Masha Gessen: What Words Mean

“The Russian-born journalist articulates the ways in which truth and language are under assault, by everyone from Vladimir Putin to Donald Trump.”

I agree, mostly. One quibble is that I do not believe that, under normal circumstances, you’ll find a consensus on the meaning political language. I sometimes fancy that there is a deliberate artfulness to this, providing us with a means to pretend agreement when, come to think of it, just what did you mean by “democracy?” Or the way we tend to use “racist” and “bigot” as synonyms. (Yes, Virginia: You can be a racist without being a bigot, and while it’s unlikely, one can imagine being a bigot without being a racist.)


Why the White Working Class Voted for Trump

It wasn’t the hair…

It’s not about money, this says, but keep in mind that Trump lost the election and only won the Electoral College.

There are a lot of ways you can operationalize (as they say in the business) the concept of “class”. These folks decided on primarily social status related measures: self-identified as “non-Hispanic” white, without a baccalaureate, non-salaried employment.

You can find a more extensive discussion by Olga Khazan, “People Voted for Trump Because They Were Anxious, Not Poor“.

Some of this may also come down to levels of trust and cooperation among the electorate. Consider this account of a study recently published in Current Biology, as presented by Bruce Bower at Science News: “‘Laid-back’ bonobos take a shine to belligerents“. In other words, in times of uncertainty, there are some people who look to the biggest ass-hole in the room to kick-butts as a way of maintaining a predictable order.

It also follows that cynically scheming jerks will play with catastrophe to raise anxieties and bias the electorate in their favor. It need not be anything deliberately planned (as in Wag the Dog) because there’s always a crisis du jour that can be played up — the point is that while issues and cerises can be provoked or invented, it’s easier to use something real.

So: Whenever you hear the drums of fear, check your wallet. There’s a good chance you’re being played.

Trump’s a… genius?

He told me so himself / Every morning at the breakfast table…

Trump Genius
Ben Zaken 2006 Artists of the Wall

@realDonaldTrump 4:30 AM – 6 Jan 2018

….Actually, throughout my life, my two greatest assets have been mental stability and being, like, really smart. Crooked Hillary Clinton also played these cards very hard and, as everyone knows, went down in flames. I went from VERY successful businessman, to top T.V. Star…. to President of the United States (on my first try). I think that would qualify as not smart, but genius…. and a very stable genius at that!

(With apologies to Uncle Bonzai.)


Everyone Is Joining the Resistance

Hail to the CreepOriginally published in New Ground 170, January — February, 2017.

by Bob Roman

Everyone is joining the resistance to the Trump agenda, whatever that may be, for we all fear the worst and anything less than that is still pretty bad. Everyone is joining, including what passes for the Democratic Party in Chicago’s 48th Ward, where U.S. Representative Jan Schakowsky held her “Anger to Action” community forum on Saturday, January 7. All the local politicians were on the program: 48th Ward Alderman Harry Osterman, State Representative Kelly Cassidy, State Senator Heather Steans, and Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky. Appropriately, 48th Ward Committeewoman Carol Ronen served as the master of ceremonies.

The event was held at the old Broadway Armory on Broadway near Thorndale. It drew somewhere between 1,200 and 1,400 people (estimates vary). It was standing room only for a crowd that was largely older and white. The people of color in the audience were mostly not African-American.

Had this rally been held in a January prior to an election, it would not have been all that unusual and it would have had a fairly tight focus on mobilizing election volunteers to action and on getting money to flowing. But without an election, having Democratic politicians organize such an event is decidedly unusual. It was one of several rabble rousing events that Representative Schakowsky appeared at between the New Year and the Inauguration.

While the rally had some ordinary organizational aspects (list building, for example), the emphasis was very much on getting attendees active in non-electoral politics, of which the Women’s March on Washington was the headliner yet but one of several options presented. There was even an organization fair after the rally and a promise of follow-up emails with more activism opportunities. Senator Steans attempted to incite a Twitter bomb, though I’m inclined to think it fizzled, and there was a social media workshop after the rally as well.

