Profiles in Courage

It takes courage for New England Patriot players not to visit the White House, when team owner, coach, and quarterback are such avid supporters of the new president.

And yet at least six members of the Super Bowl-winning New England Patriots have said they will not visit the White House for the traditional meeting that championship teams have with the president.

Running back LeGarrette Blount, defensive end Chris Long and defensive tackle Alan Branch on Thursday became the latest to announce that they would skip the visit.

A day earlier, the Pro Bowl linebacker Dont’a Hightower bowed out when he told ESPN, “Been there, done that,” having visited with a championship Alabama team.

Tight end Martellus Bennett told reporters after the Super Bowl that he would not go: “It is what it is,” he said. “People know how I feel about it. Just follow me on Twitter.”

The Pro Bowl safety Devin McCourty, a team captain, told Time magazine: “Basic reason for me is I don’t feel accepted in the White House. With the president having so many strong opinions and prejudices, I believe certain people might feel accepted there while others won’t.”

We should all draw inspiration from their example of defiance, as we continue our opposition to the megalomanic that sits in the White House.

Hanging chads in uncertain times

Below are some brief observations from the tumult of last three weeks. SW

1. What is surprising three weeks into Trump? Not his reckless and erratic behavior. Not his narcissism, ignorance, and crudeness. Nor his demagogic appeals to the resentments of his core faithful/ Not his cabinet of corporate, political, and mainly male and white cronies. Not his xenophobia, Islamophobia, and racism. Not his contempt for democracy. Not his cluelessness on economic matters. Not the ingratiating and slovenly attitude of Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan toward Trump. Not the willingness of his core supporters to stick with him for now.

What surprises, me at least, is the scope and multi-faceted character of the opposition to Trump. The historic women’s march, obviously, stands out and inspires, but it is complemented by the participation of people in politics for the first time, the overflow attendance at local meetings, the positive role of many Democrats, the involvement of millennials, and the organized campaign to block the nomination of Betsy Devos.

I also find encouraging the role of the mass media – and not just the independent media – as well as sport’s figures and cultural workers in calling out Trump.

Furthermore, it is also evident that some circles of corporate capital who prefer a stable and predictable environment to do business are not happy with someone who is so mercurial and unpredictable. Even in the Republican Party, we see some open grumbling, if not opposition. And a raft of conservative voices are forcefully challenging Trump as well.

None of this is reason to sit back comfortably. Indeed, how to extend and deepen the PUBLIC/VISIBLE opposition to Trump and his Republican allies at the level of policy and at the level of ideas and values remains of overarching importance. Authoritarian rulers, like Trump, count heavily on fear and paralysis of subordinated people. But that isn’t happening. Millions are upset, speaking out, and filling up the public square. No paralyzing fear here.

One final thing: Trump’s flurry of executive orders and pronouncements is a reminder of the urgency of forming committees in every congressional district – in most instances under the canopy of the Democratic Party – to begin preparations for next year’s elections at the national and state levels. Things like candidate selection, voter registration, protection, and education, listening meetings, etc. deserve immediate attention. This is a strategic priority if we hope to stall the Trump-Republican offensive. It doesn’t preclude others forms of resistance. It complements them. Moreover, without this dimension of struggle everything else will limp. Here in the mid-Hudson Valley, NY., things are underway to replace the incumbent Republican Congressman.

2. In earlier economic crises – Great Depression in the 1930s and stagflation in mid-1970s – a new economic regime – Keynesianism in the first case, neoliberalism in the second – with their unique set of institutions, rules, rationalizing ideas and common sense, alignment of class and social forces, etc. replaced the preceding regime that triggered the system-wide crisis.

Moreover, in each case, the midwife was not only the open aggravation of and sharp turns in class and democratic struggles, but also the ceaseless molecular movement of capital, hidden deep within the structures and operation of present-day global capitalism.

