One Nation, Divisible

I’ve been fortunate, I think, in that I’ve not had a particularly difficult life. Yes, there have been those moments that I wish had never happened, the deaths of loved ones, the disasters, the extreme anguish, but those times are a luxury for a white male born in England and living, now, in the USA. I’ve never been more than momentarily on the receiving end of prejudice. I’ve never been to war. I’ve never been arrested. I’ve never gone a day without food, except when I chose not to. And providence has seen to it that I’ve never been in a disaster, though I’ve lost friends to them. And I’ve never, really, been in a situation where the government has been overtly and aggressively at war with its own people. Until now.

The UK in the 1980s was an extremely unusual nexus of time and place, a node in the rhizomatic structure that emerges as history. The prosperity and hope of the swinging 60s had given way to the industrial unrest of the anarchic 70s, due, in no small part, to the capitalistic machinations of OPEC, elite corruption, the crackdown on socialist ideals, and the breakdown of the ideals of socialists. In its wake, swanning onto the political center stage, came Thatcher and her “on your bike” economic vandals, ably supported by the rising star of her right-wing transatlantic paramour, Reagan, who rallied to the same war cry. The unions are too strong. Bosh! The people are too lazy to work. Biff! Socialism is Communist. Smash! There’s too much money to keep inflation down. Crack! What can we ever do to fix this mess?

Luckily, a savior had been born. Milton Friedman had won a Nobel prize in 1976 for his free market, trickle-down, economic theories. “Fuck Keynesian economics,” he might have said in private. His idea was that inflation is a function of consumption, and consumption is connected to income. Destabilize and restrict income, preferably as a natural result of free-market instabilities, and consumption will fall. And when consumption falls, inflation goes away. Sure, a few people might starve, but at least the cost of funerals will be steady. Thatcher and Reagan and their cronies swooned at Friedman’s alligator-loafered feet. This is just the ticket, they thought, to fight Communism, put the working class and those Bolshy union bastards back in their box, and regain control for the wealthy elites. Meanwhile, Thatcher could prove the merits of the free-market–no one had to know that it was being manipulated–and reinforce the social structures that had stood for hundreds of years. All it took was a bit of union busting and a winnable, Jingoistic war for our brave boys, and the press will be lapping up the anti-Commie, red-menace propaganda in no time. Take away tertiary education, take away milk and school lunches, take away their communities by privatizing the social housing, et voilà! Uncertainty. Disunity. Misery. Now, if we can just find a scapegoat or two…

Ah, yes. Scousers and miners, the two most vocal, visible, and organized opponents of Thatcher’s politics of destabilization. The national coal industry was being undermined by the free-market, which was the way it should be, said Thatcher. Drive prices down, make people compete, and productivity goes up. Import cheap coal, and the lazy British miner had to modernize, make sacrifices for efficiency, and work for his money, went her rhetoric. Except that the imported coal was cheap because it was subsidized by foreign governments who knew that jobs and infrastructure were more important than rapacious profits. It wasn’t a fair fight and the miners could never win it. They tried, though, and it took a couple of years for the police, acting as Thatcher’s private security force, to literally and figuratively beat the strikers into submission, cheered on by the establishment press.

People died, sometimes at their own hand, as families fell apart and communities broke down. By the time Thatcher was done, the Miners union had been starved into submission, and privatization became the national mantra. Privatization was good, said Thatcher, because it relieved the burden of failing industries from the national purse. It also relieved the government of the burden of complying with safety rules, working standards, paying a living wage, giving the workers their rights. Unfettered by the shackles of humane treatment, the newly privatized industries fell into the hands of Thatcher’s elite friends, and the fuckers raked it in. And if anyone complained, there was always the Falklands War to distract them, a minor turf war in the South Atlantic over a sheep-stuffed rock that gave Britain mineral rights claims to the Antarctic. Let’s teach those uppity Argies a thing or two, eh? Britannia rules the waves. Britons never, never, never shall be slaves… unless they no longer had a union.

