Using Technology to Deepen Democracy, Using Democracy to Ensure Technology Benefits Us All

Saturday, January 14, 2017

When Will Reality Kick In?

I truly hope the actual Trump inauguration will be real enough finally to nudge the left from its still ongoing freakout, grief, rage, recrimination.

The left has to move on from endlessly re-litigating the primary: transforming the current contest between Ellison and Perez for DNC party chair from an edifying debate between two strong progressives who reveal a party refusing to back down from the left turn it took in this campaign into yet another divisive uninformative clash of celebrity fandoms from which nobody will emerge stronger, and now pissing in advance on Cory Booker who has great political and communicative skills -- precisely what Hillary Clinton lacked most conspicuously as a candidate -- because he lacks the purity of a vapid ineffectual mediocrity of a Senator from a homogeneous white postage stamp of state with few powerful countervailing stakeholders to contend with.

But also we need to move on from these embarrassing indulgences in magical thinking -- Can you actually remember when people were seriously pretending that "Never Trump!" Republicans would replace Trump at the GOP convention! People thought that just a few months ago. Just days ago, people were pretending Republicans would "put country before party" and refuse to vote for Trump in the Electoral College. Almost daily, ongoing revelations of Trump scandals, conflicts of interest, lack of preparation, exhibitions of dangerous unfitness for office and so on yield another chorus of voices declaring Trump must face impeachment on day one.

But the terrible truth is that Trump said out loud and crudely the racist, cruel, resentful, belligerent things Republicans are always genuflecting toward and the mobilization of which has long been their explicit strategy (the Southern Strategy, yes, but it is important to realize that the repudiation of the Autopsy Report which recommended rejection of the Southern Strategy in the face of demographic changes lead to a contrary amplification of the Southern Strategy seeking to "Southernify" Democratic bastions and swing states of the North and Midwest through white-supremacist politics of fear and resentment, with a little garnish of queer bashing feeding the inevitable backlash accompanying any achievement of modest equality gains). The southern strategy and culture war is about whomping up fear, resentment, and anger in the face of multicultural diversification and economic precarization.

Republicans are fighting climate science as a culture war, they are fighting macroeconomics as a culture war, they are fighting policing violence as a culture war. Although Republicans usually lose culture wars in the end, they love fighting these wars because factual disputes displaced onto symbolic terrains profitably prolong them in ways elites are willing to pay big money for, and also because losing culture wars tends to leave behind an organizationally useful residue of injury, resentment, and demoralization that Republicans can draw a mob of dupes to vote against their best interests for, to fight for their masters with the ferocity of a existential final battle. Because Democrats live in a congenially communicative multicultural society (its racism, sexism, hetersexism, cissexism, abelish, ageism, waste/pollution notwithstanding) we tend to feel we can't lose even as we lose battles the loss of which imperil our lives, our community, our planet, because Republicans live in demonstratively multicultural society which they fear and resent, they tend to feel they can't and don't win even when they do, and hence they can always be counted up to come to attention when the billionaires and bigots start blaring their bugles, ready to win the battle that finally feels like winning, ready to exact revenge on vulnerable scapegoats because nothing ever feels like winning.

Know Your Enemy. Republicans have been lying and cheating to gain power and money (the meta-narrative rationale for these anti-social parochialism involves roll-back of the New Deal and Great Society programs in the service of the beneficiaries of white nationalism and patriarchal norms) for years: Donald Trump is the culmination of Hate Radio and Gingrich-era norm violations, a mediated-celebrity figurehead at the head of an ideological extreme coterie of administrators (Reagan, W. and Schwarzenegger were all successful precursors).

