“You Ain’t Black”: the Reflexive Racism of Progressive Politics

Have you seen the meme putting MAGA hats on historic photographs of white men harassing black men sitting at segregated lunch counters? I provide an example below. With such memes, progressives smear tens of millions of white Americans who are not racist. Moreover, they disappear black Trump supporters, who number in the millions.

First, members of my family and a great many of my white friends are Trump supporters who move in fully racially-integrated occupational and social circles. They work and eat around black people. Their sons and daughters marry black people. They foster care for and adopt black children. They would never harass a black man eating at a lunch counter. They would share a cup of coffee with him. Or a beer. If they ever saw a black man being harassed, they would intervene. (See video below for an enlightened discussion on civil rights.)

Second, analyzing exit polling data from the 2016 presidential election, 13 percent of black Americans voted for Donald Trump. Racially disaggregating voter turnout from that election finds that the number of blacks who voted for Trump north of two million. And Trump looks to gain more black votes in 2020. Why? Historically low black unemployment, fastest wage gains among blacks in history, criminal justice reform, and immigration restrictions. Trump’s frank talk about the failure of progressives to properly govern black-majority neighborhoods probably has a lot to do with it, as well.

A lot of white progressives dismiss the black vote for Trump by chalking it up to false consciousness. Blacks can’t judge such matters for themselves really. Distrust of the people is deeply rooted in the technocratic attitude of progressive elites. The progressive has been known to call black conservatives “Uncle Toms.” Progressives reflect their candidate’s attitude in this regard. Remember when Biden said, “I tell you what, if you have a problem figuring out whether you’re for me or Trump, then you ain’t black”? Yeah. He said that. He meant it, too. Progressives don’t even trust black people with navigating the voter verification process.

Joe Biden Apologizes For The "You Ain't Black' Quip with Charlamagne Tha God
Democratic party presidential candidate Joe Biden tells Charlamange on The Breakfast Club that black people who do not vote for him are not really black.

This condescending attitude reflects the progressive worldview generally. Let’s put the left’s constant infantilization of blacks and other groups to one side. Identitarian politics for progressives isn’t so much about race or sex or sexual orientation as it is about partisan loyalties. Progressives want to see the first female president, but not if she is conservative; the identity of conservative women is suspect. They celebrate a Ruth Bader Ginsburg, hailing her as a model for girls and young women, but an Amy Coney Barrett is a traitor.

One’s racial identity is suspect if one vote for Trump. Except if he is white. Then he’s acting on the reflexive white supremacy that the good white man recognizes in himself. To be fully black, woman, or gay, one has to subscribe to progressive doctrine and support the Democratic Party. Skin color comes with a politics. If you don’t see that, then you’re deluded or stupid.

The Reflex of Reactionary Stupidity

The technocratic elite see the popular consensus expressed in democratic elections as routine endorsement of its policies. When the results run contrary to this purpose, the popular will is delegitimized. The people chose poorly, we are told. These are not referenda, after all. They are ritual acts of affirmation.

In 2016, we saw this in the Brexit vote and in the election of Donald Trump. The establishment successfully manufactured the perception that a vote for either indicated a reflex of reactionary stupidity. The Deplorables surprised them.

To meet the reflexive stupidity of the Deplorables, the Resistance was founded. Four years on, the Resistance has a chance to fix popular error. The polls indicate that destiny is on their side.

The United States is facing a situation in which those who claim to oppose corporate power, regime-change wars, and the vast prison-industrial complex are voting for a man who has for decades been at the forefront of pushing these very tendencies.

Read the full transcript of Joe Biden's ABC News town hall - ABC News
Globalist Joe Biden

The man the Resistance has or will vote for on Election Day is a career politician who represents for the elite a return to the neoliberal and neoconservative status quo, a globalist who has spent his entire life making sure the establishment knows that he is and will always be its man.

The Resistance is voting to topple a leader—a populist outsider with broad support among working class Americans—who has resisted globalization, ended foreign wars, and led on major criminal justice reform.

That the man the Resistance labors to carry to power has at his back the academic institutions, the corporate establishment, the administrative state, the propaganda apparatus, and the culture industry appears not to convey anything significant to the Resistance.

Is Trump the President of Canada and the European Union? The Rise in SARS-2 Cases Across the Western World

We are inundated with news stories of the rising SARS-2 cases in the United States and instructed by progressives and pundits to attribute the increase to the failure of the Trump administration to deal in an effective way with the pandemic. His Democratic opponent, former Vice-President and long-time Senator from Delaware Joe Biden, tells us that Trump’s lack of action puts Americans in harm’s way.

However, looking at Canada and major European countries (UK, France, Germany, Italy, and Spain), one sees a drastic rise in SARS-2 cases in all of them (see charts below). It feels a bit silly to remind readers that Donald Trump is not the leader of any of these countries, but he’s not. Ask yourself: why is the media not reporting what’s happening in these other countries, all of which employed extensive lockdowns and enjoy comprehensive universal healthcare? Because the establishment agenda is to install globalist Joe Biden as the president of the United States. It’s the same reason they aren’t reporting on the evidence damning Biden as a corrupt politician.

The truth is that SARS-2 is a biological event. It manifests the same tendencies independent of the policies of the countries in which it appears—independent of the policies ostensibly meant to deal with contagion. It rises and falls on its own. It targets the same preexisting conditions. The average age of those die from or with SARS-2 is mid-80s. Lockdowns in free and open societies don’t work. Obviously. The more citizens of these countries have masked up, the more cases of infection there are. That’s not because masks spread the virus. No, it’s because there is no causal relation between the things these governments are doing and the natural history of SARS-2.

