Hanging chads

1. The old slogan, “All for One and One for All,” seems like a good response to Trump’s declaration on immigration, plus public actions everywhere – big city and small town.

2. In his Atlantic article, David Frum writes,

“Those citizens who fantasize about defying tyranny from within fortified compounds have never understood how liberty is actually threatened in a modern bureaucratic state: not by diktat and violence, but by the slow, demoralizing process of corruption and deceit. And the way that liberty must be defended is not with amateur firearms, but with an unwearying insistence upon the honesty, integrity, and professionalism of American institutions and those who lead them.” (David Frum’s Atlantic article, “Constructing Autocracy.”)

This strikes me as a pretty astute observation. Trump’s style of governance surely has other features, including and especially repressive ones, as demonstrated in yesterday’s announcement of his draconian immigration policy (if you can call something that shouldn’t be part of our discourse, not to mention the government’s practice, a policy). But just as surely we can expect him to use the power, purse strings, and prestige of the state to win and reward friends and buy off, divide, and silence opponents.

Corruption can take many forms ranging from small concessions and favors to big handouts and payoffs. In a modern state, the granting of political advantage on one or another thing can bring enormous financial as well as political rewards. Of course, it doesn’t come out of a generous spirit of the giver. The expectation is that the recipients will reciprocate with their support or, at least, temper their criticism.

This isn’t a new phenomenon. Nor is it peculiar to right wing governments. But the Trump administration will raise corruption to an altogether new level and scale. It, along with fake news, vilification of the press and other opponents, islamophobia and immigrant bashing, unapologetic racism and sexism, white nationalism, truth and science denial, and more, will be alpha and omega of its mode of rule.

3. We are in a defensive posture at this moment. So here’s my question: does the RESISTANCE to Trump’s rhetoric and actions give enough lift to an alternative program and vision of a society that accents community, economic security, equality, sustainability, and peace? From my experience, which is limited, I would say NO.

I realize that it is easier said than done, given the relentless authoritarianism of this administration. Every day (or hour), it seems, something new is coming from Trump’s mouth or his acolytes. But, if I am right, its difficulty cannot be reason to sidestep this conundrum. On its solution rests to no small degree our ability to cut into the legion of Trump supporters – not to mention expand the resistance to people sympathetic to our message, but still inactive.

4.  Some people ask if we should retire the term “progressive wing” of the Democratic Party. Not in my opinion. It captures the breadth of the reforming/transforming/renovating impulse in today’s Democratic Party better than either the social justice left or the Sander’s movement that also operate within the Party’s elastic orbit.

That said. I’m not stuck on any one word (and even if I were, it wouldn’t matter much anyway). The larger issue in my view is to do nothing to narrow down the scope of people and organizations that favor a non-sectarian turn of the Democratic Party in a progressive direction and a sustained focus on its organizational renewal, especially in the Midwest.

5. The analytical efforts to scale down the impact of hateful ideologies in the political calculus of white workers in the name of working class partisanship and a very dubious understanding of marxism are misguided. This defense obscures, and even worse, conceals an overarching political challenge – to turn the politics of equality, justice, solidarity, mutuality, and human decency into the common sense of white workers at a moment when someone occupies the White House who uniquely and proudly spews ideologies of hate, division, violence, and oppression.

6. Bravo for the New England Patriot players who declared that they said they will not visit the White House for the traditional meeting that championship teams have with the president. It takes courage, especially when the team owner, coach, and quarterback are such avid supporters of the new president. We should all draw inspiration from their example of defiance as we continue to oppose the megalomaniac who sits in White House.

7. The defenders of 1990s Clintonian neoliberal policies are far fewer these days and the wind isn’t at their back, but lots of polemics on the left haven’t caught up with this shift.

 

Will Republicans Ditch Trump?

