As the one year anniversary of the Trump Insurrection approaches, we still have not held accountable those who planned, financed, orchestrated and implemented the attempt to overthrow the 2020 election results, which resulted in Joe Biden defeating Donald Trump’s reelection efforts. We may soon know…
Hundreds of persons who invaded the Capitol on 1/6/2021, or who did harm to others outside the Capitol, have now been indicted or indicted and convicted regarding their involvement in the Insurrection. But who caused it to happen? Here are my conclusions:
1. Overturning the Results of the Election by Claiming Voter Fraud and Decertifying the Results.
After over 60 lawsuits were lost, the Trump team realized that these efforts would not be successful as the year 2020 neared Its end. New strategies were needed, and several Texas Trumpsters came up with the idea of using the phrase “Stop the Steal” (coined years before by Roger Stone regarding an earlier election) to stimulate diehard Trumpsters to gather in Washington, D.C. before the election was certified on January 6, 2021, to protest the result.
2. The December 12, 2020 “Dry Run’.
The organizers of the “Stop the Steal” effort, including Ali Alexander, put together a dry run rally in D.C. to see if this strategy would work. Funds were obtained to get the permits for the upcoming rallies in D.C and to help the Trumpster loyalists to travel to D.C for the rallies to be held on December 12 and in early January. The House Select Committee is investigating exactly who provided the seed money to finance the Insurrection.
3. The Early January 2021 “Tours”.
Shortly after the new year, several rabid Trumpster Members of Congress, most likely Congressmen Paul Gosar, Mo Brooks, and Andy Biggs and new Members Lauren Boebert and Marjorie Taylor Greene, organized “tours” of the Capitol buildings for organizers of the upcoming “Stop the Steal” Rally scheduled on the Ellipse shortly before Congress gathered in the Capitol to certify the election. Were members of the Proud Boys and Oathkeepers also invited? What was the purpose of these tours? Could it have been to familiarize the persons who took the tours as to how to infiltrate the Capitol and find out where important Democrat Members of Congress had their offices in the Capitol, and how to get to the House and Senate chambers?
Trump retreated to his Florida palace and surrounded himself with his lawyers and the money of his Trumpster supporters
4. The January 5, 2021 Rallies.
Trump loyalists Roger Stone and Michael Flynn, both pardoned by Trump for their past crimes supporting Trump, organized rallies on the day before the electoral votes were to be certified, aided by InfoWars head Alex Jones and former Trump advisor Steve Bannon and others. Separate rallies were held that day, a “Freedom Rally” organized by Michael Flynn which had religious overtones, and another rally organized by Roger Stone and his Proud Boys goons, who had “guarded” Stone for years. Their jobs were to stir up emotions in the Trumpsters gathered from around the country (such as soon-to-be-killed at the Capitol Ashli Babbitt, who was trying to penetrate the House chamber) about how the election was stolen from Trump. The crowds were brought to a frenzy…
5. The Late Night Meeting at the Trump International Hotel Before the “Stop the Steal” Rally.
In the “Presidential Suite” at the Trump International Hotel, late on the evening of 1/5, gathered the Trump boys, Don Jr. and Eric, Junior’s main squeeze, Kimberly Guilfoyle, Rudy Giuliani, Peter Navarro, Ali Alexander, Michael Flynn, My Pillow guy Mike Lindell, Trump’s former campaign staffers Corey Lewandowski and David Bossie, and Senator Tommy Tuberville and possibly other Senators (Josh Hawley? Ted Cruz?), and other hangers-on, including Phil Waldron (a person of recent interest to the Select Committee). Trump joined in the meeting by speakerphone. What did they discuss? According to one attendee, Twxwire CEO Daniel Beck, it was “what to expect on the Hill [the Capitol] tomorrow”.
6. The Early Morning Meeting at the Willard Hotel.
After the Trump Hotel meeting ended, Giuliani went over to the Willard Hotel to meet with the real behind-the-scene operatives regarding what was going to happen later that day, which was planning the coup attempt: law professor John Eastmen, Boris Epshteyn, Steve Bannon, and Roger Stone. Trump called in to speak to the assembled coup plotters at the Willard. What did they discuss? This is why the White House call logs are wanted by the Select Committee.
7. The 1/6 Morning Meeting.
Early in the day, Stone appeared outside the Willard with his Proud Boy goons, including Mike Simmons, Roberto Minuta, Jonathan Walden, Mark Grods, and Ethan Nordean, and then sent them off to the Capitol, but not to attend the “Stop the Steal”Rally about to happen. Their job at the Capitol, led by Nordean, was to penetrate the Capitol building with the help of the Oathkeepers, dressed in combat uniform, and QAnon members hyped up by member Michael Flynn (some say Flynn was in fact “Q”). Stone in fact fled town later that day, and did not appear at the Capitol; nor did Michael Flynn.
8. The “Stop the Steal” Rally.
The permit for the Rally did not authorize a march to the Capitol, but Trump, when he spoke at the Rally, said he would lead them down to the Capitol (of course, he did not). He also on one occasion during his speech said that the participants in the Rally, after marching to the Capitol, should participate in a “peaceful demonstration”. He did not mean it, but he wanted to say it to try to cover himself from future responsibility for the violence he knew was about to happen. Giuliani and Eastman, as well as
Congressman Mo Brooks, among others, also spoke at the Rally.
9. The Assembly at the Capitol After the Trump Speech
The Rally participants made their way to the Capitol, meeting up with the Proud Boys, Oathkeepers and other Trump militants whose charter was: after they penetrated the Capitol, to disrupt the certification of electors proceedings; to locate, capture and destroy the ballots certifying the election; and to kill Pence and Pelosi (possibly by gassing the tunnels between the Capitol and the House and Senate Office Buildings to which the Members of Congress would have fled after the Capitol was breached). The Capitol was soon breached and the Insurrection commenced; the Members of Congress all escaped, with the help of the Secret Service and the Capitol Police.
10. The Defense Department Sits on Its Collective Butt for Hours
After the breach of the Capitol, panic calls were made from Congressional leaders to the heads of the Defense Department to activate their National Guard troops and stop the Insurrection now in progress. The calls incredibly came in to the brother of Michael Flynn, Brigadier General Charles Flynn (still on active duty to this day as the head of the Army in the Pacific area!), who slow-walked any effective response for hours. The Capitol and Metropolitan Police on site at the Capitol were initially diverted to address bomb scares at the headquarters of the RNC and DNC near the Capitol as the rioting was beginning there.
11. Trump Watches the Insurrection on Television in the Oval Office, Enjoying the Rioting.
The White House operative in contact with the coup plotters, Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, deflected calls to the President to “do something!!!”, even calls from his son Don Jr. It wasn’t until much later that Trump was finally convinced to send a message to his loving supporters to “stand down”. Trump took calls during his time of inaction that afternoon from panicked Republican leaders in Congress, and had a heated phone conversation with House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, who used the “F word” on the President.
12. The Aftermath.
After this, the coverup began. The certification process resumed, Biden’s election as President was certified, he was inaugurated, and Trump retreated to his Florida palace and surrounded himself with his lawyers and the money of his Trumpster supporters for the battle ahead, which hopefully will result in his going to JAIL.
Celebrating the Paris Commune as a Positive Form of Communism
This year, as we mark the 150th anniversary of the Paris Commune of 1871, the question arises as to whether that type of direct democracy with an anti-statist, anti-capitalist bent is realizable any longer. One of the many objections to the Commune as a model centers on the notion that such practices cannot be replicated on the large scale of modern nation-states, let alone a world socialist polity. Another objection holds that the subjective force that brought about the Commune, i.e., the emerging working class as a powerful group with enough social weight to really challenge capitalism, has receded in size and importance, at least in the most technologically developed countries. Still, the aspiration persists, as seen most recently in the Occupy movement of 2011.
The Paris Commune poses, even now, the possibility of a totally different way of life, one where the working people, broadly conceived, take power and implement not a mildly reformist social democracy or an authoritarian system that calls itself socialism, but real mass self-rule. Marx sums it up this way in his classic eulogy, The Civil War in France, written as a statement of the First International in the wake of the Commune’s violent repression by the French army: “It was essentially a working-class government, the product of the struggle of the producing against the appropriating class, the political form at last discovered under which to work out the economical emancipation of labor.”
Marx’s writings on the Paris Commune in 1871 and on crude communism in 1844 point to the centrality of gender in the struggle for the alternative to capitalism
This was communism in the positive sense, as Marx also wrote: “Yes, gentlemen, the Commune intended to abolish that class property which makes the labor of the many the wealth of the few. It aimed at the expropriation of the expropriators. It wanted to make individual property a truth by transforming the means of production, land, and capital, now chiefly the means of enslaving and exploiting labor, into mere instruments of free and associated labor. But this is communism, ‘impossible’ communism!”
Women and Revolution in the Commune and After
At the same time, a number of commentators, most notably Edith Thomas in her 1963 book Women Incendiaries, have pointed out the substantial involvement of women in the Commune. Marx also singled out the participation of women as one of its core features, writing of how “the real women of Paris” came out onto the streets, “heroic, noble, and devoted, like the women of antiquity.”
It is striking that these words describe not women under capitalism, but women taking a leading role in a social structure that is reaching beyond capitalism.
But hasn’t that often been the case? Didn’t women, for example, touch off the Russian revolution of 1917, with the demonstration by working women on March 8 of that year? And wasn’t Stalin’s turn to counter-revolution within the revolution in the 1930s connected to the dismantling of many of the gains of women during the revolution, among them free and legal abortion?
This takes us to a slightly different issue, gender relations as a measure of whether a given society is genuinely revolutionary, or is turning away from its most revolutionary possibilities.
Gender and the Critique of Crude Communism in Marx’s 1844 Manuscripts
Looking from this angle also helps illuminate Marx’s most famous discussion of women, in a paragraph in the essay “Private Property and Communism” in the 1844 Manuscripts, where he writes of gender relations as a measure of social progress.
“Private Property and Communism” begins not with a discussion of how to transform capitalist society in a progressive direction, or even with how to abolish capitalism. Instead, Marx begins with the concept of communism itself at a very general philosophical level. He doesn’t sketch a positive model but instead develops a critique of “an entirely crude and unreflective communism.” Thus, we are conceptually already beyond capitalism and in a new society, but not in a positive sense. This crude communism is one of economic equality, but without real human emancipation, without the elimination of exploited and alienated labor. He adds: “The role of worker is not abolished but extended to all human beings.”
Marx ties this form of communism to gender, writing that such a “crude and unreflective communism” expresses itself in the notion of “the community of women,” wherein woman’s position is shifted from being the private property of one man to a type of “communal and common property.” Obviously, this not a positive solution to the problem of women’s subordinate position as the property of men, a system that has existed across many societies.
It is in this context, the critique of crude communism, including on gender relations, that Marx makes an important generalization: “This communism, which negates the personality of the human being in every sphere, is only the logical expression of private property.” He goes on to develop these critical remarks about crude communism for a few more lines of his essay.
