The plague of inequality in the age of pandemic: This uprising is about more than George Floyd

Both the COVID-19 pandemic and racist police brutality are part of a larger equation. More people see that now

By Henry A. Giroux
Published June 20, 2020 12:10PM (EDT)
A demonstrator wears a protective mask reading 'I can't breath' during a Black Lives Matter protest following the death of George Floyd (Pablo Blazquez Dominguez/Getty Images)
A demonstrator wears a protective mask reading 'I can't breath' during a Black Lives Matter protest following the death of George Floyd (Pablo Blazquez Dominguez/Getty Images)

Inequality under neoliberal capitalism is a cancer that functions as a form of slow violence that attacks the social fabric, the welfare state, and the body politic. All the more visible as a result of the current pandemic crisis, it relentlessly subjects workers, the disabled, the homeless, the poor, children, people of color and front line hospital and emergency workers and others considered at risk to lives of anxiety, uncertainty and, in some cases, death. [See note on sources at the end of this article.]

Many other people are just one hospital bill or failed harvest away from slipping into extreme poverty. In some cases, people who cannot afford health care are being put in jail because of unpaid medical bills. The statistics on inequality globally are scandalous. Oxfam International 2019 reports:

the world's richest 1% have more than twice as much wealth as 6.9 billion people who make up 60 percent of the planet's population. Meanwhile, around 735 million people are still living in extreme poverty. [In addition] the super-rich are paying the lowest levels of taxes in decades while 10,000 people die each day because they lack access to affordable health care. In addition, over 100 million people are pushed into extreme poverty due to healthcare costs.

Economic and racial inequality is not marginal to American society. It is the underlying governing structure that nourishes the medical, economic, and racial pandemics currently at work. Yet inequality, historically, under neoliberal capitalism, has been either largely ignored or underemphasized by the mainstream press or treated as part of the natural order. Prior to the pandemic, the gap between the rich and the poor widened to dangerous levels without being seen as a major societal and political problem. For instance in 2018, the world's 26 richest men had as much wealth as the poorest half of the world's population, some 3.8 billion people. Nearly 3 billion people, one-half of the world's population, live on less than $2.50 a day and "more than 1.3 billion live in extreme poverty — less than $1.25 a day." In the United States, the wealthiest three billionaires — Jeff Bezos, Bill Gates and Warren Buffett — have as much wealth as the bottom half of the U.S. population combined.

In an age of increasing inequality, punishing class divisions, extreme poverty, the collapse of democratic institutions and rising death tolls, neoliberal capitalism is a specter that needs to be more fully understood and challenged. In the current historical moment, rapidly escalating levels of inequality cannot be separated from the political formation in which they are legitimated and reproduced. At the very least, neoliberalism and inequality with their historical and contemporary roots and anti-democratic and authoritarian tendencies need to be denaturalized, removed from the calculus of common sense and challenged as an authoritarian political, economic and ideological regime of management, control and exclusion.  

As the COVID-19 crisis rages out of control in the United States, it becomes clear that iniquitous relations of power and wealth correlate with the loss of public goods, the disinvestment in essential institutions to protect public health and the concentration of wealth in the hands of a financial elite. Under neoliberalism, economic justice is both detached from economic prosperity, and viewed with disdain. At the same time, the state is transformed into a racialized corporate regime that refuses to invest in social goods such as public and higher education, public health systems, hospitals, and an economic model that moves more toward equality and sustainability. One unfortunate consequence of concentrating wealth and power in the hands of the rich has been a devaluation of those scientific institutions, research programs and medical experts that were necessary in addressing and containing the pandemic in the first place. 

