Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Discussing Our Opposition---#3

Our discussion of the "Our Oppsition" post we put up earlier (see below) continues with a rewrite of a response from a friend who is active in local anti-racist work. We are interested in running additional responses from local activists, whether we agree on every point or not, as activism in Salem picks up again. Please send in responses! I have stated some disagreements with our friend in his first post. I want to suggest that people read Peter Lavenia's artcle and Marshall Auerback's article and Teresa Albano's article---all from sources we would not usually recommend, but which I think we should consider with some thought in the present moment and as we read the responses to the "Our Opposition" post. 

The election of Donald Trump was jarring if not totally surprising. I was filled with anxiety in the weeks leading up to the election, and convinced myself he couldn’t win as the thought of him becoming POTUS was too much to bear. I’m now filled with anger and grief, which must give way to activism. I won’t dismiss entirely criticism of Hillary Clinton and the DNC, but I think focusing on Clinton's flaws or the Clinton Campaign flaws (both real and imagined) is akin to excusing a host of other factors, some of which must be addressed regardless of who runs in 2020. Such as:

1) voter suppression (removing people from voter rolls, having an insufficient number of polling places in urban areas, voter intimidation tactics, and so on)
3) the trifecta of racism, sexism and xenophobia (white nationalism has gripped Europe as well)
4) a general ignorance (including those who insist there's no difference between the 2 major parties; even Noam Chomsky advocated voting for Clinton, as did Bernie Sanders), such as failing to understand that calls for sensible gun control is not the same thing as suggesting that all guns be banned (people shouldn't fall for NRA obfuscation but, alas, they do)
5) the FBI’s unprecedented interference in the final days of a presidential campaign

In a sane world, the choice was clear. Trump is the definition of a demagogue, and that anyone would vote for him is a sad commentary on our society at this point in history. It’s 2016 and the President-elect is being celebrated by the Ku Klux Klan. Let that sink in for a moment. 

Really, stop and let that sink in.

This election wasn't so much about competing political ideologies as it was about a deplorable candidate who surrounds himself with deplorable people, which is why I'm with Leonard Pitts in his refusal to unite with bigots. And why I was with Leonard Pitts when he called for annihilation of the GOP. There's a good reason why John McCain, Mitt Romney, Paul Ryan and other Republicans refused to support Trump, but they need to understand that GOP rhetoric (including their own) and code words of the last several decades (going back to Nixon and his southern strategy) gave rise to the Trump Phenomenon that they claim to oppose. 

Perhaps in a so-called anti-establishment climate, Clinton wasn't the best choice. But I'm not convinced an unvetted self-proclaimed “socialist” would have won. People will point to various hypothetical match-up polls taken during the primary season, but those have been historically misleading (for instance, such polls indicated that Michael Dukakis was going to become POTUS, and we know how that turned out). I also question how "anti-establishment" the electorate is given how many incumbents won re-election, as usual. Incumbent US House candidates won re-election at the highest rate in the last 6 elections, while incumbent US Senate candidates won re-election at the third highest rate in the last 9 elections (source: Not surprisingly, Trump is filling his staff and cabinet with establishment types and lobbyists, as well as climate change deniers and bigots. Those of his supporters who may have been drawn to him for reasons other than his hate speech are going to experience buyer's remorse.

And for all the talk about how unpopular Clinton and Trump are, which was supposed to result in much higher than normal 3rd party voting, Clinton and Trump received more than 95% of the vote. More than 40% of eligible voters didn’t vote (voter suppression accounting for some of that) but that’s pretty typical for a US presidential election.

