Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Complacency politics vs. Trump Republican demagoguery

Cenk Uygur takes a look at Trump's current campaign approach against Hillary Clinton in Trump: "Enabler" Hillary Clinton Hurt Many Women The Young Turks 05/09/2016:

Cenk sensibly cautions the Clinton campaign against underestimating the potential effectiveness of Trump's slimy attacks, despicable as they may be.

Conor Lynch also worries about Democratic overconfidence in the campaign, particularly that of the Clinton campaign (The “militant complacency” of the Democratic establishment: Why Bernie & his supporters must continue to pressure Hillary Clinton Salon 05/09/2016):

Politico reported on Thursday that the Clinton camp has even started reaching out to top Bush family donors, “to convince them that she represents their values better than Donald Trump.” Considering that both former president’s George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush have already announced that they won’t be endorsing Trump or attending the Republican convention, it seems likely that Bush family donors are also wary of the billionaire. Jeb Bush’s failed campaign was funded by extremely wealthy individuals — by July of last year, his super-PAC had received 23 individual donations of $1 million or more.

And so it begins. The new Clinton slogan may as well be: “You may not like me, but I’m better than Trump.” It’s not inspiring, but given the sheer divisiveness of Trump, it could be sufficient. And if the past few elections are anything to go by, 2016 will be a record-breaking year for campaign spending, which means that Clinton doesn’t want to alienate her donors on K Street and Wall Street with too much economic populism. (Don’t be surprised if Trump begins to sound like more of an economic populist than Clinton — he has already flip-flopped on taxes, saying that he would be willing to raise them on the wealthy.) It looks like Clinton will be running on a platform of what can be called “militant complacency,” as Tom Frank amusingly puts it in a recent article.
The Tom Frank article he references is Why must the Trump alternative be self-satisfied, complacent Democrats? Guardian 05/04/2016, in which he notes:

Seven years have passed now since the last recession officially ended, and yet the country’s fury has scarcely cooled. To this day we remain angry at Wall Street; we rage against career politicians; and we are incandescent that the economic system seems to have been permanently “rigged” against working people. Median household income has still not recovered the levels of 2007. Wages are going nowhere. Elite bankers are probably never going to be held accountable for what they did. America is burning.

Listening to the leading figures of the Democratic party establishment, however, you’d never know it. Cool contentment is the governing emotion in these circles. What they have in mind for 2016 is what we might call a campaign of militant complacency. They are dissociated from the mood of the nation, and they do not care.

Hillary Clinton is more or less openly offering herself as the complacency candidate. The least inspiring frontrunner in many years, she is a dynastic heir who stands to receive the Democratic nomination largely because it’s her turn – the logic that made Bob Dole the GOP leader in 1996. Clinton has scolded her rival for wanting to break up Wall Street banks since such a policy, by itself, would not also end racism and sexism. (In point of fact, the black middle class was disproportionately damaged by the detonation of the housing bubble.) Clinton’s unofficial slogan, “America never stopped being great” — supposedly a searing riposte to Trump’s “make America great again” – sounds like the kind of thing you’d see inscribed in a country club logo. In her words, we can hear the call of contentment, a would-be catchphrase for a generation of satisfied people.

Barack Obama offered his own variation on the complacency theme during a meeting in March, in which he announced: “America’s pretty darn great right now.” Unemployment was down from the awful heights of a few years prior, the president reported, and businesses were hiring. Any residual economic complaints, he suggested, arose from “an alternative reality ... that America’s down in the dumps”.
I find myself often thinking of Jessse Jackson's characterization of the conservative-leaning and blessedly defunct Democratic Leadership Council (DLC) as "Democrats for the Leisure Class."

Meanwhile, President Obama is directing his fire at the real political problem in American (from the neo-DLC point of view): anyone to the left of Electable Hillary. Jonathan Chait gives an admiring report here: Here’s President Obama’s Best and Deepest Argument Against His Critics on the Left New York 05/10/2016. The hippie-punching rhetoric that turns Chait on came in his Remarks by the President at Howard University Commencement Ceremony 05/06/2016. Video here:

Obama doesn't neglect to mention examples of continuing, well-known problems in American society. But its the following that sets the complacent tone of his speech that so interests Chait:

And finally, change requires more than just speaking out -- it requires listening, as well. In particular, it requires listening to those with whom you disagree, and being prepared to compromise. When I was a state senator, I helped pass Illinois’s first racial profiling law, and one of the first laws in the nation requiring the videotaping of confessions in capital cases. And we were successful because, early on, I engaged law enforcement. I didn’t say to them, oh, you guys are so racist, you need to do something. I understood, as many of you do, that the overwhelming majority of police officers are good, and honest, and courageous, and fair, and love the communities they serve.

