30 November 2016

Artifact: The New York Vigilance, "The Body of Society"

A second New York Vigilance broadside has been published. As before, I found the new one in an Albany coin-op laundry. Here's the latest from "Doormouse":




Somehow I don't think using the human body as a metaphor is the best strategy for someone arguing for diversity as an end unto itself. Sure, if all the organs or organelles of the body exist in a state of mutual fear and distrust the body itself will be in bad shape, but will it be much better off if each organelle does its own thing, as they must if this is to be a meaningful metaphor. All I'm saying is that body metaphors are better arguments for unity than diversity, and while Doormouse in his/her own fashion may be arguing for a form of unity, it's probably not the sort of unity of purpose and function that a living body requires. I also have to disagree with the Vigilance's exemption of religion from insult, if not also from "exploitation" or "violence." Religion isn't the same as ethnicity; it's a value system and as such is subject to criticism, even if the criticism proves "insulting" to those criticized. It would make as much sense to call it bigotry if people are criticized for their ideology -- though I suppose that's exactly what some of the Trumpophobes are doing. You can interpret that either way: that they're calling Trumpists bigots for criticizing the ideology of people like Doormouse, or that Doormouse is a bigot for equating Trumpism with bigotry. Trumpism is bad enough (in its blind faith in folksy billionaires, for instance) without jumping to that conclusion. Meanwhile, Doormouse has resolved to ruin next month's holiday gatherings with politics ("We shall challenge our relatives' ignorant views"). Vive la Resistance!

29 November 2016

The Burning Issue

Does the President-elect even know that what he proposed in a recent tweet -- that flag burners be prosecuted and possibly stripped of their citizenship -- is unconstitutional according to a Supreme Court majority that included arch-conservative Antonin Scalia? Is he aware that he would need to amend the Constitution to get his way -- if it's really his will and not just his feeling -- or else appoint justices committed to overturning the existing precedent? My answer to both questions is "probably not," but it's unclear whether those fretting over Trump's tweet realize either, or care, that the Constitution stands in his way. For them it's just further proof of Trump's "authoritarian" tendencies, his desire to crush dissent he deems unpatriotic. I saw some of the Morning Joe show this morning and saw the host argue passionately with one of his panelists that the tweet was no further cause for panic, precisely because the Constitution blocked any action against flag burners, while the panelist insisted just as passionately that Trump's mere desire to punish them proved that Americans had cause to fear his presidency. Of course, that fear is magnified by the assumption that millions share Trump's desire, and in this case liberals' assumptions about the attitudes of Trump voters are closer to the mark than usual. There is decreasing tolerance for perceived disrespect for the flag, whether it's professional athletes refusing to salute it or at least one college in Massachusetts refusing to raise it as a protest against Trump's election. There's an increasing divergence in attitudes embittering those for whom the flag represents the nation and all its people, living and dead, toward those for whom it represents their pet peeve of the moment, who think they can withhold a salute to protest that specific thing without being accused of disrespecting bigger things. Like it or not, in an age of insecurity most people are going to demand more positive and overt proof of loyalty to nation (and not just its constitution) than liberals typically feel necessary.  That's not an argument against civil liberties and the prerogatives of dissent, but consider it a warning that dissent may require more courage than many of us are accustomed to. Liberals don't like "with us or against us" arguments because they sound unconditional, if not also because they don't feel obliged to prove to other people, much less the stereotypical Trump voter, that they're good Americans. But to the extent that the United States is a democracy, mutual accountability means that all people have the right at least to ask where others stand, and draw conclusions from their answers. They have a right to wonder whether those who take liberties with national symbols because the nation isn't living up to their ideals can be counted on to defend or support the nation to the fullest extent. The only problem with making flag burning or flag rituals the focus of this concern is that those who pose real threats to the nation aren't likely to be dumb enough to draw attention to themselves with such overt displays of "disloyalty." It's more likely that flags are burnt or ignored by disappointed lovers of their country than by those who've never given a damn about it.

28 November 2016

Amoklauf at Ohio State?

Now that it seems that no students were killed or critically hurt during an apparent knifing rampage this morning at The Ohio State University, it seems time to investigate the possible radicalization of students at the University of Michigan following last Saturday's football game between the two schools. Following Michigan's overtime loss, their coach denounced the referees for effectively screwing his team out of the game and any chance of taking part in the playoffs to determine a national collegiate champion. Could today's attacker, who has been reported killed by the police, have been morbidly embittered by this dubious victory of Michigan's traditional Big Ten rival? Probably not; it will surprise no one if the attacker turns out to be some Muslim idiot. But why shouldn't it be a disgruntled football fan? After all, football is like a religion in that part of the country, and objectively speaking a football fan -- remember, fan is short for "fanatic" -- has as much reason to go out and slash students as a Muslim does.

Sore Winner-elect

Donald Trump finally was provoked last weekend to take the position many of his supporters had taken since it became apparent that Trump would become President without winning the popular vote. It took a report that elements of Hillary Clinton's campaign organization would cooperate with Jill Stein's kamikaze attack on the presidential vote in Wisconsin. While I continue to uphold people's right to vote for the candidate they like best, regardless of whether or not the candidate has a realistic chance to win, Stein only has herself to blame for Trump winning Wisconsin. As the latest tally of the popular vote in that state shows, Stein, the Green party candidate, received more votes than the margin separating Clinton from Trump. For all I know, Stein might like to see Trump's lead grow through a recount to the point where she won't be blamed for the Republican winning. But I suspect that a Trump presidency so horrifies the leftist candidate that she'd like to see recounts in Wisconsin and elsewhere flip some of the close states from Republican to Democrat. But as below, so above; just as Trump supporters have been answering efforts to use the popular vote to question Trump's legitimacy by questioning the legitimacy of the popular vote, so now Trump himself is claiming that only millions of fraudulent votes kept him from winning the popular as well as the electoral vote. The fraud libel is the modern version of the old Republican tactic of "waving the bloody shirt." Just as Republicans a century ago and more loved to remind voters that the Democrats were the party of secession, so Republicans now assume that since the Democrats always have been the party of immigrants -- at least until each wave of immigrants turns "white" and frets over the next wave -- Democrats will always depend on fraudulent voting by unnaturalized immigrants to win elections. History provides at least some basis for such claims, but it gives no reason to think that Republicans don't also cheat. If anything, we're only returning to partisan normalcy after a long period where fraud wasn't that big an issue between the parties. Perhaps demographic polarization has something to do with this, but in any event the timing of Stein's challenge is terrible. It comes after the establishment, at least, had reconciled itself to a Trump presidency, and after the lumbering transition process had begun. It may prove the climax to the self-defeating hysteria over Trump's election -- so long as they blame it on white nationalism they'll never figure out how to beat him or Pence next time -- but I still fear that worse is to come, perhaps on Inauguration Day.

