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Listen to this Article: “The Pedagogy of Power” Chris Hedges

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Narrated by Eunice Wong

Test Originally Published Sept. 10, 2023

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The Enlightenment – by Mr. Fish

I am standing in a classroom in a maximum security prison. It is the first class of the semester. I am facing 20 students. They have spent years, sometimes decades, incarcerated. They come from some of the poorest cities and communities in the country. Most of them are people of color. 

During the next four months they will study political philosophers such as Plato, Aristotle, Thomas Hobbes, Niccolò Machiavelli, Friedrich Nietzsche, Karl Marx and John Locke, those often dismissed as anachronistic by the cultural left.

It is not that the criticisms leveled against these philosophers are incorrect. They were blinded by their prejudices, as we are blinded by our prejudices. They had a habit of elevating their own cultures above others. They often defended patriarchy, could be racist and in the case of Plato and Aristotle, endorsed a slave society.  

What can these philosophers say to the issues we face — global corporate domination, the climate crisis, nuclear war and a digital universe where information, often manipulated and sometimes false, travels around the globe instantly?  Are these thinkers antiquated relics? No one in medical school is reading 19th century medical texts. Psychoanalysis has moved beyond Sigmund Freud. Physicists have advanced from Isaac Newton’s law of motion to general relativity and quantum mechanics. Economists are no longer rooted in John Stuart Mill.

But the study of political philosophy, as well as ethics, is different. Not for the answers, but for the questions. The questions have not changed since Plato wrote “The Republic.” What is justice? Do all societies inevitably decay? Are we the authors of our lives? Or is our fate determined by forces beyond our control, a series of fortuitous or unfortunate accidents? How should power be distributed? Is the good statesman, as Plato argued, a philosopher king — a thinly disguised version of Plato — who puts truth and learning above greed and lust and who understands reality? Or, as Aristotle believed, is the good statesman skilled in the exercise of power and endowed with thoughtful deliberation? What qualities are needed to wield power? Machiavelli says these include immorality, deception and violence. Hobbes writes that in war, violence and fraud become virtues. What forces can be organized to pit the power of the demos, the populace, against the rulers, to ensure justice? What are our roles and duties as citizens? How should we educate the young? When is it permissible to break the law? How is tyranny prevented or overthrown? Can human nature, as the Jacobins and communists believed, be transformed? How do we protect our dignity and freedom? What is friendship? What constitutes virtue? What is evil? What is love? How do we define a good life? Is there a God? If God does not exist, should we abide by a moral code? 

These questions thunder down through the ages, asked during different times and under different circumstances. The most radical contemporary philosophers, including Frantz Fanon author of The Wretched of the Earth, built their edifices on the foundations of the political philosophers that came before them. In Fanon’s case it was Friedrich Hegel. As Vladimir Lenin correctly said of Marx, most of his ideas could be traced to previous philosophers. Paulo Freire, the author ofPedagogy of the Oppressed,” studied philosophy. Hannah Arendt, who wrote“The Origins of Totalitarianism,” was steeped in the ancient Greeks and Augustine.

“It is indeed difficult and even misleading to talk about politics and its innermost principles without drawing to some extent upon the experiences of Greek and Roman antiquity, and this for no other reason than that men have never, either before or after, thought so highly of political activity and bestowed so much dignity upon its realm” Arendt writes in “Between Past and Future.

Cornel West, one of our most important contemporary moral philosophers, who once admonished me for not having read the German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer, is as conversant on Søren Kierkegaard, which Cornel taught at Harvard, and Immanuel Kant as he is on W.E.B. DuBois, Fanon, Malcolm X and bell hooks

The ancient philosophers were not oracles. Not many of us would want to inhabit Plato’s authoritarian republic, especially women, nor Hobbes’ “Leviathan,” a precursor to the totalitarian states that arose in the 20th century. Marx presciently anticipated the monolithic power of global capitalism but failed to see that, contrary to his utopian vision, it would crush socialism. But to ignore these political philosophers, to dismiss them because of their failings rather than study them for their insights is to cut ourselves off from our intellectual roots. If we do not know where we came from, we cannot know where we are going.  

