The Fallacies of Neoliberal Protest, Part 2

Recently, a professor at Cornell University named Russell Rickford wrote a fascinating article about the Black Lives Matter movement called “The Fallacies of Neoliberal Protest”. In this article, Rickford outlines what he calls the “false assumptions” that are “propagated by the corporate power structure [sic]”. He calls these fallacies “dialogue and awareness” “appeal to authority” and “the myth of the disembodied voice”. In short, the first fallacy is the idea that protest should be channeled into legitimate “safe channels”, the second and third fallacy is the idea that the people in power know how to manage effective protest, and the disembodied voice is the idea that people in power will adequately respond to the concerns of the protestors. We see all these fallacies currently at play with the protest movements at Trump’s inauguration. How so?

The Women’s March on Washington, the protest movement that has gained so much traction that plans to protest the inauguration, is essentially a mainstream protest. While it is expected that the March will have 3x the amount of actual attendees of the inauguration in what is expected to be a historic movement, we can safely say certain things about this march. The Women’s March, planned and funded by Planned Parenthood and NARAL, is largely geared toward a single issue, namely the woman’s right to choose and pro-choice movement. Given Trump’s stance on abortion, this is not a bad thing to protest about, and the protest is more broadly a show of opposition toward the incoming Trump administration. It is ALSO true that this opposition has already been co-opted by these previously established “legitimate” power structures and organizations in exactly the way Rickford describes. This is exactly the way wide-scale opposition toward a government is “pacified” and “de-fanged”.

Now, of course, the Women’s March plans to be non-violent, and I am NOT advocating violence. But I believe the “pressure politics” of this protest have been rendered largely impotent, even before it began. Why? Because there is no “day after” for this protest, no concerted movement. People will come to Washington, they will leave on the same Planned Parenthood buses they came in on. Families will come in, experience the “high” of organized activism, the ecstatic moment of being apart of something historical, and then go home.

Precisely by being under the banner of something “legitimate”, opposition to Trump  has been stripped of any power to scare or influence the incoming regime. Yes, I said regime. The incoming regime of the Trump administration is completely illegitimate. In my mind, as Trump was outvoted by 3 million votes, he has absolutely no mandate, and even worse. If it was not for our antedilluvian election laws, we would not have this reactionary holding the highest office of the United States. He deserves to be protested, 100%. But we ourselves our to blame for it, for protesting at the gates of death. We could have broken the electoral college long ago. But now, it seems as if the whole world is panicking the prospect of a Trump presidency, when this is the natural outcome of successive neoliberal policies. Brexit was partially a reaction to corporate neoliberalism which removed all barriers to trade, and Trump is also using anti-globalization sentiments to his advantage by playing the right-wing populist (even though his administration picks demonstrate he is staunchly corporatist).

I like Planned Parenthood, but in this context it also has to be admitted that they are part of an existing power structure, even if that structure is social justice/activism groups. Planned Parenthood’s sponsoring of the march also sidelines economic issues in favor of more identity specific issues (hence Women’s March, even though other groups will also be hypothetically targeted by the Trump administration even more fiercely, like immigrants, Muslims, and people of color).

I think that political will in this country is very dependent on circumstance. And that is ok, to a certain extent. One shouldn’t just protest without just cause. But I believe that these “fallacies” about neoliberal protest and its supposed effectiveness are still in play, especially the “appeal to authority”. If we allow all protest to be guided, managed, and staged, yes we risk the protest devolving into unorganized chaos, but we also also risk the protest becoming part of the existing system. For some, this is a good thing. The protest “should be perceived as legitimate”. The problem with this argument is that civil disobedience, in even wide-scale protest like this one, in the eyes of a reactionary administration, will NEVER be perceived as legitimate. Expect fierce opposition, by reactionary counter-protestors, agitators, and police.

My larger issue with this Women’s March protest, however, is that it does not encompass enough issues. The march is purely an “anti-Trump” movement, and that is how the media will cover it. Sure there will be signs that will say “Save Healthcare”, “protect immigrants”, and “Black Lives Matter”, but if these struggles aren’t given their specific articulations, the existing power structures will not hear the voices of concerned citizens. It does not matter the size of this protest. It could be 1 million, it could be 3 million people. If it continues to be an anti-Trump and nothing but anti-Trump march, and that is the messaging people get, then that is all that will register. Neoliberalism will continue, in its completely unfettered form, and the protestors will all transform back into paranoid and frightened private citizens.

Here is my advice- THINK. Don’t just act. Yes, this is the time for action. But the more we question the ways in which we too, are participating in our own subordination, the more I think we can change the course of history.

Link to “The Fallacies of Neoliberal Protest”: 

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Electoral College Reform NOW

“We don’t want California and New York to decide our elections” they say. Nope, instead you want a couple of swing states to decide the elections. One vote should be one vote!!!

Thus a lone youtube commenter acts as the voice of reason against the army of troglodytes who refuse to think outside the bounds of established reason. I believe there are a basic set of principles that would make someone against electoral college reform, and is partly responsible for why it hasn’t happened yet. Hypothetically, if 100% of the American people were for it, there would be almost no likelihood that they would vote for a Congress who is opposed to it in majority. Sadly, we have some reactionaries who are actually for this outdated vestige of the era of slavery. Why? Let’s enumerate the reasons.

