In the run-up to budget discussions, the Trump Administration floated various proposals for a dramatic increase in military spending on top of the already bloated $596 billion Pentagon budget. This, figure doesn’t even represent the true expenditures devoted to war-making and militarism in the $1.1 trillion discretionary side of the national budget. The $596 billion doesn’t include the $65 billion in veterans spending and $26 billion for nuclear weapons. That brings the total to about $690 billion or 63 percent of all discretionary spending! To fund this outrageous theft of the people’s resources for the military-industrial complex, the administration called for unprecedented cuts to various federal agencies and departments since everything is supposed to be revenue neutral.
Now a reasonable person might conclude that an oppositional party that claims to be the voice of the downtrodden and informed by “liberal values” would be opposed to Trump’s proposals to take a meat cleaver to state agencies in order to increase military spending. One would think Democrats would look at Trump’s budget recommendations as a godsend to showcase the difference in Democratic priorities and Republican priorities, since supporting increased spending on militarism has a direct impact on what can be spent to support working people and the poor. Democrats could even take a page from Republican President Dwight Eisenhower who over a half century ago understood the effects of prioritizing military spending over domestic needs, something that in today’s right-wing U.S. culture would read as a radical statement:
“Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed. This world in arms is not spending money alone. It is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children.”
Yet, instead of vigorous opposition and mass mobilizations from the loyal opposition, the Democratic party is still trying to hold the public’s attention with the nonsensical drama related to supposed collusion between Russia and the Trump campaign, as though collusion between campaigns and foreign governments is something new — think Nixon’s efforts to sabotage peace efforts in the ’68 campaign and Reagan’s campaign coordination with Iran to release U.S. hostages that sunk Carter’s presidency.
What is so incredibly inept about the Democrat’s strategy to keep the focus on Russia is that important issues that could drive a wedge between Trump and those who voted for him (independents and white workers) are being pushed to the background. Issues like health care, increasing the minimum wage and opposing tax cuts for the rich are begging to be exploited by the Democrats if they were a serious oppositional party with an alternative reform agenda. Which is precisely the point — the Democratic party is not a serious oppositional party.
The absence of any real opposition to the reckless use of U.S. military force — the attack on Syria, the macho demonstration bombing in Afghanistan, the provocations toward North Korea — exposed once again the unanimity among the U.S. ruling class and the state on the use of military force as the main strategy to enforce its global interests.
What this means for Black and oppressed people in the capitalist centers in the West and in the Global South is that we cannot afford the luxury of diversionary politics when it is our bodies that are in the crosshairs of an F-16 in Libya and a Glock 9mm in the hands of a racist cop in Baton Rouge, La. For us, unrestrained militarism and war has always meant death and destruction.
It also means that attempting to build oppositional coalitions to confront and defeat militarism and neoliberal state austerity cannot depend on effective and consistent support from Democrat party-related structures both inside and outside of the Democratic party, such as many of the nonprofits and labor unions. It even means that it is becoming more difficult to build opposition to war and militarism among the U.S. left and progressives because these sectors, along with the corporate media and the general public, have fallen prey to what Rashna Batliwala Singh and Peter Mathews Wright call “imperial privilege.”
Imperial privilege is this strange ability on the part of the U.S. public to “shrug off” the consequences experienced by people impacted by the direct and indirect result of U.S. militarism. That is precisely why pro-imperialist politicians like Barack Obama, Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren can be designated as “progressives” and vast numbers of voters can rally around a warmonger like Hilary Clinton without suffering much moral distress.
It is also why there is not much discussion of the consequences for the people of Korea if, through macho posturing, the Trump administration sparks a military confrontation on the Korean peninsula. Or why there are no calls from the public to stop Saudi war crimes in Yemen. Or why it seems perfectly acceptable that the entire U.S. Senate would sign a letter to the United Nations condemning it for its bias against Israel. And it also is why pundits claimed that “Trump became president” of all the people after ordering the military to engage in an illegal attack on Syria.
According to Batliwala Singh and Mathews Wright:
“Imperial privilege makes it possible for even the liberally inclined to turn a blind eye to the toxic footprint of U.S. militarism at home and abroad; to fall silent at any mention of the homicidal decisions of an American president; to exclude such matters from public political discussion and to prevent them from influencing their voting patterns in any way.”
So, while Trump only got a $15 billion increase in the budget compromise, the “common sense” acceptance of war by the public at this point makes it more likely that the administration will be successful in securing billions more of the public’s resources for war-making in the 2018 budget that will be debated over coming months.
The irreconcilable contradictions of capitalism, fueled by white nationalist sentiment, has produced a political environment that is toxic and proto-fascist. It is within this context that we must build an alternative to the neoliberalism of the Democrats and the nationalist-populism of Trump.
The drive toward war, domestic repression and the militarization of society can only be stopped by the people. But that will not occur until there is a shift in the culture and consciousness of the public. A shift where the inherent value of all lives is recognized and a new kind of politics is practiced that recognizes that most people have interests that are not the same interests of the capitalist oligarchy. The majority of people in America have to recognize they have a responsibility to the victims of U.S. imperialism around the world.
Ajamu Baraka is the national organizer of the Black Alliance for Peace (BAP) https://blackallianceforpeace.com/ and was the 2016 candidate for vice president on the Green Party ticket. He is an editor and contributing columnist for the Black Agenda Report and contributing columnist for Counterpunch magazine.