Certainly, if Trump fits anywhere on the political spectrum, it is squarely with the alt-right crowd. Many of its hallmarks are at the core of his political outlook. He embraces its white christian-nationalism and exhibits its paranoia. Invented resentments and slights roil him, as they do the alt-right. Anti-intellectualism and science denial are part of his mental makeup too. Mirroring his alt right friends, he is ready to prosecute an all out war against Muslims in defense of “Western Civilization.”

And, in line with his extremist friends on the fringe, he favors a governing style that is defined by disruption, vengeance, and, above all, a frightening disdain for democratic norms, a free press, and a vibrant civil society. Going over to more authoritarian, strongman forms of rule would be as easy for Trump as it would for his leading strategist and alt-righter Steven Bannon.

At the same time, Trump’s alt right political disposition hasn’t caused him to declare war on the traditional right-wing elites that have dominated the Republican Party for four decades, nor they on him. In fact, on a range of issues and methods of governance the two are on the same page. He, like them, is ready to radically restructure the role and functions of government to the overwhelming advantage of the 1 percent and secure Republican rule, albeit by undemocratic means, for the half century ahead.

This doesn’t make Trump a poster boy for Republican Senate leader Mitch McConnell or Paul Ryan, McConnell’s counterpart in the House, nor the two GOP leaders White House favorites. And yet, up until now, this marriage of the traditional right and the alt-right seemed sturdy enough. There has been some grumbling by Republicans in Congress about Trump, but it has been muted, limited to a few voices, and not at a level to cause a rupture in their common front. No one on either side was talking about a divorce, acrimonious or otherwise.

However, with what is transpiring in Washington this week and how it plays out in subsequent days and weeks, things could change. Whether a break between Congressional Republicans and Trump happens will depend on many factors, some of which we have little control over. Among them are the leaking of more egregious wrongdoing by Trump and his advisors, the media stepping up its investigatory role, the courts’ readiness to dispute Trump/Bannon’s executive orders, deepening divisions in elite circles, a further cratering of Trump’s already low public approval, a willingness of some Republicans to put country, Constitution, and democracy over party, the fighting spirit of the Democratic Party Congressional leadership, and, not least, Trump’s reaction to all this.

Taken together, they could create unbridgeable strains between Congressional Republicans and Trump and trigger a full congressional investigation of the misdeeds and crimes of this erratic and volatile pretender in the White House.

No doubt, Trump will counterattack. He will bully. He will fume. He will threaten independent-minded politicians, journalists, judges, whistle blowers, state agencies, and demonstrators with harsh penalties.

He will also lean hard on Congressional Republicans to act as a firewall, protecting him from any Congressional inquiry into his actions. But whether he will be successful or not is another matter. If  more incriminatory evidence comes out against him and public disapproval of his presidency grows,  Republicans in Congress, if not for noble reasons, then out of pure instincts of self preservation, could easily decide to put some distance between themselves and Trump, even joining their adversaries on the Democratic side to look into Trump’s misdeeds and crimes.

If that were to occur, Trump could find himself on very shaky ground. Impeachment and criminal charges could follow, which would likely call into question the integrity of the election process and could lead to a succession crisis.

Even if Pence were to escape ensnarement in this sordid affair and become the next president, the uniquely dangerous cancer of Trump, Bannon, and the alt-right at the head of the state would be removed. Furthermore, it is reasonable to believe that the Republican Party would be weakened, while the Democrats and the broader democratic movement would emerge with new confidence and vigor.

Could the stakes be any higher? Can we afford to sit on the sidelines? Shouldn’t our voices, insistent and persuasive, be heard in red and blue state alike?

New York Times columnist Charles Blow presciently writes:

“Every day there is a fresh outrage emerging from the murky bog of the Donald Trump administration … Every day there is a new round of questions and a new set of concerns that raise anxieties and lower trust … Every day it becomes ever more clear that it is right and just to doubt the legitimacy of this regime and all that flows from it.”

