Ep. 128: The “Healing” Con — How Warm and Fuzzy Appeals for Unity Are Used to Protect Power

Citations Needed | January 20, 2021 | Transcript

Vice President-elect Kamala Harris and President-elect Joe Biden on Saturday, Nov. 7, 2020, in Wilmington, Del. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)


Intro: This is Citations Needed with Nima Shirazi and Adam Johnson.

Nima Shirazi: Welcome to Citations Needed a podcast on the media, power, PR and the history of bullshit. I’m Nima Shirazi.

Adam Johnson: I’m Adam Johnson.

Nima: Welcome to the first episode of the new year, 2021, quite possibly the 47th month of the year 2020, but we’re thrilled to be back after a little bit of a break and yet the media takes no breaks.

Adam: Yeah, that’s right, takes wait for no man.

Nima: That’s right. So we are excited to be back. Of course you can follow the show on Twitter @CitationsPod, Facebook Citations Needed, become a supporter of our work through Patreon.com/CitationsNeededPodcast with Nima Shirazi and Adam Johnson. All your support through Patreon is so incredibly appreciated, we are 100 percent listener funded, no commercials, no billionaire backers. Thank you all for your ongoing support.

Adam: Yeah, if you can, by all means please subscribe to us on Patreon. It’s very helpful to keep the show sustainable and going. This of course takes a lot of work and it helps pay us and those who help us make the show possible.

Nima: “Biden Calls For Hope And Healing In Speech,” NPR writes. “Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot calls for return to Sept. 11 unity,” says The Chicago Tribune. After the 2014 Ferguson unrest CNN headline read, quote, “Obama: Now is the time for peace, healing.” The San Diego Union-Tribune has tolds us, quote, “Filmmaker Ken Burns aims for healing with new documentary about Vietnam War.” Everywhere we turn columnists, celebrities, pundits, and politicians are insisting we have “unity,” we “come together,” promote “peace” and, of course, work to “heal” our divisions.

Adam: On its face these concepts sound fine enough, I mean, who doesn’t like peace? Unity sounds great, who wouldn’t want to heal wounds? After all, wounds are bad. But in the majority of political contexts, these warm and fuzzy buzzwords rush past the messy and difficult work of justice, substantive change, or reparations and get straight to the part where everyone just feels good about themselves.

Nima: In a world where 2,100 billionaires hoard more wealth than the 4.6 billion people combined who make up 60 percent of the planet’s entire population, where billions of people live in abject poverty, what do concepts like “peace” mean? After an administration that has carried out deliberate policies of ethnic cleaning at the U.S border, what does “unity” really entail? In a country that has leveled much of the Middle East, Korea, Vietnam, and overthrown numerous democracies across Latin and South America, what does “healing” involve? Without concrete policies of accountability, restitution, restoration and reparation, squishy liberal notions of “unity” and “healing” achieve little more than continuing to protect the status quo.

Adam: This isn’t a unique problem, MLK famously reminded white liberals that, quote, “true peace is not merely the absence of tension: it is the presence of justice,” unquote, a point he made literally hundreds of times in his years of advocacy to hand wringing media insisting everyone just calm down and go home and let the lawyers at the DoJ take care of racial quote-unquote “divisions.

Nima: Nevertheless the problem persist decades later: time and again, right before there’s been any concrete changes or policy proposals or restitution to victims of injustice, those in power evoke abstract notions of “healing”, of “unity,” of peace” to shut up activists and act as of it the work is done right before pivoting back to business as usual.

Adam: On this week’s episode we will examine the origins of the concepts like “unity” as a political PR gambit, detail how concepts like “healing” can are very useful in grassroots and interpersonal psychological contexts but have been cynically exploited by those in power, and breakdown how media consumers can avoid the shallow allure of “peace” and “unity” rhetoric in the face of routine, everyday racism, violence, exploitation, and injustice.

Nima: Later on the show, we will be joined by Lara Kiswani is Executive Director of the Arab Resource and Organizing Center in the Bay Area and a faculty member at San Francisco State University in the College of Ethnic Studies.

[Begin Clip]

Lara Kiswani: You know, I think we should first not be surprised by the calls for unity, that is how government works with different social and economic forces vying for power and they use coercion and consensus in order to do so. So, of course, we’re going to have alliances between the right and the Democratic Party in the center trying to aim for different forms of power.

[End Clip]

Adam: Before we begin to dissect the cynical uses exploiting notions of unity, healing, peace, and that kind of rhetoric, we want to make clear that we are not opposed to grassroots or community led efforts to have healing or healing as a concept on the left is something that people work towards, there’s healing work people do in certain communities.

Nima: It is very important. Peace is also good. Unity can also be good.

Adam: Specifically in the context of abolitionists who try to work on ways of finding alternatives to incarceration, healing is actually a central part of their worldview and we’re not dumping on these concepts in theory. We’re not opposed to unity when, let’s say, a union wants to strike or we’re not opposed to peace when say there is no rational reason for two parties to be combating, what we’re suggesting is that these concepts are not inherently good, and more importantly, they are often used in a way that is trying to shortcut it’s a rhetorical shortcut to the difficult work that creates messiness and cognitive dissidence on the part of those in power and so we want to just start off the episode by qualifying that we are not per se against peace or unity or healing.

Nima: But in a political and media context these concepts of unity, peace, healing are exploited time and again.

[Begin Clip Montage]

Ronald Reagan: I know there are millions of men and women tonight who are eager to heal the wounds that we have suffered.

Man #1: The head of the Roman Catholic Church says the religious body needs to heal the wounds left by decades of sexual abuse by priests.

Woman #1: It’s up to Trump to unify the country.

Donald Trump: It is time to heal the wounds that divide us.

Man #2: How divided is the country? Anti-Trump protesters continued to march nationwide, confront unite the nation.

Man #3: She’s going to unite this country to make a difference in people’s lives.

Joe Biden: A few weeks ago, I spoke at Gettysburg about the need to unite our nation and today, I’m here at Warm Springs, because I want to talk about how we’re going to heal our nation.

Woman #2: Former Vice President Joe Biden delivering an impassioned plea for unity.

Woman #3: Is there any way to have unity on this to bring people together to stop the fighting?

[End Clip Montage]

Nima: We see it in our media — certainly at this time, following a siege on the U.S. Capitol and rising white nationalist fascism — we see this idea, this healing rhetoric being used to shut down real movement toward accountability, toward real justice, that it works to move past the hard work of restitution, and skip straight to the next chapter where the same people remain in power, are still going to the same parties together, and are still able to make the same deals in the same back rooms because, ‘Haven’t we all really just learned our lesson, and we can move on? Isn’t that the act of healing, really?’

