In some ways, it’s surprising that something like this has taken quite so long to happen in this election cycle. Almost a year after Poway, eighteen months after Pittsburgh, two-and-a-half years after Charlottesville. No, a flag can never do as much literal damage as a loaded rifle or a speeding muscle car plowing through a crowd, but to deny that they now exist on a continuum is the kind of vulgar materialism reserved for those who want to wish away just how bad things have gotten.
Geographically, it makes sense. Phoenix, after all, is border territory, home of Joe Arpaio and his outdoor detention centers, but at the same time more than a third Latino, with an undocumented population estimated in the tens of thousands. No wonder that Bernie Sanders’ promise to abolish ICE and CBP, polls so well among these communities. Sanders’ candidacy is quite literally a line of defense against concentration camps that litter the US border and the gestapo-like raids that come with them.
It is not hyperbole then to say Phoenix is a frontier of empire, a place where the tectonic plates of reaction and opposition are constantly breaking against each other. Those who piggishly continue to insist “it can’t happen here” forget that empires are where spectral fascism becomes solid and corpulent. And yes, this American iteration will – must in fact – include an anti-semitism that sees Jews as a key component in a world conspiracy of inundating economies with socialism and populations with non-whites.
This contingent of American politics is not so much fading away as it is evolving and morphing. In a recent article for Commune, Shane Burley insists that the recent relative quiescence of the alt-right is due to the assimilation of its platform into post-Trump national conservatism, along with the disarray that actual alt-right organizations now find themselves in. There is undoubtedly something to this. But it is also true that this runs alongside an uptick in attacks by far-rightists, isolated individuals “red-pilled” into acts of indiscriminate violence in the name of a pure world threatened by impurity, what Richard Seymour identifies as the “lone wolf phase of fascism.” Think of the shootings in El Paso, Christchurch, and again of Pittsburgh and Poway.
We should make no mistake: a Joe Biden presidency will do nothing to stop this. For one thing, it is painfully obvious that Donald Trump will be able to run circles around him in the general election. For another, and connected to this, he is imbricated in the same imperial project that inevitably bends in the direction of state repression, of a militarized border, of racialized violence. Many of the liberal, centrist and even conservative organizations denouncing the display of a Nazi flag at the Phoenix rally have already undermined themselves by remaining silent as Sanders has been dragged through the mud for his support of Palestinian rights, with the accompanying implication that he is “not a good Jew.”
Moving forward, we can reasonably bet that the likes of MSNBC and CNN will condemn this in that non-committal way we are now used to. Doing so will allow them to continue with their cynical “two white men dominating the primaries” narrative. It will also, perhaps more dangerously, ignore the very imperial process of splitting and redefining whiteness that his happening before our eyes.
To look at all this and say that Sanders’ candidacy does not in fact represent a potential break with this timeline is woefully myopic. Clearly, the most virulent and nasty elements in American politics think otherwise. No, a Sanders presidency will not be able to put a halt to it, at least not decisively. But it will raise the possibility of dealing a very real blow to these same forces, creating what I have in the past referred to as “breathing room” for the networks of struggle and solidarity needed to drown them in the rivers of history. This, and nothing less, is what is at stake.