White Liberals: Welcome to Relative Deprivation
The House of Representatives has just voted to repeal the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and replace it with a rusty spoon and some twine, and white liberals the United States over are losing their minds. With incessant calls to #resist, #VoteNoACA, and others stating #iamapreexistingcondition and #ObamacareHelpedMe, we are left wondering if there are as many hashtags and phone messages as there are reasons why these tactics are failures. As The Intercept highlighted in a recent article, a new Roosevelt Institute Study has scientifically qualified how much money it takes to buy a politician's vote:
Indeed, what has been common knowledge to every impoverished and marginalized person in the United States for years has now begun to dawn on white liberals: that our government is in no way, shape, or form, "for, of, and by, the people." America is, and has always been, for a small class of rich, capitalist landowners, and their families.
Thus, what white liberals are confronting is a difficult situation whereby their ideological beliefs in how society ought to be run are contradicted by the material reality they see in front of them. They believe that the government should be accountable to the people, that capitalism can be constrained, and that social inequality can be remedied through policies and safety pins. America, through their eyes, is a place of freedom and equality, and the problems that we see in front of us are a result of past failures that we are in the process of overcoming. The future is bright because the white liberal is fundamentally an idealist.
For Syrians, Afghans, Palestinians, Iraqis, Mexicans, and most other peoples, the reality of US foreign policy has been a dark cloud of imperialism and capitalist exploitation. In 2016, the final year of Obama's presidency, the US dropped 26,171 bombs on foreign peoples. That's nearly three bombs an hour, every hour, for every day of the year. But to the white liberal, these bombs fell with a parachute of idealism: freedom was concealed within the explosive center, and if enough bombs were dropped, enough freedom would be sown. And when we consider this mentality, we understand why there is no shortage of people rushing to defend Obama's war record. Note this passage from a Foreign Policy article by Aaron David Miller, in which he clearly reframes the situation regarding the millions of people suffering in the Middle East:
Miller is effectively saying that it's the fault of the "broken, angry, and dysfunctional region" for their being bombed by the United States. If they were more white and liberal like him, they obviously wouldn't have these problems.
Yet within the continental United States, 963 people were shot and killed by police in 2016, and over 250 of them were black. 991 people were killed by police in 2015, and law enforcement is on track to match these number this year. The advent of smartphones and the phenomenon of everything being able to be recorded has brought the horrors of being black and brown in America in front of all eyes equally, but not all eyes are open. The reason for this blindness is the veil of white liberal idealism that frames and distorts the facts at hand. Since the first African was kidnapped and enslaved, blackness has been criminalized in the land of the free. But the white liberal cannot accept this fact because it contradicts the ideal of equality in freedom. To them, something else must be at play; be it bad laws or racist cops, the individual item here and there inhibits the whole. For example, they will rally against the three strikes law that disproportionately affects minorities in California, but they will not rally against a fundamentally racist state. Take this well-meaning and self-proclaimed liberal at his word:
While accurately analyzing the utter failure of the law and noting how it serves no real purpose other than to increase the number of inmates, the end argument is how much it will cost. Such a liberal political claim supports the white supremacist state as it frames the debate in fiscal rather than social terms, thereby denying the black experience the light of day.
Returning to the current passage of the ACA repeal in the House, white liberals now feel this danger creeping into their lives. It is their healthcare that is now in serious jeopardy. Surviving rape, sexual assault, postpartum depression, c-sections, and surviving domestic violence may all now be considered preexisting conditions. With this horror show unable to be avoided, the #resistance was quite active prior to the vote, with countless cries to call our representatives, representatives like Nancy Pelosi who said after having lost the vote:
Enter Relative Deprivation
What had previously been a fact of life to all poor and marginalized people is now entering the world of the white liberal, and that fact is that your life is a burden on the powers-at-be. To be fair, your labor power and ability to consume are of use, but only tangentially. This is to say that should labor be automated it shall be, and should consumers consume via credit and debt, all the better. This juxtaposition between ideology and reality, that the world does not look and feel the way one thinks it should, is known as relative deprivation. And while there are many complex theories on this topic, the general idea is most simply laid out in a passage from Marx's short work Wage Labour and Capital:
All that is missing from this scenario is the ideology of the person in the little home. Should they be a white liberal, they would have been taught to believe in the big palace, to believe that it is just and right and that the owner of the palace deserves to have such a superior home. We can see how this scenario will suffice for quite some time. So long as the person in the little home can reconcile their relative poverty with something larger, they will endure these conditions. But as the palace owner buys up more and more land, buys the government, and uses this influence to pass laws that further impoverish and jeopardize the livelihoods of the poor for the benefit of the rich, the justifications for inequality become harder to rationalize. White liberals are coming to this crossroads.
This situation is partially due to the fact that Trump administration differs from previous administrations in one primary respect: it does not attempt to appear as legitimate. Unlike every previous administration in which officials spouted the rhetoric of democracy, the Trump administration makes no such claims. It is in power, this much is clear, and this is the end of the discussion. No attempt is made to "reach across the isle," to feign interest in the public, or to conceal cronyism, conflicts of interest, and nepotism. If you don't like it, tough luck, "she lost." This complete destruction of the legitimacy of the executive branch from within spirals down to the white liberal who relies on said legitimacy for ideological coherence. Without faith in the system, faith that has only ever been rewarded at the expense of another (usually indigenous peoples, black or brown folks, and the poor), the charade of civilization begins to reveal itself.
Good bye indeed, but not to the Republicans who passed this dumpster fire of a law. It is goodbye to the poorest and most marginalized of people, people who the liberal elites have no time and energy for, instead focusing on their own reelection. But what else is new? For those who know well poverty and oppression this is old news, a continuation of over five hundred years of violence and greed. But for those who have been living on the backs of the impoverished and imprisoned, all the while believing justice available to everyone and their position legitimate, to these white liberals this is a day of reckoning. Today is the day they learned that they are just like everyone else who isn't part of the racist capitalist class: expendable.