But this doesn’t mean that government policy doesn’t carry effects. We know that the downstream effects of shuttering society—the tens of thousands of deaths that will occur from undetected cancers, untreated conditions, drug addiction, suicides, and other acts of self and other harm—are the result of policy decisions. Pandemic preparation in the West never had societies locking down. The character of Western freedom ill-prepares people for social isolation. Tyranny imposed on a free people manifests in bizarre ways. Hysteria over systemic racism is a prime example.

We also know that SARS-2 originated in China. Whether naturally emergent, the result of a gain-of-function experiment accidentally released, or a bioweapon designed by the Chinese military, the Chinese communist state is ultimately responsible. Moreover, if we can believe the reporting from the CCP and WHO, China showed the world the efficacy of totalitarianism in controlling the spread of a virus domestically (see below chart), even while, at the same time, allowing the virus to escape China to infect the world. The corporate media is silent on that matter, as well (even while elites hold up China as a model of pandemic preparedness). To be sure, the devastating consequences of lockdowns are a self-inflicted wound that Western governments perpetrated on its own people. But without SARS-2 this would not have happened.

Finally, we know this, too. A Hillary Clinton presidency would have looked no different in terms of controlling the virus. The statistics would have been the same. Not unless a Clinton regime had transformed the United States into a totalitarian society by February 2020. I would like to believe the people would not have stood for such a thing. If I were a believer, I’d pray to God they’re not ready to stand for that in a Biden regime. Or a Kamala Harris regime.

The Folly of Ending Fossil Fuel and the Necessity of Comprehending the World in its Interrelations

One of the arguments progressives make in pushing their politics is environmental concern. They are excited when they hear presidential candidate Joe Biden and his sidekick Kamala Harris talk about ending fossil fuels. But progressives typically don’t think in terms of interconnections and they are generally ignorant of international political economy and the problem of uneven global development. (We see a similar myopia in the desire to shut down society over SARS-2, a demand that neglects all the downstream effects of shutdowns, such as the thousands of people who will die from cancer and other diseases, as well as from drug abuse and suicide.)

The United States does indeed produce a lot of energy from fossil fuels. We have achieved a substantial degree of energy independence on account of it. However, because of our high level of economic and technological development, our production and use of fossil fuels, thanks to, among other things, carbon capture and storage methods, is efficient and clean compared to that of China, India, Russia, and other economies. If we reduce production of fossil fuels in the United States, we not only give away our energy independence, but we will also come to rely on fossil fuels produced by other countries in the dirtiest way, thus drastically accelerating global climate change.

Extinction Rebellion US
Extinction Rebellion, from their webpage https://extinctionrebellion.us/

The truth is that the world economy depends fundamentally on fossil fuels. We cannot produce the energy we need to run the world using geo, hydro, solar, and wind. I am all for these other sources of energy, but we have to be honest about the situation. And while it is conceivable that we could replace fossil fuel with nuclear power, even if we could agree that nuclear comes with little risk (I seriously doubt folks can agree on that—I am not sure I could agree on that), we could not produce the number of reactors we need to reduce emissions to a level sufficient to stop the trend in global warming.

What progressives appear unable to grasp is that progress on the environment comes with technological advancement. We cannot have technological advancement without economic growth. We cannot have economic growth without sufficient sources of energy. We cannot have sufficient sources of energy without fossil fuels. This is the character of the treadmill of production for the foreseeable future. We have to grasp the structure of throughput and the dynamic interrelation of systems parts in developing sound environmental policy. Moreover, without economic development, we also cannot raise the standard of living for those whom progressives purport to speak.

Group behind London climate protests moving on to next phase of "rebellion"  - CBS News
Extinction Rebellion protests in London last year.

After a year of reflection, I now believe that the most immediate path through the climate crisis is the development of technological solutions to conservation and pollution. The United States can lead the way—but only if we have a country. Progressives have us giving up too much in the name of “social justice.” To be sure, much of the promotion of “clean coal” is greenwashing, as I have written and spoken about. I have worked very hard to debunk the claims of the antienvironmental countermovement. But I have come to realized that one of the greatest barriers to rational discussion on economy and environment is the apocalyptic rhetoric coming from climate change zealots, such as Extinction Rebellion. Unlike the panic over systemic racism, global climate change is real. But like systemic racism hysteria, climate apocalypticism is a disruptive and regressive force in modern society. All of these panics—and throw the SARS-2 panic in there—reflect a neurotic worldview that functions as a type of quasi-religious fundamentalism, a secular millennialism, if you will. We have to listen to more rational voices than these.

Antiracism and Transnationalism: Convergent Developments Shaping the Present Moment

I have been doing a lot of thinking and writing about the current tendencies we are now experiencing in the West. I have been helped considerably by several prominent thinkers. Among them are Bruce Gilley, cancelled for defending colonialism, James Lindsay and his New Discourses resource and damning critique of social justice, Tom Holland’s thesis of the Great Awokening, Daniel McCarthy of Modern Age and his case for Trump, Victor Davis Hanson and the problem with the progressive elites, Heather MacDonald and the diversity delusion, and Thomas Frank’s advocacy of populism. Although there are problems with their arguments, which I note in yesterday’s podcast (see below), their insights helped me make important connections.  

These insights inform my historical materialism and political economy specialty. What I have come to see very clearly are two convergent developments that should trouble every freedom loving person. The first is the critical theory, neo-Maoist, postcolonial, postmodernist, race identitarian, Third Worldist tendency currently on the streets burning down America, manifest in progressive politics, and, in the academy, poisoning the minds of the youth of Western societies with a cracked theory of history and social arrangements. It is an utterly incoherent worldview, illiberal in attitude and totalitarian in character. The tendency directs activists and administrators to organize institutions around and assess and evaluate individual thought and behavior on the basis of racial identity.