26 November 2016

In-Fidel

Compared to his historical peers, Fidel Castro at least had a sense of his own limitations. He did not feel the need to rule or reign until his last breath, and in his brother he apparently had someone he could trust in a way few of his peers did. Nevertheless Castro's death is being celebrated in the streets of Miami and elsewhere as the demise of a tyrant, and that's understandable. His repression of civil liberties in Cuba was inexcusable and his tendency to see any dissident as an American agent was either dishonest or pathological. Yet it would be wrong to let the knee-jerk liberal judgment preempt further analysis of Castro's place in history. The civil-liberties standard is not the only one applicable to political leaders. Many people around the world still see Castro as a great man, not only as a revolutionary leader, but as someone through whom Cuba has improved life in other countries. This is the part when someone mentions literacy rates, public health, etc., and someone else asks what good literacy is if you can read only what Fidel allows, or what good longer life is if you have to spend it all under a dictator. I don't know if there's have an objective answer to that, but I suspect that we can be too quick to jump to conclusions about other people's quality of life. Nevertheless, I expect history to judge the Castro brothers harshly, not just because history is often written by liberals but also because most people assume now that Cuba would have been better off today had the 1959 revolution never taken place, no matter how much longer the prior dictatorship stayed in power, so long as a liberal regime followed it. History seems to show that Marxism-Leninism was the answer nowhere, except arguably in China where it served to clear out centuries of deadwood so a modern economy could be built on largely non-Marxist principles. China was a model often urged on Castro,  but one he never embraced. Whether he was right or wrong depends on your opinion of today's China, but his failure to make Cuba any kind of paradise certainly makes him less of an idol or icon today than his comrade Che Guevara. That only shows that it's easier to revolt than to rule, and if there's any tragedy to Castro's story it's that he will always be judged more harshly than Che because he chose the harder course.

22 November 2016

Trump's Golden Rule

If the news media seemed excessively hostile toward Donald Trump during the 2016 presidential campaign, that certainly had something to do with his threat to "open up the libel laws" in a way inferred to threaten freedom of expression and dissent. Now that the election is over, and after some contentious negotiation, the President-elect called on The New York Times today and pretty much signaled that they and other media powers had nothing to worry about, at least on the libel front. His explanation was priceless: somebody told him, "You know, YOU might be sued a lot more." Trump: "You know, I hadn't thought of that." I suppose he might convince himself that the President can't be sued for libel, just as -- so he told the Times -- the President is incapable of conflicts of interests. But why take chances? Similar thinking may explain why he's walking back from his vow to prosecute Hillary Clinton. I've already heard evidence that Trump has angered some supporters by not sticking to what they considered a serious campaign promise. It'll be interesting to see whether he rethinks his new position. He may feel that going after Clinton will further divide the country when he wants to unite it, but people who voted for him probably feel that the country could not be more divided than it was this year, and the last thing they want to see so soon is President Trump on the other side of the divide from themselves.

Faithless electors

Now it's Democrats turn to condemn the Electoral College as undemocratic and thus illegitimate. Earlier this year Donald Trump's people worried that their man might win the popular vote yet be denied the White House by a "rigged" electoral vote. That only went to show that many Trumpists had no clue how the electoral vote usually works to the Republican candidate's advantage so long as the least populous states, each of which still gets a minimum of three electoral votes, remain "red." Since the electoral vote makes the presidential election effectively a vote of the states rather than a vote of the people en masse, Trump won a majority of states and won the election. That result reminded Democrats that they disliked the Electoral College a decade ago when it worked twice in George W. Bush's favor. Now that it has made Trump the next president and supposedly emboldened a cavalcade of hate, some Democrats are determined to subvert the Electoral College itself if not Trump's election. A number of Democratic electors, nominally committed to vote for Hillary Clinton on December 19, hope to entice a number of their Republican counterparts to join them in repudiating their respective candidates. They claim an entitlement to vote as a deliberative body, on their own discretion, instead of according to the instructions of their states' voters. But some also suggest that they want to spark a crisis in order to persuade Americans to abolish the Electoral College altogether, either literally by amending the Constitution or effectively by getting an electoral majority of states to sign on to the National Popular Vote pact. In other words, these faithless electors hope to start a discussion rather than a civil war, but if they even come close to denying Trump the presidency the latter is most likely what they'd get. It would be the most outrageously antidemocratic act in American history since the mass secession of southern states following Abraham Lincoln's election in 1860 -- and, as I probably can't emphasize enough, it would almost certainly get some Trump supporters shooting mad. It would also be illegal in many states, including two with electors who've already declared their faithless intentions. State governments still decide how presidential electors are chosen, and in 19 states they have standing instructions for electors to abide by each state's popular vote. The relevant states ought to act preemptively to replace the faithless electors who have declared themselves, even if those who have declared themselves won't take votes away from Trump.  I have no problem with people demonstrating to express their disapproval of Trump and his supporters, even if their fears have grown hysterical, but this electoral conspiracy is where we have to put our collective foot down. Our liberal democratic republic depends on the assumption that no President or Congress can destroy the country in two to eight years' time. If people think that can happen here and now with Trump and a Republican Congress in charge, than their real problem isn't only with the Republicans but with an electoral system that permits such apparent monsters to run for office and even win, even before the Electoral College plays its part. So where does the threat to liberal democracy in America actually come from now?

20 November 2016

Artifact: The New York Vigilance (November 2016)

There were a couple of copies of this little broadside in the coin-op laundry I patronize in Albany NY:





It's hard to take the fascist threat as seriously as the author intends when he can't even spell fascist correctly, but I suppose pointing that out makes me some kind of orthographic fascist. Beyond that, "Doormouse" is perhaps necessarily vague on the terms according to which various groups must come together or work together. The author rightly prioritizes resisting a "rigged" economic system, but while the Vigilance emphasizes that the middle class itself is threatened by neocon/neoliberal policies, it's unclear whether Doormouse has figured out how to build a resistance without alienating a "white male-dominated" middle class presumed jealous of its "overt dominance over social, economic, cultural and political aspects of daily life" -- whatever that means.  This large, still-decisive demographic can't be treated as victim and villain at the same time, but whether the left can stop itself from treating them exactly that way remains to be seen.

19 November 2016

Introducing Think 3 Video News

Slowly and surely the Think 3 Institute catches up with modern times by introducing its video news operation. Beginning this weekend I'll try to give you snippets of public events of potential interest in the Albany NY area, and possibly beyond, as I happen to come across them with my cheapo smartphone. Think 3's first original video is a walkthrough of an anti-Trump demonstration held at Townsend Park, a large pedestrian island between Central and Washington avenues in Albany that has long been a popular demonstration site despite the conspicuous monument to the U.S.'s "imperialist" conquests circa 1898. I would have liked to capture more of the show but today was a day of errands for me and I only had time to swing by as it was just getting underway. The video will probably get more attention at its YouTube home than it will here, so feel free to start or join the conversation there.