Marx’s Most Cited Passage on Gender: Its Links to Communism
After that, Marx launches into what have become his most famous lines on gender relations, here quoted in part:
The direct, natural, necessary relationship of human being to human being is the relationship of manto woman…. Therefore, on the basis of this relationship, we can judge the whole stage of development of the human being. From the character of this relationship, it follows to what degree the human being has become and recognized himself or herself as a species being; a human being; the relationship of man to woman is the most natural relationship of human being to human being. Therefore, in it is revealed the degree to which the natural behavior of the human being has become human.
Thereupon, Marx returns to his discussion of communism as “democratic or despotic,” etc.
I have to admit that I have tended to see his famous paragraph on gender as a stand-alone statement about gender relations as a measure of social progress that could be connected to all manner of societies across human history. I did so, for example, in my introduction to Marx on Suicide in 1999. But when read carefully and in relation to the surrounding text, it becomes clear that this passage is about social progress in a very specific context, that of a society that has already abolished or begun to abolish capitalism, or at least tried to take steps in that direction.
Thus, we need to view Marx’s 1844 comments on gender and human liberation very specifically as a discussion of gender in relation to the alternative to capitalism, just as we need to view those on women’s participation in the Paris Commune in a similar light.
To that I could add that his very last writings, particularly the Ethnological Notebooks of 1880-82, contain very lengthy ruminations on gender and the family in a number of precapitalist contexts, from Indigenous America to ancient Greece and Rome. This research, which concerns alternative forms of society to that of the industrial capitalism developing in Western Europe at the time, was also seen by Marx as related to the question of how a post-capitalist society could be organized on an emancipatory basis.
Taking It Forward to Today
Thus, on the basis of his 1844 Manuscripts, it could be said that Marx viewed gender relations as a very important yardstick that could measure whether a society aiming toward communism was getting on the wrong track. This problem weighs on us more deeply today, after developments like Stalinism or the Nicaraguan revolution. All too often, the counter-revolution that replaced the revolution did so on the backs of women, in a sometimes sudden and always vicious turn against women’s rights that was the harbinger of a much wider turning away from any possibility of human emancipation.
And what of the discussion within Marxist and feminist theory?
First, it should be said that most commentators on the 1844 Manuscripts have neglected the passage on gender.
That said, it should also be noted that several prominent feminist thinkers of the twentieth century have taken up the passage, as have newer studies like Heather Brown’s Marx on Gender and the Family (2012).
In 1949, the feminist and existentialist philosopher Simone de Beauvoir quoted Marx’s paragraph on gender at the end of her pathbreaking book The Second Sex. To de Beauvoir, this showed how connected the struggle for women’s liberation is to all social progress: “It is when the slavery of half of humanity is abolished and with it the whole hypocritical system it implies that the ‘division’ of humanity will reveal its authentic meaning and the human couple will discover its true form.” And that is the way Marx’s passage has usually been read.
However, this kind of reading does not grapple with the specific context in which Marx writes these lines on gender relations as measure of social progress, the critique of crude communism. It is possible that de Beauvoir did not see or chose not to emphasize this aspect because at the time she was an apologist for Stalin’s Russia, siding with that regime — surely one of the best-known examples of a crude communism — against Western capitalism. In so doing, de Beauvoir was in agreement with her leftwing existentialist colleagues Jean-Paul Sartre and Maurice Merleau-Ponty.
By the 1970s, attitudes on the left toward Russia had shifted in the wake of its violent suppression in 1968 of Prague Spring’s “socialism with a human face,” after which it became very difficult to find apologists for the Russian regime on the left. In 1973, the noted Marxist-Humanist and feminist philosopher Raya Dunayevskaya took up the paragraph on gender in her groundbreaking work, Philosophy and Revolution, tying it to Marx’s critique “vulgar communism’s ‘sham universality’.” Dunayevskaya concluded that the women’s liberation movement of the time was offering a challenge not only to the capitalist order, but also to the narrow vision of communism being put forth from the left, especially the Maoist-tinged New Left of the 1960s: “The uniqueness of today’s Women’s Liberation Movement is that it dares to challenge what is, including the male chauvinism not only under capitalism but within the revolutionary movement itself.”
Pulling these threads together leads to two observations about Marx, communism, and gender.
First, Marx’s initial discussion of gender in 1844 occurs as part of a critique of crude communism, not a critique of capitalism. This makes his critique especially crucial to any discussion of the alternative to capitalism, of the new communist society in a positive sense. One thing therefore becomes clear in terms of gender: Gender relations are an important measure of whether a communist project is crude and limited, or whether it is, in Dunayevskaya’s apt phrase, “reaching for the future” in a positive sense. To Marx, the Paris Commune was reaching toward such a positive form of communism, not least because of the central involvement of women, especially but not limited to working women, in its project. This notion, drawn from Marx in 1844 and 1871, is the theoretical argument developed in the present essay.
Second, all this needs to be connected to the empirical, factual experience of revolution in the twentieth century, as revolutions in the name of Marxism began to win, to come to power. Starting with the Russian Revolution of 1917, women’s emancipation has been a key factor in almost all modern revolutions, as has women’s leading role in the struggle against old regimes. Yet under Stalin, women’s rights were sharply rolled back at the very time the regime was transforming the revolution into its opposite, a totalitarian state-capitalism where the workers and peasants came under exploitation by the state and the Communist Party in order to build up a modern industrial economy. The terrible human cost exceeded even those horrors described by Marx in Capital as “primitive accumulation” because rapid transformation of Russia into an industrial society took a decade rather than being spread out over centuries. More recently, the 1979 Sandinista Revolution in Nicaragua involved crucial participation by women, both in the struggle and in the new regime. Nicaragua soon faced a brutal U.S.-backed war by counter-revolutionaries — the “Contras” — against the new regime. This partially dislodged the Sandinistas from power, but by the time they took full control of the state again in 2007, they had moved sharply to the right under the leadership of Daniel Ortega, especially on women’s rights. Ortega now supported a complete ban on abortion, even in cases of rape, incest, or serious risk to the mother’s life. This was accompanied by all kinds of reactionary measures, whether in terms of democratic rights or the environment. Looking at Russia and Nicaragua as examples of how crude forms of communism have blocked the drive toward a humanistic communism, one could say that Marx’s 1844 critique has had enormous predictive power.
Overall, Marx’s critique of gender oppression under crude communism offers an insightful and still-timely perspective that links together a needed critique from within of the revolutionary movement and a conceptual framework that targets key features of an errant form of communism. It is an instance of something Peter Hudis underlines in his 2012 book Marx’s Concept of the Alternative to Capitalism, that Marx often gives us insights into his own concept of communism in critiques of what he considers to be false and inadequate notions of communism.
 I would like to acknowledge at this point that my thinking on these issues was stimulated by a summer 2021 dialectics study group in which I participated with a group of students, intellectuals, and activists. We took several sessions to go over the opening pages of “Private Property and Communism,” as the participants kept insisting on reading these pages as a whole, rather than as a set of isolated statements. The group included Damian Algabre, Kristopher Baumgartner, Gerardo “Gary” Colmenar, the late Ali Kiani, Ndindi Kitonga, Derek Lewis, Andres Magon-Marmol, Nina, Jess, and Sushanta Roy.
 Angela Davis was a notable exception in this regard. It should also be noted that many like de Beauvoir who now attacked the Russian regime had switched to an equally uncritical stance toward Maoist China.
 A somewhat similar, more empirical critique can be found in Margaret Randall’s 1992 book Gathering Rage: The Failure of Twentieth Century Revolutions to Develop a Feminist Agenda.
Almost a year after Joe Biden’s narrow election victory over Donald Trump, the United States remains on a knife-edge. Many political outcomes are possible. These range from the gradual economic and political reform that Biden is seeking to the subversion of elections and constitutional rule that Trump attempted last January – and that he and the Republican Party are still intent on pursuing.
It’s not easy to diagnose exactly what ails America at its core so deeply that it incited the Trump movement. Is it the ceaseless culture wars that divide America by race, religion, and ideology? Is it the increase in inequality of wealth and power to unprecedented levels? Is it America’s diminishing global power, with the rise of China and the repeated disasters of US-led wars of choice leading to national agony, frustration, and confusion?
The US is still in the throes of a struggle to overcome decades of political corruption and social neglect. The outcome is uncertain.
All of these factors are at play in America’s tumultuous politics. Yet in my view, the deepest crisis is political – the failure of America’s political institutions to “promote the general Welfare,” as the US Constitution promises. Over the past four decades, America’s politics have become an insider’s game to favor the super-rich and corporate lobbies at the expense of the overwhelming majority of citizens. 1
The 1% Above the Rest
Warren Buffett homed in on the essence of the crisis in 2006. “There’s class warfare, all right,” he said, “but it’s my class, the rich class, that’s making war, and we’re winning.”
The main battlefield is in Washington, DC. The shock troops are the corporate lobbyists who swarm the US Congress, federal departments, and administrative agencies. The ammunition is the billions of dollars spent annually on federal lobbying (an estimated $3.5 billion in 2020) and campaign contributions (an estimated $14.4 billion in the 2020 federal elections). The pro-class-war propagandists are the corporate media, led by mega-billionaire Rupert Murdoch.
Nearly 2,500 years ago, Aristotle famously observed that good government can turn into bad government through a flawed constitutional order. Republics, governed by the rule of law, can descend into populist mob rule, or oligarchic rule by a small and corrupt class, or a tyranny of personal, one-man rule. America faces such possible disasters unless the political system can detach itself from the massive corruption of corporate lobbying and campaign financing by the rich.
America’s class war on the poor is not new but was launched in earnest in the early 1970s and implemented with brutal efficiency over the past 40 years. For roughly three decades, from President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s inauguration in 1933 in the midst of the Great Depression to the Kennedy-Johnson period of 1961-68, America was generally on the same development path as postwar Western Europe, becoming a social democracy. Income inequality was declining, and more social groups, most notably African-Americans and women, were joining the mainstream of economic and political life.
Then came the revenge of the rich. In 1971, a corporate lawyer, Lewis Powell, laid out a strategy to reverse the social democratic trends toward stronger environmental regulation, worker rights, and fair taxation. Big business would fight back. President Richard Nixon nominated Powell to the US Supreme Court in 1971, and he was sworn in early the next year, enabling him to put his plan into operation.
Under Powell’s prodding, the Supreme Court opened the floodgates to corporate money in politics, adding fuel to the class war fires. In Buckley v. Valeo(1976), the court struck down federal limits on campaign spending by candidates and independent groups as violations of free speech. In First National Bank of Boston v. Belotti (1978), Powell wrote the majority opinion declaring that corporate spending for political advocacy was free speech that could not be subjected to spending limits. The Court’s onslaught on campaign finance limits culminated in Citizens United v. Federal Elections Commission (2010), which essentially ended all limits on corporate spending in federal politics.
When Ronald Reagan became president in 1981, he reinforced the Supreme Court’s assault on the general welfare by cutting taxes for the rich, waging an assault on organized labor, and rolling back environmental protections. That trajectory has still not been reversed.
As a result, the US has diverged from Europe in basic economic decency, well-being, and environmental control. Whereas Europe generally continued on the path of social democracy and sustainable development, the US charged ahead on a path marked by political corruption, oligarchy, class war, an ever-widening gap between the rich and the poor, disdain for the environment, and a refusal to limit human-induced climate change.
