What the Supreme Court’s Week of Hell Means for People of Color

Sarah Jaffe

A strong storm front passes over the U.S. Supreme Court on Tuesday, July 8, 2014. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Wel­come to Inter­views for Resis­tance. We’re now into the sec­ond year of the Trump admin­is­tra­tion, and the last year has been filled with ups and downs, impor­tant vic­to­ries, suc­cess­ful hold­ing cam­paigns and painful defeats. We’ve learned a lot, but there is always more to learn, more to be done. In this now-week­ly series, we talk with orga­niz­ers, agi­ta­tors and edu­ca­tors, not only about how to resist, but how to build a bet­ter world.

Saqib Bhat­ti: I am Saqib Bhat­ti. I am the Co-Direc­tor of the Action Cen­ter on Race and the Econ­o­my, or ACRE.

Sarah Jaffe: We are talk­ing after the week of hell at the Supreme Court where the Supreme Court upheld Trump’s Mus­lim ban, took away fair share fees from pub­lic sec­tor unions and ruled that cri­sis preg­nan­cy cen­ters can lie to peo­ple. I thought I would start out by ask­ing you for your reflec­tions on this week and what it tells us about pol­i­tics under Trump in this court. 

Saqib: I think this week we have real­ly seen full force just how much the far right has cap­tured not just the pres­i­den­cy and Con­gress, but also the Court. I think it was a real wake-up call.

After see­ing all the deci­sions, the thing that real­ly sent me to a dark place was actu­al­ly read­ing about Kennedy’s retire­ment. Not because Kennedy is great, but because it real­ly hit home that this is the new norm. That these ter­ri­ble deci­sions that are com­ing out that are real­ly rolling back a lot of progress that we have made over the past two decades. That this is just the beginning. 

It seems like the cor­po­rate class and the white suprema­cists are now ful­ly in pow­er and it is scary. 

Sarah: I want to talk in more depth about all of these things. Let’s start with the Mus­lim ban, because you have been doing research around who sup­ports these things, who the back­ers of Trump­ism on this front are. 

Saqib:Yes. We have a project at ACRE that we have just launched called Crescen­dowhich real­ly tries to look at, Who are the cor­po­ra­tions that are behind the anti-Mus­lim agen­da in the US?” We are real­ly try­ing to hit home that, of course, there are some cor­po­ra­tions that are obvi­ous that come to mind like Fox News par­ent News Corp, Bre­it­bart News, etc. We are actu­al­ly not focus­ing on those com­pa­nies because, frankly, they are a set of com­pa­nies that are ide­o­log­i­cal­ly anti-Mus­lim. Their bread and but­ter is fear­mon­ger­ing and hate mon­ger­ing around Muslims. 

We are inter­est­ed in look­ing at the com­pa­nies that actu­al­ly would not nec­es­sar­i­ly even want to be seen as being anti-Mus­lim, but that are still direct­ly or indi­rect­ly sup­port­ing anti-Mus­lim politi­cians, anti-Mus­lim poli­cies or engage in anti-Mus­lim busi­ness prac­tices them­selves. We put out a report last week in part­ner­ship with Lit­tle­Sis, which is a research shop that we do a lot of great work with. Among oth­er things, we talked about com­pa­nies like Wells Far­go and Black­stone and Gold­man Sachs that, in addi­tion to being cheer­lead­ers of a lot of Trump’s worst poli­cies, par­tic­u­lar­ly poli­cies that affect peo­ple of col­or, are also some of the major donors to anti-Mus­lim politicians. 

So, we real­ly try to con­nect some of these dots that there are com­pa­nies that actu­al­ly count lots of Mus­lims as cus­tomers, yet they are nonethe­less actu­al­ly sup­port­ing these anti-Mus­lim poli­cies and politi­cians with their mon­ey, whether it is direct or indirect. 

Sarah: We have actu­al­ly heard a bit in the last few weeks about employ­ees at tech com­pa­nies, the tech work­ers them­selves, protest­ing their com­pa­nies’ involve­ment in Trump’s anti-immi­grant poli­cies, whether it is cre­at­ing facial recog­ni­tion or arti­fi­cial intel­li­gence or some­thing like that.

Saqib: Yes, this is one of the real­ly big things that is hap­pen­ing. We think of Sil­i­con Val­ley as gen­er­al­ly a bunch of lib­er­als. Well, it turns out, lib­er­als aren’t actu­al­ly good on these issues — right? You can be lib­er­al and still actu­al­ly try to make mon­ey off of white suprema­cy. One would argue that, actu­al­ly, being lib­er­al means that you typ­i­cal­ly try to make mon­ey off of white suprema­cy and that comes out clear­ly with com­pa­nies like Microsoft and Ama­zon. These com­pa­nies try to main­tain images as squeaky-clean com­pa­nies, and they employ a whole lot of immi­grants, and they have a whole lot of immi­grants who are their cus­tomers, as well. 

