2018: A cop goes to jail, nationalism and stolen votes

December 20, 2018

The year 2018 saw the emergence and development of trends that are sure to impact politics in the U.S. and around the world — for good and for bad — for years to come. We asked some of our contributors to write about the ways 2018 will leave its mark on the world. It’s impossible to cover all the major events of 2018, but we hope this series will help provide some perspective on what’s changed in the past 12 months, what hasn’t — and what we need to do to come out fighting in 2019.

In part four of our series, Todd St Hill and brian bean celebrate the hard-won conviction of a Chicago cop, Ashley Smith explains how Trump tried to put America even more first, and Danny Katch argues that voter suppression may have reached a tipping point.

A Killer Cop Finally Goes to Jail

Todd St Hill and brian bean | Marching through cold Chicago streets, we have chanted many names of individuals stolen from this world. “Justice for...” is a refrain that is so often a fleeting hope and a lofty aspiration usually unrealized.

Justice is rare even though the moderateness of the demand doesn’t seek to end the racist system, but only for the violent ending of a life by a cop to not pass without something happening — for the police to have to at least blink an eye and take a killer cop off the street before they return to their bloody business.

And yet their side knows the power behind this simple cry, because the entire legal and political system is set up to protect the police, and ensure they can kill with abandon and never, ever, face consequences.

SW’s year-end review, left to right: Trump shows his love; Chicago activists after the conviction of Jason Van Dyke

While the cops have murdered an estimated 14,300 people since 2005, only 13 police were convicted of murder or manslaughter from 2005 through 2016. Ensuring that they escape accountability is necessary to preserve the role of the police as protectors of capital and the monopolizers of legal violence of the state.

This is why us winning a murder conviction for Jason Van Dyke — the Chicago cop who murdered Laquan McDonald in 2014 — was a triumphant victory this year for those opposed to racism and police terror.

The Van Dyke trial put the unraveling of a citywide cover-up on full display. The exposure of the cover-up struck at the racist heart of Chicago and provoked a political crisis that shook the city’s power structure. Mayor Rahm Emanuel was unable to recover from it, as the timing of his decision to not run for re-election shows.

Thanks to the efforts of countless activists, organizers and workers (with children of their own) Laquan McDonald became a symbol of police and city corruption, neglect, disenfranchisement, dehumanization and the racist status quo.

The organizing around Van Dyke’s trial took place with the backdrop of a City Hall under fire from activists, students and grassroots organizations, and provided momentum to campaigns against the construction of a $95 million police academy and to negotiate the erasure of the CPD gang database.

The movement for Laquan also created an atmosphere in which Chicago students pushed for the issue of police violence to be included in the conversation about curbing gun violence.

This was an important political intervention into the March For Our Lives protests: demands to roll back police power and funding, and to invest in real safety for Black and Brown communities, provided a counterargument to the racist scapegoating and draconian decrees from the mayor and the police superintendent in response to the city’s homicide crisis.

The organizing around Laquan McDonald brought the real problems of racism in Chicago to the fore of every conversation and created a political crisis for City Hall.

At every step — from exposures of the video, to the sacking of the police chief, to the decision by Rahm to not run for re-election, to Van Dyke’s conviction — what ensured that the fight was won was years of organizing and protest.

These protests had to endure police attacks, press demonization and co-optation attempts from supposed community leaders, but in September, we finally won — we got him.

We have no illusion that jailing one killer cop will put an end to the racist police. It will not bring back Laquan. Nor will it bring back Rekia, Pierre, Roshad, Damo, Stephon, Quintonio, Bettie, Ronnieman, Snoop and countless others. But it did create a crack in the system and let in a little light of a greater justice that still needs to be won.

Trump Doubles Down on Nationalism

Ashley Smith | The Trump administration has been befuddling from day one, torn by contradictions and subject to the erratic mood swings of its lumpen capitalist billionaire-in-chief.

Amid all the chaos, though, one reactionary theme has united the regime: a nationalist program to put “America First” that targets global economic competitors, especially China, and oppressed people inside the U.S., especially immigrants, Muslims, women, the queer and trans community, and people with disabilities.

The Republican and Democratic Party establishments, which upheld the wretched neoliberal order of free trade globalization, were caught flat-footed by Trump’s nationalist bigotry. After Trump defeated their pretenders to the throne and won the 2016 election, the ruling class and state bureaucracy had no choice but to find a way to live with Trump.

The Republican Party built a faction in the administration to discipline him, uphold a muscular version of American imperialism’s strategy of superintending the neoliberal order, and push for traditional conservative fantasies like Trump’s tax cut for the rich and the further deregulation of the U.S. economy.

But they faced a hyper-nationalist faction spearheaded by Steve Bannon that was committed to a very different program: engage in a great power conflict with China, abandon free trade for economic protectionism, and enforce traditional social prejudices and hierarchies of nationality, religion, gender and race.

When Trump fired Bannon, the establishment seemed like they had won the faction fight. But in 2018, the Trump administration purged most of the “moderates” from the White House, appointing a new cast of nationalist creeps and militarists.

