Monday, August 31, 2015

Julian Bond

The Chicago Defender ran a nice, informative obituary for Julian Bond, a great civil rights activist and supporter of LGBT rights: Kai EL’Zabar, Julian Bond Served Our Community 08/20/2015:

It was never a question of whether or not he’d go to college so when Julian Bond enrolled at Morehouse in 1961 it was as it should be. And when he became one of the original Student Non-violent Coordinating Committee/SNCC in Atlanta from 1961 as communications director, it was of no surprise to his family or those who knew him. He also married in 1961, began a family and left Morehouse for the sole purpose of working on civil rights in the South. From 1961 to 1963, he led student protests against segregation in public facilities and the Jim Crow laws of Georgia. ...

In 1965, Mr. Bond was one of eleven African Americans elected to the Georgia House of Representatives after the passage of the Civil Rights Act and Voting Rights Act of 1965 had opened voter registration to Blacks. By ending the disfranchisement of Blacks through discriminatory voter registration, Blacks regained the ability to vote and entered the political process. Mr. Bond ultimately ran and was elected as a Democrat, the party of President Lyndon B. Johnson, who had signed the Civil Rights Act and Voting Rights Act into law. However it was noted by Civil Rights leaders how Johnson had hesitated and did not sign the Civil Rights Act until he was forced.
He was also an opponent of the Vietnam War, which also irritated the easily-irritated white racists in the Georgia legislature:

On January 10, 1966, Georgia state representatives voted 184–12 not to seat him because he had publicly endorsed SNCC’s policy regarding opposition to U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War. A three-judge panel on the United States District Court for the Northern District of Georgia ruled in a 2–1 decision that the Georgia House had not violated any of Bond’s constitutional rights.

Never backing down, in 1966, the United States Supreme Court ruled 9–0 in the case of Bond v. Floyd (385 U.S. 116) that the Georgia House of Representatives had denied Mr. Bond his freedom of speech and was required to seat him.
And he was serious about his public defense of LGBT rights, including same-sex marriage:

Ahead of his time Mr. Bond was an outspoken supporter of the rights of gays and lesbians. He publicly stated his support for same-sex marriage. Most notably, he boycotted the funeral services for Coretta Scott King on the grounds that the King children had chosen an anti-gay mega-church as the venue. This was in conflict with their mother’s longstanding support for the rights of gay and lesbian people. In a 2005 speech in Richmond, Virginia, Mr. Bond stated:

“African Americans ... were the only Americans who were enslaved for two centuries, but we were far from the only Americans suffering discrimination then and now .... Sexual disposition parallels race. I was born this way. I have no choice. I wouldn’t change it if I could. Sexuality is unchangeable.’

In a 2007 speech on the Martin Luther King Day Celebration at Clayton State University in Morrow, Georgia, Bond said, “If you don’t like gay marriage, don’t get gay married.” His stance positioned elements of the NAACP against religious groups in the Civil Rights movement, who oppose gay marriage.
Here's Cenk Uygur's obituary report, Remembering Civil Rights Legend Julian Bond The Young Turks 08/17/2015:

Alice Walker remembered him with a poem, Julian (Julian Bond 1940-2015 Alice Walker's Garden Aug 2015). This is a portion:

They are saying many things
About you now
So much praise
That is well earned.
And yet,
I wonder if they can
The young man you were
Standing in
That Circle of Life
So long ago
Holding hands
With those as fragile,
As determined,
As pure as you
Waiting for the future
We would make
With just our circle
And our song.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Slow growth prospects in the world

Joe Stiglitz has some sobering things to say about the current state of the world economy.

In Joseph Stiglitz explains why the Fed shouldn't raise interest rates Los Angeles Times 08/27/2015, he writes:

Six years into a lackluster U.S. expansion, price growth for personal consumption expenditures — excluding food and energy — has averaged less than 1.5% annually in the recovery, well below the Fed's unofficial 2% inflation target. It slowed to 1.3% so far in 2015.

Global economic forces are poised to drive inflation still lower. Last week, oil prices fell to $42, a low not seen since February 2009. Europe's growth remains anemic and is likely to remain so: The IMF forecast for 2015 is just 1.5%. And while it is difficult to piece together a precise picture of what is happening in China, most experts see growth slowing markedly, with effects in other emerging markets.

With a weaker euro and yuan, our exports will decrease and our imports increase. Together, this will put pressure on domestic businesses and the job market, which is hardly robust.
In an interview with Jason Kirby (Joseph Stiglitz on why this stock market upheaval is so dangerous MacLean's 08/26/2015), he says of the US:

... I’d say it’s not a strong recovery. The crisis was 2008, we’re now in 2015—eight years later after the recession and the gap between where we would have been and where we are is huge and not closing. That in some ways was expected, in that the defective response to the crisis lowered potential U.S. economic growth by leaving all these people unemployed. The implied unemployment rate is still very high. Labour force participation is very low, at something like a quarter century low. Not so much because of the aging population, but because of discouraged workers. And the increase in the wages in the second quarter was the lowest performance in 25 years. So overall, before this last turmoil, the U.S. economy was in better shape that Europe or Canada, but not strong. This turmoil will almost surely make things worse.

The median family income in the U.S. is lower than it was a quarter century ago, and if people don’t have income, they can’t [consume], and you can’t have a strong economy. We had assumed it was the emerging markets that would keep the global economy going. With Europe weak, with our household income weak, it would be China and emerging markets. And what’s clear is that’s not true. There’s significant risk—actually it’s, no longer risk—a significant likelihood of a marked slowdown not only China, but also in a lot of other countries—Brazil, which is in recession, all of the other countries that depend on commodities, including Canada, are facing difficulties. So it’s hard to see a story of a strong U.S. economy.
In the LA Times piece, Stiglitz also comments on the role that quantitative easing can play in inflating bubbles:

After the 2008 crisis, the Fed tried to stimulate the economy by buying bank debt, mortgage-backed securities and Treasury assets directly from the market — so-called quantitative easing — which disproportionately benefited the rich. Data on wealth ownership show clearly that the portfolios of the rich are weighed more toward equity, and one of the main channels through which quantitative easing helped the economy was to increase equity prices.

So quantitative easing was yet another instance of failed trickle-down economics — by giving more to the rich, the Fed hoped that everyone would benefit. But so far, these policies have enriched the few without returning the economy to full employment or broadly shared income growth.

Trump's hate speech style

The leading White Power Republican candidate for President, Donald Trump, has understandably attracted attention to his demagogic style. Some of the attention better informed than others, of course.

One well-informed observer is Randy Blazak, who writes in “Donald Trump is the new face of white supremacy,” says hate crime expert. Watching the Fields 08/24/2015:

Trump has been visiting states with troubled racial histories to sell his rallying cry that “illegal immigrants are killers and rapists.” First Arizona and then, on Friday, Alabama. He started his rally with some classic hate speech, telling the assembled 30,000 supporters and curious (I would have gone to see the Trump clown show) about the alleged rape and torture of a 66-year-old victim in California who was supposedly attacked by an “illegal immigrant.” The crowd went wild. “We have to do it. We have to do something,” he then said. The crowd roared, and some chanted, “White power!”

Anyone knowledgeable about the horrific statistics on rape know that women are overwhelmingly victimized by somebody they know, including family members and dates. Only about 18% of rapes are committed by a stranger (and a tiny fraction of those by undocumented immigrants). So if Trump actually cared about women, it would make more sense to devote his rape obsession to step-fathers instead of Mexican immigrants. Of course, this is a man who has been challenged on the issue of marital rape of one of his ex-wives. Rape is an emotional issue. It was used to lynch innocent blacks in the South and Trump is using it the same way to go after people who are often the hardest workers in the country.

Secondly, in my research I have attended numerous Klan rallies, skinhead gatherings, and meetings of the Aryan Nations, and the rhetoric is almost exactly the same as Trump’s. I was at a Klan Rally in Covington, Georgia in 1991 in which a Klan leader told the small crowd the story of a white woman who had been raped and beaten by an “illegal Mexican.” As with Trump’s story, whether it was true or not didn’t matter. It served to whip the racists into a frenzy. And like Trump’s crowd they were out to “do something” about it. I’ve heard Trump’s rhetoric many times before. “Let’s go back in time to when America was great.” Usually the speaker had a swastika tattoo. [my emphasis]
Jorge Ramos, a longtime newsman on Univision, was unknown to most Anglos in the US until Trump had him kicked out of one of his press conferences for asking a non-white-power-friendly question.

Glenn Greenwald gives a good account of how pitiful the common reaction to that event, Jorge Ramos Commits Journalism, Gets Immediately Attacked by Journalists The Intercept 08/26/2015.

Ramos himself writes (Trumplandia Univision 08/24/2015):

Vamos a imaginarnos el país que quisiera Donald Trump. Trumplandia tendría un gran muro de 1,954 millas en la frontera con México. En una gigantesca operación de limpieza migratoria deportaría a más de 11 millones de indocumentados. Sus hijos nacidos en Estados Unidos no tendrían pasaporte ni país y, eventualmente, también serían deportados. Así, y solo así, Estados Unidos volvería a ser una gran nación.

Esa es la utopía que Donad Trump le está vendiendo a los norteamericanos.

[Let's imagine the country that Donald Trump wants. Trumplandia would have a big wall 1,954 miles long on the border with Mexico. In a tremendous immigration cleansing operation, it would deport more than 11 million undocumented immigrants. Their children born in the United States would have neither a passport nor a country, and, eventually, would also be deported. That way, and only that way, would the United States go back to being a great nation.

