Blog Credo

The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed (and hence clamorous to be led to safety) by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary.

H.L. Mencken

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Unified Theory Of Trump

Josh Marshall nails it.

Political Decay

I'm (trying to finish) reading Francis Fukuyama's The Origins of Political Order.  He's a good enough writer, but it's still tough sledding at times.  It is tough when you have a chapter that covers 2000 years of Indian history and you have to make it compelling.

Anyway, one of his points that I've gleaned so far is the pervasiveness of tribalism.  The first form of socio-political organization was the clan or kinship group.  There were small, very tightly knit groups that organized along family lines.

Tribes grew from that, as humans developed agriculture and were able to settle more densely.  Tribes have some form of common ancestor - often mythic and are bound by more extended kinship ties.  As China and India attempted to develop states, they constantly struggled to overcome the tribal nature of both societies.  In the end, China was able to create a series of dynasties that functioned as states, whereas India never quite got there, because of the social orders created by Hinduism.  The power of caste undermined the power of the state.

But in each case, the power of kinship unity, of tribalism, constantly undermined the ability of leaders to create even mildly pluralistic states.  India remained pluralist without creating a state (foreign invaders did that) and China created a state by eliminating pluralism.

Which brings me to our current predicament.  We have two Americas (sorry, Obama).  We have a largely urban, coastal, pluralist state, and we have a largely rural, white tribe.  The two are not inhabiting the same political space.  They speak a different language, and believe in different sources of strength and power.

Unlike 1860, this division is not starkly geographical, in the sense of the compass.  We can't simply divide in two today anymore than we could have in 1860 (despite some willingness in my beliefs to jettison that other America).

One thing that is for sure is that ANY modern polity can collapse if they allow tribalism to "trump" pluralism.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Trump's Words

Donald Trump, 45th President of these United States, is a racist.  He has always been a racist, a trait he likely picked up from his KKK supporting father.  He's learned to keep the racist voice in his head quiet as he navigated his way through the NY business and social scene.  But that voice that we heard during yesterday's self-immolation of a press event was always there.

The most obvious immediate fictional narrative of Obama's election was that we were no longer a racist country because Obama.  In fact, Trump himself became the leading voice of the racist Birther movement - a movement that sought to delegitimize the first African American president as being de facto un-American.

In fact, Obama's presidency got under the skin of the racists in our country, in much the same way BLM does.  Today's racists "have black friends" and "don't see color" but they get very upset when African Americans express agency over their own lives or - the horror! - agency over white lives.

But they had to keep those voices inside their head, like Trump did for all those years.

They won't feel they have to any longer.

The President has made their case for them.  He's let the voice inside his head have the world's biggest microphone.  Everyone else who believes what he believes but has learned not to say it aloud will feel fine saying it aloud.

Fine.  Mark yourself with that.  Put the Confederate battle flag on your truck. Show the world who you are.

The problem is that we live in such hyperpartisan times that even those who might not want to defend Trump on this will find themselves rationalizing their defense.  It was heartening to see so many people - including Fox News pundits - express their dismay at the fact that the President is defending Nazis and Klansmen.  I hope they continue to do so. I have my doubts.  As attacks on Trump increase, the Right Wing Wurlitzer will do the only thing it knows how: creak into action to defend the in-group against "them."

Trump is the loudmouth racist uncle who lives off of Fox News and Alex Jones.  We know this.  We've always known this.  Many of us tried to tell people this.  Being right brings no succor.

His words have made a bad situation worse, at least in the short run.  Our task is to keep a ledger of those who use this moment to excuse or defend the inexcusable and indefensible.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Durham

I'm not sure how I feel about the people in Durham who tore down the statue commemorating the Confederacy.  The release of catharsis after Charlottesville no doubt played a role in this, but catharsis isn't always helpful a few days down the line.  They broke the law.  They have to be OK with the consequences of that or they aren't really protesting, they're emoting.

Josh Marshall has a very good take on the entire issue of Confederate statuary.  Mobs pulling down statues accomplishes very little; communities deciding to stop honoring traitors and white supremacists by collectively removing those statues says quite a lot more.

You can take down the statue by mob action or you can mobilize as a community to have them removed from public spaces.  One is harder and better than the other.

