Scandal as Power Struggle in the U.S. Ruling Class
Inquisition in Session
Revolutionary Worker #990, January 17, 1999
It is winter where I live--very winter. And we are shoveling out. The snow has reached crisis proportions, revealing the class relations--which neighborhoods are poor and Black, the lack of social services, the cruelty of a society organized around profit, the haves and have nots. To get out of it requires collective struggle and shoveling. Where the shovel does not reach, the snow does not vanish by itself (to borrow a phrase from Mao.) And so it is with the Inquisition. We are up to our collective eyeballs in the relentless horror show that now passes for government in the so-called "greatest democracy in the world" and collectively we have to shovel our way out.
The Inquisition is in full session. For the second time in history the U.S. ruling class has put their president on trial. As I hang my frozen socks on the radiator, Cokie Roberts appears on the screen to put a solemn spin on the farce underway in the Senate.
They are sworn to do "impartial justice." As the camera pans the Senate chambers, white supremacists and male dominators are on parade. The loathsome Henry Hyde--whose title as a papal knight (for outstanding service against women) actually gives him the medieval right to ride into Church on a horse--has ridden the Inquisition to the front of the Senate where he reads the articles of impeachment. The ancient Dixiecrat Strom Thurmond--President Pro Tem and third in the line of succession after the President--passes his chair to the Supreme Court reactionary Rehnquist to preside over the trial. I flip through some historical notes on Rehnquist--a Nixon appointee to the Supreme Court, who began his legal career writing memos supporting the Jim Crow "separate but equal" doctrine, was responsible for federal laws supporting wiretapping, surveillance without a court order, no knock entry by the police, and preventive detention, and believes that the states are not actually required to comply with the Bill of Rights.
We hear high praise for the performance of that old klansman and Senate historian Robert Byrd at a closed door meeting in the old Senate chamber which was last used to debate slavery in the days before the Civil War. And the vicious Senator Trent Lott--known to consort with extreme white supremacists of the Council of Conservative Citizens--has suddenly emerged as a man of "moderation"-- working for a bi-partisan way for the Senate to conduct this railroad without becoming the laughing stock of the entire world and widening the gap between the public and official Washington into a chasm of distrust.
The President is now on trial. And once again I return to the contradictions that have bugged me since this whole thing got rolling. It has been a real exercise for us all in puzzling out the meaning of these bizarre events and getting to what are the interests of the masses of people.
I fantasize for a moment about how delicious it would be to watch the entire U.S. Senate turned into a total circus by a parade of witnesses like Linda Tripp and Lucien Goldberg. But the whole terms of this circus are harmful to the people: the sex police atmosphere, the imposition of religious morality on political and legal matters, the use of rule of law to entrap defendants, and the whole prosecutorial witch hunt.
We will now be subjected to a trial--where the Republican reactionaries who are on a mission to "correct" the country will again be given a public forum to run amok. Like the notorious police inspector of Les Miserables they are using the letter of the law as a weapon, without any sense of proportion, to push ahead their reactionary agenda. And what is at stake is how all this will impact on the people.
The thing about the Inquisition--is that the whole WAY in which Clinton is being gone after--the political and ideological terms of the whole thing--is fundamentally against the interests of the people. And this needs to be repudiated and resisted. All of the "standards"--the whole social and "moral" package being pushed by the Christian fascists,and the repressive political and legal/constitutional measures that have been utilized in pursuing the President--are completely opposed to the interests of the proletariat. They have already set very bad precedents for the courts to go after "ordinary people"--to say nothing of real political opponents of the system. And it amounts to a weird situation where it is not in the interests of the masses of people if Clinton is ousted on that basis.
It is not, as some people have suggested, because Clinton stands for anything positive for the masses of people. He doesn't. His special talent--for being the kind of guy who could play the saxophone out of one side of his mouth and call for "the end to welfare as we know it" out of the other side--has been in total service to the class of exploiters that runs this modern day slave ship called the United States of America. Clinton's special ability to combine the politics of cruelty with the cosmetics of diversity have made him an enemy of the Christian fascists and theocrats--who have been out to disgrace him since he took the Presidential oath. But Clinton too is fundamentally against the interests of the people.
