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.


A frenzy and power grab

As the NYT article suggests, Trump and his GOP supporters are in a frenzy as the Mueller investigation unearths more information of serious wrongdoing. That they are comes as no surprise. Power, not democratic norms, institutions, and traditions, is what animates them. If that means running roughshod over democracy, as they are now doing, in order to protect the former they don’t have any hesitation.

Thia reckless power grab makes me ask myself: what to do other than express exasperation and outrage to the increasingly brazen and reckless assault on our democracy, truth, and decency? What to do in the face of this unprecedented shit storm that gathers steam and threatens to engulf the country? One obvious answer is volunteer for one or another task that requires doing in the lead up to the fall elections. But as necessary as that is, it also seems like that isn’t enough in these perilous times in which we find ourselves. Any suggestions?.

A book to read

Just finished reading, “Feminism Unfinished: A Short, Surprising History of the American Women’s Movement,” written by Linda Gordon, Dorothy Sue Cobble, and Astrid Henry. I strongly recommend it. It connects the long (not smooth) arc of struggles for gender equality over the past century, In doing so it give background and context for today’s struggles for equality, including the ME TOO movement. The history also gives the reader a deeper appreciation of the rise, surge, decline, and rise again of social movements generally.

Heated rhetoric and Gene Dennis

In the early 1970s, when I was young, a leader in the Communist Party warned me of the dangers of sectarian practices, wishful thinking, and overheated rhetoric when it comes to practical politics. Indeed, skipping stages, revolutionary sloganeering, conflating the outlook of millions with that of the left, disdain for center and social democratic forces, an allergy to compromise and mainstream electoral politics, cherry picking, even inventing, reality to fit one’s radical disposition and desires, and much more were defining features of sections of the left and to a lesser degree the party at the time, and that remains the case today.

Apropos, in an unappreciated, and largely ignored speech, Gene Dennis, the party’s top leader upon leaving prison in the late 1950s, argued that the main problems — based on his concrete look at the party’s activity over the preceding decade — in the party were “sectarianism and dogmatism.” He called for the formation of a mass party of socialism. Unfortunately, the leadership at that time, while rejecting William Z. Foster’s leftist politics and dogmatic theorizing, didn’t fully sign on to Gene’s analysis and advice. In retrospect, I believe that was a mistake of great consequence in untold ways.

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