But they are actu­al­ly involved with, as you said, facial recog­ni­tion tech­nolo­gies, oth­er parts of the sur­veil­lance sys­tem. There have also been reports from Ama­zon ware­hous­es of dis­crim­i­na­tion against Mus­lim work­ers. It is one of those things that the image we have of these com­pa­nies, the images they try to present, don’t actu­al­ly often match up against their own busi­ness prac­tices. And that is the oth­er side of hypocrisy that we want to expose, because we want these com­pa­nies to know that you can’t have it both ways. You can’t try to present your­self as a good, pro­gres­sive com­pa­ny at the same time that you are actu­al­ly very much com­plic­it and help­ing uphold the infra­struc­ture of Trumpism. 

Sarah:We also need to look at the Janus deci­sion and the attacks on the labor move­ment, espe­cial­ly when we are talk­ing about attacks on pub­lic-sec­tor unions which is where you have more peo­ple of col­or because of the dis­crim­i­na­tion in the pri­vate sec­tor. Con­nect that with what we are talk­ing about here. What is it that we see is the through line of all of this? 

Saqib:What we have real­ly seen is, as you said, huge attacks on com­mu­ni­ties of col­or, poor peo­ple and peo­ple who are vul­ner­a­ble in our com­mu­ni­ty. One of the under-report­ed points about Janus is the fact that, yes, it is on attack on unions. But it is real­ly an attack on work­ers of col­or and par­tic­u­lar­ly women of col­or who are over­rep­re­sent­ed in the pub­lic sector.

When we talk about the debate over pub­lic pen­sion funds, why are pub­lic pen­sion funds so square­ly in the crosshairs of the right wing? A big part of it is that pub­lic pen­sion funds are a major source of wealth in the black com­mu­ni­ty in places where there are pub­lic sec­tor unions. And if you are try­ing to destroy pub­lic sec­tor unions, a big part of that is try­ing to destroy pub­lic pen­sion funds and dis­man­tle that wealth that has been accu­mu­lat­ed through work­place orga­niz­ing in com­mu­ni­ties of col­or in par­tic­u­lar. What we are see­ing is across a range of these deci­sions that have come down from the Supreme Court, that they are sys­tem­at­i­cal­ly turn­ing back the clock on a lot of progress that has been made on issues of race and immi­grant justice. 

Sarah: This week we also saw a lot of protests and we saw a vic­to­ry for one in par­tic­u­lar, but a cou­ple of pro­gres­sive can­di­dates who were talk­ing about all of this stuff. In think­ing about how to move for­ward from this, what should we be think­ing about? Again, try­ing to con­nect the dots so we don’t have a protest against Janus over here and a protest about immi­gra­tion of here, and a protest about the Mus­lim ban over there?

Saqib:Look­ing at these issues, it is impor­tant to under­stand who the cor­po­rate actors are that are actu­al­ly bad across all of these issues. The thing that peo­ple love to do with the Mus­lim ban is real­ly beat up on Trump or say, This is a ter­ri­ble deci­sion by the Supreme Court.” But the real­i­ty is we can raise those con­cerns all we want and it doesn’t actu­al­ly hurt Trump for us to say, He is anti-Mus­lim, he is racist.” In fact, it actu­al­ly helps him with his base. 

With a lot of the politi­cians, we are see­ing that the rea­son they are actu­al­ly appeal­ing to white suprema­cists is because they real­ize that it helps them. While it is impor­tant to call out those politi­cians for what they are and what they are doing, we can’t stop there because at the end of the day that is not going to be an effec­tive way to move them. Espe­cial­ly now, we are see­ing that the Supreme Court in the com­ing years is like­ly to be stacked by far-right ideologues. 

That is why it is tru­ly impor­tant to look at the cor­po­ra­tions these politi­cians are behold­en to. What are the cor­po­ra­tions whose agen­da the Supreme Court is car­ry­ing out? We need to real­ly show some of these con­nec­tions. What we have found in our research is that a lot of the same com­pa­nies that are prof­it­ing off the mass incar­cer­a­tion sys­tem, that are real­ly prof­it­ing from our immi­grant poli­cies, that are sup­port­ing politi­cians that are anti-Mus­lim and sup­port poli­cies like the Mus­lim ban, are actu­al­ly a lot of the same cor­po­ra­tions. And by the way, those are also the same cor­po­ra­tions that are respon­si­ble for defund­ing the pub­lic sec­tor, because they don’t pay their fair share in taxes.

