Three Comments on Ellison’s defeat 

1) While obviously disappointing, the relatively close margin of Ellison’s loss for DNC chair indicates that a victory was in reach-just as much as Sanders’s primary win was. That means we need to learn lessons from it by asking the question what we (as a movement) could have done to have tipped the balance. Here it seems fairly clear that the grassroots outreach to/pressuring of the voting members of the DNC was insufficient. For example, I didn’t even know who I should call until the morning of the DNC vote and I’m sure I’m not alone in this. That there was not a sufficiently well organized national mobilization is an indication that we are not there yet as a movement-getting there, but not yet there. Constructive self-criticism is a crucial component of the process. 

2) These sorts of defeats invariably trigger a barrage of reflexive vendettas from those who claim that they are “done with the Democrats”. The obvious rejoinder from DNC hacks is the perennial Clint Eastwood one: “so what are you gonna do about it, punk?” “Exit” the party by registering as an independent? That only accomplishes disenfranchising yourself from closed state primaries, such as in New York. In fact, the NYDP was probably grateful for those who had done so in the past in that the difficulty with re-registering as Democrat significantly drove down Sanders vote totals insuring that their preferred candidate would win. Those doing so, and that includes me, willingly enlisted in the Dems voter suppression effort. Same with registering Green which accomplishes nothing since they have never staged a primary-one of many indications of their organizational structure which can only be described as beyond dysfunctional.

That said, if the hashtag “#demexit” means organizing locally and building up the infrastructure required to compete for and win local seats with independent third party candidates, then great-more power to you. I’ve done it myself and I’ll be glad to help. But my experience is that those fulminating most loudly are the least likely, the least able and ultimately the least interested in taking meaningful action along these or other (productive) lines. They’re blowing smoke and thinking with their slogans, not their brains-a common enough affliction on the “left” as previous postings have noted.

3) The predominant response among the most informed and rational leftists has been to note that by yet again insulting and humiliating the party’s newly ascendant grassroots base, the Perez win will  set the Democrats up for yet another round of “failures” in 2018 and beyond.  They are almost certainly right, though I’d suggest that their assessment is based on a misunderstanding of what success and failure means for party elites. It is crucial to keep in mind that winning elections is of secondary importance to them. That’s because their main goals are twofold.  First, to insure that neoliberal elements remain in control of the DP and, second, to prevent any significant independent, left third party from getting enough of a footing to offer serious competition to it. In these respects, they have succeeded brilliantly and will continue to do so until we have shown that we have a strategy for combatting them-something we have notably failed to come up with, as should be obvious to anyone with their eyes open.

This is, of course, a pretty cynical view which some will blanch at.  Unfortunately, if the past decades have anything to teach us is that when it comes to the Democratic Party, even the most cynical explanations are not cynical enough.

We’re best off assuming that as our starting point to direct our strategy in the future.

Angela Nagle on the Contesting the Alt-Right

From Angela Nagle’s appearance on Doug Henwood’s Behind the News:

“Whatever your feelings about free speech and violence, part of your political project must be to convince people of your position. And I feel that too many people on our side feel they are above actually doing that because they’re around people who agree with them.

“As a result people become intellectually lazy and they don’t know what to say when they are challenged.

“So, to give one example, Milo was often on TV talking about the wage gap. Liberal British feminists would go on (with him) just taking it as a given that women are payed less than men for the same work and so on. And he would say with absolute confidence ‘this is a total myth’ . . . and the problem is that there is truth to what he is saying. That’s not the nature of the wage gap-that men and women are being payed differently for the same work. But it’s also a position that makes no sense because he’s also saying that it’s not because they’re women but because they get pregnant, (and) of course they’re a connection between them getting pregnant and being women.

“And those women were totally not ready for that challenge. Because, to them, anyone who would question this is just a total idiot and there’s no point in even doing much work thinking about it or being prepared to be fundamentally challenged.

“Far too many people on our side think they don’t have to argue for anything and haven’t really questioned basic assumptions.”

On Punching Nazis

 

Over the past couple of weeks, social media has filled up with breathless accounts of far right leaders having gotten their comeuppance by being physically assaulted or, in a recent case, murdered in an act of domestic violence.

While it’s hard to have much sympathy for the victims, some of us are disinclined to celebrate. One should never express pleasure in killing or inflicting violence, no matter how loathsome, dangerous or “deplorable” the victim is. Or so the story goes, one whose roots go back to the enlightenment.

To be clear, that does not mean that violence is never justified. For example, it was probably necessary to kill Nazis-possibly even to kill millions of them. It was also entirely legitimate for the African National Congress to militarily engage the South African army, and to kill as many of them as possible just as it was for the Sandinstas to target the security forces of the Samoza dictatorship. 

But publicly proclaiming one’s joy in having done so-or, even worse, to have made jokes about the tens of thousands incinerated in Dresden, the necklacing of government informants, or retribution against landowning families in retaliation for their generations of predation-this is in a different category.

