A Silver Lining?

Bernie
Bernie Sanders pointed the way forward for Democrats

M. Davout

Editor’s Intro: My good friend M. Davout is a Democrat.  Like me, he favored Bernie Sanders in the primaries.  After donating to Sanders, holding a Sanders fundraising dinner with like-minded Democrats, making calls on his behalf and voting for him on Super Tuesday, Davout gave his vote to Clinton in the general election. In this article, he suggests that, in this dark political moment, the Sanders primary campaign continues to have a positive impact. For those dedicated to a form of democratic self-rule based on mutual respect and fraternal solidarity, a silver lining exists in the example set by the Sanders campaign of an opposition movement built on a democratic socialist vision that is centered on America’s working families. W.J. Astore

Hillary Clinton was the best-known Democratic establishment politician in the country.  She led a state-of-the-art campaign organization, which enjoyed the unstinting support of a popular incumbent president and first lady, the incumbent vice president, her former primary opponent, and her husband/former president. Her shocking defeat at the hands of an authoritarian-minded political amateur who ran as an unapologetic nativist and bigot should give little satisfaction to progressives.

For the next two years and possibly for the next eight, the federal government will be entirely controlled by a Republican Party, whose decades-long promotion of an “every man for himself” ethos may finally result in the gutting of most, if not all, of the remaining institutional legacies of the Great Society, New Deal and Progressive eras. Or, if Trump’s most objectionable instincts and his impulsive nature are not adequately controlled by the Republican establishment, we may be in for worse—a destabilizing foreign policy that may land us in conflicts that will make George W. Bush’s Iraq adventure seem harmless by comparison.

The silver lining for progressives in this grim picture? It isn’t the expectation that Trump’s election will lead to such catastrophic outcomes that U.S. voters will finally come to their senses and swing in overwhelming numbers to the political left. Stories (whether apocryphal or not) about German leftists of the Thirties, who saw Adolf Hitler’s elevation to the chancellorship in just such terms, should disenthrall us of this idea.

The silver lining, rather, is that Bernie Sanders gave Clinton a real run for her money in the primaries. Had he not run and had she been coronated as the party nominee (an outcome fervently wished by the then-DNC chair and other DC establishmentarians), the electoral defeat of Democrats would likely have been worse and the current feeling of despair would be far deeper. That Sanders, articulating a compelling social democratic vision of sensible self-government for the common good, was able to motivate and mobilize so many young people offers Democrats and left-leaning independents a path forward.

Sanders demonstrated that there is a significant opening for a social democratic party that can appeal across racial and ethnic lines and forge alliances with unions and new economy business people (e.g., producers of green tech and energy, internet entrepreneurs, and urban-based economic interests supportive of mass transit). The importance of that demonstration, which came in the form of millions of votes and volunteer hours, a campaign funding juggernaut powered by small donations, and over 20 state primary or caucus victories, should not be underestimated.

Whether one believes that a party led by Sanders would not have lost Michigan, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania, the reality is that future candidates of the left cannot afford to cede those states to the party of Reagan-Bush-Trump. If the Democratic Party cannot be reshaped into the social democratic party evoked by Sanders (and soon), his and our goal should be to persuade progressive Democratic politicians to join a new party of the left.

One thing is certain: Another establishment candidate in the mold of a Hillary Clinton, a candidate who is so comfortably ensconced in elite circles that he or she would not recognize the problem in accepting quarter-of-a-million dollar speaking fees from a Wall Street investment firm that helped tank the economy or in declaring Henry Kissinger to be a foreign policy making role model, will only ensure the triumph of reactionary candidates such as Trump.

It’s time for Democratic politicians to recognize the economic realities of ordinary Americans and fight unashamedly for progressive policies that answer the challenge of fostering lives of decency and mutual respect.  It’s time not only to embrace progressive candidates willing to reject a rigged system in the cause of economic and social justice but also to create (or re-create) a political party deserving of such candidates.

