A Marxist counterfactual

I don’t know the author of Existential Comics—even their gender—but they recently posted a tweet that is extraordinarily helpful in making a point I’ve been wanting to make for a while:

Continue reading “A Marxist counterfactual”

The tyranny of the minority

Recently, in response to a rather triumphalist tweet predicting the demise of Donald Trump,[1] I offered a summation of the political situation as I perceive it:

Yes, it looks bad for Trump. Professional speculators suggest that Robert Mueller has cornered Trump in a couple ways: First, Paul Manafort allegedly lied, and Mueller is prepared to say so in court, but also, Manafort was apparently cooperating with Trump’s legal team while he was allegedly lying. If Trump’s answers to Mueller’s inquiry match up with Manafort’s lies, it will seem that Trump has lied. Second, Mueller seems to have evidence that Trump continued to seek permission from Vladimir Putin to build a hotel in Moscow, even while he was running for president, even after he claimed the deal was dead. Third, there’s the question of Roger Stone and alleged links to Wikileaks, which published embarrassing Democratic National Committee emails, and to Moscow.[3] So far, all we’re really seeing is the smoke. But having watched Mueller as long as we have, it’s a pretty good bet he’s got a fire.

The question, really, in a bipartisan system, is whether Democrats will be able to replace Trump in 2020. Here, the disarray among Democrats comes into play. The shenanigans by which Hillary Clinton gained control of the Democratic National Committee and thereby excluded Bernie Sanders, arguably the better candidate, from the 2016 presidential nomination remain unresolved.[4] Progressives should know that, by fair means or foul, mainstream (meaning neoconservative and neoliberal) Democrats will do everything possible to preserve their hold on the party. Even when the result is a President Trump and, perhaps yet still to come, a President Mike Pence.

The irony here is that so-called “third way” Democrats gained control of the party following landslide defeats of George McGovern in 1972 and Walter Mondale in 1984. The argument then, as it is today, is that progressives cannot win “moderate” votes. Implicit in this calculation is that progressives will have no alternative but to vote for the neoconservative and neoliberal Democrats and will do so to avoid the allegedly more evil Republican. Unfortunately, as we saw in 2016, when folks consistently vote for “the lesser of two evils,” it should be no surprise that we end up having to choose from the lesser of two evils, as Democrats have shifted ever rightwards trying to capture more of the so-called “moderate” vote.

There are a couple of problems here. First, and ultimately most seriously, vague appeals to a “middle way” do not translate to a coherent program. Incoherence results in muddled policy which, often contradicting itself, doesn’t attract much enthusiasm at the polls.

Second, and what we see most clearly from the 2018 midterm elections is that regardless of which faction you advocate, whether it be the authoritarian populists who now dominate the Republican Party, the neoconservative and neoliberal mainstream Democrats, inverted patriarchs, or democratic socialists, you do not command a majority of the U.S. electorate. Furthermore, your policies will be entirely unacceptable to at least two other factions of the electorate.

Persuasion does not work in this scenario. We are talking about deeply held perceptions, whether they be an authoritarian populist scapegoating of the “other,” a notion of politics as “the art of the possible” involving compromise with factions that will accept concessions without offering any of their own, a scapegoating of cis (non-transgender) heterosexual white males, or a revulsion towards economic inequality. Which means that no matter who wins, they can only impose their agenda through authoritarian means. “We won the election,” they can say; “you should try winning an election.” Which lasts until they lose, at which point their victorious opponents can say the same.

