Why I was wrong about the left

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This is the new right wing. A former editor of Breitbart singing to real life Nazis who love Hitler, courtesy thetimes.co.uk

Around the time of the Democratic Socialists of America convention (early August), I planned on writing something about how liberty was under threat from a socialist movement on the left. Being a liberal myself, or probably more accurately a “neoliberal,” I felt that a movement literally based around socialism was a threat to democracy, especially with the types of threats to democracy from socialist governments like Venezuela and throughout history. Then Charlottesville happened and my whole worldview got flipped upside-down. It was those same people, the DSA, who were out in full force resisting the Nazi march (one of whom, Heather Heyer, gave her life in this fight). You can see the entry I actually ended up writing here.

Well I should say, my worldview got flipped upside-down twice in the last year. Last November, I was convinced Hillary Clinton would win, like most of America I’m sure. I knew Trump had courted an enthusiastic base, and I knew his chances were better than most media outlets were giving him, but in my world there was no way enough of the “political middle” would come over to his side to actually win enough states.

Well, I was wrong. Turns out, I was wrong about a lot – more than just who would win the 2016 election. I was wrong about our liberal institutions working for the majority of Americans. In my world before that, I knew poverty existed. I knew people died due to lack of healthcare, went malnourished or in poor health due to lack of resources like clean water, nutritious food, and decent housing. I knew a large portion of our society was saddled with more debt they could afford. But I also believed in the slow march of progress, that if we trusted the democratic process, our voices would be heard and, little by little, these problems would be eased.

Well now our country is being led by white supremacist forces and reactionaries who unironically subscribe to 19th-century ideas of eugenics, ethnostates, and other long-debunked bullshit. The current government is pushing, with all of the king’s horses and all of the king’s men, for policies which a vast majority of the country rejects. So much for the slow march of progress. We’ve only circled back on ourselves as a society, and those issues of human suffering in our country I just described are only getting worse with direct threats to our well-being getting tossed around by the day in D.C.

I had underestimated just how badly liberal institutions had failed Americans. I had underestimated just how much Americans had lost faith in our institutions – in the government, the media, capitalist markets, the corporate structure – all of it. The preservation of those institutions means nothing to your average person if their basic needs aren’t being met, if they are constantly struggling just to survive, to get by to next week.

Americans’ willingness to turn to xenophobia in desperation, to try anything different, is not new. This has existed in human society forever. When things get bad for the average citizen, the first thing they want to do is exclude. “Why should we be letting new people into the country when there are people already living here who can’t get by?” Sound familiar? It’s instinctive. In a world of finite resources, where even your basic needs and having a reasonable standard of living are increasingly scarce, the last thing you want is more mouths to feed.

However, resources are not scarce. America is the richest country the world has ever known – by far. We have the means to ensure every resident has a decent standard of living, not one human being excluded, and it is piss-poor leadership to court this instinctive but monstrous sentiment for political points. The $80 billion military spending increase that was near-unanimously passed recently by congress would pay for tuition-free public college with room to spare. And yet we are told that ideas like this are too expensive. Not only that, but we are told can’t fund Medicare and Medicaid, that we can’t afford Social Security, that we can’t afford to expand healthcare and must make drastic cuts that hurt our most vulnerable neighbors. It’s nonsense.

I had been actively against changes in society that would be too disruptive – up until Charlottesville. I had been against them because they would be too disruptive. I had believed that the current system was doing a good enough job and it just needed small tweaks, but clearly I had been wrong. What is more disruptive – expanding the federal budget and reorganizing industries that aren’t working for enough people? Or a white supremacist government that courts literal Nazis for political gain, that is always trying to let more of our citizens die than already do, led by an actual buffoon, that is always two steps away from total collapse?

As I’ve said before, there is a battle of ideas in America right now. One side is going to win. Either we will build more walls and shoot more people, devaluing the human lives of those left behind by the failures of our institutions. Or we say no to all that and ensure that each human being has power over their own life – not one excluded. Either way, the “political middle” doesn’t exist any more. Not when the “political middle” voted for Trump in 2016. One side will win. If Democrats are not listening to and courting the left, then inevitably, the other side will win elections. And we can’t afford to let that go any further than it already has.

