Historian Heather Cox Richardson on Trump’s Muslim Ban: “It’s a Shock Event”

31 Jan

Be careful, we’re being played by the Bannon Group, fronted by DJTrump.

the way of improvement leads home

bannonHeather Cox Richardson of Boston College is one of my favorite historians.  I highly recommend her most recent book To Make Men Free: A History of the Republican Party

Today Richardson gave me permission to publish a piece she recently posted to her Facebook page.

Richardson is probably right in assuming that Steve Bannon is behind Trump’s recent Executive Order on Muslim refugees.  She describes what Bannon is doing as a “shock event.” This is an attempt to throw the country into confusion and chaos so that the administration can present itself as the only entity capable of restoring order.

Richardson explains:

What Bannon is doing, most dramatically with last night’s ban on immigration from seven predominantly Muslim countries– is creating what is known as a “shock event.” Such an event is unexpected and confusing and throws a society into chaos. People scramble to react to the event, usually…

View original post 548 more words

Protest marches aren’t what they used to be: What does size mean?

27 Jan

A protest does not have power just because many people get together in one place. Rather, a protest has power insofar as it signals the underlying capacity of the forces it represents.

Consider an analogy from the natural world: A gazelle will sometimes jump high in the air while grazing, apparently to no end — but it is actually signaling strength. “If I can jump this high,” it communicates to would-be predators, “I can also run very fast. Don’t bother with the chase.”

Protesters are saying, in effect, “If we can pull this off, imagine what else we can do.”

But it is much easier to pull off a large protest than it used to be. In the past, a big demonstration required months, if not years, of preparation. The planning for the March on Washington in August 1963, for example, started nine months earlier, in December 1962. The march drew a quarter of a million people, but it represented much more effort, commitment and preparation than would a protest of similar size today. Without Facebook, without Twitter, without email, without cellphones, without crowdfunding, the ability to organize such a march was a fair proxy for the strength and sophistication of the civil rights movement.

Tufekci goes on to point out that, sure, organizing the Women’s march took a lot of work, “However, as with all protests today, the march required fewer resources and less time spent on coordination than a comparable protest once did.” She goes on to mention the anti-war protests of February 2003, “at that point, likely the largest global protest in history”, and the Occupy protests of 2011, “held in about 1,000 cities in more than 80 countries”. Both of these protests, and others, have had relatively little practical impact.

This doesn’t mean that protests no longer matter — they do. Nowadays, however, protests should be seen not as the culmination of an organizing effort, but as a first, potential step. A large protest today is less like the March on Washington in 1963 and more like Rosa Parks’s refusal to move to the back of the bus. What used to be an endpoint is now an initial spark.

She then goes on to mention the Tea Party protests of 2009, noting:

But the Tea Party protesters then got to work on a ferociously focused agenda: identifying and supporting primary candidates to challenge Republicans who did not agree with their demands, keeping close tabs on legislation and pressuring politicians who deviated from a Tea Party platform.

The Netherlands woos Donald J. Trump

26 Jan

The good part starts at 00:35. Among other things you”ll learn that the Dutch built the Atlantic Ocean and made the Mexicans pay for it. “If you screw NATO, you’re gonna’ make our problems great again. They’re gonna be huge, they’re gonna be enormous. It’s true. Please don’t.”

Sometimes David Brooks Makes Sense: After the Women’s March

24 Jan

In the first place, this movement focuses on the wrong issues. Of course, many marchers came with broad anti-Trump agendas, but they were marching under the conventional structure in which the central issues were clear. As The Washington Post reported, they were “reproductive rights, equal pay, affordable health care, action on climate change.”

These are all important matters, and they tend to be voting issues for many upper-middle-class voters in university towns and coastal cities.

Alas and alack:

But this is 2017. Ethnic populism is rising around the world. The crucial problems today concern the way technology and globalization are decimating jobs and tearing the social fabric; the way migration is redefining nation-states; the way the post-World War II order is increasingly being rejected as a means to keep the peace.

All the big things that were once taken for granted are now under assault: globalization, capitalism, adherence to the Constitution, the American-led global order. If you’re not engaging these issues first, you’re not going to be in the main arena of national life.

There it is again, the problems of the nation-state.

Now he gets down to the nitty-gritty:

Without the discipline of party politics, social movements devolve into mere feeling, especially in our age of expressive individualism. People march and feel good and think they have accomplished something. … It’s significant that as marching and movements have risen, the actual power of the parties has collapsed. Marching is a seductive substitute for action in an antipolitical era, and leaves the field open for a rogue like Trump.

Alas, he’s right: “Identity-based political movements always seem to descend into internal rivalries about who is most oppressed and who should get pride of place.” But I’m not at all sure about Brooks’s prescription:

If the anti-Trump forces are to have a chance, they have to offer a better nationalism, with diversity cohering around a central mission, building a nation that balances the dynamism of capitalism with biblical morality.

