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The deep divide in the Democratic Party right now is not actually a product of the Sanders campaign or “tone” on either side. The issue is an an ongoing critique under the general heading of “corporatism” that seems to have first taken shape during the healthcare reform debate in 2009.
This is a great piece by Greenwald from Dec 18, 2009, in which he sums up the issue. The subheading of the article is “Your view of corporatism will play a large role in whether you support the bill.” If you just substitute “bill” for “nominee”–it still describes the situation 7 years later–“your view of corporatism will play a large role in whether you support the [Democratic Party] nominee.”
So, what does this mean. It means that some version of economic class consciousness began sweeping through the Democratic Party in that debate on healthcare. That debate from 2009 focused people on the idea that policy was controlled by an elite class that has emerged in the neoliberal global economy. In prior class consciousness debates, this elite class might just have been called “capitalists,” but in the post-2009 version, it has become associated with something called the “Davos crowd” or just “Davos,” meaning: the group of powerful, wealthy, jet-setters who attend the Swiss economic summit and others like it, who believe in the free market ideology of globalized neoliberalism, and who are able to command virtually unlimited resources.
A few years ago, I can’t remember exactly, I watched Donny Deutsch interview Ann Coulter. At a certain point, Deutsch said he was just going to list countries and give Coulter a chance to respond with her thoughts. He ran down a list of countries in the Middle East, Central Asia, Latin America. After each country, Coulter just said “Nuke ’em.” It was one of those incredibly revealing moments that nobody in the brain-dead media noticed. Deutsch was shocked, but he did not really know how to respond.
Ann Coulter, obviously, has no power to drop nuclear weapons or even to persuade anybody with power to do so. The issue is not actual use of weapons, but a particularly glib and dangerous form of nuclear nationalism aimed at her fans.
Most people who follow politics will equate the concept of nuclear nationalism with countries who have either recently acquired nuclear weapons or who aspire to: Iran, Pakistan, India, North Korea. The glorification of the ultimate weapons of destruction–that’s not something we do in the world historical center of nuclear weapons production and deployment, right?
Coulter knew her fans back then–she knew how to throw down the red meat of nuclear nationalism to get people jumping for their credit cards to purchase her books or posters or subscriptions or whatever tripe she was pushing at the time. Nuclear nationalism was just one act in Coulter’s angry white political burlesque.
This week, Coulter’s most successful protege, Donald Trump, went full-on nuclear nationalist. In several different settings, he refused to rule out the use of nuclear weapons in just about any place on Earth. When pushed by Chris Matthews in a town hall, Trump muttered something about not wanting to “take cards off the table”–as if threatening the use of nuclear weapons was something that a President must do with every foreign leader to keep things running smoothly.
Trump obviously knows nothing about any issue in foreign policy, even less about military strategy. It’s doubtful he knows anything about negotiation. But Trump knows that a sizable chunk of the GOP base can be agitated by rattling the chains of nuclear nationalism. Apparently unaware of this dynamic, a befuddled Chris Matthews gave Trump chance after chance to throw nuclear nationalism at his base.
What amazes me about the American media is that nobody seems to connect Trump’s nuclear nationalism to Ann Coulter and–even more astounding–not a single reporter has connected Trump’s all-but promise of nuclear war to the likes of insane North Korean leader Kim Jong-un or the much maligned former Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
Trump is not much different than these characters in terms of how he tosses out promises of using nuclear weapons to rally his base, whipping them into a frenzy at the prospect of annihilating foreign enemies they know only through insular single-party propaganda machines.
Of all the hand writing over Trump being the re-incarnation of a certain failed painter turned German mass murdering dictator, it strikes me as much more alarming that Trump is channelling the mouth-breathing antics of Ann Coulter to put himself in a league with the missile waving nuclear sophomores of North Korea and ultra-nationalist Iran.
Just about anyone whose thinking has not been paralyzed by racism, Islamaphobia or anti-Mexican xenophobia can see how utterly ridiculous it would be to allow Donald Trump to have the power to launch a nuclear war.
Sure, it may be possible–hypothetically–for Trump to get enough votes to win a general election. Somehow. But deep down most of us recognize this scenario as the exact purpose of the Electoral College. Man promises to use nuclear weapons? Maybe the Framers were a bunch of guys who never saw a weapon more powerful than a colonial era canon, but they understood there were lunatics who should not be at the helm.