In contrast to earlier crises however, the neoliberal, financialist, globalist regime that wreaked system-wide havoc in 2008 wasn’t replaced by a new economic regime that set the economy on a new trajectory of growth and capital accumulation. As it turned out, even though the legitimacy of the neoliberalism took a major hit, the effective forces didn’t exist to replace it with a popular democratic alternative at the time or since then.

What Trump, who is a product of the contradictions of neoliberalism and the rise of right wing extremism, will offer now isn’t entirely clear. But a few things we can count on. It won’t address the crisis that millions and the planet are facing. Nor will it bring corporate capital to its knees. And it will be heavily wrapped in demagogic language – nationalist, protectionist, racist, anti-Wall Street, America First – as well as contain a morsel of substance in his effort to buy off his white working-class supporters. Without them, his presidency, and right wing congressional dominance for that matter, become very tenuous.

3. A recent article by Thomas Edsall points out that the elections’ outcome didn’t singularly, or even mainly, pivot on economic discontent among white workers. They felt rage for sure, but to call it class rage, as many have, is a stretch. When they pulled the lever for a candidate who was proudly, loudly, and uniquely racist, it was more a collapse of a thinly constructed class identity into a white racial identity than anything else. Thus, suggestions from people left of center to embrace some abstract economic populism, while at the same time dialing down on “identity politics,” is a surefire loser from more than one angle for the democratic and progressive coalition challenging Trump.

5. Stephen Walt, an international relations theorist, writes that he hoped that Trump would pursue, what he calls a “realist” policy, in his dealings with the rest of the world in contrast to the traditional policy of liberal hegemony of previous administrations. But he is not so sure now, if that is in the cards.

Just as likely, he goes on to say, “is that the Bannon-Trump approach to politics is in fact driven by a paranoid view of the modern world that sees the global economy in strictly zero-sum terms (thereby ignoring a couple of centuries of economic knowledge) and thinks the white, Judeo-Christian West is now under siege from an implacable and powerful tide of dark-skinned people, and especially Muslims.”

Bannon is of this mind for sure; what remains unclear in my opinion is whether Trump is completely sold on this approach and, even if he is, the degree to which he can be coaxed or compelled to bend to the pressures from the traditional foreign policy establishment.

4. Speaker bans and deplatforming speakers are in most instances problematic forms of protest. Even if successful, they can turn into a hollow victories, if their organizers end up appearing intolerant of free speech to the broader public.

In other words, it’s necessary to ask when considering any form of protest if it will open minds or seal them shut? Will it win new supporters or turn off people who we are attempting to win to our side – not to mention people who we are standing shoulder to shoulder with us.? The decision to employ one or another form of protest can’t rest simply on the righteous of our convictions and the justice of our cause.
Moreover, there are other ways to express opposition to a speaker, besides deplatforming. Organize a boycott of the event. Or walkout at the beginning of the speech. Or thoughtfully contest the speaker at the public meeting when the opportunity arises. Or stand with your back to speaker. Or organize a competing event. Or do all of the above and more.






No challenge to Trump, no pathway to higher ground

In his article “Our Alternative,” Jacobin magazine’s editor Bhaskar Sunkara writes,

“There are huge opportunities for left advance, and we should be wary of thinking that we need to save the liberal center … even though the people in charge of the bourgeois state at any moment (then Obama, now Trump) are our main enemies, much of our political activity should be challenging (broadly conceived) the political center. By this, I don’t mean individual liberals, but the centrist leadership of the Democratic Party at every layer, and the caste leading liberal reform groups in this country.”

“This is a moment,” he goes on, “when we should be leaning on the labor movement … [we] shouldn’t rally behind just any sort of anti-Trump politics, but rather to redouble our efforts to support rank-and-file struggle against a union bureaucracy that will sell out the entire working class for even the smallest of concessions.”

Escaping Sunkara’s critical glare is Bernie Sanders, but only because “Sanders and others are engaged in a process that, at its best, creatively produces divisions and polarizations within the party that complement the activity that we’re doing outside of it.”