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If we cannot ask these fundamental questions, if we have not reflected on these concepts, if we do not understand human nature, we disempower ourselves. We become political illiterates blinded by historical amnesia. This is why the study of humanities is important. And it is why the closure of university classics and philosophy departments is an ominous sign of our encroaching cultural and intellectual death.

Political theory is not about political practice. It is about its meaning. It is about the essence of power, how it works and how it maintains itself. The most important activity in life, as Socrates and Plato remind us, is not action, but contemplation, echoing the wisdom enshrined in eastern philosophy. We cannot change the world if we cannot understand it. By digesting and critiquing the philosophers of the past, we become independent thinkers in the present. We are able to articulate our own values and beliefs, often in opposition to what these ancient philosophers advocated.  

In my first class, I spoke about Aristotle’s distinction between the good citizen and the good person. The good person’s loyalty is not to the state. The good person “acts and lives virtuously and derives happiness from that virtue.” The good citizen, on the other hand, is defined by patriotism and obedience to the state. The good person, like Socrates or Martin Luther King, Jr. inevitably comes into conflict with the state when he or she sees the state turning away from the good. The good person is often condemned as subversive. The good person is rarely rewarded by or fêted by the state. These accolades are reserved for the good citizen, whose moral compass is  circumscribed by the powerful. 

The concept of the good citizen and the good person fascinated the class, for the state has been, since their childhood, a hostile force. The outside world does not view the incarcerated, and often the poor, as good citizens. They have been excluded from that club. As outcasts, they know the immorality and hypocrisy baked into the system. This makes vital the articulation of the questions these political philosophers pose.

Sheldon Wolin, our most important contemporary and radical political philosopher, who mentored a young Cornel West when he was Princeton University’s first Black candidate for a doctorate in philosophy, gave us the vocabulary and concepts to understand the tyranny of global corporate power, a system he called “inverted totalitarianism.” As a professor at Berkeley, Wolin backed the Free Speech Movement. Wolin, while teaching at Princeton, was one of few professors who supported students occupying buildings to protest against South African apartheid. At one point, Wolin told me, the other professors in Princeton’s political science department refused to speak with him.

Wolin’s radical critique was grounded in these political philosophers, as he writes in his magisterial work, “Politics and Vision,” which my students are reading. 

“The history of political thought”, Wolin writes, “is essentially a series of commentaries, sometimes favorable, often hostile, upon its beginnings.”

You can see a three hour interview I did with Wolin shortly before his death here.

Wolin argues that “an historical perspective is more effective than any other in exposing the nature of our present predicaments; if not the source of political wisdom, it is at least the precondition.”

Neoliberalism as economic theory, he writes, is an absurdity. None of its vaunted promises are even remotely possible. Concentrating wealth in the hands of a global oligarchic elite — 1.2 percent of the world’s population holds 47.8 percent of global household wealth — while demolishing government controls and regulations, creates massive income inequality and monopoly power. It fuels political extremism and destroys democracy. But economic rationality is not the point. The point of neoliberalism is to provide ideological cover to increase the wealth and political control of the ruling oligarchs. 

This is a point Marx famously makes when he writes in his Theses on Feuerbach

The ideas of the ruling class are in every epoch the ruling ideas, i.e. the class which is the ruling material force of society, is at the same time its ruling intellectual force. The class which has the means of material production at its disposal, has control at the same time over the means of mental production, so that thereby, generally speaking, the ideas of those who lack the means of mental production are subject to it. The ruling ideas are nothing more than the ideal expression of the dominant material relationships, the dominant material relationships grasped as ideas.

As a ruling ideology, neoliberalism was a brilliant success. Starting in the 1970s, its Keynesian mainstream critics were pushed out of academia, state institutions and financial organizations such as the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank, and shut out of the media. Wolin, once a regular contributor to publications such as The New York Review of Books, found that because of his animus towards neoliberalism, he had difficulty publishing. Intellectual poseurs such as Milton Friedman were given prominent platforms and lavish corporate funding. They disseminated the official mantra of fringe, discredited economic theories popularized by Friedrich Hayek and the third-rate writer, Ayn Rand. Once we knelt before the dictates of the marketplace and lifted government regulations, slashed taxes for the rich, permitted the flow of money across borders, destroyed unions and signed trade deals that sent jobs to sweatshops in Mexico and China, the world would be a happier, freer and wealthier place. It was a con. But it worked.