The right-wing rags had a thing or two to say. The Daily Mail. The Sun. The Express. The dailies owned by the upper-class elite were the basest of all. Oi! Who’s that union leader riding around in a Jaguar? Surely the working-class oik should be in rags and pushing a handcart! He’s a class traitor, innit! If you had no education—and education was less and less available to the underclasses as schools and universities were spanked by the defunding fetish of the 80s–you were likely to believe every word.

And, into the crosshairs came Liverpool. That city that fought to abolish the slave-trade that its wealth had been built upon. The city that once handled 40-percent of every ocean-going cargo in the world. The city at the vanguard of the general transport strike for workers’ rights, to where the government in London deployed troops to violently suppress industrial unrest. The city whose major income came from its Atlantic-facing port, and which was left to rot when the UK joined the EU and cargoes shifted to Europe to the south and east. The city that, despite it all, fought back and refused to set punitive budgets that enabled Thatcher’s as-yet unpublished manifesto of managed decline. The city that retaliated against the imposed social housing sell off by building more replacement social housing than any other city in the country. The city that continued to rebel against Thatcher.

With the labour movement and unions in disarray, under constant threat from Thatcher’s aggression, the Labour Party, funded by the unions and founded as the party of the working class, fell under the spell of centralism. The seeds of neo-liberalism were sown by Kinnock et al., who fell into the centre-right as Thatcher moved the Tories to the far right. And to assure the battered and brainwashed masses that Labour could be for all people, Kinnock vowed to oust the socialists, the militants, the unionists from the party. First to go were the Militant tendency, among which were the defiant Liverpool City councillors, evicted from the party, and evicted from elected office. At the protests, the crowd was battered into submission by our boys in blue—not quite on the same scale as Orgreave, but brutal in its micro-focus. At the time, if you asked why Scousers didn’t trust the police in Liverpool, this would have been the reason. They would soon have another. The press fell into line, and the loony, left-wing, thieving Scouser stories were rife. On TV, and in the papers, the media was sharpening the tools of the trade, and Liverpool was its test run. But that was before Hillsborough. After 15 April, 1989, things would never be the same.

From its architecture, culture, sports stars, comedians, poets, musicians, politicians, sense of humor, savvy streetwise attitudes, warmth, and sense of community, Liverpool was a city with so much to be proud of, and it wasn’t shy of telling people, albeit with a unique mix of brazen cheek and sage humility. And despite the knocks along the way, it continued to succeed, one way or another. Deriving its enormous wealth from the slave trade, the people of Liverpool, the second city of the sprawling British Empire, challenged the slave traders and campaigned for the end of slavery. When it was abolished, Liverpool, because it had the foresight and technological prowess to build the most modern docks in the world, continued to prosper as a regular, commercial, shipping port. When the money turned to Europe and the docking trade collapsed, we had the Beatles. And when the Beatles disbanded, we had more bands, more playwrights, more talent. We also had the best footie teams in the world, and between us we dominated European football. On the way to an all-Liverpool FA Cup final, Liverpool traveled to Hillsborough and the world collapsed. Police forced too many fans into the same tunnel and, because Thatcher had decided that all football fans were working-class hooligans, waiting at the other end of the tunnels were pens, used to keep the animals in check. 96 football fans died in a crush created by the police, and it was covered up for two and a half decades. The fans were blamed, the city was blamed, and the media fell in line. They’d had a few years to practice the Scouse Scum line, so when the disaster happened, when innocent fans were killed, the newspapers were geared up for it. Some newspapers, prompted by the police, made horrific claims about how fans pickpocketed the dead and pissed on cops. The cops threatened to drag the names of the victims through the mud, where their still-warm corpses lay, if the families kicked up a stink. And the government crowed about how the city was its own worst enemy.