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We are in a moral crisis, and there is only one solution

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The deadly attack in Charlottesville at the hands of a white supremacist, courtesy http://abcnews.go.com/US/violent-clashes-car-ramming-charlottesville/story?id=49187074

I haven’t been writing much lately because, well, there just isn’t much to say. By that I mean there is actually too much to say, and it is emotionally overwhelming. The events of the last week and a half have had me so morose, misanthropic, and ashamed for my country that frankly there just isn’t much to write about that hasn’t already been written about elsewhere.

All in one week, we have a President who threatened nuclear war with one country, threatened military action with another country, both presumably (and hopefully) with no plan on actually backing these threats up. Which is rich for a President who made a career out of criticising Obama for his “red line” comments on Syria.

Then things somehow got even uglier. The violence that left several dead and dozens injured in Charlottesville Friday and Saturday have shown that this country is in the middle of a deep, widespread moral crisis. White supremacism and white nationalism (which, because they’re not much different, I will here on out refer to simply as white supremacism), while they have always existed in this country, are now out and proud again.

Let’s be clear here – this movement is only out and proud because they have a leader in Trump. Trump has given these people and their toxic ideology legitimacy, which has emboldened them to come out from the online message boards where they have hidden for the last several decades to fester their hatred, and bring it out into the open for all the world to see. Trump is wholly responsible for the madness we are seeing now – and by refusing to refute them in his remarks on the subject, instead calling out “both sides” for violence (as if the small minority of leftists causing violence is somehow equal to the terrorism of white supremacists that has left one dead and 19 injured) – he has entrenched his position. By refusing to denounce these people and their ideology, by staying silent on white supremacy, Trump has said all he needs to say. And trust me, this has not gone unnoticed by white supremacists. Just take a look at this post from the Daily Stormer, a website dedicated to hatred, in response to Trump’s address Saturday:

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Trump, and Trump alone, can take the wind out of the sails of white supremacy by strongly denouncing it. And if he can’t do that, he should resign because his mere presence gives fuel to the flames of their hatred. Since he will do neither, there is only one option to proceed – he must be removed from office. While this alone gives more legitimacy to his impeachment, I am hesitant to go down that path because it is a very political path, and a democratically elected leader should only be removed from office in the most extreme and dire circumstances. The circumstances should be so severe that the President has lost his democratic legitimacy, such that a vast majority of the country (80% or more) has stopped supporting him, and we simply are not there yet.

This leaves only one option for now, and that is a very boring and obvious one – defeat him, and the leaders and representatives who have his support, in elections. In 2018, the left can deal Trump a crushing blow by wiping out Republican majorities at the state level and Congress. We can turn Trump into a lame duck (if he isn’t already), at least as far as lawmaking is concerned, by coming out hard to the polls next year. And the state level may be even more important than the federal level. As our voting rights are now called into question more than ever, the most powerful ones who can stand up to voter suppression are those in power at the state level.

Then in 2020, Trump must be defeated by a candidate that the left can unite around. If the left cannot come together now, all is lost – the damage that has already been done will be expanded, cemented, and ripple outward for decades. Now is more important than ever to unite, and this is a message intended for both liberals and progressives.

policy must now take a back seat to taking power out of the hands of a man who is eager to court hatred and white supremacism for his own political gain

I am a liberal, in most senses of the word. I believe in free markets, in the power of capitalism to lift billions out of poverty, in individual liberty. I also believe in improving quality of life wherever capitalism has failed, but more than anything I believe in the rights of individuals to their own personal liberty, for the power to make their own direction in life free from state interference. That said, I am ready to unite around any candidate that can inspire the left, because the time to squash white supremacism, hatred, and political violence was yesterday. It was 2016. We are already too late to this, but it is better late than never to put it to bed. Given the current climate, I understand this probably means getting behind a candidate who I do not wholly agree with on policy, but policy must now take a back seat to taking power out of the hands of a man who is eager to court hatred and white supremacism for his own political gain.

I understand that candidate must be somebody who has a strong background of public service, of principled dedication to issues like a $15 minimum wage, and other policies which I find potentially ineffective. But this is not the time for purity politics, whether that’s on the left or the center. I am ready to get behind anybody who has the biggest tent to inspire and unite the left, and you should be too, because we cannot let the legitimacy of this hatred and violence go on for one day longer.