As Tim Dickinson remarks in Rolling Stone, "The White House's inability to track the disease as it spread across the nation crippled the government's response and led to the worst disaster this country has faced in nearly a century." Moreover, as the COVID-19 plague accelerated, it made visible profound racial divides, mediated by a mix of despair for the most vulnerable and shameless opportunism by the ruling elite. In this context, as Ronald Aronson observes, "the African American death rate doubles and triples the death rate among white Americans, … the stress of unemployment and poverty hits those least able to afford it, [and] the government creates slush funds for the largest corporations." As thousands poured into the streets protesting police violence, the scourge of economic inequality and racial inequality were highlighted as life-threatening plagues that have a long history in the United States. What initially began as a medical crisis emerged as a political and economic crisis, laying bare a menacing ideological disaster steeped in police violence and a punishing degree of racism. 

Pandemic nightmares

The pandemic has undermined economic institutions and laid bare the ideological swindle of neoliberalism with its plague of massive inequality in wealth, power and access. Global capitalism has been brought to a halt, at least temporarily. The neoliberal state failed in the face of the pandemic, exposing its fault lines, revealing its inability to protect the poor, essential workers, and the most vulnerable from disproportionate levels of risk and death. The pandemic made evident the wreckage of structural, social and economic inequality, revealing it in all of its cruelty and effects, less as timeless conditions than as a predictable expression of a society in which wealth and the allocation of power are concentrated in relatively few hands. In what can be seen as a cruel form of political irony, the poor, homeless, the incarcerated and unemployed are now viewed as a general threat to society — as possible carriers of the virus — making their status and deprivations more visible. However, this transpires less through the language of human rights than through the discourse of fear and preventive health measures. 

In some cases, the pandemic has brought to the surface underlying currents of cruelty and a collapse of moral values pervasive in the ideology of extreme individualism and the retreat back into the privatized space of the self. This is obvious in the growing demand on the part of many protesters to reopen the economy, against the advice of medical experts. The narratives informing these demands often take an ugly turn at many protests across the country. For instance, one Tennessee protester's sign asserted: "Sacrifice the Weak/Re-open TN." In a Chicago protest, a woman displayed a sign with a Nazi slogan. Armed far-right protesters rallying against social distancing in Michigan displayed swastikas and other Nazi insignia. President Trump referred to them as "very good people." This is similar to the same language he used to defend neo-Nazis and white nationalists in Charlottesville, who he described as "very fine people." 

What the COVID-19 pandemic exposes is that the neoliberal narrative pushed for decades by both political parties — which argued "that illness, homelessness, poverty, and inequality are minor aberrations in an otherwise healthy society" — now appears transparently false. In addition, the pandemic has drawn unprecedented attention to how interdependent we are on each other. It has also resurrected a notion of the social that leaves little room for tolerating a society where "over 31 million are without health insurance … more than 38 million people live below the poverty line [and] 140 million are poor or just a $400 emergency from that state."  

The pandemic has made visible the borders and walls that blocked out large parts of the working class, especially poor Black people and Latinos who support the fundamental structures necessary for sustaining the daily life of the entire population. It also revealed the shocking cruelty and machinery of inequality that decides which lives are worth living and which lives are designated as precarious and thus dispensable. In this instance, structural inequality and corporate power were uncovered not just as an injustice, but as a threat to human life, the planet and democracy itself.  

In spite of the bankruptcy of neoliberalism with its attack on public goods and social safety nets, the issue of economic inequality is still pushed to the back burner for media coverage among the mainstream press. This takes place regardless of the fact that the Trump administration in the midst of a raging pandemic can no longer cover up the failures of an economic and racial state that devastate society. These failures include (and this is the short list) the inability to provide adequate testing, ventilators and protective equipment for front-line and emergency workers, largely due to its unwillingness to support a federal plan that would provide robust investments in an equitable health care system, a strong welfare system and crucial social provisions. Instead, the Trump administration has expanded and deepened those structural forces and policies that privilege the rich while supporting the amassing of huge profits in the hands of the few over social needs. 

