1. Biggest winners in last week’s debate: Elizabeth Warren and Kamala Harris; biggest loser: Joe Biden. And polls this week confirm this fact. To enlarge the frame, the other winner was the American people who were able to listen to a lively, contested, and substantive debate.
2. Unite the left and defeat the right — a slogan that I see now and then — should be no more than a subset of the left’s strategic approach to the elections. The main strategic task — and it cannot be said enough — is to extend as well as unite the existing, diverse, and multi-class coalition whose overarching task is to elect a Democratic Party president and Congress in next year’s election.
3. Identity politics is Trump’s bread and butter; he employs it daily, hourly, almost minute by minute. Why wouldn’t he? It’s the glue that binds together the white, cross class, mainly male, Christian-Evangelical coalition that elected him and, he hopes, will reelect him next year. Contesting it, as we are learning, isn’t easy. Indeed, it seems resistant to morality, political appeals, and reality. And to no small degree it is.
Not only does this form of politics deny uncomfortable and obvious truths, It also constructs its own “reality” and “truths” out of a long list of invented grievances, resentments, and nostalgia for a world in which white and male privilege, heterosexual identity, a Christian and White Nation, and U.S. global supremacy were considered natural and the bedrock of the country’s greatness.
It is this worldview embraced by millions that gives Trump such a stable following. His demagogic skills are impressive at times, but then again he speaks to a friendly audience that never tires of hearing their beloved leader in the White House affirming and stoking their sense of grievance, resentment, and loss — in short, their worldview.
Tomorrow’s spectacle and vanity project on the National Mall may rub most of Americans the wrong way, but it will titillate many — not all, I suspect — of Trump’s die hard supporters.
4. When Putin says western style liberalism is “obsolete,” beware. If his track record as Russia’s imperial and imperious president gives us any clue as to what he means, and usually deeds do speak louder than words, he surely considers “obsolete” an independent press and judiciary, regular and fair elections, representative and constitutional government, restraints on presidential-executive power, and a robust civil society and citizenry. That Trump wouldn’t offer, even a mild criticism of his best bud’s comment when asked in Japan last week, comes as no surprise. He and Putin are one of a kind.
5. And to think that what is happening to babies, children, and their parents is a deliberate and calculated policy and done in our name.
6. To suggest, as Tim Ryan and Bill DeBlasio did in the Democratic Party presidential debate, that workers gravitated to Trump because they were abandoned by the Democratic Party and “coastal elites” is one sided and therefore misleading. First, it wasn’t the working class as a whole that bailed. It was, more precisely, a section of white workers, and not all of them at that.
Second, it wasn’t only economic grievance, as both Ryan and DeBlasio imply, that accounts for their decision to jump ship and embrace Trump, first as candidate and now as president. Misogyny, xenophobia, and racism and white skin privilege have to figure large in any explanation for their behavior, but neither Ryan or DeBlasio make any mention of this.
Finally, their invocation of “coastal elites” to explain the rightward shift of white workers conceals more than it reveals. Are there no elites between the coasts? I believe Walmart is headquartered in Arkansas and GM in Detroit to name only two examples of elite power located in the heartland. But more germane, the immediate danger that working people face in the Midwest and other regions of the country isn’t any kind of elite power, but elite power in its right wing extremist form.
It is this fraction of elite power, controlling as it does the White House, the Senate, much of the administrative machinery of the federal government, and a majority of state governments, that has to be squarely confronted and defeated in next year’s election. In a moment of peril, we should expect clarity, not ambiguity, not cheap bids for popularity from Democrats seeking the party’s presidential nomination.
An addendum: The term “coastal elites” or even “elites” is not only fuzzy, imprecise, and misleading, but it also can easily become freighted with anti-semitism and racism in the minds of many people. The term should be retired.
7. On Morning Joe, the hosts and guests were puzzled by the complicity of Christian Evangelicals in their support of Trump’s misogynist behavior. At quick glance, the support of Evangelicals for Trump’s amoral and misogynist behavior may seem perplexing. But on deeper look, this religious current, whose rise coincides with the rise of right wing extremism forty years ago, was never on the side of democracy and freedom in general nor women’s equality in particular.
Indeed, patriarchy, and a very traditional and backward version of it at that, was always a cornerstone belief of Evangelicals, finding justification in their reading of Scripture. Thus their support for Trump isn’t a case of turning a blind eye to Trump’s brutish and violent behavior. Nor is it even a case of compromising their faith. In their view, Trump might be a bad boy at times, but in the larger scheme of things, he is their prodigal son and faithful minister in a secular world that is at war with their religious (and political) worldview and values. And if he puts women in “their place” from time to time, even physical violates and assaults them, well, maybe “these women,” deserve it.
8. When I was chair of the Communist Party, I used the term “labor led people movement” to capture what I thought was one of the main political dynamics of that time. But reflecting on it later, I came to the conclusion that the term was aspirational at best and misleading and unnecessarily exclusive at worst. For the fact of the matter was that labor wasn’t the leader of the broader democratic movement either then or over the previous half century. The dynamics of struggle are and were far more complicated than my rendering at that time. And that will likely be the case in the future. All of which nudged me to acknowledge that abstract class theory and wishful thinking are never a good substitute for a concrete analysis of real on-the-ground political processes.
9. Any prescriptive advice for the upcoming elections has to take into account the multiplicity of terrains — state to state. urban, suburban, and rural, congressional district to congressional district, etc. — on which the struggle to defeat Trump and his Republican congressional acolytes will be fought out. One size won’t fit all. More to the point, the variation in political, organizational, and social mapping from place to place has to be fully taken into account in the elaboration of any election plans.
10. When I hear someone say that a livable, egalitarian, and sustainable future for humanity will take more than just mobilizing for the 2020 elections, I cringe. While the statement is true, it misses this crucial point. Defeating Trump and his right wing acolytes in Congress next year is the key, strategic task — the key link — in moving the whole chain of struggle forward at this moment.
Thus everything that we do, I would argue, should be framed within that strategic understanding. That doesn’t mean that everything else should grind to a halt until November of 2020. But it does mean that every democratic movement and struggle should mesh with campaign to defeat Trump and all at the ballot box next year.
11. For some time I have felt, and even more so today, that it is imperative to complicate the concepts of class, class struggle, and class approach. And my reasoning for doing so comes not from some Marxist text — although it can be found there along with deterministic and rigid interpretations of the aforementioned — but from my reading of the process of social change over the past century and more.
12. My blood boils when I hear someone with progressive or left politics roll out a “plague on both houses” explanation for our present and past difficulties as a country. After all, that trope has had no analytical or political value other than to strategically and tactically confuse and mislead for, at least, the past half century. Nixon’s southern strategy, Reagan’s ascendancy to the presidency, Gingrich’s Contract with (on) America, and many other markers of an ascendant right during this time should have triggered a critical rethink in the progressive and left community of this fraudulent concept. But old tropes die hard, especially when they become a showpiece of one’s radical political identity.