Thursday, May 16, 2019


Is our democracy a blessing ?

We have a government that seems in many respects dedicated to exclusion. The president spends a whole lot of time criticizing and denigrating different groups of people - his political opponents, immigrants to the United States, people from Mexico and other Latin countries, Muslims and many others. At the same time groups that demand more attention and power for themselves because they claim to be of a superior kind –for instance white supremacists-- are growing and becoming more powerful. Not too long ago white supremacy was thought of as a holdover of slavery and Jim Crow - a movement stuck in an inglorious past that was bound to wither away. Instead white supremacy has become, once again, a serious movement.
Nor is this true only in our country. Comparable groups have grown and are in the governments of quite a few European countries. Hysteria in the face of large numbers of immigrants from the near East and Africa dominates politics. The main desire of large groups of people is to exclude masses of immigrants who are poor and looking for work. In a clearly global economy where are many countries profit from trade and where industry is dominated by large multinational corporations, nationalists in many countries resist the global labor market, the free movement across frontiers to where there is work. This resistance to folks who don't speak your language or don't speak it well, who may have different religions from yours and certainly bring with them different traditions in food and family structure is a major theme in Brexit, England's attempt to distance itself from the European Union. The claim to national superiority of Jews over Palestinians is the motivating force in much of Israeli politics.
The right-wing movements in different countries are different but they have some common features. They have no respect for political equality. Democracy does not seem to them to be important, neither are political rights - the right to free speech, to political participation,  to form associations and for those associations to meet. Police violence against critics of right-wing governments is readily accepted as legitimate.
The frequent tendency of peoples to move away from democracy raises many interesting questions and gives rise to many controversies. But today I want to pay attention to one specific aspect of these occurrences. Very many of the right wing, ultra right-wing, or fascist movements come to power by democratic means. The persons who end up as fascist dictators are first elected. That was true of Adolf Hitler as well as of the president of Turkey, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, or of Egypt’s General Abdel Fattah El-Sisi and many others. The current president of the Philippines, Rodrigo Duterte, soon after being elected president instituted a regime of violence against alleged drug dealers or users. Thousands of Philippinos have lost their lives, killed by police or vigilantes for alleged drug selling or use, without any judicial process. It looks as if proved very popular in the mid-term elections of this past weekend. The thousands of alleged drug dealers and users killed by police in the last 4 years have not made him unacceptable to voters in the Philippines.
Most commonly when we talk about democracy, what we have in mind is a political system of regular and honest elections, civil rights and political rights for all citizens as well as the rule of of law to protect those rights. But it turns out that that is not enough for a lasting democracy. In countries that have regular elections, a functioning legal system and civil and political rights, the electorate has more than once voted and continues to vote for enemies of democracy. People have more than once passed referenda to extend the term of office of the strongman whose rule spells the end of democracy. People have acclaimed these dictators and have gladly followed their commands and have after the end of their term been happy to re-elect them in clean and ordinary elections.
A well-functioning and honest electoral system is not what democracy is. A functioning democracy exists only where the people at large not only participate at least by voting but also participate by protesting loudly as soon as the candidates they have elected turn out to be enemies of democracy. If the state legislatures in States like Ohio or North Carolina draw the electoral districts in ways to deprive black voters of any political power to choose black representatives, they show themselves to be enemies of democracy because they exclude black Americans from the democratic system. If voters in Ohio and North Carolina don't protest vigorously and insist that these electoral districts be redrawn, democracy in Ohio and North Carolina is not functioning. Without an active electorate that will not tolerate exclusions, that will not allow elected officials to violate the rules and spirit of democracy, democracy exists in name only.
Many prestigious political organizations continuously exhort voters to go and cast their ballots. But that is not good advice. They should advise citizens to protest loudly when elected officials pass laws that in effect exclude some citizens from participation or from making use of their rights. An example is any law that requires picture-IDs from voters who have no possible way of procuring such an identification. In the present situation where only half the people vote and very few people are willing to demonstrate their displeasure and the need for change, we can no more claim to be a democracy than the Philippines , or Turkey, or Germany in 1933.