Adam: I mean, okay, so I’ve been told I have a catchphrase on the show, I guess I have several, but one of them is spiritual successor. This episode is the spiritual successor to our episode on polarization specifically, because this is the flip side of it, right? This is the other side of the coin and this falls directly into the category we talk about of anti-politics, which is talking about politics without really talking about what politics are and politics are fundamentally the process in science of two competing mutually exclusive interests, and how those are wrestled either by violence or through legislation or through coercion or PR or whatever sort of mechanism is used and so we’re fascinated by the concepts of unity and peace and healing that make reference to these concepts without any notion of how we were supposed to get there. They’re kind of just Starbucks language, it just feels nice, it’s sort of warm and fuzzy, it’s got earth tones, but doesn’t really mean a lot, and now that we’ve seen Joe Biden, who represented this centrist Lincoln Project kind of Republican lite candidate in the primary, and of course, today he’s becoming the president, that now he has taken this unity rhetoric to the next level, because it’s kind of his whole shtick, which is to say —

Nima: Well, right, it was basically the motto of the campaign.

Adam: Right. When he sat in front of a bunch of billionaire donors and said nothing will fundamentally change. That’s kind of his deal, right? He’s going to go back to the Obama years and maintain order. He more than anyone has an interest in short circuiting any kind of effort at existential questions as to the nature of white supremacy, white supremacy and law enforcement, the existential nature of ICE and the ethnic cleansing policies of the border. These kinds of big questions that animated the rise of Trump and the thousands of Trump knockoffs we have now, those questions are being set aside and we’re just going to try to maintain the status quo for four to eight years. So everything can kind of go back to quote-unquote “normal.”

Nima: Exactly. So, as you would imagine, there are endless examples of this, whether you look on social media, you look in columns from commentators, you look in what is, you know, regarded as straight news just talking about what politicians are saying, and writing down their quotes and then reproducing them. There are so many examples, we can only choose a few, but for instance, on December 15 — seems like 14 years ago — December 15, 2020, CNBC wrote this, “Biden calls for unity and healing after Electoral College certifies his victory.” The same article will go on to state, “The integrity of our elections remains intact,” said Biden. “Now it is time to turn the page, to unite, to heal.” Now of course, he said this while Donald Trump and his supporters were still falsely claiming that the election that put Biden into office was illegitimate, that it had been stolen from Trump. This was still happening. It will continue to happen. But think about December 15, 2020, this was in full effect. You have this other article from The New York Times, showing how Lindsey Graham, specifically, has been using this language of healing to argue against the impeachment of the President. So for instance, there’s this quote, “Mr. Graham focused on Mr. Trump’s video message Thursday calling for healing and reconciliation, a video the president privately expressed regret for making.”

Adam: Allegedly.

Nima: Exactly. “‘Instead of trying to match what President Trump has done, the radical Democrats are talking about another impeachment that will destroy the country even further,’ Mr. Graham said.”

Adam: The New York Times on January 9, 2021, offered an example of how Biden’s efforts to appease Republicans, e.g., hire Republicans or centrists is done to sort of unify the country, right? So this happened with Obama in 2009 as well that he was told he unified by centrist media and the way you do that is by staffing your administration with Republicans, the fact that that creates what the wealthy donor class wants, and we’ll get into this later, but the donor class of people who funded the Lincoln Project, is they basically want a steady state, pro-capitalist government that doesn’t have the unpredictability and gross veneer of Trump but basically keeps things as they are, that is conservative, that doesn’t really change things. And so, New York Times wrote:

“So far, Mr. Biden has not taken a position on impeachment, let alone the broader agenda of launching criminal investigations. He has said he would leave any decisions about it to his Justice Department, which he has promised will return to the pre-Trump norm of maintaining independence from the White House.”

It was definitely not the norm especially in the Bush era.

“His choice of Merrick B. Garland, a centrist judge, as his nominee for Attorney General is another indication of his more measured approach to pursuing investigations and indictments.

“His stance reflects not only his politics but a natural inclination not to settle scores — much like Mr. Obama, whom Mr. Biden served for eight years as vice-president. Mr. Obama said shortly before his own inauguration that he believed the nation needed ‘to look forward as opposed to looking backwards.’”

The article notes that others across the Democratic Party are calling for accountability and action specifically from the progressive wing, because they believe, you know, maybe falsely, but they believe that if you want to prevent future Trump’s, and future excesses of well, you know, let’s just start with basic denying of election results, which, of course, is an incitement to violence, which is, of course, what happened, the most predictable thing of all time, that that should be something you hold to account so other people don’t try to do that, other people don’t try to rile up fascist mobs to go kill legislators and that the reason why you have punishment, at least in theory, is to prevent future people from doing that, not just to punish people in the present, but to create a standard.

Nima: So, holding people to account for incitement to violence for acts of insurrection against the government that they themselves work within, this is somehow framed so often in the media, and also our political discourse, of course, but really it finds itself into so many articles, this idea of settling scores, right? That accountability is really just sort of petty kind of grievance politics as opposed to justice, any sort of idea of actually holding people to account. Now, of course, these articles were written before Trump was successfully impeached for the second time, but you can kind of see how this rhetoric works to frame up what the conversation is even going to be about. If you look back at the fall of last year, right around the election, there was so much of this as well. So, for instance, there’s a column by conservative writer Henry Olsen, columnist for The Washington Post, published November 9, 2020, so written shortly after the election, it’s headlined, “Talk is cheap. Here’s what Biden needs to do to be a unity president.” So, in this piece, Olsen writes this:

“Democrats may disagree strongly with many of them [conservatives] — that’s what makes them Democrats — but genuine unity means taking a hard look at what conservatives and Republicans believe and finding out what elements of those can be accepted or tolerated.”

“…Building real unity requires hard work and compromise. It will mean not pressing progressive concerns too far and too fast in touchy cultural areas. It will mean avoiding the temptation to bypass a Republican-controlled Senate via executive actions of dubious constitutionality. It will mean acting less like Bush and Obama and more like Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton, whose genuine bipartisanship addressed serious problems such as Social Security’s solvency and the perennial budget deficit. Partisan differences will and should remain, but common ground can be found if Republicans are treated with understanding and respect.”

Now, of course, this is when Olsen thought that Georgia would not flip so the Republicans would maintain control of the Senate — obviously, that did not come to pass — but so much of this is all about Biden just basically doing whatever Republicans want. One of my favorite lines in there is “not pressing progressive concerns in touchy cultural areas.” I wonder what that means?

Adam: Yeah, cultural areas, otherwise known as basic rights for LGBTQ and Black people wanting equality, otherwise known as trivial cultural issues, whereas privatizing Social Security is an urgent, moral necessity. Yeah, I mean, there’s sort of too many of these to count TIME magazine, after Biden won the election put the title of his speech, his acceptance speech, “A Time to Heal” on the cover. In the article about the speech they said:

“Our cover this week, an image from the event where Biden and Harris delivered victory speeches on Nov. 7, includes the phrase from Biden’s remarks, and from Ecclesiastes, A time to heal. It’s reminiscent of a long-ago TIME cover following another season of division and pain, on the 1974 issue featuring newly inaugurated President Gerald Ford with the line The Healing Begins.”