The second development is the transnational corporate powers—in business, culture industry, media—weaponizing this tendency to delegitimize the Enlightenment and democratic republicanism and dismantle the international system to establish a global neofeudalist order with a new aristocracy ruling the masses. It is astonishing to me—an embarrassing for me because I did not immediately see it clearly myself—that academics have been so keen to recognize the problem of the corporate takeover of higher education but have not grasped the regressive character of the critical theory/postmodern tendency they still believe represents radicalism in colleges and universities, even k-12. This should have become obvious when administrators incorporated the tendency in advertising and marketing, curriculum, and in HR (diversity and inclusion) policies. As if corporations would promote anything truly subversive.

The truth is that the critical theory tendency undermines class consciousness. This is a New Left tendency—racialist, antihumanist, illiberal, and Islamist. It is radical in this sense: it is a radical departure from the Old Left politics that emphasize class, humanism, liberalism, and secularism. Why else would corporate elites, who stifled Old Left politics for more than a century, push the New Left tendency? Remember, progressivism is the ideology underpinning technocratic logic of corporate governance. 

Who is the presidential candidate of the New Left tendency? It’s Joe Biden. Joe Biden was the United States Senator from Delaware for nearly forty years. The Biden campaign paints the candidate as “Joe from Scranton,” but before serving as Vice-President from 2009 to 2017, Biden was the Senator from Delaware from 1973 to 2009. Delaware is a unique state with its Court of Chancery. The General Corporation Law is the statute governing corporate law in the state. Due to the favorable legal environment, more than half of all publicly traded companies in the United States and more than two-thirds of Fortune 500 companies are incorporated in the state. Delaware has for decades been known at the premier corporate haven in America. From this perch, Biden has helped corporatists advance their globalist strategies. Perhaps no politicians has done more to hurt working families in America than Joe from Scranton. As Senator and Vice-President has promoted mass incarceration, global military action, regime change wars, and surveillance. That this is the man who progressives tell us we must vote for tells us a great deal about their politics. 

The split is not between the New Left and corporate power. The arsonists and rioters on our streets are not in opposition to the corporate powers that fund them and push out their message. That’s a contradiction. Antiracism is not a movement. It is establishment politics. The bureaucratic collectivism of the Chinese communist state and the state monopoly capitalism of the West intersect in the managed decline of the West. The bulwark against this monstrosity is the small “d” democratic and small “r” republican populist nationalist uprising. It is an uprising against neoconservatism, neoliberalism, and globalism. Perhaps the deaths of democracy, humanism, liberalism, and secularism are inevitable. But there is a force resisting transnational corporatism and it’s represented, with all its imperfections, by the Trump movement. You know it’s a movement because its opposition is the establishment.

The establishment media not reporting on the Hunter Biden story is big time gaslighting. The elite are forcing the people to choose between two narratives: (1) the establishment is covering for Joe Biden (an obvious truth they mean to sound crazy) and (2) there is nothing here, which is straight up a lie. The truth is that the laptop is real, every bit of it, and Joe Biden is eye-ball deep in epic corruption and totally unfit to president (as if that wasn’t obvious already). A massive fraud is being perpetrated on the American public. Biden is a traitor to the American republic.

Shame on Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren. Especially Sanders. Sheepdog par excellence. These quislings portray themselves as super ethical and keen to smoke out corruption. Nonsense. They are enablers of the Democratic Party’s big lie. The Democratic Socialist of America is revealed as a complete deception. Cornel West, Chris Hedges—the whole lot of them are fake populists, faux-socialism at best haplessly working with the transnational fraction of world capitalist power to defeat the working class.

The Court has its Ninth Justice

Folks need to move on from this Supreme Court business. The nation has its ninth justice. But before moving on, a reminder on hypocrisy and what lies behind it:

Let history record that it was the Democrats who insisted on hearing Merrick in an election year. Were all the arguments they made then—and they made them confidently and dramatically—made in bad faith? Probably. But let’s take Democrats at their word.

McConnell and Grassley, in that famous Washington Post op-ed, had every reason to believe that Hillary Clinton would be elected president in 2016. Article II, Section 2 of the Constitution grants the Senate the right to withhold its consent. Whatever their arguments were about hearing the voice of the people, MccConnell’s party held power in the Senate. (Republicans even held power in the House. It was a divided government between executive and legislative branch.)

Here’s what not being hypocritical would look like: If you say something in 2016, and you say it is on principle, then you have to say the same thing in 2020. It’s principle. It doesn’t change. In 2016, Democrat after Democrat insisted on hearing Merrick in an election year (watch above video). President Obama was a Democrat president. The Republican majority didn’t have to schedule a hearing or a vote for the nominee of a president of the other party. Elections have consequences. Power matters.

Trump ran on putting originalists on the Supreme Court. His party controls the Senate. They scheduled a hearing and a vote. Elections have consequences. Trump and Republicans followed through with their promise. Democrats are contradicting themselves on principle.

What is this about? Democrats aren’t really concerned about hypocrisy (they would have appointed a judge in an election year if Hillary Clinton had been president—this isn’t about principle). The noise they made was really about keeping the Supreme Court out of the hands of those who base interpretation of disputes the philosophy to which Amy Coney Barrett subscribes, namely originalism, which progressives equate to racism, sexism, and homophobia. (For them, our founding fathers were horrible people.)

Asked during the confirmation hearings about her method, Barrett said, “I interpret [the Constitution’s] text as text and I understand it to have the meaning that it had at the time people ratified it. So that meaning doesn’t change over time. And it’s not up to me to update it or infuse my own policy views into it.”

The term “originalism” emerged in the 1980s to capture the character of a judicial philosophy that holds that, in resolving legal disputes, the judge must do so in light of the Constitution’s text and the founders’ intentions. If progressives want to change the law, originalists suggest they do the hard work—the work assigned to the legislative branch, which represents the will of the people—of passing and repealing laws rather than depending on an activist judges to inject new meaning into the founding texts on the basis of their ideological views. Supreme Court justices aren’t elected by the people (heaven help us if they ever are). They are there to interpret law, policy, dispute, and judgment in light of the Constitution and other founding texts and other legislative texts and intentions. Just imagine activists judges on the right injecting their ideology into the law and you get the problem with judicial activism.

