Kill Your Idols V: The People's Violence, Research Time, 11/08/2017

So what do you do with a few million people who unconditionally and uncritically love their country?

It’s a legitimate question to ask. A lot of people seem to have forgotten that straight-up patriotism and paranoid jingoism was once the most frightening political current surrounding the White House. Those were the days.

The September 11 attacks and George W Bush’s reaction to them was the cataclysmic engine of this whole messed up century. Millions are dead and the world has been radically transformed through the events that the attack and W’s war set into motion.

I thought we'd remember George W Bush as an epochal man, the 20th
century's first bumbling monster. Yet how quickly he's been forgotten,
Back then, I saw this orgy of patriotism as an act of love for the American state, its military, and George W Bush. When I would see how patriotic, viciously pro-war American people acted on questions of politics, I did see some weirdly sublimated acts of love for those bombs.

I was disturbed and depressed at the knowledge of millions of dead Iraqis in a terrifying insurgency. I knew that, as far as the Middle East was concerned, this was the beginning of – minimum – two decades of conflict.* But I was sure that the effects on American culture at least were limited to aggressive country music criticism.

* Right now, I’m betting on four decades. So we’ve got about 25 years to go. Time to start getting ready for some serious refugee movements. I doubt we’ve seen the end yet.

Now, we’re dealing with a genuine authoritarian takeover of the American government to render it a one-party state, and a radical white nationalist political element (with unnerving shades of anti-Semitism) dominating the White House.

Donald Trump’s politics aren’t only about state-based authoritarianism through immigration crackdowns, unrestrained police violence, and a revived War on Drugs.

Independent militia groups on the far right are growing fast. Now, when I read Anderson’s book on Antonio Gramsci, there’s a discussion of the pro-fascist militias of 1920s Italy. Even though Anderson was writing this book long before Donald Trump was even on TV, his words engaged with the same problem of whether patriotism would inspire popular violence.

Because it's a penis, Donald. It's a giant penis.
Gramsci himself gave an account of the social power of patriotism to inspire violence. In Italy, these gangs of young and middle-aged men would attack socialists and other left-wingers.

Now these gangs got a few kickbacks from the fascist government and many graduated into the police and the military. So Anderson concludes that the gangs were effects of the state. It’s a kink that I see in his thinking – very twentieth century. As soon as the state’s action appears in any social situation, it dominates that situation.

But the militias weren’t like that. In a way, they co-opted the state. Those militia groups in Italy had existed since the end of the First World War. Mussolini’s coup was an independent radical nationalist militia group that overthrew the Italian government through an armed insurrection in the heart of Rome.

Radical white nationalist militia groups have existed in America pretty much since the Reconstruction and advent of Jim Crow laws. The Trump campaign for President was when the core media personalities and executives of American white nationalist media took over the executive branch through their faction of the Republican Party.

Nationalism is patriotism twisted into a screech of racializing bloodlust. Patriotism is a function of popular morality. The state inculcates it through education, but once it’s a popular morality, its development is beyond state control.

In Italy, the radical nationalists wear their best suits to overthrow the
government. Steve Bannon can't even put his shirts on straight.
Governance through legislation and policy means that intentionality is always an aspect of state systems. Its action can never be chaotic – its capacities are primarily in direct action. That’s a great vulnerability.

The possibility of revolution, in fact. People organizing themselves politically into a dynamic movement – a morality spreads, consciousness of that shared morality spreads, and people coordinate direct action for change in their society and institutions.

In 1920s Italy, all the communists knew, from their theories, that their revolution was coming. Then Mussolini marched on Rome.

I remember how happy I was when Barack Obama was elected. The deranged patriotism of the Bush years looked like it might be coming to an end. Then Donald Trump brought the Birther Movement to national television.

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