Saturday, April 6, 2019

Bribery in College Admissions

Americans believe that our country is a meritocracy. Each person reaches the level in society that corresponds to their particular accomplishments. In a meritocracy no one gets ahead because they are rich, because their parents are famous, or because their relatives are wealthy and powerful. But along comes the college admissions scandal where people spent very large amounts of money to get their children into decent colleges even though the youngsters did not qualify to attend those institutions. College admissions are not a meritocracy.
These bribery cases have produced an enormous uproar because they show very clearly that those who believe that they live in a meritocracy are just fooling themselves. They are, of course, also denying the grim facts of American life where the color of your skin has a lot more to do with where you end up in society than your hard work and abilities. Native Americans, Hispanics, African-Americans and many other groups most definitely do not live in a meritocracy. Neither--the college admissions scandal shows--do whites.
It is important to repeat this well-known fact simply because so many people are taken in by the drumbeat of propaganda that claims that all it takes to succeed in America is hard work. That's clearly false and this scandal is just one more piece of evidence.
But the scandal conveys other messages about our culture which deserve closer attention. Ask yourself: what were these parents trying to do? Their children seemed, on the whole, not interested in being educated. Their high school performance had been mediocre or worse. And they were apparently not interested in learning. Learning requires effort. Without effort and work a good education is out of reach. Getting into a good school will not provide you with a good education if you are not prepared to work in your classes. So what were the parents willing to spend half a million for? They were trying to build the brand of their hapless children, to burnish their faƧade and make them appear what in fact they were not. They were launching their offspring into a world where appearances counted for everything and reality was constantly asking to be reconstructed, reinterpreted and even reinvented.
"Meritocracy does not exist" these parents tell their children. To get ahead you need to have a record that appears impressive because, for instance, you went to Harvard or Stanford – and hopefully managed to graduate. The fact that you cheated your way into these schools when your parents paid bribes to the soccer coach is of no importance as long as it remains a secret. You do not need to be competent; you only need to have a record that suggests competence and that record is for sale. Integrity, trustworthiness are of no importance. No one cares, or should care about being honest and decent. The only thing that matters is the appearance you managed to create.
None of this would be of any importance if the dishonesty were the failure of a small number of people, the few bad apples in the large barrel of honorable and upstanding Americans. But that is unfortunately not what this scandal represents. Valuing appearances, what you look like more than what you really are, is a significant theme in our culture. Many politicians are quite shameless in presenting themselves as very different kinds of people to different groups of voters. If you write a letter to an elected official you are more likely than not to receive a reply protesting the officials' total agreement with you regardless of what it is you had written.
Important persons in public life have someone who speaks for them. Their job is to make that employer look good and to increase their popularity. If in the course of this effort, the spokesperson misrepresents the truth, no one is surprised or outraged. The standing of persons in public life is not affected by their moral integrity or that of the people who speak for them.
Making one's clients look good regardless of what kinds of persons they are is a lucrative profession in the United States. According to one of the associations of public relations practitioners “At its core, public relations is about influencing, engaging and building a relationship with key stakeholders across a myriad of platforms in order to shape and frame the public perception of an organization.” You can make a living in our country by making people appear competent who are not and make officials appear reliable who are actually quite dishonest. Looking good is what matters. Being good is much less important.
The college admissions scandal shows what that attitude leads to. Public life becomes an intricate game of deception. At issue is always how many people you can deceive into trusting , into believing that you have their interest at heart while, in fact, all you care about is getting elected to the next higher office, keeping your name in front of the public, promoting your brand.
Public life, politics, affects the quality of life of many citizens in so far as it provides, or takes away, their chance to get a decent education, to have good health care available, to keep a roof over their head, and food in their kitchens. In the interest of appearing as champions of law and order, politicians, for instance, neglect the prisons under their control and force prisoners to live under inhumane conditions. Children go hungry so that politicians can show that they value hard work and do not give away tax payers money to "welfare cheats."
Playing the game of appearances, our leaders not only perpetuate immorality but they play cruel games with the lives of the citizens they pretend to value and care for. The college admissions scandal is a reminder of the pervasive corruption of public life.

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Make America great? What a joke!

Paul Manafort, the one time campaign manager of President Trump, is facing seven years in federal prison. If prosecutors in New York state get what they want, Manafort will spend additional time in state prison.
That is a well-known fact. So is the three or more years in prison that Michael Cohen, the president's former lawyer, is facing. Among his other services to the president, Cohen paid out money to hush up extra-marital affairs the president, then merely a political candidate, had with a porn actress and other women.