More than anything, I think what we're experiencing is a white backlash, which has historically been the response to any advance in racial justice (including the election and re-election of Barack Obama). Trump, a sexual predator who bragged about grabbing women by the genitals, even won among white women (and only lost by 6 points among white women with college degrees). No Democratic candidate for president has won the overall white vote since LBJ. Trump’s Birtherism and the Tea Party were rooted in racism, as is quite clear if you’ve ever heard the many interviews conducted of those who attended Tea Party rallies or similar rallies (such as one led by Glenn Beck) or seen the homemade signs being carried at said rallies. And it’s not just been constituents. Elected officials over the last 8 years have spouted all sorts of racist vitriol toward the Obamas.

I maintain that racism, along with sexism and xenophobia (the latter being closely linked to racism), continues to be a much greater factor in our society than many wish to believe. Denial of racism and white privilege is a long-standing tradition. Well-known anti-racist Tim Wise points out that, "Indeed, as far back as 1963, before there was a Civil Rights Act to outlaw even the most blatant racial discrimination, sixty percent of whites said that blacks were treated equally in their communities. In 1962, only eight years after the Brown decision outlawed segregation in the nation’s schools (but well before schools had moved to integrate or equalize their classrooms), a stunning eighty-four percent of whites were convinced that blacks had equal educational opportunity. In other words, white denial of the racism problem is nothing new: it was entrenched even when this nation operated under a formal system of apartheid."

While I don’t doubt that (misattributed) economic struggles played a role in the election result, I don't think many Trump supporters were sitting around having in-depth discussions about trade policy, or any policy for that matter. I just don't. For one thing, Trump himself didn't offer substantive positions. Instead, he repeatedly made vague statements like, “We're going to look very strongly at health care, and we're looking at jobs -- big league jobs.” It's a meaningless statement utterly void of substance, but that's been par for the course throughout Trump's candidacy. And, no, that's not a statement from early on in his campaign. He made that remark in recent days following the election. So, he still has no plan. Somehow that didn't matter to his supporters, nor did it matter that previous Republican presidential candidates refused to support him. For another thing, survey after survey makes it clear that large percentages of the electorate subscribe to patently false beliefs while denying scientific and mathematical realities. Examples:

Millions of people can't even name the Vice President, much less express a nuanced position on a complex subject like trade or debt. Our ratings-focused, false equivalence promoting media is failing us, as are our educational institutions (increased privatization of schools and further media consolidation will only make matters worse).

One will not win over another by pointing out how ignorant or racist they are, and it’s certainly fair to say that everyone is ignorant about some things. But recognizing and working to address the fact that tens of millions are stunningly ignorant and bigoted seems necessary if one hopes to unite the deeply divided working class. The same goes for acknowledging that the mainstream media is largely responsible for stoking division with the primary objective of making money. Again, watch the opening to the November 5 edition of Saturday Night Live and tell me that isn't pretty accurate satire. The skit doesn't even touch upon how more than a dozen women accused Trump of sexual predation with little media coverage relative to the seriousness of the charges. And those charges likely would have gotten even less coverage had a tape not surfaced of Trump bragging about sexual assault. Nor does the skit bring up the fact that a young girl was allegedly raped by Trump and his sex offender friend, Jeffrey Epstein, and dropped the case due to receiving death threats. Nor does it bring up Trump's fraudulent "University" for which he's being sued. No, instead, it was all Clinton emails all the time.

If most were working from a set of agreed-upon facts, there would still be disagreement over root causes and appropriate responses. But what makes matters worse is that millions of people simply deny facts, while clinging to false beliefs in the face of contradictory evidence. And the media -- or infotainment industry -- of today is largely responsible for that.

My point being that it does no good to suggest a Sisyphean task will be a walk in the park. We've got our work cut out for us.

While there is a valid leftist critique of Clinton, I'm afraid the decades of baseless right wing hate (much of it rooted in sexism) directed at Clinton has leached into the consciousness of leftists and left-leaning people. Bill Maher, who I don't always appreciate, rightly blasted talk of Clinton being a “lesser evil”: Sure, US foreign policy has been responsible for some evil doings, but Clinton is more of a cog in the system than a driving force, a symptom and not a cause. And John Oliver pointed out the ignorance of leading 3rd party candidates: The most successful 3rd party candidate of 2016, Gary “What is Aleppo?” Johnson, says we need not be concerned with global warming because our sun will eventually – in billions of years – engulf Earth anyway. Seriously, he really said that. A candidate for president and former governor said that.

