Thursday, January 12, 2017

I Hope He Fails


Many of my fellow Americans will probably not appreciate the title of this article. It would seem that I'm stooping to the level Rush Limbaugh did eight years ago right before Barack Obama took office when, on his radio show, he famously used those same words to describe his view of the next president. I've seen a lot of people, whether or not they supported Donald Trump, urging me to "give Trump a chance" and "get behind our president," with those of them on the liberal end of the political spectrum saying we mustn't treat Trump the way Republicans treated Obama because "we're better than that."

To these people, as Limbaugh also said to those conservatives who felt an obligation to get behind Obama, I'll have to say I disagree fervently. Because unlike was the case with Obama, I believe Trump is quite seriously the greatest existential threat the United States has faced since the Confederacy.

Before I begin my case for this, I'd like to clarify that I don't view Trump and his party as the soul problem with who's running our government. I'm well aware of the enormous corruption, neoliberalism, and hypocrisy of the modern Democratic Party, and indeed I've voiced dissent to it and its leaders just as much as I've done with Trump. Nonetheless, I feel the need to iterate just how much danger we'll be putting ourselves in if we don't do absolutely everything we can to resist him.

I say this because while criticizing Trump is obviously a right of passage for the 37% of Americans who disapprove of him, I believe in the very near future, it will be very difficult to do so.

Let me go through a scenario which, while I've illustrated before, is something I believe must be repeated many times: it's months into Trump's term, and he's so far been little more than an embarrassment to the republic he's infiltrated. His opponents on both the left and the right are putting up a formidable fight, and with the help of his abysmal and dropping approval ratings, they're for the most part winning. That is, until something happens which ruins everything: a major terrorist attack. 

Such an event, which seems inevitable given the ever-increasing threat of terrorist attacks and Trump's dangerous ineptitude at protecting our country, will no doubt bring a profound change to how the president will try to govern and how much power he'll have to get his agenda passed through Congress the Senate. His poll numbers will spike, along with his willingness to take extreme and authoritarian actions, and things will get very scary very quickly.

Just imagine it: the world is in the wake of catastrophe, and Trump and the members of his cabinet are at the forefront of the damage control effort. What kinds of things do you suppose Trump's National Security advisor Michael Flynn, who has written that Muslims are "dead set on killing us and drinking our blood," will do to religious liberties in a situation like this? What do you suspect Steve Bannon, Trump's White House Chief Strategist, who has said that white supremacists are "a much smarter group of people" than others, will do to civil rights? What do you think Trump himself, who's publicly fantasized about assaulting his opponents, arranged for transparently Nazi-esque salutes to be held at his rallies, lied about seeing Muslims cheer on 9/11, bragged about having "called" last year's Orlando attack, and used "Happy New Year to all, including to my many enemies and those who have fought me and lost so badly they just don't know what to do. Love!" as his New Year's Eve address will do?

The answer, as Chris Hedges assesses in his own essay on this very real possibility, could be something we'd prefer not to know beforehand:
The last constraints will be removed by a crisis. The crisis will be used to create a climate of fear. The pretense of democracy will end.
“A fascism of the future—an emergency response to some still unimagined crisis—need not resemble classical fascism perfectly in its outward signs and symbols,” Robert Paxton writes in “The Anatomy of Fascism.” “Some future movement that would ‘give up free institutions’ in order to perform the same functions of mass mobilization for the reunification, purification, and regeneration of some troubled group would undoubtedly call itself something else and draw on fresh symbols. That would not make it any less dangerous.”
Our ruling mafia will use the crisis much as the Nazis did in 1933 when the Reichstag was burned. It will publish its own version of the “Order of the Reich President for the Protection of People and State.” The U.S. Constitution will be in effect suspended. Personal freedom, including freedom of expression, freedom of the press, freedom to organize and freedom of assembly, will be abolished. Privacy will be formally eradicated. Search warrants will be unnecessary. America’s emergency decrees will cement into place what largely exists now.
In short, America as we've known it for the last fifty years, and perhaps even for the last two hundred years, will stand a good chance of coming to an end when a major crisis meets an inherently authoritarian and bigoted Trump administration.

Due to factors that have emerged in recent decades such as extreme economic inequality, the corrosion of the democratic process, and loss of public faith in established institutions, in the last several years our country has entered into a phase so many other societies have throughout history: the rise of fascism. As was the case with those past societies, this path of ours has started with an increased public desire to get back at the political establishment which has abandoned their interests and a campaign on the part of demagogues to hijack this anger towards their own maniacal ends. And its next phase will be that of a transition to all-out tyranny.

