Notes from the US: Racism enshrined in law

Louis Further rounds up some of the key news from the US, including some nasty rulings coming down from the “pre” reactionary group which sitting before Trump imposes his vision for its future.

This month was a busy one for the Supreme Court — It legalised Trump’s ban on travel to the USA from a group of Muslim countries, and thereby enshrined public, official and state racism into law.

Then, in its decision in Janus v. AFSCME Council 31, the court took a major step to further disempower unions in favour of capital. Unions in the public sector can no longer collect dues from represented employees who are not also union members, meaning those unions’ resources will be spread more thinly in providing support for non-contributing workers. That’s aside from the other most striking effect: less money for the unions. Less (effective) organising. Consequently less of a chance to grow membership. An emboldened attitude from management and more pressure from them. Barely 12% of employees nationwide are trade union members as of 2017.

Looking to the future, Trump had previously nominated far-right judge Brett Kavanaugh for the vacant Supreme Court position left by the resignation of Anthony Kennedy. Again the message is clear: Kavanaugh believes that (sitting) presidents should not be indicted, can be pardoned … can effectively not err; that net ‘neutrality’ is wrong while mass surveillance is necessary; that abortion and homosexuality are sins and that big business gets a pass whenever it can (a massive merger between AT&T and TimeWarner now looks set to create a virtual monopoly for the telecoms sector). If confirmed (by no means a foregone conclusion: strong and vocal opposition erupted immediately), a far right majority in the Supreme Court could potentially be cemented for two generations.

Racism

The private (45,485 or £35,000 a term) Little Red School House in New York’s West Village plans to start segregating according to race at the start of the new school year in September. Although the policy only officially applies to children aged 12 and older, some parents have reported the racial division appears to be in operation even with the school’s kindergarten (5-year-old) classes.

A day or two after this news became public, the Trump administration announced its plans to roll back policies added in the Obama presidency designed to promote diversity in universities (‘affirmative action’); and US Attorney General Jeff Sessions revoked 24 guidance documents, many of which involve race in schools and recommendations on affirmative action.

Early in June meanwhile protesters in Washington DC took action when they drove Department of Homeland Security Secretary, Kirstjen Nielsen, from a (Mexican!) restaurant because of her Department’s complicity in separating families in accordance with Trump’s racist immigration policies. Margaret McLaughlin of the Metro DC Democratic Socialists said, “We will not stand by and let Secretary Nielsen dine in peace, while she is directing her employees to tear little girls away from their mothers and crying boys away from their fathers at our border. Secretary Nielsen and everyone else who has carried out these brutal and cold-blooded orders to rip apart families should never be allowed to eat and drink in public again. These barbarous acts must end and those at the helm must be held accountable.”

These state-abused and state-tortured children, it emerged emerged after a week or so into their captivity, were being obliged to stand each morning in detention centres like that of the aptly-named Casa Padre in Brownsville, Texas (a converted Walmart: what else) and recite the Pledge of Allegiance (a kind of chant affirming the positive nature of American values… schools pause daily to do this, as do participants at the start of public sporting events), in English!

Similarly, video footage, audio, and photos from inside a children’s detention centre in New York were released in late June which show a child crying and asking to speak to her mother. The response of the official to whom she was appealing was nothing less than a warning that speaking to the… press could endanger their immigration case.

Trump and his gang continue to create an atmosphere of hatred and overt racism: the Republican candidate for the third district of Illinois in the November mid-term elections is one Arthur Jones. He denies the Holocaust and told Politico that he was running to counter a “two-party, Jew-party, queer-party system”. The Republicans failed to field a candidate against Jones and he won his Primary unopposed.

Oppression

A day or two after the Nielsen event, Trump’s press secretary, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, was asked to leave the Red Hen restaurant in Lexington, Virginia. The law in the US now makes it legal to refuse to serve, help, and provide (some) services to gays. So, the Red Hen’s owner, Stephanie Wilkinson, politely asked Sanders and her party to step outside and – because, similarly, “…the restaurant has certain standards that I feel it has to uphold, such as honesty, and compassion, and cooperation” asked her to leave.

Just before the mass shooting at the Capital Gazette newspaper in Annapolis, far right provocateur Milo Yiannopoulos, publicly incited violence: “I can’t wait for the vigilante squads to start gunning journalists down on sight.”

