1. The only positive thing I can think Trump has done in his first 100 days is to impose some strategic coherence on a far flung and diverse coalition that has arisen during this same period. Nearly everyone, including most of the broadly defined left, holds the view that the overarching task is to slow down and rein in the Trump administration.
Even the Democratic Party – not without some grumbling – is seen as a necessary and vital part of any winning strategy to stay Trump’s hand and eventually shift the balance of forces in a progressive direction.
Meanwhile, the advocates of turning the Democratic Party and the political center into “enemies” are strident for sure, but few in number. An inside-outside strategy is far more likely to dominate the conversation in progressive and left circles. And talk of an independent 3rd party on a national level commands little attention among social activists for the time being.
What is more, electoral-legislative action and the mid-term elections have become crucial terrains of struggle for most people and people’s organizations. It is hard to find anyone who suggests that the mid-term elections aren’t of decisive importance. The notion of setting one form of struggle against another resonates less and less these days too.
A year ago this wasn’t the situation. The strategic differences were palpable and no doubt were one of the factors that negatively affected the election’s outcome. But that changed overnight, when to the shock of most of us, Trump became the 45th president. And in doing so, the new president not only became the yeast of a rising and largely spontaneous oppositional movement, but also acted as a solvent of strategic (and to no small degree tactical) differences that were evident last year.
2. Trump’s tax plan is an attempt to breathe new life into a long discredited doctrine — supply side economics. Didn’t work in Reagan years; won’t work now. Its proponents in the White House, Congress, and elsewhere probably know that better than anyone, but that doesn’t prevent them from advocating it now. After all, they need some sort of ruse to legitimize their thievery of our pocketbooks and the further destruction of our public services.
Corporations today are not lacking funds for investment; they have plenty of cash on hand now. What is lacking are profitable opportunities in a stagnant economy — a condition that can only be remedied by dislodging the right wing juggernaut that dominates the federal government, while at the same time enlarging worker and people (public) power.
3. Want to deescalate the situation on the Korean Peninsula — do the counter intuitive: make the North Korean government an offer full of so many positive inducements, including respect and a seat at the table of the world community of nations, that they can’t refuse. In others words, shower them with love and cooperation, not hate and sanctions.
4. A recent article in the Nation essentially dismisses the importance of the runoff election in Georgia. The author’s main gripe is that the candidate – Jon Ossoff – wasn’t progressive enough, not sufficiently of a Bernie state of mind, too Clinton like. And thus the outcome, in which the candidate received nearly 50 per cent of the vote, isn’t of great significance. I could say many things about such a take, but I will confine myself to three comments.
One: it is anything but a winning strategy now or in the fall elections of next year. Two: the importance of the final runoff between Ossoff and his Republican opponent is huge for both parties as well as the movement opposing Trump. Three: for the foreseeable future, the unity – contested as it is and will be – of centrist, progressive, and left people and organizations under the capacious tent of the Democratic Party is essential if we are to get out from underneath this current Trumpist mess.
And, by the way, today’s center isn’t of the same mind as the center of two decades ago. Things do change, and only shortsighted people dismiss such changes. Which is their prerogative, but they shouldn’t expect the rest of us to agree with their nonsense.
5. Trump is relentlessly anti-democratic, capitalist and militarist minded, and on the right of the political spectrum, but after 3 months in office one has to wonder if he has any coherent ideology and politics that figure larger than self-aggrandizement, monetizing the Trump brand, bullying (especially immigrants), and more than a willingness to play fast and loose with the truth. This doesn’t make him less dangerous, but it should, it seems to me, make us think a bit more about how we politically categorize him and his administration.
In any case, even if we can’t manage a meeting of the minds on this matter, we can surely agree that the sustained actions of a diverse, multi-racial, and many leveled coalition and opposition, coming together around a whole range of constitutional, democratic and class issues is of overriding importance at this moment.
6. Unpredictability in poker is an advantage, but in a president it can lead to catastrophic results in the international theater, especially when it combines with cluelessness, narcissism, quickness to take offense, and easy access to weapons of mass destruction – all of which Trump has in buckets. While Trump’s foreign policy has had little coherence so far, one has to worry that Trump’s answer to his sagging popularity and presidency will amount to “Bomb the Hell” out of the rest of the world.
7. How many thought that Trump and the Republican Party would be such a fractious bunch. Probably not many of us. But, in thinking about it, it’s not such a surprise. Their oppositional status over the past eight years kept their competing ideological and political interests on the back burner. But with Trump in the White House and the GOP in control of Congress all that changed. And out came the knives, as we have seen. These schisms are no substitute for mass resistance, but by the same token, they should not be ignored either.
8. The late E.P. Thompson, the brilliant British historian who worked in the marxist tradition and had little patience for dogma and cant, once wrote, “We need now to learn what religions have always taught: how to achieve the wisdom, the largeness of heart, the strength of character to build the human alternative in the midst of ongoing catastrophe.”
Which brings to mind the life and legacy of MLK. He possessed each of these qualities, thereby making him the most compelling public figure in his time and an enduring example for all time. It is hard for me to see how the contemporary left can evolve into an outsized player in U.S. politics and an inspiration to millions of ordinary people without such broadly recognized attributes. Which makes me believe that each of us would be well served if we studied the writings of King as much as we study yesterday’s and today’s radical theorists.
9. Recently I posted some observations on power and the communist movement. A friend wrote me, saying all well and good, but “the devil is in the detail” of the revolutionary process. In my reply to him, I wrote that the “devil” is, actually, to be found in the decoupling of socialist values, vision, and humanism from the details of socialist construction and the exigencies of power. When that happens, one can win the battle in the near term, but lose the war in the longer run.
Which got me to thinking about Lincoln’s presidency. He restricted the exercise of some democratic rights, including the right of habeas corpus (unlawful detention without trial) during the Civil War, but he did it in ways that were measured, limited, and temporary.
Moreover, given the circumstances — the Confederate troops were near the gates of Washington, the opposition to Lincoln in the North was considerable, and the country would become war weary — one can easily imagine someone without Lincoln’s commitment to democratic governance acting with far less restraint.