In short, the US has become a country of the rich, by the rich, and for the rich, with no political responsibility for the climate damage it is imposing on the rest of the world. The resulting social cleavages have led to an epidemic of deaths of despair (including drug overdoses and suicides), declining life expectancy (even before COVID-19), and rising rates of depression, especially among young people. Politically, these derangements have led in varied directions – most ominously, to Trump, who offered faux populism and a cult of personality. Serving the rich while distracting the poor with xenophobia, culture wars, and a strongman’s pose may be the oldest trick in the demagogue’s playbook, but it still plays surprisingly well.
This is the situation that Biden is trying to address, but his successes so far have been limited and fragile. The simple fact is that all congressional Republicans and a small but decisive group of Democrats (most notoriously Senators Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona) are intent on blocking any meaningful increase in taxes on the rich and US corporations, thereby preventing the growth in federal revenues urgently needed to create a fairer and greener society. They are also blocking decisive action on climate change.
Thus, we are arriving at the end of Biden’s first year with the rich still entrenched in power, and with obstacles in every direction regarding fair taxation, increased social spending, protection of voting rights, and urgently needed environmental safeguards. Biden could still eke out some modest wins, and then build on them in the coming years. The public wants this. Roughly two-thirds of Americans favor higher taxes on the rich and corporations.
Yet there is a real possibility that Biden’s setbacks in 2021 will help the Republicans win control of one or both chambers of Congress in 2022. That would put an end to legislative reforms until at least 2025, and could even presage the return of Trump to power in the 2024 presidential election amid social disarray, violence, media propaganda, class war and voter suppression in Republican-controlled states.
America’s turmoil has disturbing international implications. The US cannot lead global reforms when it cannot even govern itself coherently. Perhaps the only thing that unites Americans nowadays is an overwrought sense of threats from abroad, mainly from China. With America in domestic disarray, politicians of both parties have escalated their anti-China rhetoric, as if a new Cold War could somehow soothe America’s homegrown angst. The only thing that Washington’s bipartisan belligerence will produce, alas, is more global tension and new dangers of conflict (over Taiwan, for example), not security or real solutions to any of our urgent global problems.
The US is not back, at least not yet. It is still in the throes of a struggle to overcome decades of political corruption and social neglect. The outcome remains highly uncertain, and the outlook for the coming years is fraught with peril for both the US and the world.
Washington’s World Order and Catastrophic Climate Change
When the leaders of more than 100 nations gathered in Glasgow for the U.N. climate conference last week, there was much discussion about the disastrous effect of climate change on the global environment. There was, however, little awareness of its likely political impact on the current world order that made such an international gathering possible.
World orders are deeply rooted global systems that structure relations among nations and the conditions of life for their peoples. For the past 600 years, as I’ve argued in my new book To Govern the Globe, it’s taken catastrophic events like war or plague to overturn such entrenched ways of life. But within a decade, climate change will already be wreaking a kind of cumulative devastation likely to surpass previous catastrophes, creating the perfect conditions for the eclipse of Washington’s liberal world order and the rise of Beijing’s decidedly illiberal one. In this sweeping imperial transition, global warming will undoubtedly be the catalyst for a witch’s brew of change guaranteed to erode both America’s world system and its once unchallenged hegemony (along with the military force that’s been behind it all these years).
By charting the course of climate change, it’s possible to draw a political road map for the rest of this tempestuous century — from the end of American global hegemony around 2030, through Beijing’s brief role as world leader (until perhaps 2050), all the way to this century’s closing decades of unparalleled environmental crisis. Those decades, in turn, may yet produce a new kind of world order focused, however late, on mitigating a global disaster of almost unimaginable power.
The Bipartisan Nature of U.S. Decline
America’s decline started at home as a distinctly bipartisan affair. After all, Washington wasted two decades in an extravagant fashion fighting costly conflicts in distant lands, in part to secure the Middle East’s oil at a time when that fuel was already destined to join cordwood and coal in the dustbin of history (though not faintly soon enough). Beijing, in contrast, used those same years to build industries that would make it the world’s workshop.
In 2001, in a major miscalculation, Washington admitted Beijing to the World Trade Organization, bizarrely confident that a compliant China would somehow join the world economy without challenging American global power. “Across the ideological spectrum, we in the U.S. foreign policy community,” wrote two former members of the Obama administration, “shared the underlying belief that U.S. power and hegemony could readily mold China to the United States’ liking… All sides of the policy debate erred.”
Within a decade, climate change will already be wreaking a kind of cumulative devastation likely to surpass previous catastrophes, creating the perfect conditions for the eclipse of Washington’s liberal world order and the rise of Beijing’s decidedly illiberal one.
A bit more bluntly, foreign policy expert John Mearsheimer recently concluded that “both Democratic and Republican administrations… promoted investment in China and welcomed the country into the global trading system, thinking it would become a peace-loving democracy and a responsible stakeholder in a U.S.-led international order.”
In the 15 years since then, Beijing’s exports to the U.S. grew nearly fivefold to $462 billion annually. By 2014, its foreign currency reserves had surged from just $200 billion to an unprecedented $4 trillion — a vast hoard of cash it used to build a modern military and win allies across Eurasia and Africa. Meanwhile, Washington was wasting more than $8 trillion on profitless wars in the Greater Middle East and Africa in lieu of spending such funds domestically on infrastructure, innovation, or education — a time-tested formula for imperial decline.
When a Pentagon team assessing the war in Afghanistan interviewed Jeffrey Eggers, a former White House staffer and Navy SEAL veteran, he asked rhetorically: “What did we get for this $1 trillion effort? Was it worth a trillion? After the killing of Osama bin Laden, I said that Osama was probably laughing in his watery grave considering how much we have spent on Afghanistan.” (And keep in mind that the best estimate now is that the true cost to America of that lost war alone was $2.3 trillion.) Consider it an imperial lesson of the first order that the most extravagantly funded military on Earth has not won a war since the start of the twenty-first century.
Donald Trump’s presidency brought a growing realization, at home and abroad, that Washington’s world leadership was ending far sooner than anyone had imagined. For four years, Trump attacked long-standing U.S. alliances, while making an obvious effort to dismiss or demolish the international organizations that had been the hallmark of Washington’s world system. To top that off, he denounced a fair American election as “fraudulent” and sparked a mob attack on the U.S. Capitol, functionally making a mockery of America’s long history of promoting the idea of democracy to legitimate its global leadership (even as it overthrew unfriendly democratic governments in distant lands via covert interventions).
In that riot’s aftermath, most of the Republican Party has embraced Trump’s demagoguery about electoral fraud as an article of faith. As it happens, no nation can exercise global leadership if one of its ruling parties descends into persistent irrationality, something Britain’s Conservative Party demonstrated all too clearly during that country’s imperial decline in the 1950s.
After his inauguration last January, Joe Biden proclaimed that “America is back” and promised to revive its version of liberal international leadership. Mindful of Trump’s battering of NATO (and that he, or someone like him, could take the White House in 2024), European leaders, however, continued to make plans for their own common defense without the U.S. “We aren’t in the old status quo,” commented one French diplomat, “where we can pretend that the Donald Trump presidency never existed and the world was the same as four years ago.” Add in Biden’s humiliating retreat from Afghanistan as Taliban guerrillas, wearing tennis sneakers and equipped with aging Soviet rifles, crushed an Afghan military armed with billions of dollars in U.S. gear, entering Kabul without a fight. After that dismal defeat, it was clear America’s decline had become a bipartisan affair.
Global leadership lost is not readily recovered, particularly when a rival power is prepared to fill the void. As Washington’s strategic position weakens, China has been pressing to dominate Eurasia, home to 70% of the world’s population and productivity, and so build a new Beijing-centric global order. Should China’s relentless advance continue, there will be serious consequences for the world as we know it.
Of course, the current order is, to say the least, imperfect. While using its unprecedented power to promote a liberal international system based on human rights and inviolable sovereignty, Washington simultaneously violated those same principles all too often in pursuit of its national self-interest — a disconcerting duality between power and principle that has afflicted every global order since the sixteenth century.
As the first hegemon that didn’t participate in any way in the fitful, painful process of forging just such a liberal world order through six centuries of slavery, slaughter, and colonial conquest, China’s rise could ultimately threaten the current system’s better half — its core principles of universal human rights and secure state sovereignty.
The Coming of Climate Change
Beyond Washington’s strategic failings, there was another far more fundamental force already at work eroding its global power. After seven decades of the profligate kind of fossil-fuel consumption that became synonymous with the U.S. world system, climate change is now profoundly disrupting the whole human community.
As of 2019, following years of bipartisan evasions and compromises (along with partisan Republican denials of the very reality of climate change), the U.S. still relied on fossil fuels for 80% of its total energy; renewables, only 20%. The situation was even worse in China, which depended on fossil fuels for 86% of its power and renewable sources for only about 14%. As energy expert Vaclav Smil explained, the underlying global problem was 150 years of embedded inertia that made the “production, delivery, and consumption of fossil fuels… the world’s most extensive, and the most expensive, web of energy-intensive infrastructures.”
If there is ever to be a true transition beyond fossil fuels, the world’s two largest economies will have to play a determinative role in it. In the meantime, the picture is anything but cheery. Global carbon dioxide emissions rose by a staggering 50% from 22.2 gigatons in 1997 to a peak of 33.3 gigatons in 2019 and, despite a brief drop at the height of the Covid-19 pandemic, are still rising. Significantly, China accounted for 30% of the world’s total in that year, and the U.S. nearly 14% — for a combined 44% share of all global greenhouse gasses.
At the 2019 Madrid climate conference, U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres warned that, if current emissions continue, global warming will reach as high as 3.9° Celsius by century’s end, with “catastrophic” consequences for all life on the planet. And at Glasgow two weeks ago, he renewed this warning, saying: “We are digging our own graves… Sea-level rise is double the rate it was 30 years ago. Oceans are hotter than ever — and getting warmer faster. Parts of the Amazon rainforest now emit more carbon than they absorb… We are still careening towards climate catastrophe.”
In the 600 years since the age of exploration first brought the continents into close contact, 90 empires have come and gone. But there have been just three new world orders, each of which survived until it suffered some version of cataclysmic mass death. After the bubonic plague, also known as the Black Death, wiped out an estimated 60% of medieval Europe’s population, the Portuguese and then Spanish empires expanded to form the first of those world orders, which continued for three centuries until 1805.
The devastation of the Napoleonic wars then launched the succeeding British imperial system, which survived a full century until 1914. Similarly, Washington’s hegemony, along with its current world order, arose from the devastating destruction of World War II. Now, climate change is unleashing cataclysmic environmental changes that could soon enough overshadow such past catastrophes, while damaging or destroying the global order that has pervaded the planet for the past 70 years.
As wildfires worsen, ocean storms intensify, megadroughts spread, flooding increases drastically, and the seas rise precipitously, many millions of the world’s poor will be uprooted from their precarious perches along seashores, flood plains, and desert fringes. Recall for a moment that the arrival between 2016 and 2018 of just two million refugees at the borders of the United States and the European Union unleashed a surge of populist demagoguery, which led to Britain’s Brexit, Europe’s increasing ultranationalism, and Donald Trump’s election. Now, try to imagine what kind of a world of political upheaval lies in a future in which climate change generates anywhere from 200 million to 1.2 billion refugees by mid-century.
