What a week and it isn’t over

1. I find much of the negative criticism from our side of the political divide of the unsigned oped letter in the NYT blasting Trump to be gratuitous, self serving, and in many cases wrongheaded.

The letter isn’t a game changer and it would have been probably better if the author identified himself. But to write it took a lot of guts. And while it won’t bring the House of Trump down, it is nonetheless another exposure — in this instance an unvarnished critique of Trump from an insider no less — in a series of exposures of Trump over the past month or two that have cumulatively and increasingly weakened Trump and the Republican Party in the eyes of a growing majority of voters.

2. The election of Ayanna Pressley is historic and surely exciting. And that it happened in Boston where the Democratic Party keepers of the gate have considerable clout and where racism has been such a negative and persistent force makes it all the more so.

But, at the same time, Pressley’s election wasn’t something out of the blue; something that no one saw coming. In fact, my guess is that a lot of people in Boston saw it coming and continues, moreover, a trend of electing candidates in primaries across the country who are far more socially diverse, representative, and progressive, if not left in their politics.

And while this trend probably causes some strains and tensions in the Democratic Party, it hasn’t triggered a “Civil War” within it, as some in the media have suggested. Indeed, it strikes me that the Democratic Party is heading into the final months of this election year united by and large.

Of course, the words and actions of Trump and his Republican co-conspirators have had a big hand in creating this broad and unified opposition, not to mention political shift. But, as important as Trump and Trumpism is in any explanation for the rise of this trend, it doesn’t account for it entirely. Other factors have to be considered as well, some near term, others of longer standing.

A few thoughts about that later, but right now Yogi is insisting that we go walking.

3. The new book by Bob Woodward is generating lots of commentary. Some people like it; others not so much. Still others question Woodward’s motives. All this is interesting, but what matters most is how it resonates with millions who will probably neither read the book nor the commentary. But they will come across its juiciest excerpts in the next week, while watching tv or listening to the radio or skimming a newspaper or doing facebook. To the degree that happens, my guess is that the book will become one more strike against Trump among the anti-Trump majority.

4. An unfit Republican Party will never be a check on a very unfit president. Vote and get others to vote this fall. It’s not the only issue in the elections, but it should figure prominently.

5. The notion that all the political and social ugliness that we see here and across Europe is simply belched up and explained by the contradictions of the capitalist economy is one sided at best and misleading at worst.

6. In thinking further about the criticism of the anonymous letter in the NYT, I’m reminded that we shouldn’t insist that everyone dance to the same beat. Indeed, anyone who wants to dance should be given space to do so, even if they are a bit out of tune and step, provided they are ready to pay the admission fee — opposition to Trump in some form or manner. Wasn’t it Sly Stone who sang, “Different strokes for different folks?”

Brief notes on another week of tumult

1. Yesterday’s funeral for John McCain was, no matter how you cut it, a powerful expression of opposition to the authoritarian personality and policies of Trump. That the president was uninvited to this carefully choreographed political event that included anybody who’s anybody in Washington, had to be noted by the tens of millions who watched in real time or later. It was a visual that spoke more than a thousand words about a president that doesn’t fit on what is considered the traditional spectrum and within the normal boundaries of U.S. politics.

But no less powerful than the visuals of an absent, uninvited president was the equally powerful message, delivered by former presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama and Meghan McCain. Each, and especially Obama and McCain, robustly defended democratic values and institutions, constitutional norms and boundaries, the rule of law, inclusion, an independent press, and human decency.

It is easy to get jaded by the obligatory rhetoric of speeches of this kind that extols the singular virtues and indispensability of “America,” not to mention grouse about the mistaken policies of the Bush and Obama administrations. But, in doing so, we run the danger, if taken too far, of losing sight of the main substance of each of these orations, that is, they forthrightly contested the present authoritarian, anti-democratic direction of the Trump administration and were delivered by individuals who enjoy, each in their own way, a broad following across the country. While Trump’s name went unmentioned in the speakers’ tributes to McCain, no one there or in the viewing audience had any doubt that he and his dictatorial methods of governance were in the bullseye of the speakers’ remarks.

I’m not in a position to say what the exact impact of McCain’s funeral will be on the November elections or over the the longer haul. but what I can say is that the funeral for John McCain was a singular event in many ways that surely touched millions in a way that can only help our existential struggle against Trump and Trumpism.

I would guess that few, if any, Republicans in the audience yesterday or around the county felt that the politics on display there gave them a leg up as they attempt to rally support for their candidacies.

Whether they created any fissures between the GOP and Trump only time will tell. In the meantime, the rest of us have to do whatever we can to elect a Democratic majority to the House and Senate in two months.