This is the Utopia that Donald Trump is selling to Americans.]
Trump's White Power anti-immigrant program as he's describing it really is that radical. And that cruel.

The Commonweal editors give a Christian left explanation of Trump's popular appeal (Bought & Paid For 08/25/2015):

Why would those who feel cheated by the political system and who struggle economically rally to the cause of billionaires who claim to have the interests of the average citizen at heart? What is it about the allure and arrogance of wealth that exerts such a pull?

The worship of “success” now seems to transcend all class boundaries in our new gilded age. Economic prerogatives trump nearly every other social or cultural consideration. What were once prized as traditional values that placed family and community before “progress” and profit have become hard to even understand, let alone defend, for many Americans. Commercial imperatives have cheapened both our common life and our politics, and increasingly threaten our capacity for self-government.

Donald Trump preaches an unadulterated version of this materialistic and utilitarian gospel. He never tires of proclaiming how rich (“Very!”) and how successful (“Huge!”) he is. Politicians, or anyone who questions him, are just “stupid” failures. Money, he has made clear, is the measure of all things. Those who know how to make it also know the secret of how to run a government, shout down the media, and stare down belligerent adversaries here and abroad. Most important, unlike politicians, the rich man is not beholden to anyone or any interest group. In fact, politicians and interest groups are beholden to him. They all take his money.

These are not only vulgar claims, but dangerous nonsense. “The whole case for Christianity,” G. K. Chesterton wrote, “is that a man who is dependent upon the luxuries of life is a corrupt man, spiritually corrupt, politically corrupt, financially corrupt.” Yes, the rich we will always have with us. But the idea that the rich cannot be bribed because they are rich is not only a fairy tale; it is a heresy. “The fact is, of course, that the rich man is bribed; he has been bribed already,” Chesterton insisted. “That is why he is a rich man.”
This explanation applies well to the affluent-leaning Tea Party white supremacists who likely constitute the core of Trump's support. However often our lazy star pundits describes the Trump core as "white working class."

But Chesterton is a somewhat dubious source in that context. The Distributist ideology with which he associated itself attracted some non-left and questionably Christian admirers. (See my post, Southern Agrarians post-1930 04/16/2011)

Blazak uses a good term, "'I’m not racist' racists." This is a reference to the near-universal ritual denial among white racists that he describes this way:

Trump represents a frightening trend of convenient racism rooted a belief that America was great before ethnic and racial minorities, women, and sexual minorities wanted equal rights. (What Trump calls “political correctness.”) These people will say that “racism is wrong, but ...” or “I’m not a racist, but ...” and then something deeply racist follows. They’ll say that “all lives matter,” in the face of the movement to acknowledge the devaluing of black lives. They’ll say they are not homophobes, just for “religious freedom” (an argument the KKK still makes). They’ll say they’re not Islamaphobes, just against terrorism (ignoring the carnage done by domestic, often Christian, terrorists). And they’ll say that they are not bigots, just opposed to illegal immigration (of brown people). It’s a kinder, gentler form of bigotry, but it’s still bigotry. And Donald Trump is the new Father Coughlin and he wants to be free of the political correctness that would stand in the way of his bigotry. (At least he’s abandoned the GOP’s “go after the gays” mantra from the last election.)

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Varoufakis paraphrases a classic

Yanis Varoufakis gave a speech on August 23; actually he says "Sunday August 25" but the 25th was a Tuesday and the related YouTube video is dated August 23. (The Athens Spring lives on! Speech at Frangy-en-Bresse, with Arnaud Montebourg 08/25/2015)

From the full text:

Let me tell you why I am here with words I have borrowed from a famous old manifesto. I am here because:

A spectre is haunting Europe — the spectre of democracy. All the powers of old Europe have entered into a holy alliance to exorcise this spectre: The state-sponsored bankers and the Eurogroup, the Troika and Dr Schäuble, Spain’s heirs of Franco’s political legacy and the SPD’s Berlin leadership, Baltic governments that subjected their populations to terrible, unnecessary recession and Greece’s resurgent oligarchy.

Monday, August 24, 2015

Pundits continue to chew over Trump's appeal

Roger Cohen has put on his Big Thinking hat and tried to find a common reason for the popularity of Donald Trump's White Power campaign in the Republican Party, Bernie Sanders' popularity among the Democratic base and left-leaning Jeremy Corbyn's strength among the British Labour Party's rank-and-file. (Politics Upended in Britain and America New York Times 08/24/2015)

So he comes up with a generalization broad enough that it could include everyone on the planet:

This is a season of radical discontent. People believe the system is rigged. They have good reason. Rigged to favor the super-rich, rigged to accentuate inequality, rigged to hide huge increases in the cost of living, rigged to buy elections, rigged to put off retirement, rigged to eviscerate pensions, rigged to export jobs, rigged to sabotage equal opportunity, rigged to hurt the middle class and minorities and the poor. Increasingly unequal societies have spawned anger, an unsurprising development. The anger is diffuse, in search of somebody to articulate it, preferably in short declarative sentences.
Yeah, Trump's Tea Party fans are worried about campaign finance and how things are "rigged to hurt the middle class and minorities and the poor." So they flock after Donald Trump's message of scary Mexican moochers who he describes in the same terms Southern lynch mobs described their African-American victims.

But then, Cohen is no one to be especially concerned about white racism, having written a couple of years ago that "people with conventional views must repress a gag reflex when considering the mayor-elect of New York — a white man married to a black woman and with two biracial children." (Ryan Grim and Katherine Fung, Richard Cohen Defends Column: 'Word Racist Is Truly Hurtful' Huffington Post 11/12/2013)

He defended himself on that by claiming he was paraphrasing views of Tea Partiers, not expressing his own. But somehow that didn't seem to give him any insight for the latest column that Trump's fans - unlike most of those of Bernie Sanders or (presumably) Jeremy Corbyn - was not just about some vague sentiment that "the system is rigged." Even the Koch Brothers could agree that "the system is rigged" - against multi-billionaire white Bircher types like themselves.

To the extent that his column is anything other than an attempt to sanitize Republican extremism of which Trump is only the currently most prominent example, it promotes a lazy understanding of politics. Trump-loving white nationalists and Tea Partiers are not potential Sanders voters for the general election. Because supposedly more establishment candidates like Jeb! BUSH are also finding ways to feed the same sort of red meat to the Republican base that Trump specializes in. And they're not aping Bernie Sanders to do it. Cohen describes Sanders basic approach as follows: "Sanders wants to expand Social Security, take America to a single-payer European-style national health system, invest massively to restore America’s crumbling infrastructure, make public college tuition free, get rid of 'starvation wages' for workers, tax Wall Street trading, end America’s wars, and break up banks that are too big to fail."

Trump, on the other hand, is ranting to White Power crowds about Mexican rapists and "anchor babies."

Sanders and Corbyn are talking about meaningful ways to un-rig "the system" and make it work better on behalf of "the middle class and minorities and the poor."

Trump is proposing to deport millions of undocumented immigrants and their American children. Charlie Pierce characterizes this accurately, "Old poison in new bottles. Welcome to the campaign of the current Republican frontrunner." (Future President Donald Trump Deems the 14th Amendment Unconstitutional Esquire Politics Blog 08/19/2015)

Evan Osnos has a worthwhile long read about the Trump campaign. (The Fearful and the Frustrated, titled on the front page with the more descriptive "Trump and the White Nationalists" New Yorker 08/31/2015 issue; accessing 08/24/2015)

I wasn't so impressed with the first part of this article: Trump's supporters are frustrated, blah, blah. But then it goes into the White Power core of his appeal, and that part of the article makes lots of sense. I listened to Trump's Sweet Home Alabama speech on C-Span, and I though I heard someone yell "white power!" I listened to it again, and wasn't entirely sure if it was that or "Trump power". But Osnos heard "white power," too. It sure looked and sounded otherwise like a Ross Barnett rally. (It also reminded me of the swaggering, rich-guy-playing-good-ole-boy performance CEO Hugh McColl put on just after the merger of NationsBank and Bank of America into the current Bank of America.)

It's notable that the brave defenders of the White Race that Jared Taylor found for Osmos to interview refused to give their last names, not incidentally making it impossible to verify the personal anecdotes they use to justify their racial obsessions.

I've gotten to where I almost want to scream, though, whenever I see the latest in the upteenth mentions of Richard Hofstadter, which even Osnos does. I mean, Hofstadter's writing on the "paranoid style" from the 1950s and the 1960s is good. And what he had to say is still useful. But what he wrote 60 years ago wasn't the last word on rightwing radicalism. There has a been a large volume of study and analysis of far-right authoritarian politics in the last couple of decades. Rick Perlstein, Dave Neiwert and John Dean are just three examples. But our Pod Pundits (I'll exempt Osnos from that disreputable group) don't seem to have ever heard of any but Richard Hofstadter.

I've written about Hofstadter in Richard Hofstadter and the "paranoid style" of politics 12/29/2004 and Richard Hofstadter, Broderized 03/01/2010.

Joan Walsh refers to Osmos' article in a piece Monday. (Donald Trump’s Southern strategy: What his Alabama pep rally revealed about the right’s new racial politics Salon 08/24/2015) She also says, "Personally, I can’t decide whether Trump is playing Nixon or George Wallace. Of course, in polite journalistic company, we’re not supposed to say either. We’re still supposed to act like Trump’s anti-immigrant campaign represents the legitimate frustration of the white working class."