As at least a million refugees start to crowd America’s southern border every year, while storms, fires, and floods batter coasts and countryside, the U.S. is almost certain to retreat from the world to cope with growing domestic crises. Include in that the inability of its two political parties to agree on just about anything (other than spending yet more money on the Pentagon). Similar and simultaneous pressures worldwide will certainly cripple the international cooperation that has long been at the core of Washington’s world order.
China’s Short Reign as Global Hegemon
So, when might shifting geopolitics and climate cataclysm converge to fully cripple Washington’s current world order? Beijing plans to complete the technological transformation of its own economy and much of its massive trans-Eurasian infrastructure, the Belt and Road Project, by 2027. That projected date complements a prediction by the U.S. National Intelligence Council that “China alone will probably have the largest economy, surpassing that of the United States a few years before 2030.”
By then, according to projections from the accounting firm PwC, China’s gross domestic product will have grown to $38 trillion — more than 50% larger than a projected $24 trillion for the American one. Similarly, China’s military, already the world’s second largest, should by then be dominant in Asia. Already, as the New York Times reported in 2019, “in 18 of the last 18 Pentagon war games involving China in the Taiwan Strait, the U.S. lost.” As China pushes its maritime frontier farther into the Pacific, Washington may well be faced with a difficult choice — either abandon its old ally Taiwan or fight a war it could well lose.
Weighing Beijing’s global future, it seems safe to assume that, minimally, China will gain enough strength to weaken Washington’s global grip and is likely to become the preeminent world power around 2030. Count on one thing, though: the accelerating pace of climate change will almost certainly curtail China’s hegemony within two or three decades.
As early as 2017, scientists at the nonprofit Climate Central reported that, by 2060 or 2070, rising seas and storm surges could flood areas inhabited by 275 million people worldwide and, suggests corroborating research, Shanghai is “the most vulnerable major city in the world to serious flooding.” According to that group’s scientists, 17.5 million people are likely to be displaced there as most of the city “could eventually be submerged in water, including much of the downtown area.”
Advancing the date of this disaster by at least a decade, a report in the journal Nature Communications found that 150 million people worldwide are now living on land that will be below the high-tide line by 2050 and that rising waters will “threaten to consume the heart” of Shanghai by then, crippling one of China’s main economic engines. Dredged from sea and swamp in the fifteenth century, much of that city is likely to return to the waters from whence it came, possibly as early as three decades from now.
Meanwhile, increasing temperatures are expected to devastate the North China Plain, a prime agricultural region between Beijing and Shanghai currently inhabited by 400 million people. “This spot is going to be the hottest spot for deadly heat waves in the future,” according to Professor Elfatih Eltahir, a specialist on hydrology and climate at MIT. Between 2070 and 2100, he estimates, the region could face hundreds of periods of “extreme danger” when a combination of heat and humidity will reach a “wet bulb temperature” (WBT) of 31° Celsius, and perhaps five lethal periods of 35° WBT — where a combination of heat and high humidity prevents the evaporation of the very sweat that cools the human body. After just six hours living in such a wet bulb temperature of 35° Celsius, a healthy person at rest will die.
If the “Chinese century” does indeed start around 2030, barring remarkable advances in the reduction of the use of fossil fuels on this planet, it’s likely to end sometime around 2050 when its main financial center is flooded out and its agricultural heartland begins to swelter in insufferable heat.
A New World Order?
Given that Washington’s world system and Beijing’s emerging alternative show every sign of failing to limit carbon emissions in significant enough ways, by mid-century the international community will likely need a new form of global governance to contain the damage.
After 2050, the world community will quite possibly face a growing contradiction, even a head-on collision, between the foundational principles of the current global order: national sovereignty and human rights. As long as nations have the sovereign right to seal their borders, the world will have no way of protecting the human rights of the hundreds of millions of future climate-change refugees.
By then, facing a spectacle of mass global suffering now almost unimaginable, the community of nations might well agree on the need for a new form of global governance. Such a supranational body or bodies would need sovereign authority over three critical areas — emissions controls, refugee resettlement, and environmental reconstruction. If the transition to renewable energy sources is still not complete by 2050, then this international body might well compel nations to curb emissions and adopt renewable energy. Whether under the auspices of the U.N. or a successor organization, a high commissioner for global refugees would need the authority to supersede state sovereignty in order to require nations to help resettle such tidal flows of humanity. The future equivalents of the International Monetary Fund and World Bank could transfer resources from wealthy temperate countries to feed tropical communities decimated by climate change.
Massive programs like these would change the very idea of what constitutes a world order from the diffuse, almost amorphous ethos of the past six centuries into a concrete form of global governance. At present, no one can predict whether such reforms will come soon enough to slow climate change or arrive too late to do anything but manage the escalating damage of uncontrollable feedback loops.
One thing is becoming quite clear, however. The environmental destruction in our future will be so profound that anything less than the emergence of a new form of global governance — one capable of protecting the planet and the human rights of all its inhabitants — will mean that wars over water, land, and people are likely to erupt across the planet amid climate chaos. Absent some truly fundamental change in our global governance and in energy use, by mid-century humanity will begin to face disasters of an almost unimaginable kind that will make imperial orders of any sort something for the history books.
In San Domingue (Haiti), Dutty Boukman, an early leader of the Haitian slave revolt, attempted to free himself and others. He was later captured, tortured, and beheaded – his body thrown on the slaveholder’s woodpile to burn.
But eye witness accounts claim Boukman’s body, rose from the slaveholder’s woodpile, having never been touched by the flames. This sparked the beginning of the soon to come Haitian Revolution.
Inspired by the Haitian Revolution, Denmark Vesey of South Carolina decides in 1822 to organize enslaved Blacks—to free themselves from slavery in the US. Over nine thousand enslaved Blacks may have joined him; but eventually, his capture and hanging hasn’t dampened the memory of his effort to be free of tyranny.
By 1898, real and imagined narratives of unconfined Blacks, violent Blacks assured sleepless nights for white Southerners in fear of witnessing an uprising of freed Blacks demanding voting rights and even more power. Many, whites in Wilmington, in particular, recalled Nat Turner, an enslaved preacher, who, in 1831, organized Blacks in Virginia, near the North Carolina border.
David Zucchino writes in Wilmington’s Lie, that despite white rule over Black residents, nonetheless, “white memories of a momentous black rebellion half a century earlier still had not faded.”
Nat Turner’s men, killed some fifty-five whites before his capture on November 11. No Boukman will escape the flames white fear produces here! Turner’s body, writes Zucchino, “was flayed and quartered. Scraps of his skin were later fashioned into a purse. His bones were handed out as souvenirs. His head was hacked off and put on public display.”
It was the task of the white newspapers to leave no room for Blacks to consider Turner a rebel. As Zucchino writes, the newspapers proceeded to publish “sensational stories of slave armies marching toward Wilmington.” Uprisings! Uprisings to butcher white women and children! White Wilmington bound its spirit to the perpetuation of more violence. As if enslaving Black people weren’t enough! “Alarmed whites,” writes Zucchino, picked up their weapons and went searching to Blacks to maim and to kill. Indiscriminately!
The white newspapers depicted a collective nightmare and its obligatory monster, Blackviolence, readying to pounce into action on every plantation and in every back yard. A “get you while you sleep” narrative that results in the kangaroo trial of twelve Black men who are forced to confess to a “‘diabolical plot’” to burn down Methodist and Baptist churches in the city. Monsters! Evil! Black! After days of killing indiscriminately, white Wilmington sentenced to death twelve Black men. “Severed heads were mounted on poles along a public highway,” writes Zucchino.
White fear. Quite a dangerous thing.
Abraham Galloway, the former escaped slave who became a state senator thirty years before, is dead in 1898. But it’s an election year. “Universal male suffrage provided under the new state constitution had represented the culmination of generations of struggle for Black Belt blacks led by Abraham Galloway.” As Galloway predicted, Blacks voted for the Republican Party, and many won key positions through the city, county, and state. Thanks to that struggle, Wilmington boasted of three Black aldermen out of ten, and, out of twenty-six policemen, ten were Black. “There were black health inspectors, a black superintendent of streets [along with] black postmasters and magistrates.” The city had “a Black barber, coroner, country jailer, and county treasurer.” In addition, President Benjamin Harrison appointed “a black man, John C. Dancy, as federal customs collector for the port of Wilmington.”
Some called Wilmington the “freest town for a Negro in the country.” But Wilmington just wasn’t free of white fear.
Blacks voting reasonable Republican leaders into powerful positions was no more tolerable than those Blacks who organized uprisings. Any uprising of any kind was a threat to the stability of white supremacy. And white leadership believed that something had to be done to rid Wilmington of this threat to white dominance.
The Conservative Party is renamed the Democratic Party in 1876, and, writes Zucchino, working hard to erase the “majority black vote,” it rallies white voters to demonize Black men. The playbook calls for “race-baiting tactics” that work in this election year. “Democrats returned to power statewide in 1876, taking over the legislature, the governor’s mansion, and the county governments.” Without hesitation, the Democrats eliminated the “popular election of county commissioners.” Under Democrats’ rule, the “commissioners were to be chosen by justices of the peace.” The selection of these “justices of the peace” would be the tasks of the state legislature. This measure, Zucchino explains, would leave the Black Belt counties “powerless to elect black county officials.”
Since Democrats “controlled local elections officials,” “procedural ruses” disqualified Black voters. In 1876, Democrats congratulated themselves “on redeeming the state in the name of white supremacy.” By the following year, when Reconstruction was effectively halted, the Redeemers had “suspended the Thirteenth, Fourteenth, and Fifteenth Amendments in North Carolina,” and for the following seventeen years, they oversaw the triumph of white supremacy in state.
White fear literally killed democratic rule… But, enter the Fusionist Party!
Opposed to white supremacy, a group of white citizens began organizing to unite both white and Black against the Democrats. Their goal was to overturn white supremacy in the upcoming elections of 1894. “Many poor whites,” Zucchino writes, “were as virulently racist as any Democrat.” Against “moneyed interests,” the Populists were willing to align themselves with Republicans, “even at the risk of aligning themselves with blacks, at least politically.” In turn, Zucchino continues, Black Americans who might not have trusted a partnership with the Fusionists, agreed to give their votes, but not their hearts to the party.
And it worked! The 1894 elections was a “bold” and unprecedented experiment” that worked! The Fusionists won statewide, writes Zucchino, seizing control of North Carolina’s legislature. And, of course, the white supremacist leadership was far from pleased with an outcome that seemed stolen! How conceivable was it that white men would willingly join Blacks “in voting against white supremacists interests in a leading Redeemer state like North Carolina represented an existential threat to white supremacy everywhere—from Virginia to Louisiana”! Not possible.
Nonetheless, Black men returned to positions of power across the Black Belt, many “reclaiming positions they had during Reconstruction.” They served as “aldermen, magistrates, deputy sheriffs, police officers, and registers of deeds.” A Black man, Zucchino continues, represented the New Hanover County while another, George Henry White, served as the only Black in Congress. Once again, Wilmington emerges as the “leading majority-black city in the South.”
