By Arun Gupta (November 20, 2017)
The reason the American Right is so powerful is because it is fundamentally defined by whiteness, capitalism, and patriarchy, and these concepts are reproduced through three mutually reinforcing institutions: Property, Policing, and Protestantism.
I am leaving aside many nuances because I am interested in why the right has such extraordinary ideological cohesion and the ability to radically alter the state, consciousness, and society repeatedly over the last 50 years.
Let me back up a second. There is a widespread belief in American politics that the Left is similar to or the mirror image of the right. I often see people asking, why doesn’t the left have a media, political, intellectual, training infrastructure like the right does? Or why can’t the left take over the Democratic Party like the Tea Party and Trump did? Or why doesn’t the left have its own Bannon?
Here’s the difference: right-wing extremists such as Evangelicals and those who are against immigration do not oppose the free-market conservative doctrine of extreme wealth, deprivation, and inequality. In fact, Evangelicals often justify it theologically through the “Prosperity Gospel.” The Tea Party is also fine with billionaires owning everything because the existence of billionaires proves the meritocracy works. I have had Tea Partiers tell me such. (I am leaving out fascists because while growing and dangerous they are still a tiny slice of the population.)
The right also sees the police as the bedrock of the social order, particularly through enforcing property over life and defending racial and class segregation, which is also carried out through the market, zoning, and public education.
Liberals are pro-capitalism and particularly pro-Wall Street, Hollywood, and Silicon Valley. So liberals hate the Left more than they hate the Right because the defining quality of the Left is those who are anti-capitalist.
The Left, however, lacks an ideological and material apparatus on the scale of property, policing, and Protestantism to produce and reproduce itself. At best, it has universities and unions, which are under severe political and economic attack. There are identity-based communities, but these are extremely weak without a clear ideology to define and unify, such as the platform of the Movement for Black Lives developed last year.Without socialist-style politics informing identity, it becomes neoliberal, like the feminism of Hillary Clinton. Clintonianism is really misogyny in disguise as her entire political career is defined by impoverishing, jailing, bombing, and killing Black and Brown and poor women.
So if you ever wonder why the Left is so weak, it is because it lacks anything like police, property, and Protestantism. And if you wonder what is the historical task at hand, it is building these types of mutually reinforcing institutions that reproduce organically and provide the material, cultural, and ideological basis for nurturing a left politics based on collective ownership, liberation, solidarity, justice, and freedom.
I am leaving a lot out of this analysis. For example, when talking about policing, I am referring to all domestic police forces and private security contractors, including all the federal police agencies. But the military to me is more complicated. It does reinforce whiteness, patriarchy, and capitalism, but it has also been a site to advance some social equality of traditionally oppressed groups. The military can also be a site of political radicalization because it draws from across society, as with the Vietnam War, and to a lesser degree, the Iraq War.
It would take a book to explore this idea properly, but I want to offer some brief thoughts to start a conversation.