He’s a clear and present danger to democracy and humankind. Time to impeach.

Trump, Normalization, and Van Jones

A sound strategy for this moment and the foreseeable future will resist the normalization of Trump; if he fit on the spectrum of what we consider the politically accepted bounds of “bourgeois democratic” governance, I might think otherwise. But he – as well as Bannon and Sessions and others – don’t. They present a threat to democratic governance the likes of which we haven’t seen. Thus we should do nothing to normalize him.

What is more, a significant section of the public question the legitimacy of this administration. It’s not something that we on the left have a franchise on. Which should come as no surprise. After all, Trump didn’t win the popular vote, the role of Russia in meddling in our elections is far from settled, and Trump’s rhetoric and actions so far have left many still wondering if he has what it takes to be president.

So why would we normalize him at this juncture? Because his speech earlier this week had a different tone? I don’t think so. For one thing, the change in tone is explained largely by the widespread opposition to Trump and his low polling numbers. What other choice did Trump and Bannon have? Full speed ahead? I don’t think so. To suggest that it was product of the artfulness of Trump and Bannon is to turn effect into cause. Furthermore, the speech’s tone can’t be severed from its substance, and the latter was awful on nearly every count.

Which brings me to my beef with the much debated comment of CNN analyst Van Jones. He mentioned none of this. Nor did he make plain that the father of the soldier who was cynically memorialized in Trump’s speech chose not to attend the event because he blamed guess who – Trump – for his son’s death. Instead, Jones said Trump became “presidential.” In doing so, he normalized Trump; he gave him a legitimacy that he hasn’t yet acquired. It shouldn’t come that cheaply.

As I see it, resisting the normalization of Trump isn’t a posture of disengagement, of standing apart, of rhetorically shouting from the sidelines. It conforms with the thinking of millions of people and rests on a broad awareness of the unique and unprecedented danger that this administration presents to our country’s democratic fabric and progress. It is a particular approach that challenges Trump – his rhetoric, policies, and legitimacy – at every turn and in every arena of struggle.

Its charge isn’t to search for common ground with the Trump White House, but to defend democracy (broadly understood), join with the immediate targets of Trump’s attacks, and advance a clear and compelling alternative to Trumpism. Its strategic underpinning lies in the formation of a broad, democratic, multi-racial, multi-class, multi-national people’s coalition, while it resists, at the same time, sectional thinking and approaches, such as we saw with some of the building trades. It’s mindful as well of the overarching importance of next year’s election. And, not least, it takes advantage of any rifts in the ruling coalition and dominant classes.

If there is a slogan that captures its spirit and politics, it’s “All for One and One for All.”

The tone was different, but not much else

The tone was different – which is a concession to the widespread opposition to Trump and his low standing in public opinion polls; what other option did Trump and Bannon have – but not much else changed in a substantive sense. In fact, the political substance was worse in some ways.

Lies, false claims, and empty promises littered the speech and collided with the actual policies of the Trump administration. People’s stories of hardship and pain were cynically exploited, including the soldier who died in Yemen, whose father blames Trump for his death and refused to be part of the photo op.

Immigration reform was a joke, but not half as bad the depiction of immigrants as existential threats to the well being, wages, and job opportunities of U.S. workers.

The paternalistic, patronizing, and racist themes of earlier speeches reappeared. His economic policy, if it deserves that name and notwithstanding a temporarily bullish stock market, is unsustainable and sure to bring trouble to tens of millions and throw the country’s finances deeper into the red. This will give Trump and Congressional Republicans an excuse to turn the issue of spending on infrastructure and people’s needs into a moot question.

The poor and communities of color were warned in the speech of storms soon to come. The word “women” and the words “women’s issues” were barely mentioned. And the rest of world has every right to worry after listening to Trump last night.

Will he get a bounce in the polls? Probably, it’s hard not to. Some of the media will say that at last he acted “presidential,” while more than a few people will spin it positively even if it seems completely at war with what they know about this demagogic, crude, and ignorant lout, this poor excuse for a human being.

But the bigger questions are: How big a bounce? And will it last?

