Posts from ‘Politics’

May
02

Every day it seems that Donald J. Trump reveals some new level of ignorance that boggles the mind. Each day it may be ignorance or misunderstanding of history, the Constitution, diplomacy, the workings of government, non-whites, grammar, the presidency, or the majority of the American people. Liberals gloat and point out his shortcomings while his supporters stoutly defend him from those elitists who rely on so-called facts or science. They say his critics get too hung up on of the literal meaning of his words or that he gets a date or fact wrong, while it is his policies that will ultimately matter. Just as they are willing to forgive his sexism, racism, nepotism, and gorging at the public trough in hopes that it will eventual result in better lives for them, they are willing to overlook his gaffes. Indeed they also might not know the fact that Frederick Douglass is no longer alive or that Andrew Jackson died before the Civil War or one of the other facts he has gotten wrong or lied about. All they know is that Obama, for example, with his refined speech, big words, and complete sentences did not improve their lives. Most of the other presidents with their so-called knowledge have not done enough for them, so it is time to try something else. They reason that Trump has a fortune so he must be a good businessman who has said time and time again that he will work for them.

To them Trump’s first 100 days have been a success. The stock market has responded positively, the economy is still growing, some large employers have said they will keep some jobs in the the country. In a flurry of activity he has signed more executive orders in his first one hundred days than any of the the presidents in the last 50 years. He has already started streamlining government by firing or not replacing hundreds in his administration and his cabinet secretaries all seem devoted to dismantling their departments. He claims credit for all of these things and his supporters give him credit. All of this is of course nonsense. The economic gains he touts were all done under Obama; most of the executive orders he has signed have been plans to make plans rather than actual actions, the cuts in government he has made are a mere drop in the bucket. He has not had any major legislative victories. His plans to build a wall have come to naught so far. Obamacare is still the law of the land because it has been impossible to pass a new healthcare bill. His first budget proposal was a general outline rather than a real budget and it was dead on arrival when it reached Congress. Although deportations have increased, the courts have moved to thwart his immigration policy.

How many of these failures has been due to his ignorance? It is hard to tell, but at least some of it is due to his misunderstanding of the Constitution and Congress. He has called the Constitution an “archaic” document because it limits his power to do things. He has admitted that the job of the president is harder than he thought. Perhaps this is because of his ignorance of the presidency and the checks and balances of the governmental system. The courts have blocked some of his executive orders because they are concerned with his words and their unconstitutionality. How much does this stem from his ignorance of the law and the Constitution? His failure to get significant legislation passed is clearly due to his lack of understanding of how politics work.

Trump is ignorant of many things, but he is not stupid. He was smart enough to win the presidency albeit aided by the Russians, the Democrats, and reality television. Ignorance can be overcome by learning and we are still in the early stages of the Trump administration. He was so arrogant when he came to office that he felt no one knew better than he about anything. Perhaps he will learn from his mistakes and actually get better at implementing the policies he wants. This possibility is frightening because if he is able to overcome his ignorance about process, he will be able to implement his ignorance about other things. Reality is a rough mistress, but if he adjusts then some of the ignorance we mock will become the ignorance we fear.

 

Apr
21

All around us we see people playing the game of “Comparative Deprivation.” Its signature meme is “Those people don’t have it as bad as (fill in the blank here.)” Some conservatives for example like to point out that poverty in the United States is not “real” poverty such as in underdeveloped countries.  American “poor” have refrigerators and televisions unlike say all those Syrian refugees. On Facebook recently I entered a conversation when someone mentioned an old quote from sociologist Orlando Patterson that he made in a New York Times op-ed piece defending Clarence Thomas in 1991. He said, “[America] is now the least racist white majority society in the world; has a better record of legal protection of minorities than any society white or black; [and] offers more opportunities to a greater number of black persons than any other society including all of Africa.” This quote is posted by “Praeger University” (which is not a university at all but a conservative web site) and has been used recently by conservative radio host Larry Elder, a black man.

It is an argument rarely made by the poor themselves but by those who have more and are trying to justify it to themselves or to others. This is like being told to eat whatever slop is put in front of you because others don’t have even that. I have to admit from the outset that for some these arguments are objectively true though irrelevant. Deprivation like many things is relative. To be poor in a rich society is quite different from being poor in a poor society. In both types of society however, the poor are at the bottom of the society, lack the rights or opportunities of others, and that is what feels the same.

“Comparative Deprivation” also works another way. In whatever group you define yourself one compares the deprivation of that group to others. This is why it is so hard to explain white privilege to a poor white person. His poverty doesn’t feel like privilege to him. Being a poor white in a society in which there is white privilege and watching a non-white who has more creates resentment. Feeling that the government has done more to help or protect the rights of nonwhites was the basis for much of the Trump support as revealed by a new American National Election Study. In it racism rather than income or belief in authoritarian regimes, played a bigger role among Trump supporters many of who were in the lower class.