I imagine a different situation--where the intensity of mass opposition to Clinton--the outcry against the boot camps and police brutality, the militarization of the border and persecution of immigrants, the bombing of Iraq--is creating a crisis; where sections of the ruling class are feeling the need to move against Clinton because of mass upheaval generated in response to the real crimes Clinton has committed--against the masses of people, against humanity. That would be a very different scenario, a radically different dynamic.
But that is not what the Inquisition is about. The impeachment of Clinton has become a focal point of the determined, many-sided effort by powerful forces within American society to impose a mean-spirited, reactionary and repressive social agenda. And it is the fallout of all this for the people that is at stake.
What is the morality they are seeking to impose? On my desk is an article by Stanley Crouch, a reporter for the New York Daily News, running down the connections of Senate Majority leader Trent Lott and Congressman Barr of the House Judiciary Committee with the white supremacist Council of Conservative Citizens. Why is it that this Senator and Congressman, who have long called for Clinton's impeachment, are not considered guilty of offenses that should have them removed from office when they have been openly associated with--sought support from and lent support to--avowed white supremacists? Why doesn't the Congress consider that conduct which demeans and degrades the society and its institutions?
Thoughts of civil war pop into my head. The last impeachment had to do with the Civil War: at that time radical anti-slavery Republicans pushed for the impeachment of Andrew Johnson, a white supremacist who was attempting to derail Reconstruction and restore the power of the slaveowners. Today, powerful reactionary conservatives--neo-Confederates--have risen to the top of the Republican party and are using this Inquisition to reimpose a whole program of inequality and injustice. They are heading up a culture war. The last civil war in this country brought the end of slavery--it occurs to me that the next one can end another form of slavery.
I remember the scene of two women sitting in the Judiciary Committee hearings--women who had been convicted of lying under oath about sexual matters. They had been dragged there by the Inquisitors to prove that no one should be above the law, and they were confessing their sins and talking about how much better they felt for having been convicted and imprisoned. And in their humiliation one could get a glimpse of what the Inquisition has in store for lives of the people: the destruction of legal rights, the invasion of the state into matters of consensual sex; imposing religious morality as legal standards; and the imposition of traditional patriarchal morality. There is no justice on this road.
And how can this political assault, this culture war, and the rise of these reactionary forces -- which is really a kind of civil war against the people--be the occasion for "decorum" and "civility"? As the Senate wrapped up on a Friday evening, congratulating itself for being able to proceed with the Inquisition, we could see once again so clearly why the people cannot rely on Clinton or the Democrats to fight this Inquisition. In the name of upholding the Constitution and the intentions of the "founding fathers" the trial is now proceeding against the will of the people.
As I write, the morning paper is filled with news of senatorial unity. The power structure is now trying to paper over the deep divisions in their ranks--bending over backwards to reinforce the appearance of "stability" within their ruling structures. Soon enough they will probably be at each other's throats again. But any resolution of this crisis where the "acceptable politics" being are pushed further and further to the Right and where the moral and legal standards of the Christian fascists are being legitimized and institutionalized--any such resolution which allows the verdicts of the Inquisition to stand cannot be in the interests of the people. This was brought home to me when I picked up the New York Times and found Democratic Senator Dodd comparing the Senate agreement on the trial process to the "Compromise of 1850" which resulted in the Fugitive Slave Act. "We had a chance to allow the spirits of the Websters, Calhouns and Clays to maybe infect us a bit."
The fact that this trial is going ahead is a chilling reminder of the strength of the religious reactionaries in the government and the unwillingness of the forces behind the Inquisition to accept a defeat. And this show of unity in the Senate is yet another reminder that the ruling class wants to settle this whole affair without a serious and disruptive challenge to the whole reactionary agenda. Only the people can really fight the Inquisition.
The snow is falling again. I reach for my shovel....
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