In 1894, four years before the Wilmington Massacre, twenty thousand citizens lived in Wilmington; however, the city is 56% Black, representing three thousand more Blacks than whites.
But by 1898, the white population of Wilmington had had enough. White leaders and promoters of white supremacy called for action. In March, powerful white men meet with white supremacist leaders Josephus Daniels and Furnifold Simmons in New Bern at the Chatawka Hotel (ninety-five miles from Wilmington) to discuss the “‘Negro Problem.’” The men, Zucchino explains, “believed that careful planning and execution by the Democratic Party and its capital city newspaper could end what they called Negro rule and restore Democrats in the November 1898 election.” And they added, violence might be required!
The gathering of Wilmington’s white supremacist leadership would first have to work on a strategy to frighten white voters. These voters would have to be feed images of “the twin menace of black suffrage and black beast rapists.” In addition, these men reasoned, three types of men were needed to carry out this coup d’état. One group would consist of speakers (Colonial Alfred Waddell and Charles Aycock), another group would consist of writers (Daniels and others), and the third group would consist of riders. The riders, Zucchino writes, would be known as the Red Shirts. Simmons would serve as coordinator for all three groups.
Simmons’ first act was to produce “a two-hundred-page screed” called The Democratic Party Hand Book that would appeal to ingrained racist views of Black Americans. Those Wilmington citizens who believed Blacks to be an “inherently ignorant and incompetent race” were urged to read the handbook and then join the brotherhood. As Zucchino notes, thousands of white voters received the handbook with instructions to vote “‘the white man’s ticket.’”
… [T]here is one thing the Democratic Party has never done and never will do—and that is to set the negro up TO RULE OVER WHITE MEN…
The first act of Daniels was to hire Norman E. Jennet, a cartoonist. Blacks, Daniels insisted, were “particularly ripe for cartoon ridicule. Jennet would draw and he would supply the content. Then both men were handed a fortuitous gift in the person of a Rebecca Latimer Felton.
Mrs. Felton writes letters to the editor in Georgia. As Zucchino recounts, one day, Felton reads an article in the paper in which the reporter cites an increasing number of Black men lynched for violating the purity of white women. This news alarms her and she dashes off a letter to the Atlantic Journal. In the letter, Felton blames voting for the uptick in lynching. Give Black men the vote and look at the South now! These Black men believe themselves to be equal to white men! Felton advocating for the death of any Black man bold enough to touch a white woman, urged white men to take action to protect white women’s purity. Felton hit the lecture circuit, delivering speeches in which she continued to offer her solution to Negro Problem. And the solution “was the lynch rope.” Lynching! “‘A thousand times a week if necessary.’”
And the men in the room, Zucchino points out, shouted and cheered Felton on!
In Wilmington, the Democrats print Felton’sspeech in the Atlantic Journal. Somehow the Morning Star in Wilmington failed to mention that the speech was delivered on August 12, 1897, a year before.
In the meantime, Alex Manly, the city’s Black editor of the Daily Record, tries to ignore the incendiary reprint of Felton’s letter. At first. “Manly was not only deeply offended but also outraged” by the Felton’s opinion on what kind of violence should be carried out against Black men. He kept thinking that silence could be interpreted as an acknowledgment of truth in what could only be a lie to justify violence to be directed at Black men. Manly thought about a response, and finally, his letter appeared in the Record, titled “Mrs. Felton’s Speech.”
Every Negro lynched is called a ‘big, burly, black brute,’ when in fact many of those who have thus been dealt with had white men for their fathers, and were not only ‘black’ and ‘burly’ but were sufficiently attractive for white girls of culture and refinement to fall in love with them as is very well known to all…
Mrs Felton must begin at the fountain head if she wishes to purify the stream. Teach your men purity. Let virtue be something more than an excuse for them to intimidate and torture a helpless people. Tell your men that it is no worse for a black man to be intimate with a white woman, than for a white man to be intimate with a colored woman.
For several days, Wilmington’s white leaders were silent, but in Raleigh, Josephus Daniels reprinted Manly’s editorial under the headlines: “VILE AND VILLAINOUS.” Another gift misused again to advantage white supremacy.
Now, Black leadership is seeing red. John C. Dancy, the Republican customs collector, gathered other Black men to approach Manly and demand that he “suspend” the paper. At least until white tempers settle down. But, Zucchino writes, Manly refused to acquiesce to demands to shut down the Record, even temporarily. Perhaps a retraction? To which Manly, again, said no. No retraction! What about an apology? Dancy himself wrote it. Just print it! Manly refused.
Back home, Dancy appealed to Black readers of the Record: For the sake of all of us, let’s agree that Manly needs to be removed from the Daily Record! He doesn’t wait for a response. Aware that whites were organizing for violence, Dancy believes that if Blacks disassociate themselves from the “radical” Manly the majority of Blacks in Wilmington will escape the violence whites are gunning for. Dancy places a letter in all the Black churches’ newspaper expressing the community’s refusal to endorse Manly’s editorial. That should do it, he believes. But a few days later, Manly receives a warning: His printing press will go up in flames! It’s not just Manly! Not just one!
Manly, standing by his editorial, declares he spoke the truth. However, as Zucchino points out, “for the white men who sought to rule Wilmington, the truth was explosive.”
Waddell wants nothing more than to prevent Blacks from voting. His rival, a man who thinks Waddell a “has-been,” George Rountree, was a Harvard-educated lawyer, even more determined to see to it that the “Negro Problem” is solved in ways suitable for the preservation of white supremacy. Roger Moore, commander of the Klu Klux Klan, who challenged Abraham Galloway’s leadership thirty years before, and lost, never lost his fervor to eliminate Black people from life in Wilmington.
On October 18, 1989, less than a month from election day, readers awoke to headlines in the News and Observer: “THE WILMINGTON NEGROES ARE TRYING TO BUY GUNS.” Not all! Two men.
As Zucchino recounts, two Black men wrote to Winchester Repeating Arms Company of New Jersey requesting “two dozen Winchester rifles and 16-shot pistols.” Of course the company manager didn’t reply; instead, he notified the authorities. News reached Wilmington. “‘Sambo is seeking to furnish an armory here,’” according to the Messenger.
To the white leadership, this business of Blacks reaching out to weapons manufacturers sounds like another “diabolical plotting” of an uprising. Rountree, writes Zucchino, hires a Black detective to spy on the Black community and report whether or not Blacks aimed to attack white citizens. But when the detective reported that he hadn’t seen or heard anything alarming, two Black Pinkerton men were called upon to do some proper spying that would result in useful information. The two Black men understood and reported back that they overheard two Black women plotting to burn down their employee’s houses.
Zucchino writes that the report spread from one white newspaper to another: Blacks were plotting against whites! Could the whites see Nat Turner handing out instructions?
By September, Manly assures Black readers that there would be no “danger of bloodshed and riot.” William Henderson, the Black lawyer, told Blacks to go to the polls, “‘cast ballots quietly and go home.’”
But more and more, white men were appearing on the streets of Wilmington. And they were wearing red shirts.
In composing a new opening chapter for the 50th anniversary edition of Diet for a Small Planet, I dug into America’s big dietary changes over the last half-century. Of course, I was delighted to take in the heightened attention to the many pluses of shifting from grain-fed, meat-centered diets toward plant-centered eating. I hope the new edition is a joyful (and tempting) celebration of this vital shift.
Yet, I was also appalled by what I learned—that we’ve been moving in two directions, and the overwhelming trend is killing us. Our culture’s shaming around body image personalizes our nation’s nutrition crisis—laying blame on the consumer. It blinds us from seeing, much less challenging, the assault on our health by food corporations that put their profit over our very survival.
Just check out these frightening facts:
First, 60 percent of the calories Americans consume now come from processed food products providing loads of calories—along with huge profits for the few—but virtually no nutrition. Instead, we get much more salt and sugar than is healthy. On average, Americans each consume twice the recommended level of sugar, mostly invisible in processed products. That’s equal to 17 teaspoons of added sugar daily, when not more than six teaspoons for women and nine for men are recommended.
Thus, it should be no surprise that almost 90 percent of Americans fail to meet our government’s nutritional guidelines.
Our food is increasingly implicated in such major killers as heart disease, diabetes, obesity, high blood pressure, stroke, and certain cancers.
Our food is increasingly implicated in such major killers as heart disease, diabetes, obesity, high blood pressure, stroke, and certain cancers. Here in the US, unhealthy diets are responsible for as much as nearly half of all deaths from heart disease and metabolic disorders. One such disorder is diabetes, which has become our seventh leading cause of death as well as the number one cause of kidney failure, lower-limb amputations, and adult blindness.
Nearly half of American adults now are “pre-diabetic“—meaning we’re on our way—or are suffering from full-blown diabetes. In the US, in just two decades the number of adults with diabetes has more than doubled. Over 90 percent of them suffer from “type 2″ diabetes, in which the body is unable to keep blood sugar at normal levels.
And what’s the medical advice to prevent this disease?
Doctors tell us it is up to us to behave: Lose extra weight, exercise, and eat less fat and sugar, while getting “plenty of whole grains, fruits, and vegetables. It’s also a good idea to limit red meat, and avoid processed meats,” says the U.S. National Library of Medicine.
All positive suggestions. But why aren’t our healthcare professionals also forcefully calling out the food industry itself for pushing unhealthy, ultra-processed food products and meat? Why aren’t they—and all of us—uniting around deep economic reform, enabling all of us to afford more healthy, fresh, and whole foods? Such solutions also require policies ensuring that every single neighborhood in America is home to grocery stores offering such foods.
This crisis of food as health hazard extends far beyond the U.S.
I’ll never forget driving through rural India and seeing huge Pepsi logos painted on trees along the road—impossible to miss. As global corporations push such hazardous products, they displace healthy, local fruit drinks that once helped both growers and consumers to thrive.
Worldwide, poor diet is now the greatest contributor to early death—with red meat and sugary beverages among foods implicated in over a fifth of global mortality, reports the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation.
Yet, how many Americans have been warned, for example, that processed meat—sausage, bologna, hot dogs, etc.—was in 2015 deemed a carcinogen by the World Health Organization? A lot of Americans likely assume our Food and Drug Administration would surely be protecting them against a proven, cancer-causing agent.
No. Processed meat still accounts for over a fifth of the meat Americans eat.
And, in addition to far-reaching, needless suffering and early death, we pay financially: Each year, an estimated U.S. $50 billion in health care costs is linked to unhealthy diets, finds a peer-reviewed study.
For every single person you and I elect to represent us in Congress, there are more than 20—mainly corporate—lobbyists working for the interests of their bosses.
I am blown away.
Why, to pick just one example, aren’t we told that hot dogs can cause cancer?
Afterall, once tobacco was proven carcinogenic, our public agencies—finally—stepped in to limit its advertising and sales. True, we’ve not yet gone far enough on tobacco; but we have been able to cut the rate of smoking by almost half in the last half-century.
So, why not a comparable national campaign for making healthy eating available to all?
The answer, as noted, is the insidious power that our highly concentrated food industry exerts over lawmakers and those in our public agencies, such as the Food and Drug Administration.
