Thursday, January 10, 2019

The False Choice Between Gender Justice and Economic Justice

It's indicative of how rattled the ruling class must be feeling that they're revving up their anti-Bernie Sanders slime machine before he's even announced that he's running for president.

Suddenly outraged that female staffers often get hit on and harassed during political campaigns (of all the quiet, sober, and virtuous venues!) the forces of neoliberal corporatism are conveniently co-opting the #MeToo movement to serve their own greedy ends. 

It was only two years ago that Hillary Clinton surrogate and feminist Gloria Steinem sniffed that female Bernie supporters just wanted "to go where the boys are." It was an unsubtle way of saying they were sluts on the prowl for hookups. Their desire for social and economic justice was just a cover for their horniness. Steinem soon apologized, but the anti-progressive smear stuck, right along with the "Bernie Bro" meme.

But how the tide has turned since 2016! These very same boy-chasers have suddenly been recast in the media as virtuous maidens whose naive and misguided desire for social and economic justice came back to bite them, if not saddled them with lifelong cases of PTSD.

This is how women have been typecast throughout history: they're either viragos or virgins, man-eating predators or victims of men - and never the twain shall meet.

The subliminal message contained in the recent news exposés revealing bad behavior by some male Sanders staffers toward female staffers and volunteers is this: Be very careful what you wish for, girls! If you persist in supporting Bernie's "radical" agenda of universal health care, debt-free college and other nice things, then you will at least be an enabler of misogyny, if not its direct victim. If you are a woman who persists in demanding high taxes on the obscenely rich, you are a traitor to your own gender. And if you recklessly volunteer for Bernie Sanders during his second go-round, you're really asking for it and you will probably deserve whatever you get.

You have been warned. 

In other words, the #MeToo concern-trolling campaign against Bernie Sanders is paradoxically as right-wing, as reactionary, and as sexist as they come.

It's better and safer, the subliminal messages in the Politico and New York Times articles are, to vote for a centrist politician with good hair and no Brooklyn accent - say, hunky telegenic Beto O'Rourke -  who voices unctuous respect and concern for women while at the same time denying them single payer health insurance, a living wage, free education, subsidized maternity leave and day care, and affordable housing.

In case you still don't get it, take a gander at the photo the New York Times selected for its own concern-trolling hit piece. Bernie, his wispy white hair literally standing on end, appears to recoil in disgust from a female hand extending her emasculating microphone in his general direction.

So, ladies, the next time you feel sick and get a hankering for Medicare For All, just think of a Bernie Bro groping a woman in a bar and you'll start feeling better for standing up for gender equality - even if it's for the ultimate benefit of the oligarchy and not you, personally. Simply raise your face to the sky and imagine the golden drops of beneficence sprinkling down upon you.

The anti-Bernie concern trolls will repeat this message loudly and often. You can't - you just can't - be both a supporter of Bernie Sanders and his agenda and also be a supporter of gender rights. In supporting him and his platform, you are giving aid and comfort to rapists and gropers and maybe even asking to be directly attacked by a Bernie Bro.

Of course, this argument is complete nonsense. It's the latest variation on a tired old theme. The most glaring parallel example is centrists who regularly accuse critics of Hillary Clinton and the CIA of being Donald Trump fans and Russians - rather than waste their time and risk losing an argument by engaging critics in actual debates and discussions on  policy issues and philosophy. Even legitimate, fact-based criticism of the corporation-captured Democratic Party, they say, is a vote for the Republicans. Bury your heads in the sand before it's too late!

As Susan Sontag noted in her introduction to Victor Serge's The Case of Comrade Tulayev, leftist critics of Stalin's totalitarian regime were accused for decades by Communist Party members of being closet fascists. She wrote:
In the early twenty-first century, we have moved on to other illusions - other lies that intelligent people with good intentions and humane politics tell themselves and their supporters in order not to give aid and comfort to their enemies.
There have always been people to argue that the truth is sometimes inexpedient, counterproductive - a luxury. (This is known as thinking practically, or politically.) And, on the other side, the well-intentioned are understandably reluctant to jettison commitments, views and institutions in which much idealism has been invested.
Situations do arise in which truth and justice may seem incompatible. And there may be even more resistance to perceiving the truth than there is to acknowledging the claims of justice. It seems all too easy for people not to recognize the truth, especially when it may mean having to break with, or be rejected by, a community that supplies a valued part of their identity.
Like all propaganda, the Bernie Sanders "scandal" and ensuing manufactured outrage are couched in terms of tribalism and binary discourse largely devoid of nuance and introspection. Two camps have instantly formed: those who think that Bernie Sanders is an insensitive sexist pig by association, if not by actual deed, and those who think that he is getting unfairly smeared by the press and a few disgruntled women looking for their fifteen minutes of fame.

Why not take a more nuanced approach? I think it is possible to simultaneously be a feminist and call out the corporate media for co-opting the #MeToo movement and using it a cudgel against Sanders and the implementation of a new New Deal. I don't think, as Susan Sontag posited, that the corporate media are particularly humane or well-intentioned in their coverage of the experiences of some of Bernie's female staffers and volunteers.

At the same time, while we should be aware of the propaganda and resist being indoctrinated by the oligarchic agenda - which is the destruction of Sanders and more importantly, the destruction of his platform - we should not discount the harassment that women experienced and still do experience in the male-dominated political world. 

The Sanders campaign's women staffers now telling their stories to the over-eager media were ignored at the time. But are they being heeded now for the right reasons or for the wrong reasons? Are they being victimized all over again, only to be discarded by the ruling class propagandists once their stories no longer serve a "higher" purpose?