The World is in Flames

“Even though you didn’t give a direct answer I think your response did speak volumes,” Senator Mazie Hirono of Hawaii scolded Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett. “Not once, but twice, you used the term sexual preference to describe those in the LGBTQ community. And let me make clear, sexual preference is an offensive and outdated term.”

Amy Coney Barrett apologizes in exchange with Sen. Mazie Hirono for 'sexual  preference' comment - The Washington Post
Hawaii Senator Mazie Hirono scolding Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett over her word choice

What was Hirono responding to? “I have no agenda, and I do want to be clear that I have never discriminated on the basis of sexual preference and would not ever discriminate on the basis of sexual preference,” Barrett said when asked about her stance on preserving protections for members of the LGBTQ community. Correct answer, right? Wrong. Lambda Legal tells us why:

After being confronted by Hirono, Barrett apologized. “I certainly didn’t mean and would never mean to use a term that would cause any offense in the LGBTQ community,” she said.

Shortly afterward, John McCormack of the National Review asked an obvious question of Hirono: “Senator, last week at the hearing you mentioned that you thought it was ‘offensive and outdated’ when Amy Barrett used the [term] ‘sexual preference.’ It turns out that Joe Biden said it in May. Ruth Bader Ginsburg said it in 2017. Some of your colleagues on the Judiciary Committee said it maybe in 2010, 2012. Do you stand by that criticism?”

Mazie Hirono: Well, of course.

McCormack: Do you think Joe Biden should apologize for saying that in May?

Hirono: Well, look, it’s a lesson learned for all of us. But when you’re going on the Supreme Court and you’ve been a judge, as one of my judge friends said, you should know what these words mean.

McCormack: Should Joe Biden apologize, too, like Amy Coney Barrett did?

Hirono: Joe Biden is not up for the Supreme Court.

McCormack: He’s up for the presidency. So, he shouldn’t apologize?

Hirono: People will decide.

McCormack: You don’t want to call on him to apologize?

Hirono: Oh, stop it. The world is in flames.

There are lots of problems with Hirono’s response. For one thing, telling another person how they are supposed to talk about complex and unsettled matters is arrogant and obnoxious. What does Hirono know about this? Somebody tells her something and she becomes a walking truth scold? Now she’s everybody’s mother? That’s the left these these days. The authoritarian impulse is off the hook with these people. They think they have the right to cancel, bully, hector, and shame others into their ideological frame.

But at its core, the argument misunderstands the idea of preferences at a fundamental level. It is to admit to a profound ignorance of everything we know about the nature of human character to suggest that preference indicates choice. The truth is, we don’t know very much about how people acquire references. 

As a professional sociologist, I may have something to contribute here. Those of us who study these things, if we’re honest, admit we really don’t why human beings prefer one thing over another. We know that preferences may persist or vary over time and place. Preference is frequently contextual. It can be shaped by mood. Some days, a person prefers one thing over another thing. On other days, that same person prefers the other thing. Humans navigate their lives via an often ever changing constellation of preferences. All this is observable. How humans come to have preferences? That’s a hard problem. But I do know this: Lambda Legal doesn’t have the answer to this question.

Choices are something different. Preferences shape our choices. But they do not always determine them. We often choose what we do not prefer.

I am not so arrogant as to presume to know why I have the preferences I have. Humans prefer all sorts of things and they have no idea why they prefer them. We didn’t choose them. We cannot presume that being more attracted to blue eyes, blonde hair, and fair skin is genetic. That would presume that people are born with racial preferences. I don’t think that’s true. Maybe it is. I don’t know. Neither does Senator Hirono. Or Lambda Legal. Or GLAAD. At the same time, attraction is not a choice. A person does not choose to be attracted to one thing rather than another. They discover they are. A person makes them feel a certain way. To be sure, they can catalog the characteristics that makes them feel that way, but they cannot explain why those characteristics work for them and others don’t. Or why they persist. Or why they change. It mysterious. And that’s okay.

Because a person doesn’t know why he prefers this over that—or that over this on Tuesdays—does not mean the preferences are innate or that he chooses them. That is a false dichotomy. Genes may be involved. Hormones may be involved. They may not be. If genes or hormones are involved, they may not be all that is involved. Very likely they aren’t all that is involved. Socialization is a powerful factor in shaping preferences.

The argument Hirono is making is an extreme oversimplification of the human conditions that presumes that an open matter is a settled one. The Senator is operating within a frame that holds that something like sexual preference is either totally determined or must be a matter of free will. Determined by what? Is this a genetic model? A behavioral model? Does it matter?

A person may believe that homosexuality is a choice. But to say it is a preference is not to say that it is a choice. It doesn’t even suggest it. Lambda Legal wants to hector people into using words it prefers. It’s on a power trip. It’s the same power trip that lies behind the habit of presuming to speak for others or demanding utterances avoid offending abstract people. But Lambda Legal is wrong. To say something is a preference implies nothing about the origins of the preference. The way those who work in that office hear things does not determine the truth of the things they hear. They aren’t in charge of the meaning of words. Or their usages.

If somebody asks me, “Why do you prefer this?” perhaps the most honest answer I can give is to say, “I don’t know. I just do.” And that should be good enough. It’s not like I did something wrong. I don’t have to explain myself. I’m not a bad person. As long as what I prefer does not hurt anybody else, then it’s an entirely acceptable way of being and behaving.

We really don’t have to accept a master explanation about the constellation of preferences that informs our choices. Not from Mazie Hirono, Lambda Legal, or anybody else. For sure Senator Hirono is unqualified to lecture anybody on such matters. Judge Barrett should not have apologized. Never participate in another person’s effort to humiliate you—or to force into you their newspeak.

