President Orange, Part III

I am aware – oh so aware – of Godwin’s Law. You know: the longer an argument takes place on the internet, the greater the likelihood that something or somebody will be compared to Hitler. Hitler is our Great Cliche, Nazis our Great Bad Guy. WWII is our lodestone; our orientation place. It was bound to come up.

But you know the old favourite of McCarthyites: “If it looks like a duck and quacks like a duck…”

Look, Trump bares little resemblance to Hitler. The GOP alt-right Twitter squad will never swear a personal loyalty oath to der Furher, like the Nazis and the Brown Shirts. Trump’s gewgaw world of gold-paint chandeliers, Reality TV production, and scuzzy casinos is a world apart from an alienated struggling artist in 1920s Bavaria. I can make any number of statements about ostensible differences.

But Trump has everything to do with fascism. I’m not making a ‘Duck Test’ Argument here, I’m making a direct parallel between Trump’s America in 2017 and Hitler’s Germany in 1933: the alignment of social forces are identical. Fascism is the alliance of Big Business with, well, exactly the sort of people who voted for Trump: the lower middle classes (white working class) and that curious group of angry blowhards (Jeremy Clarkson’s type) who’s fragile egos and brittle intelligences are threatened by a messy, changing, complicated world.

Let there be no mistake: Trump was never going to resemble Hitler and the Nazis. All too often we assume fascism means “Swastika armband, hating Jews, silly little moustache.” The Nazis really are only the best example of what fascism is: the alliance of the angry and ignorant with the supremely greedy and powerful. That is simply the alignment of social forces: the psychological essence of facsism  is best seen in contemporary politics of Pizzagate. People believe in Pizzagate – that Hilary Clinton is running a child sex ring out of a Washington DC Pizzerias’ basement (even though it doesn’t even have a basement) – because they intuitively understand that that is what their “side” is supposed to believe. People believe in Pizziagate the same way that they have faith that Trump is actually a brilliant businessman, or the way children come to believe in Santa Claus.

Fascism, then, is a social alignment of the lower class and the corporate interest, but also a complex psychological phenomenon. This explains why so many people are drawn to it: it’s appeal is emotional.

American Fascism was always going to come wrapped differently: it was always going to be the Cowboy Hats or some sort of showbiz billionaire (as in our case!) Our fascism was always going have more glitz and glam. We will have a family-values, gimcrack-disco-ball deregulated and pro-small government totalitarian future of ecological destruction and societal collapse.

It doesn’t matter that Donald Trump does not want to be fascist. It does not matter that Trump genuinely wants to bring jobs back to the Midwest or get better trade deals for the US. His very outlook – that thuggish authoritarianism – combined with powerful corporate interest (Rex Tillerson to name merely the most prominent example) combined with a ignorant and angry political base, and all the contradictions contained within conservative ideology is fascism.

This is how things are going to play out. The corporate interest wants tax breaks and profits; it wants regulations to go away: it wants profit and only profit. The angry political base not only wants contradictory things, like libertarianism that restricts women’s rights or wants to kick protester’s teeth in, or fiscal conservatism that will expand the military (already comically, criminally bloated) and rebuild America’s infrastructure and build The Great Wall of Trump, but what they really vote for is a psychological, emotional satisfaction.

The only thing they will agree on is destroying the things they both hate (for differing reasons). You know: Planned Parenthood, the welfare state, national parks, NPR, the environment, protesters, the education system, etc. In a world what is most likely to come under attack is civil society and our notion of the public good. This cannot be too strongly emphasised. Hitler’s economic miracle for Germany came most directly at the cost of destroying civil society, followed eventually by the total destruction of Germany.

Keep in mind that Hitler, like Trump, are idiots, who genuinely have no idea what they are doing. They have certain talents that they know how to use; they are demagogues, and they have the benefit of having an audience who is psychologically vulnerable (they are idiots alongside the leader). Remember, the easiest person to fool is yourself.

The grim, gritty reality in both cases is that the system of profit-for-profit’s sake, weather it is called monopoly capitalism (as in Hitler’s time) or neoliberalism (our version) had eaten away at people lives; at society at large. Faced with a situation where profits would either be sacrificed for the good of society or vice versa, these powerful entities have sided with twisted social forces beyond the pale. Greed leads the very destruction of society, which consumes itself in ignorance, anger and violence.

The fact that Trump badly lost the popular vote and is already the most corrupt, disliked man to ever take office and he actually hasn’t quite gotten their yet, combined with the long-term demographic weaknesses of the conservative movement and the GOP, means that the kakistocracy in power will be pulling out all of the authoritarian stops to “Make America Great Again.” Let me put it this way: there is a great conservative bubble, that due to how well funded it is, has been wildly successful. But now that the wing-nut’s have their fantasy Cabinet – and they will actually have to govern in this messy, complicated world – their only real option will be the radical and truely fascist leap into locking down our advanced technological society into the Great White Christian State (with a pussy-grabbing casino-capitalist twist).

Our constitution was built on the humanistic idea of the republic: an institution of civil society and the concept of the greater, public good. This idea is radically under attck both from corporate greed from one side and from a conservative subset of Americans who see this country in religious terms.

If you believe in democracy, and if you believe that this Great Republic is truely the last best great hope of mankind, then now is the time to make your voice heard. Now is the time to act.

 

 

 

 

 

A Dirge for Libertarians

There is a longstanding, positive conception of what it means to be American. It has gone under many names – Jefferson’s yeoman farmers, rugged individualism – and you see it pour through pop culture in the figure of the cowboy and the pioneer. This is the notion that part of being American is a tough, practical self-suffieciency: being a burden to others is shameful. It’s a vision of Americanness as scrappy, hard and entrepreneurial: not stoic, but seasoned. Clear-sighted and bright-eyed with calloused hands. It is under attack.

I am going to call it “Crockettism” – as in Davy – and it must be distinguished quite vigorously from “capitalism,” “neoliberalism,” “libertarianism,” and the dubious intellectual project of Ayn Rand. Each of these terms come with their own intellectual history and set of ideas. None of them are “notions” about what it means to be American; they are technical terms which date to the 20th century, and therefore are distinctly separate from what it means to be American. Rather, it is the notion of Crockettism that has played into the widespread acceptance of “capitalism,” “neoliberalism” and”libertarianism.”

