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”

Mass killings, Trump, and some loose ends

1. I find it hard not to despair at moments like this, but I also can’t help but feel anger at the Republican Party and the NRA that over and over have prevented any, even the most mild, measures to institute gun control and other steps that will cut down on this senseless slaughter of children, teachers, and other innocent people. What they offer in the wake of yesterday’s mass shooting, instead, is what they have offered on earlier occasions when gun violence stole away the lives of innocent people — their prayers and perhaps a conversation at a later date. That’s it.

When nothing happened after Sandy Hook, I concluded that gun control legislation was dead-on-arrival as long as this retrograde gang is in control of Congress. And with Trump in the White House, the obstacles only become bigger. The craven dependency of both to the NRA and their own retrograde politics are an effective barrier to any solutions, including common sense gun laws, to the reoccurring cycle of mass killings. And this will continue to be the case until we elect a Congress that is committed to meaningful steps to address this national crisis. This fall we have that opportunity. Let’s seize it by electing a Democratic Party majority in both chambers of Congress.

2. With the election of Ronald Reagan in 1980, the extreme right began its ascendancy in the Republican Party and became a wrecking ball in U.S. politics. Too many on the left, however, awash in the contemporary language of neoliberalism and influenced to a degree by sectarian notions from the sixties, didn’t get this. It didn’t register on their radar screen. What did was a critique that saw the two parties as nothing more than “two peas in a pod.” And whatever differences existed between them were not worth noting.

This analytical-strategic blind spot turned this grouping of the left into passive observers of one election cycle after another. Meanwhile, right wing extremists were of a different mind. They planted themselves squarely on the terrain of “bourgeois” politics and its electoral cycles. For them it was anything but a spectacle. Indeed, they seized this terrain and catapulted themselves from the edges of power into its main corridors. In so doing, they shifted the balance of power in Washington and nationally in favor of the most reactionary class and social forces in the country.

This new constellation of anti-democratic power should have been obvious to any observer of politics long ago. But for some on the left, it was only with the election of Trump — an authoritarian president, enjoying the near uncritical support the Republican Party — that some melting away of these flawed positions began.

To what extent? Well, the elections this fall, in which the overriding challenge is to elect a Democratic Party majority in the Senate and House, will provide a pretty good answer to that question. Let’s hope the melt is extensive. We need every hand on deck if we hope to turn the possibility of a Democratic wave election into a reality.

3. Perhaps it is obvious, but the outcome of the elections in November won’t be decided in cities like Berkeley or Cambridge or San Francisco or Los Angeles or New York. It will be decided elsewhere – in states like Michigan, Indiana, Wisconsin, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Illinois as well as congressional districts that are purple or red and have to be flipped if the Democrats are to become a majority in both chambers of Congress.

In other words, Democrats have to score big in states and congressional races in which the politics aren’t as liberal, the demographics not as favorable, and the districts gerrymandered to favor Republicans. In normal times, that might be a insurmountable hurdle. But these times are anything but normal. So much so that the structural advantages that the Republicans enjoy going into the fall elections could dissipate in the face of an unpopular authoritarian president, a Democratic Party intent on making major electoral gains, and the surging energy of women and a larger opposition that resists narrow boundaries.

4. I hear said that Trump embraces and practices the politics of victimization and resentment. No quarrel here. But it would also mention in the same breath two other things: First, these same politics have animated the right for decades ago. Indeed, they have been the grease that catapulted it to positions of power in Washington and in a majority of state capitals.

At the same time, it would be a mistake to see Trump as simply a continuation of these politics. His sense of victimhood and resentment are unapologetic, unconcealed, and unconstrained. Moreover, he speaks for a mass political constituency that viscerally shares his sense of resentment and victimization. Not least, the logic of his politics, evident in his nearly daily lacerations to the fabric of our democracy, could lead, if not challenged, to authoritarian rule – that is a qualitative break from the historically constituted norms, values, and practices of democracy and democratic governance of our country.

Luckily, the elections this fall give the American people an opportunity to rollback his assault, coauthored with his Republican counterparts in Congress.

The other thing I would say is that the politics of resentment and victimization (and I would add the politics of nostalgia) are inseparable from the animus of racism, misogyny, and nativism. It’s in their pairing with these particular forms of inequality and oppression that these politics gain their visceral power and tenaciousness, especially among white males.

5. It is said that the fish rots from the head. Well, that is the case in the White House. And last weekend we got another example of this when Trump made no mention the two ex-wives of Rob Proctor who were the victims of sexual violence. At the same time, there are no innocents running around the White House. Whether everyone knew of Porter’s history of sexual violence early on is debatable. But it is preposterous to think that the main principals, including Trump, didn’t. Moreover, the footprints of most of the staff are evident in the subsequent coverup and attempts to discredit Porter’s ex-wives.

At some level, one has to wonder if their thinking is that Porter’s ex-wives got what they deserved. After all, Porter is a “man of great integrity.”