Finally, to Hirono’s remark about the state of the world. This is typical of the progressive movement. Barack Obama says Joe Biden has the character to lead us through these dark times and heal us. Child oracle Greta Thunberg, the movement’s climate scold, warns us that she is watching us. Hirono says the world is in flames. What does such apocalyptic rhetoric signal? It’s not obvious?

Of all the reasons to vote against Joe Biden (and there are plenty), the quasi-religious zealotry of the progressive movement is arguably the main one. The faux-moral language signals the core belief of the technocracy: that the elite are called by providence to treat a disease called the common man. Senator Hirono sees Judge Barrett, because Barrett is a conservative, as one among the deplorables. Hirono could not miss an opportunity to lord over Barrett self-assigned moral superiority.

I am very impressed by how intentional this SARS-2 virus is. It has clearly made a choice of comrades and that choice is the same choice progressives make: the downtrodden and oppressed and their allies. There is no uptick in SARS-2 cases associated with the Black Lives Matter protests, the women’s marches, etc. The high priests of the establishment make this very clear. The awokened are magically spared. It’s like the lamb’s blood mark on the doors of Jewish slaves that deterred the creeping death. But the virus follows Trump rallies around the country infecting thousands. Like frogs and locusts pestering Pharaoh. Have you noticed how disproportionately white Trump rallies are? You know, the descendants of the slave masters? The deplorables. They had it coming. This is a virus with a definite tribal preference. Black people and their allies? Off limits. White conservatives? Death to their crippled and elderly. As an old and often tongue-tied man told us, if it wasn’t for Trump, a multitude of people would still be alive today. As legend has it, Moses wasn’t a gifted speaker, either.

The Rhetorical Function of Family Separation and Family Reunification

I have been following this story and blogged about immigration several times (I provide links to some of those blogs in the present blog). I have been critical of some of Trump’s politics with respect to the immigration question (see, for example, Immigration and Nationalisms). At the same time, I advocate immigration restrictions and do so because my pro-worker politics demand this of me (I oppose globalization generally). Whatever we think about open borders or immigration restrictions, there’s something the media isn’t telling you about the more than five hundred children who have not been reunited with their parents: many of the parents don’t desire reunification; some even actively resist it. Truth can often sound cold, so I apologize for having to tell you this, but truth is more important than sparing your feelings. This is not a white lie situation.

Before getting to the dirty truth, I need to remind readers that a large proportion of the alleged family units coming across the border are not actual families. Early on in the migrant crisis, a pilot DNA testing program found that at least around one third of alleged families crossing the borders were not actual families; the children were not related to the presumed parents (The Interstate System and the Experience of Safe, Orderly Immigration). Here’s the way it works: either smugglers are paid to deliver children across the border, or economic migrants use children to manufacture the illusion of a family to create sympathy at the border. In the latter case, some of the actual parents sometimes compensated, but others are kidnapped. (The Situation at the Border and How to Respond to it.) President Trump was accurate when he said, “Children are brought here by coyotes and lots of bad people, cartels, and they’re brought here and it’s easy to use them to get into our country.”

But there are actual families crossing the border and who are illegally residing in the United States, and the United States has practiced family separation for many years. The practice was common during the Obama-Biden administration (Law Enforcement and Family Separation). With the respect to the children discussed during the final president debate, authorities often do locate their parents. In many cases, families have been reunited. The government is pursuing family reunification. There is an international effort to find families and reunite them. The search includes toll-free hotlines and teams working in the United States, Mexico, and the Central American countries of El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras. For those who have not yet been reunited, or during the process of facilitating reunification, investigators set up videos calls between the parents and the children. This is all documented. The suggestion that the Trump Administration is not trying to reunite families is untrue. Most families have been reunified.

Migrant parents separated from children since 2018 are reunited at LAX -  Los Angeles Times
One of several family reunifications

Progress in family reunification is the good news. Here’s the bad news: In many cases, parents don’t want to be reunited with their children. Many of these parents are poor and cannot afford their children. I realize it is hard for progressives to believe that there are parents in the world who don’t want their children, who see them as a burden to be pawned off on somebody else, but there are. Philippe Ariès’s landmark Centuries of Childhood: A Social History of Family Life, wherein he develops a thesis commonly known as “the discovery of childhood,” documents a long and uncomfortable history of child abandonment and infanticide that has only recently come to offend liberal sensibilities. For many throughout the world, these sensibilities are still being discovered. Other parents make the decision to leave their children for what they perceive is in the best interests of the children. As Tucker Carlson reported tonight, a Department of Homeland Security spokesperson says that in one lawsuit currently pending, the plaintiffs have been able to contact the parents of 485 children separated at the border and yet “they’ve yet to identify a single family that wants their child reunited with them in their country of origin.”

Often the parents chose to leave the country without their children. “Parents that did return home without their child did so after being provided an opportunity to have that child accompany them on the way home,” said Matthew Albence, who heads US Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s removal operations. The unscrupulous are keenly aware of these sensibilities. Human traffickers and economic migrants exploit the humanitarian sensibilities of progressives in America to more successfully move to and abandon children in the United States. They are encouraged to do this by the network that organizes illegal immigration. While some parents plan to have their children live in the United States for the good of the children, who then become wards of the state. Many children are just pawns in grander criminal schemes.

Progressives are naive about the people crossing the border (PBS and Immigration Apologetics). It’s not just the running of contraband; human trafficking and child exploitation are huge problems. Economic migrants are brought across the border to work for criminal corporations throughout the United States. (What is the Relationship of Immigration to Crime? Immigration, Rule of Law, and the Peril of Ideology). To my southern comrades, have you ever wondered why, when you were growing up, black folks used to work in specific occupations of the split labor market, but that work is now being performed by Hispanic workers? Black people didn’t leave the South en masse. They still live in your towns and cities. In fact, during your lifetimes black Americans have been returning to the South because of the conditions in midwestern and northeastern urban centers. The reality is that thousands of black Americans have been disemployed by international migration, forced into idleness and poverty. It is well understood how devastating immigration has been for the black community. There is an irony here. Progressives talk about systemic racism. Maybe they should take a look at how their leaders have facilitated the replacement of black workers in key sectors by workers from Mexico and Central America.

