It’s Official! The Myth of American Exceptionalism is Over; We Are Now a Banana Republic

Patrick Velasquez, Ph.D.

Patrick Velasquez, Ph.D.

I hesitated to write this essay but the importance of January 6’s events at our nation’s capitol drove me to do so. There are other things that I should be writing.

In my doctoral program, I learned the epistemological tools, theoretical frameworks, and conceptual analyses of my field, higher education. I have had a deep interest in Chicano Studies and other social sciences since my undergraduate days in the 1970’s. But those fields utilize analytical lenses that are conceptually different from those of my field. So I hesitate to write about broader societal issues such as the U.S. political structure. However, as the brilliant Chicana scholar Sylvia Hurtado writes, our societal structure, including racial, class, and gender hierarchies, forms a major dimension of the context for higher education, so folks like me can’t ignore them.

I have to admit that I was taken off guard by the white supremacists’ violence on January 6. It is now clear that I wasn’t thinking deeply enough. Some of my friends and colleagues posted warnings on social media for over a year that Trump will never leave office peaceably. They believed that Trump’s base of psychotic white supremacists would indeed react with violence if Trump lost the 2020 election. I didn’t believe it. I never doubted that Trump would refuse to leave and that he would try to incite his followers to violence. However, I have to admit that I didn’t think his base would actually commit violence in the streets. As someone on television noted yesterday, those terrorists running rampant in the capitol have wives, husbands, jobs, mortgage payments, etc. I didn’t think they would jeopardize all that just to support Trump. What I failed to realize is that these racist Trump supporters knew deep down that they and law enforcement officers at all levels are kindred spirits, that cops would never commit violence to control them in the same way that cops routinely and joyfully commit violence against Blacks and Chicanos/Latinos for protesting peacefully.

With the benefit of time to process what happened, the violence in D.C. makes total sense. As I’ve written before, I haven’t trusted law enforcement officers since they unjustly kicked my ass in the streets when I was a teenage. Beyond that, I provided “cultural competence” training for over five hundred cops in my home town, an experience like no other that solidified my perception of police “culture” as irreparably toxic. So I should have realized that white racists would have no fear of consequences even when they brazenly broke federal laws in their assault on the capitol.

My changed perception has been reinforced by what I’ve seen and heard on television and the radio during the past few days. On social media, we all saw D.C. cops removing barriers so that the terrorists could more easily enter the capitol. I saw video of cops grappling with the terrorists as if they were participating in a Sumo wrestling match, with virtually no cop using his baton, pepper spray, or gun. What the hell? We all saw cops taking “selfies” with the terrorists. My favorite image was the comic absurdity of a cop waving a “wand” at a group of terrorists and then running like a scared rabbit when the terrorists wouldn’t stop. Again, the chicken-shit wouldn’t use his weapons against these white terrorists. What happened to “serve and protect?” As many have noted, it’s obvious that people of color, even peacefully protesting, would have been gunned down and that such police brutality would have been praised by the right wing and even neoliberals.

At this point, I can only repeat the observations and analyses I’ve heard from people more knowledgeable than me. I must say that National Public Radio raised much more critical issues and had more profound guest observations than milk-toast MSNBC. Typically, after watching hours of programming from MSNBC, I did not see one Chicano guest to offer our perspective. What would have happened if the courageous DACA students had ever stormed a government building to protest racist immigration policies? They would all be dead. It would have been enlightening for some genius at MSNBC to interview some DACA students that could testify about law enforcement presence at their peaceful protest.

Kudos to the brilliant journalist Tanzina Vega on her NPR show, “The Takeaway.” One of her guests the day after the capitol carnage was a retired police officer that offered his analysis of what happened. This dude noted that there should have been a strong degree of pre-arranged cooperation between the Capitol Hill police force and the larger metropolitan police force of the District of Columbia. He emphasized that a failure to secure such cooperation was gross incompetence and that it couldn’t happen by accident. Thus, there had to be explicit complicity between the two agencies at the highest level, in essence an agreement to stand down and enable the white racist terrorists to storm the capitol unfettered. Perhaps things became more out of hand than they anticipated, but it seems clear that the cops strongly contributed to the entire mess.

How could this happen? Cops, charged to protect the capitol and the members of congress, stood by and tacitly encouraged the terrorists to enter the capitol. People are also questioning how the terrorists could find the legislative chambers, Nancy Pelosi’s office, and other spaces that are not easy to locate within the labyrinth of the capitol. Perhaps the cops gave them directions? Who can doubt that now? Or did Republican legislators actually serve as tour guides for the terrorists?

