Now making the rounds on social media is a new essay by Rebecca Solnit typical of her oeuvre in that it consists almost entirely of attacks on an easy target, calculated to be universally applauded within circles which share her beliefs while sure to be entirely ignored by those outside of it.
In response, it is useful to recall an essay from some months ago by Nathan Robinson which will not be received with the same hosannas and genuflections. The reason is that it reminds us of something many of us would prefer to forget: that crucial pieces of the foundation for the politics of cruelty now being brutally exploited by the right were constructed by the Clintonite wing of the Democratic party. It was the Clintons after all who were a driving force behind the dehumanization and criminalization of a generation of African American youth and the subsequent mass incarceration epidemic which was their immediate consequence. Trump is doing nothing other than mining the same vein of violent hatred, albeit with a somewhat expanded range of victims.
As Robinson notes, a seminal moment in this moral and political regression was then candidate Bill Clinton’s return to his home state to execute a mentally impaired African American man, Ricky Ray Rector, done solely for the purpose of sending the message that he could be counted on to be “tough” on those whom his wife referred to as the generation of “super predators . . . needing to be brought to heel.”
To recall these facts does not make one lots of friends. But it strikes me that the awareness of them is a necessary condition to developing the kind of coalition which has the capacity to defeat the right.
One of the keys to building it involves recognizing the shift in Clintonite neoliberalism from then demonizing African Americans to, during the 2016 campaign, having postured as their defenders (when she needed their votes). This might be seen as marking a sharp ideological reorientation. But in fact there is clear continuity in that the previous position was based on having consigned one group to “deplorable” status, namely, super-predator black youth. The only difference between Clinton 1992 and 2016 is that she chose to consign another, different, group to this status, namely, working class whites from the flyover states.
Contemplating the legacy of the Clintons is, admittedly, a bit depressing. But to do so is a useful exercise in that it shows us where the opening for a decent politics lies. Namely, it is one where no one is consigned to the status of “deplorable” and seen as, on this basis, deserving the screwing they get from the Clintons, Obamas and their kindred neoliberal spirits. Rather, everyone deserves a life of minimal dignity based on their needs and their abilities.