6. The unified Korean delegation marching into the stadium for the opening of the Olympics was an impressive. and hopeful sight. We can only hope that it leads to further steps to ease tensions on the peninsula and in the region. Of course, little help can be expected from the Trump White House. And if you wanted some evidence, albeit symbolic, of its posture toward the thawing of relations, it was on display when Pence sat stone faced and with his hands at his side as the Koreans walked in as one.

7. It strikes me that to reduce the Mueller investigation and the heated controversy around the FBI to simply an intra-class conflict in which each side is pursuing some narrow class interests and nothing more is shortsighted, notwithstanding being dressed up in the gown of Marxism or Marxism-Leninism, albeit a dogmatic one. Usually, attempts to stuff reality, which is always contradictory, complicated, and novel, into such rigid schemes yield little analytical fruit. It misses more than it captures, and thus can easily mislead politically. The purpose of theorizing is to give us an approach or entry points to understanding reality, not to substitute for or simplify it.

8. Watching the event below hosted by the Obama White House is uplifting, but also very bittersweet, knowing that in the White House today sits someone who is so morally, politically, socially, and culturally retrograde and irredeemable.

Democracy at risk

I lived through Watergate, but I can’t recall that I felt that democratic norms, institutions, and traditions were in such danger as they are now. Not for a long time, maybe never has the country experienced the likes of what we are living through at this moment.

Nearly every day there is something new. The Nunes memo, released a few days ago with the full support of Trump, is but the latest. And notwithstanding denials from House leader Paul Ryan, its obvious intention is to set the table to fire Depute Attorney General Rod Rosenstein and shutdown the Mueller investigation.

The aim of these constant lacerations to the fabric of democracy by Trump and his enablers isn’t to “smash the state,” but to recast it into his own personal fiefdom — a fiefdom that is corrupt, bellicose, hyper nationalist, racist, misogynist, nativist, billionaire friendly, and hostile to democracy, the rule of law, an independent media, and even a scintilla of opposition from within or beyond the state.

Needless to say, this is no time for summer patriots. Indeed, resistance to this assault on democracy is the overarching challenge today. Nothing else rises to its importance. To cede this ground will surely foreclose any hope of moving to the higher ground of substantive justice, equality, peace, and sustainability later on.

One difference that immeasurably contributes to the present peril is the willingness of the Republican to do Trump’s bidding. During Watergate that wasn’t the case. Some daylight existed between Nixon and some of his Republican counterparts in Congress. It wasn’t everyone, but enough to allow the investigation of Nixon to go forward without extreme interference and partisan attack. That isn’t the case now. The GOP is the zealous fullback for Trump’s brand of authoritarian and obstructionist politics.

But this shouldn’t surprise anyone. The Republican Party is a party of the extreme right. And has been for nearly four decades. What is more, Trump, is, more than anything else, a product of this retrograde movement that is animated by power — not free markets, not small government, not collective security — first of all. Their accommodation to his brand of authoritarian politics, therefore, didn’t require any back flips. If anything, it is the logical end game of right wing extremism.

In making this pact, however, the GOP is endangering the foundations of democracy as well as making a big bet that it won’t come back to bite them in November and long after.

But they could be very wrong here. The elections could turn into a Democratic wave as voters, worried sick over Trump overreach, chaotic governance, and authoritarian tendencies and well aware of Republican complicity, go to the polls and elect a new Congress that will stand up to Trump and address other pressing concerns as well.

To further disadvantage Trump and his Republican counterparts this fall, as the party in power, they now own the persistence of wage stagnation, a tax “cut” that will likely fall far short of its hype for most voters, and an economy that is still growing slowly by historical standards.
Moreover, it seems that immigration won’t turn into the game changing election issue that Republicans think it will be. It riles up their base for sure, but it doesn’t play out in the same way across the rest of the electorate. In fact, it will become one only if the Democrats sign a Devil’s bargain with Trump and the GOP on immigration this winter or spring. Nothing would be more deflating for the Democratic Party base and the larger democratic movement opposing Trump.

In these circumstances, an obvious question is: what can we do to register our strenuous opposition to systematic breaches of our country’s democratic forms, rights, and institutions — not least of which is attempts to shutdown the Mueller investigation — by Trump and his fifth column in the Congress?

For those of us who are at a distance from the seats of power nor leaders of the Democratic Party or the anti-Trump movement, the answers aren’t so hard to divine.

Call Congress people. Talk to family, friends, coworkers, and strangers. Letters to the editor. Make a fuss on social media as well as in community organizations, churches, unions, student councils, etc. Join (and help organize if possible) the collective actions that bring together the far flung, diverse, and majoritarian coalition that opposes Trump. And, above all, become activists in the coming elections.

And, all the while, we should keep in mind that that Trump is the most unpopular president after one year in office in our country’s history. In other words, we’re the many.


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