Now, what is Gerald Ford known for? He’s known for pardoning Nixon for all of his crimes, right? So healing, healing is elite immunity and trust me when I tell you this is going to apply to Trump because even though I think Trump is not like Nixon, where he is more overtly despised by elites in both the Republican and Democratic Party, he is a big fucking pain in the ass and a nuisance, they still don’t want to violate the precedent of going after the president and this has to be understood. So the impeachment, it’s to sort of say you did it, doesn’t really mean anything. So instead of saying, ‘Wow, Gerald Ford just pardoned Nixon, and he’s gonna let everybody go, and we’re just gonna kind of act like nothing happened, and we need to maintain the brand of the Republican Party.’ That’s what Lincoln Project was about, about all the shit we’re gonna talk about today is, it’s about making sure that Trump doesn’t sully the Republican brand, because the wealthy, the super wealthy, need equally powerful two-party, pro-corporate parties, because that’s how you make sure nothing progressive ever happens and this is why Biden repeatedly says ‘We need a strong Republican Party.’ Pelosi says ‘We need a strong Republican Party.’ This is a Pete Peterson centrist dogma, it’s a signal to donors really more than anything of saying that, ‘Oh, don’t worry, we’re not actually gonna do anything serious because we don’t really take politics seriously our job is to maintain the general order and make sure that things run well.’ These are the kinds of things that I think more than anything sew cynicism. When I see Trump do illegal thing after illegal thing after illegal thing, and then he gets away with it, or Bush does illegal thing and he gets away with it as we talked about in our previous episode about looking forward not backwards, then why would I, meanwhile, I’m getting hit up by the IRS or I’m getting pulled over for speeding, or I get some bullshit, or my son gets, you know, caught with drugs like that double standard, of course, makes people bitter towards politics and so what is basically just a gentleman’s agreement to not meaningfully punish those in power, high positions of power, not some bullshit Louisiana legislator who gets stinged by the FBI, but like real elites, right? Is framed as a positive thing. It’s framed as a warm and fuzzy thing. So you’re actually healing, right?

Nima: But the way that this is consistently sold in our press and our politics, Adam, is through kind of laundering it as this core American value, that, actually, we should just unify, we should just heal together, we should come together and get over what divides us. We don’t have to do the work, we don’t have to change things, we just need to kind of get over it as long as we do that together, then we can progress forward as a society. I think you saw this in what Joe Biden has been saying, I mean, constantly.

[Begin Clip]

Joe Biden: This cannot be a partisan moment. It must be an American moment. We have to come together as a nation. I’m running as a Democrat but I will run and govern as an American president whether you voted for me or against me, I will represent you and those who see each other as fellow Americans who just don’t live in red states or blue states, but who live in and love the United States of America. That’s who we are. And there’s never been a single solitary thing America has been unable to do. Think of this: Not once. Not a single thing we’ve not been able to overcome and we’ve done it together. So let’s get the heck up. Remember who in God’s name we are. This is the United States of America.

[End Clip]

Adam: Yeah. And then we saw Kimberley Strassel at The Wall Street Journal right after the right-wing mob sieged the Capitol Building, potentially resulting in five deaths, could have easily killed legislators — certainly many of them wanted to — she wrote, “Imagine how helpful it would be if @JoeBiden were to show some grace, calling on Democrats to stand down, practice the healing he keeps preaching. Why won’t he?” Stand down, I guess, from impeachment.

The Wall Street Journal editorial page followed suit a day later saying, “Joe Biden can establish his leadership by calling off the House impeachers in service of his vow that this is a ‘time to heal.’” So now, Republicans — Marco Rubio did this, Lindsey Graham did this — they’re now making these veiled threats that going after Trump and punishing Trump for his crimes of inciting violence and continually denying the results of a fair and free election, which is a form of incitement, because if you steal millions of people’s votes, the logical result of that is violence, which is why on November 5, I was on Twitter, I said, they need to shut down Trump social media because, I’m hesitant to say that, because I do think that corporations having control over social media can be very dangerous, but he was directly inciting violence by denying the results of the election. Someone was going to get killed. It was a statistical certainty. You cannot deny an election and not expect some percentage of your followers to take matters into their own hands, especially followers who are predisposed to be paranoid, who are heavily armed, who have other grievances, who think that Democrats run a fucking child trafficking cabal.

Nima: And especially when your entire cult leadership hinges on people taking matters into their own hands, and that you’ve encouraged them to do that for years.

Adam: Right and so invariably, this happens, and then we’re supposed to act like, we need to just not hold Trump accountable for the very obvious implications of his rhetoric because the Grahams and the Rubios, their primary goal is to protect the Republican brand and their own careers and they will use Trump to the extent they can, much like John McCain did when he asked and got Trump’s endorsement in 2016, but then the second they don’t need it anymore, just like McCain did they’ll say, ‘Oh, no, I’m above the fray. I condemn him.’ Right? So it’s this double game and now Republicans and big billionaire donors who fund both Republicans and Democrats and centrist causes, like Third Way, are now moving into this rhetoric about healing, because what they want to do is not for you to blame the party that enabled, supported, backed, voted for, endorsed Trump, again, up to an including St. John McCain, they want to move on, they want to heal, and so this effort is now being spearheaded by the Mediators Foundation, which is funded by the Hewlett Foundation, who did the Lincoln Project stuff, the Rockefeller Foundation, the Whitman Institute, and these kinds of centrist, Third Way type donors have now funded a documentary, which was made in a lab to piss Nima and me off.

Nima: I can’t believe this is real.

Adam: It is “Van Jones and Meghan McCain present the REUNITED STATES.”

Nima: (Laughing.) You lost me at “Van Jones and Meghan McCain present.”

Adam: This is a trailer that was launched on January 8, 2021. We’re gonna play the whole trailer, we beg you to please not turn the dial, do not move to another podcast, it is painful to listen to but we had to listen to it and so we think you should have to listen to it too.

Nima: That’s right, you’re in this with us.

[Begin Clip]

Woman #1: Our country is very divided right now.

Man #1: Folks were physically attacking one another.

Woman #2: The root causes of division go all the way down into our foundation as a country.

[Crowd yelling “I can’t breath.”]

Woman #3: Stop. Stop.

[Piano music.]

Man #2: If we’re gonna live in a democracy, all of us have to learn to be mediators and bridge builders.

Woman #4: My daughter would tell you, let’s get on to the issues that she died for.

Man #3: The divisions are happening in our neighborhood. They’re happening in our schools, and they’re happening in our families.