“Our immediate step,” Sunkara concludes, “must be to continue building the majoritarian left alternative we saw emerge with the Sanders campaign, while pushing polarization and conflict — against Chuck Schumer, against Hillary Clinton, against Cory Booker, against all of them — while also shielding against the reactionary policies of Trumpism.”

This sure sounds radical, but it isn’t by a long shot. It’s “fool’s gold.” Sunkara’s repeated insistence on turning the political center – the Democratic Party leadership at every layer, the leading liberal reform groups, labor’s leadership, and former president Obama – into the main enemy alongside Trump, notwithstanding its militant tone, is strategically and tactically empty. It is exactly the wrong thing to do at this perilous moment.

The right thing is the exact opposite, that is, the left and progressives should join with the political center to resist the Trump administration and its authoritarian tendencies. Such a coalition would be the basis of a still broader and dynamic opposition to Trump’s ethno-nationalist, corporatist regime.

The moral authority and political power of such an alliance would lie in its unity in action in defense of democratic values, rights, protections, and institutions. Whatever differences crop up within it – and they inevitably would – the accent of this coalition, if it hopes navigate the country to a safe harbor, would be on cooperation, on finding common ground against the existential threat of Trump and Trumpism.

This is a huge undertaking, but it’s not as if it has never been done before. In escaping a massive economic crisis and constructing a new political economy and social compact in the 1930s, in overthrowing a many layered and deeply racist system, sanctioned by law, custom, and violence, in the 1960s, and in electing the first African American president in our nation’s history in 2008, disparate people, organizations, classes, and political tendencies and formations joined hands in pursuit of a common objective. And the Democratic Party was part of this, as well as labor, people of color – especially African Americans – women, youth, and, not least, new social movements that captured the political imagination of the under- or unrepresented, while infusing new energy and fresh ideas into the larger coalitions.

The left in each of these transformative moments chose not to stand apart from the galaxy of people, social organizations, and political formations that comprised these coalitions, not to position itself at unremitting loggerheads against the political center, certainly not to snipe and exacerbate tensions from the margins in a spurious effort to become “hegemonic.” On the contrary, it interacted with a broad range of people and organizations, found common cause with “reformists” and “centrists,” like Roosevelt, LBJ, and Obama, and engaged in “bourgeois” electoral and legislative politics. This engagement didn’t weaken their cause or their brand or their mobilization from below; instead it opened up new opportunities to enhance each and move off the margins of political life.

Some on the left surely had hesitations, but these didn’t prevent them from rethinking and stretching out their strategic and tactical concepts and practices to match the new political realities and challenges of those moments. In an about-face, they embraced a “class politics” that allowed for stages of struggle, a dialectic between reform and radical demands, a place for the art of compromise, and a willingness to mingle with allies not yet ready to “storm heaven.”

In the end, they realized that politics of “principled” opposition and outrage, of seeking to fast forward to the future, and of dividing the house no matter what the circumstances, is like a drug. It brings a momentary high, and it may make a difference here or there. But it has no transforming potential on a scale that can change the lives of millions for the better. It offers no pathway for the broader movement (or the left for that matter) to move to higher ground – the ground of radical democracy and democratic socialism.

Isn’t it time to leave those politics behind? The answer is that most left and progressive people – and people generally – already are, as evidenced by the inspiring, largely spontaneous, politically ecumenical actions in opposition to Trump. The accent was on broad unity and cooperation, not narrow division.

The communist movement that I was once a part of was profoundly wrong in the early 1930s in Germany, the U.S., and elsewhere when we turned social democratic and democratic currents to the right of us into bitter adversaries. That changed a few years later, but by that time, it was too late in Germany, and much harm had been done in other countries.

We shouldn’t make the same mistake again. Too much is at stake.