 

Profiles in Courage

It takes courage for New England Patriot players not to visit the White House, when team owner, coach, and quarterback are such avid supporters of the new president.

And yet at least six members of the Super Bowl-winning New England Patriots have said they will not visit the White House for the traditional meeting that championship teams have with the president.

Running back LeGarrette Blount, defensive end Chris Long and defensive tackle Alan Branch on Thursday became the latest to announce that they would skip the visit.

A day earlier, the Pro Bowl linebacker Dont’a Hightower bowed out when he told ESPN, “Been there, done that,” having visited with a championship Alabama team.

Tight end Martellus Bennett told reporters after the Super Bowl that he would not go: “It is what it is,” he said. “People know how I feel about it. Just follow me on Twitter.”

The Pro Bowl safety Devin McCourty, a team captain, told Time magazine: “Basic reason for me is I don’t feel accepted in the White House. With the president having so many strong opinions and prejudices, I believe certain people might feel accepted there while others won’t.”

We should all draw inspiration from their example of defiance, as we continue our opposition to the megalomanic that sits in the White House.

Hanging chads in uncertain times

Below are some brief observations from the tumult of last three weeks. SW

1. What is surprising three weeks into Trump? Not his reckless and erratic behavior. Not his narcissism, ignorance, and crudeness. Nor his demagogic appeals to the resentments of his core faithful/ Not his cabinet of corporate, political, and mainly male and white cronies. Not his xenophobia, Islamophobia, and racism. Not his contempt for democracy. Not his cluelessness on economic matters. Not the ingratiating and slovenly attitude of Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan toward Trump. Not the willingness of his core supporters to stick with him for now.

What surprises, me at least, is the scope and multi-faceted character of the opposition to Trump. The historic women’s march, obviously, stands out and inspires, but it is complemented by the participation of people in politics for the first time, the overflow attendance at local meetings, the positive role of many Democrats, the involvement of millennials, and the organized campaign to block the nomination of Betsy Devos.

I also find encouraging the role of the mass media – and not just the independent media – as well as sport’s figures and cultural workers in calling out Trump.

Furthermore, it is also evident that some circles of corporate capital who prefer a stable and predictable environment to do business are not happy with someone who is so mercurial and unpredictable. Even in the Republican Party, we see some open grumbling, if not opposition. And a raft of conservative voices are forcefully challenging Trump as well.

None of this is reason to sit back comfortably. Indeed, how to extend and deepen the PUBLIC/VISIBLE opposition to Trump and his Republican allies at the level of policy and at the level of ideas and values remains of overarching importance. Authoritarian rulers, like Trump, count heavily on fear and paralysis of subordinated people. But that isn’t happening. Millions are upset, speaking out, and filling up the public square. No paralyzing fear here.

One final thing: Trump’s flurry of executive orders and pronouncements is a reminder of the urgency of forming committees in every congressional district – in most instances under the canopy of the Democratic Party – to begin preparations for next year’s elections at the national and state levels. Things like candidate selection, voter registration, protection, and education, listening meetings, etc. deserve immediate attention. This is a strategic priority if we hope to stall the Trump-Republican offensive. It doesn’t preclude others forms of resistance. It complements them. Moreover, without this dimension of struggle everything else will limp. Here in the mid-Hudson Valley, NY., things are underway to replace the incumbent Republican Congressman.

2. In earlier economic crises – Great Depression in the 1930s and stagflation in mid-1970s – a new economic regime – Keynesianism in the first case, neoliberalism in the second – with their unique set of institutions, rules, rationalizing ideas and common sense, alignment of class and social forces, etc. replaced the preceding regime that triggered the system-wide crisis.

Moreover, in each case, the midwife was not only the open aggravation of and sharp turns in class and democratic struggles, but also the ceaseless molecular movement of capital, hidden deep within the structures and operation of present-day global capitalism.