Trump and the Art of the Con

trumps-wall-l

W.J. Astore

The ink hasn’t yet dried on Trump’s victory and we’re already hearing about how his campaign promises are being “modified,” i.e. reneged on.  Trump’s infamous wall along the border with Mexico is already becoming more virtual than real, with admissions that Mexico will not pay for it. Trump himself has suggested he favors certain features of Obamacare (no denial of coverage based on preexisting conditions, and coverage extended to “children” until the age of 26), so there’ll be no wholesale “repeal and replace,” as he promised.  He also promised to appoint a special prosecutor to go after Hillary Clinton, to “lock her up,” as his followers chanted, but he’s backtracked on that as well.  Talk about draining the swamps of government, of bringing in fresh faces and new ideas, has produced tired old faces like Pence, Gingrich, Giuliani, and Christie.  In a classic case of nepotism, the “fresh” faces are those in his own family, his two sons and daughter Ivanka (she seems to be the one with the most smarts).

Many Trump voters appear to have voted for him because he represented “change,” a rejection of the usual suspects in the establishment.  Yes, the Clintons and their fellow travelers are out, but the hardline Republican establishment is back in, complete with the usual corporate hacks and think tanks.  And if you think these “conservatives” are going to start embracing the working classes and helping them financially with higher wages and better job prospects, I have a Chris Christie bridge for you that’s named after our first president.

These events are hardly surprising.  Trump is a con man.  For him, “the art of the deal” is basically the art of the con.  Consider his promise of bringing back American jobs.  How is that supposed to happen?  Simply through higher tariffs against foreign goods?  Who’s going to replace those with American-made goods at an affordable price to the working classes?

Here’s an example.  I got dressed this morning with no thought about using my clothes as an illustration for this article.  My jeans are made in Mexico (of fabric from the USA, so why weren’t they made here?).  My shirt is from Thailand.  My leather belt is from China, and so too are my shoes.  We all know why.  Labor costs in those countries are much cheaper than those in the USA.  Profits to corporations are thus much higher.  How is Trump going to change this dynamic?

I actually try to buy clothes that are made in America.  I got a nice pair of shoes that are made in Maine.  I got them on sale for a great price, but they retail for over $300.  If they were made in China, they’d probably retail for about $100.  How many members of the working classes are able to spend roughly triple the price for the privilege of wearing shoes and clothes “Made in the USA”?

Here’s one thing Trump could do: Raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour so that Americans can afford the up-charge for domestic goods.  Any chance that Trump’s regime is going to do this?

It’s great to talk about bringing back American manufacturing jobs that pay well.  It’s possible to raise barriers to foreign trade to make American goods more competitive.  But who’s going to build the new factories?  And where are the skilled workers with the requisite knowledge base?  With the right advanced tools and technologies?

Speaking of technology, there’s an ever greater push in America to automate everything, even long-haul driving jobs, a job that provides a decent living for many Americans.  Is Trump going to reverse this push?  Is he going to preserve American blue-collar jobs against the pressure applied by multinational corporations to cut costs and maximize profits, workers be damned?  Given Trump’s own record of using cheaper foreign labor and goods, this doesn’t seem bloody likely.

Believe me, I hope I’m wrong, but the early signs are that America’s working classes, along with a lot of Trump enthusiasts, are already getting conned.

 

Trump: A Worrisome Commander-in-Chief

Trump holds a rally with supporters at the Suburban Collection Showplace in Novi, Michigan, U.S.
He doesn’t speak softly, even as he now inherits a very big U.S. military stick. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

W.J. Astore

I’d never watched a U.S. presidential candidate who scared me – truly scared me – until the Republican debate on March 3, 2016.  This candidate literally gave me the creeps.  As a historian and as a retired U.S. military officer, his answer to a question on torture and the potential illegality of his orders if he became the military’s civilian commander-in-chief horrified me.  The next day, I wrote a short blog post in which I argued that this candidate had disqualified himself as a candidate for the presidency.  That candidate’s name was Donald Trump.

