W.PA. election, Bernie, and unity

1. Seems to me what we saw in the W.PA. election was broad people’s unity and action, stretching from dissatisfied Republicans to former Trump supporters to labor to anti-Trump activists and organizations to women, and to some, if not all, of the left. In such a politically sprawling coalition not everyone, it is fair to say, was on the same political page. But whatever the differences were, they obviously didn’t rise to the point where they eclipsed the urgency of electing Conor Lamb and repudiating Trump.

Isn’t a similar, that is, expansive and flexible, approach in order this fall, if Democrats are to become the majority party in Washington and in state governments across the country? I would think so.

Bear in mind two things. First, the outcome of the elections won’t be decided in cities like Berkeley or Cambridge or San Francisco or Los Angeles or New York, were liberal-progressive politics are ascendant and Democratic seats are secure. But elsewhere in suburban and small town-rural districts from one end of the country to the other where the politics tend to be more moderate, but fluid and trending in a Democratic, anti-Trump direction. I live in one of those districts. The biggest city is just over 20,000, includes smaller towns and rural communities, and is currently represented by a very beatable Republican.

Second, a Democratic Party victory would be a body blow against a threat that is historically unprecedented and politically palpable — the authoritarian mindset and practices of the Trump White House and its Republican enablers.

In these circumstances, can the accent be on any thing other than unity across the democratic movement and within the Democratic Party this fall? You know what I think. Struggle over differences doesn’t disappear, but in present conditions, it shouldn’t be the maim thing.

2. In an oped in the Guardian, Bernie Sanders writes that the mass media has been reluctant to address the exploding inequality and the rising oligarchic capitalist class that increasingly structures day to day life and closes off opportunities for hundreds of millions across the globe.

No quarrel here. But when he adds in his critique of the mass media this observation, we part company,

“Instead, day after day, 24/7, we’re inundated (from the mass media) with the relentless dramas of the Trump White House, Stormy Daniels, and the latest piece of political gossip.”

That Bernie would reduce what the media is doing to shed light on the authoritarian, undemocratic, and indecent nature of the Trump administration to “relentless dramas” — and I have to guess in his mind of little import to the American people — astounds me. What’s the purpose of this framing? Why, in effect, counterpose one to the other? After all, as I read it anyway, the authoritarian threat to our country’s democracy is growing at this moment, not receding, deserving more coverage, not less. Witness Trump’s tweets over the weekend against Andrew McCabe and Robert Mueller.

And yet as astounding to me as Bernie’s take is, it doesn’t really surprise me. I have thought for some time that in Bernie’s world, class and class struggle, albeit, and unfortunately, narrowly constructed, back bench, sometimes take out of the field of vision entirely, the struggle for democratic and constitutional norms, rights, and boundaries.

And that is the case here.

3. I don’t know about you, but my March Madness bracket is in anemic health at this point.  Maddening!

Trade, power grab, racism, and other loose ends

1. Dan Rodrick, Harvard professor, has been studying the global economy and its unfairness for some time. Most of his academic life, in fact. In this analysis he comments on Trump’s protectionist measures, announced last week. He doesn’t suggest that the sky is going to fall in as these measures wend their way through the global economy, but he does argue that they are no way to address the undeniable inequities in the current global trade regime. If anything, they will, he avers, make that urgent task more, not less, difficult.

At about the same time, I read an interview of Leo Gerard, the president of the United Steel Workers Union. What bothered me wasn’t Gerard’s defense of Trump’s tariffs. I expected that. What I found bothersome is that he had nothing — not a word — to say about the potential negative impacts on other sections of the working class here and elsewhere, resulting from Trump’s actions.

Nor did he offer a comment on the peculiar situation of the union’s alignment with a president that is authoritarian and backward in every way. We should expect more from a leader of the labor movement in these difficult times.

2. What we saw last week is the usurpation of power and decision making by a lone individual in the White House. Worse still, this individual is narcissistic and impulsive to the extreme, authoritarian to the core, and singularly bereft of any humanity. Meanwhile, the Republican majority in Congress act as enablers of this rogue president. This danger, unprecedented in my experience, is the ground floor of authoritarian rule. This would be discouraging to any sane person if it were not for a whole array of state institutions, social constituencies, and the media that are resisting Trump’s power grab. Still, it’s fair to ask: are we doing enough?

3. Trump’s said a lot of ugly things in his speech at a rally in W.PA. over the weekend, but the ugliest, but not necessarily the one receiving the most coverage, was his dismissal of Representative Maxine Waters, Democrat of California, as a “low-I.Q. individual.” Bear in mind that this was delivered in a predominantly white region, where such racist rhetorical volleys resonate among a considerable section of white voters. No one should think that Trump’s base is strictly animated by its economic discontent. Trump, obviously, doesn’t believe so. And yet, the notion persists that it is enough for Democrats to present an economic alternative that addresses wage and income inequality to turn the tables in November.

4. Any analysis that occludes the rise of right wing extremism in the mid-1970s and its persistence into this century doesn’t help us understand either the past or the present, including the Trump phenomenon. Moreover, it leaves its proponents (and those they influence) flatfooted strategically and tactically. And yet, this blind spot continues to inform the thinking of some progressives and radicals.

