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McCain’s duplicitous imperialism wrapped in flags and the violence of patriotism


Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor:

When you don’t have time to write something, but it bothers you so much that you have to do it anyway: I had some thoughts about McCain’s funerals

When much of the Left refuses to engage in the celebration of John McCain’s career, it should not be reduced to “dancing on his grave” or simply “celebrating” his death as if we, the public, were a part of some grotesque family drama.

The funerals for McCain were orgies of patriotism, opportunities for the masters of war to rewrite their crimes, to ignore their effects and to further normalize the massive violence and human degradation this country engages in. This matters in the way that it continues to excuse war, to pave its way and to habituate the public to its consequences. McCain marshaled racism, nationalism and militarism to extend the reach of US imperialism in the past, and his death is being used, now to mobilize to rehabilitate the stalled project of American empire by preserving a space for the likes of Henry Kissinger, George W. Bush, and even Barack Obama to rewrite the nation’s war-past as something noble, heroic, dignified.

At a time when distrust of the government is at an all time high, McCain’s passing offers an opportunity to make heroes out of murderers; it is yet another opportunity to lie about the US’s genocidal war in Vietnam; its mass murder in Iraq and Afghanistan and its crimes throughout all of the Middle East. It is an opportunity to recruit to its war machine. Speaking out against McCain isn’t personal; it’s an act of resistance against this country’s leaders insatiable appetite for war. It is especially a responsibility for those of us live in the empire to speak out loudly against its wars and its support of repressive regimes.

Some have argues for a nuanced view of McCain, believing that his contempt for Trump was evidence of his integrity. They have decided that the rift was over honor and respect for the office of the presidency, but I don’t buy it. McCain voted in agreement with 83 percent of Trump backed bills. Instead, McCain’s rift with Trump is the same as it has been with many of the neocons. They believe that US imperialism can penetrate more deeply and persuasively when it is cloaked in the rhetoric of freedom, democracy and justice. For the hawks of McCain’s generation, the US has never fought an unjust war and its military prowess should know no bounds.

‘American exceptionalism’ requires the endless promotion of American innocence and its perpetual righteousness at home and abroad. Internally, it has meant ignoring its past rooted in slavery and the resulting and particular demonization of Black people, as a way of dismissing Black poverty, inequality and oppression. There is no romance or sanitizing the history of Black people in this country so instead, its ruling class has concocted the lies of Black domestic dysfunction, lapsed personal responsibility and a culture of poverty as a way of dismissing systemic critiques of the United States. This, of course, complicated the US’s efforts at militarily controlling the post-World War Two world, while simultaneously claiming to be the world’s greatest democracy. The U.S. had to take race out of the law to voice the right and authority to dictate other country’s politics and governing. But this disjuncture between U.S. rhetoric and its racist reality was also a source of radicalization within the country. This too was placated with pledges of colorblindness and race-neutrality which, in turn, was promoted, in part, as the source of authority to dictate a “new world order”, “humanitarian” intervention, and the preemptive “Bush Doctrine”.

The US empire has been built with a velvet hammer. The velvet is, of course, for the home front. How do the rich and powerful amass an army of the ordinary? They do so, in part by sanitizing the aims and objectives of the war. Trump, of course, has disrupted that doctrine and replaced it with his own: America First. Where the appearance of diplomacy masked the strong-arm militarism and violence of the US regime, Trump forgoes that and instead uses threats, insults, and overwhelming violence to influence global politics. McCain’s duplicitous imperialism, wrapped in flags and the violence of patriotism is not virtuous in comparison to Trump’s mobster imperialism. We should oppose all imperialisms and the violent and destructive influence of the United States in the world.

Rewriting the past is not about only about “righting” history; it is about opposing the new wars and new occupations, new nationalisms and new racisms inevitably created and reproduced in war and at home.

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