Man #4: We decided to travel to all 50 states to get an understanding of what was causing these divisions.

Man #5: Issues we will inherit are not so much dividing between the left versus right, but really the future versus the past. We decide to create the first ever caucus for young members of Congress.

Man #6: I want to create a third force in our politics that’s able to get us beyond this partisan warfare.

Man #7: Meeting people across the country who have a passion to see our divisions heal. That gives me hope.

[Music swells.]

Woman #5: (Crying) To have someone look at me as if we don’t deserve to be respected, we don’t deserve to be treated fairly. It does something to you.

Man #8: We get uranium. We get murder. We get alcohol. Nobody’s doing nothing about it.

Woman #6: I wish there was something I could do to help her.

Woman #7: I don’t want other mothers to go through this.

Man #9: This country needs bridge builders.

Woman #8: Don’t be afraid to reach out to someone who might not believe exactly like you believe.

[End Clip]

Adam: Okay, so here we have a lot of things. Again, built in a lab to anger Citations Needed.

Nima: That is, I think, like fifteen seasons of Citations Needed in a two minute trailer.

Adam: Notice the primary thing we don’t have, that’s omitted, is a guilty party. We talked about this to death in the polarization episode, we will talk about it to death again, there is no bad guy, there’s no agent.

Nima: Division from nowhere.

Adam: We obviously, we’re not a partisan podcast, we very much spend much of our time, as I’m sure you know now, criticizing Democrats, but I think the last four years, it’s perfectly fair to say that Democrats have screwed the poor and the working class in many, many ways, but the primary driver of this moment and this descent into despotism, the majority of the responsibility, the majority of the moral responsibility by any objective metric is the Republican Party and the president in charge and the party in charge of both the Senate and the presidency, their deep deep cynicism, their nihilism, their death cult drive for power, for lowering taxes at all costs, for getting federal judges at all costs, and killing people in a pandemic and you have a fucking trailer about divisions and then really I think in a really unfortunate way, using Charlottesville as the backdrop to this and then the solution is to reach out for someone you don’t agree with. What the fuck are you talking about? That’s not the solution. The solution is to weed out, deplatform, undermine and if need be violently eliminate fascist and fascism from our society that has been emboldened by, supported by, funded by corporations, by the Republican Party, and it is maddening that we are now trying to do this 2004 tight pivot from what we saw with Trump to this bullshit pablum, again, funded by billionaires for a reason that says, ‘Oh, actually, we all just sort of need to get along.’ What universe are these people occupying? The universe they’re occupying is they want us to basically forget the next four years so they can maintain the Republican Party brand.

Nima: Right, exactly. What’s actually interesting about this moment is in the lead up to Inauguration Day, some liberals and even kind of professional liberals, started to see through this kind of healing, unity rhetoric and actually started to see through this unity and healing rhetoric, and publicly denounced it, even mocked it. So here you have kind of uber-liberal writer Nicholas Kristof tweeting this on January 11, “Imagine if a gang of arsonists set fires that killed five people and then, when caught, demanded that they enjoy impunity because ‘it’s time to heal’ and ‘let’s move on.’” Now, sure, that is actually saying there should be accountability you can’t just move on, yet, it’s interesting when these realizations come to people like Kristof, because here is also Nicholas Kristof, this from back in July 2008 arguing for a performative national healing process instead of what was actually necessary, then true accountability for American war crimes committed by the Bush administration looking toward the 2008 election and what would happen beyond then. By July, it was clear Obama was going to be the nominee, and potentially the winner of the election and what was Kristof calling for? He wrote then in The New York Times, July 2008, “The first step of accountability isn’t prosecutions. Rather, we need a national Truth Commission to lead a process of soul searching and national cleansing.” He then continued, quote, “This commission would issue a report to help us absorb the lessons of our failings, the better to avoid them during the next crisis.” End quote. So again, whose failings are they? Whose? An administration that initiated a war of aggression, the supreme international crime, committed torture, mass surveillance, let a U.S. city drown, because most of its residents were Black. I mean, there can’t just be a report issued so we can then feel better about ourselves as a nation moving on to quote-unquote, “the next crisis,” because then when the next crisis hits, people are going to act similarly if there has been no accountability before that.

Adam: Well, right. And then, you know, because supposedly we have a rule of law or we’re supposed to have equal application of rules and laws for everybody, and this concept of healing the division or healing the divide as a way of protecting power goes back to Gerald Ford and Nixon. The corporate media largely praised Gerald Ford for pardoning Nixon so that we could heal and move on e.g., we can have elite immunity. Looking through The New York Times database of the terms “heal the division” or “heal the divide” we found something very interesting, which is the very first use of the term “heal the divisions” was from a February 1964 New York Times editorial, which was written by The New York Times to oppose a civil rights mass action to boycott New York schools because they were segregated and had left black schools in disarray. So The New York Times is opposing the civil rights gesture, and does so because they feel that it will stoke divisions.

Nima: So I’m going to read this editorial from Monday, February 3, 1964, in The New York Times, see if you can spot some common themes here. The editorial is headlined, “No More School Boycotts,” And it says this:

“Now that the tragically misguided school boycott is upon us, the most crucial immediate concern is the avoidance of violence. The civil rights leaders as well as the police are pledged to every effort to keep today’s demonstration peaceful. The same aim must guide all New Yorkers, regardless of their views on the boycott itself. Whether children are being sent to school or kept out, their safety is paramount.

“The boycott is pointless. It uses the methods of unreason to force integration in ways that endanger educational progress, rather than advance it. Few things could be more destructive of the welfare of all the city’s children — white, Negro and Puerto Rican alike — than to make this the first of a series of longer and more dangerous boycotts, as some civil rights spokesmen have hinted. Today’s is one too many. The concentration for the future should be on the less flamboyant but far more productive process of responsible community cooperation.”

Adam: So next up is the patented New York Times concern troll posture where they have a paragraph where they make it clear that they share your liberal goals, but they think the tactic is bad. This is very similar to Episode 127 on abolition, it’s almost the exact same formula, which is, ‘We sort of theoretically agree but now’s not the time, don’t do it,’ and much like the editorial on abolition from Episode 127 where they opposed abolitionists, The New York Times here is saying that ‘Your efforts are so radical, you’re going to create divisions, you’re going to incite the other side, and that that’s going to have a deleterious effect on your goal, which we share theoretically.’ So it’s the same formula. It’s, by the way, the same formula they’ve been doing for 160 years.

Nima: So here it is, in all its glory:

“Great improvements are needed in the city’s school system. Especially needed is a dramatic attempt to reach and educate the children of the slums so that they can take their place in American society as equals in skill and training. Such an enrichment of the learning process in the areas of greatest economic and social deprivation is an essential element in the fight to break down the walls of de facto segregation and assure a general raising of educational standards. It is almost the only course that offers real promise in a borough like Manhattan, where three out of every four public elementary school pupils are Negro or Puerto Rican.”