2. Watched Andrew Gillum on Morning Joe this morning. Very impressive. And his focus was on the day to day needs of Florida’s people. Wouldn’t allow the election to be put into a left versus right or pro Trump, anti-Trump framing.

That makes good sense as a candidate appealing to a broad cross section of Floridians, but it is hard not to think that such a framing won’t come to dominate the airwaves.

By the way, Gillum’s victory didn’t come out of the blue nor is he Bernie’s candidate.

There is also no way to “splain away “monkey this up.” Anybody who does is an apologist for racism. It was neither an inadvertent slip of the tongue nor a dog whistle. It was a racist appeal, pure, simple, undisguised. And surely the first of what will be many from the candidate and campaidn. Does anybody really believe that Trump’s supporters heard it as nothing more than a slip of the tongue by their Trump supported candidate?

3. One more thing on John McCain: more than one person has said I gloss over McCain’s voting record in the Senate over the past two years. To that charge I plead guilty. But I would add that, while my critics read the score card right, what they miss is the main action happening on the field. Millions of people, however, don’t.

What they see and hear was someone steadfastly opposing a loud mouthed and crude bully who, if allowed, would impose authoritarian rule on the country. So much so that the bully goes out of his way to defame his critic in the most mean spirited manner, even on his death bed and in death itself. This battle royale between these two bitterly opposed protagonists may seem insignificant for many on the left, but for many other people who don’t live and breathe politics every moment the words and actions of Trump’s critic give them courage and hope that we can prevail against tyranny.

4. Fascism isn’t imminent, but let’s not make the mistake of the left in Germany that failed to understand the impending danger the country faced as it was developing, not to mention when it was staring them in the face. And thus didn’t unite against it. And we know the rest of that awful story.

By contrast, it seems like the progressive and left community here is avoiding that sinkhole. Indeed, lots of energy is being expended on the election of a Democratic Congressional majority this fall. It helps that Democratic candidates are tacking in a progressive direction, which, in turn, activates the not so old Obama coalition.

5. When I was the National Chair of the Communist Party I tried to keep in mind Lenin’s admonition a century ago to his coworkers to avoid what he called a “small circle mentality.” Still seems like good advice.

6. As you may know, I come out of the communist movement where democratic and moral values were considered subordinate to working class and socialist imperatives. That doesn’t mean that communists didn’t fight for democracy in its many manifestations; they did (and still do), consistently and at times bravely.

Nor am I suggesting that communists didn’t have strong moral convictions; they did and do. But still the advancement of class interests was considered primary in the framing of their thinking and actions. And in most instances, this presented no problem, as class interests converged with moral values and democratic struggles. But there were instances where that wasn’t the case, especially when class interests were narrowly constructed. The most egregious was the uncritical attitude of most of the communist movement toward Stalin and the Soviet Union. As the first country of socialism, the official interpreter of Marx and Lenin, and the primary opponent of imperialism, it was considered above any serious reproach in the eyes of most parties and communists, myself included.

It wasn’t until the 1990s and then later as national chair of the party that I began to seriously examine this way of thinking and found it wanting.

7. The most uplifting event this week was without a question the funeral and celebration of Aretha Franklin. In song, story, and prayer, this extraordinary woman, daughter of Detroit and the African American people and church, and incomparable artist and musical genius was celebrated by family, friends, and millions of admirers.

Some observations on John McCain

1. In thinking about John McCain at this particular moment in our country’s history, the point isn’t to strike some sort of balance between his good deeds and his many misdeeds over the course of his long life. That’s easy enough to do, but I’m not sure what purpose it serves other than demonstrate our “radical” credentials. Of far more importance at this moment when democratic institutions, values, governance, and traditions are under siege is to highlight Senator McCain’s stubborn resistance to authoritarian rule.

In doing so, we can hope that our voice, albeit with its limited volume and reach, will help further solidify the anti-Trump majority as well as cause a little fissure in the pro Trump minority as millions head to the voting booth in November in what is surely one of the most important elections in our country’s history.

2. While Trump stubbornly resisted John McCain’s death, some on the left, while mentioning his passing, refused to favorably acknowledge his role in the resistance against Trump and Trumpism. One reason for their silence is explained by the fact that are too busy reminding us, in case we’ve forgotten, that McCain was a war monger and worse.

But another reason, I would guess, is that in their world you’re either on the bus or off it. You’re either a righteous fighter or a vacillating liberal or a not to be trusted centrist or an irredeemable right winger like McCain. There is no space for contradictory thinking, or inconsistent allies, or expansive coalitions and heterogeneous politics, even in dire moments when the future of democratic institutions, governance, and values hangs in balance.