The distortions, exaggerations, and lies progressives tell us about immigration has a purpose beyond smearing conservatives. It’s propaganda designed to keep open the flow of economic migrants coming to the United States so they can be exploited (a) for cheap labor; (b) to drive down the wage floor for all workers; and (c) to disrupt worker consciousness and disorganize class politics. With respect to (c) last piece, take a look at what happened to private sector union density over the last sixty or so years (The Immigration Situation). Multiculturalism is the ideological ruse covering the corporate economic strategy progressives advance.

Keep in mind that progressives work hand-in-hand with rightwing libertarians to push open border (Bernie Sanders Gets it on Open Borders Rhetoric—At Least He Did in 2015; Bernie Sanders, Immigration, and Progressivism). Progressives weaponize multiculturalism by redefining opposition to mass immigration as racism and xenophobia (The Attempt to Gaslight America Over Open Borders; Immigration, Deportation, and Reductio ad Hitlerum). This is why we see Joe Biden, one of the chief advocates for the economic policies devastating the working class, an open corporatist and globalist constantly accusing populist nationalists of racism and xenophobia. Hillary Clinton calls America’s native working class “deplorables.”

Biden said of Trump during the debate, “Abraham Lincoln here is one of the most racist presidents we’ve had in modern history. He pours fuel on every single racist fire. Every single one. He started off his campaign coming down the escalator saying he’s gonna get rid of those Mexican rapists. He’s banned Muslims because they’re Muslims. He has moved around and made everything worse across the board. He says to them about the ‘Poor Boys’ [sic], last time we were on stage here. He said, ‘I told him to stand down and stand ready’. Come on. This guy has a dog whistle about as big as a fog horn.” Leave aside that Trump’s remark about Mexican rapists and the ban on people from selected Muslim-majority countries are not examples of racism, or that the Proud Boys are not a racist organization (Antifa, the Proud Boys, and the Relative Scale of Violent Extremism), once you understand the interests Democrats represent, their antiracism is exposed as pro-corporate propaganda that harms the working class, especially the most vulnerable members of our society, citizens who are disproportionally black and brown.

Finally, I hope that every family who desires to be unified with their children can be found and those families reunited. If this happened to my family, I would move heaven and earth to find my children.

The Neoliberal Approach to Criminal Justice and Trump’s First Step Act

“I don’t care why someone is a malefactor in society. I don’t care why someone is antisocial. I don’t care why they’ve become a sociopath. We have an obligation to cordon them off from the rest of society.”

This is Joe Biden from the US Senate floor in 1993 speaking about “predators on our streets” who he specifically identifies as “young people, tens of thousands of them, born out of wedlock, without parents, without supervision, without any structure, without any conscience developing because they literally have not been socialized.” “We have no choice but to take them out of society,” Biden says in his fiery speech. Here’s the speech:

Biden’s Senate speech was in the service of the 1994 Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act, a catalog of draconian laws and policies he played a major role in formulating. In fact, he wrote the damn thing. It contained, among other things, the “three strikes” formulation that disproportionately impacted black people, driving mass incarceration in the following years—all this at the same time he was scheming with transnational corporations to put American workers out of work and lower their standards of living, policies that disproportionately affected black people.

We all know who Biden was talking about. He was talking about young black men, the same population of young Americans Hillary Clinton described as “superpredators” in a 1996 speech in New Hampshire in support of the 1994 crime bill that her husband, Bill Clinton, signed in to law. Hillary Clinton said this of black youth: “They are often the kinds of kids that are called superpredators — no conscience, no empathy.” She said that before we “talk about why they ended up that way,” “we have to bring them to heel.” This was all part of the progressive Democrat “get tough on crime” push. Here’s the speech:

Contrast the Biden-Clinton crime bill with the First Step Act that President Donald Trump signed into law in 2018. The First Step Act eliminates the “three strikes” life sentencing provision, and expands judges’ discretion in sentencing of non-violent crimes, among other log-overdue reforms. According to the White House, the First Step Act helps inmates return to society by expanding access to rehabilitative programs. These programs leverage innovative life-course/within-subject research to assess the needs and address the risks of prisoners to promote rehabilitation. Specific reforms include expanding Pell Grants to provide education and training to inmates prior to release and the “Ready to Work Initiative” to help connect employers with former prisoners and expand employment opportunities.

We know from the research that jobs are the single most important intervention in reducing recidivism. It was the neoliberal policies of the Democratic Party that threw American workers into competition with foreign workers both at home and abroad. Under Democrats going back to the 1960s, the nation saw black unemployment rise to two and three times the rate of that for whites. The black community are particularly hard hit by globalization.

Prior to the emergence of SARS-CoV-2, Trump’s economic nationalism saw the lowest unemployment rates for black Americans in several decades, lifting millions of black families out of poverty. Combined with criminal justice reform, the policies of economic nationalism, by ameliorating criminogenic conditions, promise to sharply reduce crime and violence in the future. Indeed, before the emergence of militant Black Lives Matter movement and the progressive push for depolicing, violent crime was down. All crime, in fact declined under Trump. Since violent crime drives incarceration, progress on this front portends an even sharper reduction in prison populations going forward, building on the already sharply downward trajectory of the last few years.

You may not like Donald Trump’s house style, but we cannot go back to the failed policies of neoliberalism.

