Dr. Tony Monteiro is a scholar of W.E. B. DuBois, a well known activist in North Philadelphia and a long-time critic of gentrification. His dismissal as professor of African American studies at Temple University in 2014 generated protests by students and groups such as Democratic Socialists of America. “Temple has to be a neighbor to North Philadelphia,” he said at the time. “To the extent that Temple does not want to hear the voices of North Philadelphia … well, that sends a hell of a message.”
Monteiro sees Trump’s presidency as an existential crisis of the post-World War II system of political governance and the start of its possible disintegration. I recently spoke to him about the current political scenario. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
1/ What actually happened on Election Day? Did Trump’s victory signal the rise of fascism?
Fascists were already embedded in the deep state. That process began as the ruling elites’ response to the Black Liberation and antiwar and women’s and other movements that go back to the 1960s. So perhaps we should frame the discussion of fascism in the historical context of the efforts of the state and the ruling elite to dismantle all of these movements of resistance and revolution of that period. The real essence of rule has remained stable for close to 50 years, so I don’t think fascists need to run for office.
As unacceptable and unpalatable as Trump is, the worst candidate in 2016 was Hillary Clinton. She was the worst candidate because she was most connected to the deep state. So I don’t see the start of fascism with the election of Donald Trump.
2/ This White House seems beset with palace intrigues that would make Shakespeare envious.
Shakespeare’s observations on internal power struggles within elites are quite fitting but real power does not rest with elected officials or public officials or in the White House. Real power is held by a configuration of institutions and actors such as the CIA, FBI, National Intelligence Agency, and a whole slew of deep state intelligence apparatchiks that operate no matter what the White House says or does. The corporate media is an arm of the deep state and so are a few trusted politicians, be they Republican or Democrat. So-called left and progressive forces don’t see how closely the whole anti-Trump movement is connected to these same institutions and strategic players.
3/ How should the Left be confronting issues tied to immigration and xenophobia?
The anti-immigrant movement cannot be separated from the historic project of white supremacy and the struggle for immigrant rights is connected to the struggle for Black rights. Meanwhile, there’s been an unleashing of police violence in the Black community and protection of police by prosecutors and judges and juries. We’re back to a level of unharnessed police violence against the Black community and this resonates and informs the whole anti-immigrant mood.
4/ What do you think of the mainstream media narrative that Black voters were disingenuous in not going to the polls?
Pundits and the pollsters and journalists assumed Black people would always vote the way they were told by the Black political class, that they had nowhere to go but to vote Democrat. And of course everyone knows all of the appeals and pressure put on Black voters in 2016 by the political class, up to and including Barack Obama, who said if we didn’t vote it would represent a repudiation of him. Well I guess it was just that.
The most decisive reason Trump won Pennsylvania had to do with the Black vote in Philadelphia not coming out for Hillary Clinton in the numbers that they came out for Barack Obama in 2012. People said we were ‘unenthusiastic’. Well it was a little deeper than unenthusiastic. It was not voter suppression because Philadelphia is a Democratic city, the machine did all it could to get out the Black vote and we didn’t come out to vote. It was a rejection of Hillary Clinton and in some ways of the corporate Democrats and Barack Obama’s legacy.
5/ One of your major literary figureheads is James Baldwin, who wrote “The tendency has really been, insofar as this was possible, to dismiss white people as the slightly mad victims of their own brainwashing.” Do you think absenteeism from the polls might have been ‘Well, if you guys want him, you can have him,’ with regards to Trump ?
We’ve done all we could have done to help move this country in a progressive direction. That’s why in these big marches you see relatively few Black folk and hardly any from the working class and the poor.
It’s a rigged system, it’s a racially-rigged system, and I think Black folks have, in a sense, drawn back from national politics. Not because we are disinterested but because in a lot of ways, although unarticulated most of the time, we feel that the ball is now in the court of white folks, the white poor, the white working class, the white middle class, and let us see how you handle these contradictions, which are impoverishing you all. We will prepare for the worst and hope for the best.
6/ Prior to the election you said you thought the country was moving towards a period of ungovernability equivalent to what happened during the Civil War. Is this taking place?
The great period of ungovernability in our lifetimes was the ’60s and ’70s. Nixon was driven from office, the cities were going up in flames, antiwar demonstrators were all over the country, the campuses were falling apart, and the question was ‘Who can govern?’
Gentrification is an attempt to hold on to the cities in the face of Black poverty and unemployment. But I think we are approaching a period of ungovernability. Unlike the ’60s and ’70s we have a more intense conflict in the ruling elites and unlike the ’60s and ’70s, a lot of the spontaneous chaos will come from the white suburbs and white small towns.
The country could become ungovernable and it is almost inevitable that a deepening chaos, in a sense of not knowing where to go among the elites, will take over the country. We’re kind of in that right now. The Trump presidency is a manifestation of the collapse of the ruling class capacity to govern.