While it appeared that the Republicans in the chamber greeted Trump’s speech enthusiastically, don’t think that everyone in the GOP is on same page. As for the Democrats, if they continue to resist the political-legislative offensive to come, while projecting their own package of clear and compelling alternatives and prepare for next year’s elections – beginning with the recruitment of able and attractive congressional candidates – things could take a turn for the better sooner than we think.

One final thing: what was worse: the optic of Trump at the podium or the image of Ryan and Pence behind him? What a “Rogues Gallery!”

Creeping authoritarianism and other hanging chads

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.


Hanging chads

1. The old slogan, “All for One and One for All,” seems like a good response to Trump’s declaration on immigration, plus public actions everywhere – big city and small town.

2. In his Atlantic article, David Frum writes,

“Those citizens who fantasize about defying tyranny from within fortified compounds have never understood how liberty is actually threatened in a modern bureaucratic state: not by diktat and violence, but by the slow, demoralizing process of corruption and deceit. And the way that liberty must be defended is not with amateur firearms, but with an unwearying insistence upon the honesty, integrity, and professionalism of American institutions and those who lead them.” (David Frum’s Atlantic article, “Constructing Autocracy.”)

This strikes me as a pretty astute observation. Trump’s style of governance surely has other features, including and especially repressive ones, as demonstrated in yesterday’s announcement of his draconian immigration policy (if you can call something that shouldn’t be part of our discourse, not to mention the government’s practice, a policy). But just as surely we can expect him to use the power, purse strings, and prestige of the state to win and reward friends and buy off, divide, and silence opponents.

Corruption can take many forms ranging from small concessions and favors to big handouts and payoffs. In a modern state, the granting of political advantage on one or another thing can bring enormous financial as well as political rewards. Of course, it doesn’t come out of a generous spirit of the giver. The expectation is that the recipients will reciprocate with their support or, at least, temper their criticism.

This isn’t a new phenomenon. Nor is it peculiar to right wing governments. But the Trump administration will raise corruption to an altogether new level and scale. It, along with fake news, vilification of the press and other opponents, islamophobia and immigrant bashing, unapologetic racism and sexism, white nationalism, truth and science denial, and more, will be alpha and omega of its mode of rule.

3. We are in a defensive posture at this moment. So here’s my question: does the RESISTANCE to Trump’s rhetoric and actions give enough lift to an alternative program and vision of a society that accents community, economic security, equality, sustainability, and peace? From my experience, which is limited, I would say NO.

I realize that it is easier said than done, given the relentless authoritarianism of this administration. Every day (or hour), it seems, something new is coming from Trump’s mouth or his acolytes. But, if I am right, its difficulty cannot be reason to sidestep this conundrum. On its solution rests to no small degree our ability to cut into the legion of Trump supporters – not to mention expand the resistance to people sympathetic to our message, but still inactive.

4.  Some people ask if we should retire the term “progressive wing” of the Democratic Party. Not in my opinion. It captures the breadth of the reforming/transforming/renovating impulse in today’s Democratic Party better than either the social justice left or the Sander’s movement that also operate within the Party’s elastic orbit.

That said. I’m not stuck on any one word (and even if I were, it wouldn’t matter much anyway). The larger issue in my view is to do nothing to narrow down the scope of people and organizations that favor a non-sectarian turn of the Democratic Party in a progressive direction and a sustained focus on its organizational renewal, especially in the Midwest.

5. The analytical efforts to scale down the impact of hateful ideologies in the political calculus of white workers in the name of working class partisanship and a very dubious understanding of marxism are misguided. This defense obscures, and even worse, conceals an overarching political challenge – to turn the politics of equality, justice, solidarity, mutuality, and human decency into the common sense of white workers at a moment when someone occupies the White House who uniquely and proudly spews ideologies of hate, division, violence, and oppression.

6. Bravo for the New England Patriot players who declared that they said they will not visit the White House for the traditional meeting that championship teams have with the president. It takes courage, especially when the team owner, coach, and quarterback are such avid supporters of the new president. We should all draw inspiration from their example of defiance as we continue to oppose the megalomaniac who sits in White House.

7. The defenders of 1990s Clintonian neoliberal policies are far fewer these days and the wind isn’t at their back, but lots of polemics on the left haven’t caught up with this shift.


Share This