Can “the nation” be repaired in that way? Color me skeptical.

America, America

20 Jan

Jonathan Kirshner for BLARB: America, America

There is no happy ending to this story. It is not “just one election.” Yes, in theory, most domestic policy blunders can be reversed at a future date. But best case scenario, brace yourself for a horrifying interregnum. The fantasy that the Republican Congress might serve as a check on Trump’s power is just that — a fantasy. Congress does have considerable authority, but mostly regarding those things that they agree with Trump about: slashing taxes on the wealthy, gutting environmental regulations, pretending climate change doesn’t exist, overturning Obamacare, appointing very conservative judges. Moreover, the internet culture is not going away, so don’t imagine that there is a silver lining to be gleaned from the looming policy disasters that we will all suffer through. If enough people enjoy watching the reality TV of the Trump Presidency, they will renew it for another four years. Nor should it be assumed that the Democratic Party, flat on its back, is poised for a comeback. The American left has its own deep divisions to tend to — largely along generational lines, as the young and the old articulate very different interpretations of the core principles of liberalism — which will not be easily papered over.

Source: America, America

Trump and the end of the administrative state

19 Jan
Writing in The Wall Street Journal, Daniel Henniger asks the question of the decade, “Will the Trump presidency produce order or merely more disorder?” Correlatively, if it does produce a new order, will that be an improvement? On that question, I suspect Henniger thinks differently than I do. He continues:
It is said that the Trump electorate wanted to blow up the status quo. And so it did. The passed-over truth, however, is that the most destabilizing force in our politics wasn’t Donald Trump. It was that political status quo.
       The belief that Hillary Clinton would have produced a more reliable presidency is wrong. Mrs. Clinton represented an extension of the administrative state, the century-old idea that elites can devise public policies, administered by centralized public bureaucracies, that deliver the greatest good to the greatest number. […]
     Today, that administrative state, like an old dying star, is in destructive decay. Government failures are causing global political instability. This is the real legitimacy problem and is the reason many national populations are in revolt. Some call that populism. Others would call it a democratic awakening. […]
        The idea of placing national purpose in the hands of these elites lasted because it suited the needs of elected politicians. They used the administrative state’s goods to mollify myriad constituencies. So they gave them more. And then more.
          The state’s carrying capacity has been reached.
I’m certainly sympathetic to that. He goes on go assert: “Donald Trump’s nominations of Scott Pruitt for EPA and Betsy DeVos at Education are a brutal recognition that the previous order has reached a point of decline.” Brutal, yes. But I can’t imagine that either or them will improve matters. Henniger seems too satisfied with Trump’s dismal cabinet: “One wonders if the hard, daily work by his colleagues to restore world order or a proper constitutional relationship between governing elites and the governed will be hampered by the turbulence of the Twitter storms.”
           Frankly, the new order Henniger hankers for seems to be one where a corporate elite is allowed to shape the world to its own ends unchecked by any counterforce at all. That’s not an improvement.

Changing Shape of US Income Distribution

20 Dec

//platform.twitter.com/widgets.js

King Trump Assembles His Court

13 Dec

I was struck by a passage in a NYTimes editorial for 12.12.16, “Flawed Choices for the State Department”. It was primarily about the choice of Exxon Mobile CEO for secretary of state (and secondarily about John Bolton as deputy), noting that he “knows scores of world leaders”. I was particularly struck by this paragraph:

Steve Coll, author of “Private Empire: ExxonMobil and American Power,” wrote in The New Yorker that in nominating Mr. Tillerson, Mr. Trump would be “handing the State Department to a man who has worked his whole life running a parallel quasi state, for the benefit of shareholders, fashioning relationships with foreign leaders that may or may not conform to the interests of the United States government.” He added that “the goal of Exxon Mobil’s independent foreign policy has been to promote a world that is good for oil and gas production.”

I was particularly struck by the phrases “parallel quasi state” and “Exxon Mobil’s independent foreign policy”, for they reminded me of the concept of virtual feudalism that my friend and colleague Abbe Mowshowitz developed back in the 1990s.