Prison Trends and Rehabilitation in the Norwegian, Swedish, and the US Correctional System

Recently I organized a session at the 2020 Mid-South Sociological Association Meetings, held virtually: Contemporary Penology: Thinking About Transformation of Systems and Persons. I am Associate Professor in the Democracy and Justice Studies program at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay where I teach mostly on matters of criminology and criminal justice. My paper was titled “Rehabilitation in the Norwegian Correctional System,” and I want to present the textual basis for my talk. Here is The FAR Podcast covering the talk:

I am on sabbatical conducting a crossnational comparative study of the character and efficacy of various correctional approaches in the reduction of criminal recidivism for a range of purposes: providing scholars and practitioners with detailed and focused knowledge on advancements in penology; developing programs for students studying and preparing for careers in the fields of criminology and criminal justice administration; and making available to the public sound information and methods appropriate to the development and implementation of policies conducive to building inclusive, safe, and just communities. In this talk I discussed is an evaluation, very much in development, of US-style penology in light of the innovative approach of Norwegian penology, with some attention paid to the Swedish situation as a near comparison. This text is the rough sketch of a paper, which I am working up for publication.

A little bit of background. I traveled to Norway and Sweden in the summer of 2018 to gain access to educational and correctional institutions in the cities of Oslo, Stockholm, and Göteborg. In Norway, I traveled to the University College of Norwegian Correctional Service (KRUS), or Kriminalomsorgen, in Lillestrøm, outside of Oslo. My trip to Stockholm involved meetings with researchers at the Swedish Prison and Probation Service (SPPS), or Kriminalvården, in Liljeholmen, a district in the Stockholm archipelago. 

In the fall of that year, I was invited by Sociology and Work Science to come to the University of Göteborg for my sabbatical semester. They agreed to host my visit and provide me with office space. In June 2019, I was awarded a sabbatical for fall 2020 to travel to Norway and Sweden to continue my research. Unfortunately SARS-CoV-2 emerged in early spring of this year and my university cancelled all international travel until at least the end of the year. My research continues, but under obviously constrained conditions.

In his landmark 1940 work, The Prison Community, Donald Clemmer coins the term “prisonization,” which he defines as “the taking on” by inmates “of the folkways, mores, customs, and general culture of the penitentiary” (270). According to Clemmer, the phenomenon plays a critical role in determining the success of rehabilitation. The acquired habits of institutional life replace the inmate’s prior sensibilities to the detriment of reformation. “The net results of the process,” Stanton Wheeler writes in his 1961 American Sociological Review article “Socialization in Correctional Communities,” is “the internalization of a criminal outlook, leaving the ‘prisonized’ individual relatively immune to the influences of a conventional value system” (697).

While Clemmer identifies several structural elements shaping prison society, including the antagonistic relationship between correctional officers and inmates, cliques and gangs, and prisoner demography (age, ethnicity, race, and so forth), he is concerned primarily with detailing the dynamics and results of prisonization, not with the origins of the “convict code,” that is the system of sanctions (McCorkle and Korn 1962), or the structural features underpinning it. Clemmer’s insights provoked the development of a large body of literature on prison culture and socialization, the findings of which have generally supported his thesis that imprisoned individuals are at risk in time to acquire the prevailing role-specific beliefs, norms, and values of the institution, and, crucially, adumbrated the institutional logic that gives rise to the dynamic.  

Many observers root prisonization to the austere realities of incarceration. Like concentration camps, military service, and psychiatric facilities, the penitentiary is a manifestation of what Erving Goffman described in his 1961 Asylums as “total institutions,” sites where all life unfolds according to externally imposed inelastic rules and schedules. Responsibility for decision-making largely removed from his purview, the inmate finds himself fundamentally reliant upon the penitentiary routine, which is markedly different from the outside world. Goffman argues that total institutions produce a “self-mortification” that sharply limits personal autonomy and stamps the inmate with a new identity. Ann Cordilia’s 1983 The making of an inmate: Prisons as a way of life characterizes this as a form of “desocialization.” We might say that prisoners are resocialized and new loyalties and solidarity relations emerge.

Prisonization is a species of institutionalization, specifically assimilation or integration with inmate culture, what Gresham Sykes (1958) characterizes as “a society of captives.” It’s Sykes’ catalog of the “pains of imprisonment” that informs the conceptual model used in this paper. Sykes identifies five deprivations underpinning inmate adaptation to prison life, deprivations of autonomy, goods and services, heterosexual relationships, liberty, and security. This is commonly known as the “deprivation thesis.” Those things prison deprives are understood as human needs that inmate culture ameliorates, corrupts, or serves.

In his landmark 1958 work, Gresham Sykes characterizes prison as “a society of captives.” His catalog of the “pains of imprisonment” informs the conceptual model used in this paper. Sykes identifies five deprivations underpinning inmate adaptation to prison life: deprivations of autonomy, goods and services, heterosexual relationships, liberty, and security. I will come to those in a moment. Sykes also explores in The Society of Captives the question of power, which he believes is not naked in the penitentiary setting but based on legitimacy. In other words, power as authority. This is arguably true in any complex real-world relationship. According to Sykes’ thesis, what he calls the “the defects of total power,” power involves a twin dynamic of (a) inner moral compulsion to obey by those who are controlled and (b) the legitimate effort or right to exercise control. Control over coercive machinery is not enough to control a society of captives. Although correctional officials are vested with the power to demand compliance from prisoners, their power is in actuality limited and depends to a very real degree on inmate cooperation. It is not possible day-to-day for correctional officials to coerce prisoners into compliance. This suggests that correctional officials can leverage recipricol social relations in the rehabilitative process. Prisons are a community, as Clemmer noted, but a community built upon power asymmetries. This is where degradation and abuses come in.

