Dear Tom Perez….

Congratulations on being elected to the chairmanship of the Democratic National Committee.

It’s very exciting to know that the mindset of myopia, hypocrisy, backroom dealings and ineptitude that lost the 2016 election to a reality TV star and snake-oil salesman named Donald Trump is still solidly in control of the Democratic Party. It’s a real honour to lead the most corrupt political party in American history: the party of machine politics and smoked-filled backrooms, Mayor Daley and Herbert Humphrey, and now the party of Hilary Clinton, Debbie Wasserman Schultz and yourself. A smug insider elected by smug insiders that vividly, excruciatingly have no reason to be smug: that’s your situation right now.

Oh, I know that Hilary won the popular vote, but you have clearly not learned a lesson from the election. Nor have you and your backers any conception of what is happening to this country right now. The Democratic Brand embodied by the Clintons: neoliberalism, identity politics, wealthy behind the scenes donors, technocratic centrism loaded with platitudes about Hope and Change has actually just been torpedoed. You are captain of a sinking ship that just voted to tell it’s progressive base – and not for the first time in very recent memory – to go f*** itself. There is no other way to say it.

Thank you, Mr. Perez, for confirming to progressive voters that they are not at fault for Trump’s election. Thank you for confirming our suspicion that he Democrats are a corporate party, designed more to foil progressive politics then to represent them. Every time I start to feel any sort of loyalty or start to identify with the Democrats, somewhere behind the closed doors of the DNC, some sort of wedge issue emerges to reconfirm that the DNC is the Abbott to the GOP’s Costello. A few months ago, I thought between demographic changes and the fielding of Trump that the Democrats where going to be the party in power for the foreseeable future and the GOP was going to split into a sort of regional party and a libertarian party. Now I don’t even think we will see any real democracy ever again.

Thank you for freeing me from any sense of loyalty to Democrats. If this election has done anything good, it has revealed a lot of true stripes. For all the fake news and indefinably rigged primaries and elections, there is a decent chance that Americans will get to see exactly where things stand now. With this catastrophic loss to Trump, I thought that the Democrats would embrace progressive politics and lay the foundation for the millennial generation to really come to identify with  a major US political party. Well, that dream is done; perhaps  I was foolish and naive to think that was possible. Instead of fighting for democracy and choosing to represent and fight for an energised progressive base, you have opted to stay fiercely loyal to the very things that where rejected in this last election. Millennials – the largest and most highly educated generation – are seeking political representation and you have failed them again and again. Brilliant. The galling thing is that both your tactical moves and your strategic moves are not working…

Of course, that’s not your perspective. I know that your calculation is that progressives and millennials have no choice but to vote Democrat in 2018 and 2020, but if the results of the election suggest anything, they suggest that the American voter isn’t buying the (never very successful) Democratic model that Bill Clinton started. It’s all about money after all, isn’t it?  The progressive voter cannot be counted on to show up on voting day.

As a progressive voter, I’ve heard it all before. Sarah Silverman’s “You’re being ridiculous!” has come to define the party you now lead. I wish the Democrats were as effective as opposing Republicans as they where at foiling their own progressive wing of their party.

It’s not too late though Mr. Perez. We’re looking for leaders. Right now we have Bernie, but there is a hunger for leaders that voters can trust. Trump won because a big block of Americans felt they could trust him; they felt they represented their interests. I think they are stupid and dead wrong, but that is beside the point.

The majority of Americans want what ‘Merica wants. True representation.

You might try it sometime.

 

 

this is what fascism looks like

It has been one month since Trump became president. We have all been asking ourselves: “what is Donald Trump?” A populist? A fascist? Just what we need to shake things up? We as a society have not settled on what he is, what he really represents. And this might be his greatest strength; that potential of ‘normalisation’ already well under way.

Let’s cut to the chase: this is what fascism looks like. All the “fascism” alarms bells, klaxons, sirens, calendar event reminders and tocsins are going off right now. All of them. Every damn single last one.

Let’s be clear on what fascism is and what it is not. Because a part of the problem is that we have used the word “fascism” for so long as a catchall word meaning “very bad, angry/strict.”

Fascism is revolution in favour of authoritarianism. The strange marriage of angry populism and cynical conservative powers, this is a revolt against the idea of the public good, public reason and messy secular humanism. Fascism always makes use of the emotional appeal of a misunderstood, mythical past, even as it is itself something new and has nothing to do with the actual history of the nation. Fascism simultaneously captures the language of revolt and of change; it thus has a way of outflanking traditional political parties on both the right and the left.

This logically incoherent, internally contradictory appeal is the keynote sign of facscism. It “works” because, remember, fascism is revolt against civil society: it is an explosion of greed and selfishness, the triumph of the id, so to speak. As the saying going: “there is no contradiction in self interest.” Fascism is what happens when corporate greed hollows out a society, its individuals and institutions in the name of profit, and when things come to a breaking point where the path of the political body either points towards a move towards public good at the expense of corporate profit, or the destruction of civil society for the benefit of corporate profit. The resulting destruction of civil society and government based on public reason creates the appearance – in the case of Nazisim at least – of explosive growth and expansion. Because the resources of society are no longer being directed to the well-being of its individuals, it’s being completely directed into military expansion, corporate profit, and the gain of the handful of sychophants at the top. Fascism in this sense is extreme corporate cronyism with an expansive ideological cover.

