No to Barbarism

I was raised in Trump country: a wealthy, metropolitan suburb where the golf club was a safe space for racist, sexist, and homophobic jokes, and I never had more than one Black kid in my class at school. A product of my environment, I recall being supremely disappointed when Bill Clinton was elected, and hearing more than once about how “Ronnie Reagan was the greatest president this country ever had.”

I went to an expensive New England boarding school where – to their credit – they had a more diverse student body than the public schools back home, and I got my ass handed to me more than once for running my mouth in a way that makes me look back with shame. My own roommate choked me out, and I deserved it. But we remained friends, in a way that only young people can, and he took me to visit his father’s homeland of Peru one summer. There I saw people living in the mountains without water or electricity, and for the first time in my life, I started to realize how much privilege I had. I was sixteen years old.

College was a regression, as I went to an elite university where they had to chain down the Hannukah menorah in the quad because it had been repeatedly removed or defaced. Admirably, groups of students stood vigil at the menorah in solidarity. Though I was appalled at the anti-Semitism, I shamefully did nothing – even when I heard friends laugh about it.

September 11th happened my senior year. I genuinely had no idea why anyone would attack us, and while I lamented the inevitable invasion of Afghanistan, I accepted it as a necessary course of action. Most of my friends were hired by banks, but I was the archetypal aimless English major, and starting to realize that I didn’t fit in.

The only thing I knew I wanted to do was to get away. I went to China to teach English, and found myself defending the invasion of Iraq in drunken arguments with other foreigners. It occurred to me that they were making more sense than I was. At age 24 I finally started to challenge the entire worldview that I had inherited unquestioningly.

A magazine article about something called “The Washington Consensus” distilled for me into pure form some of the scattered thoughts I’d been having. I knew that racism was bad and poverty was cruel, but I didn’t have any real idea of where they came from, or that they were related, or that they were invented by people – on purpose – as a form of control. I thought racism was when we hated groups of people for irrational, stereotypical reasons, and poverty was what happened to folks who made bad choices or had bad luck. In short, I was a Republican.


By the time Occupy Wall Street happened, in 2011, I had long been known as The Liberal Nephew at all family gatherings. My father said that too much time in China had made me a communist (not quite right, but getting there). I started this site by endorsing Obama in the 2008 primary, but was soon disappointed when he sent more troops to Afghanistan and failed to prosecute the architects of the American torture program. In the summer before Occupy, I saw the Bloombergville protests unfold as a precursor, and recognized my own privileged position and the role – indeed, the responsibility – that I had to make things right.

My last essay here, before essentially giving up on writing about politics, foreshadowed my continuing evolution to the left. Occupy radicalized and activated me; I chanted A! Anti! Anti-capitalista! and realizing that, yes, capitalism is the problem. There was no hope for Democrats if they continued to serve as the friendlier face of the banks and the monopolists. The murder of Trayvon Martin – followed by the police murders of Mike Brown and Eric Garner, showed us that in America, Black lives didn’t matter. We realized that, as harsh as the cops had been to us in Liberty Square, it was nothing compared to the deadly violence they regularly unleashed on Black people and other marginalized communities.

The conditions were in place for a resurgent left, and Bernie Sanders made a strong showing despite his flaws. His loss was a disappointment, but nothing like seeing the final proof that centrist neoliberalism – the old Washington Consensus – is not enough to defeat nativist, racist fascism.

Recent events in Charlottesville have only made things clearer: centrist liberals invented the “alt-left” to attack Bernie Bros, and Trump co-opted the phrase to decry violence “on many sides.” These folks are writing think-pieces comparing literal Nazis to the young, brave people who resist them in the streets. Ask yourself: If I am not anti-fascist, then what am I?

Liberals who congratulated themselves for electing the first Black president were happy to support Obama as he continued Bush’s foreign policy. Because of them, we’re still in Iraq and Afghanistan, with no end in sight.

It isn’t enough to say you’re not racist; especially as a white person, you have to be actively anti-racist. We will get nowhere by insisting I never owned slaves; we must accept that we benefit from white supremacy and work to dismantle it. As Howard Zinn said, you can’t be neutral on a moving train.