For every single person you and I elect to represent us in Congress, there are more than 20—mainly corporate—lobbyists working for the interests of their bosses. Among them, agribusiness lobbyists outnumber even those pushing oil and gas interests.
Saving Our Endangered Democracy: Truth Be Told @fmlappe
Moreover, government officials and elected representatives often move from posts in government to work instead for the private interests of agribusinesses and other firms. During the Obama presidency, to pick just one example, Michael Taylor circledthree times from the Monsanto corporation, pushing genetically engineered seeds linked to a dangerous herbicide, to government departments including the Food and Drug Administration and the Department of Agriculture and then, back again, to industry.
The industry has learned that some foods—especially sugars—can be even more addictive than drugs, tobacco, or alcohol, Moss finds. “Our bodies are hard-wired for sweets,” he says, “so food manufacturers have deployed fifty-six types of sugar to add to their products, creating in us the expectation that everything should be cloying.”
The question is now clear. With our lives and those of our loved ones at stake, how can we tap our appropriate outrage to clean up Washington so we can clean up our diets?
Choosing healthy food, if we can, has become a rebel act for life itself, and in a way I didn’t foresee 50 years ago when writing Diet for a Small Planet. On the case is, among many others, is RealFoodMedia.org founded and co-directed by my daughter Anna Lappé.
Fortunately, an historic movement is emerging to remove the power of private interests now corrupting our democracy and therefore our food system. It is a “movement of moments” for democracy reforms that puts the public interest first.
Our organization, the Small Planet Institute, and a huge network of organizations—Democracy Initiative—have teamed up to make it easier for all of us to act. Check out our action hub—DemocracyMovement.US—to discover rewarding ways you and your friends can jump in now.
We humans imagine ourselves to be the brightest species; but we are undoubtedly the first in which segments of our kind are turning their species’ food supply into a major killer.
Hmmm. Not so bright. Let’s call it out. Let’s turn it around, now.
Indigenous Peoples’ Day is gradually replacing Columbus Day, and we as a culture are here for it. In fact, we have been for quite some time. This is a day of remembrance, a day to honor the ancestors and elevate the original people who walked this land.
It is only fitting — in this time of post-Floyd racial reckoning and a coming to terms with a shameful whitewashed American history and a legacy of genocide — that people renegotiate their relationship with America. This process includes a rejection of symbols and monuments to colonialism, theft, rape, plunder and mass murder.
It is only fitting — in this time of post-Floyd racial reckoning and a coming to terms with a shameful whitewashed American history and a legacy of genocide — that people renegotiate their relationship with America.
“Our country was conceived on a promise of equality and opportunity for all people — a promise that, despite the extraordinary progress we have made through the years, we have never fully lived up to,” Biden’s proclamation reads. “That is especially true when it comes to upholding the rights and dignity of the Indigenous people who were here long before colonization of the Americas began.”
From its inception, Columbus Day has been problematic at best — a holiday in honor of white supremacy, to celebrate a man who “discovered” a land that had been inhabited by ancient civilizations for as long as 23,000 years. Columbus’ “discovery” brought on centuries of Indigenous genocide, African enslavement and global colonization. Let us talk frankly here. It was the holiday that made Italians white and truly American — after being regarded as an inferior race facing discrimination and even lynching — when there are many other Italiansworthy of honor.
And let us remember the armed white vigilantes who guarded the Christopher Columbus statue in Marconi Plaza in Philadelphia when Black folks and racial justice activists sought its removal. When armed white supremacist thugs are the last line of defense for Columbus, what more do you need to know about Columbus? As statues of Columbus, Confederate terrorists, enslavers and colonizers are being toppled and beheaded — from Boston, Massachusetts to Bristol, England, it is not enough to declare what we abhor. The question is, what do we wish to uphold, and who do we hope to uplift? What are we building and who are we supporting?
With over a dozen states and the District of Columbia celebrating the alternative to Columbus’ Day, Indigenous Peoples’ Day is a perfect example of reclaiming history and centering the lives of those who are often rendered invisible.
And losing millions of lives, having your land dispossessed, your children kidnapped and placed in boarding schools designed to kill Indian language and culture — this is enough to render you invisible to the mainstream white society. After all, sports team mascots mocking Native people are still a thing, with the Washington Football Team changing its racially offensive name just last year after corporate sponsor FedEx demanded the change. Society behaves as if Indigenous people no longer exist, or as if they couldn’t care less.
Indigenous Peoples’ Day is a concept that should resonate with Black people. Black people are among Indigenous people in the Americas and around the world, and this is a longhistory. As the late Rutgers University scholar Ivan Van Sertima taught us, the African presence in the “New World” predates Columbus by centuries.
Honoring the culture and history of Indigenous people means honoring the ancestors. “One thing that makes Native Americans different from Whites is that most of us view our ancestors as close as our families today,” tweeted Native American lawyer Brett Chapman, whose relative Standing Bear was the first Native American to win civil rights in the U.S. “I see all the injustice done to my ancestors like Standing Bear and know that was something my family suffered. It’s more visceral for Natives.”
Chapman recalled what his great-great-great-grandfather Chief White Eagle told an Alabama church of racist Southerners in 1883: “He said they were selfish, he wasn’t Christian and Native Americans don’t believe in Hell because Hell is, in fact, living in America with the Whites.”
But Indigenous People’s Day is more than just remembering history. Our very survival as a planet depends on following what the ancestors did as stewards of the land who protected the Earth for thousands upon thousands of years, until the white man depleted the land, the resources and people — all for profit.
Indigenous communities hold over half of the world’s land, with 5% of the world’s population protecting 80% of the world’s biodiversity. The communities have legal rights over only a small fraction of that land and are under threat. Community and Indigenous lands have lower deforestation rates and store a quarter of the world’s carbon stock, making these lands crucial to fighting climate change. And the knowledge th
When one hurts, we all hurt. That should be the mantra of Black people and people of African descent across the world, wherever they may find themselves. Given that sentiment, what if the Black diaspora, Black nations and Black folks — wherever they find themselves in the world — came together on the global stage for the purpose of political and economic power and the betterment of us?
A few recent news items point to the need for a united front of Black folks throughout the world. While Africa has some of the fastest-growingeconomies in the world, often they are regarded as charity cases or a rich continent of vast raw materials to exploit, like the old days of colonialism and slavery. We see you, China, Europe and America.
Wealthy white nations are hoarding the COVID vaccine and banning its exports, creating a “vaccine apartheid” where wealthy white nations control over 82% of the world supply of life-saving vaccines, and low-income nations have secured less than 1%. Fewer than 4% of Africans have been fully immunized, and they cannot purchase the vaccine.
Meanwhile, the linkages between slavery and immigration policy were in full view when we witnessed the harsh treatment of Haitian migrants in Texas, as Border Patrol on horseback, like overseers, whipped these already desperate and traumatized people like Kunta Kinte or a scene out of 12 Years A Slave or Django Unchained.
Consider what would be unleashed if the Black diaspora created some version of a European Union, or an African Union for that matter, except for the Black diaspora.
The Haitian people, who paid a heavy price for daring to overthrow French colonial rule and the shackles of enslavement, have been paying a helluva price ever since. Haiti had to pay France $21 billion in debt as the price of its independence, keeping the Caribbean island nation impoverished and exploited. The specter of the Border Patrol’s mistreatment of Haitian migrants was triggering to Black Americans, summoning up memories in our collective DNA of those horrific days of the slave patrols.
Black people around the world felt a deep connection to that inhumanity because we have been there before — shared experiences and shared suffering.
Anti-Black racism is universal. In Europe, Australia and elsewhere, white sports fans taunt Black athletes, call them apes and throw bananas on the field. In the U.S., Black athletes are ridiculed or penalized for taking a knee in protest against systemic racism. And then when we are off the field and out of the game, they taunt us by playing “Lift Every Voice and Sing.”
Our suffering is universal. Black people in the Caribbean and in the U.S. are seeking reparations. And whether we’re the Gullah-Geechee people in the sea islands of South Carolina, Georgia and Florida, or in the Quilombos of Brazil, our land is being stolen and threatened by climate change. Black Lives Matter — for Black people in America, in Israel and Palestine, in Britain, and in West Papua, where Black people are still colonized and called monkeys.
Meanwhile, what if the Black diaspora united not only as a reaction to our trauma but in the name of power? Consider what would be unleashed if the Black diaspora — including African nations, the Caribbean and Black populations in America, Brazil and beyond — created some version of a European Union, or an African Union for that matter, except for the Black diaspora.
Consider a world where all members of a global Black union would have membership without borders, including an e-passport with citizenship and free travel throughout the bloc, and the unlimited exchange of goods and services across the diaspora. A Black Diaspora Union headquartered in Accra, Salvador de Bahia, Kingston, Havana, or Atlanta would have a parliament with representation by all the member states. Respect and tribute to our ancestors, the land and human rights are codified in the founding document, the Diaspora Declaration. The vast natural resources of our indigenous lands would no longer be exploited for profit by others, as they have been for centuries — so the Vibranium stays in Wakanda.
A green tech economy would help preserve the Amazon and the Congo and promote a clean future for our children. We are building wealth for everyone. A universal basic income across the Union would mean no poverty or deprivation wherever Black people live. Students can attend the University of Cape Town, the University of the West Indies, Spelman College or Morehouse College free of charge.
The Union invites the nations of the world for collaboration, cooperation and mutually beneficial projects and initiatives. However, non-member nations who disrespect Black people invite sanctions slapped on them, with cookout privileges revoked. Because we said so.
Those who came before us understood the need for Africans, people of African descent and Black people throughout the diaspora to get together and build a future. Marcus Garvey formed the Universal Negro Improvement Association, and Malcolm X formed the Organization of Afro-American Unity (OAAU) modeled after the Organization of African Unity (OAU), the forerunner to the African Union (AU), with this in mind.
Malcolm wanted to bring together the Black people in North America, South America, Central America and the African continent. “We must unite together to go forward together. Africa will not go forward any faster than we will and we will not go forward any faster than Africa will. We have one destiny and we’ve had one past,” he said in 1964, calling for Black people to seek allyship among themselves.
The need for Black unity on a global scale could not be any clearer. The 21st-century whippings of Haitian people in Texas are proof of that.
A couple of weeks ago, President Joe Biden stood before the General Assembly of the United Nations and said that “for the first time in 20 years, the United States is not at war. We’ve turned the page.” His statement was a damnable lie; a damnable lie with respect to Afghanistan, where our troops may be gone, but where our bomber planes and bomber drones are still dropping their deadly payloads on the people and buildings in Afghanistan. And a damnable lie with respect to a shocking number of other countries where the United States is engaged in some form of military action.
Biden admitted as much when, in June, he sent a letter to Congress listing all of the countries where U.S. troops are waging war against groups opposed by the United States. And according to the journal, Conflict Management and Peace Science, the United States has 173,000 military troops engaged in conflicts in 159 other nations! Hell, it’s hard to find a country where U.S. troops are not engaged in some form of military action, be it in the Middle East, Asia, Africa, or South America.
Why, collectively, can’t we the people of America finally wake up to what our government is doing in our name and say, “enough!”