The rally did not get much coverage in the media. Indeed, it did not seem to be designed as journalist bait. Among other things, the politicians actually gave speeches rather than providing the strings of sound bites that, in the worst cases, become one non sequitur after another. The speeches were largely what you would expect from a Democratic Party gathering: reproductive rights, LBGT rights, the Illinois budget impasse, education, Obamacare (most especially Obamacare), Social Security…. What is missing from this list? Labor. The labor movement was mentioned precisely three times. The first time was not by a politician but by an activist thanking SEIU for their assistance with the Women’s March on Chicago. The next two times were by Representative Jan Schakowsky who mentioned the need to defend labor rights and, later, the need for $15 / hour and a union.

The point is not to beat up on clueless liberal politicians (though if you wish to do so, dear reader, be my guest). The fact is, having a tin ear is not a survival trait for professional politicians, and this was not a largely union audience. Yet despite the audience, Schakowsky touted the labor movement. That labor was not an automatic inclusion for the others suggests that the labor movement is becoming, even in the minds of liberal Democratic politicians, what conservatives have always accused it of being: a special interest, supportive mentions optional. Friends like these do not have your back; labor has gone from having a seat at the table to being on the table.

Representative Schakowsky, at least, gets this. Even supportive mentions in passing are important. Liberal non-union audiences need to understand that the success of their agenda depends on the health of the labor movement, that there is a considerable overlap between the agendas, that the people who oppose labor’s agenda are largely the people who oppose theirs. All politicians who profess themselves to be friends of labor need to take part in this public education else they are not really friends.

The complete video of the forum is available via the Women’s March on Washington – Illinois Facebook page.


Night of the Living Trumps

Originally published in New Ground 169, November — December, 2016.

by Bob Roman

I missed the slow agony of election night, having gone to bed early, but arose in the wee hours from an uneasy sleep. Coffee! And the first thing I hear from the nattering pundits on the BBC is, “President Trump.” Say again? They did. It was a deep dismay yet not much of a surprise. After all, the Cubs had won the World Series. Clearly it was a very… seriously… cold season in Hell and demons are loose upon the land.

I had been joking that Trump would win. It was inspired by a spooky memory of a science fiction novel, title and author forgotten, that used a scenario out of Arthur Clarke’s Childhood’s End: The orderly and irresistible end of the human species by an alien power, but in this account, in the final World Series a few months before the end, the Cubs are allowed to win.

A geezer I am. I have lived through Nixon, Reagan and Dubya. Should I mention LBJ? One might think of this as yet another spell of really bad weather and verily the sun also rises. But there is a stink of existential threat from Trump that hasn’t been so strong in the air since Nixon.

Part of it is Trump’s so nakedly disordered personality. Nearly everyone who aspires to be President is likely to be a bit insane, but until now most have been able to simulate normality. Part of it is the enthusiastic bigotry used to motivate Trump’s electorate; there’s no putting that back in the bottle while Trump holds office and the Republican caucuses control the legislature. Part of it is the solid wall of chaotic uncertainty about just what a governing Trump actually means in terms of policy.

President Trump is not totally unknowable, of course. We can expect a proactively hostile labor policy rather like Wisconsin’s Scott Walker. (Worst case: Chile’s labor movement survived Pinochet but not by much.) And to the extent it can be accomplished administratively (and that’s a lot), we can expect a full-throated and nearly immediate gutting of environmental, consumer, civil rights, occupational health protections. It may be a very bad time to be an undocumented migrant. We may see an end to the filibuster in the Senate, a very bad and a very good thing indeed.

Beyond that, the Congress was intended to function largely by consensus. How much of a spine will the Democratic caucuses display? Will the Republican caucuses remain united? What of the economy? And what will be the implications of the continued devolution of what passes for political parties in the U.S.? Will the left (including DSA) fight back, fight forward, or fight each other? Are there enough question marks to continue discussing a Trump Presidency?

Remember: That which doesn’t kill you… doesn’t kill you.

off our backs?
John Jonik