Crockettism is a “wedge issue” in that our attachment to it has been used for political gain  on the economic front; its equivalent on the social front, for example, is abortion. Huge numbers of Americans vote Republican every year in the name of Crockettism. It’s clearest political, contemporary articulation is libertarianism, which essentially occupies the position of “socially liberal and economically conservative.” This is a gross characterisation, but I feel like it has to be made in order for our own clear thinking on this topic. Anytime somebody says “I don’t want the government telling me what to do” that is libertarianism. Capitalism in a technical sense, simply refers to private ownership of capital and its use as the basic engine of economic activity. Straightaway, we can tell that no American political party is against “capitalism.” I include the Green Party and Bernie Sanders, and progressives in general, in this statement. Again, a distinction must be made between capitalism (Adam Smith) and neoliberalism, a very different beast.

Neoliberalism is the set of economic ideas and policies that originate with the writings of Frederick von Hayek, an Austrian who traumatically encountered the ideas of Milton Keynes in the ’30s. This has been the ruling ideology of the United States since Reagan’s Administration; it includes Clinton’s and Obama’s terms. Also known as “Austerity,” and “trickle-down economics” it is in fact an extreme pro-corporate, pro-elite set of ideas which is the true target of progressive figures like Bernie Sanders. It’s privatisation for privatisation’s sake, deregulation for the sake of deregulation and hero-worship of robber-barons for the sake of robber barons, er, I mean Captains of Industry. It sees government as a strangulation of enterprise; it has a telling connection to the adolescent ideas of Ayn Rand. Anytime somebody uses the parable of a rich guy buying and maintaing a yacht and how this employs people, or a crude allusion to “if we shouldn’t feed the wildlife because it makes them dependant, then the same applies to people,” that is neoliberalism.

As you can see, it has little to do with our cherished notion of Crockettism. Since Reagan, who instituted tax cuts for the wealthy and corporations, deregulation and privatisation, we have seen a decline in the American middle class. Meanwhile, CEO pay has exploded along with corporate profits. The American work force has become more efficient and productive, yet works ever-increasing numbers of hours. We live in the most inquisitions society of all time; a handful of individuals and corporate control the vast majority of the wealth in this country. Thus, when somebody is against the redistribution of wealth, or resents welfare recipients for “getting something for nothing,” they are implicitly ignoring the current redistribution of wealth that is taking place in this country. That is, a transfer of wealth upward from the middle class. It gets even more ironic because even as conservatives and libertarians fret over taxation, it is the reality that the wealthiest Americans and businesses have escaped the tax burden. A vote for the Republican party directly supports a taxation system which puts billionaire paying as much in taxes as their secretaries. This, combined with a corporate system that pursues profit-maximazation above all else explains the decline of the American middle class.

Crockettism is under attack from profit-maximaization and the subversion of democracy by corporations which find buying government support through lobbying an excellent bargain. Adam Smith and Davy Crockett would not approve of Rupert Murdoch and the sinister manipulation of minimum wage laws by Wal-Mart. Americans for Prosperity and Citizens United have little to do with our own self-reliance. It comes down to what sort of society you want to live in given the current realities of our society. I think we can agree that Jefferson’s yeoman farmers is not a realistic option. Think of it like this: do you want a country of strip malls and Wal-Marts? Or do you want a country of hipster downtowns? It’s a simplification, but it’s the essence of your choice. Society is mutual cooperation, not about “the war of all against all” which conservatives seem to relish so much.

A counter-point might be government over-reach; the libertarian anxiety about “tax-and-spend” policies. First of all government is dedicated to the well-fare of its citizens, not profit. No matter how clunky or corrupt, government remains accountable to us, even if only in the abstract, the citizenry. A corporation must mindlessly pursue short-term profits, no matter the cost to human individuals, our democracy and society, and our fragile environment. Put another way, the unwieldy intuition of government is our only recourse against corporate oligarchy. If you want a society of strong, independent individuals the first step is restoring a certain economic/income equality which did actually exist during during the post-WWII years in this country. The Republican legacy is just as much “big-government” as the Democrats; the truth is that our government is in the hands of corporate influence, and both political parties are beholden to a handful of wealthy donors. How the Republicans managed become the party of Crockettism in the minds of Americans is beyond me. Is it because Reagan often appeared in a cowboy hat? Looking at the facts, the Republicans are more reliable the party of fossil fuels, gross military expenditure and creeping theocracy, not plucky individualism. Look at their record on surveillance, torture and the environment.

It’s a complex, painful issue. It asks you to see “beyond the horizon” if you will, of our everyday, concrete world, where the poor person is poor because they are lazy (and that is emotionally satisfying, like big cigar). The failure of identity politics, the clumsy, flawed functioning of the welfare state has many critics – and I agree with these critics. I just cannot fathom support for the Republican Party based on these ideas. It’s inexplicable to vote for a (born rich) billionaire who has gamed the system over and over again in the name of personal responsibility and hard work. Watch as the Republicans pull the levers of Big Government in the name of Small Government and Freedom. Watch as our rights are stripped away in the name of patriotism. Already, the bedrock foundations of democracy, be it First Amendment rights, or voter suppresion, or fake news is destroying what little is left of our democratic heritage. Clearly, Trump only values people based on their support for Trump. The Libertarian support for Trump will do serious damage to the concept of small, efficient government to everybody’s detriment.

By allowing our sentiments of Crockettism to vote for Trump, we may have ended the last vestiges of Crockettism itself.

 

Third Presidential Debate…America Lost, Again

The reality TV show that is our democracy staged another exciting episode last night. The only real takeaway was my experience trying to watch the debate live on YouTube, where the comment section was literally unintelligible with comments of “lying hillary” or “Trump is lying” coming so fast it was literally a blur. A “tweetstorm” is now the most substantive and genuine format political debate can take.

Let that sink in for a second. Pretty much all ground for a rational public debate is gone: all that remains is weird and rude emoticons and ephemeral caps-lock screaming in an online comment section. This morning, pursuing what the pundits are saying, it’s still more sad. “This was Trump’s best debate yet!” Why? Because this was the most substantive debate, and Trump kinda stuck to talking points. Somehow Trump’s garbled, debunked Republican ideas are still given a fair hearing. The bar is so low that I find almost all commentary on the debate to meaningless.

