Willie McBride

A song that remembers the bloodshed of WW I and its failure to live up to its promises — a war to end all wars. Some call it Willie McBride, others Green Fields of France. Written shortly after the conclusion of WW!.

A new political landscape

1. Trump looked a little ragged and unhinged at his press conference earlier this week. His mood was dark, his tone angry, his words laced with racism, nativism, misogyny, and bullying, his attachment to reality barely discernible. He spoke as if he was living in an alternate universe. In the face of a beat down of him and his party the night before, he refused to accept the fact that the Democrats had won a decisive victory. Indeed, in a flight from reality, Trump claimed that he and his Republican counterparts were the winners. He boasted of the successes of Republican Senate candidates in states that were heavily red to begin with.

But this ripple of red, most analysts agree, pales before the wave of Democratic gains across the country at the federal and state levels, including in unexpected places. Furthermore, as late results come in and as recounts take place in Arizona, Florida, and Georgia, the blue wave keeps getting bluer and bigger, while the red ripple loses its luster.

In the face of what should be a sobering reality one might think Trump would consider some changes in his tone, message, and policies, but nothing he said or did at the press conference suggested he would. And, as if to put a punctuation on his refusal to make any adjustments to new political realities, he announced an hour later the firing of Jeff Sessions.

His firing had been expected after the midterms, but I don’t know if anyone thought it would be so quick. Maybe even Trump didn’t. But in his desire to change the national conversation, show that he is still boss, and knee cap the Mueller investigation, sacking Sessions and replacing him with a complete lap dog became in his mind an opportunity to be seized.

This reckless action presents an immediate challenge to Democrats and the entire democratic coalition. It could trigger a constitutional crisis. In any event, stormy days are ahead. Stay tuned. And stay active.

2. When we take into account the gains in the House, approaching 40, the quantum leap in the representation of  women in general and women of color in particular, the outstanding showings of Democrats at the state level, especially in the Midwest, the passage of many ballot initiatives, the contested and still top close to call results in FL, GA, and AZ. Beto O’Rourke’s near miss in TX, the tens of thousands of campaign volunteers, and the tidal like explosion of women onto the terrain of electoral politics, it was a very impressive night for Democrats and the broader democratic coalition, not to mention an affirmation of the decency and democratic values of a majority of the American people. It wasn’t a political realignment, but the landscape shifted in favor of Democrats and democratic renewal.

And it happened in the face of the most racist and nativist campaign in modern American history, on a gerrymandered electoral map favoring Republicans, and in an election scarred by significant voter suppression.

3. Everyone is saying that winning of control of the House is a big f…ing deal. And it is!

But I would add three other factors that are of great importance and will shape the political trajectory of the country in the next two years and beyond as well. One is the activity of a broad, diverse, and growing coalition of people and constituencies that left its imprint on and gained confidence in the course of the elections.

Another is the shift in the center of gravity in the Democratic Party in a progressive direction, not across the board and not on every issue, but unmistakable nonetheless.

Finally, across the Democratic Party and the broader democratic coalition, an appreciation of the imperative of unity was palpable in these elections. And that’s how it should be in these times when right wing populist authoritarianism is in a full court press to hijack our democracy and country.

4. Much of the Rust Belt became the Blue Belt on election night. This immensely complicates Trump’s reelection in 2020. If they remain blue, what is his path to a second term? Not easy to see.

5. The high profile candidacies of Stacey Abrams, Andrew Gillum, and Beto O’Rourke, even if each ends in defeat, grabbed the national spotlight. What they did and where they did it is earth shaking and is cause for optimism now and in the future.

6. I still wonder if we yet fully appreciate the role of women as a central organizing and political force in this election and the struggle against Trump generally. Much of what they did was below the radar screen, outside of traditional organizational forms, and spontaneous in many ways. And of them, middle and older aged women, some seasoned by a lifetime of struggle, others new to politics, made an enormous contribution in a practical/organizational as well as a political sense.

7. Some strategic and tactical fine tuning is necessary in the wake of the election, but not much more than that. Trump and Trumpism remain the overriding danger to people’s well being and democracy. That doesn’t preempt lively conversations in the Democratic Party or democratic coalition over policies, priorities, pace of reform or long term vision, but the necessity of broad unity should frame those conversations.