Nuclear nationalism, in other words, can probably “sell” Trump to the same knuckle-dragging crack babies who buy Ann Coulter’s snake oil. But it will also wake people up to a larger reality: that in a system such as ours, a popular election can go awry. And if that happens, we need to consider the alternatives.
The only things stopping our democracy from working, of course, is the astounding level of brainlessness that has shown its head this election–combined with an almost entirely useless Fifth Estate, a level of gun ownership coupled with conspiracy paranoia found only in experimental horror films from the 1970s, and a GOP Congress concerned more with harassing President Obama like drunks at closing than with actual governing or, you know…responsibility.
Um, yeah. Not very reassuring.
In the meantime, as Chris Matthews warned, every leader of every nation on Earth is looking at Trump and thinking that the once great nation of the United States has produced a leading candidate who sounds just like nuclear nationalist demagogues in North Korea, Iran, Pakistan. One can only imagine how good that would be for the nation, should it come to pass–somehow–that Donald Trump were to become the first Ann Coulter elected President.
Not good at all.
Two stories are circulating in the press today that should be connected by the press, but have not been. The a PBS piece which features “first-time” Trump voters, but which has garnered buzz because these voters have White Supremacist tattoos. The second story is the GOP Senate and Congress doubling down on what they call the “principle” of refusing to even consider President Obama’s Supreme Court nominee, Merrick Garland. Here’s the key quote from Paul Ryan (emphasis mine):
“This has never been about who the nominee is,” Mr. Ryan, a Wisconsin Republican, said in a statement. “It is about a basic principle. Under our Constitution, the president has every right to make this nomination, and the Senate has every right not to confirm a nominee. “I fully support Leader McConnell and Chairman Grassley’s decision not to move forward with the confirmation process. We should let the American people decide the direction of the court.” (link)
I agree with Ryan that what he and the Senate GOP are doing is “about a basic principle,” and it was indeed a principle in the Constitution, until this country passed the 13th Amendment.
The “principle” behind the blatantly white supremacist campaign of Donald Trump and the sinister obstructionism of the Ryan and McConnell GOP Congress is the Three-Fifth’s Clause of the Constitution.
It’s easy to see the white supremacy in Trump’s campaign–harder to see it in Ryan and McConnell’s campaign.
Don’t be fooled by what appears to be the panic over the rise of Trump by the GOP establishment. For almost eight years, the GOP’s treatment of President Obama has adhered to the 18c white supremacist principle enshrined in the earlier version of our Constitution.
We have since as a nation, after many hard fought struggles–including a war in the 19c and a non-violent struggle in the 20c–shaken off that earlier “principle” and replaced it with overtures of equality. The Republican Party was even a driving force behind one of those struggles.
But that was a long, long time ago.
In 2016, the Republican Party has opened up the struggle to re-establish the Three-Fifth’s principle on two simultaneous fronts: one front is the race for the party nomination and the other front is the floor of the United States Congress.
Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell may stand in front of the cameras and act like they are standing on firm procedural precedent, but they are in fact spinning candy floss dreams of a long-lost country where people of color where told to sit down and wait their turn–be quiet while the full citizens do the serious work. Do what you’re told or get out.
Trump looks for the black faces in his campaign events and directs his security to escort them out, incites his supporters to punch them in the face.
Ryan and McConnell look at President Obama and say that his rights and responsibilities as President are now done, whipping their caucuses to act as if the second term of our first black president has come to an end more than a year early.
The GOP’s overt use of racism their politics is no secret, but for some reason we are supposed to pretend that the Trump campaign and GOP Congressional obstructionism against President Obama are separate events.
They are the same. The only difference is that effort is led by a racist buffoon, while the other is led by chambers full of racist gentleman and gentlewomen.
The principle is the same.
Rachel Maddow rolled out some good reporting by bringing together a bunch of Trump speech clips prior to the Chicago rally. She argued that he caused the violence in the rally through an “escalation” of aggression in his speeches. It’s a really good segment and worth watching.
Here’s what I picked up.
The issue is not just that Trump has escalated his tone. If you listen to the clips, you can hear him repeat over and over again a familiar phrase: “political correctness” or “politically correct.” The significant thing that seems to have happened is that, prior to the eruptions of violence at his rallies, Trump changed the meaning of political correctness. It’s a huge change.
Typically, when we talk about political correctness, it references speech or talk. It’s shorthand for saying, essentially, that people present careful language so as not to hurt or offend others–particularly people from groups that have historically been targeted by racist or sexist language.