I’d never really been politically savvy, or “woke” as the modern phrase goes. I hung out with some of Liverpool’s Militant contingent. I knew miners and those affected by the strike. I was a poor, working-class kid who went to the posh school by way of a form of scholastic affirmative action. I was thrilled when my parents bought their council house, not wondering what would happen to people who needed a place to live and couldn’t afford private rents. I had been fortunate enough to somewhat survive the worst privations, and had found my way into well-paying IT career, which was what I was doing, working at the bank’s IT centre near Sheffield, on Hillsborough weekend. I wasn’t a regular match-goer, work got in the way and I moved around a lot, but I had friends who were. All of my friends escaped but many of theirs didn’t. Over the next few days and weeks, the trauma set in, and the naked aggression and outright enmity of the state apparatus became crystal.

I wrote about this many years later, and I received comments after my story was printed in The Guardian about how not everyone thought like that. How not everyone was against Liverpool. It’s true. They weren’t. But it must be said that support and solidarity was thin on the ground and didn’t last as long as was needed. Hands of support from other cities were shoved deep into grim pockets of grief, and when they eventually re-emerged they formed dismissive waves that said it was time the city just got over it. But that day, Hillsborough, to my mind, was the day the government declared war on the people.

After Thatcher fell, of course, the country was ready for a change, and the change they elected was Tony Blair. Blair was a new Thatcher, a warm, kindly, pragmatic Thatcher, an Iron Laddie with a Saville Row suit, kid gloves, and a soothing, charming smile. Leading the Labour Party, the New Labour Party of neoliberals, a Clintonesque (William Jefferson) reflection of the new centrists that had smoothly occupied the territory evacuated from the right-shifting Tories, Blair caringly back-peddled a few of Thatcher’s more brutal policies, but only until he’d got his party settled in. By the time the “New Labour” phonies left office, education cost an arm and a leg, industry was on its knees, and workers had even less rights than when Thatcher was ousted from her own party. The Labour Party had ceased to exist as the political voice of the workers, and when the Tories eventually swept back into power, there was no one on the left to oppose them. Last year’s Brexit was the bellwether for a set of anti-worker, anti-rights policies that was never expected to bring the sheep into the pen but rather just point in the direction of where the Tories were going. But because of the disastrous policies of the anti-education elite, the uneducated flock followed, meek as ever, terrified by the threat of immigrant wolves, fed to fattening point by the lies of the right-wing, anti-people populist rags.

Of course, by that time, I was already here, in the USA, and had spent the first few years raking in a bundle as an IT consultant, ignoring the neoliberal policies of Clinton, who, by way of appeasing the witch-hunting GOP who knew he’d been fucking around, introduced conservative policies like the three-strikes sentencing laws, mandatory minimums, and a restructured, limited welfare system. Like Thatcher, Clinton was also quite as fond of bombing foreigners when the White House heat got a little too much to handle. When the shit hit the fan in the Middle East, we already knew the script. Reagan had focused more on the big stick than the soft speaking, and had overtly militarized the US’s foreign policy, making it easy for Clinton to follow Reagan’s lead in Grenada. Clinton bombed Tripoli to distract the Senate, who wanted to know why he lied about shagging Lewinsky. His wife was behind him, on camera, for fucksake. What man isn’t gonna be tempted to lie in that situation? And then, Saddam, Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, Kuwait happened. The CIA had started arming and training the Afghani’s under the Carter administration to keep the Russians focused on their own unwinnable war. It was a war of destabilization that continued under Reagan (and beyond), even when some of the CIA’s favorite playthings got out of their box and started shooting American weapons at each other. And America had to intervene because, well, if we can keep them shooting, eventually they’re gonna run out and need more bullets, and hey, we’re the biggest gun shop in the world, right? USA and the Brits, oil and guns and political distractions. “We has a need, and you has a problem. Let’s get together and work it all out. And if some oilfields find their way into our hands, well, thems the breaks, eh kid?”