What is lost is any real sense of debate. What is lost is substance and the essence of a democracy: genuine, peaceful choice. This needs to be stressed.

Because this is where it gets weird: I’m watching a Pro-Trump attack ad on Hilary. The basic message is that Hilary, in government service for 30 years, has enriched Washington DC fat cats and America’s expense. “A Vote for Hilary is a vote for more of the Same.” “A vote for Trump is a vote for Change.” There is so much to unpack here. If we all understood the history and context and implication of these few lines, we would live in a much better society.

Who was President 30 years ago when things started to slide? Reagan. It’s Reagan and Republican neoliberal ideology which is destroying America’s middle class and enriching a handful of billionaires. Why do Americans feel disenfranchised? Because we are: studies show that the actual laws passed correspond to the needs of major corporations and are unresponsive to ‘middle class’ or rather non-billionare/corporate lobbying. Why is our political system awash in private money purchasing favours and policies? Look no further than Citizen’s United, another conservative/neoliberal pet project.

So all these Americans which are furious over “the past 30 years:” the disenfranchisement, the economic decline and stagnation are angry over the policies that Reagan laid down and where reinforced by successive Administrations – most notably Bill Clinton’s. I cannot be the only one who finds it fascinating that Trump is touting himself as the candidate of ‘change’? To use standard American parlance, Trump’s right-wing populism is essentially an anti-capitalist, anti-neoliberal establishment standpoint; an inarticulate scream of rage against a system that has exploited them and left them behind.

What do you think about “Work-Life Balance”? This is the way we have to ‘code’ our anti-capitalist sentiments these days. Another one is “retail therapy:” what else could this be but an escape from the relentless laws of capitalist scarcity? So what we have in this country is a forbidden leftist/progressive political alternative. Most Trump voters -had they done some homework – would should have found themselves supporting Bernie Sanders. Yes, Trump is touting trickle-down economics and most of his followers will spout some version of it – usually something about a rich guy buying a boat – but what emotionally is driving the Trump phenomenon is alienation driven by neoliberal/Establishment policies.

So this is where I agree with the pro-Trump sentiment. I do agree that Clinton is an Establishment candidate and the Establishment has failed. But it goes much deeper than this. Next to Trump – easily the worst presidential candidate in history  – anyone and almost any policies look great. Isn’t it strange that a populist right-wing baffoon is this the only alternative to Establishment neoliberalism? Trump is the unwitting prop of the Establishment; so is right-wing politics in general. Their archaic, twisted policies can only function to displace criticism of the existing order. Why else would something so bad get so much airing? Their nonsense and our toleration of their nonsense simply legitimises The neoliberal Establishment.

Which brings me back to the debate. Despite Trump’s attempts to attack Hilary as the Establishment candidate, we the public where denied a genuine discussion over the past 30 years of neoliberal ideology. We are denied a debate about climate change and what to do about it. What escapes is any real examination of Hilary as a candidate, much less a genuine choice in this elelction.

 

A response to “Why I’m Voting for Donald Trump”

I want to start by saying that I am not writing this response to your post to argue; I have no intention of convincing you not to vote for Trump. I am writing in response to Kelly Quelette’s blog post on why she is voting for Donald Trump, despite the revelations of what we are all calling Pussygate. I want to share my perspective; I think that by sharing my response, we might both help America move forward. Here is the link to her full post: https://kellyquelette.wordpress.com/2016/10/11/why-im-voting-for-donald-trump/.

I’m not pro-Hillary. I’m voting for Jill Stein – Bernie Sanders was my candidate and I will never trust or respect the Democrats for fixing the primaries; for consistently picking their financial backers over the views of voters. So before any knee-jerk reactions to my politics sets in, let me make clear that I’m the guy who gets told “A vote for Jill Stein is a vote for Donald Trump.” And while I understand the reasoning behind this remark, its actually quite insane to reason this way. A vote for Jill Stein is just that – a vote for Jill Stein.

You see, Kelly, in many ways I agree with you. I agree when you say: “And it’s sad that we even have to compare the two – because NEITHER is acceptable. But we as Americans have allowed our country to get to this point, and it’s because we stopped paying attention. And we have allowed ourselves to become a product of our media and others in power.” I think that the Media caters to the lowest common denominator and are interested only in maintaining viewership and access; these are businesses after all. The media and ‘the Establishment’ was systematically biased against Bernie Sanders; the primary was decided by the proverbial ‘smoke-filled backroom.’ The record shows that Hilary and the Democrats say one thing in public and promise – and deliver – something quite different to the various corporations and special interests they actually represent.

I’m sick of it; and I reject the false binary/choice of American politics – Coke or Pepsi, Prius or Hummer – that is killing our democracy and our way of life. I see the election as – to take one topic of debate as an example – between someone who promises to do something about the environment, but almost certainly won’t take any real action and someone who completely denies climate change, and then lies about blaming climate change on the Chinese. Either way, our society will fail to take substantial action on this frankly apocalyptic situation. Like you said, one of these two will be President. That’s the real tragedy.

In this vein, I did want to address some of the claims you make in your posting. On rape culture you insist that Hillary is more to blame; she has reduced the jail time of rapists, she “helped cover up the abuses done by her husband.” You allege that this is worse than Trump’s words and actions. There is a misunderstanding here based on the phrase “rape culture.” Rape culture does not refer so much to literal acts of rape, it refers to the set of social norms or standards which contribute to either excuse, ignore and/or blame the victim (i.e. she should not have dressed so provocatively; she should not have been drinking so much; she was asking for it) in cases of rape. Has Hillary reduced the jail time of rapists and has this contributed to rape culture? I do not think this is clear. But I would observe that the idea of rape culture indicates that we do a poor job of bringing rapists to trial and fully getting justice in the first place. Rape culture means that sexual harassment, misogyny and rape are not just deeply related, they are seen to be normal or acceptable to many people. And this is why Trumps comments contribute to rape culture; he attempts to normalize it. Saying Hillary has contributed more to rape culture is frankly ridiculous.