When we approach our final destination on this road to fascism, though, we'll still have the potential to change course at the last minute. And in order to do this, we'll need to prepare to resist the personality which this toxic cultural energy has congealed around in full force. Despite the doubts some have that Trump poses a threat, I think it's important at this point in time for me and others to flatly say, "I hope he fails."

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

How Obama And The Democratic Party Saved The Country

As Barack Obama signs off with his farewell address ten days before he leaves office, he and his party leave behind a legacy which will be appreciated for generations. What follows is a look back on it.

One of his administration's first and most important accomplishments was bringing sufficient reform to the nation's banking system. After voting against and outspokenly opposing the Bush administration's Wall Street bailout as a Senator in 2008, Obama took immediate action upon entering office to call it off and rein in the financial sector. By the end of 2009, Obama and the similarly anti-corporatist Democrats in the House and the Senate had prosecuted all the banking executives who were responsible for the 2008 financial crisis, repealed Bill Clinton's disastrous Wall Street deregulations, and broken up the too-big-to-fail banks which once threatened our economy.

Had they not done this, a new and even bigger financial crash would likely be looming by now.

Other major ways Obama and the Democrats ended the control which corporations and the super rich held over our society at the time included de-consolidating the major media companies, reforming campaign finance so that corporate cash no longer had any say in the actions of politicians, drawing out of and avoiding "free trade" agreements, repealing the tax cuts of George W. Bush and other past presidents to make way for a tax system similar to that of the FDR era, granting the homeowners hurt by the 2008 crash a sufficient bailout, and raising the federally mandated minimum wage to $15 an hour.

Had they not done these things, economic inequality in America, now at its lowest in decades, would no doubt be higher than ever.

On foreign policy, Obama thankfully governed in antithesis to his predecessor. From the start, he and his similarly anti-war cabinet made every effort to get the U.S. out of the War in Afghanistan and then the War in Iraq after Bush's 2008 extension bill of it expired in 2011; they wisely abandoned the U.S. military's drone program; they greatly reduced America's at the time massively bloated military budget; they avoided U.S. involvement in the 2011 "humanitarian intervention" in Libya; they maintained good relations with Russia; they were careful to avoid escalating the conflict in Syria; and they avoiding what would have essentially been a repeat of the Invasion of Iraq by declining to go to war with ISIS in 2014.

Had they not done these things, George W. Bush's foreign policy model would have more or less continued for eight more years, dealing thankfully untold damage to global stability.

Thanks to all this, along with the passage of universal health care in 2010 and the dismantling of Bush's surveillance state in 2009, Obama and the Democratic Party retained their initial popularity throughout the next eight years. Democrats were able to beat back the right-wing populist movement that appeared in 2009 and 2010 by sweeping the latter year's midterm elections. Obama won re-election in a landslide in 2012 as Senate and House Democrats were able to largely do the same as well. And while Republicans made some gains in 2014, the Democrats were once again able to hold onto the majority in the Senate and the House.

Had they not been able to keep the Republicans at bay, America's enormous gains these past eight years in the effort to combat climate change would likely not have been made.

And perhaps most fortunately of all, Obama was able to ensure a reliable protector of his legacy succeeded him. Had Obama not worked to change the Democrats into a party of the people, the Democratic National Committee and many Democratic primary election officials would likely have tried to sabotage the campaign of Bernie Sanders. But Obama's would-be secretary of state Hillary Clinton was of course again defeated, allowing Sanders to become president-elect in 2016.

Had Obama and his party not done any of this, faith in the Democratic Party and other established institutions would likely have deteriorated by now, allowing for some sort of right-wing demagogue to fill the political vacuum.

But fortunately, they took a far wiser path. Thank you, Obama and your party, for everything you've done.

Thursday, January 5, 2017

The Self-Defeating Argument That The Democratic Party Represents Meaningful Change

Both morally and politically, the Democratic Party has failed after forty years of pivoting to the interests of corporations and the wealthy, and a great deal of people are now taking action to fix that. Bernie Sanders, despite having been prevented from becoming the new face of the party last year by pro-Clinton Democratic leaders, he and others are making another go at reforming the Democrats. And should this effort fail, these progressives will still have the option of letting the already sinking ship which is the Democratic Party go underwater and rally around an alternative organization.