8. Both the role of racism and anti-racism, set against the background of the elections and the new terrain of struggle that obtains as a result of them, has to be examined soberly and from many sides.

In the aftermath of the election of President Obama, we understandably celebrated his historic accomplishment, but in our moment of celebration, we missed the other side of the dialectic of Obama’s victory, that is, millions of white people felt that the social rug of white supremacy, on which they had organized their entire lives and worldview, had been pulled from underneath them. And out of this came a ferocious right wing, anti-democratic counteroffensive, animated by vile racism, that gave birth to the Tea Party and in time landed Trump in the White House.

A similar reaction that minimizes the danger of racism and an accompanying counteroffensive is much less likely today. The level of awareness of the outsized role of racism in shaping the dynamics and contours of the country’s history, politics, economics, culture, and discourse in general and the irredeemable white nationalist politics of Trump and his supporters in particular, is, ten years later, much more keenly appreciated by significant numbers of people.

9. When things started to turn against Andrew Gillum and Stacey Abrams in the early evening Tuesday, I couldn’t help but wonder ( or dread) if I would have to endure a reprise of 2016. That made me blue, but luckily the feeling of dread passed quickly as results in other states where Democratic candidates were victorious were announced. After a big sigh of relief, my spirits brightened considerably.

10. With the election in our rear view mirror, a challenge for the left is to avoid a return to old formulas such as the streets are the singular arena of mass struggle. Or the Democratic Party is the captive of neoliberalism. Or struggle within the Democratic Party and democratic coalition takes center stage in the elections’ aftermath. Or that militant minorities are a substitute for majoritarian movements. Or socialism or even radical reform, is on the immediate action agenda.

Home stretch

1. The unspeakable murders of 11 Jewish people have bubbled to the surface what has garnered too little attention up to now — the outsized role of anti-semitism in animating Trump’s supporters and Trump himself. And the left bears some responsibility here. We haven’t adequately explicated (or opposed) the toxic and, (as we now know too well) lethal mix of racism, nativism and anti-semitism deployed by Trump and the right wing media.

2. If anyone thought that anti-semitism was a relic of an earlier era, the horrible shooting in Pittsburgh proved otherwise. While its animating power and reach may have shrunk over recent decades, the bloody events in Pittsburgh this week reveal not only that it remains as potent as ever on the right and the stuff around which the right weaves its dark conspiracies, but also — and this is my main point — that it can, when given a green light by the president and the right wing media, reactivate and command a much larger audience — already marinating in a stew of real and invented resentments — than most of us thought possible.

Next Tuesday we can not only take control of Congress out of Republican hands, but also begin to put this pernicious and deadly ideology and practice of hate and division on its heels.

3. I am canvassing door to door this week. I hope you are too. For me, it is the place where the rubber of my politics and values meets the road of practical action. With less than a week to go, it is hard to think of anything we can do that remotely approaches the importance of canvassing or phone banking or similar things that turn out voters on election day.

4. Is there a danger of full blown right wing populist authoritarian rule? Of course! To believe otherwise is not only naive, but also disarming and dangerous.

Moreover, it will grow exponentially if the Republicans retain their control over both chambers of Congress next week. But even in that case — which I think is unlikely — the terrain for popular struggles and broad political engagement, even if narrowed, will still exist and will surely be utilized by a disparate coalition of constituencies, classes, organizations, and peoples who wlll not ready to yield up our country to hands of these executioners of democracy and democratic rule as we have known it.

This is no time for despair. The task now is to get out the vote, while the task on Wednesday of next week is to resume our righteous struggle on what will be new ground no matter what the outcome on election day.

5. This article in my opinion gives a better picture of what the country would look like if Trump and Trumpism isn’t successfully resisted than the frequently cited references to Hitler’s Germany or Mussiline’s Italy or Pinochet’s Chile.

This may seem like an abstract, idle debate with little or no significance attached to it. But that isn’t the case in my opinion. Its resolution, actually, has a major bearing on what we do as well as where and how we do it in the near and longer term.

6. At one time, universal suffrage — voting — was seen by communists as no more than a “gauge of the maturity of the working class,” no matter what the circumstances. That changed decades ago, even as communists still remained suspicious of the electoral terrain of struggle and its place in the transition to socialism.