Being at the bottom of one hierarchy doesn’t mean that you can’t be higher in another one. White women may be at the bottom of a male privilege hierarchy yet still be above blacks in the white privilege one. Some of the early suffragettes felt it unfair that women were denied the vote while black men sometimes had it. Black men who were at the bottom of the white superiority hierarchy may still have been higher in the gender hierarchy than women. Black women have complained for years that white women may be low in the gender hierarchy but still benefit from the white privilege hierarchy.

Comparing your deprivation to others has for centuries prevented an effective coalition against those who control the political system. Being at the bottom of a hierarchy feels the same no matter which hierarchical system it is. Yes there are different things oppressing us and different tactics needed to combat them, but a coalition of those at the bottom is the best way for all to rise. For that to happen we have to give up what we think is the uniqueness of our identity group’s blues, don’t listen to those who want to mollify or incite us by comparing deprivations, and recognize “someone else’s blues are like mine.” It is a tall order, but it is the way forward.

Mar
27

The survival of Obamacare rather than a loss for Trump may be the best thing that has happened to him so far. The pundits (the same ones that have been wrong about Trump before) are spinning this as a political failure, the inability of the “master of the the art of the deal” to be able to get his own party in line,  or a civil war within the Republican party. If we look at this from the perspective of a Trump supporter it changes the narrative that most liberals and progressives have of his presidency. For Trump supporters Trump has been a Teflon president for whom charges of ineptitude, Russian illegal activities, enriching himself at the public’s expense, “insane” behavior, unconstitutional actions, and out and out lying, have bounced off and not put a dent in their support of him. Recent polls show that a majority of his supporters believe his lies. For example one poll shows that 59% believe his claim that Obama wiretapped him during the campaign. His supporters can argue that he has tried to keep his campaign promises but outside forces have prevented him from doing so. Courts concerned with the niceties and complexities of the Constitution have prevented him from keeping them safe from Muslim immigrants. He has claimed to keep jobs from fleeing abroad even taking credit for deals that had been decided before he took office. He says that the Keystone and Dakota pipelines he approved will create jobs. How many jobs has been exaggerated and the number of jobs going abroad has hardly slowed, but the headlines for the few that he claims to have saved are what matters to his supporters. His proposed budget tries to cut what he calls the “fat” in the federal budget by eliminating those items that benefit the elite e.g. the National Endowment for the Arts, the poor, other ethnic groups, LGBT groups, and women who want to have abortions (or in most cases health care.) At the same time his budget plans to increase spending by the military and for those keeping us safe from illegal immigrants.

The one campaign promise that might have rattled the cage of his supporters was dismantling Obamacare. This would have affected his base by taking away some of the benefits that actually had an impact on the lives of many of them. His attempt to change it and its failure due to Republican Party politics was actually the best of both worlds. The president was seen as honestly trying to keep his campaign promises, but being prevented by others. At the same time none of his supporters lost actual benefits. It is a double win for him. Of course he is not out of the woods yet. The investigation into Russian collusion with his campaign may yet turn up a smoking gun. At this stage however to his supporters it is all innuendo and “fake news” of interest only to the liberals and their media. Those outside the Beltway do not pay close attention to what the media says about politics.  They are more concerned with actions rather than the process itself. Budget cuts may eventually affect his supporters but as long as the actualities of the actions do not affect them personally they do not pay attention to the stories being told.

The gloating and celebration of liberals and progressive ignore the long road ahead and the many battles to come. Future success will depend on the mobilization of our forces not the erosion of support for Trump. Even when he loses a battle it just strengthens his support.

 

Jan
30

I know it is early but here are some questions Trump supporters should ask regularly. “How will this improve my life?” He cannot get rid of corrupt politicians because you have re-elected them. His bans on immigrants do not keep you safer because few immigrants commit crimes against Americans. Immigrants pay more in taxes than they receive in benefits. Immigrants didn’t take your job automation did and will continue to do so. The few jobs he prevented going abroad (and there is great controversy over how many that is and whether he had anything to do with it) do not mean that your job or town will be saved. His administration is made up of non politicians sure, but they are the same bankers, corporate CEO’s and billionaires who have been corrupting the politicians. He has simply cut out the middleman leaving the 1% in control.