He wrote a book about it, Virtual Organization: Toward a Theory of Societal Transformation Stimulated by Information Technology (PDF); here’s a passage from the publisher’s blurb:

Computers mediate between individuals by providing channels of communication in the form of messaging systems; they act as brokers in matching buyers and sellers, employees and employers, resources and work processes, and so on. The social significance of computers as mediators and brokers has tremendous political and economic consequences. For managers, these consequences manifest themselves most clearly in the virtual organization, which is founded on the separation of requirements, for example, inputs such as components, from the ways in which requirements are met, or satisfiers, for example, suppliers and distribution networks. Separating these elements allows managers to switch easily from one way of meeting a requirement to another. Used systematically, switching brings huge increases in productivity but it also weakens traditional loyalties. Absent a sense of loyalty to persons or places, virtual organizations distance themselves from the regions and countries in which they operate. This process is undermining the nation-state, which cannot continue indefinitely to control virtual organizations. A new feudal system is in the making, in which power and authority are vested in private hands but which is based on globally distributed resources rather than on the possession of land. The evolution of this new political economy will determine how we do business in the future.

The result, Abbe argued, is that the world will evolve to a condition where nation-states are gravely weakened relative to the power of large transnational corporations. The result will be a neo-feudal world ruled by a global oligarchy of business elites and their government cronies at the expense of an immiseration global peasantry, many of whom are desperately trying to cling to illusions of middle class life.

Is President-Elect Donald Trump now in the process of using cabinet appointments as a ruse to assemble the Lords and Ladies to the court His Royal Highness, King Donald, First Emperor of the World?

While other rich men have been elected President (e.g. Franklin D. Roosevelt) none have had the wealth or worldwide business interests that Trump has. How will he separate his foreign policy from his business interests? As a preface to an enumeration of these business interests, Libby Nelson of Vox notes:

The most positive outcome of these entanglements could be that Trump pursues win-win deals that enrich both the country and himself. But these same relationships could lead him to act and react in ways that distort the economy, tilting it in favor of his own interests, and changing the United States’ foreign policy to benefit him rather than the country. It could also distort the economy, rewarding allies at the expense of other companies, stifling growth.

Even if the worst-case scenario doesn’t come true, Trump has clearly demonstrated he has little interest in meaningfully separating his businesses from his presidency. Because many Trump businesses bear the Trump name, the president-elect will be aware of where his interests are even if he hands the reins of the business to his adult children, as he’s said he will do.

Has he in effect chosen Tillerson as his Baron of Oil and Fossil Fuels? His cabinet is fast filling up with business executives and business-friendly politicians. In addition to Tillerson we’ve got the following executives:

  • Andrew F. Puzder, CKE Restaurants, Sec. Labor
  • Linda McMahon, World Wrestling Entertainment, Small Business Administration
  • Steven Mnuchin, Goldman Sachs, Treasury Secretary
  • Wilbur Ross, WL Ross & Co., Commerce Secretary
  • Betsy DeVos, Windquest Group, Secretary of Education

How will these people address one another in meetings of the Cabinet Court? Lord Andrew? Dame Linda? Sir Steven? Your Highness?

Who is going to be Court Jester?

* * * * *

Before Abbe wrote his book he asked me to ghostwrite an article about virtual feudalism. He was unable to find a publisher for it, so I’ve reprinted it at New Savanna. I organize it around capsule accounts of the lives of three people and accompanying commentary, Molly Mckenna: The Corporate Lord and the Impoverished State, Robert Wong: New Loyalties and Citizen Action, and Jarvis Roosevelt: Whither Liberty and Justice for All?

How he got over: The Trump his followers see

25 Nov
Contrary to how he was portrayed in the mainstream media Trump did not talk only of walls, immigration bans, and deportations. In fact he usually didn’t spend much time on those themes. Don’t get me wrong, Trump is a racist, misogynist, and confessed sexual predator who has legitimized dangerous street-level hate. Most of all, Trump is a fraud. And his administration will almost certainly be a terrible new low in the evolution of American authoritarianism. But the heart of his message was something different, an ersatz economic populism, which has been noted far and wide, but also a strong, usually overlooked, anti-war message. Both spoke to legitimate working class concerns.
Furthermore, his message was delivered with passion and a strange warmth. Dare I say it? Donald Trump has charisma. It is a mix of almost comic self-confidence, emotional intelligence, a common touch, but also at times slight vulnerability. Let’s face it, even the aura of sex around Trump—sleazy and predatory, sometimes sophomoric, as in the “small-hands” jokes—was at least part of a libidinal aura.
And here comes that Peter Thiel line you’ve been hearing:
One of the few coastal elites to have cracked the Trump discursive code is the otherwise odious Peter Thiel, who told the National Press Club, “the media is always taking Trump literally. It never takes him seriously, but it always takes him literally.” Voters on the other hand, said Thiel, “take Trump seriously but not literally.” Bingo!
Or to translate this into the academese of Roland Barthes, perhaps Trump’s discourse was more “writerly” (scriptable) than its simple sounds suggested; that is his meanings, because of the form of their delivery, were open to multiple understandings and re-assembly by the listener. Even his endlessly invoked wall, in reality a proposal for more militarized policing, could sound like a public works scheme, an infrastructure based jobs program. […]
In Trump’s discourse A does not necessarily connect to B. If you don’t like A, just focus on B. The structure of Trump’s discourse will never demand that all the pieces be connected. That, in part, is what he meant with the Orwellian phrase “truthful hyperbole.” He has even described his own statements as mere “opening bids” in a negotiation.
Style and the little guy:
Choppy as they were, Trump’s speeches nonetheless had a clear thesis: Regular people have been getting screwed for far too long and he was going to stop it.
Continue reading