Pandemic pedagogy and the politics of the spectacle

The COVID-19 pandemic has revealed the social costs of accelerating increases in inequality over the last 40 years, all the while stripping government of its civic functions, subjecting more and more people to housing discrimination, voter suppression, low-wage jobs, and cities turned into combat zones. The scourge of inequality is especially visible regarding the underfunding and discriminatory practices of health care, which is treated as a commodity that imposes a crippling financial burden on millions of Americans who don't have health insurance or whose policies are threadbare and vastly inadequate. One consequence of the pandemic uprising has been the unmasking of a neoliberal ethos rooted in massive inequalities that are incapable of explaining away mass unemployment, record numbers of job losses and a health crisis unprecedented in American history.

Not only has inequality become comparable to gasoline being thrown on a burning fire in the midst of the current pandemic, its unethical tactics have been used in the midst of the COVID-19 crisis to lavish privileges on the rich by transferring monumental amounts of "wealth from the bottom of the economic ladder to the top," furthering the gap between the financial elite and the poor. Neoliberalism never runs away from a crisis because it relentlessly attempts to appropriate it for its own use, giving new energy to what has been called by Joseph Schumpeter "creative destruction." David Harvey captures the violent dynamic at the heart of creative destruction in the following comments from "The Condition of Postmodernity": 

The effect of continuous innovation ... is to devalue, if not destroy, past investments and labour skills. Creative destruction is embedded within the circulation of capital itself. Innovation exacerbates instability, insecurity, and in the end, becomes the prime force pushing capitalism into periodic paroxysms of crisis. ... The struggle to maintain profitability sends capitalists racing off to explore all kinds of other possibilities. 

In this scenario, capitalism uses such a crisis not to address reasons for their underlying causes and destructive effects. On the contrary, they become fodder to think how capitalism can invent new ways of using a crisis to its own advantage. All the time, remaining "indifferent to the moral consequences of unbridled capitalism," whether it be the polluting of the atmosphere, defunding of public goods, or the furthering of income inequality. For example, in the age of the COVID-19 pandemic, the financial and political elite use the radioactive fog of mass anxiety and fear-mongering in order to legislate reforms that in actuality serve to reward themselves and further deepen the gap between the rich and the poor. This unethical and corrupt shift in policy is done not only through legislation such as the 2020 U.S. financial stimulus package, but also through a pandemic pedagogy that convinces the general public of its legitimacy through a barrage of corporate and mainstream propaganda disseminated through a range of media platforms.

Parading as common sense, pandemic pedagogy attempts to persuade the general public that it is in their best interest rather than in the interest of the ruling financial elite, big corporations, investment houses and the mammoth banks to reorganize society around gaping class and racial divisions. This double-dealing policy reveals the cruelty and greed at the heart of neoliberal capitalism. Given its greed for profits and profiteering from people suffering or dying because they are poor or considered economically unproductive, neoliberalism is an utterly destructive socioeconomic system and bears the marks of a monstrous social order. Inequality sharpens the social divide and in doing so worsens class, racial, and gendered divisions.

As Max Fisher observes in The New York Times, inequality and poverty in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic exacerbates the possibility of transmission and death for everyone, but especially for those populations traditionally considered disposable by virtue of their class and racial marginalization. 

As the coronavirus spreads across the globe, it appears to be setting off a devastating feedback loop with another of the gravest forces of our time: economic inequality. In societies where the virus hits, it is deepening the consequences of inequality, pushing many of the burdens onto the losers of today's polarized economies and labor markets. Research suggests that those in lower economic strata are likelier to catch the disease. They are also likelier to die from it. And, even for those who remain healthy, they are likelier to suffer loss of income or health care as a result of quarantines and other measures, potentially on a sweeping scale.