All of these signs are present in Trump’s nascent regime. It all fits. Let me repeat that: it all fits the pattern. “Populism,” the tortured ideological term conservatives would prefer you to use for Trump, is drafted every time a demagogue sweeps onto the scene to take advantage of people’s anger. Don’t call it mob rule. At it’s best, populism expresses an almost marxist sense of lower class identity. Explain to me how Trump’s cabinet of billionaires is “populist” again?

Fascism is not true populism. Nor is it pure autocracy. It obviously contains huge doses of these things, but fascism is not about common people overthrowing some sort of oppressive regime, nor is fascism particularly strong at the top. It is not so much characterised by extreme centralised authority as competing factions of cronies and sycophants, who compete for the attention of the Leader. Fascism isn’t so much centralised and autocratic as a handful of powerful interests – in Nazi Germany’s case, the army, the bureaucracy, the SS and the major corporations – vying to expand their own power. The German government had ceased to exist in a de facto sense. Remember, Hitler wasn’t brilliant and his cronies and henchmen were even worse. They where crackpots, ranters, fanatics and madmen that political elites thought they could control and mould. Fascism is a wrecking; that turns a vibrant society into a barracks.

Recently, I have been reading the traditional Republican/conservative pushback on Donald Trump being as fascist: here are the best two articles. Barton Swaim’s “Trump’s populism isn’t fascism. So what is it?” https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/trumps-populism-isnt-fascism-so-what-is-it/2017/02/16/d871df78-f20f-11e6-8d72-263470bf0401_story.html?utm_term=.5db0621deea1&wpisrc=nl_popns&wpmm=1 Swaim suggests that America exceptionalism – that our character as a nation renders us immune to fascism – and that if we where going to have gone fascist, it would have been in the ’30s and ’40s. Embracing the idea of American Exceptionalism, Swaim smugly announces that our society intrinsically resists the “centralisation of authority” that would happen under fascism. Further, fascism is “for elites, not mavericks or crackpots” and German society, including their version of liberal professors fell into line behind Hitler because German thought of itself as monolithic and was OK with being ruled by an aristocracy from Berlin. Again curious when your election is made possible by billionaires, the oil and coal industry, and FBI Director Comey. Fascism is when the “elites” and crackpots join forces.

Any complains liberals might have – like Bannon saying that the media should shut up – say more about delicate liberal sensitivities than about Trump’s ideology. Swains suggests that because he is able to disagree with Trump on anything (he airs slight disapproval of the Muslim Ban here) that means Trump is not a fascist. Swain then gets to his main course: Trump is a populist. A return to roots and basics. He’s the Salt of the Earth of American Democracy. Again, Trump lost the popular vote and “did not vote” was the winner of the election. After providing no evidence or explanation, merely a vague quote from Irving Kristol that echoes the Jefferson quote about the Tree of Liberty needing the blood of patriots except in this case populists, Swaim closes by saying the real problem is the conformism and complacency of America’s liberal elites.

Adopting the arm-chair-general superciliousness I’ve come to strongly associate with conservatives delivering an oversimplified, strangely convenient/cherry-picked version of history, Swaim claims that American ‘frontier spirit’ and general resistance to conformity means that authoritarianism of any stripe would be instantly halted before it even began. The funny thing about Sinclair Lewis’ It Can’t Happen Here, Swaim says, is that it fascism never took place in ’30s America. I cannot tell if Swaim makes his arguments out of cynicism and hypocrisy or naive ignorance, but he clearly has not read It Can’t Happen Here. The entire point of the book is to illustrate how easily it could “happen here” i.e., how easily “American exceptionalism” could be turned into a fascist program. If I was Swaim, I wouldn’t have even mentioned the book at all.

Further, Swaim seems blind that he is on the side of the forces of racial/religious conformism. America was explicitly founded on the idea of public reason and the separation of church and state: the Founding Fathers refused to choose. Swaim implicitly thinks that American means “white and christian.” What this means in the modern age is fascism. Nor does he have any conception of how the ‘frontier spirit’ might work. When does it “kick in?” Swaim is also ignoring the realty of what the decades of the Cold War have done to our democratic society (talk about centralisation of power and conformity); his statement that “Americans have never gone for socialism” seems strange given FDR’s New Deal programs and the fact that American politics is currently heading off a cliff into right wing extremism. It implies Americans are immune to extremist politics just when that is exactly what is happening.

Ultimately for Swaim, nothing Donald Trump could ever do would count as fascist. And that is the real weakness in what he’s saying. Swaim’s rationale here indicates that that, hypothetically, Mike Pence’s “Patriotic Bible Camp for American Greatness” cannot be a  concentration camp because, well, it reflects our frontier spirit, and it chastises bleeding heart liberals (who are also secret totalitarians) and if it was fascist – which it definitely isn’t – Americans wouldn’t have it. “Frontier spirit” is great, but does Swaim realise that there is no frontier anymore?

Swaim’s basic argument rests on myths and  misconceptions about the American past and the actual nut-and-bolts of how are society functions today. Worse, he has no idea what fascism actually is. For him, the sum of the liberal argument is that Trump is a fascist because he is a bully, and Benito Mussolini was also a blustering bully. Swaim dismisses the comparison as facile. Fine. But he misses how Trump’s bullying fits a pattern that is repeating itself  here and now.

The second pattern of response is quite a lot more subtle and complicated. A great example is John McNeill’s “How fascist is Donald Trump? There’s a formula for that.” (https://www.washingtonpost.com/posteverything/wp/2016/10/21/how-fascist-is-donald-trump-theres-actually-a-formula-for-that/?tid=a_inl&utm_term=.e23796649cd4.

