1. The virulence of the attack against the independent media on the part of Trump and his acolytes in the past week is of an different order of magnitude than anything that I can think of in my lifetime.
But to explain this ratcheting up of their assault, I would suggest that it is only in part explained by the general desire of Trump and Bannon to turn the media into the obsequious servant or, at least, a silent observer of their larger retrograde and thoroughly undemocratic political vision.
What else then is behind it?
It springs, I think, as much, if not more, from their immediate fear that somewhere in the deep state lies such compromising evidence of Trump-Russian connections that if leaked to the media and then reported could swiftly bring down Trump and his gang and derail their whole project before they are barely out of the gate.
Even if I’m wrong (won’t be the first time), the defense of the media is still imperative. It constitutes a formidable barrier – if it plays its independent role – to Trump’s creeping authoritarianism.
In fact. this assault on the media and democracy generally in recent weeks is so over the top and so dangerous that it begs this question: Isn’t it time for another round of mass actions in every major city? (Maybe this is already in the works, and if it is, great)
Creeping authoritarianism, concentrated in powerful positions in the state and supported by a mass constituency across the country, relies on its ability to move at great speed to establish “new facts on the ground” before our side, the American people, and even Trump’s own hesitating allies are able to react in politically meaningful ways to his administration’s “New Normal.”
It tries, in other words, to exploit the fact that our side is organizationally decentralized, politically heterogeneous, and geographically dispersed, and thus we move at a slower pace and in a less unified way. While this can be an advantage is some situations, it is a distinct disadvantage at this moment when democracy is under siege.
Huge public actions in our nation’s cities, however, could make up for this structural disadvantage. They could be organized quickly and let the American people know that millions of people are opposed to the assault on democracy and democratic values coming from the White House.
I realize that much is going on already. Nevertheless, I would argue that when Trump, Bannon, and gang make a concentrated thrust to consolidate their power and intimidate people and organizations resisting them, as they just did, an equally concentrated counter thrust by our side is necessary.
Most of us aren’t in a position to make this happen, but we can convey to those who are what we think needs to be done. That’s what I will do.
2. Trump’s speech tonight outlining his political vision and priorities to the Congress will be greeted by united GOP at the level of appearances, but beneath the optics of the evening differences and stress points are bubbling within the Trump led governing coalition, as to how to proceed forward at this moment and over the longer term.
Which comes as no surprise. After all, this coalition is an uneasy partnership of different and disparate political and class groupings. To what degree the broad democratic movement and Democratic Party can take advantage of these differences to slow down what will be a nasty political-legislative offensive, no matter which grouping in this coalition gains the upper hand, remains to be seen.
In the meantime, the main thing for most of us who are at a distance from the corridors of power is to continue and, where we can, scale up the opposition to Trump – in the first place his assault on immigrant communities – as we keep an eye out for any softening of support in the GOP’s base. It hasn’t been evident yet, but as the hard realities of Trump-Republican polices practically inform the day to day lives of their base supporters, minds that seemed intransigent, no matter how persuasive the argument from our side, could begin to show some cracks, thereby allowing space for new interpretations of their lived experience and the world around them.
By the way, the NYT reports that there are no infrastructure proposals in Trump’s speech tonight. I guess, if this is the case, I’m not sure whether I should be surprised or not.
3. In understanding the underlying and longer term causes of the present predicament of the country, I give a larger role than many others do to the rise of right wing extremism in the U.S. Unlike Europe, the right’s ascendancy preceded and became a major driving force behind financialization, globalization, economic austerity. and political gridlock.
It also had a major hand in the reconstruction of the class outlook (or lack thereof) of a section of white workers. Shifts in their thinking in non- and anti-working class directions weren’t simply and automatically belched up by economic processes operating on a global level. An active political and organizing agent was necessary. And into this vector of change entered an ascending right wing. It eagerly and systematically gave meaning to their experience – political and cultural as well as economic – that, in turn, explains in large measure why a demagogue of the highest order and peddling the most hateful and divisive message since the outspoken racist George Wallace ran in the Democratic Primary in 1968 could win the presidency.
4. It is a mistake to understand Trumpism as neoliberalism in hyper drive. It embraces, no doubt, many neoliberal policies, but at the same time, it doesn’t comfortably fit that ideological and political pedigree. It’s far more eclectic and contradictory in its construction.
5. I’m wondering if we should retire the terms social democracy and social democrats. Unlike Europe, they never easily fit our political reality and over time they have acquired multiple meanings. As a consequence, when applied to today’s circumstances, they can easily fail to capture the texture and dynamics of present day movements and struggles. In short, they can confuse as much as clarify. And who needs that?
Small d democrat, liberal, progressive, left, social justice activists, etc. have multiple meanings too, depending on the interlocutor, but they are likely to do less mischief at a moment when unity is of overarching importance. I do like – and this wasn’t always the case – the term democratic socialism. It too has a long history, but because of the history of 20th century socialism in the Soviet Union and elsewhere, it has acquired, for me anyway, a new currency.
This is no to say that we shouldn’t study the social democratic experience – distant and recent, negative and positive. We should. But that is another matter for me.
Some of the terminology of 19th and 20th century marxism, by the way, has been retired. In some cases, more popular terms entered the public domain. In other cases, they were critiqued and found analytically wanting. When I was leader of the Communist Party, I tried to retire Marxism-Leninism (and some other terms that we used), but without much success. I should add that my reasons went beyond their clumsiness in today’s conversations.
6. Outside of a big and unfortunate hiccup at the end, Hollywood gave a bravura performance last night IMO. Stood up unflinchingly against Trump. Gave voice to democratic and human values. Recognized a diversity of actors and movies. Inspired millions of us watching. We’re very lucky to have them on our side. Wasn’t the case in the McCarthy period.