I think Krugman is right about the fuzziness of the Beltway Village notion of "the white working class" and of who Trump's base is most likely to be. (Tea and Trumpism 08/11/2015) Joan also mentions something I didn't know, which was that Trump was still trashing the "Central Park Five" even after they had been completely exonerated.

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Demagoguery from Agnew to Trump

Peter Levy reminds us of one of Donald Trump's predecessors as Republican racial and political demagogue in Spiro Agnew, the Forgotten Americans, and the Rise of the New Right The Historian 75:4 (Winter 2013).

Agnew (1918–1996) came to national prominence as a moderate Republican governor of Maryland in the 1960s who changed his personal brand in 1968 to rightwing demagogue and agitator, joining Richard Nixon's Presidential ticket as Vice President in 1968 and 1972, though he resigned in 1973 after pleading No Contest in a bribery-related case.

We netroots blogger types often complain about the pathological media affliction of High Broderism, in which star reporters and pundits insist against overwhelming evidence that the US is a "center-right" country, and that there is always the possibility for a moderate compromise between Democrats and Republicans that would represent a desirably bipartisan outcome. Bipartisanship has long become a fetish in itself in the High Broderist faith. Along with the correlate that Both Sides Do It, in which any "extreme" in one of the two parties must be balanced by some similar deviation from the sacred center in the other party. The actual content of the policies discussed and decisions made become secondary if not tertiary or non-existent in comparison to the "horse-race" status of electoral contests or the need for Bipartisanship.

The most destructive manifestation of High Broderism is the one Paul Krugman often criticizes. While "the GOP is no longer a normal political party," the Establishment press continues to treat them as though they are a basically sensible center-right political group (Style, Substance, and The Donald 08/05/2015):

... if you ask me, the people who are really mistaking style for substance [with Trump] are the pundits. It’s true that Trump isn’t making sense — but neither are the mainstream contenders for the GOP nomination.

On economics, both Jeb Bush and Scott Walker are into deep voodoo. Bush takes his experience of presiding over a giant housing bubble in his state, as proof that he can double America’s underlying growth rate. Walker is Brownback-light: his governorship on Wisconsin was premised on the proposition that tax cuts, spending cuts, and union-bashing can create an economic miracle, but the reality is budget deficits and subpar growth, lagging in particular the performance of neighboring Minnesota.

Is Trump any worse on economics than these guys? He’s suggested that a weaker dollar would be good for America (even though he also wants higher interest rates), which actually makes him more of an economic realist than his rivals.

His immigration proposals are extreme; but as Greg Sargent points out, the Republican base agrees with him ...

So why is Trump regarded as ludicrous, while Bush and Walker are serious? Again, on the substance they’re all ludicrous; but pundits are taken in by the sober-sounding personal style of the runners-up, while voters apparently are not. [my emphasis]
(The Shrill One also has a useful analysis of the social basis of Trump's support in Tea and Trumpism 08/11/2015)

Most delusions have some identifiable contact with reality. And that's true of High Broderism. The main point of contact with reality is that for much of American history since the Civil War, the advocates of civil rights for African-Americans in both parties. While the most hardcore advocates of segregation were in the Democratic Party in the South. During the Progressive and New Deal eras and in the postwar era until the mid-1960s, coalitions for liberal and for conservative causes were spread between both parties. Reagan election as President in 1980 is as useful a milestone as any for demarcating the point where the two major parties aligned in more consistently ideological left-right division.

So there has been some material basis in living memory for the notion that bipartisanship is essential to making government function normally in Washington.

Spiro Agnew's turn on the national stage occurred when that alignment was beginning to shift drastically toward today's positioning of the two parties. As Levy observes:

In the [Maryland] gubernatorial race in 1966, Agnew, running as a racial moderate, defeated the Democratic candidate William Mahoney (1901–89), whose campaign slogan was “Your Home is Your Castle—Protect It!,” a not so thinly veiled reference to his opposition to open housing legislation and residential integration. [my emphasis]
In other words, the Republican Agnew was the more racially liberal of the two candidates in that race.

Levy suggests that in that moment in US politics, Agnew's status as a convert to an anti-black position gave him a standing than Southern Democrats strongly identified with the Jim Crow/segregation system, particularly the Democrats' leading racist demagogue at the time, Alabama's George Wallace:

While race contributed to Agnew’s rise, Agnew’s appeal differed substantially from that of George Wallace or other symbols of white backlash. As suggested above, unlike Wallace, Agnew had not gained fame by defending the Southern way, espousing “segregation forever,” threatening to block the schoolhouse door, or preaching the doctrine of nullification. Agnew even enjoyed favorable relations with the press, winning strong endorsements from the Baltimore Sun and Washington Post in his run for the governor’s office in 1966. While many expressed doubts about whether Agnew remained an advocate of civil rights in the wake of his 11 April speech, his record made it easier for Americans who saw themselves as racial moderates to support him rather than George Wallace. Put somewhat differently, Agnew helped legitimate white backlash by breaking its association with an open defense of Jim Crow and casting it in terms that jettisoned references to skin color and proclamations of white supremacy in favor of language that emphasized orderliness, personal responsibility, and the sanctity of hard work, the nuclear family, and the law. [my emphasis]
Levy discusses several themes of Agnew's demagoguery, including the following.

White Racism

Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., The Amazing Success Story of 'Spiro Who?' New York Times 07/26/1970:

The forgotten Americans, Mr. Nixon said, had become angry; and Mr. Agnew had already displayed his capacity for anger. "As Governor of Maryland," he later wrote, "I saw civil disobedience flare into full-scale insurrection." For anyone unaware that full-scale insurrection has recently taken place in Maryland, or indeed anywhere in America, Mr. Agnew was referring to the riots in Baltimore after the murder of Martin Luther King Jr. [in 1968.] Furious, Mr. Agnew summoned and berated the moderate leaders of the black community. He recalls this episode as "a very significant moment in my life."
Levy notes that Agnew made a point to make no distinction between overt revolutionaries and more moderate and explicitly nonviolent African-American leaders: "Agnew distinguished himself by redirecting attention away from the radicals to moderate blacks, and by inference, liberals in general."

Agnew also focused on the alleged "cultural" problems of the African-American community, just as today's white supremacists do, along with the black allies like Herman Cain or, once anyway, Bill Cosby. Levy: "Agnew persistently focused not just on violence and the rise of crime but on the alleged cultural roots of the rise of disorder in American society. Cultural permissiveness, not social and economic hardship, Agnew insisted, underlay the riots." (my emphasis)

And in white-backlash mode, Agnew was particularly harsh about the findings of the Kerner Commission Report of 1967, which identified white racism as the primary cause of previous urban riots in the US in the 1960s. It's one sign of how much the partisan politics of race has shifted that the organization committed to preserving and continuing the analysis of the Kerner Commission on race relations is called the Eisenhower Foundation.

Levy quotes Agnew on the Commission's findings:

This masochistic group guilt for white racism pervades every facet of the Report’s reasoning. ... If one wants to pinpoint one indirect cause . . . it would be . . . that lawbreaking has become a socially acceptable and occasionally stylish form of dissent, [while Blacks in the 1930s rioted less not because they were better off, but because the] climate was less permissive. [my emphasis]
He talked about the whole notion of white racism as though it were a contemptible (and effeminate/masochistic?) notion. The denial of white racism started long before Agnew's conversion to the white-backlash cause. And of course continues to this day.

And Levy records, "Agnew also appealed to long-time Democrats by noting Nixon’s disapproval of busing and the Democrats’ opposition to the President’s nomination of Southern conservatives to the Supreme Court."



Agnew drew support for himself and to the New Right by appealing to concerns about gender. ...

[He established] his overall image as a champion of traditional values, which assumed a natural hierarchy of the sexes and fixed gender roles, where men were the patriarchs and women the caretakers. Moreover, in terms that presaged the rise of an anti-feminist movement personified by Phyllis Schlafly’s anti-ERA crusade, Spiro Agnew was soon to portray feminists as part and parcel of the “radlib” menace which, in his estimation, threated [sic] the very existence of the American republic. Agnew’s wife, Judy, reinforced this theme. A one-time parents-teachers-association president and Girl Scout leader, she openly criticized feminism and championed her role as a traditional housewife — even noting in one interview that rather than attending college she had “majored in marriage.” In contrast, during the same time period, a number of other prominent wives of politicians, from Betty Ford to Happy Rockefeller, openly campaigned for the ERA.
Levy notes that at one point, Agnew himself had stated his support for the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA), which was endorsed by the Republican Party in 1940 before the Democrats ever endorsed it. With some combination of sexism and pragmatic cynicism, the Democrats accused the Republicans of only wanting the Amendment to undermine laws protecting women in the workplace. Eleanor Roosevelt had opposed the ERA over that concern.

Fears of Loss of Masculinity (closely related to the previous)

Levy quotes a memorandum from Kevin Phillips saying how the 1968 Nixon-Agnew campaign "needed to 'impugn HHH’s [Democratic nominee Hubert Humphrey’s, 1911–1978] manhood and capability,' to emphasize his 'womanish quality of verbosity' and 'how he bragged he’d lead a riot himself, [but Nixon] could not wield the hatchet himself.'”