18 November 2016

Sore winners

All through the summer and into the fall I had to listen to one old lady who called into my newspaper's opinion line to rant against the Electoral College. Obviously Donald Trump was right about the election being rigged, she'd say, because the media was saying that Hillary Clinton had already cinched such-and-such a number of electoral votes. As far as she was concerned, election analysts were telling her that the popular vote didn't matter, only the electoral vote, which somehow Clinton had already won. But there would be hell to pay, she vowed, should Trump win the popular vote yet lose in the Electoral College. As everyone knows, the reverse took place on Election Day. As of the latest count, Trump trails Clinton in the popular vote by just over 1.1 million votes, yet he is President-elect thanks to his success in less-populous states that still get a minimum of three electoral votes for their Senators and Representatives. By the rules set down in the Constitution, Trump has won fair and square and, just as the old lady warned -- she's one of those who claims not to like Trump, by the way, but voted for him anyway and expects everyone else to kiss his ass now -- the popular vote didn't matter. But she can't let the matter go. Too many people are calling Trump a "minority President," making that an excuse not to give the poor man a chance. So now she calls questioning the legitimacy of the popular vote. If the Democrat got more votes, it must be due to fraud: repeat voting, dead people voting, illegal immigrant voting, etc. She happens to think that that's how Barack Obama won both times. She claims to have once been a Democrat, but now believes all the old propaganda about Democratic election fraud -- not all of which is fraudulent -- that Republicans have been peddling ever since there have been Republicans. I suppose that tells you that it's not the party but the voters that make you believe those stories. But why get worked up about it when no one's going to stop Trump -- who in another vindication of his sterling integrity has agreed to a multimillion dollar settlement of the Trump University suits -- from taking office in January. Why worry whether Clinton won the popular vote -- and let's note that she didn't win a majority of it -- when winning it is meaningless? There are probably two reasons. One is that on some level the old lady still thinks of the Electoral College as illegitimate in some way, or at least as an insufficient mandate in the face of Trump being physically outpolled by Clinton. The other is that people like her, despite their own professed reservations about the man, simply do not want to see or hear anyone on the other side say anything bad about Donald Trump. They may even have thinner skin about it than Trump himself has, but the heart of the matter is that they want to see the "elite," the liberals, the "mainstream media," all humbled if not cowed into submission, but while many in these groups are chagrined, they are not yet humbled in any submissive sense of the word. Trump's voters are definitely more interested in this outcome, I think, than Trump is, because they feel these elites and their clients have lorded it over them in a way Trump can't really empathize with, and the longer their enemies remain unhumbled the less Trump's inauguration will calm them. They want scores settled, and not just with the Clintons, and they won't feel that they've won along with Trump until they see  the entire liberal establishment laid low. They had better not hold their breaths.

17 November 2016

It is forbidden to forbid thought, except for the thought of forbidding a thought.

Every year, it seems Russia and its friends in the United Nations general assembly, whose votes are non-binding, try to embarrass the U.S. by trotting out a resolution recommending a ban on Nazi or neo-Nazi expression. The embarrassment presumably is unwitting, since the U.S. is unapologetic about voting against the resolution every time. Those who think the worst of Donald Trump might expect his UN ambassador to vote this way, but it's been an annual event already under Barack Obama. The usual excuse is our American belief in freedom of speech, but in recent years, it seems, our opposition has been all about Ukraine. That country is one of only two that joined the U.S. in opposing the resolution this year. The idea behind this is that Ukraine today celebrates nationalist leaders of the past who inevitably were anti-Russian. When we get to World War II, this inevitably means that some Ukrainians idolize Nazi collaborators, if not outright Nazis. Russians are rather sensitive on this issue, and to listen to them sometimes you'd think that anyone who didn't like Russians was some sort of Nazi. From the Ukrainophilic perspective in the U.S., the anti-Nazi resolution now looks like an excuse to suppress or at least discredit Ukrainian nationalism, but Americans have never really needed the Ukrainian excuse to oppose the idea of criminalizing Nazism. You would think that of all the thoughts ever thought, those of Adolf Hitler are thoughts that don't need to be debated every generation, yet I'm sure someone will tell you that banning Nazi expression outright would only lend Hitler's thought the dreaded allure of the forbidden. Someone else might tell you that banning Nazism might seem like a no-brainer, but would only start us on some slippery slope to more widespread and indiscriminate censorship. You can probably play out all the arguments in your own heads. In this country a guilty idea is like an endangered species; no matter how dubious its value, many here can't bear to see any idea die, and definitely don't want to see any killed. That attitude may handicap us at home in some ways, and it definitely makes us look bad to the rest of the world. But wouldn't it be amusing if that great boor Trump, given his presumed indifference to Ukraine and its beef with Russia, instructed his ambassador to vote with the great majority on this question the next time it came around? Sure, it might be funny, but it would probably also further convince a lot of people here of his contempt for the First Amendment. That would be funny, too, in a grim sort of way.

16 November 2016

Obama in Athens

The President has taken advantage of his visit to Greece to pontificate a few times more on democracy in its cradle. At a press conference yesterday, he said, "The ideas of ancient Greece helped inspire America's founding fathers as they reached for democracy." That oversimplifies things a little. I don't want to sound like a conservative, but the Founders and Framers aspired to a republic, albeit a democratic republic within strict bounds, rather than democracy in the Athenian sense. Jennifer Tolbert Roberts has something to say about the Founders' perceptions of Athenian democracy in her book Athens on Trial:

By and large the Athenian example was one from which the founding fathers wished to dissociate themselves. Madison made a point of distinguishing the American republic from the 'turbulent democracies of ancient Greece and modern [i.e. Rensaissance] Italy....In the representative principle he saw the remedy for the inherent turbulence of democracy, which, he argued, was a bad thing in ancient Athens. 'In all very numerous assemblies,' he insisted, 'of whatever character composed, passion never fails to wrest the scepter from reason. Had every Athenian citizen been a Socrates,' he maintained, 'every Athenian assembly would still have been a mob.'