Next you make an interesting point about race in this country. Again, in many ways, I agree. Quote: “But how are those things resolved? Movements of people coming together. Different races and religions taking time to understand each other. Men learning how to stand up for their sisters and daughters and wives. And guess what? No matter WHO is in office, we can start doing that NOW. The government is not the answer to these issues. These have been issues in our country since day 1, and the MEDIA is much more responsible than the government.” Yes, empathy and a healthy, liberal, “live and let live” perspective is crucial and I agree that each “incident” is exploited for its headline value by the Media. I do think that interest groups – on both sides – use these incidents to flog their narrative to us. But I also think that there is more going on here. First of all, our own history shows that “movements of people coming together” has not happened. If anything, our nation is as segregated now as it has ever been. You perspective subtly ignores the long, sad history of laws passed to perpetuate segregation and racism. I am thinking here of Jim Crow laws, but also of practices like using real estate taxes to fund schools; criminalization of marijuana and infamous “stop and frisk” policies. The racism here is implicit; it perpetuates existing inequalities in a truly sinister way. You have to consider that your perspective excuses existing structural injustices in our society.

National Security is one of your big concerns:”Hillary wants open borders. Are you kidding me? In our lifetime, we have been attacked by terrorists FROM OTHER COUNTRIES….Hillary, wants to allow anyone and everyone into our country, regardless of the danger she could be putting her own people in…But I don’t think it’s unfair to screen who we allow into our country. Especially when they are coming from a part of the world that is home to radical terrorist groups. Ones that openly hate our country.” Again, I think there is some confusion on terms here that desperately needs to be cleared up. ‘Open borders’ is a term that should not be taken in a literal sense; Hillary uses this phase to connote more or less the policies that are in place now. This does not mean “let everyone in.” In fact – and I speak from personal experience – American border controls are known internationally for being a bit zealous. I hasten to add that we have been attacked by terrorists from our own country too; protecting America in the 21st century is about much more than a border control that discriminates against Muslims. That would only make the problem worse; the overwhelming majority of Muslims are normal, peaceful people. I do not excuse terrorism, nor do I think Islam is blameless. My perspective is akin to not holding Christians responsible for the reprehensible actions of the Westboro Baptist Church in Kansas.

I would also cite an FBI report that found that a major motivating factor in terrorism is American interventions and bombings. My point is that to tackle the problem of terrorism we need to properly understand what is going on; simply tightening border controls to a truly undemocratic extent risks turing the country into a police state and not actually providing any real protection anyway. Don’t forget that Trump has endorsed torture explicitly and many times. This is disgusting, dumb and dangerous, not to mention un-American. I’m surprised that someone who self-identifies as Christian can feel comfortable supporting such a person. The Senate Intelligence Committee Report on CIA Torture is an unrelenting catalog of evidence that proves that torture does not work and was not effective in preventing a single act of terrorism. It has destroyed our moral prestige internationally and is a focus of terrorist recruitment. Torture has made America less safe. The fact that the CIA and the Bush Administration lied about it and it’s effectiveness to the American People should be ringing all sorts of alarm bells. The real world is not an episode of 24.

Another thing I want to address is your statement that “Donald Trump wants to protect AMERICANS – no matter what race you are. No matter what gender.” I’m sorry, I just do not know how you can actually believe this to be true. It’s not a question of either candidate whether they “want to protect Americans” – to claim in seriousness that Hillary implicitly or explicitly does care to protect Americans is comical. I do not have many kind things to say about Hillary, but to allege that she harbors some kind of ulterior motive here or is disingenuous on this point not only belongs to the realm of the conspiracy theory, but threatens the basis of how our democratic society works. Trump strikes me as profoundly ignorant on international issues; I doubt that his desire to keep Americans safe will be enough to actually be of any use at all. I suspect that his words and actions have already made America less safe. I feel comfortable saying that Trump is probably ISIS’ choice to be president too.

Lastly, you touch on economics. I think this is very important as it really gets to the core of what frustrates most Americans today. It is also a complicated, confusing topic, where again, there is very little clarity or mutual understanding. You said:

“Donald Trump is a businessman, not a politician. He did not pay taxes under legal provisions. He did not pay people who did not do good work. If he becomes President, America will be his business. He will conduct trades and make deals that benefit US. As he should. Because when you are the President – AMERICA is your job. Not the rest of the world. Hillary has made lots of promises that sound great, but they all require MORE TAXES. And yes, a lot of them are on the wealthy, which sounds fair…but guess what? MOST of those wealthy people have gotten to where they are because they worked hard and used smart business practices. And also, those wealthy people are usually successful business people who EMPLOY other people. So by penalizing them, you are not helping anyone. You are taking more money out of the hands of American people and putting more money in the hands of the government.”

What you have espoused here is the ideology known as neoliberalism, which has been this nation’s ruling ideology since Reagan. This is matter of factual record; Bill Clinton’s Administration passed major neoliberal pieces of legislation, for example, repealing the Glass-Steagall amendment that helped regulate Wall Street. The 2008 Recession is directly related to this repeal. Neoliberalism is associated with many poorly understood terms like “trickle-down economics, (which you illustrated above)” “austerity,” “globalization,” even something so hopelessly broad as to be meaningless like “capitalism.” Trickle-down economics correctly points out that rich people spending money – the typical metaphor seems to be a rich guy and his yacht – is an important source of economic activity. The problem is that there are also many other sources of economic activity as well. For example: middle class people spending money on education or cities expanding infrastructure.

The factual record shows that the explosion of income inequality (look at CEO pay for example) and the decline of the American middle class is linked. We live in the most unequal society that has ever existed. Again, the trend starts with Reagan’s Administration. The truth of modern day America is that most of our wealth is held by massive corporations, a handful of uber wealthy individuals and the government. None of these have any obligation to spend money (increase wages or create new jobs) for Americans at large. To assume that reducing taxes on the wealthy or stripping away environmental regulation will lead to a massive surge of economic growth ignores that these wealthy individuals and corporations are under no obligation spend any more than they have to. I fail to see how enriching corporations run under the principal of profit maximization is the best way to resuscitate the middle class. It’s hardly a former that leads to people “doing the right thing.” Wal-Mart is hardly the economic model to enrich Americans; I think we can all agree on this. Reality is far more complicated then “wealthy people have generally worked hard and used smart business practices.” I can say that the overwhelming majority of Americans work hard and use smart business practices.