  1. Pure ignorance- I’m not talking about ignorance in terms of someone having the opposite opinion as me which automatically makes them more stupid than me. No, according to a Washington Post poll, 52% of Republicans believe that Trump won the popular vote. Just outright won it. Not when you don’t count California or illegal immigrants (an outright lie by the way). No, just 52% of them BELIEVE he won the popular. Either they are completely ignorant of the electoral college, or living in a fantasy bubble whereby somehow Hillary manipulated the vote but Trump somehow won anyway? I chock it up to sheer ignorance, because 60% of non-college educated Republicans believe it as opposed to 31% of college educated Republicans.
  2. Self-interest- This is a reason I can’t really argue with on intellectual grounds. If you are a Republican, and you want the electoral college to stay because you know it gives more chance to Republicans, you are right. Just like how gerrymandering and purging voter lists also helps certain candidates. Problem is, you can’t claim to be for it intellectually and self-interestedly. Can’t have your cake and eat it too. So if you have one single shred of integrity, if you fall into this category, don’t claim that the electoral college is a good thing. Its just good for you
  3. Buying into crappy arguments/”the Founding Fathers”/”Federalism”- So I’ll chock this one up into a combination of crappy reasons and a sense of patriotism that involves never questioning authority. As one defender of the electoral college says, “its Civics 101 man, California and New York shouldn’t decide the election”. Ok: hypothetically, lets say New York and California each gained a million more people next year. Well the electoral college provides for them to get proportionally more electoral votes. Lets say California and New York each became so large that they would decide the election anyway. Well, do you still maintain that they shouldn’t decide the election if they have more people than majority of the country? Will you stand by your defense of rural states should matter, even if there is only 10 people in that state? Take Wyoming for example. Wyoming has a population of 584,153 people as of 2014. The city of El Paso has a larger population than Wyoming! I don’t see the state of El Paso getting 3 electoral votes anytime soon. **As it stands, the electoral college is nowhere near proportional to state population** If the number of electoral college votes was determined purely by proportion of population, Texas would have approximately 16% more electoral votes, and California would have 20% more. DO THE MATH. In short, the only reason people don’t accept that one vote should equal one vote in electing the highest office of our government is because they believe somehow “states rights” have to be protected. Sound familiar? Cough Cough the Confederacy. But in reality, they aren’t being infringed upon under a popular vote system. Their vote would count just as much as the next guy. In reality, the people whose votes don’t matter right now are- 1/6 of Texans, 1/5 of Californians, and arguably people that don’t vote for the majority party in non-swing states. That’s right! All you Republicans in California and Oregon, all the Northeastern Ivy League Republicans, all you Tennessee Democrats- your vote would actually matter! No wonder people feel as if their vote doesn’t matter- it doesn’t under the current system!
  4. Internet memes- this is a separate issue, but its pertinent. All of the sudden right after the election, I couldn’t believe. Hillary’s numbers kept rising and rising, provoking almost no outrage. Eventually she led in the popular vote by 2.5 million. Now it will just be a footnote in history. In fact this is a democratic outrage. Built into our system of democracy is a fundamentally undemocratic system. This would be the scandal of the century in Europe, where even Brexit had to be passed to respect the will of the majority. So how did people justify it 3-4 days later? Internet memes spread by right-wing news sites. Yes, you heard me correctly, internet memes. All of the sudden the old arguments start coming out in cut down internet meme format. “2 states shouldn’t decide an election” “If you come from these counties (shows map of rural states who vote Republican) you’ll understand why cities shouldn’t decide everything”. These memes basically are gut appeals to emotion- I’m from rural Kansas, that makes sense to me! In short, its parochialism writ large in 2016.
  5. No belief in democracy- There is also an argument I’ve heard defending the electoral college. “We were never meant to be a complete democracy, we are a representative democracy”. That’s right- you don’t make every foreign policy decision, the President, as our representative, does. That doesn’t mean the majority shouldn’t pick him! If you don’t believe in democracy, don’t defend the electoral college. It was made to satisfy Southern states, part of the same deal that got them the right to own slaves and the 3/5 compromise which gave them more representation equally 3/5 of the slave population. If you think the 3/5 compromise was unfair, then you should be against the electoral college, because everything the Founding Fathers put their hands on isn’t sacred. They were men, not gods.

In short, if the electoral college is abolished, your vote is exactly equivalent to anyone else’s vote. Not more, not less. Chances are, if you support it, it will give you even more voting power.

Don’t believe the establishment. Electoral College Reform NOW! I for one want my democracy back. If it continues, we live in a pseudo democracy. From a critical theory perspective, the electoral college is a system that maintains the current hegemony and gives people the illusion of power while simultaneously undermining it, an essential component of bourgeois democracy. That is how strongly I feel about this.

There will be those leftists among you who will say getting money out of politics or the class struggle is more important. Well, I say that you are probably correct, but this is an element of that struggle. By reforming these institutions, one can pave the way for larger social programs and efforts at reform. First, the people we elect truly have to be elected freely. We cannot sacrifice our will to the will of a party cadre. We must learn to live with American democratic institutions. Maybe someday we can get the Senate abolished as well and have only a House. Until that day, we must pick our battles wisely.