Luckily, this isn’t the main trend on the left. Most of us are engaged with diverse people and organizations — some of whom hold John McCain in high regard — in a common effort to take the Congress out of Republican hands.

3. If we win in November, one person that we will have to thank is John McCain. McCain, unlike most of us, speaks to and influences an audience of millions. And over the past two years, if he has conveyed anything to that audience, it’s his steadfast opposition to an authoritarian president and his acolytes. Trump is well aware of this, as evidenced by his stubborn refusal to acknowledge McCain’s death until public pressure from many directions forced him to briefly tip his hat to McCain last night.

4. The current controversy around John McCain reminds me that it is easy, but counterproductive to throw people of other political persuasions in rigid categories that allow for no complexity, no contradictions, no humanity, no space to play a constructive role, even if momentary, in the process of social change. I’m not a professional historian, but from what I have read there is little evidence for this position in history in general or moments of historical change in particular.

5. At moments like the present one when challenges are existential and old moorings aren’t necessarily reliable guides of analysis or action, I am reminded that Lenin, who is too often unfairly reduced to a dogmatic firebrand, vigorously argued that pure, unsullied, unchanging, and singularly dimensional classes, social movements, and individuals are seldom, if ever, found in real life.

Loose ends in perilous times

1. Zephyr Teachout will likely be a terrific Attorney General if she wins the New York state primary and then the general election in November. Letitia James will too, if she comes out the winner. So it bugs me that the Nation couldn’t say that in its editorial endorsing Teachout. Instead the editors cast James as a flunky for Governor Cuomo, who supports her, and a prisoner of elite financial donors, who donated to her campaign. And, by implication, automatically unworthy of their endorsement.

Her outstanding progressive track record in NYC politics and over a long stretch of time seemed not to count at all in their calculus.

The editorial also evinced not even a hint of concern about African American political representation or the overarching imperative of multi-racial unity at this moment. I would like to say that this failure surprises me, but not all together.

2. Listening to TV commentators remind viewers of the past transgressions of Michael Cohen tells me that it is important to allow people to change. And even welcome it when they do.

Unlike the other side in today’s existential struggle, our side should possess a generosity of spirit as well as an ability to take advantage of any divisions among our foes.

3. When I was national chair of the communist party, I would argue — not always successfully — that a problem for the left — including the party — in the sixties and since has been that it considered in too many situations what it thought about one thing or another the point of departure in the elaboration of its positions and actions rather than taking into account in the first place what the larger populous not only thinks, but is ready to do. Such an approach is seldom the best way to bend the needle in a progressive, let alone, a radical direction. Nor is it a good recipe to enhance the influence and size of the left. I will write more about this in a longer reflection on my journey in the communist party that I’m slowly scratching out. But for now, with Yogi insisting that I take him out for a walk, I have to turn my attentions elsewhere. It’s a Dog’s World!

4. Protecting the Mueller investigation from Trump is crucial; indeed, it eclipses in significance calls for impeachment at this moment.

5. Just ordered the late Michael Harrington’s Toward a Democratic Left: A Radical Program for a New Majority. Curious to see how much relevance it has for our times. My suspicion is that it will have more than a few fruitful insights.

6. (Including, in case you missed it, a post that raises some issues that are very much a part of today’s conversations among progressive and left people)

After seeing Gretchen Whitmer, the winner of the Michigan Democratic gubernatorial primary, referred to as the Establishment candidate, I’m thinking the term ought to be retired. The term can easily cause a lot of mischief, confusing more than clarifying political dynamics, relationships, and challenges at a moment when we need clarity and unity.

But here’s the problem. The biggest troller of the term is the mass media, over which few of us have any control. It loves headlines and stories that give the impression that a war is raging within the Democratic Party between its old guard and its insurgents.

It was in this framing that Whitmer found herself cast. She was the Establishment candidate, while her main opponent Abdul El-Sayed was the Insurgent who enjoyed the full support of Bernie Sanders and the newest star in the political galaxy of the left, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.

But Whitmer in any fair accounting doesn’t easily fit this political casting. In case you haven’t heard, she was one of the main oppositional voices to the Tea Party when it took over — thanks to gerrymandering among other things — the Michigan state legislature in 2010 and then wreaked its havoc on the people and state of Michigan. In taking on that battle, this “candidate of the Establishment” not only gained a wealth of real experience, but showed her political moxie and intellectual mettle in the trenches against an unrelenting and vengeful foe. This will undoubtedly serve her well when, as appears likely, she is elected governor in November.

What is more, this “Establishment candidate” earned the support of nearly every social constituency and leader of the people’s movement in Michigan. All but one union supported her, not to mention — and it does go unmentioned — a vast array of other organizations, which accounts for her sizeable victory against Abdul El Sayed, who, it should be said, was the first Muslim and Egyptian-American to run for governor in the United States.