Here’s where I admit that I was once a lesser evilist, Green Party voter. My frustration with the Democratic Party's rightward shift boiled over, so I went through a stage where I abandoned the Dems. Along with coming to recognize that such a stance exhibits white privilege (those who are most oppressed can ill afford to lose an election due to purist ideology), I read these mindset-changing pieces by Julio Huato: and I don't agree with everything Huato wrote, but I'm with him when he writes "we cannot just will conditions that don't exist." As Bernard Chazelle wrote years ago, "America has lefties but no left." Leftists haven't laid the groundwork necessary for structural change.

Regarding the notion that there’s no real difference between the 2 major parties, consider the following:

1) a Clinton Administration wouldn't foment hatred or roll back progress made in the area of civil rights
2) a Clinton Admin wouldn't nominate horrifyingly right wing justices, who could spell disaster for women's rights among other things, for the Supreme Court
3) a Clinton Admin wouldn't try to privatize Social Security, Medicare, public infrastructure and so on
4) a Clinton Admin wouldn’t attempt to do away with the Dodd–Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act
5) a Clinton Admin would push for alternative energy investment, maintain the US's position in the Paris Climate Treaty and wouldn’t consider scientific consensus to be a “hoax”
6) a Clinton Admin wouldn’t scrap the Iran nuclear deal
7) a Clinton Admin would have worked to improve upon the Affordable Care Act, which has insured millions who would not otherwise be insured at all (a public option would go a long way toward addressing rising costs)
8) a Clinton Admin would have attempted to lower the cost of college tuition

And on and on and on. If you don’t subscribe to right wing ideology, the choice was clear. As Huato wrote, “In the last two decades, the Republican Party has established itself as the reactionary, proto-fascist political vehicle of a mélange of highly parasitic capitalist special interests -- military contractors, media conglomerates, energy companies, industry lobbies, financial firms, prison contractors, medium and small business organizations, and top and mid-range wealthy individuals -- and gained a dominant position in all levels of government. A large portion of its voting power results from exploiting the social prejudices of petty-bourgeois anarcho-libertarians, the nationalism and xenophobia of some sectors of the working class, and the conservative religious beliefs of evangelical Protestants, Catholics, and Jews.”

Make no mistake, the Democratic Party has been overly influenced by some of those same special interests Huato lists, but to suggest that the 2 major parties are the same is a misguided and lazy cop-out.

I watched all 3 debates and I'd never before seen one candidate so thoroughly dominate the other. Clinton kicked Trump's ass in every debate. She offered substantive policy proposals, whereas Trump did not. She gave some inspiring speeches, whereas Trump fomented hate, which was just about the only time he was coherent. Read the transcripts of Trump’s stump speeches and debate performances, and try to figure out what the hell he's saying half the time—I dare you. And I’d be remiss to not mention that Clinton did win the popular vote. I do have toagree with Obama’s suggestion that the Clinton Campaign should havespent more time in more areas of various battleground states.

All that said, the Clinton Administration would likely have compromised too much (often starting from a position of compromise as Democrats are wont to do) and wouldn't have followed through on various promises (leftists would, of course, need to put pressure on the administration). A Clinton Administration would have been an extension of the Obama Administration but probably slightly more progressive. Not because Clinton is personally more progressive than Obama but because of the impact Bernie Sanders had on the Democratic Party platform, and because society is (seemingly) moving in that direction. How can I say society is moving in a progressive direction when Trump is the President-elect? Well, as devastating as the election was, I’m reminded of a Theodore Parker-inspired quote by Dr. King. “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice,” the civil rights leader famously remarked. The arc was just made longer, perhaps, but I have to believe it is still bending toward justice. Trump may seem to be a proto-fascist, but that doesn’t mean the US is destined to become a fascist state.