EDIT, 12:44 PM: Trump is finally denouncing white supremacists, the KKK, and Nazis as hate groups. Too little, too late. He has allowed this to go on too long, and benefited from it politically for too long. I am glad he has finally said something, but Steve Bannon, Sebastian Gorka, and the like are still holding positions of power in this country. They must be removed immediately, and he must continue to strongly and vocally rebuke white supremacism, if he wants any shot at legitimacy.

Why has Steve Bannon been removed from the National Security Council?

Steve Bannon, courtesy Wikimedia Commons
Today we received the news that Steve Bannon has been removed from the National Security Council. I breathed a sigh of relief, as I’m sure many others have as well who have any interest at all in the United States’ role in global security. A former executive editor for a far-right online media outlet, with no national security or foreign policy experience, should have never been appointed to the role in the first place, but at the very least I’m glad he’s been removed and H.R. McMaster (a career military professional with vast experience) is in control.

However, the reasoning is unclear. The White House explanation is that Bannon was appointed to the NSC as a check on Michael Flynn, and now that that job is no longer needed, he has stepped down. This is obvious nonsense, given that Flynn hasn’t even held a job in government since he stepped down from his role as National Security Adviser on February 13th. This explanation also begs the question, why was Flynn appointed the highest national security position in government at all if he wasn’t trusted and needed to be babysat?

Furthermore, looking deeper, why is the White House now throwing Flynn under the bus? A few weeks ago Trump was defending Michael Flynn as if he was some kind of hero, and now they’re putting out statements that make him sound like a rat who needed Steve Bannon to keep him in line on the NSC. Could this have anything to do with Michael Flynn offering to testify in exchange for immunity? These narratives don’t add up.

Since the official explanation is illogical, and I know Steve Bannon didn’t altruistically step down for the good of the country, then why has he stepped down? When Michael Flynn resigned, it was hours before the story broke in the New York Times that the Trump campaign had repeated contacts with Russian intelligence, involving Michael Flynn and others. I’m not saying that there is a story about to break on Steve Bannon, but it makes one wonder.

With growing humanitarian crises in Syria (under the Assad regime, who Trump has refused to denounce), a growing nuclear threat in an unstable and unpredictable North Korea, and maybe most of all, the growing threat of an imperialist Russian government who is undermining elections and fostering division throughout the west, including our own country – I for one am happy the adults are back in charge, at the very least in the National Security Council. Hopefully this is a sign that things are moving in the right direction, but somehow I have my doubts.

Update 4/6/2017:

Multiple outlets (including the New York Times and the Washington Post) are reporting that this is part of a broader push by the Trump Family and some of the more “traditional” members of the administration like McMaster to push out extremists like Bannon from positions of power. Trump may be getting on board with this after Bannon’s failures with the immigration ban and healthcare act. I am simultaneously hopeful that this means Trump’s worst tendencies are going to be quelled, and fearful that this will make him more effective at passing the worst parts of his agenda. We will see. 

Is Trump playing chess while his critics play checkers?

Rachel Maddow, courtesy slate.com

There is a narrative that President Trump is a buffoon. That he’s unqualified, an egomaniac, a narcissist, doesn’t know what he’s doing, etc. Every time there is controversy, it seems to play right into this common narrative – Trump is causing chaos with executive orders because he has never held public office before and is screwing up, Trump is going to hurt his supporters by supporting the American Health Care Act because he doesn’t know the difference between medicare and medicaid, etc.

I’m here to provide a different narrative. This narrative, to me, survives Occam’s Razor, because it is a much simpler explanation than, say, “an unqualified narcissist stumbled backwards practically on accident into the most powerful office in the world because Americans are racists.” My narrative is that Donald Trump and his team are far more intelligent than they let on, and they play into this “buffoon” narrative to serve their own ends. Some said during the campaign that Donald Trump was playing chess when everybody else – the media, the other candidates, the voters – were playing checkers, and I believe this to be, at least in some parts, true.