Bush Sr, Baby Bush, Obamabomber, now Trump. The reason the wars haven’t stopped is because the money hasn’t run out yet. Eisenhower warned, just as he left office and not before, of the power of the military-industrial complex. He wasn’t prophesying, he was commenting on current events. And we didn’t see it, did we? Boo-yah, Amerikka! Britannia Rules the Waves. Whatever nationalist, by jingo, sloganeering dog-whistle they use, it gets us scratching our fleas and looking for the bone, eh? We’re so unable to dissect the words coming out of their mouths that whatever they say is gonna get 50% for and 50% against, of the 50% who vote. It’s knife-edge, un-nuanced, same coin politics, and the working man hasn’t had a break in half a century. Heads or tails, Dems or GOP, Tories or Labour, it makes no difference to the working-class poor. They’ve been shafted every step of the way and it didn’t matter what colour rosette the politicians wore.

Okay, so let’s just take a minute to laugh at all those deluded turkeys voting for Thanksgiving or Christmas. Come one, let it out. Let’s have a great big belly laugh about the dumbfuck rednecks, the idiot workers, the bigots, the temporarily impecunious millionaires, the trailer-park tycoons, the council-estate captains of industry who voted for Donald Trump and Theresa May, okay? You done yet? Need another minute? Okay, go on, let it out. Those dumb, ignorant, racist, idiots, eh? How could they be so stupid as to vote for their own annihilation? Go on, let’s have a big old laugh about it. Okay, one more minute, go on, because then we gotta get back to the serious stuff.

I’m okay with words, I can string a few together and make them look pretty, but put a couple of calculus equations under my nose and ask me which one looks right and I am absolutely flummoxed. I have no training, no expertise, no inkling of what might or might not be right. Tell me my livelihood depends on it, and I still won’t have a clue. Without education it is impossible to make educated decisions. Now ask a man who has spent 30 years struggling financially which politician is going to improve his lot, and he likely won’t  have a clue. Especially when both candidates are out to fuck him over. One candidate tells him its his own fault. Or society’s fault. Or the economy’s fault. The other candidate says it’s a foreigner’s fault, ot’s an illegal immigrant who is taking his work and freeloading on his tax money. If the man votes at all, he’s gonna vote for the guy who tells him the problem is everyone else’s fault, because, for the most part, he’d be right. But it isn’t the immigrant, the migrant worker, the foreigner to blame. It’s the political classes and the elite who are fucking him over administration after administration, but he’s gonna vote for the guy who points the finger at the culprits, and who makes the problem understandable, and says it is easy to fix. The voter’s not an idiot, he’s simply responding to decades of political conditioning. He’s scared, bitter, resentful, and wants what is best for himself and his family. He recognizes something different, so he chooses it. It’s the smartest decision he’s been conditioned to make.

Wanna know who the biggest idiot of all is? You are. And me. And all of us (I assume, because you’ve made it this far) who are inquisitive, thinking, caring people who are worried about what happens next and who is going to come along to save us. You are the biggest loser, and you want to know why? Because you have failed to see what these dumb-ass working-class idiots have known for years. How big was your student loan when you left school? How long did it take to pay off? Maybe you had a parent or relative that paid instead, lucky you. One in six Americans has a student loan debt. The average debt of a college graduate is $37,172. The US student loan debt is $1.4 trillion. That’s bigger than the credit card debt industry. But… you got a job. You only took 15 years to pay it back. If you can do it, anyone can do it, right? You are an educated, well-informed, productive member of society. Not your fault some dumb-ass believes Breitbart, eh?

Actually, yes, yes it is. Because this brutal, me-first, Make Americans like me Great Again society, that adores wealth and celebrity, and reveres gilded butterflies like Trump, hasn’t done a thing to stop the commodification of education. How can you expect someone to choose wisely when he isn’t educated enough to apply basic critical thinking skills to what he is being told? You haven’t stopped this by holding your representatives’ feet to the fire every time they vote for a self-serving policy that fucks the poor. That’s your fault. And mine.

We also haven’t done anything to halt the medical insurance industry that feeds one on every two of the 1.5 million annual American bankrupts, and which now takes 20 cents out of every, yes, EVERY dollar we earn. (In contrast, the NEA costs each person $0.46 per year. You can’t even buy a Coke for what it costs you to fund the NEA/NEH.)

We haven’t done enough to stop the wars that have sucked a trillion dollars from the public purse and poured it into the private hands of the military-industrial complex.