Fox News Might Be Destroying Our Country

Here is a nice interview with Mark Lilla who makes a lot of points I agree with.  His argument is that leftist identity politics can't win across the broad expanse of the country.  It can win the presidency, but not the necessary number of statehouses, Senate seats and House districts to create a viable majority.  He argues that Democrats need to find a unifying philosophy and articulate that.

I think those awful, neoliberal sellouts in the Democratic Congress actually have found a good message (not the slogan) around some economic issues.  But they need a compelling spokesperson to make the case that we are still a society.  That is Lilla's important insight, that both the post-Reagan Right and Left have abandoned the idea of a common destiny.  The Right is all about the individual, the Left is all about your affinity group.

Except, I think that last part is largely a construct of the Right Wing Wurlitzer, especially Fox News.

When you read things like this, you have to ask where such a unique take on reality comes from.  How is Obama responsible for Charlottesville?  How is BLM like the Nazis?  That is, you can ask, but the answer is obvious: It comes from Fox News.

Fox has been consistently peddling the same fucking lies and distortions for years.  The Trump Administration is a patrimonial kleptocracy.  Lost in this weekend's violence is the fact that Mueller is looking into Wilbur Ross for money laundering.  Ross, the Secretary of Commerce, wasn't on anyone's radar, but of course he's corrupt.  Yet, once the indictments come down, Fox will be filled with outrage that Ross is being indicted, but Obama wasn't for Solyandra.  Solyandra isn't really a thing, it's just a magic word like Benghazi or BLM to shield wingers from the fact that their ideology is bankrupt, their governance is non-existent and they are at best fellow travelers with a bunch of Nazis and Klansmen.

Fox spends countless hours harping in the threat of radicalized Muslim extremists, while simultaneously radicalizing angry white boys.  Since 9/11 - over a decade and a half now - it has been these angry, radicalized white boys who have killed more Americans that the scary brown Muslims.  In other words, Fox is the ISIS internet of white terrorism in this country.  Do you think this guy watches MSNBC? How about this guy?

As I wrote about the demonization of BLM, it's a case of projection and deflection to blame black people for white supremacists.  If you think black people are the reason we have white supremacist, then you might be a redneck racist.

And at the nexus of this bullshit information ecosystem sits Fox News.  And the target audience for Fox News is a seventy year old white guy from Queens who inherited a bunch of money (and privilege) from his dad and yet thinks he's been oppressed.

Monday, August 14, 2017

Black Lives Matter Are Not The Same As Nazis

I've seen a lot of people defend Trump or at least his tone deaf response by trying to change the subject to Black Lives Matter.

Once again, it's fascinating to watch the Fox News Hivemind at work.

The basic idea of BLM is that police shouldn't kill black people for no reason.  They have - as their main argument - the increasing number of videos of police pretty much shooting black people for no reason.  BLM is less an organization than a movement, and so there are a variety of voices and perspectives in that movement, some of whom might argue for more radical solutions.  But overall, BLM has been very, very consistent in speaking out against violence by BOTH demonstrators and police.  After the Dallas shootings, both BLM and Obama condemned - immediately and in very firm language - anyone who would use political violence.

And yet...

I see it on Twitter.  I see it on Facebook.  The real villain here is not Trump's open flirtation with the Stormfront crowd.  It's not his long history of racist statements or his family history with the Klan.  It's not the actual words of the Nazis who say Trump is their patron saint.

No, the problem in Charlottesville was caused by Barack Obama and BLM.  When Obama said that if he had a son, he might look like Trayvon Martin, Obama was stoking the flames of racial hatred.  When he said Eric Garner or Tamir Rice or Sandra Bland or Philando Castile didn't deserve to die, he was inciting a race war.

Think about the layer of rationalization going on here.

Explicit is the idea that black people marching so that police won't kill them for no reason are a threat.  Simply by taking to the streets, they pose a threat to public order.

"Those black people won't stay in their place."  That's it.  That's the subtext and the text all in one.

Because marching black people are a threat to millions of people tapped into the Fox News Hivemind, then Nazis - who embrace a violent ideology by definition - are the same.  This allows you to condemn the Nazis - Good for you, you little trooper! - while simultaneously equating black people assembling for a redress of grievances as an equal threat.