Now, I know…that’s really hard to believe. But think about it: There are over 40,000 U.S. troops just in the Middle East; 2,500 of them in Iraq, more than 18 years since George Bush first attacked Iraq. 900 troops are in Syria. Drones are dropping bombs in Pakistan and in, well, far, far too many other countries to list today. And whether we are in these countries as “hired guns” or uninvited interventionists, we are there without the general knowledge of the American people, and a great deal of what we are doing there constitute war crimes.
Of course, we don’t hear much about these too numerous to mention U.S. military operations, since so many of them are done under what is known as “CIA covert action authority.”
Let me say it again: there are 159 countries experiencing some form of U.S. military action. Maybe you remember that once upon a time in America there was a real debate underway as to whether America should be the “policeman of the World.” Mind you, the debate was seldom over whether we had the right to police the world, as opposed to whether we should police the world. Well, my friends, that debate has long been over. Because America is, without doubt, the world’s police force. And it does not play this role to insure a peaceful world. No, it plays it to ensure a profitable world for capitalist Corporate America, which jumps at every chance to profit from the production of the weapons of war.
And what does the fact of us policing the world to make it safe for Corporate America tell us about our recent presidents, Bush, Clinton, Obama, Trump and now Biden? Well, since the civilian deaths from this almost unimaginable litany of illegal military actions has caused millions of deaths and many more millions of ruined lives and destroyed infrastructure, it tells us that these presidents are war criminals. In Biden’s case, his war crimes continue, with no end in sight. And since the lion’s share of those deaths have taken place in Muslim countries, it tells us, as well, that the United States has for at least 20 years now been waging a war of genocide against the Muslim world.
This, in turn, got me thinking about the U.S. prison on Guantanamo. At it’s peak it held close to 900 Muslin men and children, and held them for years and years, in most cases with no real charges ever being brought against them. Today, there are only about 40 of those poor men still stuck in Guantanamo prison. So, If I ran the world, I’d set those last 38-40 men free, and then I would round up Bush, Clinton, Obama, Trump and Biden and throw all of them in Guantanamo. And then I’d throw away the key.
But, of course, I don’t run the world, nor should I or any other individual run it. But why, collectively, can’t we the people of America finally wake up to what our government is doing in our name and say, “enough!” “End the military actions in those 159 countries!” Bring those 173,000 U.S. troops home!” And what else should we do about Bush, Clinton, Obama, Trump and Biden? Because you can be damned sure that the US Government won’t hold any of them to account for their too many to calculate war crimes and imperialist military interventions over the past 20. No, it’s all up to us.
And so, what do I think we should do? Well, I think we should hold a series of internet streamed “America’s Wars and War Crimes Tribunals.” In this way at least the American people would be made fully aware of the far-flung military actions and war crimes committed in the course of those actions by successive U.S. presidents.
Yes, hold these public war and war crimes tribunals, hear the testimony of the world’s leading experts on the laws of warfare and war crimes, and when we are done publish the findings widely! It’s the very least we can do friends, unless we want the world to think that we, the American people, as well as our leaders, are happy to have our tax dollars and soldiers police the world and cover it over with the war crimes they have committed in our name!
The bible is a book that has been read more and examined less than any book that ever existed. — Thomas Paine
Those men, whom Jewish and Christian idolaters have abusively called heathens, had much better and clearer ideas of justice and morality than are to be found in the Old Testament, so far as it is Jewish; or in the New. — Thomas Paine
All that man has accomplished for the benefit of man since the close of the dark ages – has been done in spite of the Old Testament — Robert Ingersoll
Men never do evil so completely and cheerfully as when they do it for religious conviction. — Blaise Pascal
According to Andrew Seidel, 32% of Americans think it is very important to be Christian to be truly American. But what does it mean to be an “American”? Well, if being an American has anything to do with the Constitution or the Declaration of Independence, many Americans are in serious trouble. For example, Seidel writes:
On the first 4th of July of Trump’s presidency, National Public Radio tweeted the Declaration and Trump supporters lost their minds. They were sure NPR was calling for a rebellion against Trump. (80)
But the problem is even deeper because Americans really don’t know the bible very well either:
The bible has been edited rewritten, supplemented, translated, retranslated and mistranslated so many times that claims of immutability are laughable. Yet about 30 percent of Americans, many of them Christian nationalists, believe in the bible literally …word of their god. (115)
In fact, according to Seidel:
research shows that atheists know the Bible better than Christians (115)
In 1951, 53% of Americans could not name even one of the gospel. In 2010, 49% couldn’t.
My article is a review of a very powerful book written by Andrew Seidel called The Founding Myth: Why Christian Nationalism Is Un-American. As Seidel says, the purpose of the book is to utterly destroy the myth that the founders of the Constitution were committed to founding a Judeo-Christian nation. The contrast between the Bible on the one hand and the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution on the other is so great that, as Seidel says, one is almost forced to choose: are you a Christian or an American?
The contrast between the Bible on the one hand and the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution on the other is so great that, as Seidel says, one is almost forced to choose: are you a Christian or an American?
Part of the book is dedicated to exposing the notion that the founders themselves had any sympathy for Christianity. Secondly, it is to show how both the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution directly contradict both the Old and the New Testaments. Thirdly, within the Bible the Ten Commandments are shown to be anti-Constitutional. Lastly, the book shows how it was only through a propaganda campaign during times of national fear such as The Civil War and the anti-communist scare that right-wing preachers smuggled in Christian propaganda onto coins and paper money (In God We trust); and into the Pledge of Allegiance (One nation Under God).
This book does not argue that religion should be absent from our culture. It only says that religion should be absent from our constitutional identity. In fact, research shows that in societies that have a separation of church and state, people are more religious than when there is no separation. Seidel argues that when there is no separation, people take religion for granted.
Secondly, there is no simple relationship between separation of church and state and whether someone is religious or not. Someone can be religious and endorse the separation of church and state. Thirdly, while some founders were deists and others were theists, even though some were theists does not prove they used their religion to found the nation. People can make a distinction between their private and public political commitments. Fourthly, founders who were Christian were only supportive of the teachings of Jesus. There was no implication of support for any Catholic or Protestant institutions or teaching.
Qualifications about my being an American and supporting the Constitution.
It would be natural to think that in attacking Christian nationalism as being un-American, I identify with being an American. I don’t. My purpose in using the term “un-American” is to offer an immanent criticism of Christian nationalism. Immanent criticism means criticism from within the principles of my adversary. What I am saying is you don’t even live up to your own principles of being an American by failing to abide by the Constitution or the Declaration of Independence. An externalist criticism would be to criticize Christian nationalism from a Buddhist, Muslim or socialist perspective.
Also, in defending the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence against the Bible, it doesn’t mean I am uncritical of the of either of these American documents. As a result of reading Seidel’s book, I do have a newfound respect for the importance of separating Church from the State. There are clear limits set on religion’s invasion of science or politics. While secular laws could be much tighter, the justification for insisting on the separation is very well thought-out and it is still very important over 200 years later.
Were the Founders Christian?
Seidel uses many sources to show that the painting of Washington praying in the snow was a piece of artistic Christian propaganda. Washington was not a good Christian. He attended religious services irregularly, he didn’t kneel during prayer and often skipped out of Church early. He refused to have a priest at his deathbed. Jefferson took a more militant stand against Christianity. He attempted to rewrite the Bible cutting out the references to supernaturalism, miracles and slaughter in the hopes of salvaging something. Jefferson said later that his efforts were like “pick out diamonds from a dunghill.” Jefferson and Madison were very critical and suspicious of organized religion and the “priestcraft” that accompany them. Some founders treated the Trinity with contempt, calling it Abracadabra.
When the founders mention “The Creator” the Christian nationalists break out in celebration, declaring victory. Hold your horses and bugles! Nowhere is Jesus or Yahweh specifically mentioned. Virtually all cultures have a creator god who are more or less involved in his creation. The same is true with the Golden Rule. Christian nationalists act is if this rule was unique to Christianity. Most cultures in the world have their own version of the Golden Rule often dating to thousands of years before Christianity. Furthermore, when god was named it was “nature’s” god. Seidel rightly points this is more likely to resemble the god of the wind or the trees than the description of a biblical god. Nature’s god is a pagan god, not the Judeo-Christian monotheistic god.
The founders engaged in what Seidel calls “strategic piety”:
Writers were wise to choose language that would take advantage of the majority religiosity but still remain wholly nonsectarian. It was designed to be acceptable to deists and orthodox alike. (88)
In psychological terms the founders were playing to people’s confirmation bias- our innate selection and interaction of evidence to support our existing beliefs. (90)
Do You Need God to be Good?
For themselves, the founders thought their morality was sufficient to guide them and religion was unnecessary. However, some of the founder thought religion was necessary to keep the masses moral. For many founders, religion was not the source of morality, but a substitute for it. Without religion, the masses could not be moral. But the founders were not fussy about which religion filled the bill. Washington and Adams suggested that any religion, not only Christianity, can replace morality.
So the Founding Fathers were elitists. But were they were right about the capacity of large populations to prosper and live morally without religion?
Do Secularists Produce Worse Societies than the Religious?
The short answer is – no. Seidel points out:
Social science now unequivocally shows that the less religious a society, is the better off it is. We now know that religion is not necessary for society to succeed. (49)
Within America the states with the highest murder rates tend to be highly religious – Louisiana and Alabama. States with the lowest rates are the least religious the country, like Vermont and Oregon.
Of the top 50 safest cities in the world, nearly all are in relatively non-religious countries. During the Holocaust, the more secular the people were, the more likely they were to rescue and help persecuted Jews.
The least religious countries:
Have lowest rates of violent crime and homicide
Are the best places to raise children
Have lowest levels of intolerance vs race
Have the highest in women’s rights
Are the most prosperous
Within the US, those states that are the most religious have societal ills:
Highest rates of poverty
Highest rates of obesity
Highest rates of infant mortality
Highest rates of teen pregnancy
Lowest level of educated adults
Highest rates of murder and violent crime
There were Christian Colonies but no Christian Nation
Christian nationalists are right to point out that during the colonial period most of the colonies were religious, whether they were Puritans, Catholics, Anglicans, Lutherans, or Quakers. However, when the founders wrote the Constitution, they kept these religious beliefs outside the politics of founding a nation. The religions of the colonists did not help them to overthrow the British. Every colony was part of the British Empire, which was subjected to a Christian king. Colonial history also precedes the separation of Church and state which was part of the Constitution. The colonies were a British outpost, subject to a divine king. This is exactly the political theology the founders were fighting against. Table A is a contrast between the structure of life during colonial history vs after the declaration of independence. Please take a look at Table A.
The Bible as a Piece of Literature
The Bible is unlike other literature. Seidel points out that unlike like Shakespeare’s plays and poetry, Aesop’s fables and the legends of Greek and Roman mythology, which stood on their own merits, the Bible’s reputation was imposed and propagated over thousands of years with fire and brimstone. It was then reinforced regularly through weekly ceremonies. It is an authoritarian document which doesn’t have rhetorical appeal based on reason. Instead, the Bible is a document people must live by and bow down to, no matter what.