What about the plans coming down the road? I heard a heart rending story about how a person could not afford the health care for his mother and she died while immigrants were receiving benefits from the government when she did not. He was therefore all for restriction of immigration. Your mother didn’t die because of immigrants, she died because of her lack of access to health care and insurance. It is the Trump and Republican plans to repeal the Affordable Care Act that you should be fighting. Plans for non taxed health accounts simply means that your savings may have to be spent on health care and one catastrophic illness will clean it out. Block grants for Medicare or Medicaid to the states mean that access to health care will vary from state to state and yours may or may not improve your health care. Privatizing Social Security puts your future at risk and is dependent on the ups and downs of the stock market.

His initiatives do not curtail government involvement in your life, they expand it. He wants the government to know your religion, intrude into women’s personal health decisions, and to initiate costly projects (e.g. the wall, increased immigration policing, expanded vetting) If you couple this with his tax cuts that will save the middle class taxpayer a couple of hundred and the 1% millions, this will explode the deficit. As Bill Clinton (the only president in the last 25 years to balance the budget) said “arithmetic.” As conservatives will tell you Trump is not a true conservative.

As comedian Lewis Black once said Democrats versus Republicans is “the party of no ideas versus the party of bad ideas.” For the prospect of actually getting their “bad ideas” passed Republicans have been willing to: weaken ethics enforcement, overlook Russian involvement in our election, ignore Trump’s love affair with Putin, look the other way about his vindictive “tweets,” discount his threats to reinstate immoral and ineffective torture, pooh-pooh his “shoot from the lip” diplomatic style, and take no notice of the sinking esteem in which the world hold the United States. It will be up to Republicans to grow some cojones and stand up for the country rather than the party. We must choose between living up to our professed ideals or just hiding a monster behind them.

What should you watch for? Watch for his attempts to muzzle the media. No other president has tried to do as much as Trump to see that even respected media outlets do not tell the truth about him. What will be the reaction of the rest of the world? Will other countries (e.g. Iran and other Muslim countries) ban Americans from travel or will other countries raise protective tariffs on American made goods to retaliate against Trump’s? Will we send more troops to fight and die abroad? We are certainly the biggest bully in the world, but there will be times when cooperation rather than conflict will be needed. Will foreign policy now be guided by the interests of major corporations rather than the American public. Will he use some incident to get you to willingly curtail your civil liberties and strengthen his powers?

Being POTUS is very different from being a CEO. For a CEO what you say goes; for a president you have to negotiate much through a Congress to pass laws or through a bureaucracy to execute policy.  I predict that Trump will try to change the system that has lasted since 1781 so he can behave more like a CEO. Eyes open and we shall see see what we shall see.

To paraphrase something I read recently, “Idealists mature badly. If they can’t outgrow their idealism, they become hypocrites or blind. Trump supporters and sympathizers have chosen blindness, fixating so much on the system’s flaws that they believes those who oppose it must be paragons. That it’s not perfect says nothing about our opponents.  As it turns out, they’re mostly bad. Bad enough that Trump’s rule is a cataclysm, but that doesn’t mean they don’t have some good points about the system. It doesn’t mean that every fool who works for them is evil. It simply means they have to be stopped.”

Jan
22

The marches and demonstrations against Trump have been successful and they should continue, but what else should we do. If the outpouring of concern stops with the marches we will not have effectively resisted Trump. Remember the Occupy movement. We must take continued action to either rebuild the Democratic Party to get back to its FDR concerns for the common man, or we need to build a new party that will. As our guiding vision I think we need to go back to Martin Luther King Jr.

Martin Luther King Jr. preached concern for others and standing up for what you believe is right, but he did more than that. He espoused the creation of a beloved community in which there would be no poverty because society would support all at a basic level of existence; there would be no racism because each would see the other as a brother or sister; there would be no war, not because people would live without conflicts, but because they would find non-violent ways to settle them. This beloved community was not some pie in the sky utopia for King, but an achievable goal if enough people adopted his belief in nonviolence.

Over the last few weeks I have been collecting the ideas of others as to what to do going forward. A friend of mine recently wrote me:

“The difficulty of convincing Americans that this [MLK’s beloved community] is possible presents a challenge that has stalled social change in our country. I don’t see it as utopian at all, but it is beyond the recent or living experience of many. It is also contrary to the ideologies and social logics of Lockean liberal individualism, Social Darwinism, Ayn Rand, neoliberalism, and machine politics. [It is] incompatible with the reward-your-allies-screw-your-opponents politics that Congressional leaders have often practiced, encouraged by … cycles of gerrymandering that replaced competitive legislative districts with safe ones often represented by extremists who pay little attention to the views or wishes of constituents outside their party.” (Patrick Inman)

“What to do, you ask? It begins with the first step of awareness and commitment. Just go forward. Engage. Don’t despair.”  (Ken Burns)

Educate yourself. The Trump presidency will operate on misinformation and misconceptions. You need to investigate each claim, analyze each move, and find out the facts. Trump says we need more law and order, but crime is actually down. He says we need more jobs but unemployment is lower than it has been in several years. Trump says immigration from Mexico is a problem; this immigration has been dropping for years. Apply your critical thinking skills to examine the assumptions, evidence, and reasoning of the new administration.