McNeill, a historian, grades Trump on his similarities with historical fascism in eleven categories, each category getting a possible four “benitos.” This is an interesting and charming read (on the category of ‘fetishisation of masculinity,’ four benitos are awarded) that dismisses Trump as a crude semi-fascist, a baby fascist (Trump scores a total of 22 benitos out of a possible 44). Fine. McNeill is clearly no friend of Trump, but his perspective tends to play down or even dismiss concerns about what is taking place now. Instead of indicating that we are serious danger of history repeating itself, and that our society and democracy are in dire peril, McNeill more or less leaves the impression that, like Swaim, Trump is like commercials during a movie: you don’t like them, but you sit through it anyway. McNeill contributes, in a small way, to the normalisation of Trump.

But what does it mean that a third of Americans slobber a semi-fascist and many more tolerate him? It strikes me that even a baby fascist should still trigger the “frontier spirit.” And even then, I would argue that the basic mechanics of fascism – populist rage allied with corporate and military interests destroying the basic tenets of the public good/civil society – clearly do not require a “high benito scoring” fascist dictator to be fascism. Remember we are talking about destruction here; you don’t have to be competent. 

Obviously Trump isn’t Hitler. Trump obviously isn’t Mussolini. But he does not have to be, and  American fascism – Trumpism – was never going to resemble the historical fascists. Really – just think about it. This is root-and-branch the essential reasoning behind the conservative mind-block on what’s happening to this country. Trump can’t be a fascist – the reasoning goes – because of the dazzling array of superficial differences between Trumpism and Nazism, Germany/Italy and America. For example, McNeill awards zero benitos in the categories of ‘fetishisation of youth’ and ‘hierarchical party structure/purging the disloyal,’ making much of the fact that his followers are not dressed up in ersatz military outfits and some Republicans dislike Trump and are not afraid to say so in public. So Republicans aren’t goose stepping around Washington DC in Davy Crockett outfits. Great. McNeill is blind to how militarised are society has become; requiring that fascism march in the street with matching outfits is laughable. Also, what about those little red hats?

NcNeill’s categories have nothing to do with what fascism actually is and how it actually operates. McNeill is implicitly assuming that Trumpism must fit snuggly into a mould that it simply doesn’t need in order to be fascist. McNeill is like the generals who “prepare for the last war” instead of looking to fight the next one. Again, neither McNeill nor Swaim look below the surface and look at what has happened to this country since WWII and the underlying economics, not to mention the state of our democracy (effectively gone). They are afraid to check underneath the hood: Trump doesn’t represent “frontier spirit” nor does Trumpism need to fit a blueprint of 1930’s European fascism for Trumpism to be fascism.

How long will these ostensibly reasonable, hard headed Republicans – fond of Winston Churchill and Edmund Burke – keep up their sham debate? How bad will it have to get? Look at their words and actions. Bannon’s statements about the media culminate to a calculated attempt to subvert democracy; Trump is moving full bore destroy any sort of function public system.

What exactly do you need to be more clear?

 

 

President Orange, Part II

I’m sure that most Americans – even those who voted for Trump – and even Trump himself are not fascist.

But that doesn’t matter. Trump has now occupied a facist nexus in American politics. The alignment of forces and motives, the decay of civil society, all point to truely alarming parallels to Germany in the 1930s. I make this statement not out of hyperbole or sophistry, but with a full understanding of what happened to Germany in the ’30s. I wrote my masters dissertation on this period, understanding exactly what happened and why.

When the Media like The Washington Post pen articles like “Who is the Real Donald Trump (and what does he stand for),” they totally miss the point. Trump has no plan; no program; there is no core set of principals. His strength is this very formlessness. He’s a  Rorschach Inkblot Test for America. This is exactly part of the appeal of for right politics; most individuals and institutional forces can either perceive an advantage, or find some sort of rational for supporting the proto-fascist. Hitler attracted the support of the German military and big industrial businesses (who reckoned that they could both control Hitler and use him against their enemies, the Socialist and Communist parties arguing for a more equitable distribution of wealth); the lower middle class fell for Hitler because his emotional argument fit their predicament. German traditionalists and nostalgics (longing for the return of the Kaiser) found Hitler and acceptable stand  in.

Hitler, like Trump, appeals to strange and broad coalition of social elements (note that the far-right tends to borrow and mimic some of the ideas of the Left; ‘Nazi’ means National Socialist. Both are demagogues; both lack a grasp of reality; both are extremely cunning in a tactical sense (like who do I need to placate right now, who can I intimidate into silence right now, who can I destroy right now?). It’s a strange mix of fervour and emotion on one hand a devastating cynical calculation of “ironic distance” (i.e., I know that Trump is a buffoon, but because I am white and rich, I know that I will be okay) on the other.

What we call fascism actually occurs when the ‘fantasy’ meets reality, and in the desperate need to maintain the fantasy, civil society is totally destroyed. This is what happened in Germany and could easily happen to us. The ‘fantasy’ is that Trump is a successful businessman who will run the government like a business; that the insecurity and poverty of White America will go away, that the minorities and messy reality will fade into the background, that Obama and Hilary and the Democrats actively worked against America and that government regulation is a sinister plot; that America has always been a White, Christian Nation, and that Trump will wash away plot against this White, Christian Nation.