The un-American, Authoritarian Nature of the bible
Exclusivity and obedience
Right out of the gate the bible is exclusionary, rather than inclusive. Yahweh picks the Jews as his “chosen” people, whereas in the Constitution, at least theoretically, all are welcome. Whereas in one of Paul’s letters Christians are told to obey the authorities, in fact they are servants of God. For example, Abraham is commanded by God to murder his son Isaac as an offering. God turned Lot’s wife into a pillar of salt for looking back to see the destruction. God demands the killing of first-born children unless there is lamb’s blood on the family doorframe. This contrasts with the Declaration’s note to rebel against the authorities when they are tyrannical. Why? Because “we the people” rule.
Monarchies and divine dictatorships
In the Bible God does not rule by consent of the governed. Neither is there a separation of powers for governing, God rules by decree. God loves monarchies. Seidel points out that the first two books of the bible are titled “Kings”. Many of the heroes in the bible are kings, specifically, Saul, David and Solomon. Whatever rights people have been given by God. Likewise, God can take away those rights. Following the Enlightenment people have human rights which no political or religious authority can take away. In terms of following rules, the Judeo-Christian God of Christian propaganda says that God lays down the laws once and for all. In fact, with different versions of the Bible the laws change. Under the American Constitution laws can be changed by amendments. Objectively, the origin of the laws was from an Early Iron Ages society 1200 BCE years ago. The Constitution is close to 250 years old, while drawing from Greek and pre-Christian Roman law.
Faith and reason: how do we know?
If faith is defined as believing in something in spite of evidence, the Founding Fathers had no room for faith and that is they how came to understand the Constitution. They went through an evolving process of dialectical reasoning internally and debating, compromising and tinkering over months. Most of the founders tinkered with inventions, kept up with the sciences and saw politics itself as a science.
For those who followed the Bible, the Bible was given to them completed. God did not encourage any input from humanity. You simply had faith. You believed in the Bible in spite of evidence. Belief in miracles is just one instance. So too, when it comes to Christian nationalists in politics, there is no room for compromise or tinkering. Since they believe they are acting in the name of God, compromising with non-believers is not being true to God. On the whole, Seidel says:
“what a Christian government looks like: exclusive, exclusionary, divisive, hateful, severe and lethal.” (106)
Crime and punishment
When it comes to punishment the Bible paints with broad brush strokes. The punishments are inflexible and extremely violent. God destroys Canaan as well destroying all those believing in other gods. Disobedient children are stoned; so are wizards and women having premarital sex. Heretics and witches are tortured and followers are told that disobedience will be dealt with fire for eternity. The Constitution, on the other hand, simply strives to make punishment be proportionate to the crime, and punishments are limited to this lifetime.
Guilt and innocence are handled in opposite ways. In the Bible, whole groups are condemned as guilty and the guilt is inherited across generations. In the Constitution, there is no collective guilt. Individuals are found guilty and that guilt is not inherited by their sons and daughters. Finally, in the Bible it is not very important that innocents suffer and are killed, provided the guilty party does not get away with anything. In the Constitution the situation is the reverse. It is better that the guilty get away than for the innocent to be punished unjustifiably.
Origin and destiny
For the Bible, life on earth is a reform school. Why do people need to be reformed? Because in the mythological Garden of Eden, Eve ate the fruit the devil offered her even though God forbade it. Humanity was condemned from that time forward. While self-improvement is possible, ultimate redemption can only come from the sacrifice of Christ for humanity. In terms of future generations of humans, that is not the concern of Christian nationalists. The idea is you earn a ticket to the Promised Land and the Devil take the hindmost.
I’m afraid that the Constitution is far less dramatic. Individuals, according to Locke, are blank slates. Locke said parental socialization does matter, but in the end, it is the individual’s responsibility for what they make of themselves. There is no need for redemption either in this life or the next. However, the Constitution, unlike the Bible was written for future generations of humanity on Earth. Please see Table B for a summary.The Authoritarian Nature of the Ten Commandments
Strange gods and idolatrous images
The Ten Commandments is only a small part of the Bible, but they allow us to contrast in a very concentrated form extreme differences between this sacred document and the Constitution. The first commandment is a direct attack on religious freedom. “I am the Lord thy God, thou shalt have no other gods before Me.” The Constitution guarantees the freedom to worship any God, not just the Judeo-Christian one. The second commandment forbids making images. This iconoclastic mania on the part of the Protestants resulted in the destruction of centuries of magnificent artwork. The Constitution, on the other hand, allows for making pubic images to honor its heroes. Any trip to the Lincoln memorial or a trip to Mount Rushmore will reveal that the non-superstitious use of images is possible and can bring great inspiration.
Blasphemy and coercive church attendance
The third commandment, “Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy god in vain”, is really about controlling language. There is a double standard about blasphemy. Jews can blaspheme heathen deities, but it is a capital crime to blaspheme Yahweh. In contrast, the Constitution makes a distinction between words and deeds. It says in effect “sticks and stones may break my bones but names can never hurt me”. The Constitution says criticism of all religion is legal. The fourth commandment to “Keep holy the Lord’s Day” is more sinister than it seems. Seidel says this is not about rest for the weary. It is really about shepherding the population to churches on days when most people are not working. Priests complain about poor attendance at church. What better way to herd people into church then by first saying even the Lord needs to rest, and so do you. But no sooner do people discover they are entitled to a day off than they find themselves in church listening to sermons. While there is nothing in the Constitution which tells people not to work, there is also nothing in the Constitution that forbids workers from taking matters into their own hands. They can legally join unions, and strike in order to have some time off. As the saying goes, it was labor that gave Yankees the weekend.
Honor your parents no matter how authoritarian or abusive they are
The fifth commandment says honor thy father and mother. Sounds pretty good except that the foundation of it is to honor your biological parents, no matter what they do. No matter what the parents do they should be honored. Though this has happened all too late in Yankee history, there are now child-protective services to allow children to get away from abusive and violent parents. Not all parents are worthy of respect. Furthermore, the Bible is talking out of both sides of its mouth when they talk about this because Jesus also makes a big deal about leaving your parents to come follow him.
Clannish, parochial rules towards murder, stealing and lying
Seidel chunks together the sixth, eight and ninth commandments and attacks them for their clannish, exclusive nature. Whether it is killing, stealing or perjury, the Bible only forbids these things when it is done to fellow Jews and Christians. With non-Jews or Christians, all bets are off. You can kill, steal or lie in dealing with people from other religions. In the case of the Constitution, killing, stealing or lying is punishable no matter what religion one is as well including people who have no religion at all.
Patriarchal repression of sexuality
The seventh commandment about committing adultery has an even narrower interpretation than the previous three commandments. In this, even within the Judeo-Christian tradition, the laws of adultery do not apply to married men, but only to married women. Seidel says fathers can sell their daughter into sexual slavery but only to another Israelite. Men can get away with rape, if they pay the victim’s family 50 shekels and then marry the victim.
The Christian Bible tries to halt and repress their flock’s interest in sex by promoting celibacy. We only have to look at the record of the Catholic Church and its priests to reel in disgust over such a monstrous policy. Seidel points out Judeo-Christianity tries to kill the sex instinct, distort it and vilify it to ensure loyalty to the leader, not to one another. This is a common tactic that male cult leaders use with their followers. It builds up spiritual debt. Lusty, guilty sinners are bound more tightly to the person who can expiate their sin, Jesus, and later, priests. In the Constitution there are laws against adultery, but they apply to men as well as women and there are laws that apply to rape and sexual slavery that are punishable.
The tenth commandment is not about actually fooling around with your neighbor’s wife. Rather, it’s about lusting after your neighbor’s wife even if you do nothing. This is where the 10 Commandments crosses the line into Orwell’s thought crime. Evil thoughts are the same thing as evil actions. Being angry is the same as being violent. As Jefferson said, the powers of government apply to action not opinion. You cannot be thrown in jail for having an opinion. Please see Table C for a summary.
Smuggling in Christianity via Theological Propaganda
In God We Trust on coins during the Civil War
“In God We Trust” was smuggled onto coins in 1863 in the middle of the Civil War and was pushed through between 1861 and 1864.
“Evangelical Christianity” invaded and polarized the political debate in the cases leading up to the Civil War. It turned the democratic process which relies on compromise into a battle over sacrosanct issues of faith.”(262).
“One nation indivisible” became “one nation, under God, indivisible”. As Seidel says this change places religion, one of the most divisive and murderous forces in history, right in the middle of a badly needed unifying sentiment.
To choose something so divisive to replace a unifying sentiment in the middle of a war that actually hindered the nation shows hubris typical of religious privilege. (272)
Christianity promotes slavery
Appeals to the Bible justified revivals in the slave trade and slave prisons. The pulpit and the auctioneers’ block stand in the same neighborhood. (267)
Christian resistance to slavery was nowhere to be found when the colonies instituted slavery in the 1600s (268)
It was used at a time of national peril and danger when people were too busy dying for the Constitution to protect it from a rear-guard assault, to promote their personal religion. (272).
Bible thumping anti-Communists
In 1954 the Pledge of Allegiance was changed. “I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America, and to the republic for which it stands, one nation, indivisible with liberty and justice for all” became “I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America, and to the republic for which it stands, one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.” Since the communists were atheists, it was hoped that the communists would get the message that they were not welcome.
A year later “In God We Trust” was added to paper currency in 1955.
What better way to spread the missionary spirit within Yankeedom than by putting it on currency everyone has to use? US currency would effectively become a Christian missionary (271)
1953 Congressmen propose 18 separate resolutions to add “under God” to the pledge
1954 “In God We Trust is placed on a US postage stamp
1954 Prayer room in US capital is added. It added a stained-glass window depicting the lie that Washington prayed in the snow at Valley Forge
Congress added “Under God” to the Pledge of Allegiance
1955 Eisenhower signs a bill placing “In God We Trust” on US paper currency”
1956 Cecil B. Demille movie The Ten Commandments movie is released
10 commandments monuments made of granite are gradually erected on government property around the country
Soon the words “American and Christian” became synonymous.
Billy Graham wedded evangelism and anticommunism in the Christian anti-communist crusade. Religious stars such as Fulton Sheen, Oral Roberts, Billy James Hargis and Norman Vincent Peale all achieved new prominence in the early and mid 1950s. They bombarded TV, making people sick with fear. ‘To be an American is to be Christian. All atheists are communists’. (284)
Circulating coins, paper money and flag-waving pledges weren’t enough for nervous anti-communists. Soon time off from a secular education was granted for religious instruction.
In 1952 the court decided that releasing children from public schools classes to receive religious education did not violate the Constitution. Religious release time allows churches to piggyback the machinery of the state and mandatory attendance to inculcate religion. It was meant to help religious sects get attendants presumably too unenthusiastic to go to religious class unless moved to do so by the pressure of this state machinery. (286-287)
Seidel’s work challenges Christian nationalists to face the fact that the founding documents of the United States as a nation directly contradict the Ten Commandments and, more generally, the Bible. These Christians would have to trade their fundamentalism for a far more liberal theory of religion to square with the Constitution. On the other hand, secularists can be somewhat assured that while they are under attack by the right-wing religious forces, the Constitution with all its class biases, lack of limits on capitalism, its racism and sexism, is still an important support document, mostly for its clear separation between Church and State.