And this leads me to your statements about Trump as a businessman. We think of Trump as a successful businessman because he literally plays one on TV. Trump at best is simply as casino magnate who got his money from his daddy. Look at the scam that was Trump University. Look at all of his failed real estate schemes. Trump Steaks? This man is no Ayn Rand hero. The reality is that the American middle class bears the tax burden; the poor and the rich have escaped their fair share. Trump not paying taxes may have been technically legal, but it is a great example of the larger crime perpetuated under the bluster about trickle-down economics and rich people being job creators – its patently not working. Hell, even The Economist thinks Trump is a fraud and a loser.

I feel obligated to respond to your point about the Supreme Court. You said: “We NEED to keep Republicans in the Supreme Court who will uphold the Constitution.” From my perspective, Clinton is highly unlikely to appoint supreme court justices who are very liberal. They will most likely be akin to her VP choice, Tim Kaine. That is: centrist and probably surprisingly amenable to conservative Americans. I resent your implication that Democrats are somehow subverting the Constitution, and I don’t even like them. The record of Republicans “upholding the Constitution” is pretty shaky. Look at Citizens United; or the fact that Republicans have blocked Obama’s Supreme Court nominee in a blatant disregard to both Constitution and historical practice. Torture? The War in Iraq? Look at what the Republicans are doing to the Voting Rights Act; look at the clearly biased voter ID laws going into place. This is a clear case of the pot calling the kettle black. Your case against Hillary rests on her being a comic-book villain, rather than what she really is: an Establishment candidate with the Democrat’s backers in mind.

Abortion has always struck me as an issue where we as a society are not talking about abortion when we talk about ‘abortion.’ Again, nobody is how you depict them: rapidly “pro-death to unborn babies.” It does not weaken your argument – indeed, it strengthens it – to admit that there are cases where abortion, while awful, is legitimate and even moral. Women do have rights over their own bodies; I’m sure you would agree. Further, it logically compromises your earlier statements about getting the government out of our lives when you imply that access to abortion should be stopped…by legislation.

I hope that you will consider what I have written with an open mind. If I’m trying to convince anyone of anything, it is to vote for a third party.

How to Argue with a Right-Winger

It’s a sad and ominous fact that America has separated itself into two political worlds, Right World and Left World. It’s no longer akin to a slide-rule, where everyone basically had the same general idea but then differed on how to get there. No. We live in two separate bubbles – and the area of overlap shrinks more everyday. A big part of actually being successful when arguing with a Right Winger is sticking as much as possible to that shared space in the Venn Diagram of social reality (like we both enjoy microbreweries or some such thing). I know from my own personal political journey that Left Wing arguments fall flat – they just don’t mesh – with Right Wingers, and Right Wing arguments seem either ignorant or oddly disjointed to those of us on the Left.

The striking thing is that the underlying anxiety of the Right Wing is basically the same as on the Left; the difference is that the Left blames a rapacious economic system, while the Right Wing blames the Left Wing, confusing a whole host of issues and ideas in a terrible morass. And that’s really what you should seek to do when “arguing with a Right Winger”.

How have we gotten here? Well the notion that the Left is the problem dates back to Truman and the GOP’s endless struggle to remain relevant. It really dates back to economic arguments German academics where having in the 1930’s, but I don’t think we need to go there right now. Frankly the driving engine behind this divisive political landscape is GOP politicians seeking office and the tendencies of corporations to pursue profit quite literally at any cost, as long as it’s not too painful financially. Corporate friendly policies have attracted very little actual voter support; it has to be stocked by pandering to Right Wingers.

There are many different types of right-wingers, ranging from the Libertarian Gunsexual to the Mormon Housewife to the rare and exotic Kissinger-esque Neoconservative. There are so many more: the Conspiracy Theorist, the Christian Moral, and the Busy Busy Businessman. It’s important to keep in mind that Right Wingers, as a rule, are really responding to what’s going on in their own heads. The argument pathway you would take with a Mormon Housewife is very different from the what you might say to the Kissinger Conservative. Remember, conservatism is about fear and anger and suspicion, in a word, emotion. That’s its appeal, and if its not that it’s greed and selfishness. Your job is to get your opponent thinking.

Right-wingers are not “dumb”. In fact, I would say that in a certain sense, they are more clever then the rest of us. They are very sensitive and, practically speaking, well trained by the Fox News/Conservative Internet Bubble. They will have punchy facts that you will not have heard. They will have folksy arguments and metaphors which might even be charming. And they will have, in their heads, a script with which to argue with you.

Here’s the weakness. Abstract argument is weak; so weak in fact that you will have a job talking them through it (I almost feel that this is the root of the problem in itself; how to get a conservative to listen to your entire rationale). Point out logical inconsistencies, like if you are worried about Big Government, why do you support the same people who support the Patriot Act?

Don’t categorise them, nor allow them to categorise yourself. Avoid labels and proper nouns at all costs. Wiggle away from labels – violently if you have to; once you are labeled you are destroyed. Treat them as Reasonable People, and demand the same. Don’t let it get to a situation like “you guys are American Flag Burners” and “You guys are all Westboro Baptist Church”.

History is your friend. Facts are your friend. Point out the overwhelming statistical evidence; the global warming facts, the number of black people in jail, the staggering amount we spend on Defence every year. You need to point out how crazy conservative this country has become objectively – even while they have become more scared and angry as ever.

Remember, people have neither the time, inclination or even the capacity to evaluate in a rational way, for example, whether “they are safer because of the War on Terror”. All they want is to feel safer. Torture makes them feel safer. You have to explode that feeling; you have to explain why the CIA’s torture program makes us less safe, not to mention the disgrace to our civic heritage and morality.

The Right Wing mindset is very black and white. It’s a tendency, almost a need to the world in terms of Good Guys and Bad Guys. Force them to acknowledge that the world is a complicated, messy place and the idea of Good Guys is a fantasy created (in its modern form) by Disney. Force them to acknowledge there is a problem; then squeeze a real answer out of them. Point out how many of the things the Left is doing is actually more moral than what the Right is doing.

