1. Keeanga-Yamahtta Tayler writes in Jacobin:
“Last Wednesday, Bernie Sanders passionately argued for a “democratic socialist” United States. Sanders’s clear arguments for a complete transformation of the country showed why the mainstream media and the leadership of the Democratic Party have tried to marginalize his electrifying presidential campaign.
In the course of a single speech, Sanders demonstrated the existential threat he poses to the political status quo in the United States by exposing the roots of the hardship and deprivation that roil wide swaths of the country. He named capitalism as the culprit and democratic socialism as a solution. What a breathtaking turn of events.”
Democratic socialism did find its way into the speech for sure, but what also informed it as much or more was a robust and progressive interpretation of liberalism. It was the continuation of Roosevelt’s New Deal and the completion of its unfinished tasks that commanded center stage — not Debsian socialism, not the experience of Denmark or Sweden, not the writings of Norman Thomas or Michael Harrington.
Whatever the motivation for this emphasis, it makes good sense to me. Radical politics has to find inspiration, poetry, legitimacy, and insights in the common experience, past struggles, and popular traditions of the American people, as it gives voice to new popular desires, needs, and existential imperatives of the present moment. Sanders’ speech commendably did this.
2. If I were a Democratic Party leader, I would move heaven and earth if that is what it took for Robert Mueller to appear at the earliest possible date at a public congressional hearing. Such a hearing would give the American people in red and blue stakes alike a chance to hear straight from the horse’s mouth what he uncovered in the investigation of Trump’s wrongdoing in far more detail than his sparse statement of a month ago.
Most people haven’t and won’t read the Mueller report, but they will tune into his live testimony or see clips of it later as it makes its way through the news cycle. And it surely will. In so doing, the false narrative of Trump and Barr — No Collusion, No Obstruction — that has framed the conversation so far will be challenged and a compelling counter narrative will see the light of day, but this time in a form that millions can easily digest and from someone who is considered as close to an impartial and independent arbiter of the truth as there is. Right now public opinion polls tell us that a majority of people aren’t on the impeachment train. This can’t be ignored in the name of some higher moral or political principle. Public attitudes do matter. It is not enough to be right, especially at this moment when so much is at stake.
Moreover, the assumption that public opinion will seamlessly morph into a majority movement upon a formal declaration of impeachment is pure conjecture, if not wishful thinking. Why isn’t it as likely to think that such a declaration that has no chance of successfully making its way through the Senate could become Trump’s main talking point in next year’s election. After all, he does the politics of resentment and victimization pretty well. Actually, when you think about it, other than a buoyant economy which Trump had little to do with and which is showing some softening, he has little else to run on.
I’m not against impeachment proceedings, but before the battle is formally joined, the political conditions should be created so that our side comes out of what will be a fierce confrontation, if not a winner in a technical sense, because of Republican opposition in the Senate to impeachment, then, and more importantly, a winner in the court of public opinion and advantageously positioned to win in November of next year. There is nothing opportunistic about making such a political calculation as to how things might play out. In fact, not to do so would be the height of irresponsibility. Too much is at stake now and next year to be guided by only righteous indignation.
What is more, the only reliable check on Trump and his authoritarian behavior is at the ballot box next year. House Speaker Pelosi understands this well. And we should too.
3. Any understanding of the rise and spread of right wing extremism that doesn’t situate it as a extreme, if not predictable, reaction to the Civil Rights Revolution of the sixties and the explosion of other democratic aspirations, demands and movements that followed is not only analytically wrong, but also will find itself badly wanting strategically and tactically. And at this moment when right wing extremism has morphed into its authoritarian, Trumpist, and unapolegetic and unrelenting anti-democratic, anti-egalitarian form, it is all the more true. The lens of class, class interests, and class struggle is indispensable in understanding the rise of the right and the trajectory of politics over the past half century for sure. But only if it is employed flexibly and dialectically. When it crowds out (or subordinates) other democratic desires and movements of struggle, they need a tune up at least, probably a major retooling.
4. As I have grown older, I have realized more and more that class and class struggle don’t explain everything (even in the last instance). Moreover, they reveal and exert their influence in many instances in unanticipated and roundabout ways. I would argue that democratic discontents and desires left a larger imprint on the canvas of struggle over the past half century than economic (class) grievance, even though the U.S. and global economy was changing in deep going ways and labor, organized and unorganized, was the target of a many sided assault. Actually, for much of this period, labor was on its heels and unable to organize a broad counteroffensive.
5. The experience of last half century suggests that the assigning of vanguard or leading role to the working class because of its place in a system of social production is a fool’s errand. History and human desire give rise to variegated social movements that seldom cooperate with the predictions of narrowly constructed class theory and politics. Working people do and will leave their imprint on the political process, no doubt about that. But in most instances, they will do so in ways that we didn’t imagine nor conform to abstract theory. Moreover, if we don’t allow space for such, we will lag behind unfolding political reality.
6. People ask: what will posterity think if we don’t attempt to impeach Trump? Fair question. But we could also ask: what judgement will posterity render if we don’t defeat Trump at the ballot box next year? I can’t understand the thinking of those who ask the first question, but fail to consider the second. And for me, the latter is primary and overarching.
7. Finished watching the series “Chernobyl” last week. It is a powerful dramatization of the nuclear power disaster there, but a bit depressing to watch. It reminded me once again that socialist ownership and control of the nuclear power industry is no guarantee of the safety of nuclear power use. But this was almost an article of faith in the communist movement back in the day. Chernobyl challenged, if not shredded, that faith — a faith grounded in a downplaying of scientific evidence, a mistaken confidence in the Soviet Union, and a failure to distinguish between formal/legal and actual relations of social ownership and control in the nuclear power industry and industry generally. In other words, what’s on paper and codified into law isn’t necessarily what exists on the ground. Neither safety nor worker empowerment necessarily come first in real life.