Son of a Klansman, President: The Pardons.

The pardoning of soldiers accused of war crimes against peoples in the US colonies aim to demonstrate an unabashed commitment to conservative principles but also, and more importantly, simply to increase bloodletting. The injury of hated people is for conservatives — as photojournalism of the long “civil rights era” has shown — an end and a pleasure in itself. The president was not, as many would have us believe, merely talking tough when he called for the killing of insurgents’ families. In pardoning a navy SEAL like Edward Gallagher who was accused of killing a teenager with a knife and posing with the body, Trump’s message to the officers of America’s post is to kill freely, you will be protected. 

Conservative men and women often join the state’s institutions of violence for the opportunity to hurt people. That there exists conservative desires for the killings of the Other is not a particularly revelatory observation. Although left unspoken, it is, in fact, popularly understood. In one of the most striking moment’s of comedian Bill Burr’s sets he observes conservative lusts. “You got to give it up to [Southerners] they’re patriotic people…you will never catch a redneck at an anti-war protest…they’re just like wait I get to kill people? And I ain’t going to jail? Wait a minute are they foreigners. Oh my God, hey Dale come on, you’re going to miss it…Christmas in September.” The joke works because this unspoken conservative sentiment is immediately recognizable. It’s not the comedy of the absurd — it’s observational humor. 

Law Officers, as Linda Gordon put it, “were the largest single occupational group among Klan membership.” State institutions of violence provide not only the opportunity for racial terrorism but the promise of impunity. Those who wish to end the lives of non-whites will find no more secure place to do so than the institutions of imperial force. But for law to retain its ideological power, it must continue to perform dispassion, neutrality and regulation. It cannot be seen to kill freely, it must kill rationally. This is why series of kidnapping incidents are understood by the kidnapped as not violent incidents at all but a kind of fate. It is not kidnapping and confinement without consent but a sort of natural happening for those who are “criminals” called arrest. You do the crime you do the time, what goes up must come down: law dresses up in natural law. The problem is to maintain the ideological power of normalized racial terror that the law provides and at the same time protect and if possible expand the pleasures of vigilante racial violence. That is, to make the uniforms of police, soldiers and klansmen interchangeable and, in certain light, look equally legitimate.

Trump’s campaign to pardon and his incitement to skirt regulatory norms of violence does this work. His domestic directive to increase violence in police custody is beefed up in the US world colonies. The institution of the law to which conservatives owe their right to torture raced bodies cannot be easily sacrificed, even for the ecstatic pleasures of lawless violence. The whip and lynching rope were not to be traded for the prison and convict leasing. The Kenya Colony farmer wanted both the magistrate to ban labor “desertion” and also wanted to thrash his field hands at will and without state interference. The pardon does this.  It maintains the legal edifice, i.e. the colonial apparatus, while setting loose the possibilities of vigilante torturing. The occupiers can both occupy and use the language of civility, democracy and cultural superiority and also and at the same time murder and torture with impunity. Our torturers are once again, as they had been in freer times, given a promise of protection of the state and are encouraged to let loose. They go forth, if cautiously, and do what they are doing, armed with the knowledge that there is “no rights which the white man is bound to respect.” In this way conservatives, both officials on the ground and their cheerleaders and spectators at home, are offered new arenas of pleasure. The killings to be enjoyed are not just those gained by carpet bombing, (remember John McCain’s joke song bomb Iran), but the old pleasures of the indiscriminate murder of non-white and unarmed civilians. Part of the pleasure of colonial violence for conservatives and racial terrorists has always been the violence in excess of what is necessary. This is why the colonized African’s crops were not just stolen or burned but that s/he was tortured and put on display in the Paris Colonial Exposition.

Like the pardoning of Joe Arpaio, pardoning those convicted of war crimes is also meant as a message to the colonized world that the American officers sent in your villages and towns will hurt you, make no mistake. The scene in Platoon when all-American soldier Chris tells the Vietnamese man to “dance” while he shoots the floor beneath him with an automatic weapon is misleading. It was meant to depict the inevitable moral corruption brought on by the stresses of war and its effect on an otherwise moral American. In reality, however, these acts are celebrated, romanticized and defended by colonists. The pardoning of convicted war criminals suggests— as did conservative defenses of Abu Ghraib, waterboarding, and more recently the killing of insurgents’ families —  that traditional humanitarian ethics are not foremost on the conservative war agenda, despite what fictional hero soldier characters would have us believe. Ethics in imperialist war does not direct policy. It is rather a gloss used to polish the pamphlets that announce the colonizer’s supremacy, and the supremacy of his touted values. Torture is, and always has been, the colonizer’s foreign policy. The Philadelphia Ledger praised soldiers for pumping salt water into the veins of prisoners during America’s occupation of the Philippines. Now the concentration camp system, the earliest in the world, are set to return home. They are to be constructed along the US southern border and called “tent cities.” We can expect pardons for the atrocities that will be committed there as well. 

The Problem with MSNBC

The Problem with MSNBC

“We’re probably going to have to charter a contempt sub-committee for all the lawlessness of the folks over there. But Rachel it doesn’t have to be this way. What I mean is that Don McGahn doesn’t have to follow a lawless order from the White House…He should just come and be the first person in this administration who raises their right hand and does the right thing and tells the truth.” 