It gets worse. Even as Trump's Twitter storms and incessant lying fall flat in attempt to divert the underlying failure of his administration to address the pandemic crisis, the mainstream press has focused very little on the issue of deepening inequality and more on surging unemployment metrics. Surprisingly, inequality and societal class divisions have been downplayed in the press. in spite of the fact that inequality is crucial in analyzing both "the weakness in our health care infrastructure and social safety nets — institutions that Trump has willfully undermined." It is only recently that the mainstream media has begun to focus on how diverse individuals and groups both experience the pandemic and suffer the risks and consequences differently. Anthony DiMaggio is insightful on this issue:

We face a rapid rise in jobless claims, with various estimates suggesting unemployment reached between 16 to 20 percent by late April. But it is not clear why unemployment should be seen as a more important economic metric than inequality, at a time when COVID-19is disproportionately ravaging neighborhoods populated by poor people of color, and low-pay service workers on the frontlines of the crisis…. Inequality is also highly significant when considering that lower income Americans are more likely to work in jobs that require extensive contacts between individuals, whereas higher-income white-collar workers have been able to escape regular contacts with others by retreating into remote work tele-jobs that radically reduce their potential contacts with Covid-19-positive individuals.

Under such circumstances, what emerges in the midst of the current pandemic crisis is not only an economic collapse but also a crisis of ideas, language, morality, and the inability of capitalist societies to solve practical, if not essential, social and economic problems. Human rights have no place in this discourse. What must be made clear is that inequality is not normal, ignorance is not innocent, power is not benign, and violence is not an abstraction. Racial and economic inequality have become visceral, stark in their damage to human bodies, minds, and sense of agency. 

In the age of pandemics, it is crucial to create a language that undermines neoliberalism's disimagination machines. All the more reason to embrace philosopher Jürgen Habermas' concept of the "legitimation crisis," with its emphasis on exposing blockages, dysfunctions, economic downturns and the production of a language of normalization. This is one example of a discourse of critique and hope that offers new possibilities for analyzing inequality not merely as an economic issue, but also as a pedagogical and ideological concern.

The swindle of individual responsibility and the politics of disposability

In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, the face of inequality becomes more visible as the American public is bombarded by shocking images of long food lines, the stacking of dead bodies, long lines of refrigerated trucks symbolizing the plague of death, desperate individuals and families applying for unemployment benefits, hospital workers putting their lives on the line (and in some cases dying), and warnings to stay away from others for fear of catching the virus. What this pandemic reveals in all its ugliness is the lethal mechanisms of systemic inequality, deregulation, the dismantling of the welfare state and the increasingly dangerous assault on the environment. 

Beneath the massive failure of leadership from the Trump administration lies the sordid history of concentrated power in the hands of the 1 percent, brazen corporate welfare, political corruption, and the merging of big money and politics. This apparatus of repression functions to deny those most vulnerable access to health care, a living wage, worker protection and the development of a strong labor movements capable of challenging corporate power, as well as the cruelty of austerity and right-wing policies that maim and kill hundreds of thousands, as is evident in the current pandemic. 

The brutality of neoliberal capitalism and its reproduction of iniquitous relations of wealth and power is openly defended in the call to reopen the economy by restricting or eliminating protective measures that would slow the pace of the virus. Once again, most at risk are those populations who have been considered disposable, such as people of color, undocumented immigrants, the poor, the elderly and the working class. Inequality makes a mockery of social distancing, especially for health care workers who lack adequate protective gear, and even more so for migrants, the elderly, the poor, and those — mostly people of color — incarcerated in prisons, jails and detention centers, which lack any form of protection and adequate medical services.

Vulnerable populations are now held hostage to policies that fail to protect them while simultaneously being told to sacrifice their lives in the interest of filling the financial coffers and ideological waste bins of the corporate elite and the political zombies that rule the United States. Each day, the grim numbers indexing infections and deaths are accompanied by the call to wash hands, wear masks and practice social distancing. These are crucial medical practices, but they collapse matters of power, politics and class differences into an individualized and personalized script, one that mimics a neoliberal ethos. 

What is also forgotten in this largely Western medical narrative is how the pandemic of inequality demands a much more comprehensive view of global politics and its relationship to the current COVID-19 crisis. Crucial here is prioritizing both public health and social justice for everyone and not just those in the West caught in the eye of the viral storm. For instance, "UNICEF notes one in three people in the world do not have access to clean water and that more than 300 million Africans do not have running water. The pandemic is devastating the world's poor, even before the coronavirus has fully affected them."

