Friday, May 13, 2016

The Trump Fix

In this world of endless cravings for another instant online rush, Trump rules.  There's something Trumpian that's outrageous or weird in the news several times a day to feed the need, so everybody looks for their Trump fix.

But the fact that he's not just a reality TV and Twitter star but the candidate of a major political party for the office of President of the United States is something quite different, and has inspired some new diatribes that try to focus a little attention on the potential trouble we're in because of this.

Adam Gopnik at the New Yorker pulled no punches: Trump is a fascist:

"But his personality and his program belong exclusively to the same dark strain of modern politics: an incoherent program of national revenge led by a strongman; a contempt for parliamentary government and procedures; an insistence that the existing, democratically elected government, whether Léon Blum’s or Barack Obama’s, is in league with evil outsiders and has been secretly trying to undermine the nation; a hysterical militarism designed to no particular end than the sheer spectacle of strength; an equally hysterical sense of beleaguerment and victimization; and a supposed suspicion of big capitalism entirely reconciled to the worship of wealth and “success.” It is always alike, and always leads inexorably to the same place: failure, met not by self-correction but by an inflation of the original program of grievances, and so then on to catastrophe. The idea that it can be bounded in by honest conservatives in a Cabinet or restrained by normal constitutional limits is, to put it mildly, unsupported by history.

Hitler’s enablers in 1933—yes, we should go there, instantly and often, not to blacken our political opponents but as a reminder that evil happens insidiously, and most often with people on the same side telling each other, Well, he’s not so bad, not as bad as they are. We can control him. (Or, on the opposite side, I’d rather have a radical who will make the establishment miserable than a moderate who will make people think it can all be worked out.)"

Jonathan Chiat at New York a few days ago looked at the question of how Trump triumphed when the chattering classes were sure he couldn't.  He's not very polite in his conclusion: "Here’s the factor I think everybody missed: The Republican Party turns out to be filled with idiots. Far more of them than anybody expected....While it's impolite and politically counterproductive, if we want to accurately identify the analytic error that caused so many of us to dismiss Trump, we must return to the idiocy question. The particular idiocy involves both the party’s elites and its voters."

Chiat's description of Trump seems designed to blow away the media fog of bewildered 'objectivity' and conventional acceptance: Trump did not even seem to be an especially effective demagogue. He is not eloquent, not even in a homespun way. He stumbles on his phrases, repeats himself over and over, and his speeches consist of bragging and recitation of polling results so dull and digressive his audience often heads for the exits well before the conclusion...

Unlike Bachmann or Cain [previous GOP 'joke candidates'], Trump had an even weaker grasp on intro-level Republican dogma, instead ranting like a drunk on a bar stool (“Bomb the shit out of ISIS!”). In debates, rather than use the standard tactic of mouthing pabulum that sounded vaguely like a substantive response before pivoting to his preferred message, he dispensed with the pabulum altogether, relying instead on vague, repetitive bragging and grade-school-level personal insults of his opponents. He puts down his opponents’ beauty or their height, or simply smirks at them. His appeal operates not at a low intellectual level but at a sub-intellectual level."

Chiat has since added more fuel to Gopnik's points, though he prefers "authoritarian" to "fascist" terminology. Chiat's critique quoted above got criticized for not focusing on racism in Trump's supporters, and Chiat defended this by noting how many times previously he has identified this.  Gopnik writes: "To associate such ideas too mechanically with the rise of some specific economic anxiety is to give the movement and its leader a dignity and sympathy that they do not deserve."

So who is right, Chiat and Gopnik, or Andrew Sullivan?  Of course, they all are.  Sullivan is right that elites have largely ignored the true plight of white working class families, and Trump's appeal is based largely on a dangerous mix of anger unrestrained by intelligent analysis, racism, race-based nationalism, the substitution of vulgar show business for reality, and institutionalized stupidity.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Put Out the Bern

It's time for Bernie Sanders to end his campaign.  Barring assassination by a Trump fanatic or similar catastrophe, Hillary Clinton is going to be the nominee of the Democratic Party for President.  Now that Trump is the Republican nominee, it's time for Sanders to stop attacking Clinton and thereby aiding Trump.

Sure, Bernie won the West Virginia primary on Tuesday.  But it's very likely he won it because Trump supporters voted for him.  A third of voters in the West Virgina Dem primary admitted they were going to vote for Trump in November, and most of those said they voted for Bernie.  That's more than enough for his winning margin, in a state that no Dem is going to carry in November.

The Trump voters understand what's going on, even if Bernie's don't.  Clinton is going to be the nominee, and everything that weakens her, strengthens Trump's chances.

Yes, Bernie is focusing on important issues.  But he's still attacking Clinton directly, aggressively and personally.  For all the good he's done in getting these issues aired, and showing how powerful they are with many voters, he's now doing even more damage to the chances of those issues actually being addressed.

I'm sorry to say, it looks to me that Bernie is on an ego trip right now.  All those crowds seem to have gotten to him.  He doesn't have a chance to win the nomination, and he has precious little in the way of a practical program to address the issues he raises.