Across the board, we see the finan­cial sec­tor, in par­tic­u­lar, emerges as a major form of pow­er that is real­ly dri­ving a lot of these ter­ri­ble prac­tices. Com­pa­nies like Wells Far­go, JPMor­gan Chase, Bank of Amer­i­ca, they all finance pri­vate pris­ons and immi­grant deten­tion cen­ters. They are all some of the major cam­paign con­trib­u­tors, either direct­ly or through with the Amer­i­can Bankers Asso­ci­a­tion, financ­ing some of the most anti-Mus­lim politi­cians out there. Wells Far­go is a major cor­po­rate ben­e­fi­cia­ry of Trump’s tax cut. 

If gov­ern­ment offi­cials are not respon­sive to pres­sure, us try­ing to go after them actu­al­ly makes them seem even bet­ter to their base. What we have start­ed doing is actu­al­ly call­ing out these cor­po­ra­tions because, as it turns out, there is a rea­son why Trump was actu­al­ly call­ing out Hillary Clin­ton for her con­nec­tions to Gold­man Sachs in order to get elect­ed. These same com­pa­nies aren’t pop­u­lar with his base either. I think what we need to start doing is get more sophis­ti­cat­ed about the ways in which we are going after all the ter­ri­ble things that have hap­pened by real­ly call­ing out, Who are the cor­po­rate actors that are ben­e­fit­ting from this? Who are the cor­po­rate actors that are actu­al­ly dri­ving a lot of these policies?” 

Then, we need to use that to polar­ize against these elect­ed offi­cials. That these elect­ed offi­cials, like Trump, are actu­al­ly doing the dirty work for these oth­er cor­po­ra­tions that want to main­tain their own squeaky-clean image while remak­ing the world in a way that suits them — at the expense of com­mu­ni­ties of color. 

Sarah: On that note, the most hope­ful note last week for a lot of peo­ple was the suc­cess in Queens and the Bronx of Alexan­dria Oca­sio-Cortez who, notably, did not raise a lot of mon­ey. She did not take any cor­po­rate mon­ey and she ran on a plat­form that includ­ed abol­ish­ing ICE, a jobs guar­an­tee and a Green New Deal. What does that tell us about the pos­si­bil­i­ty of actu­al­ly beat­ing the same cor­po­ra­tions that are back­ing Trump?

Saqib: I think that there is more poten­tial now than ever before to actu­al­ly beat these cor­po­ra­tions. I think that is why we are see­ing such a big push to try to cement con­trol over the Supreme Court as a fail-safe for these cor­po­ra­tions in the long run. I think this was rec­og­niz­ing the tide is turn­ing against them. We are see­ing in place after place, the cor­po­rate Democ­rats real­ly sort of fal­ter­ing and the rise of more left­ist pol­i­tics with­in the Demo­c­ra­t­ic Par­ty, which is great. 

I am actu­al­ly hope­ful, despite every­thing else. I am hope­ful about Alexan­dria Ocasio-Cortez’s vic­to­ry, and I am see­ing more things like that going for­ward. I live in Chica­go. In 2015. Rahm Emanuel out­spent Chuy Gar­cia by a mag­ni­tude of rough­ly 11 to 1 in the ini­tial pri­ma­ry elec­tion. Chuy was able to push Rahm to a runoff and had a real shot there. I think what we have start­ed see­ing is a grad­ual shift to the left. 

I think the Demo­c­ra­t­ic Par­ty has not caught up. I think they are dig­ging their heels and try­ing to block that progress because they are behold­en to these same cor­po­ra­tions that under Bush decid­ed, Oh, okay, the Repub­li­can Par­ty is mov­ing too far to the right, so we should dou­ble down on the Demo­c­ra­t­ic Par­ty.” At the end of the day, what we are see­ing is that the elec­torate con­tin­ues to move fur­ther to the left and that is why they are try­ing to cement this con­trol at the very least at the Supreme Court lev­el so that even as the elec­torate changes, that they can try to block progress. I think that will def­i­nite­ly be a los­ing bat­tle for them in the long run. 

Inter­views for Resis­tance is a project of Sarah Jaffe, with assis­tance from Lau­ra Feuille­bois and sup­port from the Nation Insti­tute. It is also avail­able as a pod­caston iTunes. Not to be reprint­ed with­out permission.

Sarah Jaffe is a for­mer staff writer at In These Times and author of Nec­es­sary Trou­ble: Amer­i­cans in Revolt , which Robin D.G. Kel­ley called The most com­pelling social and polit­i­cal por­trait of our age.” You can fol­low her on Twit­ter @sarahljaffe.
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