5. I hope Mueller does his job – and it appears that he is — and the rest of us do ours in the voting booth in November. Both are necessary to escape this extraordinarily poisonous, perilous, and unprecedented situation in which we — and the world’s people — find ourselves in. If we had any doubts about this, Trump’s behavior and the newest revelations over the past two weeks should have dissipated them.

6. I just finished watching, “7 Seconds,” on Netflix. What a compelling story and performance! The production and its actors deserve an award of some kind.

Tariffs, spontaneous surges, and socialism

i1. The quick embrace of Trump’s protectionist proposals by the steelworkers union strikes me as a bad idea. Among other things, allying yourself to Trump, especially when he seems to be unraveling and opposition to him is growing, is shortsighted.

Moreover, these proposals if enacted could easily divide the union. Canadian workers, who will be adversely affected by them, won’t be happy. Nor will steelworkers in other countries.

And who knows how serious this proposal is, It could easily be the impulsive and momentary ravings of a president who is melting down on the one hand and on the other hand is anxious to activate his base this fall and in 2020 when voters go to the polls. Remember Trump’s support for Dreamers and comprehensive gun controls? There one day; gone the next!

Finally, anyone who is a partisan of the working class, has to account for the larger impact of such proposals on the entire class of wage and salary workers. Retaliatory steps by other countries can be expected if the proposals are implemented, which, in turn, will likely come back to bite U.S. workers and cause divisions among working people here and globally.

When I was in the Communist Party, we weren’t against the regulation of trade or investment, but protectionism was never part of that conversation. Working class unity and interests, writ large, were. Not sure what the position is now, although I was surprised to read an article on the website of People’s World that had not even a hint that Trump’s proposals and the union’s endorsement of them might be problematic in some ways.

2. I just heard that West Virginia teachers and other public sector workers won a 5 per cent wage increase. And they did it in a right to work state and in the face of a mean spirited, right wing Republican legislature and governor. Against this backdrop — not to mention the decades old uphill struggle of the labor movement — it’s a stunning victory and will surely give hope and inspiration to working people elsewhere. No doubt lessons will be culled from this experience.

Others who are more familiar with the details of this strike will do that, but I would make one observation: It strikes me that the strike and its success is an inseparable part of the powerful surge of spontaneous protest actions coming on the immediate heels of Trump’s election. Led largely by women who are newcomers to activist politics and operating at a distance from the traditional labor-liberal-left organizational infrastructures and networks, these actions are reshaping the political terrain in red and blue states alike. What was considered improbably has become doable, what was considered unreachable is now within reach. Needless to say, this augers well for the future — not least the elections this fall.

3. Watching the consolidation and centralization of power by Chinese president and Communist Party leader Xi Jinping makes me appreciate once again the warning of the great Marxist historian, E.P. Thompson decades ago:

“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)

4. Below is an article on Vietnam, written by C.J. Atkins. While I found it very informative, I came away with two concerns. First, does it make sense to say that a “socialist oriented market economy’ is an oxymoron? Second, can any take on Vietnam after 50 years avoid the subject of the depth and extent of Vietnam’s democratic culture and practices?

Vietnam: 50 years after the Tet offensive

Gun violence, authoritarianism, Obama, and more

1. I watched the end of a speech by NRA Wayne LaPierre as I was leaving the Y last week. His final words were something like — “Only a good guy with a gun can take down a bad guy with a gun.”

Later I heard more of the speech on TV and it actually got worse. He framed the present surge of support for meaningful gun control laws as the newest front in an existential struggle over the country’s future. On one side are freedom loving Americans and on the other are socialists, gathered in the Democratic Party and elsewhere. And their aim, so says LaPierre, is to take away people’s liberties and everything else that makes this country great.

LaPierre is a scary dude. In fact, while I’m usually reluctant to use the “F” word, the fascist shoe appears to comfortably fit on his foot. But as scary as he is — and as scary as the NRA crowd is — it’s important to remember that they aren’t operating from a position of strength in present circumstances nor do they represent the views of the majority of Americans. If anything, they — and I would include Trump here — are on the defensive and can’t quickly bury the horror of gun violence as they have done in the past.

While there are no certainties that anything but the mildest gun control measures will become law in the short term, the political atmosphere and dynamics as it relates to gun control have markedly changed for the better and the battle has been joined in a new way.

And while each of us has a voice and should use it, no one has a larger voice than the students who are advocating for real gun control measures in memory of their deceased friends and generations of students to come. They have become, overnight, a social movement that possesses what isn’t quantifiable, but is incredibly powerful — moral authority. So much so that they have been able to unfreeze what had been frozen — a conversation and practical action on curbing gun violence.

No doubt the opposition will be fierce, resolute, well funded, and demagogic. And yet it is reasonable to think that this motley coalition can be vanquished ideologically and politically, provided that this spontaneous surge spreads across the country, deception by Trump and other Republicans is met with the truth, and, above all, control of Congress and state governments passes into Democratic hands in the fall elections.