Today's New York Times reports that the current secretary of Commerce, Steve Mnuchin, is negotiating more favorable terms for showing US films in China. Mnuchin has property rights to a blockbuster film, about to be shown in China. The top officials in this administration are using their government positions to line their own pockets.
Another friend and confidant of the president, Robert Kraft, has been indicted for allegedly soliciting a prostitute for sexual favors. He insists that he did nothing illegal. But he did peripherally support sexual trafficking by availing himself of the services of sexually trafficked women.
Much less well known is the information about Li Yang, also know as Cindy Yang who is the former owner of the Asian Orchid Day Spa where Robert Kraft was arrested.
Cindy Yang and her husband own a firm that offers public relations services, especially to Chinese business owners. They also offer to have Chinese business men invited to presidential social events on the strength of a selfie of Cindy Yang watching the Super Bowl game with the president at Mar-a-Lago. Yang is known to the president and has been invited to fairly intimate functions at the Florida resort. She is obviously in a position to introduce powerful Chinese business owners to the president.
A number of well heeled Chinese business owners bought their way into Mar-a-Lago last December hoping for a selfie with the President of the United States. But since the president had managed to shut down the government, he remained in Washington and the Chinese tycoons had to be content with a portrait with the president's son.
This story was published in the Miami Herald, Mother Jones, and the New York Times. These publications also confirmed that the Florida day spa where Robert Kraft was arrested already offered sexual services when it was still owned by Cindy Yang. This friend of the president not only ran several houses of ill repute but the women who worked there were trafficked from China. They were – and are – sex slaves forced to perform sexual services and being kept as actual prisoners according to newspaper accounts of the whole sorry story.
The president of the United States is willing to allow himself to be greeted and photographed with a woman who is or was allegedly involved in sex trafficking. To be sure, she and her family donated more than $50,000 to the president. No doubt there are much more generous donors to the president's war chest. Dare we ask what favors they received?
The present administration wallows in corruption. The man who promised to "drain the swamp” in Washington is as or more corrupt than any of his predecessors.
We do not need the kind of “greatness” that he brings to America.