Ideas, however esoteric they may appear to the public, matter. These ideas shape a society, even if most in the society are unfamiliar with the nuances and details of these theories.

“The ideas of economists and political philosophers, both when they are right and when they are wrong, are more powerful than is commonly understood,” writes the economist John Maynard Keynes. “Indeed the world is ruled by little else. Practical men, who believe themselves to be quite exempt from any intellectual influences, are usually the slaves of some defunct economist. Madmen in authority, who hear voices in the air, are distilling their frenzy from some academic scribbler of a few years back.”

Most of the great works of political philosophy have been written during a period of crisis. The breakdown of society, war, revolution and institutional and economic collapse, obliterate established belief systems and render hollow the clichés and slogans used to justify them. These instabilities and vicissitudes bring forth new ideas, new concepts, new answers to the old questions. Political thought, as Wolin writes, “is not so much a tradition of discovery as one of meaning extended over time.”

The answers to the core questions asked by political philosophers differ depending on the circumstances. The answers in my prison classroom will not be the same as those in a classroom of an elite university where students come from, and seek to become part of, the ruling class. My students are responding to very different phenomena. Their responses come out of the injustices and suffering they and their families endure. They are acutely aware of the perfidy of the ruling class. White supremacy, deindustrialization, the collapse of the justice system, the internal armies of occupation that terrorize their communities and poverty are not abstractions. The solutions they embrace will inevitably be subversive. 

The ruling class, like ruling classes throughout history, seek to keep the poor and oppressed uneducated for a reason. They do not want those cast aside by society to be given the language, concepts and intellectual tools to fight back. 

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May 24, 2024 Heather Cox Richardson

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May 24, 2024 Heather Cox Richardson

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On Wednesday, May 22, former South Carolina governor Nikki Haley, who had been the candidate for anti-Trump Republicans, said she will vote for Trump. Haley ran against Trump for the Republican presidential nomination and maintained a steady stream of criticism of him, calling him “unstable,” “unhinged” and “a disaster…for our party.” Since she suspended her campaign in early March, she has continued to poll at around 20% of Republican primary voters. 

There are two ways to look at Haley’s capitulation. It might show that Trump is so strong that he has captured the entire party and is sweeping it before him. In contrast, it might show that Trump is weak, and Haley made this concession to his voters either in hopes of stepping into his place or in a desperate move to cobble the party, whose leaders are keenly aware they are an unpopular minority in the country, together. 

The Republican Party is in the midst of a civil war. The last of the establishment Republican leaders who controlled the party before 2016 are trying to wrest control of it back from Trump’s MAGA Republicans, who have taken control of the key official positions. At the same time, Trump’s MAGA voters, while a key part of the Republican base, have pushed the party so far right they have left the majority of Americans—including Republicans—far behind.

Abortion remains a major political problem for Republicans. Trump appointed the three Supreme Court justices who provided the votes to overturn the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision that recognized the constitutional right to abortion, and he has boasted repeatedly that he ended Roe. This pleases his white evangelical base but not the majority of the American people.

According to a recent Pew poll, 63% of Americans believe that abortion should be legal in most or all cases, while only 36% think it should be illegal in most or all cases. But Republicans are continuing to push unpopular antiabortion legislation. On Thursday, Louisiana lawmakers approved a law classifying mifepristone and misoprostol, two drugs commonly used in abortions, as dangerous drugs—a category usually reserved for addictive medications—making it a crime to possess abortion pills without a prescription. 

Louisiana prohibits abortions except to save the life of the mother or in cases in which the fetus has a condition incompatible with life. The law requires doctors to get a special license to prescribe the drugs, one of which is used for routine reproductive care as well as abortions. The state would then keep a record of those prescriptions, effectively a database to monitor women’s pregnancies and the doctors who treat them. Louisiana governor Jeff Landry, a Republican, is expected to sign the measure into law. 

