Friends, Romans and Countrymen!
The Great Republican Establishment Move To Block Donald Trump has crashed and burned. This was probably inevitable, but it became a certainty when the Three Dwarves cowering aside him on this past week’s debate stage all pledged their allegiance to him – should he be the nominee.
This capitulation has some weird historical resonance. If you study the history of Italy, Spain, Germany, Chile and other lands where democracy has given rise to authoritarian regimes and fascist dictatorships, it is inevitably the conservative parties who usher in the transition. Believing they can control and steer the insurgent fascist forces, they pact with them, appease them and eventually wind up as a meal for the strongman who has taken power (burp).
Let’s be clear. No question that Trump is an authoritarian (hey, media, the answer to what he’s about is a simple as that). And there is no question, once again, using history as our guide, that he speaks directly to anti-democratic and pro-fascist instincts among his very confused base of supporters.
That does not mean we are sitting in the ante-chamber to fascism. Historically, fascist regimes arise only as a counter force to real or imagined threats of socialist revolution. They arise not only to dominate a nation, or the world, but also to ruthlessly extinguish the forces of Evil Opposition (Jews, communists, socialists etc) who either hold or are about to take state power. I suppose the grand exception here is Japan, though the WWII regime was not fascist per se.
The authoritarian strain in the American body politic has always been present. Trump has energized it and stoked it. But social conditions in America are such that worrying about Trump installing some sort of dictatorship misses the mark. If unemployment was triple the current levels, if inflation was 300%, if the AFL-CIO was planning a general strike in support of a truly socialist Obama, if we had just been beaten in a war or occupied by a foreign power, then maybe, just maybe, we’d see the rise of a truly threatening fascist movement.
That’s not the case. Not now. Not yet. Americans are way too comfortable, way too hedonistic, way to bedazzled by consumer society to become reliable and disciplined brown shirts. And Trump himself has little of of the personal grit and endurance or even the imagination of a Hitler or a Mussolini to become an American fuhrer.
So, let’s take a deep breath and calmly survey the options before us.
Will Trump be the nominee? I put this today at a 95% certainty. As I have argued before, the Republicans will not and cannot deny him the nomination at a contested convention as that would lead immediately to an immediate and catastrophic schism in the GOP, the certain election of the Democrat and the virtual collapse of the party.
Will Trump be elected as president? Very difficult, though not impossible. After all, Clinton is the second most disliked pol in America, following Trump, and there is no telling how many non-voting Angry White Men might come out of the closet to push Trump over the line. I don’t see it happening. And the electoral college makes it difficult for any Republican to win in November. But never say never.
How bad would Trump be if he got into the White House? Who the hell knows? He might do some pretty stupid things, but I can name a number of recent presidents who did some pretty stupid shit. Dangerous stuff, too. Kennedy invading Cuba. Johnson carpet bombing Vietnam. Nixon, well, Nixon was a horror (no, he would not be a liberal today). Carter declaring a nuclear alert over a few Russian advisers in Cuba and funding the Muhajadeen in Afghanistan. Reagan…you name it. Poppy Bush invading Panama (and Iraq). Bill Clinton abolishing federal welfare, signing off on a draconian crime bill that put a million or so black people behind bars, deregulating the banks and exporting jobs via NAFTA. George W. Bush brought us the nightmare of Iraq, legalized torture and the limp response to Katrina. And Barack Obama, who by my lights, is the opposite of stupid, but someone who still could not escape the temptation to play ball with the bloated military machine in the name of fighting global terrorism.
So apart from naming a poor choice to the Supreme Court (something that any Republican and maybe even Hillary might do), just exactly how worse can Trump be? OK, a lot worse. But maybe not. He is absolutely not as scary as Ted Cruz, who is a classic right-wing religious dogmatist (and one evil sonofabitch).
This, by the way, highlights the historic crisis the Republicans now find themselves in. The nomination contest is now really down to Cruz and Trump and Cruz is the only guy Republican mucky mucks detest as much as they do Barack Obama. In short, I see no way out for the GOP.
They have been running toward the cliff for the last 15 years, or arguably, the last 35 years. and they have finally run out of room.
I am not arguing that Trump is some benign figure that should be laughed off. Hardly. But neither should his power nor that of his followers (who are much scarier than he is) be exaggerated. Nevertheless, the Rise of Trump embodies the ongoing erosion of The System and the willingness of so many Americans to place their fate in his under-sized hands should be taken dead seriously. This is not just a boil that can be lanced. We are looking at semi-latent anti-democratic forces receiving giant doses of political oxygen and this eruption will not simply go away when the election is over.
