I co-wrote an article with the late Michael Brooks about how charges of hypocrisy are unhelpful in political discourse. Of course, one would want to rob their opponent of a tool that they would gladly keep for themselves. When Mitch McConnell rushes through a court nomination under a Republican president but blocks one under a Democrat, he’s not being hypocritical, because he is a political solider tasked with consolidating power at all costs.
I’m reminded of this fixation on contradictions in the wake of a failed fascist insurrection at the US Capitol – the Bud Lite Putsch, as journalist Arun Gupta calls it. The Left receives some finger-waving from the establishment Right: “Oh, it’s okay to riot over George Floyd but it’s bad when Trump’s people think the election’s been stolen?” And the Right gets the same treatment when they spent years saying, “Blue Lives Matter,” while the Make America Great Again movement just ended up killing two Capitol Hill Police officers.
For the Left, let’s keep in mind that insurrectionary tactics are morally neutral on their own, it’s the goal of an insurrection that we need to judge. The American, French, Haitian and Russian Revolutions were emancipatory insurrections against old orders, rebellions against colonialism and monarchy meant to move human society forward. Then there can be insurrections against state power that are darker – think the beginning days of the Nazis or the failed military campaign of the Confederacy. These were racist movements meant to preserve hierarchies and undo historical progress, in full defiance of state power and bourgeois democracy. The confederates were rebels in the face of US power, but their crime wasn’t taking on the Union. Their crime was that their singular purpose was the continuation of keeping Black people as property to enrich their ruling class.
For the Right, let’s keep in mind that knee-jerk defenses of police power have always been selective. When Black Lives Matter demonstrates against police violence, the Right’s quick defense of the police rests not on their inherent love of policing but the police’s role in maintaining white supremacy and defending property rights. The police can be an enemy of the Right if the police are standing in the way of its aims, like protecting the validation of an election in which a fascist movement’s spiritual leader, Donald Trump, lost. Hence why it shouldn’t seem like a contradiction that the Right can hate the Bureau of Land Management when it goes after the Bundys or the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms when it instigated the stand-off at Ruby Ridge, and then just as easily fly a Blue Lives Matter flag when a white cop in Staten Island strangles a Black man to death for allegedly selling cigarettes unlawfully or support a fully militarized Immigration and Customs Enforcement as those agents toss migrant children into concentration camps.
These fixations on contradictions and tactics distract us from the real differences that are the source of political division. Do you believe that one should have equal access to rights, society’s wealth and enjoyment of life regardless of one’s race, nationality, gender, sexuality, religion, ability and what not? Or do you believe in a rigidly enforced hierarchy based on these categorizations? That’s the division, not what we generally think of police or storming a government building.
It is just better for us to be honest about this. Yes, I’m going to oppose an insurrection by white nationalists in the Capitol, but support disability activists who get evicted by Capitol Hill Police for protesting Medicaid cuts, because one is in defense of humanity and the other is not. Likewise, yes, I will be with Black Lives Matter the next time a white cop shoots an unarmed Black person, but if a federal agent has a neo-Nazi militiaman crossed up in his scope I’m not going to yell “hold your fire.” You may think, “Ah-ha! I’ve caught Ari in a contradiction!” But we all have contradictions. Ask why I have this contradiction.
Trump’s putsch failed, but we are likely to see more spasms of conflict. It’s going to be tempting to assert that our enemies are acting hypocritically, but that charge really says little about them. When we see these contradictions, we have to ask why these contradictions exist. The more honest we are about that, the more likely a movement that is universal and emancipatory wins over one that is reactionary, anti-democratic and cruelly hierarchical.
And one more thing: Rest in Power, Michael Brooks.