The Election: Of Hate, Grief, and a New Story

21 Nov

by Charles Eisenstein*

IMGP4751

Normal is coming unhinged. For the last eight years it has been possible for most people (at least in the relatively privileged classes) to believe that society is sound, that the system, though creaky, basically works, and that the progressive deterioration of everything from ecology to economy is a temporary deviation from the evolutionary imperative of progress.

A Clinton Presidency would have offered four more years of that pretense. A woman President following a black President would have meant to many that things are getting better. It would have obscured the reality of continued neoliberal economics, imperial wars, and resource extraction behind a veil of faux-progressive feminism. Now that we have, in the words of my friend Kelly Brogan, rejected a wolf in sheep’s clothing in favor of a wolf in wolf’s clothing, that illusion will be impossible to maintain.

The wolf, Donald Trump (and I’m not sure he’d be offended by that moniker) will not provide the usual sugarcoating on the poison pills the policy elites have foisted on us for the last forty years. The prison-industrial complex, the endless wars, the surveillance state, the pipelines, the nuclear weapons expansion were easier for liberals to swallow when they came with a dose, albeit grudging, of LGBTQ rights under an African-American President.

I am willing to suspend my judgement of Trump and (very skeptically) hold the possibility that he will disrupt the elite policy consensus of free trade and military confrontation – major themes of his campaign. One might always hope for miracles. However, because he apparently lacks any robust political ideology of his own, it is more likely that he will fill his cabinet with neocon war hawks, Wall Street insiders, and corporate reavers, trampling the wellbeing of the working class whites who elected him while providing them their own sugar-coating of social conservatism.

The social and environmental horrors likely to be committed under President Trump are likely to incite massive civil disobedience and possibly disorder. For Clinton supporters, many of whom were halfhearted to begin with, the Trump administration could mark the end of their loyalty to our present institutions of government. For Trump supporters, the initial celebration will collide with gritty reality when Trump proves as unable or unwilling as his predecessors to challenge the entrenched systems that continually degrade their lives: global finance capital, the deep state, and their programming ideologies. Add to this the likelihood of a major economic crisis, and the public’s frayed loyalty to the existing system could snap.

We are entering a time of great uncertainty. Institutions so enduring as to seem identical to reality itself may lose their legitimacy and dissolve. It may seem that the world is falling apart. For many, that process started on election night, when Trump’s victory provoked incredulity, shock, even vertigo. “I can’t believe this is happening!”

At such moments, it is a normal response to find someone to blame, as if identifying fault could restore the lost normality, and to lash out in anger. Hate and blame are convenient ways of making meaning out of a bewildering situation. Anyone who disputes the blame narrative may receive more hostility than the opponents themselves, as in wartime when pacifists are more reviled than the enemy.

Racism and misogyny are devastatingly real in this country, but to blame bigotry and sexism for voters’ repudiation of the Establishment is to deny the validity of their deep sense of betrayal and alienation. The vast majority of Trump voters were expressing extreme dissatisfaction with the system in the way most readily available to them. (See herehereherehere) Millions of Obama voters voted for Trump (six states who went for Obama twice switched to Trump). Did they suddenly become racists in the last four years? The blame-the-racists (the fools, the yokels…) narrative generates a clear demarcation between good (us) and evil (them), but it does violence to the truth. It also obscures an important root of racism – anger displaced away from an oppressive system and its elites and onto other victims of that system. Finally, it employs the same dehumanization of the other that is the essence of racism and the precondition for war. Such is the cost of preserving a dying story. That is one reason why paroxysms of violence so often accompany a culture-defining story’s demise.

The dissolution of the old order that is now officially in progress is going to intensify. That presents a tremendous opportunity and danger, because when normal falls apart the ensuing vacuum draws in formerly unthinkable ideas from the margins. Unthinkable ideas range from rounding up the Muslims in concentration camps, to dismantling the military-industrial complex and closing down overseas military bases. They range from nationwide stop-and-frisk to replacing criminal punishment with restorative justice. Anything becomes possible with the collapse of dominant institutions. When the animating force behind these new ideas is hate or fear, all manner of fascistic and totalitarian nightmares can ensue, whether enacted by existing powers or those that arise in revolution against them. Continue reading