Trump has repeatedly promised to weigh in on the mifepristone question but, likely aware that he cannot please both his base and voters, has not done so. On Tuesday, May 21, though, he stepped into a related problem. Since the Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization decision overturned Roe v. Wade, antiabortion activists have begun to talk about contraception as abortion, with some warning that it is “unbiblical.” But in February, 80% of voters polled said that contraception was “deeply important” to them, including 72% of Republican voters. On Tuesday, Trump said he was open to regulating contraception and that his campaign would issue a policy statement on contraception “very shortly.” He later walked back his earlier comments, saying they had been misinterpreted.

On May 19 the same judge who tried to remove mifepristone from the market by rescinding the FDA approval of it, Trump-appointed U.S. District Judge Matthew Kacsmaryk, blocked the Biden administration from implementing a new rule that requires sellers at gun shows and online to get licenses and conduct background checks. The rule closes what’s known as the “gun show loophole.” According to the Penn State McCourtney Institute for Democracy, 86% of Americans want mandatory background checks for all gun purchases. 

Trump himself is a problem for the party. His base is absolutely loyal, but he is a deeply problematic candidate for anyone else. As Susan Glasser outlined in the New Yorker yesterday, in the past week he chickened out of testifying in his ongoing criminal trial for paying hush money to an adult film actress to keep damaging information from voters in 2016 after insisting for weeks that he would. He talked about staying in office for a third term, ran a video promising that the United States will become a “unified Reich” when he wins reelection, and accused President Joe Biden of trying to have him assassinated. He will be 78 in a few weeks and is having trouble speaking.

In addition to his ongoing criminal trial, on Tuesday a filing unsealed in the case of Trump’s retention of classified documents showed that a federal judge, Beryl Howell, believed investigators had “strong evidence” that Trump “intended” to hide those documents from the federal government.

Also revealed were new photographs of Trump’s personal aide Walt Nauta moving document boxes before one of Trump’s lawyers arrived to review what Trump had, along with the information that once Trump realized that the men moving the boxes could be captured on Mar-a-Lago’s security cameras, he allegedly made sure they would avoid the cameras. The new details suggest that prosecutors have more evidence than has been made public. 

This might explain why, as Asawin Suebsaeng and Adam Rawnsley of Rolling Stone reported today, Trump is pressuring Republicans to pass a law shielding presidents from prosecution in state or local courts, moving prosecutions to federal courts where a president could stop them.

Yesterday, Marilyn W. Thompson of ProPublica reported on yet another potentially harmful legal story. There were a number of discrimination and harassment complaints made against the Trump campaign in 2016 and 2020 that Trump tried to keep quiet with nondisclosure agreements. A federal magistrate judge has ordered the Trump campaign to produce a list of the complaints by May 31. Those complaints include the charge that the 2016 campaign paid women less than men and that Trump kissed a woman without her consent. 

Trump’s current behavior is not likely to reassure voters. 

Yesterday he wrote on social media that “Evan Gershkovich, the Reporter from The Wall Street Journal, who is being held by Russia, will be released almost immediately after the Election, but definitely before I assume Office. He will be HOME, SAFE, AND WITH HIS FAMILY. Vladimir Putin, President of Russia, will do that for me, but not for anyone else, and WE WILL BE PAYING NOTHING!”

There is no good interpretation of this post. If Trump does have that sort of leverage with Putin, why? And why not use it immediately? Is he openly signaling to Putin to ignore the Biden administration’s ongoing negotiations for Gershkovich’s release? Trevor Reed, who was arrested in Russia in 2019 when visiting his girlfriend in Moscow, noted: “As a former wrongful detainee in Russia, I would just like to remind everyone that President Trump had the ability to get myself and Paul Whelan out of Russia for years and chose not to. I would be skeptical of any claims about getting Evan Gershkovich back in a day.”  

Reed was freed in 2022 as part of a prisoner swap arranged by the Biden administration. 

Last night, at a rally in New York, Trump accepted the endorsement of alleged gang members, rappers Michael Williams (Sheff G) and Tegan Chambers (Sleepy Hallow). In 2023 the two men were indicted with 30 other people on 140 counts, including murder, attempted murder, illegal possession of firearms, and at least a dozen shootings. Sheff G was released from jail in April after posting a $1.5 million bond. 