Madison and other Founders identified democracy with government by an assembly that constituted itself as "the people" but consisted of whatever (presumably qualified) people were motivated or could be induced to show up. The Americans insisted on democracy delegating power to representatives through elections, and demanded the extra safeguard of a Senate whose members sat for longer terms and were chosen by state legislatures, not directly by the people. Legislators in either house were presumed capable of deliberation in place of "passion," with the Senate under less immediate pressure from the rank and file. Obama, by comparison, equates "democracy" with "democratic republic," and trusts in the deliberative capacity of the people themselves. For him, democracy's redeeming virtue -- the thing that makes it, in Churchillian terms, the least worst form of government, is its self-correcting quality. In a speech today, he equated democracy with the scientific method, claiming that it's more responsive to facts than any other form of government. When you consider how both the electoral and the popular vote turned out last week, you may be tempted to laugh at his idealism. There's no room for ideology in the scientific method, the President observed, but there's no bar to ideology or other prejudices at the polls. Were the Founders here, they'd probably conclude that the 2016 election was waged with undiluted passion on both sides -- by the candidates if not the voters -- but they'd hope that the people elected, the legislators in particular, will govern more dispassionately. That seems unlikely, though there is still room for hope that Donald Trump is not as thoroughly governed by ideology or passion (go ahead and scoff!) as his party.

Modern American politics -- and, some might argue, Greek politics as well -- may only demonstrate the bankruptcy of political philosophy as a method for recommending or guaranteeing ideal forms of government. Every form of government ultimately depends on the character of the people who govern. That's just as true for the American model of a constitutional democratic republic as it is for any authoritarian model. Any model might work with the right people in it, and all will fail, through abuse or decrepitude, without the right people. No model can guarantee a consistent supply of "right people" across generations; no amount or quality of education can perfectly immunize people from the temptations of power or the temptations of surrender. No mechanism of ideal government can be set in place and left to operate on its own. Obama's panegyrics to democracy ring hollow after a generation of American efforts to spread democracy by the sword, even as he repeats the old saw about the peacefulness of democracies. The world has had too much of political theorizing in recent centuries, whether from a passion to make omelets or a zeal to protect every egg. We might be better off thinking practically rather than theoretically, about solving problems as they come rather than the right way to solve every problem. Our goal should be to say that we are governed not right but well. There is a difference.

15 November 2016

Secretary of State Giuliani?

People were expecting Rudolph Giuliani to become Donald Trump's Attorney General, but perhaps the former New York City mayor's reputation as a prosecutor was too impressive for the President-Elect. Instead, Giuliani is now said to be a front runner for Secretary of State in a Trump administration. It looks like an odd choice if it happens, but as a onetime presidential candidate himself Giuliani should be presumed to have some knowledge of foreign affairs. A Giuliani nomination will be taken as a signal that the War on Terror will be the relatively narrow focus of the Trump presidency. Giuliani, who has been described as a sort of "authoritarian" in his own right, doesn't seem to share the foreign-policy establishment's suspicions toward Russia, and it's unlikely that "democracy promotion" will be a high priority in a Giuliani State Department. That might make life more difficult for democracy promoters in various countries, but on the other hand, if the U.S. lays off on that front, maybe such people are less likely to be seen as American stooges by their political leaders and fellow citizens. As for the War on Terror, the challenge for Giuliani will be the same as for Trump; to avoid handicapping the fight against the self-proclaimed Islamic State by persisting in a zionist Iranophobia that will keep us alienated from Russia and its friends in the Middle East. Giuliani might not be the most promising diplomat on that point, but he'd certainly be preferable to John Bolton, who had been reported under consideration last week. Appointing George W. Bush's U.N. ambassador would  betray just about every promise Trump has made to pursue a non-neocon foreign policy. I can only assume that he considered the opinionated Bolton at all was because he liked the idea of our head diplomat telling off the international establishment the way Trump himself tells off the American establishment. The more recent talk about Giuliani suggests that Trump and/or his advisers came to their senses, but at least one Republican still isn't satisfied. Sen. Rand Paul sees either man as too interventionist for our own good and has vowed to oppose either one if nominated. Given that the Republicans will have no more than 52 seats in the next Senate Trump will have to be careful not to offend too many others with whatever choice he makes, unless he can make deals for Democratic support of his eventual nominee. If Trump's eventual choice inspires a truly meaningful debate on American foreign policy, it may prove to have been worth the trouble.

14 November 2016

In the belly of the beast

Liberals and some mainstream Republicans are alarmed by the President-elect's selection of Steve Bannon of Breitbart News as his White House strategist. Bannon is perceived as a spokesman for the "alt-right," which for some observers has become synonymous for "white nationalism." To drive the point home, some indisputable white nationalists (David Duke, etc.) have been quoted praising Bannon's appointment. During the campaign I couldn't be bothered worrying about Bannon since Trump was worrisome enough in many ways. Now that the hue and cry continues I decided to take a look at Breitbart News, the site that bothers so many people. I didn't really see much to distinguish it from other right-media websites. Most of its main stories today focused on intemperate responses to Trump's election, some by celebrities, some by civilians. The message of the day seemed to be that "the left" were so many hysterical hypocrites in their calls for violence or actual acts of violence. I didn't see anything explicitly and specifically hostile to the groups supposedly targeted by the "alt-right," and I did see what looked like a favorable report on Sen. Sanders lamenting Democrats' inability to communicate with the white working class -- though the comment thread was pretty harsh on Bernie. My guess is that what people dislike about Breitbart takes place in the comment threads, which most likely serve as a safe space for angry white guys (and, I'd suspect, likeminded others) to dish out to everyone else what the left-media dishes out to them. It's not my cup of bile, but I suppose they're just as entitled to a safe space as anyone else. It's probably smart -- even, dare I say, strategic, for Trump to elevate Bannon, since doing so is like waving a red flag at a bull, or whatever a matador does. He's probably figured out that the more his opposition obsesses over "white nationalism," the more they don't get the real issues of 2016 -- and the more they alienate the voters they supposedly want back. The opposition's message right now should be "Don't be suckers," not "Don't be bigots." They should be talking about how Trump's supply-side Republican policies are going to make his supporters' lives more miserable, since Trump's opponents are already convinced that their lives will be hell for the next four years. But unless they focus more on changing how people vote than on changing how people think -- unless they diminish whatever transgressive appeal Breitbart has by ignoring it -- it could well be eight years of hell or more for liberals.