Other sections of the revolutionary left held the same view. In fact, suspicious doesn’t quite capture their attitude. Disdain is closer to the truth.

But what makes this moment interesting is that significant numbers on the left, in an about face, are fully participating in the efforts to get out the vote for Democratic Party candidates.

That’s progress in my opinion, and if it holds, it bodes well for the future. Voting is much more than a measure of the maturity of the working class and the electoral terrain is more than just one other terrain of struggle. Both are key components of any strategy that hopes to reverse the growing right wing, populist authoritarian danger that we face at the present moment, while at the same time, expanding and deepening working class and people’s democracy and thus facilitating in the longer term the struggle for socialism.

The insurrectionary image of politics and the transition to socialism that has no or little place for electoral politics and the electoral path of struggle never served its proponents in the communist movement and left well.

7. Across the world in general and Europe and the U.S. in particular, we are seeing the rise and spread of right wing authoritarian populist movements. Some have captured control of state/governmental institutions in their respective countries by electoral-political means. Others are not yet wielding the levers of political power, but command a considerable mass following and in some cases are only an election away from such power.

While much could be said about the origins, features, and prospects of this exceedingly dangerous political phenomenon, I would only mention for the moment two things. First, this existential danger can be averted by aroused people, movements, and parties that, when equipped with expansive and flexible tactics, near inexhaustible energy, and a compelling vision, have the wherewithal to defend and expand democracy, democratic rights, and democratic governance as they turn the tide against this ascending retrograde and reactionary phenomenon.

Second, this phenomenon, even if it has some resemblances to past fascisms, isn’t yet fascist, which. by the way, has nearly as many meanings as interlocutors. Is it moving in that direction is quite another question. It may well be, but my own guess — and it is only that given what I consider the contingency of politics at this moment and thus the possibility of alternative paths — is that something like Putin’s Russia is a far more likely resting place for these movements than Hitler’s Germany or Mussolini’s Italy or Pinochet’s Chile.

In any event, the stakes are exceedingly high — never higher in my lifetime — for anyone who hopes to live in conditions of democracy, equality, peace, and planetary sustainability now and in the future.

8. Efforts from the left to minimize or, worse yet, explain away the fact that a significant section of white workers embrace Trump and Trumpism is very misguided. It likely rests on a cockeyed view of partisanship and an equally cockeyed (and old) understanding of class and class politics.


Just around the corner

1. What should the left — the social justice movement — be doing these days? The answer seems simple enough to me anyway: volunteering for House and Senate campaigns across the country. In so doing, we can talk to lots of people on their doorsteps, meet many like minded activists (especially women of all ages) who are energizing these campaigns, bring our insights, albeit in abbreviated form, into the mix, and, above all, get out the vote.

Is there anything else that can take some of the wind out of the utterly reactionary nationalist, misogynist, nativist. racist, and authoritarian sails of Trump and the Republican Party more than a good drubbing at the ballot box in less than three weeks? I don’t think so. To wit: If you aren’t practically involved, that can easily be changed.

2. The furor around the gruesome and state sponsored murder of a Saudi journalist who was living here and employed by Washington Post isn’t a story with a short shelf life.

Trump’s attempt to give the Crown Prince a free pass on the grounds of plausible deniability is already encountering strong headwinds, including from some of the same Republicans who fell in behind his nomination of Kavanaugh to the court. Much could be said about Trump’s motivation — family financial connections, Iran and geopolitics, embrace of autocrats, arms sales — and the many ramifications of this brutal murder, but for the moment I would mention only two things.

First, Trump’s defense of the extra judicial killing of a respected journalist and mild critic of the Crown Prince sends a signal to other autocrats that they can do the same without fearing any negative reaction from the Trump administration.

Second, Trump’s collapsing defense of the Crown prince is causing problems for Republican Party candidates in the final weeks of the campaign. They no longer control their campaign message and whatever momentum they had achieved in recent weeks could well dissipate as this story gains public attention. If this were not enough to make Republican candidates lose sleep at night, Trump’s misogynist comment earlier this week about Stormy Daniels, coming only two weeks ago when he mocked Christine Blasey Ford at a public rally and reports of an exploding federal deficit can only add to their problems.

