The Wall, the Shutdown and more

1. The Wall is more than a clump of cement or steel; more than a poor use of taxpayer dollars; more than Trump’s vanity project. It’s become a symbol of everything that is wrong with the Trump presidency – beginning with its vile racism and xenophobia. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is exactly right when she said that Trump’s wall is immoral; its not who we are as a people or country.

To spend even a penny on this wall to break the impasse over the government shutdown is not a compromise that we should consider for even a moment. It might open up the government, but it also would scar our heart, our soul, and our future.

I find it helpful at moments like this to ask myself: What would Martin Luther King do? And I have to think he would say that our sacred duty is to bridges of understanding, equality, kindness, and solidarity at the border and everywhere else in our society, not walls of hate or division. It is, he would likely add, the only road to a “Beloved Community,” to a society that is fully just, decent, and non-violent.

2. A declaration of a national emergency may end the government shutdown, but in doing so it sets a dangerous precedent at a moment when Trump, reckless and authoritarian by nature, finds himself more and more inextricably entangled in legal and political challenges that threaten his presidency and could land him in jail.

3. The resistance to the Trump administration as well as the experience of 20th century socialism reminds me once again that that the defense of the misnamed “bourgeois” democratic rights, liberties, protections, and institutions — not to mention an independent media — isn’t a negative task that we reluctantly embrace at this moment nor is it something we can dispense with once we arrive at the “emancipatory” gates of socialism. To the contrary, it is a crucial terrain of struggle that should be defended, expanded, and deepened now as well as in any socialist society that is worthy of that name.

In reflecting on the experience of the past, not least 20th century socialism, the great historian E.P. Thompson wrote:

“I am told that, just beyond the horizon, new forms of working class power are about to arise which, being founded upon egalitarian productive relations, will require no inhibition and can dispense with the negative restrictions of bourgeois legalism. A historian is unqualified to pronounce on such utopian projections. All that he knows is that he can bring in support of them no evidence whatsoever. His advice might be: watch this new power for a century or two before you cut down your hedges.” Whigs and Hunters: The Origins of the Black Act

Wise words.

4. It’s hard not to like Alexandria Ocasio Cortez. She’s a fresh, new, democratic socialist voice in the political universe. Her star, already bright in the sky of U.S. politics, could easily grow brighter in the years to come. Let’s hope so.

But what I don’t like are the efforts of some on the left who would like to turn her celebrity, political outspokenness, and political pedigree into their ax to grind against her Democratic Party colleagues — many of whom have a long record of engagement, represent powerful social constituencies, and possess progressive politics — and the Democratic Party, which, by and large, is tacking in a progressive direction. Moreover, its role is vital in the struggle against Trump and right wing, white nationalist authoritarian rule.

5. Trump’s shutdown of the federal government is the political equivalent of a corporate lockout, albeit with some differences. One being its scale — 800,000 plus uncounted workers employed by federal contractors. Another its solution is in the hands of Congress. Still another is the boss has no economic skin in the game, while his stockholders in the Republican controlled Senate obediently bend to his manias and outbursts for now, no matter how irrational on their face.

What then to do in these circumstances? Wait it out, while worrying about the next bill? Find another job to tide yourself over? Appeal to family members for help in these difficult times? Visit food pantries? Go to your local pawn shops?

But with no obvious end in sight and day to day life becoming more dire for locked out government workers and their families, is it time for TSA workers and the entire federal government workforce to consider a job action? This question was posed and answered affirmatively in an oped in the NYT earlier this week.

Neither author is in the top circles of the labor movement, but, I believe, it is a fair question to ask and one that deserves discussion in the labor movement in the first place. After all, this is the longest government shutdown in history and, even more to the point, appears to have no quick ending.

No doubt it would be a perilous choice to make. And maybe it is impractical for all sorts of reasons. But that determination should be made after careful consideration by labor and its allies in the community and congress to begin with, not assumed beforehand.

It is hard to imagine that striking government workers in present circumstances wouldn’t receive the sympathy and solidarity of the majority of people across the country. This isn’t a PATCO Moment. Most people don’t like the Bully in the White House, and even more believe that the Bully is behind the shuttered government.

No harm in discussing it.

6. The late Raymond Williams begins his famous essay, “The Future of Marxism,” this way:

“There are two dimensions of politics. There is the dimension in which, because of living pressures, men try to understand their world and improve it. This dimension is persistently human. But beside it, always, is that parading robot of polemic, which resembles human thinking in everything but its capacity for experience.”

Insightful for sure. But not so easy to assimilate when our own “parading robots of polemic” provide ready made answers to a complex and changing world, even if they disappoint and come back to bite us in the long run. I know that from my own experience.