10 November 2016

'Not My President'

In the most literal sense, the thousands of people demonstrating against Donald Trump last night were correct. Trump is not their president, yet --but he will be by the end of January. I'm sure the protesters are realistic enough not to think they can prevent his inauguration, unless they plan more drastic steps than demonstrations. From what I saw on the news these were mostly young white people, apparently organized by hard-core left groups like International ANSWER. Probably this is an attempt to stake out a position as the real opposition to Trump in the face of the apparent bankruptcy of the Democratic party. There are good reasons for leftists to maintain vigilance against the President-elect. But their slogan reminded me of how people were treated when they said that Barack Obama was not their president. It was taken for granted that such people were bigots, especially since it was unlikely that anyone other than white people would say that. But if bigotry refuses respect to people due to race, religion, sexual preference, etc., ideology is a kind of intellectual bigotry that denies respect to people's opinions without making any effort to listen to them. That sort of bigotry has no more place in a democracy than any other kind. If you're an American citizen you can't say that Trump won't be your president because you don't like his attitude, so long as the voters and the Electoral College say otherwise. Yet I'm sure the protesters feel that they're only exercising a right of conscience embedded in the First Amendment. I agree that there is such a right, but if these protests escalate into my worst-case scenario, a large-scale attempt to disrupt Trump's inauguration, it will only prove again that any good thing is bad in excess. That may be more true in our kind of democracy than anywhere else.

Update: Right now there's probably an early disconnect between Trump and his fans. The President-elect is getting kid-glove treatment from President Obama and the Democratic leadership and seems to be responding in kind -- Obama, he said today, is "a very good man" -- while his followers only see the protesters from Wednesday night and are blaming everyone to the left of themselves. Through my sources I get the impression that Trumpites are angrier at these protests than they've been at Black Lives Matter demos and their attendant riots. While Trump may be waxing conciliatory the rank and fire are only getting into a more retributive mood. I don't know if Trump himself has opined about the demonstrations or if the coddling he's receiving right now is cancelling out whatever anger he may feel at them, but whether Democrats have any influence over the crowds or not -- and given the hard-left tone of the protesters, I doubt they have much -- it would probably be a good idea for the President, the Clintons, etc. to urge people to take a breath, take a break, do anything but do that again right away, because the constituency for a crackdown is growing. On top of being the sorest losers since 1860, their outbursts could well make their fears of "fascist" suppression of dissent a self-fulfilling prophecy.

09 November 2016

Rachel Maddow punches down

In Florida, Donald Trump ran ahead of Hillary Clinton by not quite 120,000 votes. Gary Johnson, the Libertarian candidate, won just over 206,000 while Jill Stein, the Green nominee, collected just over 64,000 votes. You know what that means. It's time again for diehard Democrats to denounce third parties. Let's let Rachel Maddow of MSNBC speak for this group as a whole. In her wrath last night, she said: "If you vote for somebody who can't win for president, it means you don't care who becomes president." As someone who voted for neither Trump nor Clinton, I can tell her to go [mouths F-word] herself. If you believe one candidate is the one who should be president, how can voting for that candidate mean you don't care who becomes president? If there's a "don't care" element involved, it's that I don't care how many other people vote for other candidates. Your choice, ideally, should be the candidate you think best qualified, regardless of how many other people think so. If you have any responsibility to those other voters, it's to convince them to vote as you will, for the reasons you will. But by Maddow's logic, you only care about who becomes president if you vote specifically to prevent the worst candidate from taking office, which you can do only by voting for the other strongest candidate. I did not want Trump to become president, but since we don't elect presidents through elimination rounds I had no obligation to vote against him, much less vote against him by voting for Clinton, whom I did not want elected either. The idea that I have a paramount duty to block the worst candidate from winning by sacrificing my vote to the second-worst candidate goes against the spirit of liberal democracy, which does not (or should not) presume a "worst candidate" but rather encourages each person to vote according to his or her conscience and intellect. But for Democratic partisans like Maddow it's always the year 2000, and it's always the fault of the relative handful who vote with integrity despite the odds, as they're supposed to, and not the fault of the multitude who voted for her bĂȘte noire. She'd rather blame thousands than millions, and you know who does that?

A bully.

A Free Shave ... and then what?

After Richard Nixon was finally elected president in 1968, the Washington Post cartoonist Herblock, one of Nixon's most graphic critics, drew a cartoon of a barber shop, with a sign on the wall reading, "This Shop Gives Every New President of the United States a Free Shave." Since Nixon had become a public figure, Herblock had portrayed him with a heavy five o'clock shadow -- a fair hit from a physiognomic standpoint -- to exaggerate what the cartoonist saw as a seedy thuggishness. The free shave, within the boundaries of the cartoon, indicated that Herblock was willing to give Nixon a fresh start as he took office -- a chance, if not the benefit of the doubt. I don't know what sort of free grooming service the nation's cartoonists can offer Donald Trump before his inauguration -- I'm sure many suggestions will occur to people -- but respect for democracy requires us all to give the President-elect that minimal chance the free shave signifies. Whether he will get it remains to be seen. Hillary Clinton and President Obama are making the right noises right now, but I was tempted to damn all the Republicans to hell this morning when Kellyanne Conway appeared on one of the morning talk shows to ask that Trump be given the same chance Obama was given after his election. That bit of hypocrisy was breathtaking even after everything we've seen this year, but Trump himself struck an appropriate conciliatory note in his victory speech, though I suspect that he'll have to be careful of how conciliatory he gets. There was talk already this morning that for the sake of national unity Trump might let the matter of reinvestigating and prosecuting Clinton drop, but even if Trump wants to do that he probably shouldn't, since it would most likely be seen as his first betrayal of a movement that wants revolution with retribution before any reconciliation.

Trump may be sincere about reconciliation, but real reconciliation requires movement by both (or all) sides, and it's too soon to tell whether the Democrats left in the trenches after Obama and Clinton retire from public life will be in any conciliatory mood. Back in 1968, when American politics was just starting in its current awful direction, it was still reasonable to suspend judgment on a new leader until he could be judged by what he did. We judge politicians now by what they think, or what we believe them to think, and to the extent that Trump is assumed to be a billionaire bigot with authoritarian tendencies Democrats -- not to mention the juvenile leftists who staged mini-riots in some cities overnight -- will no more want to give him a chance than Republicans were willing to give the alleged Alinsky cultist Obama a chance in 2009. In either case it's a failure to respect the electorate. The alternative isn't to roll over for Trump and an unleashed Republican Congress, but to wait until they actually do objectionable things rather than object preemptively. There's no evidence yet to suggest that Democrats are ready to listen to the plurality -- Trump will be yet another minority Republican president and still trails Clinton in the popular vote by the latest count -- much less the President-Elect. The Democracy continues to suffer from a self-inflicted tone deafness that hears any protest from working-class whites against anyone but the "1%" as hate. Their perception isn't entirely wrong -- I have to listen to Trump supporters as part of my job and some of them are indisputably haters -- but the real error is to attribute all their complaints to hate. We were told this year that "racial resentment" led many whites to misrepresent economic conditions as worse than they actually were, and that seems to have been a fatal error. It's more likely that economic distress led to greater "racial resentment," but to admit even that would have been to admit that people were still hurting despite Obama's efforts against the Great Recession -- or, arguably in the case of Obamacare, because of his efforts -- and this the Clinton campaign would not do.