Aside from the regular, push button issues, the basic confusion is over underlying issues; what exactly is going wrong with the country? Systemic, legally mandated Profit Maximisation policies in the hands of the biggest corporations and handful of individuals is the issue. This might be hard to make them see this. Avoid broad and hopelessly outdated terms like “capitalism”, “socialism”, and the like. If they can push you into an argument in such terms, you’ve already lost. Point out how we have never had a pure capitalist system; Adam Smith would have been horrified of the world we have today. Point out how the system is enriching corporations and only a very few individuals; the overwhelming amount of other people are getting poorer. If they try to push back with complaints about stifling economic regulation and Big Government, point out where regulation is necessary. Point out how they support Big Government via the military and implicit support of the Police State. Point out how are government implicitly subsidises the auto industry, the airline industry and the oil industry. It’s socialism for Big Business.

From my own personal experience, I remember how I would have an objection to the Leftist argument, and that would allow me to get hung up and disengage from what the Leftist was saying; I vividly remember this from watching Jon Stewart in college. There was always something that he would leave out; of something that I felt was subtly unfair. I and would be able to continue with my beliefs as before. This is a tricky one because what we have stumbled into here is the problem of cognitive dissonance. Another way of saying this is: Right Wingers have little capacity to evaluate the relative strength of opposing arguments. They will struggle to understand why their little objection based on a personal anecdote is meaningless in the face of well established, nation-wide statistics. This is point where you will have to be patient and really explain your entire thought process. It’s the only way.

Sometimes I think that the core difference between a Left Winger and a Right Winger is some confusion over Means and Ends. And End is like that far and lofty goal that we find ourselves thinking about. It’s your Utopia, whatever that maybe. Do you believe in a a Star Trek style future fuelled by technological progress? A steady-state economic world of farming communes and artisanal towns featured in Ecotopia? Or do you fantasise about about a retrograde 1950’s-esque America where everyone knows their place? This is your “end”. I think its fair to say that conservatives and Right Wingers are dominated by their End; they implicitly believe that the Ends Justify the Means. Let’s examine the flip side: the Means. This is what you are actually doing now. Means can ‘mean’ both method and tactics, but really refer to current reality. Focusing on an End allows us to ignore the Means, forgetting that, really all that matters is the Means (in the vast majority of cases; especially in big picture situations).

So that’s another good tactic to take. Talk Means. Let the Ends take care of themselves.

I’m reading an interesting article in the New York Times, called Who Blames the Victim? http://www.nytimes.com/2016/06/26/opinion/sunday/who-blames-the-victim.html?action=click&contentCollection=opinion&module=NextInCollection&region=Footer&pgtype=article&version=column&rref=collection%2Fcolumn%2Fgray-matter. Its suggests that people who value traditional moral planks like “purity” essentially have little sympathy for victims. What does work is shifting the focus from the “victim” to the perpetrator. And I think there is a lot in this. Shift the focus from, say, immigrants as victims to why are the immigrants here? Who’s behind it? Who’s behind solution? Who’s behind Big Government expenses? Talk about the perpetrators.

I have used a very big brush here, and I am sure there are many more things to add; I might do a “list of punchy, un-ignorable statistics”  for arguments sake in the future.

 

 

 

 

Is Trump Anti-Establishment?

No he is not.

As the primary season finally gets into the end game and the grim logic of “voting for the lesser of two evils” makes itself ever more felt, its time to be frank. Hilary is politics as usual; she will be competent and middle of the road and will be a Baby Boomer Candidate (as will Trump for that matter). Trump’s peculiar brand of buffoonish, reality-TV style right-wing populism is best thought of in the vein of Barry Goldwater. But here is the thing: Trump is also far more of an “Establishment” candidate then you might think. Since the dawn of time, right wingers have posed as harbingers of “change” or of being “anti-establishment” or some kind of back-to-basics/clear out the riffraff rhetoric. And it’s always a disguise for things getting worse. That’s all. Find me an example of when right-wing populism has led to an era of prosperity and culture.

So I saw roughly this on an online comment section recently: “Sorry, guys, but if Sanders doesn’t get the nomination, I’m voting for Trump. The Establishment just has to be destroyed”. The guy’s icon was one of those V for Vendetta Guy Fawkes masks. This really needs to be addressed.

Let me explain why Trump is not nearly as “anti-Establishment” as you think. I still think that a Trump Presidency would be American Fascism – it really would –  but not on the lines of say of Hitler. No, he’s more like a Mussolini; buffoonish and vicious. Trump represents anti-Establishment change in the same way that chickens represent birds. Yes, it’s a bird, but it doesn’t fly. First of all, he’s a white male billionaire who is playing a winking game with far-right extremism. This isn’t new. It’s not a change. Yes, he has some protectionist, isolationist ideas when it comes to international trade. And yes, he has made some noises that indicate he would be fairly socially liberal. But that is it. There would be no ACTUAL change. This country desperately a re-boot in our participatory democratic process. We desperately need to take action on climate change. We need to overhaul the tax code. We need to reign in a regulate Wall Street. The war industry has to be stopped. Trump would greatly make all of these problems worse.

If you think Trump is “anti-Establishment”, ask yourself: How exactly? The GOP, after some hesitation, has now backed Trump to the hilt. The GOP is now Trump’s party. The big GOP donors? Backing Trump. Big Media love Trump. The Pentagon won’t object to a Trump presidency. Wall Street knows that Trump will look out for the profit margins, same goes for the world of Big Business. So hat part of the Establishment is threatened? You can’t name it because there isn’t one. He’s not a threat to the Establishment.

My favourite philosopher Slavoj Zizek, sees Trump as a fairly typical liberal, centrist candidate. And there is some merit to this view. You see, Zizek has a more European perspective, and view Trump as part of a larger trend in the world of Liberalism (this means First World, Western Capitalist Democracies). In a nutshell, Liberalism has failed, but there is not real alternative. Thus there is a progressive trend, a technocratic Establishment trend, and a far-right trend, which Trump represents. Zizek would see Trump much like Italy’s Silvio Berlusconi, England’s Nigel Farage, or even worse, Russia’s Putin.

So you are anti-establishment in some way; you’ve complained about how business as usual isn’t working in one way or another. So what do you do? Who do you vote for?

Sanders is the only candidate who will bring effective change.