These are big ifs for sure. But, by the same token, it isn’t wishful thinking. Enough has happened over the past two weeks and since Trump’s Inauguration to believe: Yes We Can!

2. Union leaders came out squarely against Trump’s brainchild — the “arming of teachers.” That’s a good first step; it should be applauded. But it also begs the question: Will it be followed by a nuts and bolts campaign to reach their members? I hope so. Otherwise, it becomes an empty gesture in many ways.

3. I have heard some commentators say that the repeal of the 2nd Amendment should be front and center at this moment. I would like to see it repealed too. But I also can’t think of a worse idea, no matter how well meaning its advocates.

For the fact is that tens of millions aren’t ready to sign onto such a demand. And any attempt to make them would only strengthen the hand of the gun lobby crowd and Republicans who want to do nothing once again.

What a majority of people are ready to embrace — and high school students first of all — is the curbing of gun violence by way of meaningful reforms, including the outlawing of weapons of mass carnage. It is squarely on this ground that victories can be won in the near and medium term.

4. Some progressive-left writers say that people are getting too caught up in the spectacle of Trump to the neglect of what he is doing on the policy level. This strikes me as wrongheaded. The two are inseparable and when the spectacle is filled with oratorical and demagogic sallies on democracy and democratic rights, the impugning of people’s humanity, and the reduction of immigrants to “vipers,” silence isn’t an option.

Much the same can be said about his repeated invective against the media, broadsides against state institutions that aren’t ready to kowtow to him, and inflammatory threats on the world stage. Trumpian spectacle and demagogy aren’t mere theater that can be cavalierly dismissed as the ravings of a stupid and indecent man. They are indispensable features of authoritarian leader and his team to dominate every inch of political, social, and mental space, while delegitimizing democratic governance and institutions and dehumanizing endangering whole categories of people. As such, they necessitate a vigorous counter response from all of us.

5. “Well, we do the same and worse” isn’t a good reply from people on the left to Russian interference in our elections. As the Mueller indictments show, there was interference organized by the Putin government. Did it decide the outcome? By itself unlikely, but was it, nonetheless, a factor that weighed into the election equation against Hillary Clinton. And it is something that we should be concerned about this fall.

6. What goes unmentioned in many accounts of the Obama Presidency is that his egalitarian narrative of the American family challenged a core tenet and mobilizing instrument of right wing extremism, that is, its racialized ordering of “America.” In this racist ordering, white people because of their supposed “natural” superiority and supposed inordinate contributions to the making of “America” not only sit at its apex, but also accord to themselves the right to determine who is in the American family and under what conditions.

In articulating this counter narrative, President Obama became the object of the unrestrained wrath of right wing extremism and the trigger of a mass surge of revanchist and redeemer politics. Indeed, if anyone is looking for the gestation ground of the Tea Party, Birtherism, Republican congressional intransigence, and the explosion of the most vile and open racism, they can begin by looking at this narrative (and the redistributionist economics) that the country’s first African American president articulated and the reaction to it by the right. What is more, it was in this rancid racist and reactionary environment that Trump’s presidential aspirations and authoritarian politics were born.

7. A fascist regime constitutes a qualitative break from the historically formed democratic structures, values, norms, and traditions peculiar to a country. It doesn’t dial down on democracy and democratic rights. It expunges them.

Fascism, in other words, isn’t simply more restrictive and less democratic. It is a regime of a different type that comes to power in the midst of crises (not just economic, and not necessarily mainly economic), a precipitous drop in popular confidence in democracy, democratic institutions, and established parties and concurrent rise in racist and othering ideologies and practices, and, finally, a sharp and longstanding struggle for power between bitterly opposed forces and coalitions.

At some point, the “forces of order” insist on the necessity of an “exceptional state,” in which power is usurped by “The Leader,” in order to supposedly preserve the integrity of the state and the purity of the nation from its enemies from within and its adversaries without.

We aren’t living in this universe yet. But with Trump in the White House, a supine Republican Party doing his bidding, and a popular constituency that drinks the Trumpian Kool Aid — laced as it is with equal doses of racism, nativisim, misogyny, hyper nationalism, and war mongering — the dangers of authoritarian rule are present and already doing great harm. But thankfully, a far flung, majoritarian coalition has arisen contesting Trump and Trumpism in its ugly forms. The mass media, with only a few exceptions, hasn’t capitulated to bullying. State institutions in many instances haven’t bent to Trump’s will. And democratic redress still exists — none more important than the November elections that offer an opportunity to inflict a body blow to the political plans and standing of Trump, the Republican Party and right wing extremism generally.

6. ln this vein, I include an interview of historian Linda Gordon by New Yorker editor David Remnick. The subject is Gordon’s illuminating new book, The Second Coming of the KKK. I read and highly recommend it. Not only does it give the reader a better understanding of past, but the present as well.

Promised Land

Saturday afternoon listening to Bruce — the boss. Here’s one that I have always liked. Although as I’m posting it, he and E-Street Band are singing Tom Wait’s, “Jersey Girl,” which I also really like. Anyway here’s Promised Land”

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