If you are opposed to this way of being cautious–you cite political correctness as an hindrance to speech. It gets in the way of saying what needs to be said.
If you support being more cautious and careful so as not to offend or hurt people–you cite political correctness as a way of improving speech. It helps us to create an environment where everyone feels on equal footing, not insulated or hurt.
Up to this point, it has been about speech.
In his event remarks last week–seemingly in response to increasing interruptions by protesters–Trump began to talk about political correctness as if it was a reluctance to respond to protests with violence.
Here’s a an example as picked up in a piece by Ezra Klein–this is Trump speaking in St. Louis (emphasis mine):
They’re being politically correct the way they take them out…Protesters, they realize there are no consequences to protesting anymore. There used to be consequences. There are none anymore…Our country has to toughen up folks. We have to toughen up. These people are bringing us down. They are bringing us down. These people are so bad for our country, you have no idea.
Consider what this statement does just in terms of the phrase “politically correct.” Trump is redefining the idea so that it no longer references politeness or concern for use of language. It now means something to the effect of “unwilling to use violence to silence dissent in the public square” or “shamed into not doing what Americans have always done, which is beat people up when they disagree with our politics.”
Why is this an important change?
It’s important because one of the hallmarks of a democratic society is an arena for politics based on a separation of talk and violence.
In our system of government, we believe that politics takes place in a deliberative space. To participate, we talk. That talk can be in many forms, including unproductive, disruptive and even deeply offensive talk.
In fact, our democratic system is so dependent on protecting this deliberative nature of our system, that our constitution protects speech first and foremost in the document that lays out our way of doing government–the instruction manual for the united states government known as The Constitution.
Trump’s redefinition of “politically correct” in order to insist that violence be used to respond to political speech–this is the clearest moment that I have seen where a Presidential candidate is attempting to redefine our system in anti-Democratic terms.
What’s startling about Trump is that he does not lay any of this out in a written or circulated platform of ideas. Rather, he seems to be flying on instincts. In his mind, there exists a wistful American past where violence was routinely used to silence protest during political campaigns–and that use of violence in the public sphere was not unconstitutional, as most would say it is. According to Trump, it was a key feature of a better society.
As the old saying goes, it is very hard to unring a bell. It may not seem there are many Americans who believe Trump’s new idea of what it means to be politically correct, let alone who are willing to follow it by beating someone up who expresses different political view. But Trump will keep repeating and repeating this idea via the immense media platform he has been given–and keeps being given–day in and day out.
It’s just a matter of time before people start interpreting this literally.
Thus, I truly believe we are now in a new phase of this election. I believe that it is just a matter of time before people start to commit acts of violence outside of Trump rallies, giving as their justification that they are acting in the way Americans always did prior to political correctness–that what it means to be American is to use violence to silence “these people” who are “so bad for this country.”
For those among us who are already predisposed to violence, Trump’s redefinition of “politically correct” gives a carte blanche permission slip to go out and start shutting down mouthy liberals with fists or worse.
By now, Hillary Clinton’s lauding the Reagans work on AIDS has resulted in both a backlash and an apology. Here is the key moment that caused the stir Clinton’s words, as recounted by Amy Chozick at the New York Times (emphasis mine):
“It may be hard for your viewers to remember how difficult it was for people to talk about H.I.V./AIDS back in the 1980s,” Mrs. Clinton, who was attending Mrs. Reagan’s funeral in Simi Valley, Calif., told MSNBC’s Andrea Mitchell. “And because of both President and Mrs. Reagan – in particular, Mrs. Reagan – we started a national conversation, when before nobody would talk about it. Nobody wanted anything to do with it.” (link)
The assertion, here, is that the Reagans pushed back against cultural resistance to start the national conversation about AIDS. It’s a statement about bravery and achievement–a celebration of leadership on an important issue. And it’s a lie. Reagan was a roadblock on AIDS. The Reagans have a troubled history at best on the question of AIDS, including many moments where members of the Reagan administration laughed at questions about AIDS, where Nancy Reagan refused to help personal friends dying of AIDS. At worst they are seen as the most significant impediments who had to be overcome to make progress.
Clinton issued an apology after uproar came from the LGBTQ community and, essentially, from all over the place. It’s no secret Reagan was an enemy of people with AIDS in the early days.
