Editor’s Note: Kevin Patrick Kelly’s “Towards A Millennial Revolution” is published every Monday OR Wednesday.
Wilmer Leon, the political scientist and the host of “Inside the Issues” on Sirius XM, is the most prophetic voice on the radio.
In a country where the corporate and political forces are hollowing out the traditions and values that made our country the epitome of the world, Leon warns his viewers and listeners that these forces can destroy our children and our grandchildren’s future if we do not hold them accountable. Every weekend on his radio program, he gives his audience the educational ammo they need to become proactive citizens.
In August, he released a new book: “Politics: Another Perspective.” In it, readers can see how Leon’s warnings sadly came to fruition. They can also read his opinion on the various issues that continue to affect the United States. The prophetic radio host recently took time out of his schedule to discuss his latest book and building viable social movements for the future.
Kevin Patrick Kelly: The central theme that I see running throughout your book is a warning. That warning is similar to the warning that Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. made to the American people, when he warned them about the three evils that will destroy the fabric of our nation: racism, poverty, and militarism.
Why do you think, as we look at the years from President Bush to President Obama, it has gotten progressively worse?
Wilmer Leon: I think that it has gotten progressively worse because capitalism and the military-industrial complex have been the controlling ideologies and processes that are impacting U.S. domestic and foreign policy. The primary objective of this country seems to be to continue to be a global hegemon, and whether it is George Bush or Barack Obama as the president of the United States, it doesn’t seem to matter because they are still, as Amiri Baraka said, “functionaries of the United States government.”
So, as long as capitalism and profit — exploiting countries for labor and resources — continues to remain the primary focus of this country, that’s what we are going to find ourselves struggling against and consumed by.
KPK: Let us further break down the three evils that Dr. King prophetically warned the American people would destroy the nation that they loved. Let us discuss the issue of racism. I previously asked CNN political contributor and academic Marc Lamont Hill, and now I will ask you the following:
Do you find it embarrassing that a Black Lives Matter social movement formed under the nation’s first African-American president?
WL: Yes, I do, but I think that it is too simplistic, and I am not putting this on you, but a lot of people believed that because there is an African-American president that, that individual was just going to naturally pick up our banner and carry our water. What I think has been lost is the understanding that again, and Barack Obama told us this point blank, I am the president of the United States, I am not the black president. What I think really got lost here, was the African-American community understanding that as Roosevelt saying to A. Philip Randolph, “I understand you, now go out and make me do it.”
The African-American community sat ideally by, got drunk on the champagne of the first elected African-American president, and failed to understand that we were still going to have to get out there and make him do what he needed to do. I’ll take a step back and say, when you look at the early Congressional Black Caucus, I think it was formed around 1972 with thirteen members. Most of those early members in the CBC came out of the protest movement. The early black mayors in this country came out of the protest movement, and they took the mentality of the protest movement into those elected offices. You had individuals from the outside, putting pressure on the outside, now operating on the inside.
Well, we have lost that outside pressure. Now, we have forty-two members of the CBC and they are less effective than the thirteen were because there are very few entities from the outside, protesting and using protest politics to put pressure on the inside. Once Barack Obama got elected, you then had some of those traditional organizations such as the NAACP and the Urban League, telling the protesters to be quiet because they did not want to do anything to tarnish or damage the image of the black president. So, yes, we have to hold Barack Obama accountable, but at the same time some of the greatest disappointment comes from unmet, unrealistic expectations. I think it was unrealistic for the African-American community to expect Barack Obama to do anything when nobody was putting pressure on him to do so.
KPK: Let us shift to the next prophetic warning by Dr. King, and that is poverty. The poor have continued to be pushed to the margins, rendering them invisible. Why do you think we are continuing to push the poor out of American society?
WL: Well, I think there are a couple of reasons for that. One, has to do with — especially within the African-American community and the African-American struggle — we’ve lost the understanding of the collective. When we were having success in the Civil Rights movement, whether it was the sixties or the fifties, it was a collective struggle. When you read Frederick Douglass, he always spoke in the context of the people. When you read Du Bois, it was the souls of black folk. Fannie Lou Hamer wasn’t protesting and sacrificing for her right to vote, she was struggling and sacrificing for the communities’ right to vote.
With the successes of the Civil Rights movement, that more people made it into the middle class, more of us made it into the upper middle class. We then started focusing on ourselves at the expense of those who were not as fortunate, those who were left behind. We started to accept more of the conservative politics of blaming the poor for their plight.
Then, I think you add to that the element of racism, which has always been used as a tool to divide a class level. Poor whites from poor blacks, newly freed slaves from cooperating with poor whites, and you inject the racial element into the class element, and now you have got the poor fighting amongst themselves, not on a class level but on a race level. That is a tool to ensure that there is no cohesion amongst that particular element to put pressure on the wealthy class in this country, or as Dr. King always championed, a redistribution of wealth.