But Bernie Sander’s candidacy is has been stifled by the Democratic Establishment. They’ve played the same game that they always play and have stacked the deck (see Eugene McCarthy and Herbert Humphrey). Sander’s supporters are angry and Hillary is having some real trouble getting them on board her campaign. This is no surprise. I suspect that only Hillary’s advisors and Bill Maher think that the Millennials/Progressives will come around. It is hard to escape the conclusion that, as usual, Democrats assume that the Progressive wing of the party will vote for their candidate because, well, it’s better than the other guy…

Americans have expressing their anger and frustration for quite some time now with votes towards the Right; the Tea Party, Trump etc. The American electorate keeps sending people “who hate the government” to congress. It’s a disaster.

The Democrats don’t deserve to win. They are feckless. They pander to special interests and use that and corporate sponsorship to control the primary; the Democrats have never been progressive. Their track record is sad. I doubt that Hilary or the Democratic party can effect the change this country desperately needs. I’ll vote for Hilary. I think she will make some decent changes, but no where close to what we need. She has no vision for the future; nor does Trump.

Let’s say that Bernie runs as an Independent? Will I still vote for Hilary? No: I think that Bernie can win in a three way election. For the simple reason that the majority of Americans are progressive to some extent. There are as many Millennials as there are Baby Boomers; the problem is getting the Youth and Millennial Vote out. It will come out for Bernie and no other candidate.

Of course, this is fantasy. Bernie is making subtle moves that indicate he at this point is making moves to strengthen the progressive wing of the Democratic party and hopefully move the damn thing towards something an actually liberal policy.

To summarise. Trump is not an “anti-establishment” candidate. Hilary will be OK as president. The Democrats once again have shot themselves in the foot, and Bernie is the man we need to be president.

 

Capitalism, Socialism and Democracy

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Probably one of the most important influential books you have never heard of. It’s fascinating because it’s very much of its time, and yet very much of our time as well. Here’s what I mean. The meat of the book was written, or at least intellectually developed before WWII (published during) in the late ’30s. However, this is also one of the key texts of the triumph of neoliberalism. This book never seemed more prophetic then in the ’90s with the technology explosion and corresponding economic growth.

Of course, of our vantage point here in 2016, that pendulum has swung completely in the other direction. I would love (love love love) to bring Joseph Schumpeter to our present day and show him around the global poverty, environmental destruction, and insane inequality explained away in moralistic tones. Because it’s all kinda his child.

How should I say this? Schumpeter is never wrong – on the contrary, he is highly logical and rigourous. He’s cosmopolitan. He loves Latin phraseology. But it’s what he leaves out. It’s in what he brushes aside or discounts due to “space considerations”. I’ll come back to this.

Schumpeter is one of the large exodus of German intellectuals driven out by Hitler in the 30’s, who came to settle in America and became profoundly influential, in deep, long lasting ways. It’s one of the more interesting and unpredictable effects of WII. Schumpeter, along side von Hayek and Richard Strauss represent the more traditionally conservative political perspectives. While the Frankfurt School of Marxists were going around inventing postmodernism and influencing the counterculture of the ’60s, these handful of thinkers were busy building their own intellectual dynasties which would come back with a vengeance in the 80’s; their peak being the Bush/Cheney/Rove Administration.

In a nutshell, it is these three German intellectuals who provide the intellectual fodder (eyewash?) for the modern American conservative movement. When a conservative attacks a liberal for being either a Bleeding Heart or a Secret Stalinist, it is the work of Sumpter, Von Hayek and Strauss which provide the intellectual justification for this view.

I think that if Schumpeter was alive today and looking out over our economic and cultural landscape, he would probably vote Democrat. I doubt he would go for Bernie Sanders, but he would definitely feel comfortable with Hilary Clinton. And this is why his book is so very much of it’s time in the late ’30s. It’s not of ours; his views have been superseded (and yet they still form the rational basis for pretty much any sort of neoliberal economic view).

Between National Socialist Germany and Marxist-Leninist Russia, and the decline of the traditional capitalist democracies (England and France), it seemed in the 1930s, that socialism was pretty much bound to triumph all over the world. Intellectuals ranging from serious academics to cafe dilettantes all espoused some kind of socialism. In a nutshell, socialism and the phraseology of socialism was IN in a big way. Hardly anyone could make any sort of pronouncement without making certain comments of a socialist shade.

Joseph Schumpeter thus feels like the “lone voice crying in the wilderness” in support of capitalism. He’s very annoyed by people who make irrational arguments or silly assumptions. And this book is his massive rant against both socialism and the “cafe socialists” which he has had to tolerate. He writes like a man who assumes that his cause is lost. He attributes the unpopularity and failures of capitalism to essentially the fact that it gets bad press.

But here his brilliance – and I do not say that sarcastically – emerges. He writes for a public which he assumes is to a man in some bent pro-socialist. To keep people reading – instead of throwing down the book in disgust – he maintains a rather impressive tongue-in-cheek tone that lasts for a solid half of the work.

He opens with a discussion of Marx and the theoretical underpinnings of socialism. Even as he rips apart Marx and his ideas, he maintains a tone and certain sentences which make it seem that he is actually in support of Marx and or socialism, but is just making fine-tuning remarks or reworking some of Marx’s ideas to make them better. It’s actually really  well done and definitely worth a read.

This book is also famous for the idea of “creative destruction”; the idea that growth is takes place over the bodies of outdated industries or techniques, IE, vinyl being replaced by CDs, etc. He also makes a strong pitch for capitalism being in the long run more compatible with democracy than socialism (which he points out is not necessarily a democratic form of government.

Fine.

But here is my actual problem with Schumpeter’s reasoning (and again it’s more of what he leaves out or ignores). In one of the opening chapters he defines the best economy as the one that maximises production/output. It’s literally just a sentence that he’s thrown in. And that’s really the whole trick. Once he has made that assumption, he can easily prove that capitalism is the system that maximises production, and is therefore the best.

He seemingly remains oblivious to the massive flaws in this assumption. I won’t ding him for not being concerned with the environment because I suppose nobody was at this time. But he ignores the true complexity of our individual lives and our societies and saves his argument be hiding behind “maximum production”. He fails to see the great contours of capitalism – a system of exploration that feeds off of population growth and environmental destruction. He categorically refuses to recognise the massive aid that governments have to lend to “capitalism” to keep it going.