  1. [1]John Oberlin, [microblog post], Twitter, December 1, 2018, https://twitter.com/OMGno2trump/status/1069011219204489216
  2. [2]John Oberlin, [microblog post], Twitter, December 1, 2018, https://twitter.com/OMGno2trump/status/1069011219204489216
  3. [3]Dana Bash, Kara Scannell, and Evan Perez, “Two key answers from Trump to Mueller,” CNN, November 28, 2018, https://amp.cnn.com/cnn/2018/11/28/politics/trump-mueller-answers-wikileaks-trump-tower/index.html; Carol D. Leonnig and Josh Dawsey, “‘Individual 1’: Trump emerges as a central subject of Mueller probe,” Washington Post, November 29, 2018, https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/individual-1-trump-emerges-as-a-central-subject-of-mueller-probe/2018/11/29/e3968994-f3f7-11e8-80d0-f7e1948d55f4_story.html; Harry Litman, “What Was Paul Manafort Thinking?” New York Times, November 27, 2018, https://www.nytimes.com/2018/11/27/opinion/what-was-paul-manafort-thinking.html; Manuel Roig-Franzia et al., “Trump’s night-owl calls to Roger Stone in 2016 draw scrutiny in Mueller probe,” Washington Post, November 28, 2018, https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/trumps-night-owl-calls-to-roger-stone-in-2016-draw-scrutiny-in-mueller-probe/2018/11/28/77d6174e-f332-11e8-80d0-f7e1948d55f4_story.html;  Jennifer Rubin, “Trump should be freaked out right about now,” Washington Post, November 29, 2018, https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/opinions/wp/2018/11/29/trump-should-be-freaked-out-right-about-now/; Jeffrey Toobin, “The Legal Perils That Michael Cohen’s Guilty Plea Poses for Donald Trump,” New Yorker, November 29, 2018, https://www.newyorker.com/news/daily-comment/the-legal-perils-that-michael-cohens-guilty-plea-pose-for-donald-trump; Jonathan Vankin, “Robert Mueller Set Ingenious Trap For Trump In Collusion Case And Tricked Manafort Into Helping, Experts Say,” Inquisitr, November 26, 2018, https://www.inquisitr.com/5181923/robert-mueller-set-trap-for-trump-russia-collusion-paul-manafort/; Paul Waldman, “Trump’s battle to destroy the Mueller investigation is officially doomed,” Washington Post, November 16, 2018, https://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/plum-line/wp/2018/11/16/trumps-battle-to-destroy-the-mueller-investigation-is-officially-doomed/; Paul Waldman, “It looks like a big day for collusion. No wonder Trump is raging,” Washington Post, November 27, 2018, https://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/plum-line/wp/2018/11/27/its-a-big-day-for-collusion-no-wonder-trump-is-raging/
  4. [4]Donna Brazile, “Inside Hillary Clinton’s Secret Takeover of the DNC,” Politico, November 2, 2017, https://www.politico.com/magazine/story/2017/11/02/clinton-brazile-hacks-2016-215774

The connection between “original sin,” misogyny, and white supremacism

So a rabbi on Twitter posted an inquiry which wasn’t directed at me, but to which I responded:

Continue reading “The connection between “original sin,” misogyny, and white supremacism”

  1. [1]Danya Ruttenberg, [microblog post], Twitter, November 25, 2018, https://t.co/XxYSPjXTSq

Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump make the case for abolishing borders

On one issue, at least, Donald Trump can claim an ally in Hillary Clinton. Clinton told the Guardian she “think[s] Europe needs to get a handle on migration because that is what lit the flame [of right-wing (authoritarian) populism].”[1] Here’s Donald Trump spewing word-vomit in July:

“Allowing the immigration to take place in Europe is a shame,” Trump said. “I think it changed the fabric of Europe and, unless you act very quickly, it’s never going to be what it was and I don’t mean that in a positive way.

“So I think allowing millions and millions of people to come into Europe is very, very sad,” he continued. “I think you are losing your culture. Look around. You go through certain areas that didn’t exist ten or 15 years ago.”[2]

Continue reading “Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump make the case for abolishing borders”

  1. [1]Patrick Wintour, “Hillary Clinton: Europe must curb immigration to stop rightwing populists,” Guardian, November 22, 2018, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2018/nov/22/hillary-clinton-europe-must-curb-immigration-stop-populists-trump-brexit
  2. [2]Philip Bump, “Trump’s comments on European immigration mirror white nationalist rhetoric,” Washington Post, July 13, 2018, https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/politics/wp/2018/07/13/trumps-comments-on-european-immigration-mirror-white-nationalist-rhetoric/


I got called in for jury duty, yet again. As it happened I used a hardship—being reduced yet again to Uber and Lyft, I’m just barely getting by, and a two-week trial would be ruinous—to get out of it, but as long-time readers know, our system of injustice is one of many features of our system of social organization that I dissent from.

In general, I object to the reduction of justice to law, especially law passed predominantly by wealthy white men. Jeffrey Reiman has noted the consequent discrepancy: The system of injustice is lenient towards the wealthy, but the poor and people of color face discrimination at every stage of the process, from suspicion all the way to sentencing.[1] Those sentences don’t merely harm the accused but their families and communities, while incarceration takes on the character of an epidemic.[2] And when the accused receive trials at all—there’s a lot of pressure to accept plea bargains, which count as guilty pleas—the outcomes will be the result of a profoundly flawed process.[3] Continue reading “Avarice”

  1. [1]Jeffrey Reiman, The Rich Get Richer and the Poor Get Prison, 7th ed. (Boston: Allyn and Bacon, 2004).
  2. [2]Ernest Drucker, A Plague of Prisons: The Epidemiology of Mass Incarceration in America(New York: New Press, 2011).
  3. [3]Dan Simon, In Doubt: The Psychology of the Criminal Justice Process (Cambridge, MA: Harvard, 2012).