In the meantime, the chickies have come home to roost for the Republicans who have played fast and loose with the fabric of the republic, especially since 9/11 and certainly after the election of Barack Obama. I was somewhat surprised by the level of candor and fear encapsulated in this essay by Super Neo-Con Robert Kagan. To quote just a part of it:
Historically, authoritarians have ridden to power in democracies partly because their supporters, in the end, feared and hated their opponents more than they loved the particulars of democracy. Today, it seems, it is Clinton, and everything she supposedly stands for, who must be defeated, even if it means electing a man like Trump. As one Republican official put it, looking ahead to the general election, “The penchant to defeat Hillary Clinton will transcend any concerns about the way Trump has conducted himself.”
Really? Any concerns? You sometimes get the feeling that if Mussolini himself were about to win the nomination, Republicans would still be talking about Clinton’s email server.“
As long as we are talking about history, let’s look at the Democrats’ responsibility for the Rise of Trump. I think by now we all know that Trump’s strongest demographic are white working-class men (WWCM). You know, the kind of people that Bill Maher likes to make fun of.
Well, folks, just exactly how did this happen? First, you will have to admit—albeit in private—that most liberals think of the term “white working class men” as something negative, NASCAR Dads. Racists. Gun owners. Wife beaters. Rednecks. You know the routine.
In every lie there are some grains of truth and it is a fact that a lot of WWCM, especially but not exclusively residing in the old Confederate states, have a really big problem with race. We all know that it was the signing of the Civil Rights Bill that incited these folks to bolt the New Deal Democratic coalition and become fodder for Dick Nixon’s racist “Southern Strategy.” Lyndon Johnson knew this was going to happen, he predicted it, and he was right.
The big historical question confronting the Democratic Party is exactly what did it do to win back WWCM? Short answer: fuck all.
Democrats have drifted—and then raced—consistently to the political right and simultaneously toward a toxic identity politics instead of a class-based program that might have cleaved off a more significant portion of those angry and now bitter and resentful WWCM. The Democratic Party today has a default minority base (thanks to the overt racism of most Republican policies), but its center of gravity is among middle-class professionals (who fear WWCM as barbarians). Its leadership is enmeshed with Wall Street and the economic elites who have, indeed, become more liberal on social issues while ratcheting up their economic exploitation of the work force: young, old, and of all colors.
Democrats love to debate the social issues as much as Republicans and both for the same reason: it distracts from the central issue of any society i.e. who exactly exercises power, both economic and political. We wind up artificially cleaved between pro-lifers and pro-choicers, the NRA and the Bloombergers, those who love to sniff the Confederate flag and those who do not. We find ourselves, as a nation, divided 57 different ways EXCEPT the one and only way that counts the most: the Haves and the Have Nots. And the Have Nots are having less and less every day.
For this we can thank the Democrats who long ago gave up on WWCM and the working class in general. And then you wonder why an asshole like Trump can cash in on this malaise so easily? What’s so hard to figure out here? More than two-thirds of Americans do not have $1000 in reserve. Housing is unreachable for those who make less than mid six figures. Obamacare has been a step forward but health care is still a nightmare for millions—even with insurance. College has become a luxury. Manufacturing jobs have disappeared and the prevailing wage for WWCM who lose one of those last remaining traditional union jobs is about $12 an hour. The political system, meanwhile, has been bought by billionaires who control the politicians like little puppies.
The biggest issue we confront today is not if Trump is a fascist or not. He’s not. The question is, if current trends continue, just how much longer will American democracy—or what’s left of it—ast? Are you willing to bet beyond another ten years?
All of the above brings me to Bernie Sanders. Unless some deux ex machina magically intervenes, Bernie Sanders will NOT be the Democratic nominee. I am getting really, really tired of reading Facebook posts from earnest Sanders supporters prognosticating some sudden wave that will wash Bernie into the nomination.
Now, listen carefully. This is wrong, wrong, wrong and politically off the point. Sanders himself had absolutely NO expectation of doing as well as he has when he declared his candidacy. He was not naive enough to believe that in one cycle, with no movement behind him, that he would overturn and defeat the entire entrenched Democratic Establishment.
Bernie, however, found that he had struck gold. He resonated and resonates with millions of anxious, fed-up Americans who are desperately seeking an alternative to the bromides dished out by Madame Secretary and her minions. I’ll leave it to PhD candidates to figure out how much of an overlap—if an—there is among the Trump and Sanders base voters, respectively. I don’t know how many of those neglected WWCM Bernie has touched. Except…we do know for an absolute certainty that he is winning a majority of the the upcoming generation of WWCM who do not carry the racial baggage of the Confederacy. And I mean this in rather Marxian terms. With very few exceptions, we are all workers now. Some are much better off than others, but many a college grad who came out of the middle-class are now facing imminent expulsion and social demotion.