The same thinking drove Clintonites to claim that by pointing out bad conditions in black communities, Trump was insulting those communities. That's what happens when you assume that bigotry is Trump's core ideology; Clinton probably was trying to warn blacks that Trump wanted to strip blacks of power within their communities, but blacks themselves probably found it absurd for her to state that their neighborhoods were essentially "vibrant." If black turnout declined from the Obama elections, as many suspect, or if more blacks voted for Trump than expected, it's probably because many realized that Democrats, however, well-meaning, had no real answers for the country apart from the old standby of soaking the rich. This election may have confirmed the demise of old-fashioned class consciousness in this country, outside the Democratic leadership. They could not compute -- and so attributed it to "hate" -- how a boorish billionaire could claim with any plausibility to be the working-class candidate. He was a billionaire, after all! Even if he could talk the blue-collar talk he had to be conning them! What were these blue-collar bootlickers thinking? They were thinking of themselves, most likely, as a "working class" in essential antagonism not with the employing class -- their exploiters according to traditional class consciousness -- but with a non-working class of welfare and disability clients, the same American lumpenproletariat that thwarted the Sanders challenge to Clinton's nomination. This newly conscious working class will be rewarded with supply-side economics and (in all likelihood) a new class of crony capitalists for their support of Trump, but Democrats may not be rewarded in any way for years to come if they can't make a distinction between "hate" and an understandable small-d democratic desire that everyone pull his or her own weight as far as physically or intellectually possible. The Democracy may finally have succumbed to latent contradictions in its ideology. Practically from its beginning the Democratic party has portrayed itself as the party of the working class, and in keeping with the long-term agenda of the American labor movement it still sees its goal as an easier life for the majority of Americans. In olden days that meant obvious things like shorter hours on the job, workplace safety, financial aid for college, etc. But we may be at a point where the promise of an easier life has become a hedonist end unto itself, detached from the idea that working people had earned the right to an easier life than bosses would grant them without government or union pressure. An easier life is a plausible goal according to a progressive notion of history, but events appear to have overtaken that liberal utopianism, and the old appeal to an easier life seems an inadequate response to those events. There's no "or else" in the liberal utopia, where each of us would be what each alone meant to be, without consequences, but liberals haven't caught up with the possibility that an "or else" moment is upon us, when Americans will be expected to pull their own weight or be more than their sheltered selves. The electoral tide may turn again when Democrats (or their successors as the "left" party) reconcile themselves to all of this instead of dismissing it as "hate." Doing so might make things easier for themselves and their constituents in the years to come.

Above all, however, the Democrats have to nominate better candidates. Hillary Clinton's campaign was a suicide pact in almost adolescent protest against the "hate" that supposedly motivated every objection to her ascension to power. So bewitched were Democrats by the "hate" narrative that few really could comprehend why anyone took the email controversy seriously. By their logic, for Republicans to accuse Clinton was to prove that she had done nothing wrong. Yet even if you leave out this last straw of a scandal, the Clinton campaign appeared complacently incompetent compared to the Obama operations of previous elections. On top of all its errors of perception and tone, it ran an almost entirely ad hominem campaign against Trump, when the sensible strategy would have been to warn voters against his likely recourse to discredited Republican policies. Instead, over and over again you saw that stupid commercial with the kids watching Trump on TV. Sure it was always funny hearing Trump singsong, "And you can tell them, to go ... themselves," but kids don't vote, for one thing, and for another it should have been clear by the summer of 2016 that for millions of America Trump's occasional asinine sayings were entirely irrelevant to his qualifications for office, or else gave him an important common touch untainted by a p.c. hypersensitivity that was getting in the way of necessary debates. On economics, after all, apart from trade, how different was he from Republican orthodoxy? We'll all find out soon enough now, but Democrats should have been slamming him as Dubya Redux all year, and instead made it look like the worst thing about Trump was that he had a potty mouth and a funny voice. For all we know, any Democratic nominee might have made the same mistakes, though I feel in retrospect that Sanders could have won with his own style of populism, but we'll never know for certain because the Clinton Cult drank its last round of Kool-Aid out of some misguided sense of loyalty and/or history. For some she had been the Chosen One since 1992, and why that was will be one of the great mysteries of American history.

Hopefully a 73 year old Clinton won't be taken seriously for 2020, especially given the rumormongering about her health, but if Trump really screws up you never can tell. It's more likely that, disqualifying Joe Biden for age as well, the Democrats will choose between Sen. Warren of Massachusetts and Sen. Booker of New Jersey, the one possibly catapulted at the Glass Ceiling by feminists, and probably backed by the Sandersites, and the other an Obama 2.0: younger, probably more centrist than Warren and more likely to get out the vote despite the continued temptation of History. Of the two I'd prefer Booker because, while it was understandable that he not seek to succeed Obama immediately, Warren abdicated the responsibility all Democratic leaders had to stop Clinton this spring, whether out of cowardice, deference or some other motivation. For all I know she may have had a cynical expectation that Clinton would lose and thus open a spot for her in 2020, whereas Warren probably is too old to wait until 2024, but that doesn't help anyone else now. One can still hope that in four years the Democrats won't be our only realistic alternative to Republican rule, but it's probably too early to predict the shape the opposition will take until Trump gives them something solid to oppose.

08 November 2016

None of the Above

A friend said: "I know you don't like the idea, but this election really shows the need for a 'None of the Above' option." I didn't like the idea because you've got to elect somebody president eventually. To address that objection, the friend suggested that a new vote had to be held no more than 90 days after the first one, if "None of the Above" won a majority. Would that give the parties time enough to nominate new candidates? That raised the question of whether not just the candidate but the party should be disqualified in the event of a "None of the Above" vote. We agreed that the candidates rejected by the "None of the Above" vote should be disqualified from the next vote, but how would that work for presidential elections? Should "None of the Above" work on the state or federal level? That is, if "None of the Above" wins some states but the rival candidates win others, do those candidates hold their states while the others vote again, or do you mandate that, should "None of the Above" win the national popular vote, the slate in every state gets wiped clean? However you do it would require federal intrusion in election law, heretofore a state prerogative, and that probably would require a constitutional amendment. In that case, a "None of the Above" option should be part of a piecemeal reform process to be presented as a whole to the states for ratification. Part of the reform should be the establishment of a timely process for electing officials, given that the "None of the Above" option probably would force several rounds of voting, though there probably should be a maximum number of rounds, forcing a last choice on voters in order to have a President by Inauguration Day. We probably can do without the hideous interval we endure now between the nominating conventions and Election Day, and if we insist on even shorter intervals between votes in the event of "None of the Above" we might inspire long-needed changes in the way we choose our presidential candidates.