In contrast to earlier crises however, the neoliberal, financialist, globalist regime that wreaked system-wide havoc in 2008 wasn’t replaced by a new economic regime that set the economy on a new trajectory of growth and capital accumulation. As it turned out, even though the legitimacy of the neoliberalism took a major hit, the effective forces didn’t exist to replace it with a popular democratic alternative at the time or since then.

What Trump, who is a product of the contradictions of neoliberalism and the rise of right wing extremism, will offer now isn’t entirely clear. But a few things we can count on. It won’t address the crisis that millions and the planet are facing. Nor will it bring corporate capital to its knees. And it will be heavily wrapped in demagogic language – nationalist, protectionist, racist, anti-Wall Street, America First – as well as contain a morsel of substance in his effort to buy off his white working-class supporters. Without them, his presidency, and right wing congressional dominance for that matter, become very tenuous.

3. A recent article by Thomas Edsall points out that the elections’ outcome didn’t singularly, or even mainly, pivot on economic discontent among white workers. They felt rage for sure, but to call it class rage, as many have, is a stretch. When they pulled the lever for a candidate who was proudly, loudly, and uniquely racist, it was more a collapse of a thinly constructed class identity into a white racial identity than anything else. Thus, suggestions from people left of center to embrace some abstract economic populism, while at the same time dialing down on “identity politics,” is a surefire loser from more than one angle for the democratic and progressive coalition challenging Trump.

5. Stephen Walt, an international relations theorist, writes that he hoped that Trump would pursue, what he calls a “realist” policy, in his dealings with the rest of the world in contrast to the traditional policy of liberal hegemony of previous administrations. But he is not so sure now, if that is in the cards.

Just as likely, he goes on to say, “is that the Bannon-Trump approach to politics is in fact driven by a paranoid view of the modern world that sees the global economy in strictly zero-sum terms (thereby ignoring a couple of centuries of economic knowledge) and thinks the white, Judeo-Christian West is now under siege from an implacable and powerful tide of dark-skinned people, and especially Muslims.”

Bannon is of this mind for sure; what remains unclear in my opinion is whether Trump is completely sold on this approach and, even if he is, the degree to which he can be coaxed or compelled to bend to the pressures from the traditional foreign policy establishment.

4. Speaker bans and deplatforming speakers are in most instances problematic forms of protest. Even if successful, they can turn into a hollow victories, if their organizers end up appearing intolerant of free speech to the broader public.

In other words, it’s necessary to ask when considering any form of protest if it will open minds or seal them shut? Will it win new supporters or turn off people who we are attempting to win to our side – not to mention people who we are standing shoulder to shoulder with us.? The decision to employ one or another form of protest can’t rest simply on the righteous of our convictions and the justice of our cause.
 
Moreover, there are other ways to express opposition to a speaker, besides deplatforming. Organize a boycott of the event. Or walkout at the beginning of the speech. Or thoughtfully contest the speaker at the public meeting when the opportunity arises. Or stand with your back to speaker. Or organize a competing event. Or do all of the above and more.

 

 

 

 

 

No challenge to Trump, no pathway to higher ground

In his article “Our Alternative,” Jacobin magazine’s editor Bhaskar Sunkara writes,

“There are huge opportunities for left advance, and we should be wary of thinking that we need to save the liberal center … even though the people in charge of the bourgeois state at any moment (then Obama, now Trump) are our main enemies, much of our political activity should be challenging (broadly conceived) the political center. By this, I don’t mean individual liberals, but the centrist leadership of the Democratic Party at every layer, and the caste leading liberal reform groups in this country.”

“This is a moment,” he goes on, “when we should be leaning on the labor movement … [we] shouldn’t rally behind just any sort of anti-Trump politics, but rather to redouble our efforts to support rank-and-file struggle against a union bureaucracy that will sell out the entire working class for even the smallest of concessions.”