What's done is done and I do think the Democratic Party altering its course is long overdue. I’ve been railing against the Democratic Party for years, and kowtowing to existing power structures is not acceptable. Going into a debate about health care reform with single-payer and a public option “off the table” is not acceptable, just as an example. Making Keith Ellison the new DNC Chair, something Sanders and others are advocating, would probably be a good start. Ellison was laughed at by George Stephanopoulos and co-panelists when he suggested in the summer of 2015 that Trump might be leading the Republican ticket. I would have been laughing, too. Ellison is a progressive and deserves some props for seeing what others didn’t. Pushing hard for campaign finance reform, regulation of the financial industry, investment in new industries (as the jobs that have left the US are never coming back), more labor unionization, and an end to gerrymandering would also be good. Busting up the unions has been key to dividing and conquering blue collar workers. Gerrymandering has been key to further marginalizing the political power wielded by persons of color.

And the Democratic Party (as the only viable alternative to the GOP in afirst-past-the-post/plurality voting system) most certainly needs to do more to combat oppression, which will only get worse given who is headed to the White House and how much control the Republican Party now has (at the local, state and federal levels of government). The Democratic Party can’t ignore bigotry in its various manifestations, or the reality of white privilege (and male privilege), in the interest of appealing to working class white voters. It must find a way to be welcoming of immigrants, and combat institutionalized racism and sexism, while at the same time demonstrating that progressive politics are key to improving the economic and educational standing of all working class Americans.

I don't know what the answer is to combating all that ails us, but I don't think the answer is promoting socialism or any other -ism. Attempting to persuade people that a certain term (a loaded and divisive one at that) doesn't mean what they think it means seems like a poor use of time when there are pressing matters at hand. Nor do I think attempting to create a new viable political party is a good use of time and energy. Perhaps that could eventually, against all odds, be accomplished, but millions will continue to suffer in the meantime. Huato wrote of 3rd party campaigns for POTUS, “ any measure, the electoral, educational, or organizational results have been humbling. And that's to put it mildly. These radicals imply that, because they have come to understand in their minds that the main parties are not the right vehicles for the workers to advance their political interest, the tactical targets of the struggle are to be calibrated to their beliefs, as opposed to the actual behavior of the bulk of the class.”

I also question the efficacy of protest marches, though I understand why people are drawn to them during troubling times. Right now, people understandably need to feel a sense of solidarity in opposition to the 2nd coming of George Wallace. Ultimately, though, those opposed to oppression must somehow find a way to achieve more concrete political victories, and that's going to require helping the electorate (and young people who will become part of the electorate) become more informed and more active (that means less mindless entertainment and more organizing around issues of concern). One can hope that the mass demonstrations taking place all across the US at this time will be a stepping stone in that direction. As Julio Huato wrote, "It seems to me that leaps in the quality of an organic process have to be preceded by a prolonged, very patient process of accumulation of small quantitative changes. By definition, in and by themselves, quantitative changes do not alter the quality of the process. The quality remains. But those gradual changes prepare the sudden alteration in quality."

I haven't a clue how to achieve more political victories or address institutional racism (though I'm confident the former would aid in the latter), but I'm involved with the Racial Justice Organizing Committee and the Salem-Keizer NAACP as a means of figuring all of that out. Maybe some town hall meetings (with 30-50 residents of Salem-Keizer) would be worth organizing (some specifically for people under 18 and some for adults). Maybe going door-to-door between election cycles, and not just during campaign season, to discuss issues would be worth doing. I don't know. One thing I do know is that taking part in sparsely attended meetings of like-minded people isn't sufficient, therapeutic and necessary as those meetings can be. We must unite all oppressed people, create majorities and win political victories.

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