By Ismael Castro
A tussle was unleashed a few days ago between Donald Trump and various politicians from Puerto Rico and the US around what the latter categorize as ‘second class treatment’ of the 3.5 million US citizens in the colony. The criticisms launched by Luis Gutiérrez and Carmen Yulín Cruz, two representatives of liberal political tendencies, are centered on the prejudicial attitude of Trump and the supposed violation of the citizens’ rights of Puerto Ricans.
Let us analyze this controversy more closely.
The promotion of ethnic chauvinism, or racial prejudice, by Trump is indisputable. It forms part of a deliberate strategy to ideologically disorient the working masses in the United States and prepare the ground for a fascist offensive. However, to evaluate the response to the situation in Puerto Rico by the current US administration on the basis of Trump’s individual attitude, independently of how culturally and intellectually backward or psychologically degenerate he may be, would be a grave error. Donald Trump is the representative of the ruling class, the capitalist class, and his political conduct reflects the material interests and the worldview of this class. As such, the criticisms directed at the individual, Donald Trump, by Gutiérrez and Cruz, two unrepentant defenders of the very same capitalist system, represents an act of brazen political dishonesty.
By identifying the individual bias of Trump as the principal motive of his politics one obscures the concrete fact that the very same individual that has promoted, for example, anti Muslim attitudes within the US maintains important business relations with Saudi oligarchs as well as other capitalists from Muslim majority countries. In other words, above and beyond any racial discourse employed by rightwing politicians to mobilize the politically backward sectors of the masses, whether in the US or Europe, there are always capitalist economic interests. This does not mean that Trump, as an individual, does not harbor racist attitudes. There is ample proof to sustain such an argument. However, his subjective feelings are secondary. What is most important from the perspective of the working masses is the understanding that the policies imposed by the ruling class in the US are not an expression of the subjective attitudes of individual members but rather the interests of the most important sectors of the capitalist class.
To prove this point, one only needs to recall the policies of the liberal and “post” racial Obama. It was under Obama, wo no one accuses of being racist, that the US ruling class intensified its imperialist aggression against millions of Muslims and persons of other ethnicities and religions in places like the Middle East and Central Asia. Nicknamed the deporter-in-chief for the record-breaking number of deportations that took place during his eight years, this same Obama authorized US imperialism to carry out a brutal coup in Honduras only to later deny entry into the United States to thousands of Central American children. At the same time, he oversaw the continuation of the construction of the vast network of prisons along the US southern border to intern immigrants. And what of his domestic policies? During the eight years of the liberal Obama administration there was no reversal of the prodigious rise in social inequality – the richest remained with all the benefits of the so-called economic recovery – or any lessoning of the attacks against wages and benefits for workers. In the case of Puerto Rico, it was under Obama, whose administration shined with staff of all races, ethnicities, religions, genders and sexual orientations, that the hated dictatorial Junta was imposed which is now dictating the program of brutal austerity on behalf of Wall Street’s financial parasites.
Neither, Gutiérrez, a Democratic party representative, or Cruz, a democratic sympathizer, dared to stand up and denounce these infamies carried out by a democratic administration or call for resistance. And despite their pretenses of support for sovereignty, neither can see beyond an idealized banana republic in which ‘native’ capitalists would live in harmony with their partners in the north.
Gutiérrez and Cruz are veteran operatives of liberal capitalist parties. As such, they are experts in the carefully choreographed politics in which criticisms target particularly rightwing individuals or policies in order to deflect from the systemic roots of the attacks being carried out by ALL sectors of the capitalist class against the workers. They do not do this accidently or unconsciously. Elements such as Gutiérrez and Cruz are fully aware that liberal administrations are no less complicit that their conservative counterparts. The objective function of these elements is to prevent popular outrage from reaching its revolutionary potential by channeling it towards the putrid house of betrayal known as the Democratic Party in the US and the PPD in Puerto Rico.
Incapable of directly calling on the working class on the basis of its revolutionary capacity, both Gutiérrez and Cruz have used their recent media celebrity to offer us more cheap theater; shedding tears for the workers and poor in Puerto Rico while they beg Trump for relief. This spectacle is as hypocritical as it is absurd. None of these political charlatans has ever renounced their support of the same US imperialism that pillages societies at the point of a cannon or given the working masses and example of political conduct that was not colonial subservience.
But there is more.
Basing the criticism of the Trump administration on the ‘second class’ treatment of Puerto Ricans viz.-a-viz. whites or the residents of the 50 states such as Texas or Florida, who were also devastated by hurricanes conceals the reality of poverty and suffering within the United States itself. Although the Puerto Rican case presents itself as an extreme, it is by no means unique. The disdain that the capitalists feel towards the working masses is universal.
Let’s take as an example Houston, a city with a poverty rate (39%) that is double the national average, in order to see the myth of this much lauded rapid and efficient federal response to Harvey. Several weeks after Harvey struck, there were reports of thousands of families still living in shelters, areas without electricity, piles of ruin in the streets, homes with mold issues, and mosquito plagues. In addition to the bureaucratic obstacles of FEMA, something with which Puerto Ricans are too familiar, the case of Houston also illustrates insufficient state and federal funds for relief and recovery.
In the Florida Keys, Irma’s path aggravated an existing crisis of affordable housing for turism workers that sustain said industry. Far from trying to resolve this crisis, the federal response has been limited to supplying mobile homes and trailers to the victims while the absentee owners of luxury vacation homes in the area continue to benefit from the rise in real estate prices.
However, it is the case of New Orleans after Katrina that is perhaps most emblematic of the liberal myth around the second class treatment exclusive to Puerto Ricans. Can anyone forget the images of impoverished families, black and white, abandoned to their fate months after Katrina? Were not these liberals equally outraged by seeing thousands of deaths, millions displaced, revelations of political corruption and urban decay, as well as the chaos and incompetence of federal relief and recovery efforts? Despite this liberal outrage, New Orleans as well as its surrounding areas along the coast of Louisiana and Mississippi continue to be among the most unequal and poverty stricken in the US. In fact, the recovery of New Orleans has been marked by an increase in the gap between rich and poor; Nola 2.0 is the second most unequal city in the US, with a dramatic reduction in public spending allotted to “public” education, which is now completely in private hands through charters, and a wave of gentrification driven by the massive influx of venture capitalists in search of opportunities to benefit from the favorable business climate, which includes low wages and little to no benefits.
And the racial argument?
In a series of articles recently published by The Guardian newspaper, in which the life of four communities is investigated (Appalachian Kentucky, the Mississippi Delta, the Texas border and a reservation in Arizona), what is highlighted is the true face of poverty in the US. Said poverty extends to all regions and states, and includes all races and ethnicities. In the end, the undeniable common feature of these communities and many others is that for the US capitalist class, these citizens are all ‘second class’. Being a resident of the 50 states, white or English-speaking has been of little value to them. As workers and part of the poor, they are treated with the same capitalist disdain.
The outrage of our Puerto Rican liberals is nothing more than cheap politics. The class conscious workers are not fooled by this. As grotesque a figure as Trump or his consorts appear to be, the liberals can offer nothing better.
We communists have a responsibility to expose these efforts to deceive the broad layers of the working class, to unmask the lies, tricks and all of the liberal hypocrisy. Only through the combination of the hard school of lived historical experiences and communist education, which includes a correct assessment of the political conduct of liberals, will the working class as a whole begin to develop consciousness of its revolutionary capacity.