Escaping Sunkara’s critical glare is Bernie Sanders, but only because “Sanders and others are engaged in a process that, at its best, creatively produces divisions and polarizations within the party that complement the activity that we’re doing outside of it.”

“Our immediate step,” Sunkara concludes, “must be to continue building the majoritarian left alternative we saw emerge with the Sanders campaign, while pushing polarization and conflict — against Chuck Schumer, against Hillary Clinton, against Cory Booker, against all of them — while also shielding against the reactionary policies of Trumpism.”

This sure sounds radical, but it isn’t by a long shot. It’s “fool’s gold.” Sunkara’s repeated insistence on turning the political center – the Democratic Party leadership at every layer, the leading liberal reform groups, labor’s leadership, and former president Obama – into the main enemy alongside Trump, notwithstanding its militant tone, is strategically and tactically empty. It is exactly the wrong thing to do at this perilous moment.

The right thing is the exact opposite, that is, the left and progressives should join with the political center to resist the Trump administration and its authoritarian tendencies. Such a coalition would be the basis of a still broader and dynamic opposition to Trump’s ethno-nationalist, corporatist regime.

The moral authority and political power of such an alliance would lie in its unity in action in defense of democratic values, rights, protections, and institutions. Whatever differences crop up within it – and they inevitably would – the accent of this coalition, if it hopes navigate the country to a safe harbor, would be on cooperation, on finding common ground against the existential threat of Trump and Trumpism.

This is a huge undertaking, but it’s not as if it has never been done before. In escaping a massive economic crisis and constructing a new political economy and social compact in the 1930s, in overthrowing a many layered and deeply racist system, sanctioned by law, custom, and violence, in the 1960s, and in electing the first African American president in our nation’s history in 2008, disparate people, organizations, classes, and political tendencies and formations joined hands in pursuit of a common objective. And the Democratic Party was part of this, as well as labor, people of color – especially African Americans – women, youth, and, not least, new social movements that captured the political imagination of the under- or unrepresented, while infusing new energy and fresh ideas into the larger coalitions.

The left in each of these transformative moments chose not to stand apart from the galaxy of people, social organizations, and political formations that comprised these coalitions, not to position itself at unremitting loggerheads against the political center, certainly not to snipe and exacerbate tensions from the margins in a spurious effort to become “hegemonic.” On the contrary, it interacted with a broad range of people and organizations, found common cause with “reformists” and “centrists,” like Roosevelt, LBJ, and Obama, and engaged in “bourgeois” electoral and legislative politics. This engagement didn’t weaken their cause or their brand or their mobilization from below; instead it opened up new opportunities to enhance each and move off the margins of political life.

Some on the left surely had hesitations, but these didn’t prevent them from rethinking and stretching out their strategic and tactical concepts and practices to match the new political realities and challenges of those moments. In an about-face, they embraced a “class politics” that allowed for stages of struggle, a dialectic between reform and radical demands, a place for the art of compromise, and a willingness to mingle with allies not yet ready to “storm heaven.”

In the end, they realized that politics of “principled” opposition and outrage, of seeking to fast forward to the future, and of dividing the house no matter what the circumstances, is like a drug. It brings a momentary high, and it may make a difference here or there. But it has no transforming potential on a scale that can change the lives of millions for the better. It offers no pathway for the broader movement (or the left for that matter) to move to higher ground – the ground of radical democracy and democratic socialism.

Isn’t it time to leave those politics behind? The answer is that most left and progressive people – and people generally – already are, as evidenced by the inspiring, largely spontaneous, politically ecumenical actions in opposition to Trump. The accent was on broad unity and cooperation, not narrow division.

The communist movement that I was once a part of was profoundly wrong in the early 1930s in Germany, the U.S., and elsewhere when we turned social democratic and democratic currents to the right of us into bitter adversaries. That changed a few years later, but by that time, it was too late in Germany, and much harm had been done in other countries.

We shouldn’t make the same mistake again. Too much is at stake.

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