Hillary is almost nobody's perfect, favorite or wholeheartedly supported candidate.  But she's all that stands between Trump and the nuclear arsenal.  And she's not that bad.  (This is apart from, but related to, my own view, which I think is widely shared.  I supported Barack Obama not only because his positions were closer to mine, but because I believed he'd be a better President than Hillary.  I can't say the same about Bernie.)

But the longer Bernie stays in and the louder he is in the process, the more he encourages fanatics like the few the Guardian found at a rally in Sacramento who said if Hillary is nominated they would vote for Trump.

The argument that a Trump victory would hasten the Bernie revolution is wrong.  I've already written about the lessons of the Nader campaign in 2000, which was partially responsible for George W. Bush.  Bush threw away trillions on a horrible war, attacked civil liberties, institutionalized torture, ruined the country's reputation around the world and sent the economy into the worst downturn since the Great Depression.  He hardly could have been worse.

But no "revolution" resulted.  Instead only through heroic effort over eight years did the Obama administration bring the country back from catastrophe.  While the far right took over Congress and prevented more progress--basically because people who opposed them didn't vote anywhere near their numbers.

Here's the problem with the Bernie revolution.  First, the kind of revolution that's most likely to happen would result in a dictatorship.  Second, there is no deep or wide support for overthrowing capitalism, which is the real revolution, and substituting something better.  Something better than the capitalism of today is probably essential to a better future.  But there's no consensus on this yet.  It's not going to happen in 2016.

Here's another problem with holding out for revolution: a lot of people are going to get hurt, and usually they are those with the least resources and in the weakest position, economically, socially, and in terms of health.  If you don't care about that, count me out.

That's also the problem with political purity--the Bern or Bust.  What could Nader people tell the parents of the young men and women killed and maimed in Iraq?  The people who suffered and even died because trillions of dollars of resources that President Gore might well have directed towards them wound up being squandered by President Bush?  What would they say to their grandchildren who will inherit a hot depleted planet, when some attempt 15 years ago might have made at least some difference?

If Bernie loyalists believe that wounding Hillary so that she loses will actually help Sanders become the Democratic party leader--it won't happen.  If he is blamed for Hillary's loss and whatever catastrophes Trump provides, he'll be lucky to be treated by Democrats in the Senate as well as Republican Senators are currently treating Ted Cruz.

President Obama talked about how real progress happens in his recent graduation address at Howard University.  Some excerpts:

But to bring about structural change, lasting change, awareness is not enough. It requires changes in law, changes in custom. If you care about mass incarceration, let me ask you: How are you pressuring members of Congress to pass the criminal justice reform bill now pending before them? (Applause.) If you care about better policing, do you know who your district attorney is? Do you know who your state’s attorney general is? Do you know the difference? Do you know who appoints the police chief and who writes the police training manual? Find out who they are, what their responsibilities are. Mobilize the community, present them with a plan, work with them to bring about change, hold them accountable if they do not deliver. Passion is vital, but you've got to have a strategy.

And your plan better include voting -- not just some of the time, but all the time...So you got to vote all the time, not just when it’s cool, not just when it's time to elect a President, not just when you’re inspired. It's your duty.

And democracy requires compromise, even when you are 100 percent right. This is hard to explain sometimes. You can be completely right, and you still are going to have to engage folks who disagree with you. If you think that the only way forward is to be as uncompromising as possible, you will feel good about yourself, you will enjoy a certain moral purity, but you’re not going to get what you want. And if you don’t get what you want long enough, you will eventually think the whole system is rigged. And that will lead to more cynicism, and less participation, and a downward spiral of more injustice and more anger and more despair. And that's never been the source of our progress. That's how we cheat ourselves of progress."

Sure, protest is part of the process, and there are special cases when there's no compromise (like ending a war.)  But progress is mostly incremental. And it's about more than emotion, or projection.

Come down from your ego trip, Bernie.  Stop helping to elect Trump.

Sunday, May 08, 2016

Your Moment of Swing: It Don't Mean A Thing If...

This is a 7 minute audio version of the classic "It Don't Mean a Thing If It Ain't Got That Swing," sung by Ella Fitzgerald with the Duke Ellington Orchestra.  Ellington apparently wrote the tune more than a decade before he introduced and recorded it in 1932.  It was the first time the term "swing" made it into a major song title, and its success probably helped inaugurate--or at least name-- the Swing Era that began in the late 30s.

It was usually sung by a member of the Ellington band and it's not clear when Ella Fitzgerald first sang it, but she didn't recorded it until 1957.  When Tony Bennett asked Louis Armstrong who was the greatest jazz singer he ever heard, Armstrong replied, "You mean, after Ella?"  Ella Fitzgerald's career spanned the decades from her first hit "A-Tisket, A-Tasket" in 1938 (which still is a swinging knockout) until 1993, three years before she died at the age of 79.  She was a powerful, inventive singer from first to last, and just as fun to listen to now as ever.

This particular recording is from a live show, and though it has the heat, rhythm and skill of the heart of the Swing Era, it is actually from 1967.  In some of her famous scat singing on this recording, you can even hear Ella name-check "A Hard Day's Night."