Unfortunately, a good chunk of the Democratic base appears to be satisfied with their party's current form. During the 2016 campaign, more Democrats were found to be satisfied with Hillary Clinton than there were Republicans who felt the same about Donald Trump, and 56% of Democrats feel that their party represents them. While that latter figure would no doubt shrink to less than 50% if it were to include all of the left-leaning individuals who no longer affiliate with the party, an overhaul of the currently neoliberal Democratic leadership will be difficult for as long as so many Democrats remain unaware of what their party represents.

So in this piece, I'm going to attempt to change the minds of those who believe the Democratic Party in its current form represents a serious threat to the corporate state. I've made this argument many times before, but in those cases a mistake I might have made is focusing only on the actions of the party's leaders. A more effective way of proving the Democratic establishment represents the oligarchy is pointing out the fact that the oligarchy works to accommodate it.

The reality is that if Democrats were a party of the people, the political system in its current form would not allow them to have any power. When Bill Clinton said at the Democratic National Convention in 1992 that "I have news for the forces of greed and the defenders of the status quo: your time has come and gone," had he meant this genuinely, said forces would have immediately started doing everything to sabotage him. His campaign would have been attacked and/or ignored by the corporate media, he would have been shut out of the presidential debates and had a difficult time getting onto all of the ballots, and either Bush or Perot would have prevailed. So is the case with every other corporate-funded Democrat like him who claims to want systemic governmental change.

Just look at what's happened to the few politicians in the last several decades who have actually tried to bring about what Clinton promised. When Ralph Nader tried to enter a 2000 presidential debate simply as a member of the audience, the Commission on Presidential Debates, a private organization run by evidently very partisan representatives of the Democratic and Republican parties, barred him from entering the area. Something similar happened to him in 2004 when Democratic officials hurt his campaign by filing pointless and resource-draining lawsuits against it. Nader wasn't the only candidate like him who was sabotaged during that election cycle, as evidenced by the successful attempt by the corporate media to wreck Howard Dean's campaign. Another instance of this systemic effort to block out non-corporatist candidates occurred in 2012, when the NYPD, which has a history of attacking those who threaten the neoliberal order, arrested Jill Stein for trying to enter the site of the New York presidential debate.

But never has the oligarchy-friendly nature of the modern American electoral process been made more apparent than in 2016. While some have tried to claim the fact that the DNC officials who expressed bias against Bernie Sanders had little control over the results of last year's primary proves the contest wasn't rigged, WikiLeaks' findings were only one part of the picture.

Throughout the primaries, pro-Hillary Clinton election officials often went out of their way to sabotage Sanders, starting with the first contest in Iowa wherein widespread reports surfaced of voter suppression and a highly suspicious "re-staged" vote count took place. Similar (and successful) efforts to rig the primary against Sanders occurred in Nevada, Massachusetts, Arizona, New York, the Nevada State Democratic Convention, Kentucky, Puerto Rico, and California. Lesser but still consequential instances of electoral fraud took also took place in many other states, as evidenced by the numerous statistically impossible Democratic primary vote models which favored Clinton in every case. Another way Sanders was felled by a corporate-controlled political process, predictably, was the media blackout which plagued his campaign.

And then, to add insult to injury, Sanders' ideological successor for the 2016 election Jill Stein was sabotaged as well, with the corporate media having launched a smear campaign against her and the Commission on Presidential Debates having deliberately chosen polls which underestimated her support while deciding who could participate in the debates.

Judging from these and other ways the oligarchy has rigged our electoral process to benefit candidates and parties that represent it, one can only conclude that the best way to tell if a candidate or party doesn't intend to protect the people's interests is to see whether or not the media and the major political institutions are trying to get them out of the picture. And clearly, the Democratic Party fails this test simply because of the fact that it's succeeded in the current political system.

Fortunately this sad state of affairs, wherein one can only trust a politician to uphold the popular interest if they're being shut out of the political process, will have a good chance of changing in the very near future. Economic inequality is now at a level not seen since the late 1920's, right before the public rose up to bring about the New Deal, and a similar event is certain to take place within the next few years. But in order to make this overthrow of the corporate power structure effective, we'll need to take a firm stand against the corporatists who currently control the Democratic Party.