7. Back in the day I used the phrase, “A labor led people’s movement.” Thinking more about it, and notwithstanding labor’s long arc of struggle against right wing extremism and its necessary role in any long step down freedom road, I can’t help but think that this phrase was a case of wishful thinking, unexamined ideological commitments, and an abstract and rigid understanding of marxism obscuring the actual dynamics of struggle at the time.

Or. said differently, my “parading polemic” ignored experience.

8. When Marx writes that every revolution has to rid itself of the “muck of ages (German Ideology) he leaves unanswered what should be answered: What is muck and what isn’t? No less importantly, how quickly does the muck have to be removed? And who has to be assembled to do it? 20th century revolutionaries had their answers to these questions and many were badly off the mark.

 

A dangerous precedent

Trump didn’t declare a national emergency last night and the powers that go along with it, but the logic of what he said and the particularities of the government shutdown make such a declaration very possible. Not only is this wrong on its face; there is no crisis on the border, except for the mistreatment of immigrant families and children.

What is more, it would set a dangerous precedent for Trump to exploit going forward as he gets more and more entangled in legal and political challenges to his presidency.

Don’t buy the idea that because it would end the government shutdown, it’s not the worse thing. It may do that, but in doing so it would open up a very dangerous cans of worms at the border immediately and elsewhere in the not too distant future as well as deeply scar our movement.

Not a penny for the wall

The Wall is more than a clump of cement or steel; it more than a poor use of taxpayer dollars; it’s more than Trump’s vanity project. It’s become a symbol of everything that is wrong with the Trump presidency — beginning with the vile racism and xenophobia. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is exactly right when she said that Trump’s wall is immoral; its not who we are as a people or country.

To spend even a penny on this wall to break the impasse over the government shutdown is not a compromise that we should consider for even a moment. It might open up the government, but It also would scar our heart, our soul, and our future.

I find it helpful at moments like this to ask myself: What would Martin Luther King do? And I have to think he would say that our sacred duty is to bridges of understanding, equality, kindness, and solidarity at the border and everywhere else in our society, not walls of hate or division. It is the only road to a “Beloved Community,” to a society that is fully just, decent, and peaceful.

No let up in the Storm

1. The potential use of emergency powers by the Trump administration to solve a manufactured crisis on the southern border is not only an abuse of presidential power, but also sets a dangerous precedent for the future. If allowed, what is to prevent Trump from employing these same powers to solve other manufactured domestic crises. Indeed, with a new Democratic majority in the House with oversight powers, speculation that Mueller will complete his investigation in February, mounting legal challenges, and the growing unpopularity of the wall, desperate actions by Trump wouldn’t be surprising. Meanwhile, he is filling top positions of the national security state with cronies who obediently march to his beat.

It is in this context that this manufactured crisis at the border has to be tucked into. Even if Trump doesn’t declare a national emergency and extra ordinary powers tonight, it would be naive to think that he won’t later. This would likely usher in a constitutional crisis and present a grave challenge to Congressional Democrats and the entire democratic coalition. And in such a moment — and such moments are rare in our country’s history — what is crucial to a democratic outcome is the actions of millions on the streets and in the corridors of political power. In other words, we should stay tuned and stay active.

2. The symbiotic connection between Trump and his base goes a long way in explaining the current shutdown. The Wall is totemic, elemental, and visceral for both of them. And in the present situation, each eggs on the other in their insistence that the government remain closed until Congress commits to build a wall on our southwestern border, despite the growing unpopularity of that position. But what is left out of this picture is the role of the Fire-Eaters on Fox, talk radio, and social media. In many ways, they pull the strings and fire the engines of this toxic marriage. When Trump is in trouble, he calls his pals at Fox, not on Wall Street. When he is off point, they get him back on point.

3. The biggest security-terror threat is white, male, and connected to alt-right social media sites. It isn’t immigrants crossing our borders. And according to the new report of NBC’s Julia Ainsley only 6 people who crossed the border in the first half of 2018 were on the terrorist watch list. Not thousands as Trump and his acolytes claim.

4. It isn’t an mystery why Trump almost manically, but not irrationally, fixates on his base. Without their rabid loyalty, he can’t so easily keep Republicans in line; he can’t count on their support in the likely event that Mueller has the dirt on him and his family.

Up to now, the fear of a primary challenge from a Trump endorsed challenger has kept restive Republicans at bay, complaining mainly behind closed doors. But if Trump’s base turns on him, that threat becomes an empty one. And Trump will find his presidency resting on very thin ice.

