a Trump presidency while at the same time narcissistically inflating the significance of a tactical vote to head off the worst offered by a corrupt system should be included within the same category.
Insofar as they continue to exert influence, they will consign the left to deserved irrelevancy.