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Don't Count On Establishment Democrats To Stand Up To Trump

As 2017 gears up to quite possibly become the new 1933, the two thirds or so of Americans who oppose you-know-who are spending this bleak political winter doing their best to prepare for taking part in the massive resistance effort which is certain to bloom in the spring. But as history has shown us, a significant portion of that two thirds might not stay committed to the fight.

Before I continue, I'd like to make it clear that this piece is not intended as a means to divide Trump's opposition between the moderate and far left. While I hold no allegiance to the Democratic Party until fundamental changes are made to it, and I will under no circumstances embrace the neoliberal agenda that it currently represents, I know that in the context of resisting Trump, it's important to know that the enemy of your enemy is always (to an extent) your friend. The main way in which I'm about to attack the moderate left has do to with how it can't be relied upon to remain part of said resistance.

Enter the instance of what happened after 9/11. In the aftermath of the attacks, the Bush administration used the circumstances to go on a rampage, infringing on many constitutional liberties in the name of security and doing you-know-what in the middle east. What enabled the U.S. government's reign of terror, though, was not just the compliance of Republicans, which was to be expected, but the compliance of many liberals, namely the ones of the centrist persuasion.

Mainly among these "liberal" enablers of the administration were the ones in the House, the Senate, and much of the major media. Throughout the years following the attacks, far too often did most House and Senate Democrats vote in favor of Bush's proposals, such as when all but one Democratic Senator approved the Patriot Act and when enough of said Democrats supported the Iraq War for it to be able to pass. Others in this effort to unite the left and the right at whatever cost included those in charge of "liberal" publications like The New York Times and the "liberal" UK prime minister Tony Blair.

"I hold Blair more responsible for the Iraq War than I do George W. Bush," Michael Moore has said in a brutally honest assessment of the role that Blair and others like him played in this shameful affair. "Because I expected that of George W. Bush. That wasn't a surprise, all right. But Bush only got away with it because he had the cover of Tony Blair, because he had the cover of liberals, the liberal New York Times, the liberal New Yorker magazine, the 'liberal' Tony Blair."

Now enter the situation we're going to be in when Donald Trump is president. While I, like too many others, used to view the claims that Trump is a threat to the republic as alarmist, I've lately come to believe that image many have gotten of "Fuhrer Trump" has a lot of merit. While I have every reason to believe he'll govern in a relatively center-right, congress-restrained fashion at first, at a certain point I expect things to indeed get very scary. Namely, when a terrorist attack similar to that of 9/11 inevitably occurs, the only way one can realistically imagine the Trump administration reacting is with an amount of authoritarianism and reckless military action which may be unprecedented in the history of America's government.

Right after the crisis hits, Trump and his party will no doubt get an enormous boost in popularity, giving them a powerful political aura throughout the next several years which allows them to get away with a lot more corrupt and/or dangerous deeds than usual. Just how useful this aura turns out to be for them, however, depends on what his opponents do. And from everything we can tell, those in the moderate, corporatist wing of the Democratic Party will abandon their initial (supposed) effort to resist Trump right when the attacks occur.

Again, I make this prediction not because I want to provoke division within Trump's opposition due to the ideological differences I have with establishment Democrats, but because I have good reason to doubt said Democrats, who are unfortunately the main people in charge of the resistance movement, will share any parts of my cause after a certain point. If my prediction seems implausible now, just look at what these Democratic leaders did during the post-9/11 period of the Bush administration.

Take the case of Nancy Pelosi, the House minority leader who voted for and outspokenly supported the Patriot Act, the Bush tax cuts, and the Iraq War. She's also on record for stating that "We stand shoulder to shoulder with the president" when asked about how she viewed Bush's efforts to violate civil liberties. Chuck Schumer, the Senate minority leader, can be trusted even less than Pelosi to continue opposing Trump, having both supported the Bush policies mentioned above and having been named by the president-elect as more likable than the Republican leadership because of his articulated willingness to compromise. And given how the agenda of the rest of the Democratic Party's leadership generally matches up with the corporatist, militaristic views of these two, I suspect most other House and Senate Democrats will act similarly compliant to the wishes of the GOP.

In short, after these "liberals" have inadvertently helped Trump win with their embrace of the politically impotent Clintonist ideology, they're no doubt going to aide him in the second phase of his rise to power by capitulating to his agenda after the next 9/11 occurs. If progressives and anti-Trump conservatives want to weather the coming fascist storm, they'll rally around leaders who can't just be considered "liberals," but genuine advocates for systemic change.