The italics are mine. The counterfeit earnestness Eric Swalwell attempted to breathe into these words could not slant them on their own. This is how the California congressman answered Rachel Maddow’s question Tuesday night on the possible “constitutional crisis” emerging as a result of Don McGahn being ordered by the White House to defy the US Congress. He carries hollow lamentations like one would a dead cow to market — expecting no sale. He admonishes henchmen. 

But who is the performance for?

McGahn — take nothing from him — is a man who was capable of steeling himself to be the chief defender of an ethnic cleansing regime. Such a man was certainly not watching at home thinking to himself, “you know, that guy who imitates 80’s action movie presidents is right.” Swalwell wasn’t seeking a change of heart and Maddow had already mentally checked out to the next question. The audience learned nothing, no one is entertained, and nothing moves. 

This is the problem with MSNBC. 

The muted, self-declared voice of the opposition drifts from regurgitating tidbits of happenings in the white power administration to taking turns announcing their shock, their being stunned, or making knowingly false claims that this or that incident will definitely be “politically devastating for Trump.” Banal nazisms, ethnic cleansing policies and barely coded incitements to racial violence are presented in the form of a supermarket thriller. William Barr is “revealed” to be an authoritarian. Surprise! The “adult in the room” John Kelly has a problem with black women. Stunner! No one can make sense of why Trump would pardon a Behanna or a concentration camp enthusiast. And no one — not for all the pork and beans in the world — can figure out why Republicans are not “standing up to the president.” Because, of course, the white right wing in Louisiana, Missouri, Texas, Alabama has traditionally been the mortal enemies of white nationalism.  It would be an unsellable murder mystery novel where the culprit turned out to be the character called Mr. Murdy, a mysterious man with a mustache, dark glasses and hooded jacket that read “I DID IT!” Similarly, anti-Semitic campaign commercials, Klan and Skin-head defending, Jeff Sessions and Kris Kobach, build a wall,  “Make American Great Again” does not elicit an “I wonder if they’re racist” from anybody (including that fictional character of the Republican who “holds their nose and votes.”) It is all just a little on the nose. Any reasonable onlooker would assume that to join this administration your commitment to white power is vetting question number one. Whoever joined and is not a Johnny Rebel themselves has had to be at least one helluva dog-whistler — outsmarting the dogs themselves. It’s not a plot-twist that a new appointee has a history of making anti-black jokes — on the other hand it would be a shocker if they had a Black Lives Matter pin in their drawer, or followed the journal Public Culture on Twitter.  You don’t the Rosetta Stone to discover why white conservatives are not standing up to the purest expression of white conservatism in the White House for decades. It’s a bad mystery novel produced by Cable News. Center and “Center-left” Cable News networks are more akin to trash-lit than journalism.

But what is lost in this? 

There may be a population out there that is succored by the opiate of split-screen pearl-clutching. Certainly Maddow is redeemable for her personable and engaging presentations, uniquely thorough and informed reading and well-laid out storytelling. This, however, only lasts for the first segments and then its off to the “contributors,” “analysts” and D-list politicians to be provided with a platform to say nothing, state their shock and dismay in their stately camp. Or worse, declare their intention to take [insert white nationalist cabinet member] at their word. Maddow is the best the network has to offer. Chris Hayes a close second. What he lacks in audience engagement he makes up for with some incisive questions. But Chris Matthew’s Hardball is not the BBC’s Hardtalk. There is no one remotely like Al Jazeera’s Medhi Hassan anywhere on the network, to say nothing of Democracy Now’s Amy Goodman, the quality debates on France 24 or even the review of investigative journalism on The Daily podcast. Much like other mainstream North American appetites MSNBC is often an addictive, over-processed cheesy dip — comforting but offering little in the way of sustenance. Cable news, an instrument that could be used to expand and make plural thinking, is weighed down with incessant appeals to our dimmest faculties. I complain not from a place of loftiness but as its victim. I willfully fall to the shouting, flashy set-designs waiting for impeachment news to come in like I’m waiting on my numbers. I too dull my senses with repeated nothings that feel like a moving of the needle, playing the podcasts under the sheets when I don’t want to think and just be fed. 

Yet this moment, the moment of the first significant attempts of ending congressional power and the teasing of self-aware authoritarian rule deserves better, more informed oppositional discussion. Trita Parsi was right to sound a reserved panicked tone that the American public cared more about the Mueller Report than John Bolton’s war games.  The Hitlerism of the colonies is threatening to wash up again on Hitler-lands. The last century’s fascist turn was counterbalanced with ideas, art, criticism and editorials. They came from a truly angry, desperate and a ready opposition that took public opinion seriously and as a genuine battleground. Currently oppositional outlets work primarily as platforms for upwardly mobile politicians to register their displeasure safely and for “contributors” to show-off their synonyms for “outrageous” and “shocking” in lieu of information and serious analysis. Mainstream opposition media is a force for lulling the population to the couch. It is the white power state’s assist. Garnishing us, dressing us in peeved, rose-colored glasses to watch the show of confederate monuments stepping down from their platforms and walking over.