5. Last Thursday newly elected House speaker Nancy Pelosi and her Democratic Congressional colleagues took control of the House. The visuals were powerful, the message was on point, and the atmosphere was celebratory. All this could well herald a new day for the country and the beginning of the end for Trump and gang. The Democratic Party is increasingly becoming in a demographic sense a people’s party, especially if we have a modern understanding of the working class. And as for its political orientation, its center of gravity, in part because of its changing demographics and its newly elected House members, is shifting in a progressive direction.

The grounds for an electoral party of the left — always a tough sell — are disappearing.

6. The struggle against Trump and the extreme right isn’t a retreat from class politics. It is, in fact, its main vector. To think otherwise evinces a failure to understand that class politics aren’t abstractly constructed. Instead, they are a product of a concrete analysis of the particular alignment of classes and social constituencies at any given moment and the class and democratic tasks that arise from such analysis. And at this moment the main danger to the country’s future, not to mention the well being of our diverse working class, stems from the capture of the levers of power by Trump and the extreme right and their ferocious assault on democracy, broadly understood. It is only in this engagement that the working class takes care of its present and future.

Again, this isn’t a retreat from class, but an approach that is informed by the real and concrete challenges life presents. Class should never be turned into a hermetic category or the overarching determinant of politics in every instance or thoughtlessly bandied about to show off one’s working class credentials.

7. This article, “Bernie Sanders’ Ugly Campaigning is bad for Democrats — and Great for Trump,” raises some fair questions for consideration and discussion. I’m afraid though that some Sanders supporters have a hard time looking soberly and critically at some of the weak points of Sanders’ candidacy. His run for the presidency made them feel, after a long hiatus, that they had not only a voice in the larger political mix, but one that articulated a particular form of “class” politics that they supported. In this iteration, undefined elites in Washington and on Wall Street are vilified, economic issues are lifted up, and draining the swamp is the nation’s capital is job 1.

Meanwhile, the danger from the right is minimized, identity politics are dismissed as divisive, and the “corrupt” Democratic Party is trashed and no better than the Republican. Sounds militant for sure, but it is strategically mistaken and tactically bankrupt. Class politics of this kind provide no path to a better future. And luckily, most Americans and most of the left have chosen a different course of action to unshackle the country from the present Trumpian nightmare. 

8. To say, as some do, that today’s struggle isn’t left against right, but the bottom against the top is right in one sense and wrong in another.

It is right in that the main dividing line of present day politics isn’t between left and right. But it is wrong in its claim that the bottom against the top is the singular dynamic structuring politics.

What both characterizations miss is that the political process is much more complex at this moment. What we see is a political landscape in which an expansive coalition of people, classes, and social constituencies are arrayed and gaining strength against a right wing, white nationalist, anti-democratic authoritarian political bloc. The left is a part of this popular coalition, in fact a growing part, but it is by no means the singular or decisive player in this diverse mix.

Similarly, grassroots action — the bottom — is a crucial piece of the larger mosaic of struggle, but it shouldn’t be counter posed to or crowd out the actions of other players in this far flung coalition that is defending and hoping to extend and deepen democracy. As for the “top” in this coupling, the term is too vague and undefined to have any value in a strategic or tactical sense. In fact, it could cause a lot of mischief if it makes no distinctions among those near and at the top of the political, economic, and social structures of the country.

Even at more advanced stages of struggle, I would argue, these simplified, undialectical notions of the process of social change are problematic. And evidence for this is found in the historical footprint of the country, especially in those periods of large scale democratic and progressive change.

9. I’m sometimes critical of the Communist Party, but one thing it didn’t miss was the rise of the right — a rise that reached a new stage with the election of Reagan in 1980. And then a long term player in U.S. politics. At the time, we correctly adjusted our strategic policy — pinpointing right wing extremism as the main obstacle to social progress — and tactical policy — laying emphasis on broad people’s unity, while rejecting the notion that the two parties were the same at the level of policy and social composition. By contrast, many on the left were not inclined in this direction, preferring instead to make only minor adjustments to this new reality. A general political offensive against the system in its totality.”

10. A starting point in politics turns less on what we think and are ready do and more on what others — lots of others — think and are ready to do. Lenin, who is underappreciated on the left these days, once said the politics begins where there are millions. He also urged the left of his time to stay clear of small circle thinking.

 

Blue Wave and mass disruptions

Just read a post election statement that says the left should hang its hat on “mass disruptions.” And it goes on to mention some recent strikes, recent events in France, and then tacks back to the 1930s. But here’s my question: Isn’t the biggest “mass disruption” over the past two years of Trump’s presidency the Blue Wave a few weeks ago?

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