So you can imagine the rest of the editorial, but it ends this way:

“This intolerable appearance of divided leadership, whatever its cause, must be eliminated honestly and at once. The responsible civil rights leaders, for their part, should act to heal the division their stand has created between them and those liberal, education-minded community groups which share their desire for better schools and more integration. These ends can be worked for without wrecking the system by aiming for the impossible.”

Adam: Which is impossible, because we say so. Yeah. So the very first instance that The New York Times uses the phrase “heal the division” or “heal the divide,” is in the context of telling civil rights leaders to shut up and go home and so from its inception, this concept was about making sure the status quo remains the same. Now, again, heal the divisions is sometimes used in the context of, let’s say, inter fighting between Republicans or Democrats, ‘Harry Truman wants to heal the divisions between Democrats.’ So it’s not always used in that way we’re saying, but for the most part it is. The concept of unity, healing divisions, especially when they’re telling activists to go home or they’ve gone too far, is claptrap. It’s bullshit, right? It’s a way of shutting people up. Now, we’ve talked about it before on the show a couple times, but I want to go back to the Ken Burns Vietnam documentary in 2017, and the public relations around that multi-part documentary series for PBS that’s funded by Bank of America and the Charles Koch Foundation. This was an object lesson in healing bullshit, right? From all of his public appearances, Ken Burns and his co-filmmaker Lynn Novick repeatedly said the goal of the project was to heal. He told the Harvard Gazette, “We still suffer today from the divisions that took seed in Vietnam. So maybe the virus we caught then will be serviceable for a vaccine now.” So there’s some virus that we caught and in his film we’ll heal the virus somehow. Then he and Novick wrote this insipid New York Times column to promote the film where they wrote:

“Nothing will ever make the tragedy of the Vietnam War all right. But if we are to begin the process of healing, we must first honor the courage, heroism and sacrifice of those who served and those who died, not just as we do today, on Memorial Day, but every day.”

So after he does the whole, you know, North has their perspective, the South has their perspective, we have our perspective, he says, quote:

“But if, with open minds and open hearts, we can consider this complex event from many perspectives and recognize more than one truth, perhaps we can stop fighting over how the war should be remembered and focus instead on what it can teach us about courage, patriotism, resilience, forgiveness and, ultimately, reconciliation.”

The thing about this is that it doesn’t make any sense. It’s total pablum, “perhaps we can stop fighting over how the war should be remembered” is, I think, the key phrase here, right Nima? Because that’s a way of saying, ‘Don’t think too critically about American imperialism or the violence caused by America’s anti-communism in Southeast Asia and throughout the globe throughout the Cold War.’ So the metaphor we used before was that Burns and Novick show up, there’s a dead body and Uncle Sam has a knife in his hand with blood on it, right? And so they can’t get him off totally, because no one’s going to buy a documentary, so what he does is he admits to the least, he does sort of limited hangout, he admits to the very least that he can admit to —

Nima: Mistakes were made.

Adam: Right, and so he begins the documentary by saying people of good faith with good intentions kind of bumbled into it, this is the quintessence of a bumbling empire, and then he kind of does a who knows the truth, multiple truths, multiple perspective, kind of water muddying.

Nima: Right.

Adam: And then he gives this bullshit about healing. But here’s the deal: Americans don’t get to decide if they’ve healed from what they did to Vietnam in the 1960s and ’70s, right? The Vietnamese get to make that decision and it’s not clear to me, although he has some token Vietnamese in the documentary, it’s not clear to me that there was any meaningful effort to get buy in from those victims of America’s war. Of course, you know, millions of them are dead, they can’t give any opinion either way, but there’s no sense that the survivors or those who were wronged by America had any say in whether or not Ken Burns can unilaterally heal himself, and heal people who promoted the documentary like George Will and John McCain. And this is a rather vulgar expression of the concept of healing because it’s self unilateral healing, right? ‘I, Ken Burns, gets to decide whether or not my fellow Bank of America and Koch Brother funded documentary is going to heal these bourgeois pundits,’ again, people who fought in Vietnam, who knows how many people fucking John McCain killed in Vietnam, dropping bombs on villages. ‘They’re all healed. So we’ve healed them,’ and, you know, he can find a couple, he finds a few Vietnamese veterans who fought in the South Vietnamese Army or quote-unquote, “South Vietnamese Army,” Vietnamese Liberation, he can find those to sort of be cool about it and they’re like, ‘Yeah, we’re cool,” and you know, John McCain did this all the time, he would go back to Vietnam and sort of hug some people and they would say, ‘Okay, we’re over it.’ But that’s easy, I can find that for anyone, right? I can find, you know, they do this, New York Times does this all the time, they go find the one black person who loves the police, and they have them hug the police, ‘Oh, it’s fine. Everything’s fine. We can all go home.’ Right?

Nima: Right.

Adam: But there’s no sense that Ken Burns did any polling, did he actually ask, was there any reconciliation process? Are we going to pay reparations? Is Ken Burns going to give up what I assume is a pretty significant wealth to the Vietnamese? What is what is actually being done to make amends?

Nima: Well, no, because the process of healing has so much to do with talking about something, moving past it, and not actually doing anything and I think that, you know, as we talked about, whether it has to do with a deep legacy of xenophobia, of racism, of colonialism, and the ongoing legacies, of course, of all of these things, but also when you add in notions of imperialism and American foreign policy, you get into this, ‘You know, we know mistakes were made after the fact,’ right? And you can look at this from the Spanish American War, you can look at it from Korea, you can look at it in Vietnam, you can look at it in Iraq, multiple times, and the past few decades of just ongoing American Empire and what that means, who we support, what we do, ultimately doesn’t mean anything because we just need to come together to a process of healing and then we can move past and feel good about what we did. Obviously, we can’t raise the millions of dead, but that isn’t really part of this process. The process is to make us feel better about ourselves and I think we see that not only in the American context, but also when you look at a place like, you know, Israel/Palestine, right? Where there is an endless peace process, it’s about a process for peace, not a justice process, not an accountability process, not a war crimes tribunal, right? Not right of return, a peace process to promote — what else? — healing. And so, you know, for the past number of decades, we’ve even heard that, of all people, Benjamin Netanyahu, war criminal extraordinaire, multiple-time Prime Minister of Israel, has called for not only peace, but if it was back in 1996, we knew from The New York Times that he was also calling for healing.

Adam: Yeah, so this was after the First Intifada.

Nima: Right and so this idea of a colonial regime, that exacts occupation and ethnic cleansing and apartheid upon an indigenous population, after the state policy of literally breaking people’s bones, because they are Palestinian, well, then Netanyahu gets to call for peace, and gets to call for healing and I think that, you know, this really speaks to what we’re talking about when we say this is about moving on, protecting the status quo on purpose, making sure nothing fundamentally changes, no actions need to be made, no reparations need to be enacted, we need to all move on together and really, who does that moving on serve?