People, you need to understand this: Republicans aren't going to impeach Trump. They are far more likely be build airports with his name on them to hide his terrible unpopularity and legacy of catastrophes behind like they do for that demented destructive oaf actor Ronald Reagan. Trump has given them power (unexpected and unprecedented power at that) and they will use that power to dismantle what remains of the middle-class and civil rights legacies of Democratic ruling coalitions of the 30s and 60s. Doing this will garner them praise and attention and soon enough great gobs of money from everybody they care about. There will be be no "long-term" consequences to keep Republicans from repealing without replacing Obamacare, or dismantling social security for those who are not already its beneficiaries, or voucherizing public education and then turning it into television, or selling off public goods and stripping voting rights from Democrats and civil rights from the vulnerable, there won't even be consequences for denying and exacerbating climate change -- the short term profits will be large, and will be used to create fortresses to protect the thieves from the consequences of climate catastrophe, and the people who die will be the people always already dying while we look on indifferently in between the occasional useless but ego-bolstering donation or signed petition decrying the tragedy.

Whether retreating into the past of re-litigation or the utopian future of purity cabaret, Democrats are still too tender and sore and scared to face the present: it hurts too much and its demands are too terrifying. Trump and the Republicans have to be marginalized into comparative harmlessness by Democratic victories and the selling as successes of Democratic policies and alternative values (sustainability, equity, diversity, consent, shared problem solving, reliable laws and norms, virtuous circles). Right now, those victories are going to be highly symbolic. To be useful, we should already be thinking how to put faces on the suffering caused by Trump and Republican policies (hardworking families with undocumented members torn apart, deaths from treatable conditions once coverage is removed, everyday people defrauded of retirement by deregulation, vulnerable people bravely retaining self-respect in the face of Trump-style bigotry and bullying), we should already be beginning the narrative that will sell the candidates we put up for 2018 and 2020 (nobody left behind, everybody with a seat at the table). 2018 is looking like a terrible year for the Senate Democrats, a year for adding insult to injury, but the momentum in the House is more promising, and State legislatures and governor's mansions are available and represent an indispensable layer of governance to frustrate GOP rollbacks or set the stage for making the Trump a one-term disaster that destroyed the Republican party and forced it to change to accommodate the reality of a diversifying, secularizing, planetizing nation post-Obama.

Democrats need to nurture political leaders and talent -- right now our tendency is to lose interest in them after fifteen minutes of fame, or buzz-saw them into a million pieces for failing to live up to this or that pet issue. We need to defend universities and art schools (as well as to make them more accessible, accountable, affordable) as spaces in which political organizing and cultural experimentation are supported in ways that ultimately support the Democratic Party intellectual artist/activist/expert base and efforts. We need to remember that diverse coalitions need not be unanimous in order to be unified enough to co-ordinate. It is crucial that we have activists, artists, teachers, experts articulating our problems and proposing solutions to them. All of these people do crucial work -- as do professionals, intellectuals, managers, candidates holding and supporting those who hold office, who navigate diverse constituencies to help solve problems in real time and also build in reforms to create worlds in which certain problems are less likely to occur and shared values upheld. We need to respect the work done in all these domains, to be ready to communicate what we see as our role but also be open to learning why those with different talents and in different situations may see their role differently as well. We don't need -- and in fact are wrong to want -- representatives of diverse constituencies retreating to a level of abstraction in which they can exhibit a purity with which a fandom can identify rather than the judgment to navigate those constituencies opportunistically, to press for compromises that accomplish things that can be build on. It is crucial that the Democratic Party make a case for its members holding office at every layer of government, in every jurisdiction, in every region. We need to invest in every state, and devote ourselves to training activists for concrete local campaigns and as clear communicators of short term problems and long term visions wherever they are, even when they cannot yet win elective office.