It's possible and desirable to simultaneously applaud Bernie's ideas and accomplishments, such as his shaming of Jeff Bezos into increasing hourly wages for his Amazon workers, and to also criticize his tepid cringe-worthy response on CNN to the sexual harassment allegations:
“I am not going to sit here and tell you that we did everything right, in terms of human resources, in terms of addressing the needs that I’m hearing from now, that women felt disrespected, that there was sexual harassment, that was not dealt with as effectively as possible” 
I hate it when powerful people subtly denigrate complainants for "feeling" that they are being disrespected or victimized, as though their problem is essentially an emotional one of their own making. This remark had echoes of neoliberal Democrats like Barack Obama, who often schmooze about the millions of jobless and evicted people who "feel like" they've been left behind or cheated. Bernie is always so upfront and righteously outraged about who the financial culprits are, so why not be just as upfront and outraged about the sexist pigs and even predators in his outfit? No organization, not even his, is immune from human pigs. Why not display that trademark Bernie anger and acknowledge that many women, even in his organization, were and still are being disrespected or victimized?

There are all kinds of social and economic and gender and racial injustice in this world. It's not one or the other that should take precedence. It's all of the above. 

Above all, it's a class war, the assault of hypercapitalism on regular people.

While a new New Deal, and a 70, 80 or 90 percent marginal tax rate on obscene wealth would do a lot toward rectifying record extreme inequality and all kinds of injustice, we should also acknowledge that this class war has had an outsize detrimental effect on women, children, the old, and black and brown people. 

Bernie Sanders believes, rightly, that democratic socialist, or social democratic economic policies will benefit all members of society. But just because the neoliberal establishment has made identity politics its be-all and end-all as a means of, and justification for, keeping everything for itself doesn't mean that one's identity and unique individual problems should be completely ignored by critics of the neoliberal agenda.

That's Bernie's Achilles heel, and the consolidated corrupt co-opting media are nipping at it and ripping at it with all the instinctive glee of a pack of inbred rat terriers.


Jay–Ottawa said...

" Above all, it's a class war, the assault of hypercapitalism on regular people." BINGO !

Despite that "above all" class war, identity politics keeps stealing the stage. The new identity politics––so real and so close to home for one or another in the cheated or abused subgroups––keeps distracting us all from our first duty as political animals. In recent decades the class struggle, the big picture, has been shredded into a thousand real but narrow constituencies.

Identity politics is the new Above All. Our treasured individualism keeps us from seeing ourselves in solidarity as political animals. No solidarity, no state. Sing it, Aristotle, from your songbook "Politics"!

"Hence it is evident that the state is a creation of nature, and that man is by nature a political animal. And he who by nature and not by mere accident is without a state, is either above humanity, or below it ... he may be compared to a bird which flies alone."

Most of us in the US fly alone or in very small flocks. Our great state has been turned over to the few for their private use. Three in a room, Trump, Pelosi and Schumer are not there for us.

There's another remarkable article by Susan Roberts over at CounterPunch. She too urges us to focus on the big picture, which includes lots of what Bernie is usually railing about when he isn't fending off the Pharisees with their trap questions.

I'm an old white male. You can't expect me to see an equivalence between gender justice and economic justice. When I point to the Yellow Vests as a way back to the class struggle, I am an easy target for those whose first allegiance is to civil discourse or identity politics. So I find it encouraging when attention is drawn back to the class war not by another old white male but by blacks, browns, LGBTs, immigrants and women (like Garcia and Roberts), the usual victims of personal abuse who nevertheless keep their eyes on the class war as the first order of the day.

Jay–Ottawa said...

Demonstrators in the streets know they're far along when balladeers join them, and even compete, in writing songs for the cause. Here's one French tune that claims to be the official song of the Yellow Vests. (YouTube, 3:30 minutes.) My translation of the lyrics below.


In their crumpled yellow vests
They went out to demonstrate
In the early morning cold––
The beggars...

In the streets each day of the week
They screamed "Enough's enough!"
They demanded that they live better––
The beggars...

They struggled with poverty
No longer willing to be still
They didn't ask for paradise
Only to be heard––
The beggars...

In their crumpled yellow vests
Nonviolent yet determined
They sealed off the venues––
The beggars...

All through the night they blocked
Tollbooths and roundabouts
They no longer chose
To close their eyes––
The beggars...

There never were so many
Demanding the resignations
Of those maggoty politicians––
The beggars...

Supporting the nobodies of France
In their crumpled yellow vests
At last we've taken note of them––
The beggars...

As they saunter past
The bosses and the well-off
They together and at full volume
Chant the refrain
"Resign Macron Resign!"––
The beggars...

They have had enough of BFM-TV*
And the rest of the manacled media
There to sow fear and division––
Such is their mission...

We spent years forever
Paying without flinching
Now it's time to open our eyes––
Both of them...

If you'd been smart [Macron] you could have
Soothed the anger and hunger of those
Who carry on on an empty stomach––
The beggars...

But you're so full of contempt
You lack a heart big enough
To make room for such people––
Voila, voila, voila...

Thinking about all that
I tell myself
Surely, in a real democracy
It wouldn't be necessary
For people walk back and forth
Like this.

* Fox-like leading news channel in France.

Erik Roth said...

"Surely, in the history of lies told to the population, this is the biggest lie. In the history of secrets, withheld from the American people, this is the biggest secret: that there are classes with different interests in this country. To ignore that - not to know that the history of our country is a history of slaveowner against slave, landlord against tenant, corporation against worker, rich against poor - is to render us helpless before all the lesser lies told to us by people in power."
~ Howard Zinn