The global plague has amplified the horrors produced by inequality, a politics driven by the rule of big money, and the production of modes of agency fit for a zombie film. The plague is a form of zombie politics, which is an avatar for death and cruelty and the production of the walking dead among the financial elite who suck the life out of the common good, public values, and democracy itself. Moreover, the COVID-19 pandemic amplifies matters of uncertainty, existential anxiety, and the ever-present fear of death. Such sentiments not only invoke a new understanding of how we are all connected but also what it means to embrace public health as a public good and in its absence the terrible cost it inflicts on individuals reduced to the sheer task of survival. The mutually dependent notions of social justice and equality need to be rethought through a broader understanding of the commons, what we share as essential services and resources in a substantive democracy. The language of neoliberalism has been exhausted and should be considered the enemy of democracy and economic justice, particularly as it plays out as a form of "racial capitalism" and fascist politics.

Tales of a failed state

In Trump's America, no spaces are left untouched by neoliberal capitalism with its financialization and commercialization of everything from social services and education to public transportation. The pandemic has revealed the toxic underside of neoliberal capitalism with its assault on the welfare state, its undermining of public health, its attack on workers' rights and its affirmation of the economy and the accumulation of capital over human needs and life itself. The coronavirus pandemic and the pandemic of inequality have made clear the false and dangerous neoliberal notion that all problems are a matter of individual responsibility. The global pandemic has shattered once and for all the notion that private troubles cannot be translated into larger systemic considerations.

The lessons to be learned from the pandemic crisis have to exceed making visible the lies, misinformation and corruption at the heart of the Trump regime. Such an approach fails to address the most serious of Trump's crimes. Moreover, it fails to examine a number of political threads that together constitute elements common to a global crisis in the age of the pandemic.   

Neoliberal capitalism has created, through its destruction of the economy, the earth, education and public health care, a petri dish for the virus to wreak havoc and wide-scale destruction. In doing so it has unleashed a wave of fear and insecurity that runs the risk of further depoliticizing individuals caught in the paralyzing grip of trying to survive. It is time for new visions, public transcripts and pedagogical narratives to emerge about the meaning of politics, justice, collective self-organization, mass resistance and democracy itself. 

We still have the opportunity to reimagine a world in which the future does not mimic the predatory neoliberal present. What is crucial to remember is that no democracy can survive without an enlightened citizenry. Moreover, solidarity among individuals cannot be assumed and must be fought for as part of a wider struggle to break down the ideologies and modes of pedagogical repression that isolate, depoliticize and pit individuals and groups against each other. Community and a robust public sphere cannot be built on the bonds of shared fears and the discourse of bigotry and hatred. At the same time, what cannot be forgotten is that power lies in more than understanding and the ability to disrupt the status quo. It also lies in a view of the future that does not imitate the present coupled with the courage to struggle collectively to bring into being a radical democratic socialist society.

Such a world would erase the massive gap between rich and poor, the deserving and undeserving. At stake here, at the very least, is the need to produce new forms of global solidarity, especially with reference to the creation of a democratic global health structure and network. This should be a world that brings together the struggles for justice, emancipation and social equality. More urgent than ever is the need to struggle for a world that imagines and acts on the utopian promises of a just and democratic socialist society. In the face of the COVID-19 pandemic, matters of criticism, understanding and resistance are elevated into a matter of life or death. The neoliberal pandemic of inequality is a form of organized looting conducted by the corporate and ruling elite and is the fundamental problem in denying millions of people the most basic human needs and political and social rights. In this merging of capitalism and inequality, justice and compassion disappear — as does the legitimacy of a predatory capitalist system that fails to provide quality education, universal health care, decent jobs, a living wage and a viable social contract. Social and economic inequality has become a form of organized state violence that nourishes the seeds of racial cleansing, white supremacy, militarism and a culture of cruelty.