3. If my experience is representative, it is newly energized activists, women in particular, and not so much the traditional left, that are on the ground floor and doing the heaviest lifting in Congressional campaigns across the country.

4. Just read an article that says “fascism is knocking at the door.” Do we live in a dangerous moment? For sure. Authoritarian politics menace our country, and things could get worse before they get better. And yet he space for democratic action is still considerable. In fact, in less than a month millions can go to the polls and deliver a major blow to Trump and authoritarian rule.

Moreover, in the next three weeks we can scour without hindrance neighborhoods to make the case for such an election outcome. And if we aren’t successful, well, the post election terrain will, no doubt. be more dangerous. But fascist, I don’t think so.

This may seem like an exercise in splitting hairs, but it isn’t. How one assesses a political moment has a considerable impact on what we do and how we do it. To say that fascism has arrived or nearly so, as some argue, can result in a politics of retreat, of ceding democratic space to the Trunpists when there is no need, of turning popular resistance into the exclusive property of the most militant.

5. Bravo to Taylor Swift. She demonstrated real courage in opposing the Republican woman running for the Senate in Tennessee.

6. In canvassing and other casual conversations, I have come to realize that many people don’t necessarily attach the same political importance to the coming elections as I do. In other words, not every voter sees them as an opportunity to erect a badly needed firewall against Trump and the growing danger of authoritarian rule. Their concerns are more immediate and a wise campaign strategy can’t ignore them. To their credit, Democrats aren’t.

7. An oped by Jefferson Cowie makes a persuasive case for a progressive-left nationalism. It is far more thoughtful than a similar column by John Judis that appeared in earlier this week in the NYT. Cowie is right in my opinion when he writes that the left can’t ignore the struggle over the nuts and bolts of national vision, feeling, and tradition. The right won’t. In fact, over the past half century, it has seized that terrain of national debate and infused it with a reactionary content. And, of course, it’s a fundamental cornerstone of Trump’s politics and demagogy.

As Cowie mentions, neither King nor Obama ceded this turf to their right wing opponents. Frederick Douglass didn’t either. The contemporary left should follow their example.

One issue I have with his column is his favorable reference to Richard Rorty, Years ago, Cowie tells us, Rorty wrote that he feared that indulging in cultural politics rather than emphasizing the material interests of American working people and articulating a national vision would lead to catastrophe.

This advice is wrongheaded, and to the degree that Cowie embraces it, it takes away from the kernel of truth in his oped. Any progressive national vision that ignores “cultural issues” will have neither a leg to stand on nor any hope of inspiring e movement of a diverse and democratic minded majority, capable of moving from the politics of protest to the politics of full blooded democracy, equality, national renewal, and power.

A defining moment and other observations

1. The challenge for activists in and supporters of the working class and labor movement is to contest the notion, purposefully peddled by Trump and his right wing acolytes, that white men are an aggrieved minority who increasingly encounter discriminatory treatment, undeserved abuse, and systematic victimization at the hands of an accusing and shrill chorus of women — not to mention people of color, gays, immigrants, Hollywood, and out of touch Democrats and urban elites.

This feeling of white male aggrievement to what many white men consider a baseless attack on what they believe to be their earned as well as culturally transmitted sense of entitlement in their relations with women has been heightened in the course of the pitched battle over the nomination of accused sexual predator Bret Kanvanaugh to the Supreme Court.

In his testimony, Kavanaugh aggressively expressed this sense of victimization and entitlement over what he considered a baseless and invented attack on his dignity, accomplishments, manhood, and family. Not only did he deny the claims of Christine Blasey Ford, Deborah Ramirez, and other accusers out of hand, but he angrily asserted without a shred of evidence that he was the target of a far larger conspiracy whose intent was to destroy his impeccable reputation and unfairly deny him what he is earned and is entitled to — a seat on the Supreme Court.

Eagerly assisting him in this exercise of dissembling and blame shifting is Trump, Republican leaders, and the right wing attack machine. Trump at a rally two nights ago in Mississippi turned his appearance into an opportunity to take off his rhetorical gloves and jump in the gutter. In front of an adoring crowd of white people of all ages and incomes, he unloaded on Christine Blasey Ford and mockingly attempted to tear to shreds her painfully and courageously wrought testimony of sexual victimization at Kavanaugh’s hands.