Take for example Tuesday’s “bombshell” 2005 tax return release, drummed up by Rachel Maddow and MSNBC on Twitter as “we have Trump tax returns” which quickly turned social media into a frenzy, only to disappoint because the tax returns had nothing even a little bit nefarious in them. One idea, hinted at even by Maddow on her show, was that these returns were leaked on purpose by the Trump team to put the story to bed – the story that he won’t release his tax returns because it will show a link to Russia and the Kremlin. This is quickly cast aside because, even if that were true, people believe that it would have been a stupid move by the Trump team anyways because it put his non-release of tax returns back into the spotlight. But maybe this wasn’t meant as a nuclear bomb that was going to put the story to bed once and for all, because obviously, it wasn’t going to do that.

Perhaps it was meant as one more chip away, in a sequence of a hundred little chips, at the legitimacy of the press and the media?

Think about it. People aren’t talking about the content of Trump’s tax returns right now – I mean, there was nothing in the two pages Maddow released that made him look bad at all. What people are talking about right now is how Maddow drummed up this frenzy over nothing. It makes her, and MSNBC, and to some extent the entire media, look like rabid dogs frothing over anything they can possibly spin to make Trump look bad. I am not blaming Maddow for covering this (aside from her tweet that hinted that they had more than they did), as a journalist she has an ethical duty to cover this story. But this plays perfectly into the idea that Steve Bannon, Sean Spicer, Donald Trump, and his entire camp have been pushing – that the media cannot be trusted.

Even I read news now with a doubtful eye. It is always in the back of my mind that the media wants to spin anything it can into something negative about Trump, so I have to second guess any news that comes out. I know how to fact check, but a lot of people don’t. A lot of people don’t even realize fact checking is important, or even a thing. And those are the people that this attack on the legitimacy of the media is meant to confuse.

Doing damage to the legitimacy of the press serves the purpose of making all the negative news surrounding Trump sound like hysterical weather coverage – a lot of panic and hysteria drummed up over a minor storm that ends up being nothing, because that’s what sells. It causes people to “turn off” to all of the negative news, thus making it less politically risky to implement an extreme agenda.

There are many other examples of these little chips away at the legitimacy of the media. The White House provides competing narratives, “alternative facts” as we have so lovingly taken to calling them, that are meant to make people debate about what is and is not fact, rather than the facts themselves. Donald Trump called CNN “fake news” for covering the Russian intel dossier claiming the Kremlin might be blackmailing him. Even the memo that was leaked claiming that Trump wanted to create a militarized deportation force of 100,000 could have been meant as a distraction, something leaked on purpose that could easily be dismissed as “fake news.” Trump has done this over and over from the very beginning because there is a lot of negative news surrounding him that would have crippled any other candidate, yet he always survives. And now his administration might be doing it too, on a much larger scale and over much bigger and more dangerous issues.

Obviously a theory is only a conspiracy unless there is substantial, objective, and verifiable evidence to back it up. I realize all I have here are a lot of breadcrumbs with no bread. So I’m not asking you to swallow without question that the Trump camp is waging a war of Orwellian doublespeak on the minds of the American people. What I am asking you to think about is the idea that Trump is not causing chaos because he’s a buffoon, that he didn’t fall backwards into the Presidency on accident. Perhaps the Trump administration is causing chaos, and chipping away at the legitimacy of their critics one piece at a time, because it makes their extreme agenda more palatable and politically feasible. I’m asking you to think about the idea that perhaps Trump is smarter than he lets on, and that underestimating him in this way is going to fail time and time again.

 

The Rise of American Authoritarianism

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Steve Bannon, White House Chief Strategist, source: Time Magazine

Think of your average super villain. Dr. Doom, Lex Luthor, Magneto, Loki, Darth Vader. Typically they share a common motivation: autocratic power. They are villains in our stories because they don’t believe in liberty and democracy, and instead try to “take over the world” and consolidate global power under their own rule.

Before I lose you because you think I’m going to call Donald Trump or Steve Bannon a comic book villain, I’m not. But there’s a very good reason this type of power is considered villainy in our culture. Modern democratic societies, since their inception in the 18th century enlightenment and the American Revolution, have for the most part shattered all other power structures in a very short period of time and spread like wildfire throughout the world. Critics will tell you that democracy is not morally superior to other forms of government (democracy is just as capable of genocide as fascism), but it is a superior power dynamic due to its most critical aspect – peaceful transition of power, which allows for a new party or movement to take power of the government without revolution or civil war.