Source: Gresham Sykes, The Society of Captives (1958)

In James Austin and John Irwin 2001 It’s about time: America’s incarceration binge report affective dimensions to Gresham’s pains, finding among inmates’ feelings of alienation, detachment, meaninglessness, normlessness, and powerlessness. From Austin and Irwin’s perspective, the culture of penitentiaries in which inmates are socialized is caused by their anomic state of existence, as inmates, struggling to make sense of their world, develop their own normative and value systems. The general hypothesis is that empirical research should find a negative relationship between degree of prisonization and the success of rehabilitation but also the presence or absence of pains. Thus, the deleterious effects of imprisonment on life beyond prison depend on the frequency and intensity of association with other inmates, the length of time spent in penitentiary settings, and the character of the prison experience. Putting the matter simply, the more time inmates spend with other prisoners, and the longer their sentences, the more prisonized they will become. But it also depends on the pains of imprisonment—that is, which deprivations are present and in what degree.

Presently, the US incarcerates more persons than any other country and has the highest incarceration rate in the world (see chart below). According to the US Bureau of Justice Statistics, there were 2.09 million persons in state and federal prisons, jails, and juvenile correctional facilities (738,400 in jails, 1,176,400 in state prisons, and 179,200 in federal prisons), with an incarceration rate of 639 per 100,000 residents. Nearly ten percent of prisoners are female. The US carceral system is notable for significant class, ethnic, and racial disparities, which largely reflect the demographics of crime commission using the categories from the Uniform Crime Report.

The United States overall has a poor record of rehabilitating those it incarcerates (there is wide variations among the states). According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, recent data show that 68% percent of those released from prison in 2005 were rearrested within three years of their release. This rises to 83% in nine years. This measure of recidivism is a rough but useful indicator of the problem of reoffending after leaving custodial supervision. The United States is well-known among advanced democracies for its punitive approach to corrections, policies guided by deterrence theory. The typical punishment regime in the United States emphasizes harsh and degrading conditions. 

During approximately the same period, according to the World Prison Brief published by the Institute for Criminal Policy Research, prison population in Norway in 2020 stood at 2,653 in 34 correctional facilities, with a rate of 49 per 100,000. Just over six percent are women (see chart below). Twenty-nine percent of prisoners are foreign born. Evidence presented by the Norwegian government indicates that 20 percent prisoners in Norway are recidivists. Correctional institutions in Norway are 73 prercent of capacity. 

According to the same source, inmates in Swedish correctional facilities in 2020 numbered around 7,000 in 79 correctional institutions, with a rate of 68 per 100,000 (see chart below). Just over six percent are women. Just over 22.1 percent are foreign born. Recidivism rates, at around 40 percent within three years, are lower in Sweden than in the United States but considerably higher than in Norway. Sweden’s correctional system is 101.6 percent capacity. 

When I began my project, the evidence indicated that prison populations were rising in Norway while falling in Sweden. Norway was on a get-tough-on-crime kick, while Sweden was in a period of lienency. However, since 2016, the respective trends have reversed in each country. I want to explain this in the following manner, and this is based on other work that I am doing on the political economy of penal institutions and political-sociological trends in these three countries. 

Reduction in the size of the penitentiary in the United States is a function of historically low rates of crime and especially violence in the United States. The country has seen significant reforms over the last few years, but we likely won’t see the results of that, all things being equal, for a few years now. Why crime has fallen is beyond the scope of my talk today. 

While crime has declined in the United States over the last several years, it has increased in Norway and Sweden. There are complex reasons for this, but what is relevant here is that the two countries have responded to the crime increase very differently. Until recently, while Sweden did not move aggressively to control crime through the traditional means of criminal justice, Norway, on the other hand, did. This has a great deal to do with the politics, with Norway having moved substantially to the right politically over the last 15 or so years, while Sweden has kept its more progressive attitudes. This changed over the last few years. We now see prison populations rising in Sweden while falling in Norway. 

One might be inclined to credit the downward trends in Norway to the deterrent effect of a more aggressive Norwegian response, which involves a major shift in the focus of crime control to more serious criminal offenses. To be sure, deterrence probably explains some if not much of it. However, at the same time, Norway endeavored to become a model of rehabilitation in order to reduce recidivism, which its penologists agreed would further enhance public safety and reduce the size of the prison population. While Sweden prisons are now at capacity, Norway’s prisons have gone from overcrowded to three-quarters capacity.

A big piece of understanding the Norwegian system is understanding what Norway calls the “principle of normality.” The normality principle limits punishment to restriction of liberty only. No other rights are explicitly compromised by the sentencing court. Punishments are designed so that no one will exist in stricter circumstances than necessary for the sake of the community, a principle that emphasizes placement in the lowest possible security regimes. Life inside prison is to resemble, as much as possible, life outside prison.

When in Norway, I toured the services and shown a cluster of prison cells where correctional workers are trained. Prisoner cells have a living space with a bed, bookshelves, desk and chair, television, and private bathroom with a toilet, sink, and shower. When we asked about the efficacy of various alternatives, the explanation is that alternatives are ordered as a progression that is part of an overall process of rehabilitation. By the time they are freed from the system, they require no more engagement with the system (unless they reoffend).

The Nordic model is focused on preparing inmates for successful reintegration with society after release by focusing on individual variability or within-subject change and the needs of people in the greater society. Norway is especially known for an emphasis on restorative justice, an approach that seeks to repair the harm caused by the offense rather than punish the perpetrator. Restorative justice puts victims, offenders, and community members in charge of determining harm done, the needs of those involved, and ways the damage may be repaired. Moreover, Norway and Sweden stress the importance of avoiding isolating prisoners in order to prevent the phenomenon of prisonization, a type of institutionalization that makes it difficult for ex-convicts to transition to life outside of custodial care. 

A very good documentary is Breaking the Cycle, directed by Tomas Lidh and John Stark,  concerning Halden Prison in Norway. They compare to Attica Correctional Faculities in Wyoming County, New York. They also show North Dakota State Penitentiary which is taking the inititative to build a more efficacious rehabilitation experience.