Then, Trump’s people claimed that 25,000 people turned out for the rally, but they requested a permit for only 3,500, and only 3,400 tickets were issued. Aerial shots suggest there were 800–1,500 people there. 

MAGA voters don’t care about any of this, apparently, but non-MAGA Republicans and Independents do. And this might be behind Haley’s promise to vote for Trump. The unpopularity of the MAGA faction might allow Haley to step in if Trump crashes and burns, so long as she kowtows to Trump and his base. Or it might be calculated to try to repair the rift in hopes that the party can cobble together some kind of unity by November. As The Shallow State noted on X, Haley’s announcement showed that “Trump is fragile.”

But Haley’s statement that she will vote for Trump does not necessarily mean her voters will follow her. Deputy political director for the Biden campaign Juan Peñalosa met with Haley supporters in a prescheduled zoom call hours after Haley’s announcement. On Thursday afternoon the campaign issued a press release titled: “To Haley Voters: There’s a Home For You on Team Biden-Harris.”

MAGA Republicans know their agenda is unpopular, and they are working to seize power through voter suppression, violence, gerrymandering, and packing the legal system. But there are signs a bipartisan defense of democracy may be gathering strength.  

Notes:

https://www.cbsnews.com/news/nikki-haley-says-she-will-vote-for-trump/

https://www.cbsnews.com/news/nikki-haley-announcement-2024-race-donald-trump-south-carolina/

https://abcnews.go.com/Politics/haley-shes-dropping-feel-kiss-ring-trump/story?id=107370200

https://meidasnews.com/news/trump-accepts-endorsement-from-indicted-gang-members

https://newrepublic.com/post/181931/maga-spin-trump-bronx-rally-size

https://blog.lime.link/visualizing-crowd-sizes/

https://www.pewresearch.org/religion/fact-sheet/public-opinion-on-abortion/

https://www.politico.com/news/2024/05/23/louisiana-abortion-pill-criminal-penalties-00159735

https://time.com/6977434/birth-control-contraception-access-griswold-threat/

https://www.nytimes.com/2024/02/26/us/politics/republicans-birth-control-ivf.html

https://apnews.com/article/trump-contraception-birth-control-abortion-2024-8f73bb1b3a5864b24157f15eb272a3e6

https://www.vox.com/scotus/2024/3/26/24112540/supreme-court-mifepristone-fda-alliance-hippocratic-medicine-abortion-pills

https://www.reuters.com/world/us/us-judge-blocks-biden-backed-rule-expanding-gun-background-checks-2024-05-20/

https://missouriindependent.com/briefs/new-rule-to-close-gun-show-loophole-finalized-by-biden-administration/

https://www.mprnews.org/story/2023/07/25/poll-majority–support-universal-background-checks-gun-licensing-assault-weapons-ban

https://www.newyorker.com/news/letter-from-bidens-washington/there-is-literally-nothing-trump-can-say-that-will-stop-republicans-from-voting-for-him

https://www.rollingstone.com/politics/politics-features/trump-republicans-pass-law-jail-1235027139/

https://www.politico.com/newsletters/playbook/2024/05/10/maga-mike-vs-speaker-johnson-00157258

https://abcnews.go.com/International/trevor-reed-american-freed-russia-prisoner-swap-hurt/story?id=101641167

https://www.propublica.org/article/trump-campaign-harassment-bullying-lawsuits

https://www.cnn.com/2024/05/21/politics/mar-a-lago-documents-walt-nauta-donald-trump/index.html

https://www.washingtonpost.com/national-security/2024/05/21/trump-florida-classified-documents-motions/

https://www.cnn.com/2024/05/23/politics/nikki-haley-biden-trump/index.html

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Could Trump Turn the Bronx Red? Olivia Reingold

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Former president Donald Trump greets supporters at his rally in the Bronx’s Crotona Park on Thursday, May 23, 2024. (Jabin Botsford via Getty Images)

In an overgrown field in the Bronx, a borough that has not voted red in a presidential election since 1924, Orthodox Jews, fraternity brothers, George Santos, Dominican immigrants, off-duty firefighters, and thousands of others are craning their necks for a view of Donald J. Trump. 