Tanzina Vega also reminded us that in 2015, the FBI itself issued a report documenting that law enforcement agencies throughout the United States have been infiltrated by white supremacist organizations. If you are Black or Chicano, chew on that for a minute. They next time you are pulled over by a cop for a routine traffic issue, that cop could be a closet member of the Ku Klux Klan, the Proud Boys, the Boogaloo Boys, or other facist, racist groups. Does that make you feel protected? Considering their expressed support for Trump’s presidential candidacy, there is not doubt that these organizations have infiltrated ICE, including the border patrol. I also wonder the degree to which those racist organizations have also infiltrated the U.S. military. Does that make you feel safer? This has the appearance of a problem that cannot be solved without drastic means, such as totally defunding law enforcement agencies and starting again from scratch.

Another guest on Ms. Vega’s show emphasized that any alternative solution to this scary threat to public safety clearly does not involve additional resources and/or training for law enforcement. As this man stated, the problem is systemic and reflects the divergent perceptions of law enforcement toward the U.S. public that they are charged to protect. As he said, cops, even cops of color, perceive white people as those that deserve protection and people of color as those that need to be controlled. The double standard on display yesterday could be seen and understood by anyone. This morning, a guest of MSNBC reminded us that there were only approximately sixty arrests among the capitol terrorists. When people protested peacefully against the U.S. Senate’s appointment of Supreme Court Justice Brett Cavanaugh, there were over two hundred arrests. Double standard? Complicity between law enforcement and white supremacist organizations? All of the above? There is no way that giving law enforcement agencies more financial resources can do anything but make this problem worse. The congress just approved over $750 billion for our military, and they couldn’t even help with effective protection of our nation’s capitol.

Chris Matthews is one of the most intelligent, observant personalities on MSNBC, which is not saying much. While other dullards on the station praised the U.S. Congress for re-convening after the violence finally died down and shed crocodile tears for the unsightly coup attempt that blemished Amerika’s supposed democracy, Matthews excoriated the members of congress for acting as if nothing substantive had really happened, as if they figuratively swatted a fly and then went about their business. He was right. It reminded me of the schoolyard fights I saw when I was in elementary school. Sometimes a stronger kid would drag around a weaker kid for several minutes, twisting him like a pretzel and grinding his face in the dirt. When the fight was broken up, the beaten child would dust himself off and say, “Aw, that was nothing. He never hurt me.” Yeah, right. The congressional members looked like frightened, cornered animals in pictures of the congressional chambers in lockdown. I don’t blame them, but to later act like this was nothing, and that the U.S. has stood up to worse, was disingenuous to say the least. And then, incredibly, many of these fools praised the capitol cops for protecting them. Really? After they let the terrorists march in unchallenged?

A few of my conclusions: never trust a cop again. Heaven help you if you have to depend on cops for protection. If I served in Congress, I would demand a private security force, although I’m not sure that they couldn’t be infiltrated as well. Also, as one of my colleagues posted on social media and was echoed by the Washington Post, this event marks the official end of the myth of American exceptionalism. Our hypocrisy as a nation is now more obvious than ever. I can’t wait to write to my friends in Havana, Cuba to hear their analyses of our domestic, racist terrorism. The United States is now an official “banana republic,” with fascists trying to maintain an authoritarian government through force and corruption. So I hope that intelligent people will never again use that racist term, banana republic, to refer to Latin American nations, as reporters and anchors on even MSNBC often do. Finally, let’s refute in no uncertain terms the ridiculous assertion by neoliberals that “This is not us. This is not America.” I call bullshit. This racist garbage is exactly what “Amerika” is, and it always has been.

So where do we go from here as a nation? Well, good luck to Joe Biden and his ilk in trying to bring together this totally fractured, screwed up country. The racist white supremacists that stormed the capitol are much like the white minority government in South Africa decades ago that saw their power and privilege shrinking. Those “toothless bulldogs” in South Africa (props to my friend A’Jamal Byndon, who lived in South Africa during that era and shared that term with me) made the lives of the Black majority miserable until domestic and international pressure brought down the white minority in power. And so our own white racists (I know that’s redundant) also see the inevitable eradication of their power and privilege, and they will now strike out in desperation at any perceived foe.
As far as Biden’s plans, there is a lot to learn from the actions of previous presidential administrations when they first assumed office.

I very much remember Ronald Reagan’s entry into the president’s office in 1981. The recent four-part documentary on Showtime, “The Reagans,” was brilliant in documenting the deep classism and racism of Reagan and the corporate puppeteers that pulled his strings, especially after his undeniable senility manifested itself. Reagan won approximately sixty percent of the vote in 1980 against Jimmy Carter, a much larger victory than that of Biden over Trump. However, as the musical genius and social critic Gil Scott Heron pointed out in his classic song, “B Movie,” only a small percent of the U.S. registered voters actually came out for Reagan. However, Reagan stampeded into Washington, D.C. with his staff, claiming that they had a “mandate” to change national policy to eliminate big government, cut taxes and regulations for the wealthy, and strengthen white privilege. Only the third policy was cloaked in polite language. Reagan didn’t give a shit about ending “partisanship” or working with Democrats unless it furthered his agenda. His attitude was basically that Democrats, people of color, and working-class people could eat shit. In my lifetime, Reagan was arguably the first president to use only thinly veiled language to assure white people that he had their backs in preserving white privilege. Some would argue that Richard Nixon was first, but Reagan took it to another level.