Adam: The whole point of politics, well, I would say the whole point of activism, left-wing activism, is to heighten contradictions, not to paper over them, right? The whole point is to show how the different class interests have competing interests, and that we need to highlight those competing interests to win the day politically, to have them submit themselves to the world. So, for example, if there’s a union dispute, right? This is why HR firms have gotten good at this kind of bullshit, unity rhetoric, because we don’t have unity, the interest of management is, by definition, in conflict with a worker. So we can never really have unity, we will always be in tension and that having the maturity in the moral constitution to understand that tension and conflict is actually good, it’s not per se good, but when there’s injustice or subjugation, that you ought to have conflict, that there should not be unity, that there should be disunity, there should be division and there should not be peace. Again, this is a “no justice, no peace” is the most famous, most popular street chant for a reason, which is to say, ‘We’re out here doing this shit, because we don’t have justice and if you want us to shut the fuck up and go home, then you got to do X, Y, and Z,’ and instead of doing X, Y, and Z, they skip to the peace part and say, ‘Oh yeah, we got this, don’t worry about it.’ It’s so cheap, and it’s so easy, and there’s a human instinct to want to kind of just give up and say, ‘Okay, well, we’re all gonna be warm and fuzzy, and Biden’s gonna give some good speech and we’re going to sort of feel good about ourselves again, we’re over the Trump thing, that’s past us, we’ve healed,’ but without any accountability or reparations. I mean, forget the reparations of, I mean, the reparations of the violence at the border, of the experimentation on women, of the deportation of immigrants, of the murdering of immigrants, of immigrants who’ve died in the desert that have been made worse by the Trump regime. Without accountability or reparations to these people, then it’s all bullshit.

Nima: It’s all just backslapping, which is why it’s framed as score settling, as opposed to the work of justice. But to talk more about this, we’re going to be joined by Lara Kiswani, Executive Director of the Arab Resource and Organizing Center. She’s a faculty member at San Francisco State University in the College of Ethnic Studies. She’ll join us in just a moment. Stay with us.


Nima: We are joined now by Lara Kiswani. Lara, thank you so much for joining us today on Citations Needed.

Lara Kiswani: Thanks for having me.

Adam: So, you’re the Executive Director of the Arab Resource and Organizing Center, a group that’s engaged in a broad swath of organizing from opposing police militarization to opposing violence of American militarism, to fighting for equal rights in Palestine. As such, we couldn’t think of anyone more qualified to comment on the trope we’re talking about today, namely that of people in power using vague appeals to unity, healing and peace as a means of papering over fundamental political questions. In your work, I’m sure you’ve come across this tactic quite a bit, I think it’s probably fair to say, namely on the subject of BDS and Palestine issues, can we talk about how the concept of peace and unity and kind of these rhetorical shortcuts to warm and fuzzy concepts are wielded against you and other activists that you’ve seen and what your sort of general thoughts are on this kind of rhetoric?

Lara Kiswani

Lara Kiswani: Peace is not just in the privy of those in power, so movements for liberation historically, and those against American Empire, the concept of peace has always been something at the heart of the objectives in the work, but peace, obviously, as it relates to justice, I think the cynical rhetorical devices that are used by state actors are really just meant to perpetuate war, and not peace, and to relate to peace in a really cynical way. So, you know, generally speaking, I think the way we understand the world and how it functions and how changes occur is we need the material conditions to change in order for unity or peace or healing to make any sense. Real healing would be the repairing of the harm and oppression that’s been done, the stopping of ongoing harms, which means, in the case of Palestine, not just conversations or building better relationships around those in the realm of racial hierarchies and oppressive hierarchies, but actually dismantling those racial hierarchies and oppressive hierarchies and being able to understand peace as an objective, similar to that example of Apartheid South Africa. Now, not to dismiss the fact that South Africa is in no way in a place where we could say, in a liberated, sort of positionality, but that being said, reconciliation dialogue and healing came after the end of Apartheid, not before, right? So in order to talk about peace and unity and justice, there has to be a question of power, power dynamics, racial hierarchies, and the ways in which the question of resistance and liberation are also at the heart of the question of unity, healing and peace in this regard.

Nima: The idea that what we’re seeing now following these ongoing horrors of the Trump administration, I think we also need to acknowledge that some of the atrocities that Trump is still carrying out, that were fundamental to his time in office, were initiated, actually, by the Obama-Biden administration itself, say, like, the destruction of Yemen, meaning that Biden himself may have his own interests in actually emphasizing the importance of healing, it kind of gets him off the hook, too, right? So, also, following the events of January 6, 2021, the siege of the U.S. Capitol, it’s difficult to see how we can just sort of unify, heal, move on, from what amounted to not just a call for the far right to directly undermine a US election, but the actions taken to literally violently do so. So, Lara, what do you think are some of the dangers or pitfalls of the Biden-Harris calls for unity and what do you think we should be on the lookout for as this administration comes into office and maybe veers away from something we would generally recognize as accountability?

Lara Kiswani: I think we should first not be surprised by the calls for unity, that is how government works with different social and economic forces vying for power and they use coercion and consensus in order to do so. So, of course, we’re going to have alliances between the right and the Democratic Party in the center, trying to aim for different forms of power and at the same time, there’s this question around political programs, right? So if we live in a country, we know that the US is an imperialist country, a capitalist country, and there will always constantly be needs to find more frontiers for capital in that regard there will always be needs for war and warmaking both here at home and abroad, and so that being said, you know, one of the concerns we all have to be curious about is what are these political programs that will be advanced, and what political programs will actually serve the interests, not only serve the interests of all the elites, that being neoliberal Democrats, conservatives, or the right. There’s a lot of shared interests there and we should understand that alliances are going to happen, are happening, have historically been the case, and there’s no doubt that the right-wing is working towards deepening those alliances, as are the Biden administration. So for us, we should also be thinking about what does that mean for us as trying to build an alternative political program and what political agenda is being set at this moment that serves the interests of the elite, whether it be the right, the conservatives or neoliberals, that we should be challenging and thinking about moving forward and what alliances and united fronts are we building to challenge that because, you know, united fronts aren’t just thinking that the left and progressive movements across the world build, united fronts are also what the elite and, you know, capitalist and imperialist forces also are constantly building.

Adam: Yeah, because again, the fundamental question is, it’s a unity for who? Who is included in this unity, right? Because this claptrap about ‘America’s united’ has been around for decades. It’s sort of a totally mindless, every politician, every president says it because it kind of feels good, right? It’s very Starbucks-y. It’s like unity,clearly that’s good. ‘Unity is better than division, right? We don’t want to be divided because being divided sucks.’ Then again, if we’re uniting to go pass a $700 billion NDAA bill or we’re uniting to invade Iraq, we’re uniting to subjugate Palestinians, then the constituency of who’s uniting seems like the important criteria here and so I think the question is well united for whom and united in opposition to what maybe is the more even more urgent question?