This is truely fantasy; we where never a White, Christian Nation (however many of us thought or felt that it was). The Founding Fathers chose not to choose; the unifying metaphor in our Constitution is an Enlightenment conception of a classical, civil republic along the lines of ancient Athens or Rome. Living in a “liberal democracy” means we choose not to choose. And this is the essence of what Trump, and the sad morons who voted for him, utterly threatens.

Trump will have to satisfy the populists (the alt-right, the plumbers and car mechanics who voted for him) and the powerful moneyed and corporate interests who perceive Trump to be an unusual Queen on the chess board of profit-maximisation. These forces are tenuously aligned; and when the whiney, meme-driven Republican fantasy actually has to govern and meets the full force of reality (i.e. repealing NAFTA won’t bring the steel mills back or the coal mines back, stripping away environmental regulation won’t benefit America’s vulnerable middle class, etc), Trump’s only real option to main power will be to go full fascism: the only way to benefit the populists and the corporations will be to destroy our civil society, our liberties. Massive government spending on the military will cover for the stripping away of the last of our liberties. This will be the only way to maintain the Fantasy.

So what do we do now?

The main thing will be to not let Trump get normalised. The election season cannot end. Everything word and action of his Administration must be problematised and subverted. Any respect given to Trump – even lines like “show respect for the office” must be mocked, must be sabotaged. Those who voted for Trump must be barraged by a constant stream of truth, mockery and sarcasm. Like a dog that’s peed on a rug, we have to rub their noses in it. They are insecure, ignorant people; we must make their shameful mistake public and constant. There is nothing ‘normal’ or ‘ok’ about Trump. Nothing at all. We must strengthen our civil society so that Trump withers away before he is forced into a sort of “Reichstag Fire” moment.

Already the “give Trump a chance, he might just be another Republican president line” has picked up steam, especially amongst the corporate/centrist democrat crowd (Tom Hanks for one). It’s clear from the general tenor of the GOP and Trump himself, and the cabinet choices that his well not be “just another Republican presidency.” This has to be stopped. We can’t let that be the narrative that the Democrats adopt.

I’m trying to look on the bright side. A lot of conservative poison will be drawn out by this election; a lot of stupid Republican ideas that have been around forever (like running the government like a business) will get aired. Hell, people might even learn something. The idea here is that at least the Republican fantasy playbook well be carried out by a cheeto-colored buffoon instead of someone more competent: better a Hermann Goring than a Reinhard Heydrich.

The silver lining is that the Clinton machine is done; it is possible that the Democrats can be become a truely progressive party that responds to the needs of American voters.

In reflecting on what has just happened in America on the 8th, three things standout First, the “center” in American politics has collapsed. Second, historical parallels to the 1968 presidential election and the 18th Amendment – Prohibition – seem freshly relevant, as well as, I hate to say it, 1930’s Germany. Last, the idea that a larger, techy, urban – and largely apolitical society is increasingly the reality of America today: call it “cosmopolis.”

Identity politics has been a disaster; it needs to be abandoned. It’s not just a poor indicator of how people vote (like when we say “white males voted Trump” what really mean is like 65% of them did; that leaves an awful lot of white males who didn’t vote Trump). Political Correctness, while based on noble motives (you have to treat people with respect and would it kill you to have some empathy?), has likewise been a disaster. The problem with “Black Lives Matters” isn’t that it is wrong or incorrect, it simply doesn’t work, like calling for “socialism now” or burning an American flag in protest. People can’t think in the abstract enough to understand those actions and symbols; we are too easy to manipulate. Racism is not about Black people, it’s about White Insecurity (in a fundamental sense).

Already, the tendency to talk about the ‘white working class’ or the ‘aggrieved white male’ as the driving for behind Trump already misses the point; it’s already wrong. What is the real problem is neoliberalism (capitalism for capitalism’s sake; which is stripping away our culture and values and even the basis of democracy in the name of ever-more-profit). I am not denying the racism, I am saying that identity politics is the wrong way forward and needs to be abandoned. We need less “labels” and more policies; new language and programs which totally shift the paradigm of American politics as far away as possible from the canned bickering of Baby-boomer politics.

 

My last point here is that the real danger is the lurking, boring and technical aspects of Trump and authoritarianism. While our Buffoon-In-Chief districts with Twitter, and outrageous racist comments, the CIA and FBI will gain unlimited surveillance powers. The military will grow larger and more bloated; corporate profit will explode at the cost of the environment and our society. Republicans will intrench themselves ever more deeply into our judicial system, and institute a new, ever-more-subtle Jim Crow.

We cannot let this “campaign” end.

President-Elect Orange

There was a moment watching the election results when all those upper midwestern states shifted red and I knew that our country was about take a very dark, very different future. I felt sick. In the words of a shell-shocked CNN pundit – I think it was Van Jones – “this is a tectonic shift.”

Yes, the racism – Van Jones’ ‘Whitelash’ – and sexism of America were on full display but that neither scared me nor surprised me. I don’t think it was the racists that swung it for Trump. What did scare me was that a crucial number of people (maybe the “Shy Trump voter”) that actually think Trump is going to…to what? Save them? Save them from what? Make America Great Again? What does that mean?

It’s not the anger, frustration and resentment; I share those emotions. It’s the fact that so many think that Trump will fix things for them. And that is what scares me. Really scares me. Because the level of “magical thinking”  – otherwise known as stupidity – to think that President Pussy-Graber will bring back the steel mills and restore America’s place in the world and make all the inconvenient facts  and reality in general go away has the distinct whiff of true fascism.