In other words, you aren't a Klansmen, but it wouldn't surprise me if there are a fair amount of "I'm not a racist, BUT..." statements in your past.

I am adamant that protesters should train to remain nonviolent.  I just posted my problem with antifas, but that it mostly tactical.  I have nothing but contempt for the Black Bloc.  When BLM becomes violent - which happens on occasion - they should be held to account in a court of law.  Those are the rules.  And I would guess that when that happens many are arrested.

However, there were few arrests in Charlottesville because the Klansmen came armed to the teeth.  Police literally couldn't arrest some lawbreakers because they were so heavily armed.

And BLM is a threat?  Preachers and activists asking not to be killed is the REAL problem?

Yeah, fine, you're not a Klansman, but there are sheets in your closet that maybe you think you don't need anymore.  You're not a Nazi, but damn, Hitler sure made the trains run on time.


Sunday, August 13, 2017

On Fascism And Charlottesville

There will be a lot of pixels spilled about what happened over the weekend.  I would just add this: While there is no one who deserves to be punched in the face more than a Nazi, you simply can't meet fascists with violence, and that means that the antifas movement is incredibly counterproductive.

The Beer Hall Putsch was a joke, and up until the death of the young woman yesterday, the Charlottesville rally was a joke.  A national call to "Unite the Right" was answer by about 1500 virgins with bad haircuts and tiki torches.  Tiki torches?  Really?  The losers and sociopaths that marched in Virginia represent a tiny group of people.  At best, they represent tens of thousands of people in a nation of 320 million.

The language of fascism is violence.  It is the air that ideology needs to breathe.  Strip violence away from them, and their entire ideology collapses.  Fascism first defines the nation - its nation - in racial terms, and then it militarizes that nation in opposition to other nations/races/ethnic groups.  That's it.  That's the whole ideology. And that's why - aside from a unique historical moment in Europe brought about by the collapse caused by World War I - it has never really found purchase anywhere else.  Crypto-fascist regimes like Argentina in the '70s or North Korea today are isolated and rare.

The defining moment for fascism in Germany was the burning of the Reichstag.  The Nazi party was a minority movement that exploited the violence of the Reichstag fire to seize control of the state.  In fact, they themselves lit the fire and blamed it on Communists to seize that power.  There are simply not enough Nazis in America to pull that off.

What IS worrisome is that a significant part of the Republican Party is eager to follow an authoritarian figure like Donald Trump.  Trump lacks the discipline or "vision" of Hitler.  He's a patrimonial kleptocrat, not a true fascist - though he relies on the Authoritarian Right as his "base" (and that word works double duty here).  The news that around half of Republicans would support cancelling the 2020 election if Trump asked for it is profoundly troubling.  But that represents less than a quarter of Americans.  If you read the responses of Republicans like Orrin Hatch and John McCain, it's pretty clear that there remains about half the Republican party, almost all independents and all the Democrats opposed to this authoritarian spasm.

Up until it gets violent.

Trump's bullshit statement about "many sides" is being treated with the contempt it deserves.  However, there are plenty among the Authoritarian Right who agree with him.  And isolating them and attacking them will only entrench their agreement.

The tricky needle opposition movements need to thread is how to resist this burgeoning authoritarianism without fueling it.

The single best moment from this weekend was the group of students and residents who surrounded the Jefferson monument and were then surrounded by the Tiki Torch Nazis.  They stood resolute and non-violent and the Nazis were left with nothing.

I would also add mockery to the appropriate response to these assholes.  Mock them, belittle them.  They are who they are, because they are small, fragile men who have sublimated their fragility into hate.  They embrace power and strength because they have none of their own.

Point this out.  Repeatedly and loudly.  Mock them, meet them with numbers, embrace the ethos of King and Gandhi.

Because THAT IS HOW YOU WIN.  And winning this fight needs to be more important than the emotional catharsis of punching in the face some dipshit in a polo shirt holding a tiki torch.

I completely understand the outrage that people of color feel when they look at the response to Charlottesville and compare it to Ferguson or Baltimore or Baton Rouge.  You're right, it's appalling that white people can march with automatic weapons under a Nazi flag and Tamir Rice gets shot on sight for playing with a toy gun in a park.  Again, I understand the cathartic appeal of violently resisting a system that tolerates that.