Some labor leaders normalize Trump

The decision of a handful of labor leaders to meet with Trump is an example, to put the best spin on it, of sectional, not class thinking. Class thinking begins with the needs and desires of working people as a whole. It is attuned to the unequal and uneven ways in which Trump’s policies in particular and exploitation and oppression in general scar the lives of working people.

It considers the struggle for equality to be at once organic to and independent of working class formation, consciousness, and unity. It is also mindful that the fortunes of the labor movement, especially now, depend on deep and durable alliances with its key allies – people of color, women, young people, immigrants, seniors, LGBT people, and many others.

Finally, class thinking is repelled by anything that normalizes Trump and his policies at this moment. If labor leaders are anxious to meet, meet with Chuck Schumer, Nancy Pelosi, Bernie Sanders, Keith Ellison, and the leaders of various congressional caucuses, meet with the organizers of the Women’s march, meet with the new social movements, meet with Muslims and other communities of faith, meet with those who will immediately feel the pain of Trump’s executive orders and policies, meet with young people in the community and on campuses, meet with the editors of major news sites, and meet with the whole array of leaders of the broad democratic movement.

It is only in such conversations and the actions that come out of them that the worst of Trump’s policies will be blocked and conditions will be created for a new burst of freedom that insures economic well being for all, expands and deepens democracy and equality, respects difference and the preciousness of life, and safeguards peace and our planet in its beauty and diversity.

What does Trump have in store worldwide?

In an article in the National Interest, international relations theorist John Mearsheimer writes that he is hopeful that the Trump administration will give up the pursuit of what he calls “a policy of liberal hegemony.”

“This strategy,” he elaborates, “assumes every region of the world matters greatly for American security, and it calls for extending the U.S. security umbrella to nearly any country that wants protection as well as trying to spread democracy far and wide. In practice, this objective means toppling regimes and then doing nation building. Small wonder the United States has been at war for two out of every three years since the Cold War ended.”

“Liberal hegemony,” he adds, “is a bankrupt strategy.” A better course of action in his view is to “adopt a realist foreign policy.” It would maintain “America’s position in the global balance of power … Instead of trying to garrison the world and spread democracy, the Trump administration should concentrate on maintaining the balance of power in the three regions that are vital to U.S. security: Europe, East Asia and the Persian Gulf.”

Such a strategic posture, Mearsheimer continues, would better serve the interests of country and the cause of a peace, while allowing Washington to contain the main threat to its global hegemony – a rising China. In this regard, he assigns an important role to Putin’s Russia, which isn’t, he asserts, a “serious threat to American interests.”

I found this an interesting take, but after listening to Trump’s Inauguration speech that was equal parts demagogic and menacing – not to mention his earlier talk about the use of nuclear weapons, advocacy of economic protectionism, provocation of China, and contempt for allied states – I began to wonder if the book, “Chaos and Dominance in the Modern World System,” might give us a better clue as to what Trump’s foreign policy might look like.

Written nearly two decades ago by two brilliant social theorists, Giovanni Arrighi and Beverly Silver, the authors argue that U.S. rulers in the face of new challenges to its global supremacy, ironically exacerbated by the sudden implosion of the Soviet Union and the “success” of financialization and globalization, are turning to a policy of “exploitive domination” or “domination without hegemony.” At its core is the exclusive (or near exclusive) use of military power to guarantee its preeminent position worldwide. Meanwhile, missing from the menu of tools to protect U.S. global interests in this policy updating is economic, political, and diplomatic measures – carrots – to secure the consent of subordinate states as well as any commitment to spread the “blessings” of democracy U.S. style worldwide.

In other words, Arrighi and Silver were suggesting that the mix of consent and force – hegemony – employed in the 20th century to secure its global supremacy is giving way to raw power and narrowly constructed state interests – domination with hegemony – as the preferred method of maintaining U.S. dominance in a disordered and chaotic world with only China as a potential peer competitor.

To think that Trump would pursue such a policy – “domination without hegemony” – seems very plausible, even if it’s too early to tell.

But we’ll soon find out.


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