We haven’t done enough to create the politicians that we think we deserve.

Instead, what we have done is reached what I hope is the conclusion of this political death spiral, and elected Trump and (probably) May, a president and Prime Minister whose naked hostility toward the underprivileged and underclasses of society is actually something of a refreshing change. They are at war with their constituent populations and they no longer need to hide it. Gone are the snake-tongues; they tell it like it is, and it’s terrifyingly clear. Trump is fighting a War on America. May is fighting a War on Britain. They don’t have to hide it anymore. The electorate is so conditioned, so divided, so beaten into submission, that they can count on their supporters to help them defeat themselves. We are their biggest allies in their wars on us.

Look at May with Brexit and the dismantling of the NHS. The NHS has been looted and pilfered for generations by successive Tory and the neoliberal Labour governments, so when they point out that it is failing, people agree. But because no one tells anyone why it’s failing, when the Tories say privatization is the answer, people don’t know whether it is or not, so they’ll nod and say yes because it looks like a solution. The real solution is, of course, to stop stealing money from the NHS already given by the British people. The Tories say they want to give everyone tax breaks, they are, after all, the party of low taxes, right? But then they spend your NHS tax money on wars, and expenses, and Brexit campaigns, and banker bailouts, and then tell you that we must privatize the NHS and install an American model that will cost another 20 pence in the pound. They’re not offering a tax refund for the money they stole, they’re implementing a double tax, but one that bypasses the government and goes straight to the private pockets of their industry cronies. They’re not the party of low taxes, they’re the party that privatizes taxes and defunds the government. The Tories and the GOP and the Dems and the Old New Labour don’t want to fund government, they want to use the government to siphon public funds into private hands.

Brexit was voted in on a campaign of lies, lies stating that the NHS will get 350 million quid back a week that currently goes into EU pockets. It was a big fat lie that was admitted by its perpetrators within 12 hours of the final tally. The horror of the Europeans deciding British laws culminated in the weird headlines about how bananas would have to be straight from now on. There was uproar in the right-wing dailies, and people believed it. And then, of course, there were the terrorists and immigrants and all those foreigners coming here and taking our jobs etc. A large number of Britons who voted for Brexit said immigration was a factor, and they didn’t like just anyone coming here. This, even though half of the people immigrating to the UK come from outside the free-movement, Schengen zone of the EU. Some people voted against Brexit to stop people from Africa, India, and Asia coming to the UK. It’s madness, wrong-headed, flat out wrong madness, and yet no one in the most popular, populist daily newspapers ever sought to set the record straight. In the UK, the “immigrant terrorist” is most likely to be a British-born citizen who has been systematically disenfranchised by years of economic oppression and a daily ration of hateful headlines attacking his religion, his skin, his heritage, and his culture. We made this man a terrorist, and then we blame his god.

In a fit of pique, I elected to become a citizen of the USA after Brexit. I figured that the UK was no longer the country I belonged to, the one I knew. So, let’s focus on the scary new America happening on the other side of the pond. Across the pond – how cute that saying is, eh? Like a short hop across shallow waters, a minor thrill to hop to the other side of the same body of water. Ideologically it’s probably quite accurate because there’s barely a trickle of difference between the two countries that I am now a citizen of.

I wanted to become a US citizen so I could vote. I couldn’t vote against Brexit because I’d been away too long. I’ve become more and more politically active, it felt wrong not to be able to vote my political conscience. When I filed for citizenship, Bernie Sanders was still in the running as a candidate. My citizenship ceremony was held the week after Trump was elected. Timing, eh?

Since November, like this is a surprise at all, Trump has declared war on anyone and anything that doesn’t benefit the wealthy elite and their cronies. Family planning, women, the poor, the environment, healthcare, education, the differently-abled, the LGBTQ constituency, Hispanics, foreigners, the working-class, the middle-class, the other, the truth.