The neoliberal engine of grotesque inequality attempts to turn everyone into a form of human capital, produces punishing class divisions, commercializes all human relations and obliterates the conditions for democracy. Moreover, it functions as a form of domestic terrorism, reigning potential death on the millions who lack adequate health insurance and those who seek treatment when sick, making them more susceptible to COVID-19. Inequality has become synonymous with the politics of disposability, terminal exclusion, racism and police violence. It is the thread that links class divisions, racism and the disproportionate deaths suffered by people of color in this pandemic. Inequality runs through and shapes every institution in American life and cannot be separated from an updated form of capitalism that is increasingly organized on fascist principles and a lethal anti-democratic politics.   

David Harvey has rightly argued that we need a new political framework in approaching the issue of inequality, one that recognizes that democracy and capitalism are not synonymous, and that any call for reform must "plot the creation of more democratic and socially just [institutions], animated by a different political economy and a different structure of social relations."

The abyss of fascist politics

Searing inequality in the United States has brought to the surface of politics the raw realities of an updated form of fascism. In the current historical moment, especially under the Trump administration, shocking levels of economic inequality and draconian austerity policies conjoin with fascist ideals. This unprecedented convergence includes a disdain for human rights, a rampant anti-intellectualism, a populist celebration of white nationalism, the cult of leadership, the protection of corporate power, the elevation of emotion over reason, rampant cronyism, a disdain for dissent and intellectuals and the "more or less explicit endorsement of violence against political enemies." Massive inequality allows the ruling elite to colonize the media, enabling them to trade in the incendiary rhetoric of fear, divisiveness and demonization, while using language to inflame violence and weaponize the primary tools of communication. 

Under the Trump administration, fantasies of authoritarian control coupled with a ruthless appropriation of power are fed by an iniquitous political system that weaponizes the tools of white nationalism, racism and class division. How else to explain a president who refuses to criticize violent acts produced by white supremacists, calls peaceful demonstrators protesting systemic racism domestic terrorists, and refuses to change the names of "U.S. Army bases named after Confederate generals who fought for slave-holding states in the Civil War."

The endpoint of the scourge of racial and economic inequality can be seen not only in an administration that embraces white supremacy and ultra-nationalism, but also in the massive deprivations and misery endured by those at the bottom of the economic ladder. It is also present in the form of a president and Republican Party that as Adam Weinstein observes in The New Republic, operates "an American state that they have increasingly organized on fascist principles." What level of understanding can be brought to Trump's warning to use U.S. military force to crush protesters calling for the end of police violence and systemic racism, while threatening them with "vicious dogs" and "Ominous Weapons."

At a time when massive numbers of people are in the streets speaking out, Trump declares himself the "law and order" president and in doing so labels peaceful protesters thugs and domestic terrorists. Outside the White House following a Rose Garden speech, Trump and his enforcer Bill Barr launched a military response on demonstrators, allowing the police to club them, tear-gas them and fire rubber bullets. It is worth noting that Trump first endangered the lives of protesters so he could have a clear path to hold up a Bible for a photo-op.

Soon afterward, he potentially endangered the lives of thousands of his own supporters by announcing a massive rally in Tulsa in order to produce another photo-op that he believed would be helpful in his re-election campaign. As journalist Michelle Cottle reported in the New York Times, "For Trump's triumphal return, his campaign … decided that no social distancing is required. He want[ed] this to be a spectacle, packed with as much noisy adoration as possible," while bearing no responsibility for people who might fall sick or, for that matter, drop dead.  

This is more than fascist agitprop. What this militarized action suggests is that fascism and its brutalizing logics are never entirely interred in the past and that the conditions that produce its central assumptions are with us once again, ushering in a period of modern barbarity that appears to be reaching towards homicidal extremes. Trump's call to use military troops to attack protesters has little to do with a democracy and a great deal to do in providing a snapshot of society that has tumbled into the abyss of fascism. As I have stressed in "The Terror of the Unforeseen" and "American Nightmare: Facing the Challenge of Fascism," there may be no perfect fit between Trump and the fascist societies of Mussolini, Hitler and Pinochet, but the basic tenets of hyper-nationalism, pervasive racism, misogyny, rootlessness and disgust with the rule of law suggest that "the essential message is the same."  

