1. G.W. Bush’s speech was a timely intervention in our national dialogue. There is little doubt as to who his targets were. Moreover, he speaks to an audience that must be reached if Trump and Trumpism are to be decisively defeated. GW is a member of the ruling elite, but he’s not part of that particular fraction that is willing to move beyond traditional democratic norms and embrace authoritarian rule and practices. And in his speech he made that perfectly clear. That should be welcomed. Defending our democracy will take people of diverse views and interests. Our talking points and tactics should reflect that fact.
Which is why I have gotten a little irritated at some people on left who feel compelled in recent days to remind us how bad the Bush presidency was. Do they really think we have such short memories? My guess is they don’t. And some other motivation is at play here.
2. In a recent oped, Paul Krugman writes that the outcome of the governor’s race between Democrat Ralph Northam and Republican Ed Gillespie is of crucial importance.”Whatever happens in Virginia, the consequences will be huge. If Gillespie pulls this off, all the worst impulses of the Trumpist G.O.P. will be empowered; you might think that things can’t get even worse, but yes, they can.”
“If, on the other hand,” he continues, “Northam wins and Democrats make big inroads in the state legislature, it won’t just probably mean that hundreds of thousands of Virginians will get health insurance, and it won’t just be an omen for the 2018 midterms. It will also encourage at least some sane Republicans to break with a man they privately fear and despise (see Corker, Bob).”
But here’s the problem.
According to Krugman, “For whatever reason, however, Virginia isn’t getting nearly as much play in national media or, as far as I can tell, among progressive activists, as it deserves … Virginia is now the most important place on the U.S. political landscape …”
Krugman is on to something. I would happily stand corrected, but I don’t hear half enough from progressives and the left about the urgency of this race. Why? I have some ideas, the main one being that the Democratic candidate doesn’t have the proper political credentials. He is — ugh — one of those centrists. This is a strategic mistake in so far as it fails to understand that the main task at this moment is to unite a broad heterogeneous coalition — including the centrist current in the Democratic Party — against Trump and the right generally.
If we don’t get this right soon, I wonder how history will judge us. I do know that the political posture of German Communists during Hitler’s rise to power finds little praise from historians these days. The turning of social democrats into enemies foreclosed any chance of what was strategically imperative: a united, politically diverse coalition challenging the ascension of Hitler and fascism. I hope we are smarter than that.
3. If each of us had the courage of Detroit’s Jemele Hill to break the silence surrounding matters of racial oppression, in small as well as big venues, we would live in a more just world and Trump would have never had the opportunity, to be, in the words of Ta’ Nehisi Coates, the country’s first “White President.” Hill, who teams with Michael Smith on ESPN’s prime time news show at 6pm, was suspended for two weeks for comments on the national anthem controversy roiling sports and the country, thanks to Trump’s provocative tweets.
Her anti-racist action should be defended. It continues the tradition of other Detroiters who in earlier times unapologetically spoke truth to power: Coleman Young, Erma Henderson, Rosa Parks, Dave Moore, Maryann Mahaffey, George Crockett, Viola Liuzzo, Claudia Morcum, Reverend Charles Hill, Lee Cain, Lasker Smith, and many others of their generation. I suspect all would have been proud of her.
Postscript: Another Detroiter recently challenged Trump and the surge of racism. Eminem, as you will see, makes no attempt to finesse his dislike of our racist president in his recent video release. Other white artists should use their platform to do the same.
4. Behind the sound and fury surrounding the publication of Hillary Clinton’s new book lie, even if it isn’t acknowledged, a whole host of unresolved strategic and tactical matters. Some of the main ones include: what stage of struggle are we in? Who and what party is the main obstacle to social progress? What kind of alliances are necessary to rein in an authoritarian president and turn the country in a democratic direction? What are the main social/mass constituencies that give a popular coalition the moral standing and power capacity to roll back Trump and rightwing extremism? Should the left accent cooperation with, or struggle against, the moderate and liberal currents that constitute much of the Democratic Party? Where do next year’s elections fit into the political priorities of the larger movement? Should “identity politics” take a back seat to class politics and economic populism?
While the furor over Hillary’s new book is abating, what won’t go away are the strategic and tactical differences that lurk beneath it. I thought that Trump and Trumpisn would force some strategic and tactical coherence on the left, and it has, but only inconsistently and partially. The elections next year will test the political maturity, strategic depth, and tactical flexibility of the left.
5. I just re-read Hillary Clinton’s campaign speech in Reno critiquing Trump and the alt-right. I can’t help but recall the constant stream of criticism during the campaign and since then that she was never on-message. The Clinton campaign didn’t get everything right; who does? But on the overarching issues of the election and what our future might look like under a Trump White House, she was more right, more articulate, and more focused than anybody else.
6. I can’t understand why people in leadership positions in major people’s organization haven’t yet organized a national march in Washington. Maybe Trump’s racist ranting over the weekend will motivate them to do so. In politics like in sports, few things are more important than pressing your advantage and throwing your opponent on the defensive when you have the opportunity. The right seems to understand this better than we do.
7. Categories of analysis and struggle — democracy and socialism, democratic struggle and class struggle, race, gender, sexuality, and class, reform and revolution, etc. — are interconnected, interactive, and mutually constituted at the concrete/practical level.
While each side of the pairing has a particular genesis, features, and autonomy, this shouldn’t conceal the dialectical relationship between them, albeit in the context of a larger social process of capital accumulation. And the latter, it should be said, doesn’t exist in pure form either. You will search long and hard to find a historical mode of production that is pristine and unsullied by the world in which it emerges and develops.
Much the same can be said about the main social constituencies of social change and socialism — the working class, people of color, women, youth, and others. Each has its own particularities — specific origins, features, and autonomy — but each is constituted in close and dialectical connection with the others. This creates the potential for deep unity, broad alliances, and a whole greater than the sum of its parts.
All this sounds abstract, I suppose, but in accenting the intersectionality and mutual constitution of these categories of analysis and struggle we give ourselves a leg up, it seems to me, when it comes to understanding their development and dynamics — not to mention arriving at strategic, tactical, and programmatic decisions that inform our approach to practical politics.