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.

A new center of gravity

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.

The Trump danger and Us

A few thoughts — exploratory — on the Trump danger.

Trump isn’t a systematic thinker, but he is, as he demonstrated once again at a mass rally last night in Tampa, a dangerous and clever demagogue. He is less a conservative president than a right wing autocratic strongman, disposed to reckless actions and aligned with similar political types on a global level. Putin being one. Of course, among them, he considers himself to be the first among equals.

While there is little doubt that Trump advances capitalist interests in many ways, he also operates autonomously and frequently from them — not to mention his closest advisors — on matters of great consequence. To squeeze him into a rigid Marxist jacket, as some do, in which he faithfully carries out the marching orders of one or another section of big capital is more likely to confuse than clarify the Trump danger.

Trump in my view is a one man, exceedingly dangerous show. He is not only loosely tethered to his class benefactors and the Republican Party, but also completely contemptuous of democracy and viscerally animated by the most vile ideology. The guard rails that limit presidential power are nearly non-existent for him.

Trump is more like a feudal lord who is the state than a typical president who governs more or less within some constitutional and political boundaries. What compounds the danger is that the Republican Party obediently bends to his dictates and he is at the head and enjoys the adulation of a substantial mass constituency, as we saw last night, that has no critical capacity and marches to his beat.

What he doesn’t control is the outcome of the fall elections, the Mueller probe, and other critical encounters between Trump and a growing majoritarian movement. And while we can’t do much about Mueller’s investigation other than to defend it from the outrageous attacks from Trump, Giuliani, and the right-wing attack machine, the same can’t be said about the coming elections or other key battles. Each of us, if we so chose, can have a hand in effecting their outcome, each of us can be an actor who makes a difference.


The Trump-Putin Bromance

Not just today, not just yesterday, not just this past week, but since he announced his candidacy for president, Donald Trump has been the biggest threat to our democracy, progressive traditions and practices, and national security.

Putin, his new partner on the world stage, isn’t a choir boy for sure. He is, in fact, an autocratic ruler, not an aspiring one like Trump. As Russia’s president, he has few restraints on his power.

But Putin isn’t anywhere near the threat to the country or the world that Trump is. He is clever, for sure, and is anything but a paper tiger. But make no mistake about it, he is the junior partner in this bromance. And that is so, even if the Russian autocrat has “something” on Trump.

In short, the main danger to the future — ours and the world’s — is Trump.

And that danger only grows with each passing day. Trump, after all, has no attachment to democratic rule and governance. Indeed, since becoming president, he has done nothing but assail our democratic traditions, practices, and institutions. Racism, nativism, misogyny, bullying, indecency, cruelty, incompetence, hyper nationalism, and authoritarianism have been the book and bookends of his presidency.

On a global level he has attacked the liberal order and capitalist democracies that took shape in the wake of WW II. This order obviously begs for democratic restructuring and reform, but to believe that Trump will be an agent of that restructuring, or a nuclear free world for that matter, is the worst kind of self delusion.

What heightens this danger is that Trump has at his command the most powerful repressive apparatus and war machine ever assembled, a supine Republican Party, a majority on the Supreme Court that is favorably disposed to his policies and authoritarian disposition, and, not least, a mass constituency that is becoming a cult.

What he doesn’t have is the majority of people on his side. And his performance yesterday and last week, notwithstanding his lame effort to clean it up today, will only solidify that majority.

While interference by the Russian government in our domestic politics should be aggressively addressed, it shouldn’t become the reason to turn Russia into an implacable foe. We did that in the last half of the 20th century and both countries (and other countries as well) spent large amounts of treasure and blood to no good effect.

Nor should Putin become a distraction from the main strongman who sits in the White House or his Republican enablers in Congress, either now, or this fall when tens of millions cast their votes.

Shilling for Trump

Steven Cohen, who has had a distinguished career as a scholar of the former Soviet Union and Russia, is on FOX shilling for Trump. His considerable analytical skills aren’t evident.

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