As Vice President, Agnew liked to attack intellectuals as wimps, e.g., "A spirit of national masochism prevails, encouraged by an effete corps of impudent snobs who characterize themselves as intellectuals." (quoted by Levy)

This is obviously related to the anti-feminist stance. As Levy notes:

The rise of the women’s liberation movement as well as the counterculture during the 1960s reignited fears about the decline of masculinity and Agnew’s appeal rested, in part, on his ability to cast himself as a real man as opposed to liberals, who he described as unmanly or “effete.” This was especially the case with regards to whether or not troops and police should be allowed to shoot rioters, with Agnew’s (and [Democratic Chicago Mayor Richard] Daley’s) pro-use of force stance portrayed as manly and the liberal non-use of lethal force as unmanly.
Contempt for Antiwar Protesters

Levy quotes this from Agnew: "I do not question that a degree of alienation exists. I do not deny that there is always room for academic improvement. But real or reasoned progress will never result from the abusive tyranny of students who ... take their tactics from Gandhi, their philosophy from the classroom and their money from daddy."

Notable here is that Agnew codes antiwar protesters as privileged children. The real existing antiwar movement was largely led by Vietnam War veterans, our current Secretary of State John Kerry being a famous example.

Identification of the Agitator with the Majority

Nixon famously posed as the representative and defended of the "silent majority" who supposedly agreed with him on the Vietnam War and the cultural war, as well. In one of his most famous speeches, his 11/13/1969 attack on the television news media, the Vice President who had agitated against black rioters and protesting students accused television news of exaggerating their importance:

Normality has become the nemesis of the network news. Now the upshot of all this controversy is that a narrow and distorted picture of America often emerges from the televised news.

A single, dramatic piece of the mosaic becomes in the minds of millions the entire picture. And the American who relies upon television for his news might conclude that the majority of American students are embittered radicals. That the majority of black Americans feel no regard for their country. That violence and lawlessness are the rule rather than the exception on the American campus.

We know that none of these conclusions is true.

Perhaps the place to start looking for a credibility gap is not in the offices of the Government in Washington but in the studios of the networks in New York.
Thinly-veiled Anti-Semitism

Just as German and Austrian anti-Semites today use "the East Coast" to refer derisively to Jews, the American anti-Semites of 1969 could easily see the nudge-nudge wink-wink implications of "New York" in the following description of the Mean Libruls in the Evil Media. With it's picture of secretive, clannish, sophisticates who don't share the views of Real Americans, it resembles the conservatives' use of "Hollywood" as a political symbol today:

Now what do Americans know of the men who wield this power? Of the men who produce and direct the network news, the nation knows practically nothing. Of the commentators, most Americans know little other than that they reflect an urbane and assured presence seemingly well-informed on every important matter.

We do know that to a man these commentators and producers live and work in the geographical and intellectual confines of Washington, D. C., or New York City, the latter of which James Reston terms the most unrepresentative community in the entire United States.

Both communities bask in their own provincialism, their own parochialism.

We can deduce that these men read the same newspapers. They draw their political and social views from the same sources. Worse, they talk constantly to one another, thereby providing artificial reinforcement to their shared viewpoints. [my emphasis]
Pat Buchanan, not incidentally, was Agnew's main speechwriter in those days.

Since I began this post with a criticism of the groupthink of High Broderism, I obviously recognize there can be systematic problems with the dominant media.In Latin American countries like Argentina and Venezuela, the political alignments of major media companies are openly discussed and debated as part of normal political discourse. The demagogic nature of the Agnew/Buchanan approach in that speech is the way they plugged conservative attacks on the press into traditional far-right anti-Semitic stereotypes as well as the white-backlash rhetoric about the evils of the media which, in the segregationist view, had created a terribly unfair image of the segregated South by actually reporting on some of the ways the segregation system actually worked. And they did so by making broad accusations with only a tenuous factual basis.

Levy describes how the reception of the speech among Republicans responded to the Presidential Administration's positioning itself as fighting an uphill battle on behalf of the Real Americans against the Librul Media bogeyman:

Margo Ling of the Eagle Republican Women’s Club of Cincinnati praised the vice president for questioning the right of the “arrogant few” to “decide which news fits.” As with the response to his post-King assassination speech, many extolled Agnew for his courage and leadership, with Dr. N.M. Camardese of Norwalk, OH, proclaiming that history would place Agnew in the “Hall of Fame, wherein stands ... Abraham Lincoln, George Washington, and Winston Churchill.”69 Somewhat along the same line, a number of letter writers focused on Agnew’s willingness to criticize the eastern establishment. Or as Harvey Turkel of Detroit put it, for taking on “the whole ... New York Mentality and its disproportionate influence.”
Agnew's attacks on the press on behalf of the Nixon Administration were one big reason so many liberals were reluctant to recognize the depth of the national press dysfunction on the Whitewater pseudoscandal, the Clinton impeachment, the Republicans' actions on the disputed 2000 election results in Florida and the invasion of Iraq in 2003. And part of why the Democrats have been slow to recognize and counter the way that Republicans effectively "work the refs" by their non-ending attacks on the Librul Press. They didn't want to be seen as aping Agnew's very illiberal attacks on the Librul Press.

Using His Own Criminal Behavior to Portray Himself as a Martyr to Persecution

It is often noted that Nixon became a hero to hardline conservatives after resigning from office due to the Watergate scandal. Despite his many heresies like the SALT arms-control agreement with the Soviet Union, resigning from office allowed conservatives to see him as a martyr.

Agnew struck the same posture as he came under fire from press leaks about the Justice Department investigation into bribery charges against him. Levy:

Without referring to any of the specifics of his case, he delivered a blistering attack on the Justice Department’s persecution of him, abetted by the press. “In the past several months ... I have found myself the recipient of undefined, unclear, unattributed accusations that have surfaced in the largest and most widely circulated organs of our communications media.” Proclaiming his absolute innocence, he questioned the motives and methods of the prosecution and challenged those who had borne witness against him by arguing that their testimony had been bought by offers of immunity. To the chagrin of the audience, which interrupted his address 32 times with howls of approval, Agnew asserted that the charges against him, though untrue, had so damaged his reputation that he would not be able to serve as their presidential candidate in 1976.
This was an attack on his own Administration's Justice Department!

While the press was largely critical of Agnew’s address, quoting Elliot Richardson’s “rebuke” of Agnew’s charges that his office was politically motivated and had leaked information, much of the public was not. Letters poured into Agnew’s and Elliot Richardson’s office that described Agnew as their Knight errant in the contemporary Holy War with Christianity and America on one side and the devil, communists, and un-Americans on the other. For example, “ROUT OUT THE FORCES OF EVIL which has put this nation in such a position,” implored Esther Pringle.99 “Dr. Robert Miller of Paragon, IN, concurred, warning that Agnew should not “overlook the Communists and the left wing skunks in high office” or the “long hand of Henry Kissinger.”100 “Those who control the new media have become a source of evil,” added Florence Williams.101 Similarly, Dr. Talivaldis and his wife declared: “Keep fighting, lest we all are forced to goose-step along with the power crazy media moguls.”
But times have changed (some, anyway!)

Speaking of netroots criticism of the press, our star pundits are now floundering around for a narrative on Trump's current popularity among Republicans that doesn't take them too far outside their comfort zone and doesn't distract them too much from Hillary Clinton pseudoscandals.

Returning again to the Shrill One, he notes something about the idolization of St. Reagan by the Republicans that is also an important reminder to nervous Democrats who worry that Bernie Sander is the second coming of George McGovern and the electoral defeat of 1972:

So right-wing Reagan-worship requires a heavy dose of historical ignorance. But that’s not the only weird thing about the way today’s Republicans pledge their devotion to his legacy: Remember, Reagan was elected 35 years ago. That’s a long time: the election of 1980 is as distant from us now as the election of 1944 was when he was running. The America of Reagan’s triumph was in many ways another country — a country of still-powerful unions and bad coffee, with no internet or cell phones, in which a plurality of voters disapproved of interracial marriage. It's quite remarkable that the right can’t find any more contemporary role models. [my emphasis]

Friday, August 21, 2015

Trump as Radical Right agitator

Digby takes another pass at Donald Trump's demagoguery today in Donald Trump’s campaign of terror: How a billionaire channeled his authoritarian rage — and soared to the top of the polls Salon 08/21/2015

It’s easy to dismiss Trump’s ramblings as the words of a kook. But he’s tapping into the rage and frustration many Americans feel when our country is exposed as being imperfect. These Republicans were shamed by their exalted leadership’s debacle in Iraq and believe that American exceptionalism is no longer respected around the world — and they are no longer respected here at home. Trump is a winner and I think this is fundamentally what attracts them to him:

I will be fighting and I will win because I’m somebody that wins. We are in very sad shape as a country and you know why that is? We’re more concerned about political correctness than we are about victory, than we are about winning. We are not going to be so politically correct anymore, we are going to get things done.
But his dark, authoritarian message of intolerance and hate is likely making it difficult for him, or any Republican, to win a national election, particularly since all the other candidates feel compelled to follow his lead. (Those who challenged him, like Perry and Paul, are sinking like a stone in the polls.) And while Trump’s fans may want to blame foreigners for all their troubles, most Americans know that their troubles can be traced to some powerful people right here at home. Powerful people like Donald Trump.