In doing so, Trump not only tried to destroy the honesty and claims of Blasey Ford, but also to turn the whole conversation over sexual violence against women on its head, that is into a platform to stoke and give legitimacy to white male resentment and grievance, while at the same time closing off any space for women to make public their experiences at the hands of predatory and violent men — not to mention mobilize his base for the coming elections.

In Trump’s rendering, the victim became the victimizer and the victimizer became the victim. This inversion is not just without grounds in fact and outrageous. It’s also especially dangerous to every woman in so far as it gives a green light to abuse them as men see fit. And, by implication, it’s a danger to anyone who encounters as well as struggles against the many forms of inequality, discrimination, and oppression in our society.

As Blasey Ford reminded us, white male entitlement and privilege isn’t something that simply inhabits the world of discourse. It sanctions all manner of discrimination, subordination, and violence against women. It’s deeply embedded in the material reality of our society and systematically reproduces itself.

It’s also isn’t peculiar to the white billionaire class even though this class reaps enormous wealth and privilege from this ideology and practice. White workers gain advantage and privilege too, even if goes against the grain of any democratic and egalitarian construction of their interests.

Supporters of and activists in the working class and labor movement can’t ignore nor should they minimize this reality. It has to be challenged, especially with the elections a month away.

2. When Trump and GOP go low, as they are doing now in their ruthless and misogynist assault on Christine Blasey Ford, we should come to her defense in whatever way we can and march (and encourage others to march) to the polls on November 6.

I don’t have a big megaphone, but I try to find ways to bring this shameless attack as well as Kavanaugh’s sense of white, male entitlement that allows him to think that he can sexually abuse women with complete impunity into every conversation that I engage in. Last night it became a subject of conversation in my spin class.

Meanwhile, I will be canvassing later today. I was happy to hear that we will be going to the homes of low turnout Democrats. Up to now we’ve been visiting the homes of registered Republicans.

3. I hear TV commentators in too many instances reduce the Kavanaugh nomination to a partisan fight in which Democrats are as to blame as Republicans for the heightened acrimony in Washington. It is partisan and acrimonious for sure. But to leave it here obscures the fundamental issue around which this contentious battle turns — whether someone who is a sexual predator, right wing political operative, and virulent opponent of all manner of democratic and human rights belongs on the court. And on this score Democrats are fighting the good fight and should not yield an inch their opposition.

4. What goes unmentioned in many accounts of the Obama Presidency is that his very presence in the White House and artfully articulated vision of the American family challenged a core tenet of right wing extremism — the racialized ordering of “America.” In contesting this ordering in which white people because of their supposed “natural” superiority and inordinate contributions to the making of “America” sit at the top of the social ladder, while people of color because of their supposed inferiority and minimal contributions to the making of the country are forcibly assigned to its lowest rung, Obama became the object of the unrestrained, racist wrath of the extreme right.

What is more in thinking about the gestation ground for the Tea Party, Birtherism, Republican congressional intransigence, the explosion of white male resentment, the rise of Trump, and much more, this racial-political dynamic has to figure prominently in any explanation.

To ignore or even to minimize this dynamic makes the dual task of understanding how we arrived at the current moment and finding a path out of this existential political crisis impossible. A narrow class against class, economic populist approach won’t fill the bill. Never has.

6. I was a bit taken aback reading an article on the transition to socialism that made no mention, let alone shined a bright light on, the necessity of strategic alliances between the working class and other powerful social constituencies. It is hard to find support for this notion in the writings of Marx and Engels. And certainly not Lenin. No one insisted on the necessity of an alliance policy with greater vigor than he did. He argued time and time again that the working class, and not only in Russia, could ONLY effect a socialist revolution if it had extensive and stable alliances with other sections of the population who feel the oppressive weight of capitalist policies and power. Now it’s a fact that the working class has massively grown and changed in composition since then, but neither its quantitative expansion nor its qualitative transformation mitigate against a policy of alliances with other social constituencies — people of color and women in the first place. In fact, the opposite is the case. And especially now.


Share This