A few weeks ago I saw a BBC report that estimated that our two "realistic" choices for President were chosen for us by little more than 8% of the total electorate during the primaries and caucuses. The American people need to decide who they'd like to see run for President before the major parties make the decision for them. That probably means more celebrity candidates on the Trump model for a while, on both right and left, with some self-appointed and some possibly drafted, before professional politicians learn to work whatever new system comes into being. Given our culture, there may need to be a mechanism to screen out frivolous nominees, but it would have to be a mechanism that distinguishes between mere frivolity and genuine radicalism or even extremism, since any new process should broaden rather than narrow the scope of debate. We might look to "civil society" to offer us candidates, from labor unions to the NRA, and of course we should reconsider any sort of campaign event -- particularly debates -- for which space or time limitations make excuses for dividing candidates into castes of viability. If you can't have all credible candidates on one stage, don't let any share one in a way that discredits the others unless some sort of round-robin format can be arranged. If we're to have an election with a "None of the Above" option, or even elimination rounds to reduce the number of candidates, we probably won't have time anyway for the parodies of debates we've had since 1976. Maybe some people think the system still works because a major party was captured by a billionaire speaking blue-collar, but most people have to believe that the U.S. can do better than that. If you weren't happy with the choices you had today, you can the next four years hating the winner and probably guaranteeing another lousy choice in 2020, or you can start the long work of changing the system so such a choice is imposed on you again.

The Franchise

There's a polling place across the street at the end of my block but they draw up the voting districts in such a way that I had to go to the other end of Washington Park to do my voting. The place is a Presbyterian church that boasts of having baptized pioneer American scientist Joseph Henry. Things were busy this morning. You told the man up front your address and he directed you to the table for your district. There you signed the roll and were given your paper ballot. You then stood in line for one of the four booths where you would mark the ballot. There are fewer choices for president this year than I can remember from past elections. If you aren't for Clinton, Trump, Johnson or Stein you had to write in another name. Stein was the only one of the four to appear only once; Johnson had been endorsed by the Independence Party. You marked your dots and shook your head at the number of uncontested races and got in line for the scanner. By the time I was ready the line for the scanner nearly went out the door, but it moved quickly. I was in and out in little more than fifteen minutes. I didn't see anyone go in or out of the other polling place either time I passed it.

07 November 2016

A Christianist manifesto

Some of the local papers in New York's Capital District ran a full page ad in their November 6 editions paid for by the Andrew Wommack Ministries. The ad invites readers to go to the Dependence On God website and sign an online version of the Declaration of Dependence that appeared in the newspapers. Its full title is "Declaration of Dependence Upon God and His Holy Bible," and it borrows one sentence from the more-famous Declaration of Independence: "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal and endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights." The drafters of the Declaration, you may recall, listed the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness as inalienable rights. The Wommack Ministries add to this list -- or replace it with -- "the right to exercise our Christian beliefs as put forth in God's Holy Bible." These core Christian beliefs include "that God grants life at conception," with the hairsplitting hedge that "no one has the right to take that life unless it is a direct threat to the life of the mother." Unfortunately, the Wommacks don't cite the verse on which they base that exception. The other shoe drops in short order: subscribers to the Declaration "respectfully reserve the right to refuse any mandate by the government that forces us to fund or support abortion," and they also "oppose same-sex marriage, polygamy, bestiality and all other forms of sexual perversion prohibited by Holy Scripture." On these issues, signatories "choose to obey God rather than man." A list of celebrity signers is appended to the Declaration to impress readers, though most of them are strangers to me. I did recognize Kenneth Copeland and Creflo Dollar as notorious prosperity-gospel preachers, Dr. James Dobson as the tiresome scold of impiety on television, and retired Lt. General William G. Boykin as the officer who claimed that the War on Terror was a war against "a guy named Satan." Two elected officials appear among the signers: a state senator from Oklahoma who wants to strip abortionists of their medical licenses and an Arkansas state senator who declared the Supreme Court ruling striking down laws against gay marriage to be unconstitutional. People who keep a closer watch on the Christian fringes than I do may be able to tell you stories about some of the other signers. What appeared in print should be damning enough. It may be a subject for debate whether the views expressed in this parody of Jefferson's Declaration represent the mainstream of Christian opinion in this country, much less the mainstream of American opinion in general. The debate can be resolved simply; let Christians render unto Caesar, whether Caesar be a pregnant woman or a homosexual person, what is Caesar's according to law. Most, I suspect, do not think their salvation in danger by obeying man rather than God on these issues -- but let them make themselves clear one way or the other. The Constitution protects the free exercise of religion but does not entitle Christianists to obey God rather than man in matters not pertaining to ritual. God has no veto on gay rights or reproductive rights in this world, nor do his worshipers. If they can't respect those rights here, let them find a literally Christian nation to live in.

The most hated man in America?

If you add up all the different groups of people he's pissed off at different times, the landslide winner of this dubious distinction has to be James Comey, the director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Earlier this year he enraged Republicans by recommending against a criminal investigation of Hillary Clinton over her use of a private email server. At the end of last month he enraged Democrats by announcing that the FBI's own investigation had been reopened to examine emails on a computer used by Huma Abedin, a top Clinton aide who shared the computer with her ex-husband, the disgraced Rep. Anthony Weiner. It was Republicans' turn to cackle as Democrats railed against a partisan conspiracy within the Bureau. The worm turned once more yesterday when Comey announced that the investigation of Abedin's files gave him no cause to change his recommendation against prosecuting Clinton. Now the Republicans raged once more. Back in the summer Comey had been a spineless lackey of Attorney General Lynch in their eyes, but at the end of October he had become a courageous man of integrity. By last night he was corrupt once more, as Donald Trump railed that the investigation had been rigged. He complained that all the thousands of Abedin's emails could not have been examined in a week, forgetting (if he ever knew) that on October 28 Comey had made public an investigation that had already been underway for several weeks. Still, a cynical bipartisan consensus might conclude that Comey was simply trolling the whole nation, terrifying Democrats while giving Republicans hope that justice might be done to the Evil One, only to leave either party thinking that he had done enough damage so late, either by reopening the investigation or dismissing it, to cost its candidate the election. But an observer cynical about our Bipolarchy might adopt some old wisdom and conclude that each party's anger proved that Comey was doing the right thing all along.