Still, history is littered with strongmen nobody took seriously until it was too late. When someone like Trump captures the imagination of millions of people it’s important to pay attention to what he’s saying.
Back in 1945, Leo Lowenthal was working with Max Horkheimer's project on prejudice for the American Jewish Committee (AJC), that later became famous especially through the book by Theodor Adorno and other collaborators on the projects, The Authoritarian Personality (1951). Lowenthal co-authored with Norbert Guterman, Prophets of Deceit: A Study of the Techniques of the American Agitator (1949). I posted on that book in six parts, beginning with Studies in Prejudice: Prophets of Deceit (1 of 6) 05/14/2011.

In a field report during his research, Lowenthal wrote a memo to Horkheimer dated 10/09/1945, on the topic "Christian Front Meeting in Queens Village, Oct. 8, 1945." (Available on the AJC Digital Archive as "Surveillance report on a Christian Front meeting in New York")

Devices: All speeches proved clearly our previously offered theory that fascist agitation rests on the handling of a relatively small number of stimuli devices which recur ever so often. I enumerate a few of them:

(a) the persecuted agitator (finds no printer; encounters travelling dif[ficulties?]
(b) the agitator as a little guy (wants to go to the movies, have his glass of beer)
(c) the agitator as messenger. "I have to speak because nobody else does it"
(d) the necessity of "awakening" America
(e) the enemies as wolves in sheep' [sic] clothes ("they cry persecution and are the persecutors; they ask for tolerance and are the most intolerant)
(f) indirect antisemitic devices (agitator and his people are "crucified"; the phrase of the Asiatic hordes; the phrase of "anti-something" and so on)
(g) the simple-mindedness of the agitator (difficulty in pronouncing high-falluting and foreign words)
(h) the secret machinations ("a lot of things are going on in this country" etc.)
(i) the veiled threat of violence ("I am strong, I can take it up with everybody", etc.)
(j) direct antisemitic references (Jewishness of the New Deal, Jewish monopoly of mass mediae [sic]: newspapers, radio, movies.
Trump, like all the Presidential candidates, poses as a victim of so-called "political correctness" imposed by the Mean Libruls. (In a crackpot far-right theory, it was actually the Frankfurt School of thinkers around the Institute for Social Research of which Horkheimer was head and Adorno and Lowenthal part of the core group that invented political correctness.)

I usually try to avoid use the "fascist" description for groups operating today. Polemical use of the terms over decades has resulting in its meaning in ordinary political conversation or analysis in the US being considerably more blurred than it was in 1945.

Trump hasn't made even indirect anti-Semitic appeals that I'm aware. But his "threat of violence" is hardly "veiled."

Lowenthal included an unflattering description of the Christian Front speakers in a section called "Physiogonmy of Speakers":

Almost every speaker represented an outspoken or nearly outspoken example of those psychopathic types which can be found in the American as well as the European camp of fascist agitators.

There was Kurtz, the stocky, brutal, pycnio [a rust fungi reference?], maniac [sic] depressive type switching from grinning, clowning, to somber threats and outbursts of yelling. His grin which is always in readiness has an almost psychotic note as can be observed in the facial expression of violent insane maniacs. His whole bodily appearance has a faint resemblance to Goering's body type.

There was Maertz who with his little mustache and the studied fierce looks imitates the Hitler pose. He was by far the most effectful [sic] speaker equipped with the intensive and fanatic voice of the schizoid demagogue. Of all the speakers he was the only one who probably would have the power to create an atmosphere of hate and fury.

There was Kister, a boyish-looking man, the type of thin-lipped fanatical followers of a fanatical leader, a watered-down miniature edition of people like Rudolf Hess.

There was Mrs. Brown and her secretary, homely women of the middle fifties' with nothing to boast but real or imaginary sons, symbols of frustration for corresponding female listeners.

Finally one general observation on the outward appearance of the speakers and their henchmen: almost everyone of them was so-to-say a biological stepchild. Kurtz and his chief aide obese; Kister somehow crippled; the women speakers and their female audience were ugly, most of them wearing glasses; among the male followers a one-armed old man, several short-sighted younger people. It was a "racial elite" in reverse.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Trumping along with the Republican Party

I'm still waiting to see the third installment of Melanie Tannenbaum's three-part series on Donald Trump and the appeal of trashing so-called "political correctness."

But for today, here's Cenk Uygur on Trump, Fox News Has Lost Control Of Donald Trump The Young Turks 08/19/2015:

Matt Taibbi also used the Frankenstein's Monster analogy in Republican Assault on Trump May Only Make Him Stronger Rolling Stone 08/07/2015:

The Republican party and its allies at Fox, on afternoon radio and in the blogosphere have spent many years now whipping audiences into zombie-style bloodlusts. When it suited them, party insiders told voters across middle America that foreigners were trying to crawl through their windows to take their wives, and that stuffed suits in Washington and in the media were conspiring to enslave their children in Marxist bondage.

Now all of that paranoia is backing up on them. They created this monster, and it's coming for them now. Trumpenstein lives. He is loose in the town and on his way to the doctor's castle. We may not be laughing two years from now, but for the time being, man, what a show. [my emphasis]
Digby looks at one implication of Trump demagoguery in Were they wearing brown by any chance? 08/20/2015.

She also writes in Salon about a real "electability" problem for Trump and the other Republican contenders, Donald Trump is the harbinger of GOP doom: The devastating history lesson that Republicans are completely ignoring 08/20/2015:

It’s hard to imagine now, but from Harry Truman until Bill Clinton, California voted for a Democratic president just one time, for John F. Kennedy in 1960. [This is an error; Barry Goldwater in 1964 is the one that carried California between Truman 1948 and Clinton 1992 - Bruce] With a few exceptions here and there, California also voted for GOP governors and senators more often than not. Even though the state had a longstanding reputation for social tolerance and cutting-edge cultural change, politically speaking it was a conservative state, as red as Texas is now.

There were obviously many factors that contributed to California’s evolution into the deep-blue state it is today, from demographics to the culture war. But none of those things come close to the damage that then-Governor Pete Wilson did to the longterm interest of the California Republican Party in 1994, when he scapegoated Latino immigrants as the cause of all the state’s woes.

Wilson was running for re-election, and as part of his campaign to distract from the economic failure of his first term and increase turnout among his base, he ran on a platform promising to crack down on undocumented workers, and enthusiastically supported the infamous Prop 187, which set up a statewide system designed to deny any kind of benefits to undocumented workers, including K-12 education and all forms of health care.

Matthew Sitman writes in the The Difference The Donald Makes Commonweal 08/20/2015:

As a friend wrote to me, only half-jokingly, Trump is "the Hegelian synthesis of politics and entertainment." Which is to say that Trump is less a strange outlier than the cutting edge, a perfect candidate for this cultural moment. His impact has not been to create a space for serious but ideologically suspect policies, as Douthat hopes, but rather to foster a situation that's so detached from reality that Republican candidates can say nearly anything and have it go almost unnoticed. ...

Trump has turned the Republican primary into a (perhaps temporary) alternate reality where our already rather shabby expectations and standards for political argument matter even less than usual. In this farcical world, you indeed can proffer relatively good ideas with less risk of ideological policing. The problem is that, once you're in Trump's reality show world, what does a "good idea" even mean?

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

More Stiglitz on eurozone austerity economics

Lynn Parramore reports on economist Joe Stiglitz' views on the Greek disaster in Joseph Stiglitz: “Deep-seatedly wrong” economic thinking is killing Greece New Economic Thinking 08/19/2015:

Socially conservative Germans, Stiglitz warns, are doubling down on the discredited notion that austerity policies help economies recover in times of crisis. In reality, the insistence on keeping wages down, stripping away bargaining power from workers, forcing small business owners to pay taxes a year in advance, and cutting pensions will only hamper demand and lead to a deepening spiral of debt. (Stiglitz emphasizes that hardly any of the money loaned to Greece has actually gone to help the Greeks themselves, but rather private-sector creditors – namely German and French banks).

Reflecting on a recent panel at Columbia University with [German] Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble followed by a dinner, Stiglitz said, “My heart goes out to Greece, even more so after meeting Schäuble.”
And he makes this important point about "moral hazard," a favorite scare slogan for advocates of neoliberal policies on sovereign debt:

When an audience member asked whether forgiving Greek debt would lead to moral hazard — encouraging other countries to borrow beyond their means — Stiglitz responded that it was unimaginable that any country would want to go through what the Greeks are currently enduring. He noted that the lenders bear even more responsibility for the current mess than the borrowers. Goldman Sachs, for example, structured irresponsible deals that allowed the Greek government at the time of the Maastricht Treaty to hide its debt. Stiglitz concluded that if anything, moral hazard is a problem on the lender side, as there is little to discourage lending money to countries that are unlikely to be able to pay back. He also noted that the idea of the Greek government selling assets in the middle of a depression to pay back debt was a bad idea, because prices are so low that this amounts to little more than a fire sale.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Speculating about Trump supporters

Melanie Tannenbaum is doing a series of posts on Donald Trump and his political appeal in the Scientific American "PsySociety" blog. As of this writing, two installments have appeared.

In Decoding Trump-Mania: The Psychological Allure of Hating Political Correctness, Part 1 08/14/2015, she frames her topic this way:

Sure, you can easily find Trump supporters who are only fans of his because they're blatantly racist, nationalist, or sexist (or sometimes, if you're lucky, a winning combination of all three). For these supporters, it's likely just nice to have a candidate openly espousing the same distasteful feelings that they've always harbored. But for every one of these Trump fans, there are plenty of others who claim that even though they don't actually like the content of what Trump is saying, they appreciate the fact that he is openly saying it. In one supporter's words, Trump is "an a**hole, but at least he's honest, and isn't really into bullsh****ng people." Another claims to like Trump because he "isn't a pandering politician ... [and] the rest of the field looks slimy and self-serving [in comparison]."
There's a lot I like about Tannenbaum's analysis. Not least is that she uses the work of Else Frenkel-Brunswik, one of the co-authors of The Authoritarian Personality (1950).