There is the narrative of the voter who, while not liking Trump, really wants change and just wants to upset the apple cart for the sake of upsetting the apple-cart. Again, I can appreciate that; it does have a certain satisfying appeal. But this rationale must again fail because Trump isn’t an outsider. Trump won’t actually damage the neoliberal economic order – yes, he might withdraw from NAFTA – but that is small potatoes.  Watch closely as his corrupt Administration slashes taxes on massive corporations and his fellow billionaires, and corporate America finds itself perfectly comfortable with Trump.

The only applecart that has been upset is America as a liberal democracy. These voters clearly didn’t consider the environmental damage that will be inflicted. Trump and the Republicans have no interest in being America’s president: they are going to rule viciously in favour of Duck Commander and Corporate America.

The entire right-wing populist edifice is built on the Fox News echo chamber, where a few crucial assumptions have been made: 1) Obama specifically and Democrats/Liberals in general are out to destroy America, 2) Obama has been a disaster as president, 3) taxation and regulation are the reason for economic decline and the death of the middle class. The entire Republican tone and mindset has been one of “aggrieved, angry, forgotten white male”. It’s secretly been this since Nixon, but with Trump, it is now out in the open in a way that I wish were only an episode of Black Mirror.

But what happens when this victim mindset has to actually govern? What happens when the assumptions I listed above have to be put into action? Trump and the Republicans will have no excuse when the steel mills don’t return, when rural America doesn’t return to prosperity, when gays continue to be seen on the streets and things go from bad to worse. Because clearly their entire mindset is based on a system of lies and falsehoods; it is out and out delusional.

How far will Trump and the Republicans go to maintain their illusions? Is is where the possibility of American Fascism and Apartheid become very, very real. When Trump’s pathetic, truck-stop-dive-bar level understanding of government (like for every new regulation, two must be eliminated, a frieze on the hiring of new federal employees) fails to make any meaningful change and actually makes things worse what are they going to do? The temptation will be a Reichstag Fire moment; the full leap into endless militarism. The temptation to dismantle the last vestiges of democracy might be too tempting and too easy. The Republicans – unable to win things like the popular vote – must stay in power by tactics like gerrymandering, voter suppression, and controlling judges. Democracy won’t function if people are over-worked, ignorant and fearful.

There is the long Republican tradition where a charismatic figure is elected, but the actual administration is left largely to a core of Republican insiders. Think of Arnold Schwarzenegger as Governor of California, Reagan, Bush and Cheney. There is a possibility, supported by Trump’s actions in picking a VP earlier in the campaign that what we are actually going to get is a Pence Administration, with Trump as demagogue and  distractor in chief. While this is not necessarily the case – all bets are off you haven’t noticed – there is a decent chance that the next few years will be a typically disastrous Republican administration, but no worse.

The second scenario is that Trump and his gaggle of deplorables, alt-right bizzaros and strange sycophants runs rough shod over everybody and everything. The full Trump. I don’t know what will happen in this scenario; either Trump will be quickly abandoned and possibly impeached after two or four years, or it will be literally the end of democracy and America  in any recognisable form.

Since Bill Clinton’s Administration, the Democrats have been a corporate centrist neoliberal party. Hillary fully embraced the mantle of The Establishment; full catered to insider Republicans instead of progressives.  Her staff, and the inner core of the DNC where clearly locked in a baby-boomer centric, outdated model for American elections where the only way to win is to occupy the center and make no gaffes.

So it is no surprise that millennials and blacks didn’t turn out to vote for her. Hillary offered relative sanity, but nothing else. She really is the Herbert Humphrey of our time: the insider’s pick that nobody actually wanted. The Democrats, true to form, played to lose and where generally more interested in pleasing their corporate sponsors then acting like party that represented the interests of genuine Americans. This is not about lazy millennials too lazy and spoiled to show up to vote: this is about a DNC that had nothing to offer. Hillary was always the candidate we where meant to pick. They have nobody to blame but themselves.

So forcing myself to be hopeful here: this election does open a door for truely progressive politics a la Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren to emerge. To quote Naomi Klein’s excellent article in The Guardian, (https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2016/nov/09/rise-of-the-davos-class-sealed-americas-fate?CMP=fb_us): “The Democratic party needs to be either decisively wrested from pro-corporate neoliberals, or it needs to be abandoned.” This is the real opening of the election. It’s the only way that the Democrats can hope to win elections, but more importantly, it is the only way for our country to recover and move forward.

 

 

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.

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.

 

The 2016 Election So Far…

Now that Trump seems to have the Republican nomination wrapped up, the real question becomes what will become of Bernie Sanders, and will the Republican party implode into a Paul Ryan/Romney faction and a Trump faction?

I think the supreme irony of this 2016 Election is that the overwhelmingly likely winner – Hillary Clinton – represents fairly traditional American politics. She represents a baby-boomer presidency (as opposed to Obama’s very much a Millennial’s presidency). She’s a traditional democrat (i.e., not as liberal as you might think at all). She represents, really, the only candidate of “normalcy”. She represents the generation of politics that got rolling with Reagan and should have ended with Obama. In practice, a Clinton Administration would probably resemble Obama’s.

For all the bluster and craziness then, really we are going to elect a typical Democrat.

My personal hope is that Hillary Clinton takes note of Bernie Sanders success and chooses to lead a truly progressive administration which has the courage to confront global warming, the banks, and generally go about making real change in this country – over hauling it (if you will) for the 21st century. Otherwise, if she behaves as typical democrats do and fail to make any real changes, just sort of make the country a little bit more liveable but in actuality achieve little, the pressures building in this country might actually explode in a very real and dangerous way.