She also ran on a progressive program, even if she didn’t pass all the programmatic litmus tests prescribed by a few on the left. While there were policy differences between her and El Sayed, who inspired lots of new voters and likely has a bright future in politics, it is a stretch to say that their political positions were miles apart.

Finally, and not least, this “candidate of the Establishment” is on track to be the second woman governor in Michigan’s 181-year history. No small achievement, but also not surprising at this moment when women are reshaping the landscape of struggle and politics in a democratic-liberal-progressive direction.

What underlies this mistaken framing is a failure to appreciate that the center of gravity in the Democratic Party has shifted in a democratic-liberal-progressive direction.

In other words, today’s Democratic Party isn’t the same party as in the Clinton years, even the Obama years. The constant refrain on the left castigating Democrats for their “neoliberal” pedigree is to some degree a straw man insofar as much of the party has moved away from that political model. Bernie Sanders and the millions who voted for him can claim some credit for this shift, but broader changes in the economy, politics, culture and popular thinking figure prominently in any explanation of this phenomenon.

And, of course, there is the Trump effect. It has forced millions of people to think and act anew as well as drawn them into the orbit of the Democratic Party and electoral politics.

Indeed, while candidates, like Octavio-Cortez have understandably captured the headlines and buzz in the mass and social media, what is striking, and potentially transformative, is the spontaneous growth of new electoral formations and a flood of new activists, often women and not always young, into the Democratic Party. Herein lies the main reason for a Democratic victory in November.

Many people on the left whose politics are informed by realism as well as revolutionary ardor are a part of this unmistakable, if still developing and uneven, process. Most do so with the hope — not of splitting and taking over the Democratic Party — but of uniting its various trends around a progressive/democratic/social democratic vision and values, while addressing in the near term the immediate and overarching task of our times — the rollback of Trump and Trumpism at the ballot box in particular and in the public arena generally.

For too long the left has been as much on the margins as in the thick of U.S. politics. And this is in part of its own doing. No one forced it, for example, to sit on its hands and keep its distance from electoral politics, apart from Jesse Jackson’s presidential runs, as the extreme right was doing the opposite. Beginning in the mid-1970s, the right wing committed resources, fielded candidates, and eventually took over the Republican Party, catapulting itself into a dominant force in the federal government and a majority of state houses. In this position, it proceeded to reshape the politics, economics, and culture of the country. Little did we know that its ascendancy would be the staging ground for Trump’s climb to power.

This indifference to electoral politics on the part of the  left, however, is finally melting away in the face of the current, unprecedented assault on democratic values, institutions, and governance on the one hand and the surfacing of new opportunities to participate in the Democratic Party in consequential ways on the other. No longer is it an article of faith for many on the left that an independent party of the left is the sine qua non to transport a besigned country to Martin Luther King’s “Beloved Community.”

Instead, in the spirit of the late socialist leader Michael Harrington, the disposition of many progressive and left people and organizations toward the Democratic Party is: reform it, don’t dump it, make it a vehicle to lay waste to Trump and Trumpism as well as restart the long journey toward equality, economic sufficiency, peace, sustainability, and deep going democratization of the corporate controlled economy and government institutions.

Will it work? Time will tell, but it is a far better alternative than anything else under consideration.

A plurality of voters disagreed

It’s a bit after the fact and maybe I’m not acquainted with the facts and landscape of Kansas politics. That said, I don’t understand the logic of Bernie Sanders and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez actively supporting and campaigning for labor lawyer Brent Welder in the congressional primary there. Welder, if you don’t know, was running against Sharice Davids, who is Native American, lesbian women. If elected, she would be the first Native American, lesbian woman ever to sit in the Congress.

If the argument of Sanders and Ocasio-Cortez is that Welder had a more progressive program than Davids, my reply is perhaps, but if so, not by much.

What is more, does it make any sense to make a candidate’s positions on one issue or another singularly determinative of who to support? Shouldn’t other considerations also matter such as unity and equality, not to mention the experience, background, and electability of the candidate?

And what about the unremitting racism and misogyny of Trump and his right wing cohorts? Shouldn’t that enter our (as well as Sanders and Octavio-Cortez) calculus at this moment in deciding who to support? And, of course, how can the past and present history of genocide and exclusion of the Native American people not be a primary consideration in the deciding who to campaign for? If Davids were on the wrong side of today’s existential battles, it would be one thing. But she isn’t. She’s a progressive Native American lesbian woman. Fortunately, a plurality of Democratic voters in the primary recognized this and were ready to break new ground.

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