Tuesday, March 12, 2019

Sex trafficking

Robert Kraft, the owner of the Patriots football team, was literally caught with his pants down. The reporting of this affair, however, completely missed the serious import of the event. You could almost hear the reporters snicker as they retold, over and over, the mishap of a very rich and powerful person who is caught in a raid on a tawdry massage parlor. The women involved were apparently trafficked from China. But there was no information about them except that they were treated as slaves. They were not allowed to leave the premises. It was clear that they were not well fed or well cared for. We do not know their ages or their history. Do they speak any English or do they find themselves unable to communicate, very far from home, forced to provide sexual services on elderly men – a different one every 15 minutes?
The casual treatment of the victims of these massage parlors, bordellos, drinking establishments with nude dancers, and wherever else trafficked women are forced to work, is characteristic of the offhand way in which women forced into sexual services are usually treated. The dominant attitude towards the victims of sexual trafficking is one of contempt and disinterest. These women are being blamed for their victimization and therefore are thought to be of no interest.
Sexual trafficking is widespread. For obvious reasons the actual number of victims are difficult to ascertain but the estimate of the International Labor Organization of about 40 million victims a year appears to be the most reliable number available. 18,000 or so of those 40 million victims are trafficked within the US alone. These are women – often teenagers – who are born and raised in the United States—US citizens--who find themselves forced to perform sex acts on men, often much older, always complete strangers, often unclean, drunk and generally unattractive. Many of these women are victims of multiple rapes over extended periods of time. They are repeatedly exposed to vicious beatings by their pimps. They have terrible scars as reminders of their sufferings. Many of them end up as addicts or as psychologically completely detached from their experience in order to survive at all.
The prevailing attitude towards them is one of contempt. They are thought to have chosen this life of sexual exploitation. But that is a serious misconception. Each victim has her own history but often they come from families ravaged by addiction and family violence. Frequently, their mothers, completely occupied by feeding their drug habits. were unable to be proper mothers. They themselves were victims of regular beatings and violence at the hands of their husbands. They were unable to provide their daughters the love and care they needed and deserved.
Pimps take advantage of those deprivations. They pretend passionate romantic relationships to children often no more than 10 or 11 years old. They initiate them into sexual relations, they give them presents, they take them out to dinner and give them flowers. The child, starved for love, misled by public portrayals of romantic love on television and in the movies, believes that at last they have found someone who loves them. They refer to the pimp as their "boyfriend." They are in love with their pimp. At some point in this process of preparing the future prostitute, the "boyfriend" gets terribly angry and beats the child and punishes her for some, mostly imaginary, transgression. Thus the relationship is established between a very young woman loving a man who is alternately affectionate and very demanding. What he demands is that she go out and earn significant money by providing sexual services to complete strangers.
The world is solidly against her. The "john's" – the men buying sexual services – have no other concern than getting their orgasm. They despise these children who, they think, chose to live this life. It is obviously comforting for the john to make it look as if they had no responsibility in this situation. If they didn't buy 15 minutes of this teenagers time, someone else would, and, anyway, if they didn't want to be prostitutes they could go back to school and get a regular job. The fact is, however, that leaving a pimp and leaving the life of prostitution is extremely difficult and, needless to say, extremely dangerous. But the john does not care about that.
With few exceptions, the police has the same attitude. They do not understand that these young women are victims of a series of gruesome crimes. They too hold them responsible for their “choices.” They too blame the victim and accordingly fail to protect them as they are supposed to do. Most physicians never ask these young persons whether they are safe.
The ill-treatment of trafficked women is just an extreme example of the disrespect women still are subject to in our society. Women who are supposedly "respected" are expected to perform services that violate their integrity. Women who are housewives and mothers frequently have to pick the dirty clothes of their husbands and male children off the floor or bring beers to the men watching football games. Men don't reciprocate. As the recent disclosures of the #MeToo movement show, sexual harassment and exploitation of women is commonplace in the workplace. The overwhelming majority of cases of family violence involved bodily attacks by men on women.
The complete disregard of the victimization of sexually trafficked women is a clear manifestation of the persistence of very traditional, very sexist perceptions of men about women. The persistence of sexual trafficking, the widespread ignorance about the utter brutality of sexual trafficking, the willingness of men to buy sexual services and the unwillingness of police and courts as well as physicians to protect the victims of sexual services – all are testimony to the continued conception that men have of women as their property from whom they are entitled to demand sexual services.
As long as sexism remains a major characteristic of our and other societies, sexual trafficking will remain a major criminal enterprise yielding enormous profits for the traffickers. Sexually trafficked women are clear victims. Responsibility for their suffering lies with men who are not willing to regard women as full equals but continue to insist on a double standard of sexual conduct that demands complete fidelity of women and unlimited promiscuity of men.

Tuesday, February 26, 2019

Are the Rich more Likely to be Morally Challenged?

