When We Sing, When We Throw Stones
by Guy Walker
It seems like we’re on the edge now. A teetering fragility of peace, everyone at their respective political rallies—either there in support or there in protest—everyone frothing at the mouth, eager for a good excuse to stab each other in the throat. Every day there’s another viral video of Trump supporters mobbing a protester, and Trump himself cheering them on—bucktoothed white men draped in camo-gear attack a black man, or huddle around a Muslim woman and call her a whore, or punch a songbird, or claw at sunsets, or eat cereal bowls filled with pinecones and Natural Ice. They salute their blotchy-skinned leader by uniformly rubbing their crotches. And all hell breaks loose.
The Trump rally in Chicago that was canceled last week is testament to the cowing tribalism in and around politics these days; it’s more of a foreshadowing of the violence to come, just another transitory episode in the evolutionary buildup of street gangs killing each other over heteronomous trade deals, who’s leader has better hair, and the lawfulness of a penis touching another man’s butthole. The spurious autoschediasticism of the protest ended in very minor clashes . . . little blood was actually drawn, but there was lots of yelling and name calling, with Trump finally declaring that his freedom of speech was hijacked. Many Bernie campaign posters were seen at the demonstration, but Sanders himself quickly denied any involvement. Hillary Clinton condemned the protest by tweeting the old adage, ‘Violence has no place in politics.’ Even Neil deGrasse Tyson tweeted ‘People who are anti-Trump are actually anti-Trump supporters—they oppose free citizens voting for the @realDonaldTrump.’ The only reason for writing out someone’s Twitter handle is in the hope that they will read it and retweet it. Not that the pop star astrophysicist is necessarily a Trump supporter, but he is trying to make some sort of vague taxonomical clarification, maybe striking the flint of the dialectic, a baseless claim that protesting against a wistfully nostalgic form of imperialism is an offense to freedom itself.
Hillary Clinton pointed to the families of the Charleston, South Carolina victims from last year’s shooting, They “came together and melted hearts in the statehouse,” she said. In her eyes, we should melt Donald Trump’s barely beating heart into a bloody fondu of love and youth. If you see a woman being raped on the street, you should protest peacefully, from the other side of the street, of course, making sure you stay on the sidewalk.
The epistemological axiom that “violence has no place in politics” is a queer Democritean slogan, something that dismisses the entire historical resumé of politics. At the end of Hillary Clinton’s tenure as Secretary of State, a Win/Gallup poll declared the United States as the greatest threat to peace in the world. In the 1980’s, Clinton supported the Contra insurgency into Nicaragua. She supported invasions of Haiti in 1994, Bosnia in 1995, and Kosovo in 1999. In her words, she “urged [Bill] to bomb” Yugoslavia. She voted for the 2003 invasion of Iraq, and backed the US-backed Israeli invasion of Lebanon in 2006, and later the US bombing of Libya, creating the power vacuum that allowed ISIS to overtake the country. In other words, violence has everything to do with politics, as long as you are rich while doing it. It’s the same reason a black woman can go to prison for 12 years for a little baggie of weed, but when HSBC launders billions of dollars to Columbian and Mexican drug cartels, no one sees a single day behind bars.
There is something pedantic and selectively fussy about claiming that “violence has no place in politics.” It clearly does. The question is, what part do we as regular citizens play in the arena of political violence?
Take a look at Black Lives Matters, for instance, who made a strong presence at the Chicago rally. Black Lives Matters was formed for the same reason as when the Black Panther Party was created back in 1966: they were both a response to unchecked police brutality against black kids. But the Black Panthers initially began with armed citizen patrols, monitoring the activity and behavior of Oakland’s police officers. Black women with afros would stand on the streets with rifles. Panther leaders were assassinated or falsely charged with murder. J. Edgar Hoover called the party “the greatest threat to the internal security of the country.” Black Lives Matters, on the other hand, barges into libraries and chants its club’s name into the ears of students studying innocently. There was the Weather Underground, formed in 1969, as a radical left-wing faction of the Students for a Democratic Society, in support of the Black Panthers and other militant left-wing groups. Its core principle was a militant opposition to the Vietnam War, as it initiated actions intended to “Bring the War Home.” They broke Dr. Timothy Leary out of prison. They bombed government buildings and banks, they initiated the “Days of Rage” riots in Chicago, and issued a “Declaration of a State of War” against the United States government. There is widespread belief that Martin Luther King could not have achieved what he is attributed with if it were not for Malcolm X’s more militant approach. When antiwar protestors grew by the thousands outside of Nixon’s White House, President Nixon turned to Henry Kissinger in fear, asking for assurance that they wouldn’t break through the fence. When then President George W. Bush was asked what he thought about the antiwar demonstrations outside his White House, he skillfully responded that they pleased him—the evidentiary freedom of speech that American citizens have is why we were going to war, he said, so the Iraqis will one day have the same. Where are Brutus and Cassius? Where is the emerald sword that can pierce the sky? The ennui of our passivity is the force that doesn’t actually want to change anything. It organizes marches, waves banners around, and chants its cheerleader haikus . . . but we know this is merely for the ends of self-congratulation. We know we are merely swirling our farts in the wind, cheering each other on, finally flirting with women who proudly show off their armpit hair.
In Walter Benjamin’s Critique on Violence, the state needs and creates the conditions for a monopoly on violence. “Violence, when not in the hands of the law, threatens [the law] not by the ends it may pursue but by its mere existence outside the law.” The antipodal fringe barricades itself against the powers of the state through what is termed Divine Violence—that inevitable reactionary force, preserving the gorgeous brawn of the sovereign. It is completely “law-destroying,” completely at odds with the systemic coercion of the state. It’s merely and wholely a strike at power, to value justice and principle over the law. Slavoj Žižek sees divine violence as an inevitable response against the superstructure. Men ought to scare where they must. But even the so-called radical Left today feels it should disassociate itself with the Jacobin paradigm. In Žižek’s Robespierre of the “Divine Violence” of Terror, he writes, “what the sensitive liberals want is a decaffeinated revolution, a revolution that doesn’t smell of revolution.”
Donald Trump was rightly criticized for saying he would kill the family members of terrorists. This is dangerous talk. The problem is that Barack Obama already has. In a drone attack, 16-year-old American-born son of Anwar Al-Awalki was killed, and Obama has never answered questions addressing this. This is perhaps more dangerous, for the left slowly accepts that this is just the way things work. In an interview with CNN, Trump warned of riots if the Republican Party handed the nomination to another candidate. “I think you’d have riots,” he said. “I’m representing many, many millions of people . . . Bad things would happen.”
The Chicago protests were a glimpse of what could be, however grand and gorgeous and tragic. I don’t know. I’m too drunk to tell anymore. All I know is there is too much light, too much life to tell anymore. Too much everything. All it is is just an eruption of stars and worlds.