With all this hoopla over Donald Trump and the explosion of the GOP – and frankly we should not be surprised by the whole damn thing – we have lost sight of what actually matters. What sort of changes and leadership do American really need? What sort of country do we want to live in? What sort of world? And who is the best leader to lead us there?

For me, it’s the Economy, Global Warming. I cannot avoid feeling that from these two issues, everything else follows. Obviously, I am cramming a lot of things underneath “Economy”, such as properly regulating Wall Street and the Banks, unwinding the Military-Industrial Complex, wealth inequality, and campaign finance reform (ending Citizens United). And Global Warming is big and amorphous – but linked to everything. I can’t help but thinking that building wind farms and building electric cars will be just as good for the economy (it’s actual growth!) rather than propping up the way the economy is now.

And so in a weird way I kinda support Trump. I don’t actually support him. I think his presidency would truly be American Fascism. But he represents, like Bernie Sanders, the utter failure of neoliberalism. Here’s what I mean. Trump is a buffoon; but he is addressing this: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y3ttxGMQOrY. This is a video of fourteen hundred people being told that they will loose their jobs – the manufacturing is being moved to Mexico. The gist is that an upper manager – following HR policies no doubt  and borrowing abstract economic language – blows what can only be described as corporate BS on to employees who are screwed.

Neither the GOP or the Democrats have addressed this frustration or anger. In fact, since Reagan, both parties have pursued neoliberal economic policies. The result has been the 2008 Recession – caused primarily by repealing regulation on Wall Street and the systemic pursuit of profit maximisation.

So, no, Trump doesn’t scare me too much. He won’t get elected; he’s the Barry Goldwater of our time (just like Eugene McCarthy is our Bernie Sanders and Herbert Humphrey is our Hilary Clinton). This means it’s what he signals in American politics; the man himself means nothing.

I am already more interested in Paul Ryan, perhaps the only man who can actually unite Republican party in the traditional, Southern Strategy sense. Ryan, who is clearly planning on running in about eight years, has a choice to make: run as the candidate of his own personal party, or try to keep the Republican party, essentially forged by Nixon, together. If he warms up to Trump, then he’s opted for the later.

I’ve enjoyed Trump’s victory. It’s forced a lot of soul searching. It’s forced a lot of people who reckoned themselves “thoughtful Republicans” to consider what they actual believe and what they actually support. I hope we are watching the Republican party destroying itself; they certainly have had it coming for a long time. Ever since Nixon, the Republicans have been playing a winking game with racism and mob politics and that’s clearly come home to roost. People who vote Republican can no longer pose as being “thoughtful” or “realistic” or “sensible, hard-nosed, common-sense businesspeople”.

It will be pleasant – in a vicious and sad way – to watch as the various republicans and conservatives line up behind Trump. People who ranged against the man will start to fall in line. Hopefully people will notice. I do want the Republicans to split, but if Trump runs the thing into the ground, that wouldn’t be too bad either.

 

 

 

Trumpism

trump-presidential-announcement-2015

I’ve spent my entire life causally ignoring Donald Trump. I found it quite easy; there is no depth and no meaning to his personality. A rich blowhard, insulated from reality by lots and lots of money. A reality TV star. An actor who plays himself in every single role and never, ever gets tired of it. It’s hard to take a casino magnate seriously as a businessman, especially since all the money comes from Daddy.

So here is what I find so interesting about Trump: it’s his appeal. I’m calling it “Trumpism”. I consider Trump a joke; a punchline. So why do so many people take him seriously? Why is he suddenly an actual contender to be the next President of the United States? Everybody agrees that “this changes everything” and this is “something new in American politics” and everybody makes jokes about the Hair…but what does it mean? What does this represent and foreshadow?

Okay. So bear with me here. Trump and Trumpism represents an American fascism. I know that – and I agree with – the commonly held opinion that the second that someone is called a Nazi or a fascist or a Hitlerite that the argument is automatically hyperbole. Called being nazis is such an old, tired rhetorical tactic as to be absolutely meaningless. But in this case, a confluence of factors make this comparison exceptionally valid.

So let me be clear right up front. By “American fascism” I am referring to the cross section of the American population that would vote for Trump and where he draws his financial and other backing from. I am referring to his rhetorically techniques and his base appeal. I am also drawing a parallel between Weimar Germany in the early ’30s, and modern day America, both economically and socially.

I don’t mean to say that Trump is a Nazi; or that he is going to enact Nazi policies or a genocide. None of that.

I’m saying that he represents the same forces in American society that, equivalently in 1930’s Germany, backed Hitler. Trump’s tactics and style: the bullying comments, the flamboyant gestures and impossible demands and perspectives; his promise of a “return to greatness” and his intense focus on scapegoats all recall the politics of fascism. Instead of comparing Trump to Hitler, a more apt comparison would be to Mussolini. I’m saying that an elected Trump would represent a similar disintegration of society on parallel with the totalitarianisms of the 20th century.

Perhaps a definition of fascism would be helpful here. It’s extreme militaristic nationalism that bases itself on mystical notions of  corporatism (corporatism being any sort of intense organisation). Fascism always pretends to be old or traditional, but it is something quite alien to “traditional ways”. It’s a special relationship between the big power groups – the military, religious authorities and big business – with the alienated (and I know this is a bad over-generalisation) lower middle classes. But “extreme militaristic nationalism” doesn’t really capture the essence of fascism. What it’s really about is the triumph of political mysticism and rhetoric over civil society. For example, in 1930’s German, the military and big business was under threat by Weimar’s liberal democratic constitution. The only way forward when loans from America were no longer forth coming was either the dismantling the profit of the big industries, and the decline of the institutional power of the military or the end of the Weimar constitution.