Here is her apology, posted to Twitter on Friday afternoon:
While the Reagans were strong advocates for stem cell research and finding a cure for Alzheimers disease, I misspoke about their record on HIV and AIDS. For that, I’m sorry. (link)
Fair enough–the campaign calls it a statement, the press calls it an apology.
But then I read this interview with Larry Kramer which came before the apology–in which Kramer commented on how he felt about the initial praise of the Reagans. The interview helped me see something I had not considered and led to me reconsider the apology.
The whole article is worth reading, but this is the key statement from Kramer which seems to be the demand from a key figure that most likely lead to the apology in the first place. Take a look and notice the reason Kramer is saying he is so upset:
I wonder if Hillary had any notion of how hateful what she said is to so many people who were going to support her. For the first time I really questioned whether I’m going to vote for her. [Nancy] never said dipshit! And she … oh please, don’t get me started. She and Ronnie weren’t going to, in any way, talk about AIDS because they have a ballet dancer son whom the world believes to be gay and which they don’t want to confront. I’m just so disappointed in her that I may just vote for Bernie. And I’m hearing that from a lot of gay people. The gay population is up in arms over this. I don’t think that she realizes that this is a big issue for us, what she has said in her stupidity. I think the gay population is entitled to an apology and that we should demand an apology in return for our vote and support. (link)
Notice that Larry Kramer is expressing outrage and hurt feelings of betrayal–that he is talking not about a singular act by the Reagans, but about their role in the struggle against AIDS and their place in the collective memory of that time.
Reagan was the face of collective intransigence who ultimately, because of what he refused to do, became the most widely recognized symbol of hate in the memory of the early struggle to get help for people dying.
As a symbol, Reagan has a place in the collective memory if the LGBTQ community that was hit particularly hard by the AIDS epidemic. As such, Reagan as a symbol sits at the foundations of group identity.
What does this mean in terms of the politics of this episode?
It means that Kramer is not just asking Clinton to apologize for making a mistake about praising this or that kind of research the Reagans did or did not support. He’s asking for something more fundamental. He’s demanding that Clinton apologize for celebrating Reagan.
This is the point at which I went back and took a look at HRC’s statement–her apology–to see how the demand for an apology matched up against the actual apology. Here it is again (emphasis mine):
While the Reagans were strong advocates for stem cell research and finding a cure for Alzheimers disease, I misspoke about their record on HIV and AIDS. For that, I’m sorry.
Here’s what I noticed after reading the Kramer interview: The Clinton apology is carefully crafted so as to reassert and preserve her original praise of Reagan.
In the same way that Clinton used Nancy Reagans funeral to praise Ronald Reagan, she used her apology to double down on her praise for Ronald Reagan.
Why do this? Why was it necessary to praise Ronald Reagan a second time?
There are two possible answers: (1) political calculus–she knows that her insistence on praising Reagan is hurtful towards LGBTQ voters, but she has determined that it is worth taking a hit to reap whatever rewards are out there for a Democrat who says positive things about Reagan; or (2) cultural/psychological dissonance–she does not know how praising Reagan hurts this particular group of voters and so she keeps praising Reagan, unaware of the consequences of that act.
I go with political calculus because. Hillary Clinton is no dummy and she is aware of Reagans place in LGBTQ collective memory.
She has chosen to praise Reagan because she believes that the upside of doing so will outweigh the downside–that she can turn against one group of her supporters that are unlikely to vote for a Republican in order to bring some centrist Republicans into her camp.
But as Larry Kramer reminded her, this way of thinking might be premature. And after several hours of backlash, her campaign realized that praising Reagan before she has the nomination sewn up might not be a net positive for the campaign quite yet. And so she apologized, making sure to praise Reagan again in the apology.
This episode is a window into what it would likely feel like for many Democratic Party voters to experience the Clinton general election campaign. In her attempt to win over various conservative blocks deemed to be “persuadable” by the campaign, Clinton would issue carefully crafted statements that run directly counter to liberal and progressive core values, symbolism, and memory. I suspect she would have plans prepared to do this many times, using language that has been tested and vetted. If you are in the group affected, it would suddenly feel like your candidate is out of sync with your basic worldview. And if there is uproar, she would issue an apology–in which she would reassert the initial statement.
This kind of campaigning is what professionals call a “turn to the center,” but that description really masks what happens. It is a strategy of campaigning on calculated acts of betrayal in order to garner net gains.