“Expecting marginalized people to educate you isn’t being an ally, it’s being lazy and expecting others to do the work for you. Being an ally also means actively doing your part and learning more about the inequalities that certain people face on a daily basis. At this point, there are endless resources that we all can use to learn more about a variety of issues – from racial inequalities to transphobia. While it is beneficial to hear how people have personally been affected by injustice, Google is always free and there to find you resources of all kinds.” (Christopher Lawrence )

“You should find like minded people — not just from your social circle, but everywhere. Change the opinions of others, not with ridicule, but reason.” (Ken Burns) Social media is not the place for this, it demands face to face interaction. We can respond in a number of ways. “Assuming the main issue is misinformation, science about climate change and data analyses on the feasibility of various proposals including mass deportations, border walls, and registries can be brought forth. Assuming the main issue is dialogue, friendly conversations can be pursued.  Assuming the main issue is fake news, more real news can be circulated. We must understand that those people who did not vote as we did are not our enemy. In fact, true engagement is walking into the heart of that constituency, offering shared stories and real solutions rather than narratives that are calculated to divide. We should offer fellowship and unity, where fake news has helped stoke tribal angers.” (Daniel Jose Camacho)

These are only starting methods to bring about King’s ideas. The problem is that the opposition to King’s dream has a particular vision of the world supported by people with the power to carry it out. “This kind of political project can’t be fact-checked away. As the profoundly undemocratic conditions in the state politics of North Carolina have recently proven, conciliatory attempts to compromise with this project are absorbed and outmatched by those wielding power. In such cases, our American value of bi-partisanship is exposed because there are certain things that cannot be met halfway and there are times when both parties fail us.” (Daniel Jose Camacho)

You should contribute to organizations that will press the agenda you support.  We can no longer count on the federal government to press King’s issues for us. “Give to organizations such as the American Civil Liberties Union, the Anti-Defamation League, or to the Sierra Club, and Planned Parenthood. Making a donation to help someone else is no substitute for individual and collective mobilization, but it is one thing we can do. In any liberal democracy, the ultimate guardian of decency and civil liberties is an active civil society, which can push back against efforts to mislead the public, flout accepted norms, and centralize power.” (John Cassidy)

We should support civil society. “What is civil society? In addition to big national organizations, such as labor unions, the A.C.L.U., and the N.A.A.C.P., civil society comprises countless local groups, including charities, environmental activists, church groups, think tanks, reading groups, peace campaigners, parents’ associations, and youth groups. It encompasses any group that mediates between the individual, the government, and the market, and whose goal is promoting the common good. The thing to do is to pick an organization that reflects your personal interests or an issue that motivates you, get involved, and stick with it.” (John Cassidy)

We should support independent journalism. For all the power of Twitter, fake news, and the social-media echo chamber, real news can still break through all the noise. “We must understand too that we have also been betrayed by the so-called “mainstream media,” who fawned for months over one candidate, giving him billions of dollars of free media. We have been betrayed by cynical executives more interested in a buck than the facts of the matter. We have been betrayed by the lazy paid pundits more interested in protecting their own “brands” than in the well-being of the Republic they pretend to serve.” (Ken Burns)

We should contact your congressman and senator and tell them to stand up for King’s ideas. “For good or ill, the first line of defense the will be the U.S. Capitol. It will be up to legislators in both parties not to cut deals that target the weak, encroach upon civil rights, or enrich the new first family. Thanks to the Internet and a growing number of apps, it is now very simple to find your elected representatives and let them know what you think. Surprising as it may be to some skeptics, elected officials do listen to their constituents, especially when they get in touch with them personally in large numbers by telephoning their local or D.C. offices.” (John Cassidy) You can also contact Congresspeople and Senators in other districts who take the proper stands, to let them know they are not alone and their courage is appreciated.

