The gay young presidential candidate’s cops killed a Black father on Father’s Day, but Butiggieg snubbed the community vigil.
“The neoliberal, developer-friendly pro-gentrification mayor has poured salt on the city’s racial wounds.”
A Mayoral Sighting in the Wrong City
I saw Mayor Pete at the local downtown Farmers’ Market a month or so ago.
I should be more specific. I saw Pete Butiggieg, the mayor of South Bend, Indiana, at the downtown Farmers’ Market in Iowa City, Iowa.
To what did I owe this sighting, three hundred miles west of Butiggieg’s hometown? To the 2020 presidential candidate extravaganza, of course. A university town, Iowa City is a liberal bastion of Democratic Party voting that holds significance for presidential candidates vying for a top finish in Iowa’s first-in-the-nation presidential caucus. Mayor Pete was there to build a following on his way to the White House.
My first thought on seeing Buttigieg and his camera crew: “doesn’t this guy have issues, many racial in nature, to deal with over in South Bend?” (I recalled seeing an article in which a Black South Bend teenager told a reporter that Butiggieg’s supposedly successful mayoralty had made no discernible positive difference in the lives of the city’s Black residents).
Little did I know how portentous my reflection was at the time. Buttigieg’s run for the Democratic presidential nomination is on hold. He recently had to skip a major fundraiser with deep- pockets Wall Street election investors in Manhattan. He had to miss the “famous Jim Clyburn Fish Fry” in South Carolina, where all the other presidential candidates gathered last weekend to jostle for the majority Black vote in that state’s early Democratic primary. He’s been missing out on the opportunity to take shots at the dementia-addled Democratic front-runner Joe Biden for boasting of his past collaboration with Jim Crow “segregationists” (fascists and terrorists in all-too rarely mentioned historical reality) and for saying (as if Biden had forgotten his own skin color) that the old Jim Crow Senator James O. Eastland “never called me ‘boy.’”
What’s tripped up Buttigieg? The same problem that caused Biden difficulties last week: the long and living American record of racial oppression and the pain that ongoing history produces. Butiggieg has had to stop racing around the country because a racial firestorm has broken out in South Bend, where he’s been a very white mayor for seven years.
Separate, Unequal, and Violent
As is generally the case in such firestorms, the incident that sparked the conflagration was the latest in a series of racist provocations. It didn’t all start from scratch when a white police officer shot dead a 54-year-old Black man without the officer’s body camera or dash-cam video turned on. Logan’s killing on Fathers’ Day bared a simmering and acrimonious conflict between Black South Bend and the city’s predominantly white police department—a department that has become more Caucasian during Buttigieg’s reign.
South Bend is one-fourth Black. It has a Black-white segregation index of 66.4,meaning that two-thirds of its Black residents would have to move to another part of the city to live in a census tract with the same racial composition as the city overall.
In South Bend as across America, separate is unequal. Median Black household income is half of white median household income there and is $14,000 lower than the national Black average. Forty percent of the city’s Black residents live below the poverty line,a number nearly double the national Black poverty rate andnearly double the local white poverty rate.
The city’s disproportionately and increasingly white police department has long been enforcing these interrelated disparities of geographic and socioeconomic place in a brutal fashion. Violent clashes between the police and Black residents have occurred for many years. The cops involved in the death of Eric Logan have been repeatedly accused of employing excessive force against Black people.
Salt on the Wounds
Mayor Pete hasn’t eased the tensions. Quite the opposite. The neoliberal, developer-friendly pro-gentrification mayor has poured salt on the city’s racial wounds. Just three months into his first term in 2012, he pushed out the city’s first Black police chief, who had been accused of “illegally” recording the racist remarks of white officers.
Black South Bend police officers have undertaken lawsuits charging Buttigieg’s handpicked white police chiefs with racially discriminatory conduct.
The Logan family lawyer reasonably considers the latest terrible incident the result of Buttigieg’s longstanding “acceptance” of racist police misconduct.
“Buttigieg pushed out the city’s first Black police chief, who had been accused of ‘illegally’ recording the racist remarks of white officers.”