But I do have a reservation about the framing just quoted. As we will see, she doesn't fall into the superficial notion of "authenticity" that E.J. Dionne did this week in explaining Trump's appeal.

But political psychology is tricky. For one thing, political preferences are overdetermined. Neither a single issue or a particular psychological trait can completely explain political preferences.

Also, in the United States, it is expected that everyone talk about their own political ideas as though they are one's own ideas, based on reflection and information. And sometimes they are. But people's political preferences are shaped in many ways, from partisan and other secular allegiances, business and career considerations, religious affiliation, family tradition (or rejection thereof).

So I'm hesitant to give too much weight to the notion that many of Trump's admirers "don't actually like the content of what Trump is saying, they appreciate the fact that he is openly saying it." Especially in primary season. Because it's pretty obvious that Trump is pitching his message as "racist, nationalist, or sexist." I doubt there are many people listening to him enough to like him who are entirely unaware of that.

But she makes a good point in discussing:

... a personality trait known as ambiguity (or uncertainty) intolerance, and research happens to show that people high in ambiguity intolerance -- those who feel uneasy or anxious in the presence of uncertainty -- are significantly more likely to be politically conservative. This correlation makes a lot of sense when you stop and think about the fact that political conservatism, at its ideological core, really just consists of an "if it ain't broke, don't fix it" mentality that values tradition and stability over societal upheaval and social change.

However, it makes even more sense once you read the seminal research on ambiguity intolerance and learn more about other personality tendencies that tend to go hand in hand with it. For example, according to early researcher Frenkel-Brunswik, ambiguity-intolerant people tend to "like dichotomous conceptions of the sex roles...and of interpersonal relationships in general...are less permissive, and lean toward rigid categorization of cultural norms" (1948). It is likely not surprising that people with predispositions towards strict social role categorization and wanting a sense of "certainty" would be drawn more to political conservatism than to liberalism, which often values things like fluid conceptualizations of gender roles and the challenging/questioning of traditional cultural norms -- the exact opposite of what would make someone high in ambiguity intolerance feel comfortable.
In Part 2 (08/15/2015), Tannenbaum writes about the aspect of Trump's appeal that passes for pundits like Dionne as "authenticity." She raises the useful question of how it is that a man with Trump's record can even feign the authenticity so beloved by our Pod Pundits:

However, given obvious flip-flops like Trump's shifting stance on abortion, his candidacy as a member of the Republican party after years of close ties to Democratic candidates, and his very un-Republican suggestion in 1999 that the wealthiest 1% of Americans should pay a one-time 14.25% tax on their entire net worth to wipe out the national debt (an idea that bears very little similarity to his current stance in favor of huge tax cuts for the wealthy), why exactly do we think that Trump is somehow more "honest" than the average politician?
And she answers it by the confidence-inducing effect of speaking in a way that may sound like evidence-against-one's-own-interest:

When people say things that are non-normative, unexpected, or non-self-serving, those things are seen as more likely to be true, and outside observers are more likely to think they have a good chance of really knowing the authentic, deep-down, true personality of the person saying them. It doesn't matter what those statements objectively are. The marijuana example is a fun one (and was actually used in a lie detection study by Robert Kraut in the late 1970s, I didn't just make it up), but it doesn't even need to be quite so drastic. If you act bubbly and outgoing in an interview for a sales position, for example, people won't know if you're actually bubbly by nature, or if you're just putting on a front to get the kind of job that would value those attributes. If you act bubbly and chipper in an interview for a position as a computer programmer, people will feel much more confident that you are really a "bubbly and outgoing" person by nature and that they can make a confident judgment about what you're "really like," because those aren't necessarily attributes that you would ever expect people to think that they should fake for that kind of a position.

So, when a person says something that isn't seen as "self-serving" or "normative" for the position that they're in, other people are not only more likely to think that those statements are what that person truly believes, but they're also more likely to feel more generally like they can know what that person is truly like deep down. It makes the person saying those things seem more "authentic." And it makes us more likely to feel like that person isn't lying. Even though Trump has given us just as many reasons as the other candidates to think that he's a "flip-flopper," the fact that he's not saying things that you would expect a politician to say means that his audience will be more likely to overlook those flip-flopping reasons and assume he's actually a truth-teller. [all emphasis in original]
Jonathan Chait gives his own Beltway Village version of Trump's appeal in Trump Is the Republicans’ Nightmare and They Won’t Wake Up From It New York 08/17/2015. True to the conventions of High Broderism, Chait grasps for a way to display the disturbing Donald as somehow an outlier in the Republican Party. He does this by comparing him to Pat Buchanan and his Presidential campaigns in 1992 and 1996.

The longer Trump remains the front-runner, the more the Village press is likely to start pointing to ways in which Trump isn't really all that far out. In fact, they can say, he takes flak for some positions he's taken that sound more moderate than the Republican "mainstream." Chuck Todd gave us a bit of a preview of that in his interview with Trump this past Sunday. (Meet the Press 08/16/2015)

Chait, meanwhile, is sticking to the absurd assumption that the Republicans are serious about outreach to Latinos. So in his analysis, the non-Trump Republicans are worried that he's spoiled that outreach plan:

Immigration did not represent the totality of the party elite’s strategic response to the 2012 election, but it did constitute its main tenet. The Republican brain trust hoped to resolve its image problem with Latino and Asian-American voters by passing immigration reform as quickly as possible. The purest version of this strategy, articulated by Charles Krauthammer, called for Republicans to fold completely on immigration, and change nothing else about their program.
Let's pause here for a moment to consider the idea that Charles Krauthammer counts as a major figure in the "Republican brain trust."

The idea was to take the short-term hit as quickly as possible after the midterms, allowing the base to vent its spleen and make up in time for the presidential campaign. Republicans in the Senate were able to make this happen, but the House proved typically impotent in the face of opposition.

In the wake of this failure, Republicans have vaguely hoped to finesse the issue. Trump is making that difficult.
Given how unified the Republican Presidential field has been in its anti-immigration position, those of us who aren't Village pundits might be tempted to wonder if there was ever more to the make-nice-to-Latinos idea than Krauthammer growling about it.

Monday, August 17, 2015

Political trends imaginary and real

E.J. Dionne provides a classic piece of High Broderism in his column of yesterday, When Yeats comes knocking Washington Post 08/16/2015. He wrings his hands about the supposed decline of the center-left and the center-right. Because the American Republican Party is attracted to a blowhard like Trump and has become a party of multi-billionaire kingmakers, religious loons and white supremacist gun fetishists, the faith of High Broderism dictates that this must be balanced equally by faults on the other side. And trying to generalize this to the whole Western world, oy vey!

The closest he comes to mentioning an actual policy issue is this Mugwump observation: "widespread immigration can weaken social solidarity by complicating national identity and setting off new debates over what the word 'us' means." I guess this is a Pod Pundit version of "Trump has touched a nerve with some of the things he's been saying ..."

Dionne's generalization is true in some countries in Europe. In Greece, it took a government headed by the "Party of the Radical Left" (Syriza) to insist - unsuccessfully - on anti-depression economic policies that would have looked tame to Richard Nixon. (Tricky Dicky actually imposed wage and price controls!) In Germany, the "center-left" Christian Democrats and the "center-right" SPD have embraced hardline Herbert Hoover economics. But it actually hasn't created a crisis yet, except that the SPD is slowly dwindling away, to the point that they are floating the idea of not even running a Chancellor candidate against Angela Merkel in 2017. (!?!?) When both "center-left" and "center-right" parties argue for deregulation, privatization, lower wages and weaker unions, massive tax transfers to the One Percent, fewer public services, cutting pensions and health insurance - then the biggest problem is not a public desire for "authenticity." Which Dionne uses like it wasn't the Beltway Village media that turned it into a magical conjuring word so they could imagine John McCain as a "straight-talker" and Shrub Bush as "the kind of guy you'd like to have a beer with."

Jamie Galbraith gives a more realistic view of the state of politics in the eurozone in The Future of Europe The American Prospect 08/14/2015. He focuses on what EU critics (not to be confused with rightwing-nationalist "EU skeptics") have called the democratic deficit in the EU. He recaps the way the creditor nations forced the elected Greek government into surrender:

The European creditors and the IMF met the Greek proposals with hostility, obstruction and refusal. The governments of Finland, the Baltic states and Slovakia rejected them on ideological grounds. Those of Spain, Portugal, and Ireland rejected them from fear of the effect on their own politics. Italy, France, and the Commission expressed sympathy but did little. [German Finance] Minister [Wolfgang] Schäuble spelled out the choice: Greece could either adhere to the previous program, in full, or else leave the euro and perhaps also the European Union.