We should support local initiatives. “Democratic lawmakers in California, put forward a series of measures designed to protect undocumented immigrants in the state from deportation.” (John Cassidy) Anthony Rendon, the speaker of the State Assembly, said “We are telling the next Administration and Congress: if you want to get to them, you have to go through us.” (Anthony Rendon) Jerry Brown, California’s governor, vowed to fight any efforts from the incoming Administration to rollback efforts to tackle climate change. Reacting to a suggestion from one of Trump’s advisers that Trump could eliminate NASA‘s earth-science programs, Brown said, “We’ve got the scientists, we’ve got the lawyers, and we’re ready to fight. . . . If Trump turns off the satellites, California will launch its own damn satellite.”(Jerry Brown)

We should support electoral reform. “In still relying on the Electoral College, we are beholden to the prejudices and interests of an eighteenth-century ruling class that was white, landed, and dedicated to preserving the prerogatives of their individual states. With the winner of the popular vote having lost two of the last five Presidential elections, you might think there would be a movement to change the system—and there is. It’s called the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact, and it’s an agreement among a group of states to award all of their votes in the Electoral College to the candidate who wins the popular vote. The beauty of this scheme is that it doesn’t require a constitutional amendment to insure a truly democratic outcome. But it does need the support of states with two hundred and seventy electoral votes between them, and so far only eleven states, representing a hundred and sixty-five votes, have signed on.” (John Cassidy)

We must organize, organize, organize. Organize wherever you are so that actions taken are the work of a group not just an individual. “We must try to remember that the tactic of demonizing whole groups of people, nearly always backfires, that real change will come when middle class whites, Hispanics and blacks realize they share more in common with each other than those in whose interest it is that they stay divided. This has been a successful strategy for generations in this country: why not blame the other, who might take your job, rather than blame the boss who laughs all the way to the bank.”  (Ken Burns)

We must engage the business sector — “corporate America will play a huge role in helping maintain our equilibrium, either by applying pressure to retrograde political forces or facing the pain of consumer boycotts. We must try to point out that even with a progressive president who taxed the wealthy, the gap between the haves and have-nots has grown; we can be assured now that this gap will only grow, not shrink.” (Ken Burns) However, Henry Ford paid his workers well because he wanted them to be able to buy his cars. We just have to convince businesses that paying workers well will result in high sales and profits in the long run.

We must protect the vulnerable whether this includes Muslims, immigrants, women, or the LGBT community. I read just today about a petition organized by actor George Takei. (You might remember him as Sulu on the original Star Trek) As a child he and his family were put in a Japanese internment camp. He has vowed to fight anything that would lead to that for others. His petition is against the formation of the Muslim registry that candidate Trump proposed.

In the end the important thing is to keep our eye on the power we do possess and the various avenues by which we can resist. Don’t let anybody steal your power by convincing you that you don’t have any. What can resistance look like? Not everyone can do all of the things on this list, but everyone can do some of them. As Trump represents all that is bad about America, let us be all that is good about it.

Jan
16

Martin Luther King would have been 88 years old this year. Next year will mark 50 years since he left us. We should ask are his methods and strategies still the right ones? King was a man of great optimism and faith in human beings. His strategy reveals that. King’s method had two components. The first was an appeal to white moderates. His tactic was to bring the violence inherent in systems of oppression down upon himself and fellow demonstrators, to make it visible. Such examples of undeserved suffering and dramatization of the problem, would convince people to make a change. Those who watched the Birmingham police turn dogs or water hoses on unarmed protesting men women and children on the nightly news, those who saw those images transmitted abroad damaging American foreign policy interests, and those lawmakers who just felt “this has got to stop,” pressured the federal government to enact new laws.

This brings us to the second part of King’s strategy. He depended on the federal government to step in when local government and police were failing to protect the rights of black Americans. The Supreme Court, federal troops, federal courts, the FBI, federal marshals, and the U.S Attorney General’s office all stepped in at key moments to enforce federal laws and presidential decrees. Congress passed the laws I mentioned before. The Supreme Court ordered schools desegregated and said interstate travel facilities could no longer have separate “colored” and white waiting rooms or bathrooms. Crimes against an individual’s civil rights could be tried in federal courts. Federal courts and the Supreme court monitored voting rights violations and could strike down laws or order state agencies to rectify problems. Federal marshals escorted children who were desegregating schools. Federal courts could order busing to achieve school integration.

In a few days, we will be in the time of Trump. Sixty million people voted for him either because of his avowed views or despite them. Many of them feel that the pendulum has swung too far and that people of color, women, and immigrants have taken something away from them. They feel that Trump will somehow restore to them that which was taken away.

His list of nominees and future appointees have taken dead aim at some of the keystone achievements of the civil rights era. His attorney general nominee has opposed enforcement of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The Supreme Court has already said that some of the restrictions placed by the Voting Rights Act of 1965 should be removed and Trump will have the chance to appoint at least one Supreme Court justice and many federal judges. His nominee for the Housing and Urban Development Department has already said he disagrees with the Fair Housing Act of 1966. Trump’s nominee for secretary of education does not believe in supporting public schools and has no experience as an educator, student or parent in one.