But tactically and strategically, if you embrace violence, you give fascism and the Authoritarian Right the opening they need.  Fascism and Authoritarianism need the breakdown of laws to justify overriding the Rule of Law.

Everything in this historical moment resists perspective. The perspective that the "Shite" Supremacists represent a tiny minority; the perspective that the laws actually do still work, if imperfectly; the perspective that calm, firm resolve will win in the end.  That's why perspective is so important at this very moment.

It could be easier to destroy two centuries of of the democratic Rule of Law than to preserve it.  But the effort is more important than the moment.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Nope, Still Not Reassured

Here's a piece saying the North Korea acts within a certain logic.  It is sound analysis.  However, North Korean actions over the years have been predicated on the US not responding out of spite or anger or fear or malice.  They have played the madman, because the US has to be the sane one.

What has everyone worried is not just North Korea's nuclear brinksmanship, but the fact that the US is led by an impulsive, petulant manchild who doesn't understand much of anything beyond his own emotional needs in a given moment.

And, on cue, Kim is upping the ante, because that has always worked in the past to sober up Washington.  I doubt it will work this time, unless McMaster and Tillerson have control of Hair Furor's tweeter feed.

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Not Reassured

Several security and international relations sages have said that we shouldn't worry too much about a war on the Korean peninsula, because reasons.  Those reasons break down into several broad and seemingly plausible categories:

- North Korea and the US engage in saber rattling quite frequently.
- The US is not on a war footing, including the lack of mobilization in Korea, no ambassador to Seoul and no global preparation.
- North Korea - while bellicose - has not been irrational in the past.

All of these are true, and all of them are quite possibly irrelevant.  Hair Furor and Kim Jong Un are the least tempered and calm leaders their countries have none in the modern era.  Kim is unbound by any norms and Trump acts like he is.  Their perception of crisis - its roots and solutions - are different than everyone else.  Both men are obsessed with "strength" as a posture rather than something more profound.

There are ample examples from history of wars that start because both sides assumed the other side would cave quickly.  Since exactly 72 years ago this week, world leaders who have had access to nuclear weapons restrained themselves from using them.  Nothing about these two whackaloons suggest they are familiar with restraint.

To be clear, I'm not saying war with North Korea is inevitable, but it is more likely right now that I can remember, with two variously desperate narcissists making the final critical decisions.

Hopefully, the weather stays nice in New Jersey so Trump can stay on the links, away from headlines like these and let the grown ups handle this.

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

War Porn

Apparently, North Korea might be able to put a nuke on one of its ICBMs.  That brings them up to one of Trump's "red lines."  Trump - who basically tries to divine what Obama did then do the opposite - is likely to respond with force.  This is terrible news for Japan, cataclysmic news for South Korea and an extinction event for North Korea.

Fox and the other various agitprop outfits are starting to push the war porn, which will only accelerate Trump's march to war.

I would guess that we are fighting somewhere sooner rather than later.

This is only going to get worse.

(No sooner than I post this than he does this.)

Monday, August 7, 2017

The Coming Cataclysm

Martin Longman runs through some of the game scenarios for the debt ceiling.  The fundamental issues are as follows:

- The GOP can't govern.  They can't get their Teanderthal wing to do jackshit, so they do nothing.
- Trump is neither popular nor competent, so he can't whip the party behind a debt ceiling increase.
- Mike Mulvaney is a fucking idiot.

So, any debt ceiling increase is likely to need Democratic votes.  A lot of them, possibly.  In the past the majority party simply bites the bullet and passes the increase without any help from the minority party.  In this case, there are enough Mulvaney-level morons to make it very unlikely that Ryan and McConnell can pass a debt ceiling increase without Democratic votes (this is especially true of Ryan).

What, then, should Democrats ask for in return for their votes.  The typically craven play would be simply to ask for a clean extension.  It's responsible, sober and the usual shitty politics that distinguishes Democratic strategy.

A likely play would be a debt ceiling increase that guarantees some spending on certain things Democrats like: Planned Parenthood, SNAP, the EPA.  That's not terrible in this day and age, but you'd better get a nice return and figure out a way to get credit for it.