“Thank you, thank you,” Trump mouths to the crowd over the tune of “God Bless the USA.” 

He strides up to the podium, in a breeze that rattles the American flags behind him but is no match for his frozen blond quiff. Thousands of hands spring into the air, pumping rhythmically to chants of “U! S! A!”

“Hello, New York City, and hello to all the incredible tough, strong, hardworking American patriots right here in the Bronx,” roars the former president. “Who would think—who would think?”

Who would think, indeed. Not Manhattan district attorney Alvin Bragg, who for the past five weeks has been trying to pin a felony conviction on Trump involving hush money he allegedly gave to a porn star. Two days earlier, Trump had shuffled out of the courtroom, quiet except for a quick interview where he told reporters, “Remember. . . I’m not allowed to say what I’d really like to say,” referring to the gag order barring him from publicly commenting on the case. 

“Hello, New York City, and hello to all the incredible tough, strong, hardworking American patriots right here in the Bronx,” roared the former president. “Who would think—who would think?” (Jim Watson via Getty Images)

But now, in front of a sea of at least 8,000 in Crotona Park, the prospect of becoming a convicted felon seems far from Trump’s mind. “We are going to turn New York City around, and we are going to turn it around very, very quickly!” he proclaims to cheers from the crowd.

Though New Yorkers are famously Democratic, more of them seem to be warming to Trump’s America First message. Perhaps it’s the rising crime, or the migrants who are increasingly begging in the streets, or the fact that it now takes a family of four at least $318,000 a year to live here. Whatever it is, according to a Siena College poll this month, Joe Biden has lost 20 points in New York City, compared to his 2020 victory when he won 76 percent of the vote in Trump’s hometown. Meanwhile, Trump is up seven points, with Biden’s lead cut to single digits in the 2024 race for president.

One New Yorker who needed no convincing is John Wang, a 44-year-old acupuncturist born in China who became a U.S. citizen in 2011 and has already voted for Trump twice. He says people like him—Trump voters—are the “silent majority.” He brought along his 7-year-old son, who played in the grass with a fake million-dollar bill bearing the face of the billionaire from Queens.

“I’m from communism, I know how bad it is,” says John Wang, a 44-year-old acupuncturist born in China who became a U.S. citizen in 2011. “Now I feel like here is getting like China.” (Photo by Olivia Reingold for The Free Press)

“He was born in Manhattan,” says Wang of his son, who can name every single American president throughout history, in order. “Then we moved to Queens, and by the time I had my third child, we moved to Long Island ’cause you can’t live in the city anymore—it’s too dangerous.”

Wang says he was sick of worrying about getting pushed onto the subway tracks, which is exactly how one New Yorker died in March, allegedly shoved by a perpetrator with a violent past who was out on bail. Wang, who enlisted in the Marine Corps in order to become a citizen, tells me he was drawn to the U.S. because it would allow him to openly practice his Christian faith. Now, he’s troubled by the media, which “tells people Donald Trump is a dictator,” and by the anti-Israel mobs who cover their faces and “don’t know what they’re screaming for.”

“I’m from communism, I know how bad it is,” says Wang, wearing a bright red MAGA hat and work boots stamped with the Stars and Stripes. “Now I feel like here is getting like China.”

Top Democrats thought this wouldn’t happen on their turf. The morning of the rally, Rep. Ritchie Torres, who represents the portion of the South Bronx that includes Crotona Park, told an MSNBC panel that he’s “confident that the people of the Bronx are not going to buy the snake oil he’s selling.” U.S. House Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez also told a local affiliate that Trump could not “trick” Bronx residents into supporting him. “It is truly an embarrassment to him, and I am looking forward to the response of everyday Bronxites talking about how they feel about him coming to their backyard,” said the congresswoman, whose district is east of the park.

But the people of the Bronx—and New Jersey, and Queens, and Long Island, and upstate New York, many of whom traveled miles to come see the former president whip the crowd into a frenzy—told me otherwise. 

Adam Solis, a 33-year-old who’s half-Dominican and half–Puerto Rican, says AOC does not represent even “one percent” of the values of the Bronx, where he’s lived his entire life. 