To me, this is one of the things that is making Donald Trump so successful is playing to the racial element and poor and working whites are blaming Hispanics for taking their jobs and blaming social programs: money being given away to shiftless, “lazy” black people. So, the government does not have any money, but those folks have been misguided in terms of what the cause of their problems really are, why their wages have been stagnant for twenty years.
KPK: That has where the Republican Party has been so successful. They always convince poor whites to vote against their economic interests. In many ways, this is what Trump’s campaign was predicated upon.
WL: You are absolutely right. They have been convinced to vote their racism over their economic interest. I don’t know if you read, but there is a piece in the book: “Donald Trump: The Republican Frankenstein.” That is what that piece speaks to.
KPK: Let us speak to the final prophetic warning by Dr. King, and that is on the issue of militarism. America has entered into, as the historian Charles Beard described, “perpetual war” in the foolish hope that it will bring about perpetual peace. You have been a consistent critic against American militarism. Is there any hope correcting the current trajectory the United States is currently placed upon as it relates to its foreign policy?
WL: Well, yes. There is always hope. The issue really becomes political will. We could very well be, on the forefront of a dramatic shift in our politics, with the success of Bernie Sanders, with the success of Jill Stein and the Green Party. We could be on the precipice of such substantive change.
What people have to really understand and see is this constant drumbeat of fear and what is now anti-Muslim sentiment, and how that is being used as a rationale to expand more and more resources on militarism, while people in Flint get poison water. We don’t have the money to rebuild Louisiana after the hurricane. People have to start to make the connection between the militarism, and as Dr. King talked about war being an enemy of the poor. It was then, and it is now.
It is almost as though we are being forced to make a Faustian choice that is really false. We either have to spend all of our money on this militarism or we won’t be safe. When really what we have to understand is, a lot of the militarism we are engaged in is exactly what is causing the problem to begin with. Very few politicians have the backbone and the guts to actually point these things out and the data is there … You don’t have to research too deeply to understand the cause and effects between our incessant interest in intervening in the politics of other countries. I mean, look at what is going on in the Philippines. This is the first time that the new president of the Philippines is actually standing up and saying to the United States, enough of the interventions in the politics of my country.
KPK: As President Obama prepares to leave office, I look back at the select few that tried to form a movement to challenge the president, and push him in the right direction. We were often attacked with such vitriol. Why do you believe that to be the case?
WL: Because Barack Obama is the first African-American president. A lot of people have been more caught up in the symbolism and in the value of that symbolism than in the policy outcome. I tell people all the time, I never criticized Barack Obama, I have criticized the policies of the Obama administration.
I am not a political operative. I am a political scientist. That’s my job, to assess policy and to critique and analyze policy based upon the data and the reality that I know to be. But there are more people, again, that are more drunk on that champagne of celebration from the election of the first African-American president, and so many people were so personally vested in that election, that they see any negative analysis as a personal affront. They all say, I invested so much into this guy that when you criticize him, you are criticizing me personally. I am saying, no. I am just looking at the data, and black kids going to HBCU are being put out of school because of the Obama administration’s policy on the Pell Grant Program. That’s an issue.
Why is it that I cannot comment on that issue? Well, because we do not want to jeopardize the image of the first black president. Dr. King and others spoke about how it’s not about electing a black president. Politics is about policy output. Plain and simple. It’s about policy output, and as a political constituency if we, as African-Americans, aren’t getting policy output, then our loyalty or our votes to that elected official have been wasted.
KPK: Still, every time we criticized him, we were seen as allying ourselves with the vicious elements in this country that wish to do Barack Obama harm. That is just not true. I do not personally hate Obama, and neither do you.
WL: I don’t know the guy. I cannot condemn him personally because I don’t know the guy. I do know that the gay and lesbian community got the president to publicly support marriage equality. I know that the Latino community got the president to support the Dream Act and got Sonia Sotomayor nominated as a Supreme Court Justice. I know that women got, Sotomayor, Elena Kagan, and the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act. The African American community got told to take off their house shoes, put on their marching shoes, and continue to stand with the president. That’s what I know, and one of the other defenses is that black women benefited from the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act. Black gay and lesbians benefited from the marriage equality discussion, but to that I say, there’s a big difference between an indirect beneficiary of a political policy and being the direct beneficiary of a policy based upon a desire to reciprocate for your vote and support.
END NOTES: You can listen to Dr. Leon’s radio program, “Inside the Issues,” every Saturday from 11am-2pm EST on Sirius XM 126. For more information on Dr. Leon, check out the following link.
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