The day after Hillsborough happened, The Sun printed a headline that said THE TRUTH, and we all knew it was a pack of lies concocted by the police, Thatcher’s political cabal, and the newspapers to deflect the blame and put Liverpool in the crosshairs. 28 years later, Trump has taken the truth and made it lie, and taken lies and made them truth. This fake news, fake truth, fake president has perverted every last sense of fact and introduced an alternative truth that carries as much weight for anyone who wants to believe it. Breitbart and TASS get front-page scoops from within the White House and the serious press, the ones that have not yet quite fallen to elite ownership, the NY Times, CNN, Washington Post, and The Guardian are barred from press events. A Montana politician, Greg Gianforte, body slams a reporter who asked an inconvenient question, breaking his glasses, and yet he gets elected to office the next day. The governor of Texas, Greg Abbott, then makes a joke about shooting reporters. And we wonder why people are so ill-informed that they can’t see right through Trump’s war on them?

Then again, who else were they going to vote for? Hawkish Hillary, a Wall Street insider who offered more of the same neoliberal status quo? People were hurting and the Democrats, frequently right on the hot-button social issues, offered no relief to the working poor. Ignored them, even. Sanders was the only man offering real change to the US political system, one that tried to address the root causes, and he was run out of town by a Democratic Party intent on ensuring no William Wallace/FDR-like candidate ever got into the oval office again. Whaddya mean no war? Who are we gonna sell guns to? Whaddya mean single-payer health insurance? How will Aetna and Blue Cross and United Health make billion dollar annual profits now? We see the same thing in the UK with Jeremy Corbyn. A committed, passionate, idealist and pragmatic democratic socialist, Corbyn represents the ideals that the Labour Party was founded on, and he has been excoriated by the press, left, right, and center. Not only that, but the neo-liberal members of his own party have tried everything to get him out of the leadership role, despite the fact that he seems to be drawing younger voters by the millions, voters that will be the core electorate for decades to come. I suspect he won’t beat May in the general election, but he might be able to gain enough votes to form a coalition government. Might. But I doubt it. And if May wins, she will finally have what she thinks is a mandate for negotiating the Brexit that eliminates the rules that the EU implemented to protect British workers from the British government under the likes of Thatcher, Blair, and their bastard offspring.

It all seems a bit hopeless, really, and I struggle to find even the smallest glimmer of light. I think the USA is a done deal, and fear the UK is going the same way. But at least in the UK the Labour Party under Corbyn has finally offered a political platform that represents real change. Here, what we are seeing is more of the bumbling, naysayer, oppositional politics that the Dems have excelled in. From President Clinton to Obama, to Hillary Clinton, the Dems have spent decades being the party of scoff. Name me one solid, immutable, Democratic belief that translates into party policy during that time? I bet you’ll struggle. And yet, here we are, presented with a man who has declared war on America, who has leveraged the ignorance of a manipulated population and enlisted the aid of the billionaire bastard club to fight his battles, and what are the Democrats saying about this? They are saying, “No.” And that’s it. No. There’s no follow-up. There’s no future design. There’s no pledge to reinsert EPA laws. No statement saying that universal healthcare will be implemented post-Trump, and single-payer installed. There’s no unambiguous statement on electoral reform, on education, on reversing a single thing that Trump is doing. The Dems are playing the game of opposition, because they don’t have another game right now. They’re saying what they stand against, but they are not saying what they stand for.

Saying no is not enough. The Democrats need a platform that lays out a solid, strategic plan for a better future for all. It needs to be set out and left in the public domain for a few years to percolate. It needs to be a vision for the future that people can see, not a denial of the nightmare we are living through. The economic rubble that has rained down on the working-class for decades cannot be stopped overnight. Change, real, progressive, change beneficial across the spectrum of society, that doesn’t leave the working class and poor to rot, needs to become a mindset that becomes a national culture. When we look after the poorest and most underserved in our communities, when they are not hurting and suffering and being ignored, when they are educated and supported and cared for, they, in turn, will look after the immigrant, the poor, the foreigner, the other. Trump is a symptom, not a sickness – though the man clearly has some issues – but he is not to blame. We are to blame for the society we have designed. No one else. And only we can fix it.