Buttigieg added insult to injury in the aftermath of Logan’s death. He skipped a vigil for the victim at the shooting scene the following Monday evening. His first public remarks on the incident after a late-night press conference the day of the shooting took place in front of the police, not in the community or with the Logan family. They were delivered at a local Board of Public Safety swearing-in ceremony for six new police officers, all white.
At a nationally televised Town Hall last Sunday afternoon, an unshaven Butiggieg (trying to make his face look less white perhaps) looked irritated, defensive, and put-upon. Articulating a widespread sentiment in the city’s highly segregated Black neighborhoods, a Black mother spoke movingly about the injustice of having to worry about the threat posed to the public safety of her children by the local police. Cable news anchors marveled at how Butiggieg had “lost control of the situation” while Black citizens hooted and shouted at his ineffective efforts to smooth things over, Obama-style, with the help of a cringingly accommodating and technically Black NAACP official. The mayor seemed to have swallowed his silver tongue.
Frederick Douglass Would Not Be Impressed by the “Douglass Plan”
None of this should be particularly surprising to anyone who’s read up on Mayor Pete’s vapidly centrist, corporate-imperial biography. Seeking to overcome poor polling among Black voters even before the Eric Logan killing, Butiggieg recently unveiled his “Douglass Plan,” offensively named after the great Black civil rights and social justice champion Frederick Douglass.
Douglass would not be impressed by Butiggieg’s neoliberal and technocratic scheme, which promises to expand Black “entrepreneurship” and “minority business ownership” while minimally reforming “credit-scoring” and lending practices in “race-neutral” ways. Butiggieg has also called for a new Voting Rights Act that would ban voter ID laws and require potentially discriminatory voting law changes to be reviewed by the Justice Department.
If that sounds like milquetoast Mayo on white bread, that’s because it is. The “Douglass Plan” contains no serious structural intervention to overcome the nation’s deeply entrenched patterns of mutually reinforcing class and racial disparity – patterns so extreme that Black median household wealth is equivalent to eight cents on the white median household dollar. There’s no call for reparations and redistribution, no great fund to pay for Black schools and guarantee good and useful jobs, no promise to tear down the nation’s giant racist mass incarceration state, no call to free millions of Black Americans from the lifelong stigma of felony records (“the New Jim Crow”). There no call to redirect resources from the bloated Pentagon system to the meeting of social needs, no promise to take over the nation’s leading parasitic financial institutions and redirect the nation’s economic surplus to correcting social and environmental ills. There’s no call to reverse gentrification (a pronounced feature of Butiggieg’s South Bend) or to undo endemic de factorace-class segregation, which trap tens of millions of Black Americans in communities devoid of jobs, good schools, green spaces, full-service groceries, safety, medical services and more.
For Things Continuing More or Less as They Are
But nobody should ever have expected anything more than nominally and superficially progressive from Pete Butiggieg. He’s an elitist and neoliberal “pragmatist” and technocrat in the centrist Clinton-Obama-Blair-Macron mode. This is consistent with his Harvard and Oxford education (socialization and indoctrination), his six years as an intelligence officer in the Navy Reserves, his six-month deployment in Afghanistan, and his three years working for McKinsey and Company, “the world’s most sinister and amoral management consulting company. McKinsey,” Nathan Robinson wrote in a must-read Current Affairsreporton Butiggieg last March, “ is in the news almost every week for some new horrendous deed, from advising Purdue Pharma on how to ‘turbocharge’ OxyContin sales to counseling dictators worldwide on how to build more efficient autocracies.” Robinson offers a chilling quote from an exposé written by an anonymous former McKinsey consultant:
“[If you believe that capitalism’s] continued practice poses an existential threat to governments, the biosphere, and poor people the world over, then the firm’s role is that of a co-conspirator to a crime in which we are all victims. McKinsey is capitalism distilled. It is global, mobile, flexible, and unabashedly pro-market and pro-management. The firm has an enormous stake in things continuing more or less as they are. Working for all sides, McKinsey’s only allegiance is to capital. As capital’s most effective messenger, McKinsey has done direct harm to the world in ways that, thanks to its lack of final decision-making power, are hard to measure and, thanks to its intense secrecy, are hard to know. The firm’s willingness to work with despotic governments and corrupt business empires is the logical conclusion of seeking profit at all costs. Its advocacy of the primacy of the market has made governments more like businesses and businesses more like vampires. By claiming that they solve the world’s hardest problems, McKinsey shrinks the solution space to only those that preserve the status quo.”