By comparison, when spineless Barack Obama took office in 2009, he also claimed a mandate for “change.” Instead, he instantly handed over the keys to the White House to the Clinton family and its supporters. He even named at least one Republican to his cabinet in the interest of “partisanship.” This misguided cowardice resulted in a massive failure to enact federal policy change during the critical first two years of his administration, when Democrats controlled both houses of Congress. Even when Republicans at all levels talked about Obama as if he had a tail, Obama just turned the other cheek and invited the racist bullies to have at him. And they did, strengthening their base in the process.

Biden and Kamala Harris should learn from these historical precedents. Will they follow the example of Reagan and enact real change, regardless of the opposition’s desires? Or will they punk out and govern as scared centrists that meekly appeal for bipartisan cooperation for the sake of “healing?” On January 8, I listened to an NPR show in which both Democratic and Republican staff, respectively, emphasized the importance of EARLY action toward progressive change by the Biden administration. Biden should be able to walk and chew gum simultaneously, which means he can push for progressive changes in federal policy through both executive and legislative action while also pushing more centrist reforms. The first six months will be crucial. Right now, the U.S. Senate is fifty-fifty between both parties with VP Harris able to break ties. However, the quirks in our political system mandate that recently elected Senator Raphael Warnock of Georgia has to run for re-election in 2022, I believe. There is not much time to capitalize on the Democrats’ current power. And as Mike Davis pointed out in a recent essay, the war within the Republican Party over the continuation of Trump policies won’t last forever, and they will likely unify before the 2022 elections.

I get that the first priority of the Biden administration should be broad in terms of a national response to the Corona virus. However, there is no shortage of federal policy that should be immediate targets for progressive reform by Biden and congress, including DACA and other immigration policy, the hypocritical Senate blockade of Cuba, student loan waivers, increased Pell grants, more financial resources for “Minority Serving” institutions of higher education, growth in Title I funds, strengthening the Office of Civil Rights, defunding and/or making ICE accountable, reducing the military budget, etc. I will not hold my breath waiting.

And finally, what are we to make of the hillbillies that stormed the capitol? Do they deserve the respect of activists of color for “laying it on the line?” Are their actions a model for activists for racial equality? The last question is easy. People of color will not be allowed to even mass in such large numbers going forward, and any show of force by us will result in mass casualties. I have to confess that when I first saw the terrorists crashing into the Capitol, I had to acknowledge their willingness to take a risk for their beliefs, no matter that their beliefs amount to a racist fantasy. Then I reminded myself of a historical anecdote I read in Ned Sublette’s exceptional history text, “Cuba and Its Music: From the First Drums to the Mambo” (2004). Sublette describes the occasion when a very young Fidel Castro visited Venezuela during a meeting of an imperialist organization like the Organization of American States, I believe. Fidel was there to organize Latin American youth to challenge authoritarian governments such as those that flourished in Cuba under de facto U.S. colonialism. What Fidel witnessed during the violence that ensued was a vivid lesson for him about the counter-productiveness of violence without strategy.

For the most part, the morons that stumbled into the capitol on January 6 clearly had no strategy, no plan, no direction. They seemed happy to be there and to celebrate their “victory,” which was no victory at all. It reminded me of the times when I was in middle school, and my friends and I climbed over the fence of a private club to swim in their pool in the middle of the night. I might actually have some respect for these idiots if they had taken some congressional representatives hostage, or even if they burned down the entire capitol complex. Or if they started a fire fight with cops and were shot dead. Instead, they slithered into the building like rats and then slithered back out after accomplishing nothing more than to provide another blatant display of white supremacy and white privilege. Despite their shortcomings, perhaps we ought not discount the damage these groups can do, and I would like to see our FBI and similar entities infiltrate and destroy these groups just as they did the Black Panthers, the American Indian Movement, the Crusade for Justice (a Denver, Colorado Chicano organization), and others during the 1960’s and ‘70’s.

However, the idea that these brainless trash are “revolutionaries” or even “anarchists” is absurd. Despite my contempt for them, I know that we have to take at least some of them seriously. Television reports indicate that despite the lack of strategy among most of the racist terrorists, at least a few possessed plastic zip ties usually used by cops to make mass arrests of people of color at rallies. It is possible that some of them actually intended to make “(white) citizens’ arrests” of members of congress or even VP Pence.

Despite the apparent possibilities, I see no way in which this country can ever be unified, as it never has been. The real question is: is it even worth the effort? Do we as people of color want to continue sharing this “country” with folks that hate and fear us? Or should we seek an amicable divorce that doesn’t force totally incompatible people to live together? As the folks on TV say, stay tuned.

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