Given this opposition by the electorate and the incoming executive branch we need to ask whether King’s strategy is still appropriate. That strategy was to rely on white moderates and the federal government to see that local resistance was overcome, federal laws were implemented, and the rights of minorities were protected.

The first thing to look at is that although he won the election, only about 25% of eligible voters voted for him. More voters voted for Clinton than Trump and many more voted for neither. There was also a clear division by age. Most voters under 45 voted for Clinton. Some of the people who voted for Trump were the same people who had voted for Obama in 2008. These people were voting for change. When it didn’t happen for them under Obama they voted for something new. If Trump fails to deliver for these people, they too could be won over to a new vision. This means that there are many voters to which to appeal and under the right circumstances King’s first strategy, appealing to white moderates, could still work.

The second part of King’s strategy is more problematic. Although his choices for cabinet positions are at this point still nominees, we should assume that they or others with the same views will eventually be appointed. Does this mean that all federal assistance for King’s issues will not be forthcoming? Here I would answer “not necessarily.” The laws that King fought so hard to see adopted, the Civil Rights Act, the Voting Rights Act and the Fair Housing Act, are still on the books as are past Supreme court rulings. Although the foot-dragging of the Republican Congress has left over 100 federal judgeships for Trump to fill, there are still many federal judges who will enforce the laws. However, these cases must still make it to court and I would not count on this administration’s aid to bring them there. In an ironic reversal, we now must count on local municipalities to protect us from the federal government. Many are doing it. For example, from Anchorage, Alaska to Miami, Florida, hundreds of municipalities have declared themselves sanctuary cities for illegal immigrants.

So, I think King’s methods and strategies could still work today. I am calling for a return to the true spirit of King. The belief that the acts of ordinary people still have power. The knowledge that the problems of racism, economic exploitation, and war are interrelated. The trust that nonviolent acts can change things. The understanding that a “beloved community” is not some idealistic dream but a realistic goal if we are willing to work for it.

One of King’s biographers once said that at first historians thought that King was living in the age of Kennedy. As time has given us perspective we know that Kennedy was living in the age of King. King has transformed American society, culture and politics. Even conservatives quote King albeit for their own purposes. Although we are about to enter the time of Trump we are still in the age of Martin Luther King Jr.

Nov
12

Okay folks we need to have our period of mourning, but then we need to get back up and figure out what our next moves are. The first thing to figure out is why Trump’s message was so appealing and Hillary’s wasn’t appealing to enough people. Trump’s support was wider ranging than most of the pundits predicted and are now acknowledging. Yes there were the racists, white supremacists, and nativists to whom Trump appealed with both actual appeals and dog whistle politics. The upsurge in racial, anti Muslim and anti-immigrant incidents following his election are signs of that. His supporters were either people attracted by his racism or willing to vote for him despite it. Either way they were willing to throw people of color under the bus in order to further their own interests.  They all count as racists in my book. It is effects not intentions that matter. Unless there is a voting upsurge in the number of people who are harmed by this and their white allies, anti-racism and anti-nativism will not be enough to defeat him next time. He also appealed to those whom mainstream politics ignored. Both the Democratic and Republican elites had taken for granted the people of middle America in their plans, ideologies, corruption, and inaction. The Republicans did indeed attract those who felt they were being left behind by arguing they were right to be upset and that the problem was too much government. This fit with the conservative ideology, but it has ultimately not changed life for those who were being left behind. The Democrats also have not taken actions to help these people, but rather been just as much the tools of Wall Street that their Republican counterparts are.

So these people turned to an outsider who said he would listen to them. Trump in words and innuendo cast Hillary as all they hated, the old corruption, a perceived favoritism toward people of color and women, the continuation of the old regime that had failed them. Hillary in her turn did not excite enough white men and women to come out and vote for her. Voters were looking for something new to change from the old which Hillary represented. We all know the final result.

An African revolutionary named Amilcar Cabral once said that a member of the ruling class has to commit “class suicide” that is, to stop thinking of the interests of his class, in order to truly work for the people. Convincing people that a New York billionaire would do this is a massive con job that we will see play out. The presence of lobbyists among his advisers, the tax plan that benefits most the people of his class, the massive tax breaks he wants to give corporations, and the narcissism of his entire life, do not bode well for changes in the lives of his supporters.  It is early but the transition team of Chris Christie and Newt Gingrich that Trump has put together does not augur the change that Trump supporters want or expect. Putting a climate change denier as the head of the Environmental Protection Agency, Giuliani as Attorney General, Ben Carson in charge of a health department would do little to help his middle and working class supporters or those suburbanites who voted for Trump. Will he do enough to maintain his supporters or will they realize they have been duped. Only time will tell.