In politics there are set-backs, heartbreaks, travesties. Given the incredibly incremental level of progress we fought for during the Obama years -- against headwinds of absolute GOP obstruction here at home, failed but utterly ruling austerity in Europe, rising right-wing ethno-nationalisms across the globe, ongoing digi-feudalization and deregulatory-disruption via "tech" everywhere -- the reversal rather than securing of even these laughably modest gains and faint intimations of a larger turning of the tide has been too demoralizing to say, however many words I say at it. That the Democratic left needs to refocus on organizing our diverse winning coalition, taking effective communication more seriously, and figuring out how to co-ordinate in the face of our differences depresses me unutterably because I see little sign of any of this, and if anything I perceive ever deeper entrenchment in divisiveness, disorganized responses, interminable and unhelpful blame-gaming, anti-pragmatism misconstrued as righteousness, utopian retreats misconstrued as interventions (I see these in myself not least).

The left can do what it needs to do, the diverse Obama coalition already won twice and has grown larger since, competent professionals and experts actually capable of governing are all almost entirely working together with or under the auspices of the Democratic Party and incompetence creates endless opportunities to change the political possibilities at hand, the Democratic Party can regain its electoral footing (majorities vote for Democrats everywhere -- this may not be enough to put them power but it is not a bad thing to build on, certainly it is better than the alternative), Moral Mondays and BlackLivesMatter and queer activism and environmental activism have transformed the landscape of the possible and the important in ways that may not be reflected in the law for a few years, but that transformations has occurred, and the Democratic Party in moving in its public communications and platform and hiring in the direction of that activism (yes, not enough, yes, too slowly, yes, hypocritically) is investing in the emerging and prevailing emancipatory movements of our time.

The Democratic Party can win, it deserves to win, it can be better, it is getting better. Republicans are the enemy, they are wrong, they destroy everything they touch, they always overreach. A continent scaled nation as privileged as our own will inertially resist some changes for the worse as readily as it resists other changes for the better. In the coming months, it will be for the courts to provide a sense of how much dismantlement the Republicans will get away with. We will see from mainstream media sources what the guiding narratives are going to be, and this will give us a sense of the clear-headedness or panic happening in the Party as a whole. If it goes badly, the mid-terms are probably going to be a bloodbath and Trump will have, for the first time in his administration, something he can message as a mandate. Things are already worse than bad, but that will be worse still. As I said, Democrats can win the battles we need to win. Early messaging and organizational battles are underway. The state of play is not encouraging. Again, maybe the collective apprehension of the Inauguration will be the reality check that moves us from understandable mourning (which can be a productive and provocative space, after all) into efficacious organizing and co-ordination and messaging. I will end on a sobering note. Although the battles ahead are winnable, and I feel sure that some at least will be won, I must say that I think it will be years and years before we fight a battle as consequential and also winnable as the election we just lost.


jimf said...

> Know Your Enemy. . .

Yes, I've been clicking through my ripped CD collection this evening.

Just been enjoying "Pat Boone's Greatest Hits"
(MCA MCAD-10885, from Dot Records).

So pretty, so tuneful.

"April love is for the very young
Every star's a wishing-star that shines for you. . ."

And then you remember his politics:
On December 6, 2008 Boone wrote an article for WorldNetDaily
wherein he drew analogies between recent gay rights protests and
recent terrorist attacks in Mumbai, India. . . [H]e asserted that
marriage is a biblically ordained institution, which the government
has no part in defining. He then stated that equal rights for women
and blacks were not "obtained by threats and violent demonstrations
and civil disruption" but rather through due process. He concluded
by warning that unless they're checked, the "hedonistic, irresponsible,
blindly selfish goals and tactics of homegrown sexual jihadists
will escalate into acts vile, violent and destructive.

On August 29, 2009, Boone wrote an article comparing liberalism to cancer,
likening it to "black filthy cells". . .

In 2009, Boone, a "birther", stated his belief that President Barack Obama
is ineligible to serve as the President of the United States.
Boone also has alleged that Barack Obama is fluent in Arabic and read
the Koran in Arabic as a boy. He has also claimed that President Obama
"hasn't celebrated any Christian holidays in the White House."