What did candidate Trump say that so horrified me?  He said this: They [U.S. military leaders] won’t refuse [my illegal orders]. They’re not going to refuse me. Believe me.  After again calling for waterboarding and more extreme forms of (illegal) torture, as well as not denying he’d target terrorists’ families in murderous reprisal raids, candidate Trump then said this: I’m a leader. I’m a leader. I’ve always been a leader. I’ve never had any problem leading people. If I say do it, they’re going to do it. That’s what leadership is all about.

As I wrote at the time, “Our military does not follow blindly orders issued by ‘The Leader.’ Our military swears an oath to the Constitution.  We swear to uphold the law of the land. We don’t swear allegiance to a single man (or woman) as president.”

“Trump’s performance … reminded me of Richard Nixon’s infamous answer to David Frost about Watergate: ‘When the president does it, that means it’s not illegal.’ No, no, a thousand times no.  The president has to obey the law of the land, just as everyone else has to.  No person is above the law, an American ideal that Trump seems neither to understand nor to embrace.”

“And that disqualifies him to be president and commander-in-chief.”

Yes, I wrote those words just before the Ides of March.  And yet here we are, with Trump as our president-elect and, come January 2017 the U.S. military’s next commander-in-chief.  What the hell?

Confronted with criticism of his remarks that the U.S. military would follow his orders irrespective of their legality, Donald Trump soon walked them back.  But for me his dictatorial instincts, his imperiousness, and, worst of all, his ignorance of or indifference to the U.S. Constitution, stood revealed in horrifyingly stark relief.  Little that Trump said or did after this major, to my mind disqualifying, gaffe convinced me that he was fit to serve as commander-in-chief.

Here’s what I wrote back in March about the prospect of Trump serving as commander-in-chief:

Donald Trump: Lacks an understanding of the U.S. Constitution and his role and responsibilities as commander-in-chief.  Though he has shown a willingness to depart from orthodoxies, e.g. by criticizing the Iraq War and the idea of nation-building, Trump’s temperament is highly suspect.  His bombast amplified by his ignorance could make for a deadly combination.  Hysterical calls for medieval-like torture practices are especially disturbing.

Another disturbing tack he took was to suggest that he’d clean house among the military’s senior ranks — apparently, America today doesn’t have enough men like George Patton and Douglas MacArthur, Trump’s all-time favorite generals.  Patton was a notorious hothead, and MacArthur was vainglorious, egotistical, and insubordinate.  Leaving that aside, Trump doesn’t seem to understand that the president is not a dictator who can purge the military officer corps. Officers are appointed by Congress, not by the president, and they serve at the will of the American people, not at the whim of the president.

Combine Trump’s ignorance of the U.S. Constitution with his cavalier attitude toward nuclear weapons and you truly have a combustible formula.  Clearly, Trump had no idea what America’s nuclear triad was during the Republican primary debates, but few people in the media seemed to care.  (Gary Johnson, meanwhile, was pilloried by the press for not knowing about Aleppo.)  Trump gave statements that seemed to favor nuclear proliferation, and seemed to suggest he saw nuclear weapons as little different from conventional ones.  He also repeated that hoary chestnut, vintage 1960, that some sort of “missile gap” existed between the U.S. and Russia: the lie that Russia was modernizing its nuclear forces and the USA was falling hopelessly behind.  Again, there was little push back from the press on Trump’s ignorance and lies: they were enjoying the spectacle and profits too much.

When it comes to nuclear war, ignorance and lies are not bliss.  Can Trump grow up?  Can he become an adequate commander-in-chief? America’s future, indeed the world’s, may hinge on this question.