In the meantime we will have to endure his dismantling of Obama’s legacy, hope that his belligerence and short temper don’t lead us into war, and trust that the bulwarks already in place will protect the health rights of women and the human rights of the LGBT community. We will have to endure the racist attacks but we have endured them before. We will also have to live through changes in the immigration policy. We don’t yet know how sweeping and far ranging those changes may be. All in all it promises to be a bumpy ride. To ameliorate it we will have to organize not despair. Let’s think of ways to do that.

Aug
26

Maine’s governor Paul LePage recently said that 90% of Maine’s drug dealers were black or Hispanic. When a state legislator said that such statements contributed to racism LePage responded by leaving an expletive filled voicemail message that he was not a racist and had instead devoted his whole life to helping black people. First things first.  I don’t know the actual statistics or indeed if anyone is keeping them. LePage says that he has been keeping a scrapbook of pictures of drug dealer arrests mentioned in the media and they are overwhelmingly black and Hispanic. I guess the idea that the media is an accurate gauge and that they did not just publish such pictures because they were racially profiling or because it was rare enough to be of interest (maybe pictures of white drug dealers would have been so common as to lack interest.) I lived in Maine for over thirty years and LePage’s statement fails the eye test. There were so few people of color that if every black and Hispanic person I ever saw was a drug dealer there still were not enough of them to comprise 90% of the drug dealers in Maine. The state legislator’s comment was that such statements as LePage’s did not serve to help stem the epidemic of drug overdoses in Maine but rather only stirred up racial animosity. The only statistics that I could find in a quick internet search  were that nationally 48% of drug dealer convictions were white and 46% of the convictions were of blacks. Admittedly this seems high but is probably the result of a racially biased judicial system. Although this measures drug dealing convictions rather than drug dealing itself there is no reason why Maine, one of the whitest states in the Union, would be as far off the mean as LePage says.

LePage’s response was typically crude, coarse and unhelpful. The legislator did not call him a racist but only said that his comments stirred up racism. LePage’s personal history includes the fact that he has “adopted” the black young man who caddied for him when he vacationed in Jamaica and has paid for him to attend college in the United States. I put adopted in quotes because LePage has not officially adopted Devon Raymond although he has invited him to some family events. LePage evidently feels that being nice and charitable toward a person of a darker hue means he cannot be a racist. I am sure there were many kindly slave-owners who felt the same way. This highlights one of the core differences between white and black charges of racism. Whites tend to see racism in presence or absence in personal interactions while blacks see it in the way they are treated, portrayed, stereotyped, and presumed to behave by the society around them. LePage obviously sees what he says as simple truth not realizing that racism, perhaps structural racism, has created what he sees as true and that what he said is untruth that contributes to that racism.

 

Jul
25

Karl Rove, Lee Atwater,  and other Republican strategists’ main contribution to our electoral system is that facts don’t matter if you can just make voters “feel” the way you want them to. John Kerry, a decorated veteran was “Swiftboated” with a false story to take away an advantage he had over George W. Bush who spent his military service safe at home. Similarly they have attacked President Obama so much in spite of a list of real achievements that the difference in the way the world outside the United sees him has become so striking. The Canadian parliament’s “four more years” chant is just typical of the gulf in perception. I have often had to try to explain our politics to people outside the United States to whom we seem quite literally crazy. “Let me get this straight, you elected the Terminator governor of California?” or “a reality show host is really one of the two candidates for your presidency?” They find our politics inexplicable and more than a little terrifying.

I bring this up to discuss Donald Trump. In his closing address to the Republican National Convention time and time again he mentioned how people feel. They feel unsafe, they feel that the economy isn’t doing well, they feel that they are losing control of the country. Factually none of this is true but the Republicans have made that irrelevant. Trump is gaining followers by connecting to how so many feel without a plan to remedy it. I have just seen RNC speaker Antonio Sabato Jr. say in a clip on John Oliver’s show that he feels in his heart that Obama is a Muslim when all the facts argue against this belief. He believes it is true because he feels it so; no facts actually required. This is just the same as many Republicans feel that humans are not causing climate change, that arguing for white supremacy and singling out minority groups as being lesser are not racist, and that believing that there is institutional racism is racist. They feel that Donald Trump is the leader who can overcome things to make them “feel” better. Lawsuits and bankruptcies not withstanding they “feel” that he is a proven successful business manager, a no nonsense guy who gets things done. After all they have seen it on his “reality” television show.