Hitler’s assumption of power represents the destruction of German civil society. Any arguments along the lines of: “Oh, well, yes, Hitler was a bit shouty and evil and all that, but, you can’t deny that in the late 30’s, he had full employment. He really turned the German economy around.” Its total nonsense because WWII was inevitable – and the total destruction of German was inevitable – because of the nature of Fascism. The destruction of civil society (the rule of law, the supremacy of facts and statistics as tools of argument, basic human decencies, and mutual respect between citizens) and the assumption of all power by a handful of institutions or individuals is disguised by rhetoric and the menace of violence. This is what gives fascism it’s fantastic flights of unreality; it’s total departure from facts.

There is a scene in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas where, after taking all kinds of drugs, pills, and alcohol, the two heroes find themselves in a hellish, nightmarish circus themed casino. Thompson observes that “this is what it would be like if the Nazi’s had won the War. This is the Fifth Reich.” I know it’s a weird reference, but to me it rings true. Fascism has this obscene, violent quality that attains a level of true evil and madness.

And this is where Donald Trump comes in.

Remember, fascism is the theatrical cover for the destruction of civil society/the rule of law in favour of a few powerful institutions motivated by power and profit. How to you get citizens vote for abandoning their citizenship?

Anger, fear, a satisfying implication of violence, and messianism.

It all depends on the larger socio-economic situation. In both 1930’s Germany and contemporary America, you have rich countries with large and prosperous middle classes that are getting poorer. This is dangerous. Far more so than people that have always been poor, nothing is more dangerous than people with stalled expectations or even declining circumstances. And this is what is happening now. Tensions build. People seek answers and solutions, but of course this is very messy and ideological. Keep in mind that this is a slow moving thing that people rarely think consciously about.

Pressure to redistribute wealth, weather through taxes, welfare, or various laws threaten the rich and powerful. But more than that, the idea of redistributing wealth feels new. In a way, it’s counterintuitive; it effectively proposes to overhaul (this directly implies disruption) the socio-economic system. And no matter what the actual truth of the situation is (i.e., that creating a just redistribution of wealth will make for a healthier, more egalitarian society) the very nature of the proposition ensures that many people will oppose it simply on the emotional grounds that “nothing needs to be changed”. These people are far more inclined to think in terms of blockages and crashes or impediments. A scapegoat. This is human nature. The rich and powerful must stop these changes to society at any cost. And when they succeeded in the modern period of technology, the result is fascism.

There is a lot of subterranean psychology going on here.

it appeals to those with the power, the money and the glory and those who have a very little (but not nothing and not modest amounts). The basic appeal is a sort of imaginative identification with the rich and powerful; the glory of the Nation (whatever nation it might be) reflects on the individual. By glorifying the nation, the man with very little glorifies himself. This is the secret behind nationalism and militarism: it is a clever foil for egoism of the basest kind. And for the person who has nothing and is miserable (and keep in mind that in today’s society of 40+ hour work week and the general alienation of the Precarious Economy that pretty much everyone is miserable) it’s this egotistical militarism is all they have.

Far from resenting Trump his inherited wealth, the Trumpist sees himself in Trump. He actively feels that he could be Trump. America is probably the only country in the world where we resent people who resent rich people. No other country (aside from England perhaps) shares the assumption that rich people have done something to deserve being rich both in a moral and an economic/innovative sense. Desperate Americans – the lower middle class especially – see Trump’s wealth as a hold over from bigger, more glorious times. Trump’s business leadership allowed him to slip pass the Scylla and Charybdis of Political Correctness and creeping Big Government Regulation to be a good ole American billionaire, Ayn Rand style. Of course, he’s done nothing of the sort, and the only reason we know of Trump at all is because he plays a billionaire on TV, in the same way that John Wayne is considered a real cowboy.

America_We_Deserve

Part of the appeal is Trump’s bullying, anti-political politics. His un-political correctness. The Trumpist goes about in public saying ridiculous things about Mexicans or poor people and is greeting with an awkward silence or a changing of the subject. The Trumpist, far from realising that maybe he has just said something invincibly ignorant and logically flawed, instead assumes that his interlocutor has been brain washed by the “liberal media.” Trump seems to have to courage to say the nonsense that the Trumpist thinks in his head out loud and not be humbled or made fun of. Trump’s success then is deeply linked to the psychology of the dying American middle class, and the anger and fear that this has generated.

He’s our Id.

Trump is a buffoon. A lout. But there is always a draw here. Jeremy Clarkson comes to mind for me. He’s hilarious; the problem is that a truly sad amount of people take him seriously.

The Torture Report: Part II

So what’s the argument for torture? What is the temptation?

Dick Cheney, which I feel like I can safely say is the biggest proponent of torture in US history, has argued essentially this: the CIA torture program produced intelligence that saved American lives and directly led to the foiling of terrorist attacks. It was necessary, it worked, and this information could not have been got any other way.

Further, Cheney appeals to our sense of revenge by saying that it is 9/11 which is torture, and that nothing the CIA is doing can compare to what happened to America on that day. He would then point out that the techniques used in the “enhanced interrogation” are drawn from the Air Force’s SERE School, and each technique was carefully vetted to ensure that no actual harm would come to the “detainees”.