Hillary Clinton’s Deplorables and Irredeemables

It’s repeat week at Bracing Views as I attempt to process the result of this election. A big reason Hillary lost the electoral vote, I think, is Clinton fatigue. Hillary and Bill again, for another four, possibly eight, years? Didn’t we already see that show in the 1990s? Like Jeb! Bush, Hillary was a stale candidate. More of the same. Clinton fatigue was compounded by a sense of arrogance, as shown in her “basket of deplorables” comment. Want to motivate people to show up at the polls and vote against you? Talk down to them, call them names, tell them they’re beyond hope, even beyond redemption. Contempt is a powerful force, not quickly forgotten by those on the receiving end of it. (I’ve read where contempt between partners is an almost certain of divorce or breakup.)

Combine Clinton fatigue with open contempt and you get two big reasons why Hillary faded down the stretch.

Bracing Views

hillaryW.J. Astore

When Hillary Clinton called out half of Trump’s supporters as “deplorables,” to the point where some are “irredeemable,” I shook my head at her elitism even as I was surprised by her lack of political acumen.  Her comment lumping these “deplorables” into a “basket” came at a fundraiser on September 9th, even as her podium touted the message “stronger together.”  As I wrote in a Facebook post on September 10th, “Painting half your opponent’s supporters as [potentially] irredeemable is just bad strategy.”

But it’s worse than that.  First off, Hillary should have known better.  After all, she went aggressively after Barack Obama when in 2008 he made his comment about bitter rural folk clinging to guns and religion.  (And Obama’s comment is considerably milder than Hillary’s.) By calling out Obama for his comment, Hillary was able to win that year’s primary in Pennsylvania.  Second, for a seasoned pol…

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Understanding Donald Trump’s Appeal

Back in May, I wrote this article about Trump’s appeal and why he could win, especially against Hillary. After all his missteps, even after the tape in which he brags about grabbing women wherever and whenever, even after losing all three debates, Trump still won. I think in this article I hit on some of the reasons why.

Bracing Views

Trump runs over GOP

W.J. Astore

I lived and taught in a rural and conservative area in Pennsylvania for nine years, an area that’s “flyover country” for Beltway elites.  Back in 2008, I remember how the locals went gaga over Sarah Palin’s visit to the area, and how crestfallen so many people were when Barack Obama was elected president.  I remember how people sported Bush/Cheney stickers on their cars and trucks (even the faculty at the largely vocational college at which I taught), long after these men had left office.  Sadly, I also recall a lot of Confederate flag license plates, especially on trucks, but there were also people who flew them at home from their flagpoles.  This was not about “heritage,” since Pennsylvania was Union country in the Civil War.  No – it was about being a White “redneck” and taking the country back from, well, the “other” – Blacks, Muslims, immigrants, anyone…

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Trump Wins! A Few Thoughts on Why

sap
“I won’t play the sap for you.”

W.J. Astore

In my last post, I predicted Trump would lose.  I thought his declinist message and his blatant vulgarity would ultimately cost him too many votes.  As Trump would say, “wrong.”

What are we to take from Trump’s stunning upset?  Here are a few quick thoughts:

  1.  The Democrats ran the wrong candidate.  Remember when Bernie Sanders was saying he had the best chance to defeat Trump?  That the polls favored him and not Hillary? Turns out Bernie was right. People were looking for a candidate who represented change. Real change.  Bernie had that. So too did Trump.  But Hillary was the establishment personified. Not only that, but she had extensive baggage that led to high negatives. Too many people just didn’t like her. Or they simply wanted a fresh face and a new approach — even if that face was Trump.
  2. The October surprise.  Does Trump win without the last minute intervention of the FBI in the email follies? We’ll never know, but Hillary had the momentum prior to the letter issued by the FBI. That letter may have slowed her momentum just enough to allow Trump to win.
  3. All politics is local — or, at least, personal.  The Democrats addressed global issues like climate change.  The Republicans basically denied it’s happening.  The Democrats talked about embracing immigrants and tolerating Muslims.  The Republicans did neither.  What the Republicans did was to emphasize personal pain. The pain of those who’ve seen their jobs disappear and their way of life suffer.  The Republicans also played to nostalgia.  Yes, America is in decline, they said, but we can make the country great again (by making it less inclusive, by keeping out the “bad” people, by being tough).  That message proved appealing to so many Americans who see in Trump the possibility of returning to “the good old days” (whatever that may mean).
  4. I won’t play the sap for you.”  That’s a Humphrey Bogart line from “The Maltese Falcon.”  Many Americans believe they are being played for saps by foreign powers. Trump recognized this.  He called for tougher trade deals.  He called for NATO and other U.S. allies to pay their way.  He promised a new approach to foreign policy, one where enemies would be smashed even as Americans would avoid dumb wars like Iraq.  Basically, Trump promised that America would no longer play the sap for the rest of the world.  And the American people liked what they heard.