From the beginning, this position was backed by threats. In late January, Eurogroup President Jeroen Dijsselbloem, visiting in Athens, threatened Greece with the destruction of its banking system. On February 4th, the ECB revoked a waiver permitting Greek banks to discount government debt, and so provoked a slow run that culminated in late June, meanwhile Greece made 3.5 billion euros in payments as a sign of good faith. When the Greek government, frustrated and broke, turned to a referendum, the creditors retaliated by closing the banks and imposing capital controls. When the Greek people stood up and said “No,” the retaliation deepened and in July the government was forced to its knees.
And Galbraith points out the high risk that a badly flawed euro currency zone poses to the entire European project, i.e., the EU:

The hope for negotiated change within the euro has been tested [by Greece], with brutal results. The fact of technocratic dictatorship within the euro is plain to everybody. Voters in the next country to rebel against the stranglehold of Eurozone policies will take note. That Greece was forced to explore the means of exit will also bear on future experience, as with improved knowledge and contingency planning—planning that will now become habitual and more-or-less open for every opposition movement faced with the possibility of power—the cost of making that transition, seemingly prohibitive to the Greeks this past spring, will decline. ...

These political consequences will keep the euro under strain, deepened by the ongoing failure of the neoliberal [austerity] economic regime. It therefore seems likely that the Euro will, at some point, in some country, crack. The decision to initiate a breakup could come from the left or the right. In any case such a decision will destroy, as events in Greece have destroyed, the previous political structures. A breakup, if it goes badly, could make things worse. What will happen to the European Union after that, is anyone's guess.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Strange Paths of Trotskyism (2 of 2): Argentine Trotskyists

In this second of two posts, I'll discuss a contemoporary Argentine variant of Trotskyism. My attention was caught by an essay from the kirchnerista (left-Peronist/supportive of President Cristina Fernández) site La Batalla Cultural smacking down of Trotskyism, El hombre más odiado por la “izquierda” (accessed 08/14/2015). It's not exactly an esasy, though, more a throwaway polemic against unidentified Trotskyists.

The main target is presumably the electoral formation called the Frente de Izquierda y de los Trabajadores (FIT). It is composed of three Troskyist parties, the Partido de los Trabajadores Socialistas (PTS), the Partido Obrero (PO) and the Izquierda Socialista IS).

The FIT formation has a small number of seats in the Argentine Congress. It's main role in the national election this year is heckle the Peronist Partido Justicialista (PJ) and its electoral alliance Frente para la Victoria (FpV) from the left. So they actually do get a few delegates elected.

Adriana Meyer reports on the FIT's national candidates Nicolás del Caño for President and Myriam Bregman in La sorpresa en el Frente de Izquierda Página/12 11.08.2015 discussing the national election in October.

Meyer quotes Del Caño:

“El desafío para octubre no es sólo convocar a todas las fuerzas de izquierda y progresistas, sino también desentrañar esa maniobra del kirchnerismo que busca la polarización para difundir que el mal menor es Scioli contra la supuesta derecha de Macri. Ya lo vimos, en los ’90 convocaban a votar a De la Rúa como el sapo a tragarse frente a Duhalde y a Menem, y así terminó” ...

[The challenge for October is not only to bring together all the left and progressive forces, but also to unravel this manuevere of kirchnerismo that seeks polarization in order to promote the idea that the lesser evil is {FpV Presidential candidate Daniel} Scioli against the supposed right of {PRO Presidential candidate Mauricio} Macri. But we see that in the 90's voters came together to vote for De la Rúa as the toad to swallow in front of Duhalde and Menem, and look how it turned out.]
The reference is to the election of Fernando de la Rúa as President in 1999, which ended with De la Rúa resigning and leaving the Presidential Palace, the Casa Rosada, in a helicopter during massive public protests after the financial crisis of 2001 hit. Eduardo Duhalde is a Peronist (PJ) who served as President in 2002-3 who did a lot to stabilize the country and the economy but wasn't popular.

Carlos Menem was also President 1989-1999 for the PJ. A Muslim who converted to Catholicism - the President of Argentina is required to be Catholic - Menem campaigned as a fairly traditional Peronist defending the interests of the people against the oligarchy. But once elected, he undertook an aggressive neoliberal economic program of deregulation and privatization. And he established a peg between the Argentine currency and the US dollar, which set Argentina up for the financial crisis of 2001. Menem is currently on trial for obstruction of justice in the case of the bombing of the AMIA Jewish community center in 1994. (Algunas acusaciones fueron selectivas Página/12 14.08.2015)

Meyer quotes Myriam Bregman: "El FIT mantiene la coherencia de ser independiente de los gobiernos y de todas las variantes patronales, y por eso creció." ("The FIT maintains the consistency to be independent of the governments and of all the varieties of management, and because of that we have grown.")

How much they can actually accomplish for their constituents in that state is another question. Doctrinaire Trotskyism can be very self-limiting.

But it can pull some left-leaning voters from PJ candidates. And the FIT does to some extent amplify the complaints of the more conservatives candidates ("oligarchical parties" in the Peronist vocabulary) against the PJ and the current government. So it's easy to see how a kirchnerista website would acuse them of being actually rightwingers. Or, as a Trot might put it, "objectively" supporting the Right:

No son pocos los compañeros peronistas (que hace mucho debieron haber superado ese sentido común) los que hablan de “izquierda” de manera despectiva. Y así es como el trotskismo logra su objetivo, que es precisamente generar confusión y partir al campo popular.

[There are more than a few Peronist compañeros (who should long ago have gotten over this common attitude) who talk about the "left" in a depreciating way. And that is how Trotskyism achieves it objective, which is precisely to generate confusion and divide the popular camp.]

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Strange Paths of Trotskyism (1 of 2): Trotskyism and American neocons

I came across a current article on an Argentine website about Troskyism in relation to present-day electoral politics there, which I will discuss in the second post.

I recently referenced a brief and unsympathetic definition of Trotskyists as the people who support revolution everywhere except where there's one going on.

They're purists, in other words. No popular movement, no militant union, no reform, no actual revolution is ever pure enough for them. Trotskyism often finds itself in agreement with rightwingers in attacking left-leaning movements and governments.

I wrote here about Trotskyism and one of its many offshoots, American neoconservatism, in Transformations of Trotskyism: Irving Kristol (1920-2009) and the neoconservtives 09/19/2009. (My description of Trotskyism here is partially adapted from that post.)

Leon Trotsky (1879-1940) lost out in the internal power struggles inside the Soviet leadership in the 1920s and Trotsky himself emigrated from the USSR. Josef Stalin, the main winner of the power struggle, had first met Trotsky in Vienna in 1913 in a residence at Kolschitzkygasse 30. They disliked each other from the start. Trotsky was an on-again, off-again ally of Lenin for years. When the October Revolution came, Trotsky was the most visible Bolshevik leader next to Lenin. He became head of the Red Army. Stalin was a longtime Bolshevik activist and leader. Exactly how important his role was in 1917 was a matter hotly disputed in the later glorification of Stalin and the polemcis with Trotsky and his followers.

Trotsky had supporters in many countries including the United States, which he had visited before the October Revolution. Although Trotskyists were radical left critics of capitalism and considered themselves to be the true custodians of Lenin-style Communism, they were also known for their bitter polemics against "Stalinism" and anything they associated with it. Trotskyists set up leftwing parties to compete for support on the left with the Soviet-line Communist parties.

In what may have been originally a case of Freud's "narcissism of small differences", the Trotskyists tended to be more upset by what they saw as the betrayal of the Revolution by Stalin and the Communist parties than they were about the capitalists in their own countries. Trotskyist intellectuals were exceptionally fond of ideological arguments. Part of guarding their purity was to be sure to denounce ideological deviations in any revolutionary process in any part of the world as early as possible. Political principles that are too pure to be realized in practice are conveniently free from being discredited by actually being put into effect.

This kind of criticism is also useful for conservative or liberal critics of left governments and movements. When the Soviet Union was still around, Trotskyist criticisms of the Soviets had the value for the USSR's opponents of being a way of accusing the Soviet leadership of being big old hypocrites. Not that politicians of any kind are ever lacking when it comes to accusing opponents of hypocrisy. But the Trotskyist narrative played a particularly useful role in that regard when it came to the Soviet Union.

Sidney Blumenthal in The Rise of The Counter-Establishment (1986), Sidney Blumenthal talks about the Trotskyist background of American neoconservatives. He talked about a dinner in 1985 honoring the memory of Whittaker Chambers, whose "pumpking papers" decisively helped Richard Nixon become a national figure:

At the 1985 dinner the featured speaker was Richard Nixon, who was presented with a scroll making him an honorary member. By these rituals the Irregulars commune with the spirit of Whittaker Chambers, who progressed from Bolshevik to conservative, from true believer to true believer, and whose act of hiding stolen government documents in a pumpkin patch inspired the group's name. The neoconservatives, too, are witnesses, and the conversion from left to right is the central political experience in their lives. These are people for whom card-carrying membership still has meaning. [my emphasis](p. 122)
The neoconservatives he discusses there were the "first generation" of that particular trend, including people like Irving Kristol, who actually had been Trotskyists in their younger days. Blumenthal frames their ideological positioning this way:

Neoconservatism is the final stage of the Old Left, the only element in American politics whose identity is principally derived from its view of Communism. Like the conservatives, the neoconservatives depend upon their enemy for their own definition. ... The conservatives believe that the Liberal Establishment has been running the country. Neoconservatives add to this general notion the belief that liberals are either a species of Stalinist fellow traveler or operate "objectively," whether they know it or not, in the broad interest of the Soviet Union. Conservatives would like to believe this, too. But the neoconservatives, many with the benefit of the Trotskyist background, offer an unmatchable authenticity and intensity on the subject. (p. 130) [my emphasis]
And he describes Irving Kristol (the father of William "Butcher's Bill" Kristol) this way:

In his attempted unification of the higher and lower realms of politics, it was apparent that Kristol still believed that while philosophers have interpreted the world in various ways, the point is to change it. "We studied radicalism in the 1930s," he said. "It was great training in polemics and sustained political analysis. Being a Trotskyist was highly intellectual. I learned a lot. The neoconservatives are the political intellectuals, and that's what the Trotskyists were. Not the Communists. The Trotskyist movement produced political intellectuals, which is why so many went into sociology and achieved distinction. It was much more rigorous intellectual training than you could get in college. If someone came up with some matter on which you were not well read, my God, you were humiliated. It was jesuitical. The Republican Party, meanwhile, produced antipolitical intellectuals. Those people are not in my tradition."