Buttigieg is proud of his time at McKinsey. It was, he says, an “intellectually informing experience” that taught him “about the nature of data.”
“Buttigieg is elitist and neoliberal ‘pragmatist’ and technocrat in the centrist Clinton-Obama-Blair-Macron mode.”
Buttigieg is equally proud of his military career, where he brought Arabic language skills to help Washington criminally assault the people of the Middle East and Southwest Asia.
McKinsey, Pentagon, and Harvard-Oxford credentials are useful in the ruling class presidential vetting process. But there’s but there there’s no quick technocratic, supposedly non-ideological, data-driven class- and color-neutral fixes to class-race oppression in South Bend or anywhere else across racist Amerika, whose creeping fascist President recently refused to apologize for his blatantly racist campaign against the falsely convicted and subsequently exonerated Central Park Five – and whose leading white Democratic presidential contender refuses to apologize for joking about the racist practice of calling Black men “boys” or for his many years of collaborating with racial terrorists from the fascist, white-supremacist Jim Crow South.
The Class He’ll Serve
Butiggieg’s “pragmatic” neoliberalism, outwardly calm and measured demeanor, and his stealth, Ivy League and McKinsey-minted commitment to the ideologically “neutral” preservation of existing race and class hierarchies ought to remind us of Obama. So should his identarian candidate-hook and the way it helps cloak his deep conservatism. If he can overcome his current imbroglio and recover to exploit the demented gaffe-machine Joe Biden’s weaknesses (this may well prove impossible), Butiggieg raises the specter of candidate gayness being used to help the United States ruling class distract the nation from its criminal and eco-exterminist power with the awesome symbolic and representational power of identity. At one level, a First Openly Gay President of the United States would represent a kind of symbolic and cultural human rights victory – just as Obama’s presidency did on race and a female presidency would on gender. At another and deeper level, given Buttigieg's neoliberalism and imperialism, it could be very dangerous. As John Pilger explained in 2009:
“Obama, the smooth operator from Chicago via Harvard, was enlisted to restore what he calls ‘leadership’ throughout the world. The Nobel Prize committee's decision is the kind of cloying reverse racism that has beatified the man for no reason other than he is a member of a minority and attractive to liberal sensibilities, if not to the Afghan children he kills. This is the Call of Obama. It is not unlike a dog whistle: inaudible to most, irresistible to the besotted and boneheaded…The great voice of black liberation Frantz Fanon understood this. In The Wretched of the Earth, he described the ‘intermediary [whose] mission has nothing to do with transforming the nation: it consists, prosaically, of being the transmission line between the nation and a capitalism, rampant though camouflaged.’ Because political debate has become so debased in our media monoculture -- Blair or Brown; Brown or Cameron -- race, gender and class can be used as seductive tools of propaganda and diversion.In Obama's case, what matters, as Fanon pointed out in an earlier era, is not the intermediary's ‘historic’ elevation, but the class he serves.After all, Bush's inner circle was probably the most multiracial in presidential history. There was Condoleezza Rice, Colin Powell, Clarence Thomas, all dutifully serving an extreme and dangerous power.”
As I'm sure Pilger would agree, we can add sexual orientation to the list of identities that can be "used as seductive tools of propaganda and diversion" on behalf of class and imperial rule.
1.As Cornel West told Anderson Cooper on CNNabout the insufficiency of the term “segregationist” to describe Jim Crow Senators like Eastland: “Part of the problem when you're talking about Jim Crow [is that] Jim Crow was neo-slavery. It inspired Nazism, so you're not just talking about segregationists. That's a deodorizing term. No, you're talking about hatred. You're talking about terror. You're talking about trauma. And greed. Because you're extracting people's labor…. That’s what Jim Crow was."
Paul Street’s latest book is They Rule: The 1% v. Democracy (2014).
Please join the conversation on Black Agenda Report's Facebook page at http://facebook.com/blackagendareport
Or, you can comment by emailing us at [email protected]