The next track on that CD:

"Well, now, everybody's gonna have religion and glory
Everybody's gonna be a-singing' that story
Everybody's gonna have a wonderful time up there,
oh, glory hallelujah. . ."


Guess I'll just have to write my love letters in the sand,
and let that moody river's muddy water sweep them all away.


jimf said...

You know, this would be another appropriate bit of entertainment
for the Trump inauguration:

Pat Boone - Speedy Gonzales (1962)

(and cf.
Peggy Lee - Mañana (Is Soon Enough For Me) ).

Aren't stereotypes fun?

(How disappointing that the YouTube clip of
Carol Burnett as Charo's mom seems to have been
blocked by WMG.)

jimf said...

Deplorables on the march -- an entertaining Samantha Bee clip,
via a Pharyngula post from last summer, when the thought of
Trump winning the Republican nomination was still funny.

jimf said...

All's fair in love, war, and -- politics. I guess.
At least if you're a Republican. (Or a "christian"?)
From Headline to Photograph, a Fake News Masterpiece
JAN. 18, 2017

. . .“I’m afraid the election is going to be rigged,
I have to be honest,” the Republican nominee told a
riled-up crowd in Columbus, Ohio. . .

Cameron Harris, a new college graduate [a 23-year-old former
college quarterback and fraternity leader] with a fervent
interest in Maryland Republican politics and a need for cash,
sat down at the kitchen table in his apartment to fill
in the details Mr. Trump had left out. . .

Mr. Harris started by crafting the headline: “BREAKING:
‘Tens of thousands’ of fraudulent Clinton votes found in
Ohio warehouse.” It made sense, he figured, to locate this
shocking discovery in the very city and state where
Mr. Trump had highlighted his “rigged” meme. . .

As Mr. Trump takes office this week, [he is] the beneficiary
of at least a modest electoral boost from a flood of fakery,
[including] Mr. Harris and his ersatz-news website, . .

Contacted by a reporter who had discovered an electronic clue
that revealed his secret authorship of,
he was wary at first, chagrined to be unmasked.

“This topic is rather sensitive,” Mr. Harris said, noting that
he was trying to build a political consulting business and
needed to protect his reputation.

But eventually he agreed to tell the story of his foray into
fake news, a very part-time gig that he calculated paid him
about $1,000 an hour in web advertising revenue. He seemed
to regard his experience with a combination of guilt about
having spread falsehoods and pride at doing it so skillfully.

At his kitchen table that night in September, Mr. Harris wondered:
Who might have found these fraudulent Clinton ballots? So
he invented “Randall Prince, a Columbus-area electrical worker.”
This Everyman, a “Trump supporter” whose name hinted at a sort
of nobility, had entered a little-used back room at the
warehouse and stumbled upon stacked boxes of ballots
pre-marked for Mrs. Clinton, Mr. Harris decided. . .

This guy has a job waiting for him at the Ministry of Truth.
Randall Prince, meet Comrade Ogilvy.

jimf said...

You know, there was another comment in today's paper that caught
my eye:
Missing Barack Obama Already
Nicholas Kristof
JAN. 19, 2017

. . .

Voters are fickle and promiscuous, suffering an eight-year itch
for a fling with someone who is the opposite of their last infatuation.
Sick of Bill Clinton, we turned to a Texas governor who was
utterly different. Eight years later, weary of George W. Bush,
we elected his polar opposite, a liberal black law professor.
And now we’ve elected Obama’s antipode. . .

I remember, years ago, submitting a (less elegantly phrased, no
doubt) comment here in response to one of your posts along the
lines of "liberals rejoice, we've won the culture war, the
Republicans are nothing more than a demoralized rump" etc.,

And my reaction to that was just like Kristof's -- this country
oscillates back and forth between Republican and Democratic
administrations on a regular cycle (with some emphasis on the
Republicans, since the days of FDR).

But the comment never showed up, and I suspected at the time
that my attempt at a political comment was viewed as both unsophisticated
and unappealing, so I took that as a signal that I should
stick to the >H stuff.