Schumpeter, borrowing and building off of Max Weber, subscribes to the moralistic Predestination view of capitalism, i.e., those that are successful have done something to deserve it. They have saved or invested wisely or worked hard or been more smart than the next guy. He waxes poetically about the virtues and mindset of the businessman or the “bourgeoisie” which he finds to be hard working and sober and sensible.

He savours describing capitalism as an unceasing maelstrom of competition that even the biggest companies must weather. And this is the big secret of capitalism – it’s superiority. He’s blind to how far governments have to bend to keep the damn thing going. He’s blind to how rare it is for the system to work in the moralistic and efficient way that he suggests that it does.

And I think that if he were alive today I think we would see a Peter Schumpeter much less enthusiastic about laissez-faire economics and centre-right politics. With the threat of global Communism being definitely gone for a while now, with Marxist phraseology being well out of style, with an economy that depends on government propping up most of the major industries in one way or an other, with systematic global poverty, with environmental destruction and massive inequality, and with the link between war and Big Business definitely established, he would have to yield on a few points. For sure.

It’s a fascinating book and a monument to it’s time and place. That being said, unless you want to understand neoliberal rationalisations, it’s probably not worth your time.

Discourse, Narrative, and the Breakdown of rational argument

Browsing my Facebook news feed, I saw this article, form “bizpacreview.com” and an organization with the terrifyingly loaded (as if there is someone to be found anywhere who is against prosperity), and highly ironic (the trickle down economics they support just hasn’t worked), name of “Americans for Prosperity.”

Here’s the article:

Watch Bill Gates school MSNBC’s Mika on minimum wage; she didn’t like his non-liberal answer

January 22, 2014 by Michele Kirk 71 Comments

Like most MSNBC personalities, Morning Joe co-host Mika Brzezinski feels no need to be subtle when pushing her liberal thoughts on the public. It works out well since the public can’t talk back to her.

Brzezinski found out Tuesday what happens when you have a business-savvy billionaire on as a guest and you ask him about raising the minimum wage.

Not everyone’s drinking the Kool-Aid on the $15 hamburger. And Bill Gates can obviously do the math on this issue.

Brzezinski did her best to load the question in favor of a typical liberal response:

“What do you think about the minimum wage? Should it be raised? And should we want to see models more like Costco – where companies pay their employees a lot more than the minimum wage?”

Microsoft’s co-founder wasn’t biting on that apple.

“Well, jobs are a great thing. You have to be a bit careful that if you raise the minimum wage, you’re encouraging labor substitution. You’re going to go buying machines and automate things — or cause jobs to appear outside of that jurisdiction. And so within certain limits, you know, it does cause job destruction. But, if you really start pushing it, then you’re just making a huge trade-off.”

After shutting down Brzezinski’s feeble attempt at arguing with him, Gates mercifully wiped the confused look off her face by saying, “these are complex issues. It’s not as simple as saying ‘OK just raise the wage’ and all of a sudden . . .”

Nice try, Mika. I hope you were paying attention. Watch out for those “complex issues.

First I want to discuss the caliber of the argument of the writer, then I want to discuss the actual subject of minimum wage.

Something that always strikes me about argument is that there are so many levels to be found in it. Theory, practice, and pure emotional rhetoric. The simple truth is that if you want to convince the public, one has to quickly catch emotions. We could argue economic theory over the minimum wage for literally the rest of our lives, but of course, doing your homework about economic theory never won anyone an election, much less an online opinion poll.

We as a public need to recognize the above article as pure propaganda, pure rhetoric. The simple fact that its loaded with emotive language renders valueless any content of fact that there may be in the article. Telling a story; repeating a political narrative is what politics has become. There are several narratives here that conservatives use over and over again. 1) liberal media conspiracy, and 2) down-to-earth businessman setting record strait.

Briefly, there is no liberal media. If you really were a hard-nosed, down-to-earth businessman, you would immediacy recognize that media is lowest-common denominator, and literally only tries grab the emotions of the most number of people. The media are largely owned by huge corporate structures that expect 20% profit and have no interest in the news requirements of a democratic society. Liberals themselves very frequently have disagreements with what is in the news. Further, the media is so sensitive to claims about bias that they have completely given up any sort of actual journalism, and merely report the he-said, she-said of politics. The result is our Republican Congress and the shut-downs.

The host’s question about minimum wage is hardly liberal at all; its a decent question, and it worries me that we are at appoint in our society where such questions are seen as corrosively liberal. It’s a weakness in conservative thought and opinion that any suggestion of change is treated as bad. One gets the sense that any raise in the minimum wage amounts to hard-core Stalinism.  Conservatives would make their beliefs palatable, and their arguments rational by a modicum of compromise, a willingness to work through a problem, instead of the big “No” of contemporary Republicans.

As widely successful as Bill Gates may be, he never the less repeats canned economic arguments against minimum wage. It’s not really the John Wayne moment of setting the record strait that the above article makes it out to be. It’s not even an argument. No way a talk show host has any interest or incentive for engaging in economic debates on TV.

Briefly, what about minimum wage? Are we convinced by Gates’ platitude about labour substitution and mechanization? Really, there is a clash of vision here, ultimately about what we want from the economy. I don’t deny that in the conservative/Gates graph of labor supply and demand that we learned in high school does indeed indicate that demand for labor will go down. And that’s bad. I think that is a very one-step argument. It’s not wrong, its just limited and simplistic. And I am suspicious of arguments that are simple.

The flip side is that over 30 million Americans work for minimum wage. This means that minimum wage is no longer for high schoolers worked over the summer. The average of a McDonald employee is something like 28 years old. If you think the minimum wage is high enough, you simply have not experienced life on minimum wage. Trickle down economic’s basic claim is that the wealthy and the large corporations generate the wealth, that eventually trickle down to the rest of us. This thinking has been in ascendency for over thirty years, and we have nothing to show for it but massively increasing inequality, unemployment, and a financial system that seems to be as good as laying people off as any minimum wage hike could possibly be. I don’t deny that trickle down economics is a factor in the economy. But why is everyone else  excluded? Isn’t a healthy economy the one where everyone has purchasing power? Should not every economic class be generating wealth? Should not we value the lives of real people over McDonald’s profit margin? I will close by recommending that people do not go to television for their economic understand. I personally recommend a book on steady state economics.