The neoconservatives are the Trotskyists of Reaganism, and Kristol is a Trotskyist transmuted into a man of the right. He remains a free-floating, intense political intellectual in the vanguard. (p. 154) [my emphasis]
The "paleo-conservatives" who draw their inspiration more from the isolationist Old Right of the immediate post-Second World War period, still like to insult neocons by calling them Trotskyists.

Emir Sader made this useful summary of an essay by a well-known Troskyist named Isaac Deutscher (From Ex-Leftists to Anti-Leftists Monthly Review 13.06.2012:

Isaac Deutscher has an article entitled "Heretics and Renegades," delineating the path of people who begin by breaking with left-wing theories and positions and end up becoming fanatical anti-leftists. They are characters who have, over time, populated the Right all over the world.

Some of them took advantage of Stalinism in order to condemn Lenin and, eventually, Marx and Marxism. It's no accident that a non-negligible proportion of them have Trotskyist origin. Proceeding to equate Stalinism with Nazism in order to absolutize "Stalinist totalitarianism" was already a step toward liberalism and anti-communism.

Here's a standard type: those who are on the Left, even militantly so, suddenly "repent," drop everything, deny and denounce their pasts and their comrades, the idols whom they worshipped blindly, in order to surrender themselves -- together with their arms, history, and, frequently, work -- to the Right.

Some of them remain on the Left, in its most moderate corner, denouncing, in a strongly anti-left tone, what's not "democratic" in the currents of the Left itself. They are loud advocates of alliances with centrist and even right-wing currents, and they tend to dilute the distinction between Left and Right. [my emphasis]

Friday, August 14, 2015

John Dean on Trump

Joan Dean writes about the authoritarianism of the currently leading Republican Presidential candidate in Donald Trump Is Entertaining But When Will It End? Justia 07/24/2015:

... Donald Trump has emerged as America’s leading authoritarian political figure, representative of a type of leadership for which many Americans yearn. ...

... Trump is far more aggressive in his authoritarianism than his predecessors. To understand the Trump phenomenon, it is essential to appreciate political authoritarianism, as well as its limits and boundaries. ...

Without question, Trump is the most prototypical authoritarian leader to ever so prominently seek the American presidency, and we have had several authoritarian presidents and vice presidents, most recently including Richard Nixon and Spiro Agnew, followed by George W. Bush and Dick Cheney.
But I think Dean is over-optimistic in this part of his analysis:

But I can find no scenario in which he could win the White House. Too many voters still remember Nixon, Agnew, Bush, and Cheney, who ranked high on the authoritarian leaders scale, albeit not as high as Donald Trump. Should it happen that Trump wins the GOP nomination, he will surely all but finish the destruction of the Republican Party, which began with the ascendency of the religious right and Southern conservatives leaving the “Big Tent” Democratic Party to make the GOP their unspoken racist home. The authoritarian base of the GOP has been steadily growing, and Trump could test its strength. [my emphasis]
In his column, he cites The Authoritarian Personality (1951) by Theodor Adorno et al, The Authoritarian (n/d) by Bob Altemeyer and Dean's own Conservatives Without Conscience (2006).

Dean in his next Justia column (The FOX News GOP Debate: Who Won? Who Lost? 08/07/2015) talks about Trump's performance in last week's debate:

This first prime time debate was about one thing for Fox News—ratings, which means money. ...

Surely this was carefully plotted by [FOX News president] Roger Ailes, who knows as much about presidential campaigns as he does about television. But if there was any doubt that Ailes wanted to force Trump to be Trump, that was addressed in the first question to Trump from moderator Megyn Kelly. It was a mean question—the kind of question that would make you dislike Carly Fiorina because she would never have pulled it off, but Megyn looked gutsy going after Donald. Was it presidential for him to call women by ugly and vicious names, “You’ve called women fat pigs, dogs, slobs, disgusting animals? Your Twitter account has several—” Trump cut her off before she could finish. “Only Rosie O’Donnell,” he quipped, causing the audience to erupt in laughter, as well as the other candidates. Trump had stolen the first headline of the event, hooking the audience as Ailes wanted to do, by creating precisely the theater of the absurd the Fox News organization had worked so hard to produce. It only got better when Trump started threatening Megyn.
There is a lot of speculation about whether Ailes may have also been trying to embarrass Trump and damage his support along with generated good viewer ratings for FOX News. If that is the case, that part of his plan didn't go so well.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Jimmy Carter and his legacy

Jimmy Carter continues to promote Middle East peace, however distant it may seem at the moment (Bronwen Maddox, Jimmy Carter: there is zero chance for the two-state solution Prospect 08/13/2015 ):

“At this moment, there is zero chance of the two-state solution,” said Jimmy Carter, giving his bleakest pronouncement yet on the Israeli-Palestinian deadlock to which he devoted much effort while President of the United States, and even more time since then.

“These are the worst prospects for peace between Israel and the Palestinians for years,” he said, adding that he didn’t think that Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel’s Prime Minister, “has any intention” of making progress towards the goal, the thrust of international efforts for decades, of the creation of a separate state for the Palestinians alongside Israel. After John Kerry’s efforts as Secretary of State to broker a deal, which collapsed in the spring last year, the “US has withdrawn” from the problem, he reckoned.
This is the state of affairs about which he warned in his book Peace Not Apartheid:

Among other observations in his interview with Maddox:

About Obama he is more forthright. “There are 22 people in my family and they all voted for Obama over Hillary [Clinton]” in 2008, he said. “In some ways he has been successful,” he says; “I particularly approve” of his action to restore relations between the US and Cuba—which Carter had also tried when President. But apart from that, the Iran deal, and healthcare “I don’t think he has had notably historic successes.” This might seem harsh, in that even Carter’s warmest fans have had to pick carefully among the storms of his presidency to find clear wins.

His praise is warmer, though, than for Hillary. He has said on US television that she is not “proven” as a politician, and has complimented John Kerry as Secretary of State for making efforts for Middle East peace that she, as Kerry’s predecessor, neglected to do. “She’s still got to get the nomination,” he points out, adding uncontroversially that he expects that she will indeed be the Democrat contender for the White House. If she is, however, he and his family will vote for her, he adds. On that point, at least, he appears prepared to compromise, for the sake of his lifelong loyalty to the Democratic cause.
Of course, he announced this week he has been diagnosed with cancer at age 90. We don't know how serious it is. I hope he survives to be still making important observations on world affairs at 100.

Observations like these:

Carter is now eloquent on the limits on US power which have so shaped Obama’s presidency. The 2003 Iraq invasion “was a clear mistake — a horrible mistake,” he said. “It has destroyed Iraq as a nation and opened up Iranian influence.” The US’s presence in Afghanistan, even if less controversial at its start, has been running for 13 years. US presidents no longer set out to “tell the truth and keep the peace,” he said. And its politics are deteriorating. “The massive quantities of dollars pouring into the political process have lost the essence of what made American democracy admirable.” “You need to raise $200-$300m” to run for Governor, Senator, never mind President, he said, and then the funders want their return on that afterwards. “When I ran we didn’t raise a nickel from outside.” The 2010 and 2014 rulings of the Supreme Court opening the gates to campaign donations from individual and corporate donors are “one of its biggest mistakes,” he said.
Charlie Pierce assesses Carter's public role to date this way (The Overlooked History of Jimmy Carter, Who Fights for His Life Esquire Politics Blog 08/12/2015):

This is a man who has lived a good, long, rich and decent life, and who has been slandered in history by people not morally fit to tie his shoes. I admit, my first exposure to him was in the frustrating stern chase in the 1976 Democratic primaries on behalf of Mo Udall. (Don't ever mention the 1976 Wisconsin primary to me. I will nail your head to the floor.) But watching what was done to him during the 1980 campaign – including what I believe was the international ratfcking involving the Reagan campaign and the Iranian hostages – and subsequently during the following eight-year national amyloid cascade got me on his side. I don't believe he was a good president, and it can be argued that the stick up his ass was the size of a Louisville slugger and that his talking about "ethnic purity" in our neighborhoods presaged what was coming with DLC politics. Nevertheless, this was a tough man, despite what you may have heard. He was tough enough to win a very hard primary season and then whip a sitting president in the general election. He was tough enough to hand a Kennedy the worst electoral drubbing anybody in that family ever suffered. And, more relevant to our current situation, he was a lot tougher on Iran than Ronald Reagan ever was.
It's sometimes a bit difficult to recall how controversial Carter was within the Democratic Party, and not primarily from Southern conservatives. George McGovern and his immediate family voted for Gerald Ford in 1976, worried that Carter was too hawkish - though McGovern certainly did not campaign for Ford! In 1980, not only Ted Kennedy but Jerry Brown made serious primary challenges to Carter when he was the sitting Democratic President.