“A lot of the morals and the traditions that come out of the Bronx have always been right-leaning and conservative,” he says, his two diamond earrings glistening in the sun. “We all believe in God here in the Bronx, we believe in tradition, we believe in family values, the nuclear family—these are all pillars of our existence.”

Trump supporters in the Bronx chant “U! S! A!” (Spencer Platt via Getty Images)

I hear members of the crowd murmuring in multiple languages—Spanish, Chinese, Hebrew, and possibly Portuguese. “Ay, dios mío,” gasps one middle-aged woman, her enormous false eyelashes peeking from beneath the brim of a MAGA hat. Deeper into the crowd, a twentysomething woman perches on a man’s shoulders as if at a music festival, calling out in ecstasy: “Weeee love yooooou, Trump.” When Trump mentions New York, a redheaded boy cups his hands around his red cheeks to scream, “Yeah Trump, turn it red!”

While most other rallygoers are screaming at the top of their lungs, Samuel Heath-Quashie is less starstruck. Still, come November, the black 19-year-old student at Bergen Community College in New Jersey tells me he plans to cast his first-ever vote for Trump.

“It’s not like I look up to him like he’s my god,” the teen shrugs. “He’s a man—he does things I don’t agree with. But so does Biden, and at the end of the day, I want someone who’s going to help the American people.” 

One day, he says, he hopes to move out of his parents’ home in Fair Lawn, New Jersey, but inflation has tanked those dreams. When I ask him if he’s found any apartments he’d be able to afford, he says, “Yeah—they’re not good. They have mold and they have bugs.” He pauses, grimacing. “And I don’t like mold or bugs.” 

“A lot of the morals and the traditions that come out of the Bronx have always been right-leaning and conservative,” said Adam Solis, 33. (Selcuk Acar via Getty Images)

Across the lawn, I find Mika Kol wandering around, asking if anyone has a lighter she can borrow. She’s wearing micro jeans shorts and a hat bearing the legend “I <3 Jesus,” and I assume she’s a Fashion Institute of Technology student. Close: she tells me she’s an online seller of vintage designer clothes under the alias “trustfundgoth.”

“I voted for Biden last time because I thought it would make my mom happy, and she pays my bills,” shrugs Kol, 25, who tells me she is a Jew of Iraqi heritage born in Texas. 

She said she started having second thoughts during the summer of 2020, when other fashion sellers pressured her to give ten percent of her profits to Black Lives Matter, which she calls “Fraud, Inc.” “All that social pressure made me feel like, you know what, I can’t stand woke people. They’re just holding the left hostage.”

And then she realized: “I could say whatever I want around conservative people, and they’ll just be happy that I’m there.”

When I exit the park, I happen upon dozens of police officers in riot gear. Young men and women—draped in keffiyehs and many in N95 masks—are standing behind them on a giant rock, shaking a sign that says, “Fuck Trump / Fuck Biden / The people of the Bronx / We run this shit.”

Anti-Trump protesters gather outside the rally. “It’s just wasteful energy,” said Youssef Naim, 24, of the demonstrators. “Trump is going to win, for sure.” (Stephanie Keith via Getty Images)

“They don’t give a fuck about you,” the protesters chant at the Trump crowd, clapping between words. 

I ask a young man, standing next to me, dressed all in black, what he thinks of the scene. 

“It’s just wasteful energy,” says the man, who introduced himself as Youssef Naim, 24. He said no matter how loud the protesters chant, “Trump is going to win, for sure.”

“And that’s not me saying that’s because he’s a better person—that’s because of a multitude of things,” says Naim, an art teacher who adds that he’s nonetheless leaning toward voting for Robert F. Kennedy Jr. 

But he has no trouble explaining Trump’s appeal: “A lot of people had this experience that they did better when Trump was in office, paired with Biden shitting himself and having dementia.” 

I ask him if the protesters, who are now marching toward the subway, see what he sees, that the former president could actually become the sitting president once again. 

“Half of them probably don’t. The other half are here because their friends are here, and then a select few just don’t want to admit it.”

Olivia Reingold is a field reporter at The Free Press. Follow her on X @Olivia_Reingold and read her piece “They’re Black Democrats. And They’re Suing Chicago Over Migrants.” 

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