They are the immediate future. Those are the so-called Bernie Bros ( a hateful term invented by smug middle class liberals).
What Bernie supporters need to be thinking about today, yesterday and tomorrow, is not the fantasy that he’s going to win the nomination, but rather, what is being built out of this campaign, what sort of political infrastructure can be erected, that will survive after the Democratic convention and after November? That’s the only thing that counts right now. I am suggesting..no…I am declaring that Sanders supporters must not give up the fight, they must build as much electoral strength as possible (even if he cannot win) and they MUST start thinking, pretty damn fast, what sort of viable political organization can all the energy that Sanders has generated be invested in.
Just as Trump has cashed in harvesting the discontent into green shoots of fascism, the Sanders folks have a golden opportunity now—for the first time since the Civil Rights movement—to begin building a national movement for radical reform. Building, not winning (yet).
This longer term enterprise is being ignored by too many Sanders supporters who are fixated on the election itself. They are setting themselves up for great disappointment when, in fact, this should be a moment of great celebration and hope. We need to build a vehicle, an independent vehicle (not an inchoate current within the Democratic Party) that can carry this momentum forward. The Sanders campaign has already won beyond its wildest initial expectations; now the challenge is how to manifest its equity.
The pressure (and intimidation) to not do so is going to be enormous in the weeks to come. The cries to “unify the party” or to “get in line with Hillary” or to “unite to defeat Trump” are, in reality, nothing but thinly disguised appeals to politically disarm and go away.
You want to be part of that capitulation? I don’t. And it’s not about the really stupid and insulting question of “well, are you gonna vote for Hillary or not?” I think it is obvious that when the system locks you into two bad choices, you should probably take 10 minutes out of your life and vote for the less bad choice.
Remember, though, that voting is not the end all of politics. It’s a part of a much bigger whole. Here’s what I want to know….what political vehicle will we who support Sanders have ready in the congressional elections two years from now? Will we have anything in the next presidential cycle other than fading memories of feeling the Bern? How will this incipient movement begin to resonate with African-American voters who remain inexplicably loyal to the Democratic machine and to the Clintons in particular?
Back in the second term of Bill Clinton, there was some chatter that Jesse Jackson might run again in 2000. I reported that in a long profile of The Reverend for The Nation (that I cannot find anymore online). The single greatest regret that his key supporters and strategists from his run in the 1980’s had was that he left no organization behind. In the case of Jackson, he was blamed for not caring about that.
Sanders, by contrast, has repeatedly called for a political revolution. What he means by that, he has explained, is precisely the mobilization of millions of Americans who have had it with the status quo and who are willing to peacefully and democratically get involved in a project of change.
I am not covertly appealing for the formation of a third party as those are dead ends in our winner take all system. I am arguing for the construction of a formal political power bloc (like the old Christian Coalition) that will emerge ASAP from the present electoral froth and that will give us a shot going forward.
The lessons of history are sobering. This country is in a deep, deep crisis with NO exit being proposed by either party. The discontent across the ideological spectrum will only increase in the years to come. As the system erodes, emerging forces will look to pick up the pieces. If the liberal/left cannot provide real solutions, the path will only be further cleared for the next Trump who, I guarantee, will be no clown.
Rod Dreher weighs in with a great take on that down and dirty GOP debate from last week. Not just because they are publishing my essay on guns, but because it is so good and rich to read, I am putting in another plug for The American Conservative that spends most of its time dumping on those ding dongs who currently call themselves conservatives. Read it. You will not turn to stone.Glenn Greenwald takes a punch at those twisting their panties over Trump’s extremism. What exactly is he proposing that our duopoly of party officials have not already proposed or implemented in some form or another? Reckless war? Check. Torture? Check. Indefinite detention of Muslims? Check. A militarized border with multiple Berlin-like fences? Check. Good piece.
Former Nation colleague Doug Henwood brings up some uncomfortable theories about the Democratic Party’s response to Trumpism in an essay in Jacobin magazine. Hillary may be talking Progressive, but the party leadership—surprise!—is planning to make a very moderate (i.e. conservative) appeal in the general election in an attempt to attract Republicans alienated by Trump as nominee. So much for all the rhetoric about income inequality.
Photos of the Week
I kept busy this week experimenting with some new processing software. I picked up a copy of Aurora HDR and I find it extremely powerful. For a hundred bucks it’s almost as muscular full Photoshop but I am using it as a plug-in for Lightroom.
I pushed it to the extreme in the first pic you see below, trying to create a “starry night” effect from a Joshua Tree capture. The second capture is more restrained and was taken on Saturday southeast of Bakersfield. The superbloom is now spreading into the Central Valley. I had an equipment failure in the middle of the shoot so will head back there next weekend.
Poker Quiz Answer