How pathetic for Robert Kraft, rich enough to pay for whatever sexual services he desires, to be caught in a shabby massage parlor in a ratty strip mall, not once but twice.
The local paper took advantage of this embarrassment of one super rich owner of a sports team—and not just any sports team-- to list some of the other instances of team owners falling afoul of the law for fraud, for being addicted to pain pills, for being blatantly racist. Other owners participated in major bribery schemes or were overwhelmed by gambling debts. Without quite saying so, the paper seems to suggest that the very rich team owners are often tempted to act very badly and often succumb to the temptations.
Is this just the envy of ordinary folks speaking? We work hard and toward the end of every month we are short of cash. So when the rich are embarrassed publicly we can't help gloating and boasting of our—supposed--moral superiority. You and I are not tempted to pay huge bribes to politicians or to run up $25 million gambling debts. So we can feel morally superior when we do not indulge in such behavior.
But perhaps our suspicions of the moral weakness of the very rich is not completely unreasonable. Let us ask: how did they get to be so rich? I am not asking what it is about Robert Kraft that makes him so much wealthier than I am. I cannot answer that question because I do not know Kraft. Does he work harder than I do, is he smarter, is he more interested in wealth than I am? I have no idea. But the question is not about the character and personality of the rich. It is about the system controlling our lives. What does this system require of us to become very rich or even moderately so?
It seems clear that competition is at the heart of our system; the winners must be prodigiously good competitors. The rich are better competitors. But competitions are of different sorts. Some are completely benign; in others the outcome is brutally destructive of some participants in the competition while others walk away with impressive wealth.
In some competitions, the winner simply worked harder, worked longer hours, was more focused than all others. The winner trained more frequently. Even at rest his or her thoughts were wholly taken up with the upcoming competition. Completely concentrated they win. This is a benign competition that produces exceptional performances. But it is only one kind of competition.
In the early days of the personal computer, anyone could purchase the parts and assemble a machine. I have done so myself. As a consequence a large number of small enterprises produced inexpensive but quite adequate table top computers. Bill Gates participated in this computer business, competing with many other entrepreneurs to found a profitable business producing personal computers. According to one biographer, Gates' style of competition was not benign. He did not try to get ahead of the pack by being more diligent or inventive. His energy was focused on putting his competitors out of business. His project was clearly destructive, to reduce the competition by underselling machines of other producers and ruining the competing business. This kind of competition aims clearly at the injury of the competition. Some athletes in team sports seek to injure members of the opposing team. Here competition is intentionally destructive.
A third form of competition injures third parties. Tobacco companies concealed the damages done by cigarettes. The health of consumers counted for nothing as compared to the company's bottom line. Similar competitions injuring third parties occur when companies pollute streams, dump toxic materials, use fracking techniques and hide their destructive effects.
Enterprises using these destructive forms of competition do not always end in the winners' circle. The owners of the Orchids of Asia Day Spa in Jupiter FL where Robert Kraft is said to have enjoyed sexual services for $79 an hour are not likely to be billionaires even though they traffic Asian women, keep them locked up, and force them to do sex work. Here third parties are grievously injured. The perpetrators nevertheless do not become as rich as some of their patrons.
Some competitors however succeed to parlay their destruction of opponents or of third parties into obscene wealth. Instances of their techniques are everywhere. While the rich are rapidly getting richer, wages and salaries of common people have barely rise in the last 50 years. Although prices have risen steadily, the minimum wage has remained unchanged until recently. An energetic movement to raise the minimum wage encounters strenuous resistance from employers; they are determined not to pay a living wage. They, often champions of family values, also resist paid maternity and paternity leave. Their main interest is to raise their profits by keeping wages and salaries as low as possible. They compete strenuously and do not mind if their competition injures large groups of their fellow citizens. Nor should we forget how, in the past, the rich derived their wealth from keeping slaves, or exploiting black tenant farmers violently during the era of Jim Crow.
Yes, the rich are more likely to be competing with methods doing serious damage to large numbers of Americans. Are their moral stamina more fragile than that of most of their fellow citizens? I doubt it. The basic truth is that our economic system, placing competition at the center, encourages enterprising men and women to compete by doing serious damage to many others. In so doing successfully they not only earn lots of money and high social status but they do untold damage to citizens who do not earn a living wage, whose drinking wells are polluted or who are forced to work as prostitutes. That is the naked face of capitalism.

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

I am a well meaning white. How can I fight racism?