But I have to admit that, every time I see you referring to
the Republicans as a "rump", I always think to myself "if
that's so, then it's one mighty big rear end".


Dale Carrico said...

If one of your comments doesn't appear that means there have been shenanigans -- the comment didn't go through or went to the spam folder unaccountably or something like that.

It is true that I was premature in thinking the aging-white-guy GOP terminal as well as misreading the reliability of the winning majority and ever growing Obama coalition. To be honest, I haven't come to terms with this mistake yet. I still haven't quite disarticulated my sense of what MI, WI, PA, and FLA mean demographically from the role of well-documented disenfranchisement efforts by Republicans in those states, and feel much less sure about national politics than I have at any point while writing this blog.

The left did win the culture wars -- but this has never been a triumphalist observation. I always stress that the congeniality of American multiculture makes Democrats feel we're home even when we lose and hence complacent and divisive and preening and ineffectual whether we win or lose -- whereas Republicans fear and hostility in the face of diversification and precarization makes them sore vindictive winners and disciplined for the Last Battle when they lose.

Dale Carrico said...

You may be right, but I suspect oscillation too primitive and mechanistic a figure to capture what is afoot -- but there must be something to it, it is a popular image.

I think the partisan geographical sorting and polarization of the GOP's Southern Strategy is the narrative engine of the post-LBJ to W period, as the diversification, secularization, planetization of the rising Obama coalition is the narrative engine of the period beginning in 2006 (and to which Trumpism was to me an unexpectedly vigorous backlash).

The first chapter was a period of reactionary consolidation driven by a fierce dream to undo the accomplishments of FDR and the New Deal, the next chapter I still think will be one of progressive consolidation, a rejection of austerity and neoliberalism/ neoconservativism, the establishment of a social democratic system here and a shift to address climate change and resource descent in an overpopulated overexploited planet.

While the Obama coalition remains ascendant rather than prevalent, however, you can be sure that Republicans will cheat/game close elections to retain power and hold back progressive change. It would be wrong to confuse such tactics with larger oscillations, especially if these are thought to be "corrections" of prior excesses (a congenial narrative frame for status quo pundits). It's wrong to imply Americans jump back and forth between Democrats and Republicans... when the results with both W. and Trump don't look at all like America choosing the Republican over the Democrat. The numbers are much more ambiguous. And, frankly, how can we tell the story of America's choices of LBJ and then Nixon by historical margins despite ideological opposition -- unless we include RFK's rise (what would it have "said" about "America" had another Kennedy beat Nixon) and demoralizing assassination in a year of near civil war? There were dirty Republican tricks in Iran involved in the surge of Reagan over Carter's re-elect as well... It just seems to me too many vicissitudes might have marred such an "oscillation" and the conventional wisdom would have differed by a mile, with who knows what better insight?

I definitely think Democrats need to get past our love-affair with stiff wonky white dudes, and pick candidates who not only do their jobs well but also connect naturally with mass audiences on camera and in crowds. No more Mondale, Dukakis, Kerry, HRC. A sufficiently large majority of Americans, right and left, are sufficiently insulated by privilege from the consequences of their actions that they cannot be trusted to take the time and effort to learn policy details or change-making processes (true of Sanders supporters and the Usual holier-than-thou piss-on-Democrats sooper-left as well as it is true of Trump voters and Republicans top to bottom), we will long remain spoiled ignorant lazy complacent conformist rationalizing anti-intellectual bed-wetting cowards, so Democrats need to give voters candidates who are knowledgeable, dedicated, get things done among multiple stakeholders, communicate effectively -- but also give people accomplishments to root for, suffering protagonists to identify with, villains to stop and also to blame, and also give people a good time and the feeling that they would like to spend time with them. All this is stupid bullshit as far as qualifications for the job go -- but I will never make the mistake of underestimating it again.