As it stands, this is a compelling argument. It works. It’s saved lives. It’s not torture, but a sort of simulated torture that does no real harm. It’s about breaking down a prisoner psychologically to a state of “learned helplessness”. It’s a bit nasty, but this is a nasty war. The terrorists aren’t playing by the rules, so neither should we. What we are doing to them is nothing compared to what they did to us.

But what if every single one of these statements, which by the way the CIA, Cheney et al made over and over again for years, is a lie? And not just a lack of evidence, but a systematic campaign to convince both the American public and Congressional oversight that torture works and is necessary.

The Senate Committee Report on Torture is more than simply a catalogue of the criminal stupidities of the CIA. Even though there are many things this Report does not say, and many issues in which the Report skirts around and avoids quite assiduously, what this report does do is that it 1) refutes the CIA’s torture program’s efficacy, 2) documents and refutes the CIA’s systematic lies to Congress, Media, and Public, and 3) documents the horrors of the program in operation; illustrates that the “enhanced interrogation techniques” are indeed torture.

Literally, this Report enumerates every single instance of the use of the “EITs” as well as every instance of the CIA’s “representations” about torture to other agencies, other governmental departments, and the media. And here is where it is great: it refutes them all. Not only is the argument for torture now officially left in tatters as a proven nonsensical lie, the system of lies around it has been documented and refuted.

First things first. The CIA’s “EITs” are torture. Any attempt to describe them as harmless is wrong, factually and morally. Torture does not need a medieval man wearing a hood with a hot branding iron, nor does it require a totalitarian, communistic terror apparatus intent on weeding out all “saboteurs”.

As a society we need to come to this realisation. The CIA’s “EIT’s” where degrading, inhumane, strange, and unusual. They went beyond the procedures described to the media and say, the Department of Justice. Water boarding quickly turned into a relentless “series of near drownings”. Weeks – months even – of solitary confinement. White noise, total darkness, loud music played twenty-four hours a day. It goes on and on. Some interrogators would play the same song before an “interrogation” session began. Now that’s creepy and Kafkaesqe for you. Worst of all…is the anal incursions the CIA went in for. Things like “rectal feeding” and enemas.

Yes. This is torture. It has every hallmark of torture, down to the weird sense of anger and guilt exhibited by the torturers. It’s strange and unusual. Modern torture has a history and a pattern. A pattern that we can recognise in our own government. I am referring to the legacy of the French in Algeria, the Soviets, especially in the ’30s, and North Korea. The thread that links these together is a government chasing an impossible geo-political goal. Exactly like waging an impossible war like the “War on Terror”. Many of the techniques used by the CIA seem copied right out right of Soviet techniques. Go read Arthur Koestler’s Darkness at Noon if you doubt me.

I get the sense that these governments and spooks and military men are trapped in a philosophical quandary. How can you be sure you have the truth? You never can. There could always be another terrorist plot, or western saboteur, or seemingly westernised Algerian out to plant a bomb in downtown Algiers. Stopping these (largely imaginary) enemies constitutes something new; the enemy is as much in your head as anything else. I am not saying that Islamic terrorism is not real, I am saying that the US response to it, the role range of government activity from the Patriot Act to invading Iraq has been in response to an imaginary enemy that says more about us than the reality of Islamic extremism.

So it’s one part frustration, one part fear, one part revenge, and one part a reflection of the political winds that are blowing (neo-conservativism) that results in these government torture programs, which continue, as ours did, even though it is clear that it does not work. There is something at work beyond mere utilitarian “means justifying ends” rationales. The CIA’s track record, so incompetent and criminally stupid (Bay of Pigs, Iran, the Contras and dealing cocaine, the coup against Salvadore Allende, the coup in Guatemala, consistently being outwitted by the Soviets, and now strait up torture) that I could almost believe the CIA is simply a dummy organization meant to take flak for other screw-ups. 9/11 was another major failure for them, one that they where unprepared to explain or respond to. The CIA went to war and they where out for revenge and the politicians gave them the green light to “take the gloves off” and that is the kindest thing I can think to say about them and their actions.

Torture does not work. First of all you can never be sure. The record shows that people who are tortured just say what ever they think their tortures want to hear. Not only do transcripts of the torture sessions read like scenes strait out of 24, where there is an immune terrorist attack on American soil. The weird thing is that clearly the “detainee” cannot fathom his tortures. The reality is that al-Qaida et al simply lack the capability to mount attacks in the US, or even Europe for that matter. Yes, it could happen, but in terms of plots, they have no real ability to strike anywhere outside of the Middle East. Hence things happened where one detainee made up a plot in Montana. Second there is a huge social cost with torture, one that American society will be paying for for decades. Not to mention loss of prestige internationally.

Lastly there is the torture program as it was “represented” to the public and Congressional oversight. The CIA lied to everyone. A click in “Headquarters” insisted to both the actual interrogators and congress, and maybe even the White House that torture was necessary, was saving lives and was providing intelligence that could not be got anywhere else. Again, ALL this was false as an analysis of the CIA’s own records CLEARLY show. The CIA basically copy and pasted its arguments for torture for years in reports to the media, congress, and even the public. They use the exact same phrasing and words over and over.

And in The Report, over and over, it goes through and systematically and fully disproves the claims of the CIA. They where totally wrong on all their claims. In the odd langue of the Report, the CIA’s statements either “misrepresented” or “left out significant facts”. There are many crimes here: a horrendous failure of our political system.

The big question is: why aren’t we angry about this?

Part III coming soon.