There is a growing movement in our country and around the world right now that is opposed to democracy. There is a body of authoritarian movements – movements with a unifying theme of placing a strongman in power who will “set us straight again” and ignore or outright defy the systems meant to check his power – that are not just gathering momentum, but have already steamrolled their way into our government. The rest of us who believe in the tenets of representative democracy, in checks and balances and equal branches of government, in civil and inalienable rights, have been behind the 8 ball because we have not taken this seriously enough.

This might sound like hyperbole, but if you don’t believe me, look into neoreaction. Abbreviated “NRx,” neoreaction teaches that democracy is inefficient, ineffective, and has outlasted its welcome on Earth. They believe that this system must be replaced by a power structure based on autocracy, with power held in a single leader, and with clear ownership and chains of command. They believe the government must be run much like a private company, where the owner or CEO makes decisions independent of any other bodies, that are then executed unquestioned by his staff.

This might just sound like a bunch of edgy teenagers on the internet just beginning to develop their politics… that is, until you take a look at the White House inner circle. Particularly Steve Bannon, the former Breitbart editor, now White House Chief Strategist, who has inserted himself into the National Security Council and inserted his worldview into government policy. Bannon is reportedly a reader of neoreactionary thought, and his former outlet Breitbart is considered “alt-right.” We’ve all heard of the alt-right by now, which is a loose far right political ideology that questions or rejects egalitarianism, and roughly believes that all races, genders, and national identities have the right to compete independently for dominance in society.

We can’t be 100% certain what Bannon’s worldview is, but we can deduce. And being a key adviser in the Trump Administration, we can see that play out in the anti-democratic hands all over their policy and political strategy. Any entity that acts as a check on the power of the Executive Branch is treated as an enemy – the press, the courts, the popular vote, the opposition party, facts. We can argue all day whether or not the President truly believes in this, or whether he “gets it,” but it is clear that the people surrounding him do. And they’re not stupid.

This administration is quickly showing one of the following to be true: it either doesn’t know about the tenets of democracy, it doesn’t care, or it is actively opposed to it. And unfortunately, the most likely explanation so far seems that they are actively opposed. Anybody who is hoping for change through the traditional democratic means – voting, elections, free expression and assembly, petitioning their government – should have their eyelids shooting open. There is a powerful threat to democracy right now, one that usurped immense power before our very eyes, and we need to catch up. This is not a joke.

If you believe that your positions are right and true, that they truly benefit the most people on Earth, then why be opposed to democracy? Democracy has proven itself to allow for change in government philosophy, over time – through dialog and critical thought, through spreading your ideas and getting as many people as possible on board with your version of change. Democracy allows for the strongest ideas to filter to the top. If your philosophy is strong, if it can survive the tests and strains put on it by questioning and political challenge, then it can cause change in government rather easily compared to other power structures.

There is only one reason that you would be against democracy, and that is to force your worldview onto everybody else, regardless of whether it hurts them or not. Authoritarianism does not account for the minority, for the marginalized, for the smallest voices in our society to have their issues recognized and attended to. It does not account for issues that affect groups large enough to assemble and petition their government. Most of all, it does not account for the ability of a country’s people to cause change, because throughout history the only way change occurs in these autocratic societies is through bloodshed and war. And that is where anti-democratic thought fails.

However, the anti-democracy movement itself will not fail unless it is resisted, powerfully. The traditional means of petitioning our government have not failed yet. The checks on the Executive Branch have flexed their muscle – namely the courts and the press. Congress is under immense pressure from their constituents to investigate ties to foreign dictators (though they are also under immense pressure to pass conservative legislation, which is holding them back from doing so).

The first step to fixing a problem is acceptance. We have not yet accepted, collectively, that this is no longer a fringe meme constrained to internet forums. We must collectively accept that we not only have an anti-democracy problem in this country, but that this movement has infiltrated our government like never before. Regardless of how you feel about Donald Trump, please recognize that at the very least, the people around him and in his ear are pushing him to authoritarian, autocratic tendencies. The resistance to this is not just “the corrupt establishment fighting back against the man of the people,” or the Democrats whining about their election loss. Many were willing to work with Trump on areas where their beliefs coincide. Instead, the resistance is to these authoritarian tendencies that threaten to undermine our democracy. These are dangerous precedents to set, and in a lot of ways the damage has already been done. Going forward it is up to us to collectively, and firmly, say “no.”


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