Since then, Trump has doubled down on his “America First” program. He has disrupted neoliberal multilateral institutions like NATO and the WTO, thrown alliances with imperial allies like Canada and Germany into confusion, imposed a new sanctions regime on Iran and whipped up a new cold war with China.

Trump also further intensified his unceasing war on immigrants, separating children from their parents, jailing them in concentration camps and deploying the military to the border to stop refugees from finding asylum in the U.S. In the process, he fueled the growth of the far right across the country.

During the midterm elections, Trump proudly declared himself a nationalist and denounced Democrats with the anti-Semitic buzzword “globalists” — right before a white supremacist massacred worshippers in a Pittsburgh synagogue.

Yet Trump’s program isn’t unique. It is part of a rising global right that includes governments like those of Viktor Orban in Hungary, Narendra Modi in India and Jair Bolsonaro in Brazil, as well as opposition parties like the pro-Brexit UK Independence Party.

This nationalist right is the bastard offspring of the Great Recession. To get out of that crisis, capitalist parties throughout the world bailed out banks and corporations, imposed austerity on workers and scapegoated the oppressed. In the process, they shattered their legitimacy in the eyes of the masses, opening the door for a new right offering reactionary solutions to real problems.

But this delegitimization also opens the door to a reborn left — if it adopts the right posture toward the right and the establishment.

The new socialist movement in this country must oppose U.S. nationalism full stop, and not adopt the liberal or social democratic versions of it like those advocated in the New York Times by John Judis and David Leonhardt. We can’t sell out our sisters and brothers in the international working class by narrowing our focus to workers in the U.S.

At the same time, we shouldn’t dismiss all nationalisms as reactionary. Those of oppressed nations like Palestine and oppressed national minorities like African Americans and Native Americans are progressive because they challenge real hierarchies in a fight for equality between peoples.

Over the next few years, we have to build the new socialist movement on a foundation of opposition to imperialism and of solidarity across borders among the workers and oppressed of the world. Those two principles are essential for guiding our struggle to replace capitalist barbarism with international socialism.

Voter Suppression Finally Becomes an Issue

“Let’s be clear: This is not a speech of concession, because concession means to acknowledge an action is right, true or proper. As a woman of conscience and faith, I cannot concede that.”
Georgia gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams, after narrowly losing an election marked by blatant voter suppression.

Danny Katch | Among the many undemocratic features of our democracy that helped Donald Trump win the presidency in 2016 — including the slaveholder relic Electoral College and a two-party system so corrupted that it produced two of the most unpopular politicians in recent history — voter disenfranchisement was a strangely under-reported factor.

Investigative reporter Greg Palast found that in Michigan, which Trump won by fewer than 11,000 votes, over 75,000 ballots were never counted due to broken voting machines in the mostly Democratic (and Black) cities of Detroit and Flint.

Palast also reported that Republican state officials across the country purged over a million people — mostly Black and Latino — from voter registration rolls as “double voters” just because someone with the same name was on a voting roll in another state.

But the story of this massive violation of democratic rights went largely untold because most Democrats were too focused on whipping up anti-Russia hysteria — not to mention disdainful of their Black working class base — to organize rallies and hold daily press conferences featuring wronged voters.

What made 2018 notable, therefore, was not the outrage of voter suppression, but the attention it finally received from the political establishment.

There are a number of probable reasons for this change, from the influx of more combative Black and Brown candidates like Stacey Abrams into the Democratic Party, to increased funding from liberal donors for voting rights organizations.

But the biggest factor is probably that Republicans have gone from doing their dirty tricks in the shadows to proudly broadcasting their aims to squelch the rights of non-white Americans.

Of course, if there’s anything we’ve learned under Trump, it’s that public exposure alone isn’t enough. So the question is what the fight against voter suppression will look like in the run-up to a 2020 election cycle in which the Republicans will have to steal more voting rights while clinging to outrageous conspiracy claims about Democratic fraud that fire up their shrinking base.

Stacey Abrams is backing a lawsuit against the state of Georgia. Up to this point, similar voter rights litigation from groups like the ACLU has been the primary tool used in this fight. Let America Vote was created last year to create more public awareness and target politicians who carry out purges.

But there’s an obvious limitation to the strategy of using get-out-the-vote efforts against voter suppression, and Republicans have been stacking the judicial branch with shameless hacks. Something more is needed.

It’s hard to think of any issue with more clear lessons from U.S. history than Black and Brown people being denied the vote. It took a broad-based protest movement of sit-ins, boycotts and mass marches to win this right 50 years ago — and the 2013 repeal of the Voting Rights Act won by those protests helped pave the way for voter purges like the one in Georgia. It will take a similar level of popular struggle to preserve the right to vote today.

But even though it would be in their party’s short-term electoral interest, we shouldn’t expect Democratic leaders to encourage the formation of a new civil rights movement.

Rich and powerful people in both parties know from history that when millions of poor and working-class Black people gain the confidence to demand even their most basic rights, it poses a deep challenge to a country that has never stopped relying on them being under strict control.

Socialists need to figure out how to support the fight for voting rights over the next two years — and argue for a movement by and for those whose suppression is so vital to this unjust system.

Further Reading

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