That’s my quick take.  Lots of Americans truly wanted a change in course — a sort of reactionary revolution.  That desire led them to downplay Trump’s sexism, ignorance, incivility, and vulgarity.  (Of course, there were some who embraced Trump precisely for these qualities.)  In essence, they simply had no patience for Hillary’s “politics as usual” message.

Finally, let’s not forget that Trump said the election is “rigged.”  He was a sore loser even before the results were in.  What kind of winner will he be?  Much will depend on the answer to that question.

Why Donald Trump Will Lose

schopenhauer
Arthur Schopenhauer

W.J. Astore

Donald Trump claims that if he loses the election it’s because the whole process is rigged.  But a rigged game is not why Trump will lose.  He’s going to lose because he’s offered no compelling vision about why he should be president.  (I don’t think “making America great again” is such a vision.)

What’s most remarkable to me about Trump’s campaign is how negative it’s been.  America is in decline!  Our inner cities are wastelands! Immigrants are thugs and rapists!  Muslims are out to get us!  Our leaders are stupid and crooked!  Indeed, until recently, Trump argued our top leader wasn’t even born in America.

A relentlessly negative campaign says a lot more about Trump than it does about America.  Sure, this country has problems.  But there are many silver linings in the dark clouds (economy on the mend; job growth up; health care extended to more people; rights for the LGBTQ community more accepted; the U.S. auto industry is back; more action on climate change is forthcoming, as long as Trump doesn’t win).

I was reading Arthur Schopenhauer’s “Counsels and Maxims” and came across a passage that reminded me of Trump.  Here it is:

No man can see over his own height … You cannot see in another man any more than you have in yourself; and your own intelligence strictly determines the extent to which he comes within its grasp …. Hence intercourse with others involves a process of leveling down.  The qualities which are present in one man, and absent in another, cannot come into play when they meet; and the self-sacrifice which this entails upon one of the parties, calls forth no recognition from the other.

Consider how sordid, how stupid, in a word, how vulgar most men are, and you will see that it is impossible to talk to them without becoming vulgar yourself for the time being.  Vulgarity is in this respect like electricity; it is easily distributed…

That’s Trump in a nutshell: vulgar.  Vulgar language.  Vulgar action. Vulgar appeals.  The question is: Will that vulgarity triumph on election day?  Is it enough?  My guess is that it isn’t.  That it won’t be.

His opponent, Hillary Clinton, has her own set of issues, but compared to Trump she has run a more hopeful campaign, or, at the very least, a much less vulgar one.  “Stronger together” is a tepid slogan, but it does stress togetherness, a certain strength in numbers, a degree of tolerance.  And Hillary has simply done a better job than Trump at reaching out to wider constituencies with a message that is positive rather than declinist.

Sure, a lot of people will vote for Trump, and for many reasons.  They don’t like or trust Hillary.  They’re loyal to the Republican Party.  They see something in Trump that resonates with them.  They feel they’ve gotten the shaft and think that a wild card like Trump can help them more than a face card like Hillary.

But ultimately I believe Trump will be done in by his own vulgarity.  He will lose because he couldn’t see past the limitations of his own height — his own flawed character.

But if I’m wrong, prepare yourself for four years of vulgar appeals, of sordidness and stupidity, to quote Schopenhauer.  For as the philosopher said, vulgarity is easily distributed.