And we knew there were some bad apples, and that even the good cops with the best of intentions -- including, by the way, African American police officers -- might have unconscious biases, as we all do. So we engaged and we listened, and we kept working until we built consensus. And because we took the time to listen, we crafted legislation that was good for the police -- because it improved the trust and cooperation of the community -- and it was good for the communities, who were less likely to be treated unfairly. And I can say this unequivocally: Without at least the acceptance of the police organizations in Illinois, I could never have gotten those bills passed. Very simple. They would have blocked them.

The point is, you need allies in a democracy. That's just the way it is. It can be frustrating and it can be slow. But history teaches us that the alternative to democracy is always worse. That's not just true in this country. It’s not a black or white thing. Go to any country where the give and take of democracy has been repealed by one-party rule, and I will show you a country that does not work.

And democracy requires compromise, even when you are 100 percent right. This is hard to explain sometimes. You can be completely right, and you still are going to have to engage folks who disagree with you. If you think that the only way forward is to be as uncompromising as possible, you will feel good about yourself, you will enjoy a certain moral purity, but you’re not going to get what you want. And if you don’t get what you want long enough, you will eventually think the whole system is rigged. And that will lead to more cynicism, and less participation, and a downward spiral of more injustice and more anger and more despair. And that's never been the source of our progress. That's how we cheat ourselves of progress.
What condescending high school principle doesn't agree with this sentiment. And especially the settle-for-half-a-loaf tone: "And you know what, I will take better every time. I always tell my staff -- better is good, because you consolidate your gains and then you move on to the next fight from a stronger position."

And he promotes one of current favorite conservative tropes here, without any hint of what a scam the people promoting this particular narrative about Mean Libruls are actually running:

So don’t try to shut folks out, don’t try to shut them down, no matter how much you might disagree with them. There's been a trend around the country of trying to get colleges to disinvite speakers with a different point of view, or disrupt a politician’s rally. Don’t do that -- no matter how ridiculous or offensive you might find the things that come out of their mouths. Because as my grandmother used to tell me, every time a fool speaks, they are just advertising their own ignorance. Let them talk. Let them talk. If you don’t, you just make them a victim, and then they can avoid accountability.
Chait's smug and silly take on this is, "The spreading impulse on the left to shut down ideas they find offensive is counterproductive and undemocratic:"

Here are the five lessons Chait draws from Obama's speech:

1. The world has grown more fair and prosperous over the course of his adult life, especially in its racial equality.
2. Political change is necessarily incremental.
3. Successful change can only be accomplished by persuading those who don’t share your beliefs.
4. Protest is just one part of bringing change.
5. Democratic deliberation must be open.
To be fair, Obama's speech itself doesn't come of as quite as puerile as Chait makes it sound. But the thrust of it, Chait is describing fairly well. And he, really, really likes the condemnations of so-called "political correctness," which of course Chait finds to be politically incorrect:

This last point is especially interesting to me, since the growing strain of illiberalism on the left, which habitually tries to shut down opposing views on any identity-related questions, is somewhat of a hobbyhorse. I’m grateful for the hate-clicks as well as the proliferation of rebuttals that actually substantiate my argument. At the same time, this weekend’s address is at least the fourth time Obama has denounced political correctness. He first did so in a speech in September, again in an interview with George Stephanopoulos in November (“And so when I hear, for example, you know, folks on college campuses saying, ‘We're not going to allow somebody to speak on our campus because we disagree with their ideas or we feel threatened by their ideas —’ you know, I think that's a recipe for dogmatism”), and again in an interview with Steve Inskeep in December. While my criticisms of p.c. have generated many, many responses from the left, I have noticed the almost complete dearth of left-wing responses to Obama’s, which run along almost identical lines to my own. This seems odd because — I can say this without any suspicion of false modesty — Barack Obama is far more influential than I am. Every time Obama denounces the left’s practice of suppressing opposing views I search the sources that defend (or deny) p.c. for outraged rebuttals and have found none. My suspicion is that this is because p.c.-niks rely so heavily on identity to discredit opposing views, it is convenient for them to identify opposition to p.c. with a white male, and highly inconvenient to identify it with a famous, liberal African-American. But I’m open to alternative, less ungenerous explanations for why Obama’s repeated attacks on p.c. have been met with such conspicuous silence.

In any case, Obama has concluded that the left, and especially the young left, has turned away in important respects from his political values. In the final year of his presidency, he has begun to defend his own ideals with increasing force and urgency.
Nobody can reasonably begrudge Obama a defense of his own achievements. But framing them in this kind of commplacent, best-of-all-possible-worlds manner is just giving a gift to Republicans.

Speaking of which, is it really necessary for Obama, facing a Republican Party gone mad and engaging in obstruction unprecedented since before the Civil War, to be emphasizing things like, "And democracy requires compromise, even when you are 100 percent right. This is hard to explain sometimes. You can be completely right, and you still are going to have to engage folks who disagree with you."

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