Hillary, wonk that she is,  is falling right into Trump’s trap. She is trying to combat him with facts and plans, but these are clearly not the issue for millions of people. She is fighting as she always has thinking that her knowledge of the facts, her preparation, and her plans will show Trump up as the vacuous blowhard he is. The problem is that they won’t. Hillary is fighting this as a regular political campaign when both Trump and Bernie supporters keep telling her that it is not. She is trying to turn to the center to get the disaffected moderate Republicans, the political insiders like Debbie Wasserman Schmidt who play the political game down and dirty, and her own liberal supporters. I am like the moviegoer watching a horror movie and screaming “don’t go in that door,” when of course she can’t hear me. She is ignoring the vast majority of Bernie and Trump supporters who are saying that this is exactly what they don’t want. They want someone who speaks to their “feeling” of exclusion in the age of big money and insiders controlling the political process. As long as they characterize her as “more of the same,” she is in danger of losing this election. The DNC email scandal compounded by immediately hiring Congresswoman Schmidt for her campaign confirms what Trump is saying about her. Her choice of Kaine rather than a progressive person as here running mate is showing that she wants to appeal to the wrong group. I fear that being the anti-Trump will not be enough to win this election.

I have enough reservations about Hillary that her loss would not hurt except that it means Trump wins. That would be far worse for it emboldens those like David Duke to also run for office. It would put our foreign and domestic policy in the hands of someone who thinks (like a CEO) that what he says is how it should be; allies, Congress and separation of powers be damned. It will provide stupid simplistic answers (like a wall) to complex problems like immigration. It would put in office someone who has little feeling for how our political system works and the history of our country. Heaven help us if that happens.

Jul
14

As the left tears itself apart deciding whether to vote for Hillary or not, the real results of Bernie’s “revolution” are being lost. Bernie’s “revolution” is technically not a revolution at all. A revolution is a change in the form of government and no one, least of all Bernie, is suggesting that we ditch the presidency, the Congress or indeed the American system of government. He is instead talking about reforming it. In a sense Bernie’s “revolution” has already been a success so far because it has achieved three of its goals. First of all he has shown that political candidates can raise money in small donations from grassroots people rather than being dependent on the large donations and big donors. This is not to say that there haven’t been big donors as well, but the amount of money he has raised from small donors has been spectacular. Its second goal has been to articulate a vision of a different America and to have that vision incorporated into the Democratic party’s stated plan for America.  In that it has been admittedly only partially successful. The incorporation of a higher minimum wage into the Democratic platform and the possibility of a single payer healthcare plan and free public universities into Hillary’s campaign rhetoric are signs of this partial success. Finally the campaign has been successful by involving young people in progressive politics to a much greater extent than mainstream Democratic candidates have done in generations.

Now that Bernie has capitulated to Hillary the question of whether his “revolution” will continue has come to the forefront. It is more than whether Bernie supporters will vote for Hillary (although that is a pressing question) , but also whether those mobilized by his campaign will continue their political activity. Will the successes of his campaign continue or will they recede to become just a historical footnote? The first test will be whether they can turn the Congress and the Senate blue. Judging by the torrent of Democratic email and telephone campaign solicitations I get each week, the Democratic Congressional and Senate Campaign Committees are well oiled machines. The question becomes whether the money from small donors will dry up as the glamour and excitement of Bernie’s presidential campaign recedes. Can Bernie turn the flow of money to him into a flow of money into support of progressive congressional and senate candidates? Regardless of who wins the White House (please God do not let it be Trump) it is whether the Congress changes that will determine how successful the next president will be. Will more people with Bernie’s vision for America go to Congress? Will young people not only support these candidates but become these candidates either now or in the future?

The other question is whether further down-ticket the progressive tide can make any inroads in local elections. Except for those issues on which inaction was exactly what the buyers wanted (e.g. gun control, financial reform, and the role of money in politics,) those who bought politicians in the federal congress might want some of their money back. Most of the conservative congressmen and senators spent their time in fruitless efforts to repeal Obamacare, ultimately empty Benghazi hearings, and providing the gridlock to stymie Obama rather than advancing the conservative agenda. The most odious laws, those restricting voting,  government assistance, immigrants, women’s health, support of public education, and LGBT human rights, come from the statehouses and governors’ mansions. Progressives have made few inroads to these places and have allowed conservatives and the Tea Party to take control. Will Bernie’s “revolution” be able to generated the sustained interest to overcome the gerrymandering and voter apathy that have led to the current situation? Will more progressive candidates emerge to challenge at this local level?

Whether you vote for Hillary or not it becomes imperative that you vote for the progressive candidates down-ticket; not just this election cycle but in those to come. Bernie’s “revolution” as with all true change will be the result of of long-term, concerted effort and not the quick fix which so many want.