It’s tempting to attribute the increasing use of such violence as a first resort to the atmosphere fostered by Trump. Certainly his tantrums and retaliatory actions are inspiring others. Just after a federal judge struck down Kentucky’s Governor Matt Bevin’s attempt to impose work requirements on the state’s 1.4 million Medicaid recipients (see last month’s Freedom), the governor retaliated by completely cancelling dental and vision coverage for 460,000 Kentuckians. Unfortunately, he doesn’t plan to stop there, threatening to cancel Kentucky’s Medicaid expansion altogether if he is prevented from imposing the Trump-approved work requirements on those in receipt of Medicaid. If he does so, half a million in the state will be without health insurance entirely.

In May of this year the US Supreme Court took the disastrous step of refusing to hear a challenge to a law passed in 2015 in Arkansas which restricted the activities of clinics providing advice and practical steps with abortions. The fact that the highest court in the country upheld a law to obstruct women seeking abortion care means that medical abortion is now banned in Arkansas. This also leaves only one abortion clinic in the entire state. Planned Parenthood’s executive vice president, Dawn Laguens,said, “Arkansas is now shamefully responsible for being the first state to ban medication abortion. This dangerous law immediately ends access to safe, legal abortion at all but one health center in the state.”

In some observers’ eyes, Trump was slow to get going last year. He and his crew in the Whitehouse have achieved nothing for anyone but themselves, of course. And his support (particularly in certain sectors of the population) is growing. One of these sectors is the religious right. Indeed, the aforementioned Sarah Huckabee Sanders referenced it when trying to justify the child abuse at the border of which her employer is guilty… she was recently asked to comment on remarks made by fellow racist, Attorney General Jeff Sessions, about how the administration’s policy of separating children from their immigrant parents is justified in the Christian Bible. “…it is very biblical to enforce the law… [t]hat is actually repeated a number of times throughout the Bible.”

In fact, most of what Trump has done has been by Executive Order, which requires no Congressional approval or oversight. There is, though, an alarmingly high number of those; they actually amount to destructive dictatorial promulgations, as witness his assertion on his recent visit to the UK that he can pull out of NATO (not necessarily a bad thing in itself, of course) without congressional approval.

To some, it is beginning to look like a fascist dictatorship. In June Trump published a 32-point plan (pdf) which has received little attention. It would drastically reorganise several departments of the federal government. Even a brief glance reveals how disastrous this would be, if implemented (many would actually require legislative approval; but Trump seems often to have a way to ‘fix’ that), for the environment and majority of people in the US.

Relentlessly continuing his support for violence and the use of weaponry, Trump pardoned in full the father and son Oregon ranchers Dwight and Stephen Hammond, whose conviction in 2012 for arson led directly to the right-wing Bundy militia’s armed takeover and month-long occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in 2016. The message was clear: threaten to kill locals, abuse your family, illegally ran cattle on a national wildlife refuge and you’ll be OK.

Environment

At the end of May a rally took place — at which dozens were arrested — in an effort to save chickens from horrific cruelty at an industrial egg farm in California. Direct Action Everywhere, an animal rights network, was protesting the conditions and welfare of the chickens at Sunrise Farms in Petaluma. About 500 animal rights activists staged a non-violent vigil and attempted a rescue operation there. But the group was confronted by local police who sided with the business and prevented them from entering the slaughter house to save those lives.

Environmentalists — and indeed anyone with any common sense — have long argued that trains carrying oil are an absurd idea. In June a 31-carriage freight train derailed in Sioux County, Iowa, leaking crude oil into floodwaters. Evacuations of homes in the vicinity were called; and concerns about possible contamination of drinking water raised.

Rhode Island is the smallest state in the US. Its Attorney General, Peter F. Kilmartin, filed a lawsuit on 2nd July against 21 major oil companies (including BP, Chevron, ExxonMobil, and Shell) for ‘knowingly contributing to climate change, and causing catastrophic consequences to Rhode Island, our economy, our communities, our residents, our ecosystems’. This lawsuit is the first in the country filed on behalf of a state and its citizens against ‘Big Oil’.

In June Trump asked for more weapons when he announced a new branch of the military to be known as ‘Space Force’… “When it comes to defending America, it is not enough to merely have an American presence in space. We must have American dominance in space. So important.”

Labour

At the beginning of last month report on wage theft was published showing that a large number of firms in the US – from AT&T to the Bank of America to, of course, Walmart – have simply stolen from their employees (by obliging them to work off the clock, and by withholding required overtime pay) in order to increase profits. This is not a sample survey or impression from interviews. But ‘Grand Theft Paycheck: The Large Corporations Shortchanging Their Workers’ Wages’ (pdf) is based on the verdicts in actual labour-related court cases. And the thefts amount to literally billions of dollars since 2000.

Louis Further


Pic: A protester holds up a resist sign at the time of Trump’s original executive order banning Muslims from the US, by Lorie Shaull