Lara Kiswani: And who sets the terms, right? So who sets the terms of what peace and unity are or aren’t as well?

Adam: Yeah, because, you know, one thing I do want to talk about is the idea of healing and even unity can be a good thing. I think one thing we tried to stress at the top of the show is that these are not per se bad things. They can be wielded in a cynical way, which is the subject matter we’re talking about today, but I know that in leftist spaces concepts of healing as a goal post-reparations, post-justice, post-equity and equality, that this is an admirable goal, because it’s a human instinct to sort of want to get along. That if say, in the context of Israel Palestine, if Palestinians were given the sort of three basic demands of BDS, you know, right of return or basic rights, such and such, then we could have healing and I want to talk about maybe some of the positive uses of the term because I don’t want people to get the impression that we’re pro-not healing, per se.

Nima: Endless grudges is what we hold on Citations Needed.

Adam: Yeah.

Lara Kiswani: I mean, I think if we want to talk about unity and healing, it also has to happen through political work in practice, it has to happen by dismantling state violence and we do want peace, unity and healing. Not to completely go off track here, but there’s also a whole realm of work around healing in transformative justice that address the ways in which racial capitalism actually causes our trauma, and also forces us in these sort of silos and oppressive sort of ways of living our lives, that can be isolating and alienating. So, if we address the root cause of it, then yes, there’s ways to talk about healing in the process of actually liberation. But also, there’s ways to talk about healing through organizing, there’s ways to understand political activism and engagement as a form of healing, as a form of transformation, and also building unity with other communities. So there’s all kinds of ways to understand that term, I think it’s thrown around a lot, as a personal thing, less so as a political, and I think if we understand it from a structural, you know, understanding of society, then we could see how healings on the level of society need structural changes that can lend itself towards that and there’s ways we can engage in that now, as we are also building the society we want.

Nima: Yeah, I kind of want to then take the opposite track and let’s have us talk for a minute about the moral utility of sowing disunity, of agitation, of heightening contradictions, of exposing those conflicting interests and why these concepts of shining a light on the bad things, not just focusing on where we can come together, but actually where those divisions lie, that that itself can be a moral, and a good, and, you know, really a means to an end and so, you know, I wonder if you can share examples from your own organizing work of where you found, pointing out those contradictions, of being not conciliatory, of having that agitation driving the work that you do, how that can really be a, not only morally sound position, but fundamentally essential to building movements for change, for sustaining those movements for change, rather than simply looking for those areas of coming together, of potentially then false notions of peace.

Lara Kiswani: Yeah, I mean, to me, this is a question of politics itself. So, doing politics is about agitation. It’s about having an opposition, it’s about having an objective, it’s about creating alliances and actually creating division, because you’re exposing, like you were saying, those contradictions, because we live in contradictions. So to imagine that there’s a way to create social change without actually addressing that or engaging, interrogating that, you know, would be an interesting one to consider but it actually is not materially sound, right? So, at the end of the day, you know, how society changes is through struggle and political struggle at that and there’s every campaign that I could think of, you know, we talk about ways in which we are creating disunity, we don’t maybe not use that term, but we are talking about the balance of forces, right? And who is your opposition? Who are your allies? How are we going to move people? And what wedges are we trying to create? An example could be an AROC campaign, Stop Urban Shield, ending a militarization program here in the Bay, which was the largest in the world, that engaged with the State of Israel training local law enforcement. Now, we could have easily understood that this was about building unity with law enforcement against the State of Israel, but that at all was not the case. What we were trying to do is actually expose the contradictions between US imperialism and people’s movements here in this country expose the contradictions between policing and militarism, in democracy. And so by doing that, we were able to then create a wedge between elected officials who had the means to make a decision about how resources were going to be reallocated, really making a shift around how are we prioritizing, you know, what are our economic priorities here in this country, and how are we relating to the interests of law enforcement and imperialist countries, both the United States and Israel in this particular case. How we won was by not actually lowering that ceiling or by blending with those contradictions, but really exposing those contradictions, because it forces people to make a choice on what side of history they want to be on, it forces people to make a choice on what world they want to live in, but also, as part of that, it’s not just about ending things, it’s about what alternatives are we also building up and the only way to do that is if you understand what you’re up against, right? So, what is it that we don’t want? And so you have to understand what we don’t want, what it is that we’re fighting against, what we need to break down in order to build things up, and that has everything to do with both building unity for the long term and an end throughout the process, but it’s also exposing contradictions and your opposition and adversaries in the process.

Adam: Yeah, because I think that’s kind of the issue here, when you see all the, in very partisan terms, you know, one of the things we talked about earlier, it was that Democrats for the first time, I think in a while, the kind of mainstream Democrat discourse, liberal discourse, is now increasingly skeptical of unity discourse, because of the extremism of the Trump regime has sort of been turned inwards, right? And so now some of the partisan media is thinking because, you know, we had years of unity and West Wing, you know, all that crap, right? And now, it seems like there’s a little bit of a kind of very lack of a better term, a teaching moment here, where we say, okay, appeals to unity, for the first two years of the Obama administration were disaster, either whether they were in good faith or whether or not they were just born from the fact that he raised more money on Wall Street than McCain, I think it’s probably both, and that now we can sort of say, like, see what happens, like politics sucks, right? Nobody wants to be the guy who says we need to divide, it’s, you know, you’re a woke scold, you’re boring, you’re like, you know, ‘You need to relax, bro.’ Nobody wants to be that guy but injustice is ongoing, oppression is ongoing, and to point it out is therefore divisive and I think, how can we use this sort of transparent cynicism, of unity rhetoric in the face of Trump to maybe expand how people view many of the sort of ways we engage with politics? I guess, is my question.