The bold play would be to hold out for a commitment that the debt ceiling is a fiction.  Once Congress passes any spending bills, the US government commits to paying those costs, even if it raises the debt limit.  Basically, it would give up the very idea of the debt ceiling and the almost annual crisis it engenders.

What's more, they should hold fast to this demand, even if it launches a recession.  I know, I know, recessions are like wars, they tend to spiral out of control.

Trump and the GOP are remarkably unpopular.  They are unpopular despite a relatively healthy economy and peace.  If a recession cracks open, you have the potential to realign the country in a significant way.  As Jon Chait notes, the last two times the GOP held complete power in DC, they created the conditions for the two worst financial crises of the past 100 years.  Both of those crises led to Democratic governance and significant reforms.

Play the long game, Democrats.  For once, play the long game.

Sunday, August 6, 2017

Odd Little Things

Yesterday, we chanced upon my Dad's voice on the answering machine.  Today, with news that Jalen Collins of the Falcons was suspended, I briefly thought, "What will Dad say?"

But of course, recordings are all that's left of his voice and he will never be able to weigh in on the Falcons again.

On the other hand, I know exactly what he would say about Collins and I can hear him say it.  Memories may not be immortality, but it will do for now.

Saturday, August 5, 2017

Word

Jon Chait makes the case that Trump's presidency has already failed.  It is tough to argue against any of the particulars.  Trump should not be president.  Increasingly, he has earned the opprobrium or defiance of increasing parts of "his party" and the government at large.

We are not terribly far from a scenario where Trump seeks to launch an attack on North Korea and his military balks, creating a potential crisis within the institution of the military.

If this does play out in some form, if the GOP manages to discover their spine and sense of national duty, if Trump gets bounced from office somehow, it is absolutely imperative that Democrats make sure that EVERYONE knows that Trump was a creature of the Republican party at large.  Trump IS the modern GOP base.

We have them to thank for this shitshow.

Friday, August 4, 2017

Small

I'm not sure what to make of this.  It's a nice piece of writing, sure, as it describes a dying Texas town and the bonds of community.

How are these place supposed to exist?  How is a town so small it has 9 members of the Senior class supposed to run a school?  What jobs exist?

The vast empty Red State is increasingly America's problem.  Yes, there are issues of race, but the cities are mostly functioning fine.  Drug wars continue to kill people in certain cities, like Chicago, but it's not the cities that have struggled to adapt to the 21st century.

At the end of the 19th century, a clergyman asked, "What are we to do with our great cities?"  This was in response to the horrific poverty and crime of the slums.  Despite the news, that's not the big story.

The big story comes from little places.  Places too small to notice, but whose combined weight is dragging its people down.

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Wha...?

Some Dude at WaPo says we shouldn't count out Trump when his poll numbers are around 37%.  His argument is that Trump might be approaching his floor, since hardcore Republicans still support him.

This is flawed for two reasons.

First, if you're the Democrats, you shouldn't give two shits how Trump does among Republicans.  In the coming years, look at how many Republicans there are.  What I anticipate with Trump is more and more old school centrist Republicans becoming independents.  Some of those will cross party lines in 2018 and 2020 to muzzle Mango Mussolini.  As many have noted, Trump isn't an anomaly in the Republican party; he's an anomaly among Republican elites, but he is their base distilled, tinted orange and with a wig slapped on top.

Second, any president at the end of six months in office who is this far underwater with a relatively robust economy is in deep, deep trouble.  Trump drew two inside straights to become president.  This is what everyone seems to forget.  He needed to eek out marginal victories in either Wisconsin/Michigan or Pennsylvania.  He wound with both, but that was largely because he held the same sort of appeal to same sort of voters.  That appeal will largely dissipate with time.

Trump is guaranteed a strong primary challenger that the Establishment lines up behind.  Win or lose the primary, the GOP will be riven.  There is no greater predictor for an incumbent president losing an election than a strong primary challenge.  Ask Taft, Carter, or Bush 41.  LBJ went so far as to quit the race.

Yes, we are likely stuck with Trump for at least another year and a half or more, so in that sense, the article is right.

But that has nothing to do with the polls.