Tuesday, December 2, 2014


I'm borrowing the title of this post from Rick Perlstein's stellar political history of America from 1965 to 1972.  He began his book about Nixon's rise to power with the 1965 unrest in Watts, and how the reaction to it helped get the likes of Ronald Reagan elected governor of California.  Perlstein deftly pointed out how Nixon used the social divisions of the 1960s, and especially white fears about newly emboldened blacks, to gain and consolidate power.  That original insight of Nixon's has been used by conservatives ever since, from Reagan's talk of "welfare queens" to the War on Drugs to George HW Bush's Willie Horton ad to Fox News' obsession with the New Black Panther Party.

Nixon's calls for "law and order" in the wake of sixties protest set the stage for a now forty-five year escalation of police force and power.  (His associating his opponents with disorder and chaos was most flagrantly expressed in his 1968 campaign's "Convention" ad.)  This escalation has led to America incarcerating its people at a higher level than any other nation in the world and police forces that have been placed above the law.  If you ask me, this is part and parcel of the neoliberal project.  Supply-side economics inevitably means misery for the poor and working class, and to prevent unrest in those quarters, its members have been thrown in jail.  Prisons are then privatized, leading to yet another boon for the wealthy.

The protests related to Ferguson are crucially important for a lot of reasons.  Ultimately, I feel that they are a true challenge to the aforementioned forty-five year counterrevolution, one whose violence has fallen hardest on African Americans.  In response to the protests, the Silent Majority has reared its ugly head yet again.  Since the Clinton era, Democrats have been trying to out-police the Republicans, hoping never again to be accused of being soft on crime.   The broad white middle class population has thus accepted the logic of the counterrevolution, regardless of political party.  Now that the four decade counterrevolution is being challenged, and policing seriously questioned on a national level, they are lashing out.  Just take a look at the anger provoked by the St. Louis Rams when they dared to quietly and peacefully acknowledge the Ferguson protests when they took the field this Sunday.

We are truly at a crossroads.  This country could finally break the spell of that old sorcerer Richard Nixon and repudiate our draconian, unjust, cruel, and racist justice system.  Or it could double down and stay on the same course.  We're still living in Nixonland, but I can only hope not for much longer, even though it looks like the Silent Majority is still alive and kicking.

No comments: