By Chris Townsend
September 20, 2022
Like the daily experience of many tens of millions in today’s United States, I heard sirens last evening. We have the windows open now that the intense heat of summer has passed. One is never sure of whether the sirens are the police, the fire department, or the ambulance rushing off to tend to someone with a medical emergency. Once in a while the sirens are close enough that we can figure out what is going on, but most of the time we listen, and we are left to wonder what it was. They are so common now as to be unnoticed most of the time.
One recent Saturday evening I heard sirens at about 10pm, and soon after the police helicopter buzzed over. I presumed on the way over to a crime scene. By the 11pm television news the story was out; four men were wanted for apparently tracking down and shooting – and killing – a lone male victim. I looked up the address of the apartment complex where this happened, and it is exactly 7 miles from my home. The police were quick to assure everyone by issuing their standard statement that, “Please avoid the area, but this was not a random act and there is no danger to the public.” So, I went back to listening to the baseball game on the radio, and thought that, “At least it’s not any closer.” I also thought back to just a few years ago when I lived much closer to the scene of this murder. The baseball game went 15 innings, my team won, and I went to bed.
Everyday Murder and Mayhem Commonplace
This morning I was thinking about this latest murder. I thought about the other recent murders – just in and around my neighborhood. A married couple just two miles to the west were both shot and killed, in broad daylight, in their front yard. A woman disappeared from her home and was later found murdered a couple miles to the southwest of where I live. A couple blocks from our former apartment home two women were found murdered apparently by the serial killer labeled as “The Shopping Cart Killer”. He used shopping carts to move his victims’ bodies, hence the name. The police suspect him in at least 3 other similar murders, maybe more.
About two miles north of me there was a murder late this summer in what the police now think was a drug-deal-gone-bad. I could think of about 5 more recent murders but I struggled to recall exactly where they were, if I ever knew. About 3 weeks ago we had a gun battle between two cars on the main highway about 2 miles from my home. The details of that episode are too scant to report. Nobody was hit or killed apparently, so it’s not worth reporting on.
What else can I recall in the years I have lived here? … A woman was raped and beaten on the bottom floor of our apartment building in 2007. She moved out the next day and nobody was ever arrested. I wrestled with two muggers in front of my apartment house in 2008 about a week before Barack Obama was elected President. I bloodied one of their noses in the melee, but I threw in the sponge and gave up my briefcase when one of them stabbed me in the shoulder and in the back of my leg. I got “the point”, literally. Just after we moved from that apartment – over to where we are at today – a resident was murdered in the parking lot where we used to park our car. Early in the pandemic there was a gun murder at a local business about 2 miles to the east of me. It’s difficult to keep it all straight. So, let’s save us all the time and just draw a conclusion – and get it on the record – that people are murdered very close to my home on a regular basis. I wait for the day or night when it happens right here, close by.
On top of all that, I can’t remember how many times the bank down the street has been robbed. Maybe 10 times? Let’s not forget the home and apartment burglaries and break-ins, the car thefts, carjackings, business robberies, random muggings, assorted sex crimes, gang crimes, mindless vandalism crimes. And the latest aggravation and expense for the people around here are the thieves who creep around at night and steal the catalytic converter from under your car or truck to get the very valuable scrap metals that they contain. They grab it in 5 minutes, and you get a $3,000 or $4,000 bill to repair and replace your exhaust system. There have been some suicides too, amongst all this, but most of the information on those are kept secret to respect the privacy of the family.
As I pondered further, I guess I don’t know how many people have died from drug overdoses here in my neighborhood recently, but the County reports that opioid drug overdoses are now the most common cause of unnatural deaths in the jurisdiction. Occasionally, they also just find a dead body around here, in the weeds, on the side of the road, or just found laying in the street. They found a skeleton in the weeds over by the highway a couple of years ago, and I am sure that the police detectives are still trying to solve that one. If they ever catch the guy maybe they will try him, maybe convict him, and then send him off to join the 2.2 million other jail inmates we have in the U.S. today. The US locks up 25% of the all the jail inmates on planet earth. And like all our responses to these many crises the “solutions” do not work, but we keep repeating them over and over and over since some corporate sector or some political constituency always makes money or maintains power by handling it that way.
And in case you were wondering, and before you weary of this sad tale, I should also mention that I live in one of the wealthiest counties in the entire United States. We are in Fairfax County, Virginia, among the top four or five richest counties of all, just across the Potomac River from Washington, DC. My little brick house is also exactly 12 miles from the White House. That’s it. The median home price in my county is $630,000. Rents for apartments are customarily $2,000 or 3,000 per month, or more. By all conventional U.S. definitions, I live a “good” neighborhood and not a “sketchy” or a “bad” neighborhood. And given the crime and craziness in a lot of the adjacent and nearby neighborhoods around here an awful lot of people would trade places with me in a second. I am truly lucky to live where I do despite these facts.
Rapidly Multiplying Crises on All Sides
There are entire cities and large parts of cities where all the problems I described are far, far worse on a daily basis. After all, in 2020 alone, there were 45,222 gun related deaths in the United States, with just more than half self-inflicted. See for yourself; https://www.gunviolencearchive.org/ And let’s not leave out the U.S. psychosis of mass shootings. You see these on the news all the time now. You would also consider yourself as fortunate if you were a crime victim today but suffered no bodily harm as a result. If you are African American you would be victimized far more by these trends, but would also have to consider yourself lucky if you suffered no harm from the police and law enforcement who ostensibly are employed to protect the people.
These accumulated problems are also just the tip of an awful iceberg. The United States is literally immersed in a sea of crises that continually worsen and are destined only to worsen given the current formulas that create all of them. Working people would also be the primary victims of these crises and crimes, as the rapidly deteriorating condition of the working class would attest.
But street violence and gun violence don’t tell the whole story of the USA. Wages and incomes for working people are held down systematically by the corporate dictatorship and their rampant union-busting, all aided and abetted by the near-total inaction by the government. New billionaires and millionaires are minted by the hour as the stream of super-profits is extracted and gifted to the bosses by an increasingly impoverished workforce. Inflation now reaches 40-year highs, and the tax load shouldered by the working class is crippling. Already under-supported public services struggle to deal with the ordinary problems, let alone these extraordinary crises.
Ask any schoolteacher what problems and dysfunctions they see among the youth today in their classrooms. It’s shocking and getting worse by the day. What else can we expect? How can children not be negatively affected as they grow and develop in this sea of madness? Our already fragile public health machinery deteriorated rapidly as we plainly saw during the pandemic. The latest new low is now revealed as the formerly extinct polio virus rears its head in and around New York City, once again a basic public health failing with incalculable possible consequences. The United States is in the throes of a growing and debilitating obesity epidemic. More than 40% of the entire population is significantly or even grossly overweight, with astounding negative health effects. Our for-profit health care system fails by all measures, as costs skyrocket. Startling rates of mental illness and drug abuse fuel the burgeoning homeless crisis. The student loan disaster multiplies despite some small recent relief, as tens of millions are saddled with obviously unpayable levels of debt.
The System is Not Broken. It is Working as Designed
Now looming large on the horizon, the Federal Reserve Bank and all levels of the political leadership – in both parties – are now are silent about, or are even encouraging a steep increase of interest rates. The only goal of this is to induce an economic recession, the sole victims of which will be workers and retirees across the spectrum. And with a military budget exceeding more than $1.6 trillion dollars annually – current annual appropriations, legacy costs, and military expenditures labeled as something else – the fiscal burden of current and former wars condemns the people to living with starved public budgets and scarce resources to address the real and urgent problems of today.
These pathologies, these outrageous trends and problems are all the logical product of our thoroughly undemocratic privatized economic system, now coupled with our increasingly privatized and corrupt political sphere. In a word, “capitalism” and “imperialism” have delivered us to this point. Nothing is “going wrong”, in fact, it is working exactly as it is designed to function. All for the benefit of the bosses and ruling classes. No Empire, no working class in the history of the universe has ever been looted so systematically and been driven to deteriorate so quickly under the weight of such a pile of contradictions and crises. While this prognosis may seem disjointed and overwhelming, it is also far from complete. Any worker could add entire sections to my review here, all attesting to the collapse of the old order of things, and all adding to the daily angst and anxiety of “normal” life today in the United States. This is a cumulative and ominous set of events with no parallel in our history.
Accommodation is No Longer Possible
As the national ship takes on water, beleaguered working people increasingly abandon the old beliefs, attitudes, institutions and traditions of political behavior. While the growth of some genuine left political forces today is significant, it is dwarfed in comparison to the rise of authoritarian and outright fascist thought patterns and movements. Corporate media – the vast majority of what passes for media in the U.S. – all push the Republican line that the solution to all these problems – that they have created through their actions and policies – can be solved only by turning over complete control to these poisonous elements.
The Democratic Party offers only irregular opposition to the Republican agenda, making no secret of the fact that they would eagerly and preferably settle for a return to the old bargain of the two-party power-sharing era. Rather than confront the Trump and Trumpist menace head-on, by mobilizing and strengthening the people directly, mainstream Democrats instead scramble in every conceivable way to at best deflect them, studiously avoiding an all-out showdown. Although in control of the entire national prosecutorial apparatus, more than 21 months have passed and the rioters and putschists who planned and carried out the January 6, 2021 events are only now beginning to be timidly prosecuted.
Such a farcical response to the Trumpist danger is timed to be – Democrats hope – effective in the coming November elections. Democrats plan another election where the vast bulk of the campaigning is not loudly for the Democrats but is instead another frantic “sky is falling” appeal to voters that should the Republicans win certain doom awaits. The doomsday scenario would in-fact be a fact-based assessment today, the trouble that arises is that U.S. voters have been subjected to this public relations line for more than 40 years and its chances of success are now evaporating as the country careens into the ditch. Working people long ago abandoned loyalty to the two-party set-up, yet Democrats continue to operate as if they command their loyalty. They do not, with gigantic sections of the working class now won over to or co-opted into support for an astonishing array of reactionary Republican candidates. Enormous sections of the population have also abandoned politics as irrelevant or futile, fed in part by the cycle of Democrats raising expectations, failing to deliver, and then using the GOP bogeyman as the only inducement for further votes and support.
More Accommodation: Biden Meddling, Not Leading in Rail Labor Dispute
As the Biden presidential maneuvering during the September rail labor negotiations and strike threat attests, he is determined to defuse worker anger rather than harness it for his own program. The facts will reflect that the situation of the rail workers is dire, in part because their strike power has been bottled up for decades. The railroad bosses are raking-in mega profits at the expense of the workers and customers alike, and the mood of the rail workers and public is such that a strike would be welcomed by large majorities as proof that something is being done to reign-in out-of-control corporate profiteering and bullying. Biden’s primary mission was not to defeat the rail companies, however, but to placate the rail monopolists while staving-off any strike showdown until after the November election. Without even seeing or being familiarized with the final text of the last-minute labor contract the White House declared it as a success. The wage settlement was offered by Biden as the big breakthrough of his intervention, although the rail workers have loudly voiced again and again that the inhuman forced work scheduling, lack of time off, and debilitating working conditions are their primary complaint, not wages.
The rail situation by itself reveals that the Democratic Party is habituated only to accommodation with the discredited corporate order and is likewise incapable of recognizing that the public is hungry for strong and swift leadership in defense of working people. So, rather than lead an overdue struggle against the rail barons Biden has likely alienated a large swath of the rail workforce with his timid meddling. It is yet to be seen if the workers will support and ratify the new agreement anyway, since the White House declared the agreement to be a “win” for workers before any workers had even seen the final text of the deal. No final resolution is possible until after the November elections, when the strike threat has been watered and diffused. What might have been an ideal vehicle to show leadership against the corporate bullies has been squandered. The President came to the gunfight not with a pistol, but with a cap gun.
Which Way, Left or Right?
Daniel DeLeon – one of the earliest Marxist leaders and thinkers in the United States – offered in his “Reform or Revolution” speech of 1896 that, “Where a revolution is pending and, for whatever reason, is not accomplished, reaction is the alternative.” The DeLeon observation fits the current situation quite well. Rather than move forward with a bold and aggressive push-back against the corporate dictatorship, and against Republican thug rule, Democrats instead have sought accommodation with the worst elements of the corporate world. It is a longing for a bygone era of class collaboration, where the two-party monopoly agreement shared the political equilibrium. But, it is too late. The die is cast, and we now obviously face a fight to the finish. The Republicans continue their demagogy, their racist appeals, their anti-worker ravings, their hateful appeals to the increasingly disenchanted people. Their goal is to capture power one way or the other, and to impose their absolutist agenda – no matter what.
No accommodation to, or reasoning with, can disarm the Republican mob, nor can appeals to corporate good sense alleviate their addiction to super profits and more worker misery. In an era of accelerating social decay, when working people rightly demand state intervention on their behalf, that intervention will come one way or the other. Democrats and liberals are loath to draw the obvious conclusion as to the magnitude of the problems we face, including most of all the danger of the center and left having no serious response to the daily man-made disasters of life in the U.S. There is no returning to the former political equation. Only a left turn, a willingness to fully confront the monstrous forces arrayed against working people will prevail. There are times in history when accommodation to the old order is counterproductive. Such is one of those moments in history, like it or not.
-Chris Townsend is a 40-year union activist and was a staff member of both UE and ATU.. He is also a founding member of Railroad Workers United (RWU). https://www.railroadworkersunited.org/