 While it is easier than it has been to be openly racist, there are more well-meaning whites who are sincerely trying to oppose racism. Witness the troubles of politicians in  Virginia whose racist blackface pictures from years ago are now the grounds for Democratic Party officials calling for their resignations. Insulting black Americans today disqualifies whites from serving in elective office. Whites who oppose racism are suddenly very numerous. Their voice is loud and clear. It is being heard and it is taken seriously even though it is not always decisive.
Whites are on the march against racism. They belong to reading groups that serve to inform us about the daily life and trials of African Americans. They attend anti-racism trainings. White speakers about white anti-black racism can command sizable fees. White groups listen patiently with contrition to black speakers who, often angrily, rehearse some of the cruelties whites have inflicted on blacks. Many whites are willingly taking responsibility for the inferior economic, social and political condition of blacks.
At the same time many groups of well-meaning whites are bewildered by their condition. They want to do something. Often they want to help, specifically, they want to help black people but they do not really know how to go about that. Often whites want to make friends with black persons but that is difficult for many reasons. Residential segregation makes it difficult for white to meet blacks as neighbors. A minority of blacks have middle class jobs; whites often do not have the opportunity to meet blacks at work. Add to that the long history of whites cruelly taking advantage and oppressing blacks. After more than 400 years of white mistreatment of blacks, many are reluctant to open themselves to friendly relations.
Whites feel guilty about what blacks have suffered and still suffer. That guilt is well justified. We should feel guilty. But the guilt leads us into wanting forgiveness and hence at best friendship with blacks. If that is not possible, at least we want to be able to help in order to receive some acknowledgment from the blacks we help that we mean well, that we are sincerely trying to overcome our racist upbringing. But now our opposition to racism is all about us, the whites who have maintained and still maintain a system of racial oppression, of making sure that blacks have the worst jobs, live in neighborhoods where housing is not well-maintained, most likely by white owners--, attend inferior schools and are treated as outsiders in a country where most of them have lived for many more generations than the whites who are treating them as strangers who do not quite belong in this country.
Whites who want to oppose racism must begin with the basic fact that racism has been maintained by whites because it was and still is, to their advantage. Slaves worked for nothing. The Plantation owner did not have a bill for wages. He only had to pay for food and inferior living accommodations. In the century since the end of the Civil War blacks were maintained in debt to the owners of the land they farmed and the owners profited significantly from the hard labor of their black tenants. Today, held back by frequently inferior schools (unless black communities manage to organize their own) they get to do the worst job and earn the lowest wages. Average annual wages, for instance, for whites are $60,000.00, for blacks $39,000.00. Blacks receive a little more than half of what whites receive in Social Security or pension payments. Somewhere white employers save on their wage bill by employing blacks. Restricted to “black” neighborhoods by real estate firms and banks, black neighborhoods tend to be extremely overcrowded and landlords—mostly white—can charge exorbitant rents. Prisons—more often than not profit making enterprises—have a disproportionate number of black inmates. Operators of the private prisons lobby legislatures to invent more crimes or to increase mandatory punishment for already defined crimes. Schoolchildren of color are expelled more frequently from schools, police are constantly on the lookout for black children breaking the law. The society is organized to maintain the disproportionate number of black prisoners.
I could go on and on relating the many ways in which white society continues to be openly hostile to black Americans. The point of rehearsing these terrible facts is to point to the things that well-meaning white can and must do to ameliorate the condition of blacks. They must put an end to their systematic oppression and exploitation of blacks.
Black poverty is a a problem because pay for the jobs at the bottom of the employment scale is too low. Supporting actively the agitation for a minimum wage of at least $ 15.00 is one way in which whites can “help” blacks. Yes, of course, whites also have minimum wage jobs. They too live in poverty due to starvation wages. But that surely is no reason to oppose pushing for a living wage.
Housing conditions can be ameliorated by sending real estate agents to jail who work to maintain segregated neighborhoods. Landlords that do not maintain their buildings should be sent to prison. City officials who do not enforce housing ordinances in black neighborhoods should be punished.
These changes will not come about without the hard and dedicated work of whites who want to help blacks. All of these changes would serve to improve the lives of some black citizens. The educational opportunities of black children will only be improved if citizens white and black continue to push for equity in the city's schools.
Blacks are subject to many injustices. It is clear that whites need to recognize their role in maintaining these injustices up to now and need to begin to work to rectify them as far as they can.

Thursday, January 31, 2019

Why Moderate Fascists Are Called Populists



In the late 19th century a movement arose in the agricultural areas of the United States, especially among poor farmers in the southern states, which was called populism. This movement stood for three beliefs.

The first was that contemporary America was divided sharply into two groups: the working people (especially the farmers) and the large corporations just coming into existence (especially the banks). There was much to support this first belief. Farmers worked all year round but didn’t get paid regularly throughout it. They would sow, weed, irrigate, cultivate, but as long as they had no product to sell, they didn’t make any money. As a consequence they were starved for cash during certain parts of the year and had to depend on banks to loan them money to buy new seeds, fertilizers, tools, and farm animals. Farmers were (and continue to be) very dependent on banks and banks have taken advantage of that.

This leads directly to the second belief of the populists: the rich corporations and banks took advantage of the farmers while they remained impoverished. The third belief was more remedial in nature: that the government should be a government of, for and by the people, not a government of and for large corporations and big banks.