Inequality is a breeding ground for fascism. The workings of finance capital with its relentless attack on the welfare state, people of color, the social contract, poor youth and the public good have made clear the presence of an undisguised fascism at the highest levels of government. Consistent with this fascist ethos is a soaring inequality that feeds the political premise that some people are disposable, their lives are not valued, and their worth a liability, particularly to a racist elite motivated by the search for profits and accumulated capital. Under such circumstances, the elderly, disabled, undocumented immigrants and people of color, among others, are objects of a near-sociopathic disdain by those who drive the machineries of class division, racial cleansing, mass incarceration and terminal exclusion in a death-saturated society. 

Until the current COVID-19 pandemic and ensuing rebellion over George Floyd's murder, these populations were mostly viewed by most of the American public as unspeakable, unknowable, not worthy of narration, agency and dignity. What has increasingly come to light as a result of the current pandemics is both the value of essential workers and a newfound awareness of the often-hidden zones of social abandonment they inhabit, both of which are now viewed through the machineries of social and economic inequality that produce brutalizing structures of racial violence. The lethal nature of such inequality is often legitimated in the false discourses and liberal appeals to meritocracy and individual responsibility. Beneath this erasure of systemic inequality lies a malignant culture of cruelty, unchecked privilege, a dystopian model of disposability and the dark echo of a fascist past. Under Trump, authoritarianism no longer creeps up slowly. It now advances at breakneck speed, and is worn as a badge of honor.

Conclusion

It is time for the kinds of protest, actions, new political formations and mass displays of civic courage needed to resist and change a script that normalizes police violence, military surveillance operations and the militarization of everyday life. Young people marching in the streets are challenging the long history of deeply rooted racism and police violence that erupted with the murder of George Floyd. In doing so, they have raised new hope in the struggle to establish a democratic socialist society. The generation driving this global rebellion refuse to have both their future canceled out and be written out of the script of democracy. They are not only refusing to look away, they have embraced Martin Luther King Jr.'s warning that "He who accepts evil without protesting against it is really cooperating with it." In that sense, they are part of a new awakening, one that embodies a spirit of revolt and struggle motivated by the call for radical change.  

The protesters are multiracial, conscious of the hypocrisy and deceit at the heart of neoliberal society with its gaping inequities in wealth, power and access, and they appear fully conscious of the need for radical change. They are not simply protesting the killing of George Floyd, nor are they exclusively denouncing police violence, however brutal and symbolic. They are revolting against the entire infrastructure of injustice that runs through American society and the memories and outcomes of the long legacy of racial violence at the core of American history. Though it remains to be seen, the spirit of revolt now gripping the U.S. and a host of other countries suggests we are witnessing more than mass protests and short-lived demonstrations. A new political horizon has opened up that points to a growing rebellion against the lethal merging of racism, class division and the punishing registers of inequality. The failed state has lost its oxygen and is on life support. We can hope that this growing rebellion will extinguish its last breath so that a radical democracy can fulfill its promises and ideals.

Author's note: The critical literature on inequality is enormous. I have learned a great deal from this small selection: Thomas Piketty's "Capital and Ideology," Keith Payne's "The Broken Ladder," Michael D. Yates' "The Great Inequality," Anthony B. Atkinson's "Inequality: What Can be Done?", Joseph E. Stiglitz's "The Price of Inequality," and Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett's "The Spirit Level.") 


Henry A. Giroux

Henry A. Giroux is University Professor for Scholarship in the Public Interest and Paulo Freire Distinguished Scholar in Critical Pedagogy at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario. He is the author of numerous books, including "America at War With Itself," "Dangerous Thinking in the Age of the New Authoritarianism" and "American Nightmare: Facing the Challenge of Fascism." His newest book, "The Terror of the Unforeseen," was recently published by the Los Angeles Review of Books.

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