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Forget Coates vs. West — We All Have a Duty to Confront the Full Reach of U.S. Empire


Forget Coates vs. West — We All Have a Duty to Confront the Full Reach of U.S. Empire

Naomi Klein

What are the duties of radicals and progressives inside relatively wealthy countries to the world beyond our national borders?

Cornel West, left, professor of philosophy at Union Theological Seminary, speaks at the National Press Club on Feb. 21, 2017 in Washington, D.C. Author Ta-Nehisi Coates, right, pictured during a press conference.


It is unfortunate that West’s Guardian critique is not provided here, nor is the Intercept commentary in its entirety, since - as Klein and Tometi point out - this is a question that is woefully neglected in liberal/progressive discussion and in left activism generally.

“the atmosphere of intense political crisis in the United States is breeding a near myopic insularity among progressives and even some self-described radicals, one that is not just morally dangerous but strategically shortsighted. By defining our work exclusively as what goes on inside our borders, and losing touch with the rich anti-imperialist tradition, we risk depriving our movements of the revolutionary power that flows from cross-border exchanges of both wisdom and tactics.”

We also tend to neglect the struggle of U.S. veterans and their families, who proved at Standing Rock and in early organizing against the Iraq War that they can be powerful allies.

Our moral responsibility and strategic failings are only part of the problem. American liberals, progressives and leftists demonstrate a type of learned helplessness when it comes to confronting U.S. imperialism, even though America’s unchallenged commitment to empire severely limits what sort of left reform can be achieved politically in this country. Militarism poisons our political discourse and it feeds bigotry and authoritarian thinking. The money we spend on the power to slaughter people overseas could pay for universal health care, free public college, or feed hungry children. It could support genuine democratic movements and sustainable development around the world.

When we pretend America’s wars are not our problem, we do more than duck our responsibility as the only force on this planet that can possibly end those wars. We undermine our own power by accepting the anemic range of political choice offered to us by the Washington consensus.


The title of this article references West and Coates, but the gist of the article is not about them. The gist of this article, stands, and it is at least a century old. So, not quite sure why it had to include West and Coates - if not for attracting readers - and why did it have to use so many words for such a simple clear thesis. And frankly although the article calls for internationalization…it still does it with a north american centric world view imo.


For me one line transcends all…

all of our shadows are the same color


A saw West’s article not as an attack on Coates so much as a teaching moment and critique of nationalism and limited identity politics devoid of the larger context of class exploitation, corporate rule and its brutal realities. Cornell West was reminding Coats essentially of Dr. Kings 3 headed monster of capitalism, militarism and racism. One can choose to listen and discuss or one can choose to retreat into defensive posturing. This is a time when the destructive and isolating force of nationalism is again ascendant and I can certainly understand Coate’s distrust and pessimism about 'white" people but he should learn from West’s wise counsel, in my opinion. Only together can we defeat fascism and only together can we survive.


The media always succeeds in shifting these debates in ways that make them irrelevant. The real questions never even get discussed. The same thing happened with all the sexual harassment allegations. At first it was all about the oppressions caused by power hierarchies. But that didn’t last long, and then it was all about a few individual men who fell from grace, just a few bad apples. Losing their jobs will be the only punishment they receive. Weeks later and the issue has been watered down so much that it seems ridiculous. The real culprit is now Meryl Streep. And the real criminal in the Russia collusion investigation is now Jill Stein. And there you have it. That’s how every scandal in America ends.


The power hierarchies you speak of are only scandals because they have nice photos of two powerful white people. As if… the deflection works because the continuous power trips by the white or super-rich ( read privileged with a cadre of lawyers and publicists ) are fake crisis or fake news. The big catfight becomes part of the celebrity tussle for money and positioning, pretty much. Wow, that’s news— same as it ever was news, that is. Bread and circuses, indeed.
While the " little people “, which is most of us working today ( Mary & Joe Lunchpails ) are in " the soup de jour” and have to like it or lump it, as it were. Imagine all the women who’ve settled multi-million dollar lawsuits taking 20% of their money and setting up a legal aid fund for the little people, to band together and begin class-action projects to end institutional sexual misconduct and workplace harassment and discrimination.
I say imagine because you’d have to have a very vivid imagination to ever see that happening in today’s environment. " In America today, every week seems like shit on your neighbor week, anymore ". Annonymous
P. S. That sense of interconnectedness, of " think globally act locally " touches on, but doesn’t fully address, the fact that the hierarchy you speak of usually ends with a sympathy card and not much else. " Putting your money where your mouth is " is rarely factored into the next big scandal.


I read it as just another of Wests petty jealousies. Something he gets defensive about in the final paragraph.
It’s been about 25 years since West has written anything substantive. He’s a camera hunting minor celebrity now. Coates has been getting too much attention.


Power hierarchies make the little people appear invisible and irrelevant. The only newsworthy scandals have to involve celebrities because the media believe that nobody else is worth talking about. If you put the little people all together, they don’t have enough collective power between them to change the situation. The power in this society is extremely centralized, and our media only focus on power. If you ask me, that is the problem. It is kind of like the disintegration of the family. Families used to be the main support group that people had. But more and more the family serves no purpose for a lot of people. For most people, the family only offers symbolic moral support because anything more than that is not possible for them anymore.


I really like those last two sentences. It’s an economic and socio-anthro thesis project waiting to happen.


Check out the book Culture of Narcissism by Christopher Lasch. It was written in the late seventies and still applies today as well as it did back then. He identifies the collapse of the family as one of the main causes of the rapidly increasing social problems in the US.


Mmm … missed that one. Trying to keep 13 crazy so-called misfits gainfully employed at the age of 26, will cut down on your reading time.