Insofar as the movements did so then, they sacrificed their claim to moral authority and the same can be said for those doing so now. In some cases, it was no more than the usual  suspects attempting to harness a viral meme to promote their own agenda or sects. One would hope that those considering enlisting with them will think seriously about who they are getting involved with. Those celebrating violence perpetrated against views they regard as beyond the pale have only a small step to take to justify retaliation against those with whom they have less extreme disagreements. If they were in charge, many of us would find ourselves on the receiving end as did the leftist opponents of some of the left regimes they look back to with some nostalgia.

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Of course, not all of those excited about “punching Nazis” were pursuing an agenda. Whether we admit it or not, many of us will experience a visceral thrill from seeing our enemies getting pounded on by our friends. Indeed, this would appear to be a hard wired response to a stimulus, similar to a dog salivating when it sees a bone, moths attracted by a light source, or our leg muscles flexing when we receive a tap on the knee cap.

Accepting that we have involuntary reactions, however, doesn’t require that we act on them. We might want to blurt out an insult when our boss or spouse annoys us just as certain testosterone addled males will be inclined to grab an attractive woman “by the pussy.” But it should be obvious that these sentiments are best left unexpressed, either in our actions or our words.

The same goes for public statements with respect to acts of violence undertaken in the heat of the moment. We should disassociate ourselves from them, making clear that our positions are based on a considered assessment of the facts rather than our immediate emotional reactions to some real or manufactured outrage.

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All this should be painfully apparent to the left now more than ever since the reason why we are confronting an emboldened far right is, in part, because of our failure to sufficiently control our emotional reactions only a few months ago.

All of us knew, or should have known, that preventing a far right victory involved transcending our feelings of disgust at having to vote for yet another lying neoliberal warmonger. Instead, too many of us capitulated to them with the result that white supremacists and neo-Nazis and their sympathizers now have significant influence in all three branches of the federal government.

That the left needs to learn to act strategically using the entirety of its brain rather than its amygdala in responding to political reality is a lesson that we fail to learn at our, and the world’s, peril.

Assuming that we can win arguments with our fists rather than our words is just another sad indication of our continuing failure to learn it.

Will Hippies and Hardhats Protest Mulvaney Appointment?

At this writing, it looks like Trump’s appointment for Education Secretary, right wing fundamentalist billionaire heiress Betsy De Vos will be confirmed.  Though it is unclear when the vote will be scheduled, it will almost certainly require Pence to break what is expected to be a 50-50 tie. This will be nearly unprecedented-a majority party not being able to assemble a majority to confirm their own president’s cabinet appointment. I’m not big on symbolic victories, but not entirely unreasonable to chalk this up as one.

That said, as important as this is, it and many other recent right wing assaults (the immigration ban, Milo Yiannopolis, Gorsuch for SCOTUS) strikes me a bit of a sideshow. To recognize what the main act is, it is important to remember that Trump’s top priority-as it would have been Clinton’s-is to further enrich those who are already rich beyond their dreams of avarice. Yes,  more than a few lobbyists are employed by the companies who stand to benefit from what is euphemistically referred to as Ed Reform of the sort championed by De Vos-as well as the Obama administration, as Diane Ravitch reminds us. But in relative terms this is small scale.

Those at the top of the pyramid, including the six Goldman Sachs executives in Trump’s cabinet, have their sights set on much bigger game.  The prize they are trying to claim, and very well might, is Social Security and Medicare, the privatization of which will channel hundreds of billions of dollars into Wall Street banks and investment houses. Their likely battering ram for this, Trump’s appointment for OMB,  has attracted relatively little attention thus far.  And that’s a problem since Mick Mulvaney is an anti-entitlement, privatization zealot, much as DeVos is a charter school, privatization zealot.

If we had a fully functional movement, we would be out on the streets and in our senators’ offices opposing his appointment, as much or even more so than we are to protest the immigration ban and Nazis speaking on college campuses. Furthermore, those joining us would be those who voted for Trump who, after all, pledged to protect Social Security and Medicare many times, as Sanders continually points out.

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But we don’t (yet) have a fully functional movement, so likely the Mulvaney appointment will sail through. Obviously, I have no power to will a protest movement into existence. If I did, however, I would wave my magic wand to make this happen.

The reason why I’m optimistic that it wouldn’t require magic is that, as I’m old enough to remember, something like it happened once before. While a lot has been written about the antipathy between hard hats and hippies in the sixties and seventies, what gave Nixon fits was the potential, sometimes realized, for anti-war activism to unite under one banner all of those who saw through the insanity of sending away American boys to die in a war which even its strongest advocates recognized was a mistake.

Here is one instance when it did: the radical peacenik icon Pete Seeger appearing at the hardhat shrine the Grand Old Opera invited by Arkansas dirt farm balladeer Johnny Cash.

It seems there’s plenty dividing “deplorables” and those referred to in a recent presidential tweet as “professional anarchists, thugs and paid protesters” on the streets in the past few weeks.  But they are all united on one point: no one wants to subsist on a cat food diet in old age or die of a treatable infection-which is exactly what Social Security and Medicare cuts and/or privatization means.

Our job is to unite them again.  Only when we do will we wipe the smirk off the face of the plutocratic vulgarian who, as much as we might want to deny it, remains in control of the political narrative and is inflicting vast suffering on hippies and hardhats and everyone else.