Sunday, December 16, 2007

American nativism looms at the polls

The cracker asshole vote is probably not as large as many people outside America take it to be. For example, these cracker asshole minutemen seem to consist of a small number of Aryan supremacists and classic Western vigilantes - certainly of the variety that launched pogroms against the Irish, the Chinese, the poor from Oklahoma, labourers, communists, trade unionists etc, but much smaller than their forebears. They are capable of spotting a potential meat factory labourer or gardener with binoculars directed across cactus-strewn borderland, and such an unfortunately witnessed interloper might well end up being beaten or murdered. And the superpatriots have spread geographically from a base in conservative regions of California into Arizona and Texas, and have branches in several other states. Yet, as a movement they remain a narrow sect, eminently ignorable by national politicians. Yet, despite this, they have acquired some striking support not only from local radio 'hell-in-a-handbasket' hate programmes, but also from California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger back in 2005, when his attacks on public spending caused his poll numbers to slump. With characteristic McBain-like eloquence, he has showered praise on the efficacy of the Minutemen, depicting them as conscientious citizens looking out for fellow whiteys. They have made an impact on GOP politics as well. While Pat Robertson has offered a sizeable portion of the religious right vote to Rudi Giuliani, Jim Gilchrist, the former Marine and co-founder of the Minutemen movement, is wooing the racist right for Mick Huckabee. Huckabee was supposedly a centrist on immigration and had attacked racism and nativism during the migration debate in 2006, but he has now discovered the virtues of the Minutemen, and produced an authoritarian set of policies to woo this unpleasant substrate. Gilchrist's one-time colleague, Chris Simcox, has attacked him for this nomination, and it may be that the already schismatic movement splits over this as well. However, the vendetta merchants have an audience among comparatively privileged people, at least among a layer of middle class white Americans, whose intense boredom and alienation in an increasingly bizarre society seeks redress in resentful and violent attacks on the usual targets.

GOP candidates, such as Mitt Romney and Tom Tancredo preparing attacks on immigrants as key to their electoral strategy. However, alongside them are some opportunistic Democrats, who must vigilantly hold forth against the misunderstanding that they are soft on the dark-skinned. Democratic candidate John Edwards, who likes to present a left face, is promising a crack-down. Perhaps Edwards, addressing a mainly white audience in Iowa, is trying to appeal to a working population that has been destroyed by neoliberalism and by 'free trade' deals such as Nafta, which has cost 1 million American jobs according to the Economic Policy Institute (although Iowa was not one of the main states affected by Nafta). Since Edwards supports that particular agreement, planning merely to renegotiate it, and since he is one of those who supported giving Bush fast-track powers to negotiate further such trade agreements, it wouldn't be his style to point out that the problems for working class communities in Iowa do not originate with immigration. Barack Obama is cracking down on border controls as well, lest those illegal immigrants turn out to be terrorists - the Latino Catholic division of Al Qaeda is apparently sending shock troops across a poorly manned border day and night. Bill Richardson, the conservative Hispanic-American Democrat with 8% of the vote, also favours tougher border controls. The Democrats are not the aggressive attack dogs on immigration, but none of the main candidates appears all that interested in defending the communities who have suffered a wave of state repression and accompanying vilification since their mass protests in 2006. Groups like ANSWER and the ISO have done well to harrass the Minutemen and have also done what they can to support the immigrant labourers, but the order of the day among the political class is for a more intense crackdown (with tacit approval for heightened exploitation by employers, who have most to lose with a politically self-confident immigrant movement).

Much of the anti-immigrant racism currently informing presidential bids is regulated and sustained by the 'war on terror', which has cast an automatic pall of unacceptability and disloyalty on even legal migrants. Yet, lest we forget that bashing the poorest and most exploited is part of an American tradition that precedes even the conquest of the Philippines (a model for today's occupation of Iraq in so many ways), I suppose it's worth mentioning that the antiwar Republican candidate, Ron Paul (very much favoured by the libertarians at supports massive state investment in attacking immigrants. So much so that the far right Federation for American Immigration Reform gives the candidate a 100% score in supporting immigration restrictions. He blames the welfare state for having created immigration, on the grounds that you get more of what you 'subsidize'. Well, it seems to me that if you subsidize state repression, you get more of it, and have no business calling yourself a libertarian. It is a point usually ignored by the soi disant anti-statists of the American right - the history of immigration controls in the US shows that measures initially contrived to attack and restrict migration become the basis of domestic surveillance and repression. Worse, however: one or two liberals and even radicals who ought to know better are rocking to the Ron Paul Revolution, because of his stance on the war, on civil liberties, and his general aura of incorruptibility. The fact that his stance on practically everything else is indefensible and disgusting has passed by in silence from these people. A petty reactionary with a good stance on the war is still a petty reactionary.

Despite the appalling performance of the Democrats in control of both houses of Congress, the decisive issue at the 2008 presidential election will, I suspect, still be the 'war on terror' and the general disaffection with it. The GOP candidates are swinging to the hard right, partially in response to the growing right-ward lurch of Democrats, but mainly because they are desperate. Faced with insurmountable hostility to the Bush administration and the Republican Party, they are unwilling to abandon the 'war on terror', which adventurist strategy still broadly retains the support of their corporate sponsors. Hobbled by the NIE, to some extent (not, noticeably, by any Democratic attack), they have to stimulate the basest of bases, the lowest of the low, the scum of the earth who despise the wretched of the earth. The nativist reactionaries do not constitute most Americans, but then they don't have to. Their role is to prise apart the natural alliance between the disenfranchised white working class, African Americans whose ethnic cleansing from New Orleans is an accomplished fact, and hyper-exploited immigrants - all of whom lose out from the 'war on terror' and the current neoliberal orthodoxy. If, against the constant, oppressive reality of growing class domination, the culture warriors and rabid nationalists can harness the directionless, pre-political anger of many Americans, the ruling class may weather the oncoming recession without having to combat or accomodate any sustained movement for reforms and social change.