Barack Obama asks, “Why is it that the folks that won the last election are so mad all the time?”

It seems like a clever line:

“Why is it that the folks that won the last election are so mad all the time?” [Barack] Obama asked a crowd of 4,000 as the fifth interrupting protester was escorted out of a Miami rally on Friday [November 2]. Any further shouts were drowned out by the crowd’s roar.[1]

And it would seem to have earned the audience’s approval. But what this line actually illustrates is how utterly clueless the former president is—and a lot of other folks are—about authoritarian populism. Continue reading “Barack Obama asks, “Why is it that the folks that won the last election are so mad all the time?””

  1. [1]Cleve R. Wootson, Jr., “Obama rips hecklers: Why are the people who won the last election ‘so mad all the time?’” Washington Post, November 3, 2018, https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/2018/11/03/obama-rips-hecklers-why-are-people-who-won-last-election-so-mad-all-time/

This is not just extremist right-wing violence. It is our violence. And we must own it.

In the wake of three incidents of xenophobic and extreme right-wing violence,[1] some are pointing a blaming finger at Donald Trump, who feeds and feeds upon what’s properly called hierarchically invidious monism, a prominent feature of—some might call it a “mother’s milk” for—authoritarian populism: Continue reading “This is not just extremist right-wing violence. It is our violence. And we must own it.”

  1. [1]Ray Sanchez and Melissa Gray, “72 hours in America: Three hate-filled crimes. Three hate-filled suspects,” CNN, October 28, 2018, https://www.cnn.com/2018/10/28/us/72-hours-of-hate-in-america/index.html

Musings of a San Francisco kid

Even after all these years, it feels weird to be in the Los Angeles area.

I was raised in San Francisco. We learned that Southern California steals all our water (actually it mostly goes to wasteful corporate agriculture) and that you can cut the air with a butter knife (this is certainly not true now).

Oh yes and, of course, the traffic. The traffic is Southern California is the stuff of legends. When I first encountered what we in the San Francisco Bay Area call the “South Bay,” I referred to it as a northern outpost of Los Angeles because it boasts something of a maze of freeways, smog, and urban sprawl. Continue reading “Musings of a San Francisco kid”

On understanding the ‘other’

One of the curious issues that cropped up, that unfortunately I did not have a chance to address at the time, at the recent Human Science Institute retreat, following a presentation by Milton Reynolds, was that a couple of white women apologized to Reynolds, a Black man, for imposing upon him to explain his worldview. Both of them are entirely worthy scholars so I mean absolutely no disrespect here.

Rather, I think I know where they were coming from. I was there once, too. Continue reading “On understanding the ‘other’”

Criticism of Elizabeth Warren for revealing her DNA test confuses the potential for the actual

Our story begins, yet again, with Donald Trump, who bundles misogyny with racism in calling Elizabeth Warren, a possible Democratic Party presidential contender in 2020, “Pocohontas.” He did this much like when he was a “birther,” questioning Barack Obama’s U.S. birth. And we might remember that Obama eventually released his long form birth certificate—also in response, partly, to Trump’s protracted goading.[1] Warren now has released a DNA test demonstrating that she probably does indeed have some American Indian heritage.[2] Continue reading “Criticism of Elizabeth Warren for revealing her DNA test confuses the potential for the actual”

  1. [1]Mike Vilensky, “Trump Roasted and Skewered at White House Correspondents’ Dinner,” New York, May 1, 2011, http://nymag.com/intelligencer/2011/05/whcd.html; Jacob Weisberg, “Are Republicans losing their grip on reality?” Slate, May 20, 2011, http://www.slate.com/articles/news_and_politics/the_big_idea/2011/05/fantasy_island.html
  2. [2]Masha Gessen, “Elizabeth Warren Falls for Trump’s Trap—and Promotes Insidious Ideas About Race and DNA,” New Yorker, October 16, 2018, https://www.newyorker.com/news/our-columnists/elizabeth-warren-falls-for-trumps-trap-and-promotes-insidious-ideas-about-race-and-dna