This movement was politically powerful for about 10 or 15 years and then it died. One of its striking characteristics during its heyday was its opposition to racist divisions which in the late 19th century were as powerful as ever and more out in the open then they may be today. It was therefore not uncommon to find among the populist farmers of that era farmers of color.

This is interesting because the word “populism” has suddenly come back into constant use. Everyone talks about this or that populist movement or organization. But the word is now not used to describe a movement of working people and farmers who demand greater political power against the very rich, large corporations, big banks, or real estate billionaires. Such a movement does not exist.

Instead the people who are called populists today are moderate fascists. They draw lines between themselves and others and often those lines are racial. Unlike the populists of 130 years ago, today’s populists do not make efforts to bury racial distinctions but are racists. White supremacists of all stripes are called “populists” whether they are out to get African-Americans or Hispanic people. Color lines are important. Americans – at least good Americans – have white skin.

European populists oppose immigration, as do American populists, and those immigrants tend to have darker skins than Northern Europeans. People with brown skin should go back to Africa or Latin America. They should not be here. As far as I know these are moderate fascists. They are not drawing up plans for gas chambers. But when well-meaning people leave plastic containers of water at the border to help immigrants who come across the hot desert, these new kind of populists don’t hesitate to pour out the water and make it more likely that the immigrants die of heatstroke. They are murderous all right.

Using the word populist today to apply to these right wing movements is often justified by describing the populist movements as being in opposition to the contemporary elites. A newspaper article about the annual meeting of super rich big shots in Davos, Switzerland, describes the representatives of global corporations and banks as the elite who are the target of protest by today’s populists. Similar definitions of today’s populism can be found in other publications.

But a little thought shows that this characterization of “populism” in 2019 makes little sense. Donald Trump, one of the leaders of American “populists” today is a billionaire (even though there is considerable debate about how he comes by those billions since he seems to be an incompetent businessman). At any rate he is part of the elite which populists are supposedly opposing. But the people who are called populists in America today adore Donald Trump. They believe everything he says and with it all the bad mouthing of immigrants from Central America. They believe with him that we need a wall at our southern border. They believe with him that cutting taxes for the rich will benefit the middle-class.

Donald Trump supporters have been studied carefully. What many of them like is that he is rude, foulmouthed. They like the violence of Trump. Fascism is notoriously violent. None of this involves a critique of a so-called elite or calls for giving power back to the people to rule themselves in their own interest.

Why then call these new moderate fascists “populists”?

The new moderate fascists are not committed to democracy. They want rights but only for white people and more for white men than white women. But calling them “populists” misrepresents them as advocates for popular democracy. It misrepresents them as the enemies of the very rich and powerful. It makes it appear that contempt for persons of color, contempt for people not born and raised in America, contempt for women are all acceptable stances consistent with the traditional American belief in freedom and democracy.

The captains of industry including the big bankers have always been very hesitantly committed to democracy. The Koch brothers today corrupt the democratic process by buying Congress persons and senators. A process which is supposedly representing all Americans has in fact become largely a process representing the rich. The misnamed new populists admire the very rich and powerful. They share the mission to limit rights and democratic participation to white men.

This is obviously not a project that will win you friends in America (except on the moderate fascist fringe) and therefore needs to be concealed and misrepresented. Calling moderate fascists populists is an attempt at confusing the real mission of these groups and their sponsors in the elite.

Accordingly these new fascists in the United States, in the United Kingdom, in Europe, in the West as well as the East, have acquired this rather venerable and respectable name of “populist”— people who do not want their lives to be run by big banks and big business but want to run their lives themselves—as the name for the moderate fascism they favor.

But this is a shabby propaganda move that both besmirches the name of a respectable movement in American history and does so in order to hide the close connection between large corporations and banks, and the alt-right, anti-black and Hispanic racists, anti-Semites, anti-Muslims.

What matters here, is, of course, not just a word –”populism” – but the alliance between powerful business interests who are not very happy about democracy – to put that very politely – and people of low and middle income who for reasons of their own are also enemies of democracy, who think the Constitution was meant only for them. The misuse of the word populism is an effort to conceal the concerted effort of rich (and some white poor) to undermine what remains of our democracy. The new populists, unlike the 19th century populists, are a serious threat to our most important traditions.