04 November 2016

The borders of populism

For more than a century, populism has been a puzzle for the American left. For starters, there's the question of defining populism. Then there's the eternal hope of consolidating a movement of left-wing populism, though the hope itself is an admission that populism in raw form is not a phenomenon of the historic "left." In fact, one wonders whether "left-wing populism" would be a pointless redundancy, whether it wouldn't just be a more elaborate way of saying "left." In a recent issue of The Nation Jedediah Purdy reviews two of the latest efforts to define (if not also thereby to tame) populism. For John B. Judis populism treats "ordinary people as a noble assemblage not bounded narrowly by class [and] views their elite opponents as self-serving and undemocratic." A critic of neoliberalism, Judis credits 21st century populism with a legitimate grievance against Democrats as well as Republicans. He also distinguishes between "left-wing" and "right-wing" populism, the difference being that the left-wing version targets the economic elite exclusively, while the right-wing version, in Purdy's paraphrase, "often punches both up and down." It's most likely that willingness to "punch down" at the what Purdy calls "the disenfranchised" that makes this group "right-wing" in both Judis's and Purdy's eyes, though it's more likely that punching both up and down characterizes the mainstream of populism, to which any left variant is a wishful exception. The sort of populism that only punches up is the sort that arguably becomes redundant, not so much populist as just plain left. It's probably more plausible to speak of a "populist left" than of "left-wing populism. Jan-Werner Muller seems to see populism as implicitly "right" in what he perceives as its definitive hostility to pluralism. For Muller, populists are those who "claim that they, and they alone, represent the people." You could probably simplify that to a claim that they, and they alone, are the people. In his hostile account, to the extent that populism rejects pluralism it represents a "degraded form of democracy" in which not all people are equal. He sees 21st century populism as a backlash against "identity politics" that "predominate" in some suspect way and thus incurs some criticism from Purdy, who writes that "A lot of what we call 'identity politics' is about basic forms of civic respect [or] the most basic protection from bigotry." Purdy seems less concerned overall about cultural politics, however, then he is about the challenge of globalization, and on that subject he emerges as a sharp critic of would-be left-wing populists who see no need for borders and the protections they provide ordinary people. So long as "market-oriented economic integration" outruns democratic control, unconditional "openness" to the global economy." Purdy believes that you can take a "populist" stance against free trade without sacrificing your "social-democratic" credentials. If anything, protectionism is imperative for social democrats.

The difficult and unpleasant fact is that to be for social-democratic policies today means also being for borders, for a line demarcating who is in and who is out, and for limits on the mobility of labor. Economic policies are partly the product of a peace pact between classes and between capital and labor, especially over questions such as mobility and borders. Any egalitarian economy will come under stress when capital is free to leave and labor is free to enter....Those who want to combine economic democracy with cosmopolitan moral concern, personal freedom of movement and an egalitarian social order must face a tough set of questions with no easy answers in sight. Democracy remains caught within borders, and the power of democratic politics to shape and discipline the economy will only grow weaker without some geographical and economic boundaries being drawn.

If the left wants a truly open world, Purdy argues, it must concentrate on "developing the kinds of internationalism that might eventually allow political accountability to keep pace with globalization." Until then, those countries where labor is in a relatively good position have to defend their position against the global market. Such a defense, apparently, is a legitimate expression of populism and, in Purdy's account, a pragmatic form of leftism to which much of the left seems blind. That may be because the left tends to see itself in global terms as the party of "humanity," with the world's poorest, those most in need of opportunity and enrichment, as their objects of first concern. Leftism tends to assume the poor are always right, while populism, as noted, makes no such assumption. Ironically, that assumption may be the most populist thing about the modern left, depending on your perspective.

There's something conservative about populism that emerges when you compare it with what may be its antithesis, the progressive movement. You could argue that populists and progressives are the shadow parties that have flourished in the U.S. since the end of the 19th century, always courted by both Republicans and Democrats, both right and left. Theirs are contradictory impulses. Populists don't exactly reject the idea of progress in the simplest sense of an ever-better life for all, but while true progressives will preach that true progress requires everyone to change, populists often resist that they have to change in some profound way for life to be better. Their conviction is that they're already doing the right thing, and that the problem is with other people, both above and below them, who refuse to play by the same rules as The People, who themselves often prefer not to question those rules. Modern leftists are often labeled progressives, but many reject the old progressive imperative for change if it means conforming to unquestioned traditional majority values. They prefer to say that it's those who uphold and enforce those values unquestioningly who need to change. This is a departure from the old hardcore Bolshevik left that had little patience for either tradition or pluralism. They were the progressives par excellence since their goal was the creation of a New Man independent of traditions, but the perceived arrogance of their ambition came into disrepute in the days of Stalin and Mao. Those oldschool commies would sneer at a progressivism that demands only that people grow infinitely more tolerant of each other in all our idiosyncracies and worse. But in the absence of Marxism's guiding vision, those who still believe in a profound sort of progress sense may see it necessary to place their bets on one civilization knocking off all the others, instead of a new civilization conquering all. They could be the cultural equivalents of the "social democratic" economic populists Purdy defends. It probably shouldn't surprise us to see cultural chauvinism make a comeback in an unstably globalizing world, just as economic populism has. It may make leftists and other progressives uncomfortable, but so long as it behaves itself it would be wise for leftists to find ways to accommodate it while still striving to make a better world for everyone, if only within one set of borders at a time.

02 November 2016

The blind and the elephant

My clock radio went off at 7 a.m. this morning and the NPR news led with the ambush killings of two police officers in Des Moines IA. At this time no suspect had been identified and I admit that my first, worst guess was that some disgruntled, cop-hating black man did it. No doubt many people worked on that assumption and cast fresh invective at Black Lives Matter, the Democratic party, etc., until investigators divulged that their suspect, who was captured alive later this morning, was a white man. The suspect is believed to be the same person who in mid-October filmed himself being hassled by cops outside a football stadium. A selfie shows that this person was thrown out of the stadium for waving a Confederate flag at some black spectators. The OP explains in the comment thread that he waved the flag to protest some blacks' refusal to stand for the National Anthem and the Stars and Stripes. It isn't exactly rational, but I guess it makes a sort of sense. Once all this was reported, the pendulum swung the other way, and Donald Trump, the "alt-right" and the rest of that set of usual suspects were blamed for the alleged ambushes. If the shooter is the man from the video, I can't help thinking there had to be more provocation than that to make him go after cops rather than black people. That aside, these cycles of partisan recrimination miss the real point that was valid regardless of the identity and motives of the shooter. With all the guns in this country, and all the fear of gun control, all hate is weaponized. Would so many people feel worried about a close or contested election next week if not for the guns and the possibility of people using them if their candidate loses? We spend our time demonizing opinion when most opinion would be less dangerous once disarmed, or once we didn't take our ideologies so seriously that we feel our freedom or dignity threatened whenever we don't get our way in politics. It ought to be simple: limit access to guns and neither cop-hating black nationalists nor government-hating white nationalists will be able to kill so easily. But so long as each is the other's excuse to hoard guns, this is bound to happen again.