Lara Kiswani: It’s an interesting question. I think it comes back to me from an organizers perspective. You know, I’m all for building united fronts, right? But it’s also about building a basis for what are the principles and values we’re basing those united friends on? What is our shared political project, right? And so as we think about the Biden administration and AROC doesn’t necessarily do a lot of work on the federal level around legislation or working with the Biden campaign in particular, since our work is much more local and grassroots than national in scope in that regard, but at the end of the day, I think there’s a question to be asked around, how is it that we can understand what is made possible right now, just like the right is trying to move the Biden administration, the Democratic Party to the center and to the right, then we need to also think there’s also ways in which the left can also still play a role, and so there’s something to be said there. In terms of the question of unity, again, I don’t have a lot of hope around what that looks like in the Democratic Party, but I think part of the changes we’ve seen in the recent years, especially as we talk about the squad, and the ways in which conversations have advanced differently, even particularly as it relates to Palestine or militarism and war-making, has to do with really creating wedges, both on that level as well, you know, within the Democratic Party, but also on both sides. So I think there’s a way in which we can learn from that as an example of what’s possible, but also, I’m not clear on how much pressure is being put on electeds on a federal level to move them to the left, but I would hope the left is doing that as much as the right is trying to do it, because it’ll require both in order for us to build out our terrain on the grassroots level. And so it’s a white washing, it’s a white washing of, in the case of Palestine, it’s a white washing of Zionism and occupation, it’s a white washing of the everyday violence, and here, in the case of the United States, it’s a whitewashing of US imperialism, of racial capitalism, of the ways in which every day indigenous communities and black and brown communities are faced with violence by whether it’s local police departments or the government itself. So it’s a way to normalize that and I think that we’ve seen that time and time again under Democratic Party leadership but we’ve also seen that on both sides in the ways that whether or not it was Trump or Biden, in this case, there was always some sense of unity, spoken or unspoken, in terms of political programs and agendas that have taken place, which is why many of our communities are still talking about what are we going to do in the migrant justice world? How are we going to fight against war and militarism right now? Those things aren’t going to change profoundly because there are political interests that continue to cross over and there is unity, there always has been unity, whether it’s spoken or unspoken.

Nima: Yeah, the idea of healing as being part of a normalization of violence is, I think, something that is critical to remember.

Lara Kiswani: Absolutely. That’s ultimately what we’re all fighting against, right? So ironically, they use the word peace and healing as a way to normalize violence against people who are at the receiving end of it.

Adam: Before you go, I want to talk a bit about your organization and what y’all are up to at the Arab Resource and Organizing Center, do you want to tell us a little bit about where our listeners can check you out or find out what you’re up to?

Lara Kiswani: Sure. So we are based in the San Francisco Bay Area, we organize and serve the Arab and Muslim community and you can learn about us by looking up AROC Bay Area through our social media. Currently, we encourage everybody to learn about our ethnic studies campaign, so to go to SaveArabAmericanStudies.org, which is what we feel is a pretty critical case of white supremacy finding its way in education, not only in California, but setting the precedent for the rest of the country with the attacks by Zionists and other right-wing forces. So, I would encourage folks to check that out to learn more about how to plug in to not only AROC, but the work we’re taking part in in California.

Nima: Well, that is fantastic. I think that’s a perfect place to leave it. We’ve been speaking with Lara Kiswani, Executive Director of the Arab Resource and Organizing Center in the Bay Area and a faculty member at San Francisco State University in the College of Ethnic Studies. You can follow AROC @AROCBayArea on Twitter. Lara, thank you so much, again, for joining us today on Citations Needed.

Lara Kiswani: Thanks again for having me.


Adam: It seems like a good rule of thumb is that if someone says they want peace, unity healing, that you say, ‘Okay, great, well, what is your process for that? What is the thing you’re going to do? Because presumably, if there’s some division, there’s some author of that division, there’s someone who’s inflicted pain on someone and we’ve talked about this to death in the show, but the routine, again, having a world where just over 2,000 people have more money than 60 percent of the population on earth, where people die every day of starvation, people die every day in this country of lack of healthcare, or you have the kind of active status quo of pain, suffering and oppression and subjugation, the normal routine violence is not seen as division. It’s not seen as a strife, as something that needs to be healed, you know, routine racism, of housing, of education, of healthcare, that’s not seen as being divisive.

Nima: Right. Big public acts, right?

Adam: Yeah. It’s the routine police murders and arresting and pretrial detention and racist justice system. That’s not a division that needs to be healed. What the division was, is people getting mad about that and burning down a precinct to Minneapolis. That’s the division that needs to be healed, right? So it’s this issue of first blood. It’s sort of like the violence breaks out, it’s the Orwellian headline we’ve talked about in the show a lot, right? Where they say, “Violence breaks out after officer shoots Black person,” right? The violence didn’t break out after they shot them, they broke out when they shot them.

Nima: Right. That was the violence. That’s the violence.

Adam: Right and so this bullshit anti-politics about healing and unity, without any sense of what is going to be done, so the victim, the person who’s been oppressed, whether it be the immigrant or the black person suffering under incarceration or the poor person who’s been fucked over by Trump’s anti-labor law, whatever it is, that that person is the one who decides whether or not you get to heal. Not us. Not Joe Biden.

Nima: Right, because the entire Biden playbook right now is that the process of healing is simply saying that it’s time to heal. That is the process, right? That is the entirety of the plan. It is not about fundamentally changing anything. And so it’s just saying, ‘Let’s heal,’ because that person is no longer sitting behind a certain desk, living in a certain house, that that itself is the act, that is going to unify and that what we don’t want are for more actual actions to be taken that will hold people to account because that itself is more divisive. If you actually do anything, that is going to promote disunity, and therefore it will not enable our healing. Who needs to be healed? Who is healing, right? Who is allowed to heal here through this healing process? Because it’s certainly not the aggrieved parties for the past four years, five years, five centuries. They are not the communities who will be healing through this process. It will simply be the people who go to work in the Capitol Building and they can feel more safe going to work in the Capitol Building, which they should, but that is kind of, that is the healing process that is being talked about.

Adam: Well, the thing you’re healing is our national ego, is our national myth making that Trump is solid with his vulgarity, right? So you’re healing bourgeois institutions so they can feel good about themselves, the State Department, USAID, it’s about healing, the sort of routine, you know, the police, they can go back to sort of business as usual, your healing the cognitive dissidence of people who work in these institutions who need to wake up every morning and think, ‘I’m with the good guys,’ and Biden is there to tell you that we’re back to that world.

Nima: We are back to the good work of being America, not the bad PR period that we just went through. We’re back on top and so yeah, we are back on top, and Citations Needed is back with new episodes. Thank you everyone for listening as always, for sharing the show, spreading the word, rating and reviewing on Apple Podcast, if you are so inclined to do so, it does help a lot. Of course, you can follow the show on Twitter @CitationsPod, Facebook Citations Needed and become a supporter of the show through Patreon.com/CitationsNeededPodcast with Nima Shirazi and Adam Johnson. All your help through Patreon is so appreciated and an extra special shout out goes to our critic level supporters on Patreon. I am Nima Shirazi.

Adam: I’m Adam Johnson.

Nima: Citations Needed is produced by Florence Barrau-Adams. Associate producer is Julianne Tveten. Production assistant is Trendel Lightburn. Newsletter by Marco Cartolano. Transcriptions are by Morgan McAslan. The music is by Grandaddy. Thanks again, everyone. Happy New Year. We’ll catch you next time.


This episode of Citations Needed was released on Wednesday, January 20, 2021.

Transcription by Morgan McAslan.