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The left must give thanks to… Donald Trump

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on 21 Comments

When folks offer thanks on Thanksgiving, the left ought to give at least a murmur of thanks to the turkey in chief. In many ways, the Trump presidency as hateful and unpleasant and regrettable as it has been, has created great openings.

The left is getting to advance ideas and programs that would have been unthinkable if Hillary Clinton had won, and brought in Neoliberalism 3.0. Donald Trump really is the disrupter-in-chief, and we can only imagine how stultifying life would be for the progressive wing of the Democratic Party were Hillary and Bill back at 1600, and doing everything for 2020.

Instead, today we find ourselves living in that rarest of things, a radical age. The center does not hold, plainly. And many things we used to say are structural, meaning that they couldn’t be addressed, are open for debate. Many people are expressing an enormous sense of distress over fundamental questions. And the left is being taken seriously, for once, as providers of potential solutions to those problems.

Begin in the most obvious place. Would the wave of sexual harassment firings and resignations of powerful men be taking place today if Hillary Clinton had won? I think not. This wave is happening because just when women in this country were poised to accept a belated advance, a woman finally occupying the White House, the welcome mat was swept away and a misogynist and professed groper was given the job. I remember thinking last October that some great shift in the power relations of men and women in our country was about to take place with the swearing-in of Hillary Clinton and all the symbolic and non-symbolic effects that would have. Many people felt that excitement. The rage that followed her defeat, and the sodden awareness that well over half the electorate wanted her to be president, by several millions, are the most important factors leading to the #Metoo rebellion. The inequities and violations that these women are opening up about occurred years ago, often decades. Something tripped it. The elevation of the groper in chief.

And look what the result has been: nothing less than a forest fire raging through the patriarchy. Many huge trees are crashing down. Women are imagining a more equitable distribution of privileged positions.

While no one can say that Hillary Clinton wouldn’t have detonated this change, I have the sense that Harvey Weinstein (a Clinton donor) and others might have retained power and status under Clinton that they lost under Trump, the perception of power that stopped women from going forward.

Tarana Burke is the founder of the #MeToo movement, and when she spoke recently on the PBS News Hour she said the problem of harassment is rooted in capitalism. Whether or not you agree with her, it is remarkable that this argument is being advanced in a mainstream setting. At a recent conference I attended in Minneapolis, more than one speaker said that capitalism had to be taken out by the roots. You might say that these are radical fulminations, but how many people in our society have faith in capitalism today? What percentage of our society are winners under that system, let alone in the world? A minority, to be sure; maybe as high as 30 or 40 percent. One of the gifts of the Sanders campaign was making socialism a legitimate topic for debate; and I believe that that discussion will continue, with demands on progressive Democratic politicians that they stand for real change on income distribution.

I could go on to issues of bigotry, incarceration, the opioid addiction epidemic, immigration, and police violence. No doubt the NFL hierarchy, backed by Donald Trump, managed to shut down the football players’ radical actions, but the left is gathered in solidarity on these questions as never before. No Democratic Party politician will be able to run without making these themes central. Since the Women’s March and before, all of us have seen liberal friends radicalized by Trump’s ascent. We’ve seen privileged people expressing the belief that the skill-set of the Democratic center is not capable enough to deal with Trumpism. Those beliefs are stronger among the young.

Readers are sure to object that Trump has done a lot of damage. Unquestionably that is true. He licensed Charlottesville. He has made our discourse coarse and offensive. He is reversing gains on climate change and foreign policy and threatening nuclear war.

I didn’t vote for Trump, I didn’t want him in the White House; I want this presidency to end in a hurry; the conservative in me seeks a return to civility. But I would point out that an overwhelming majority of the country and the elites agree with me. They hate Trump, and want him gone. And not being able to banish him, they set out to sequester him from the start. It was clear in the Super Bowl ads, when one big company after another showed how offensive they found his immigration policy. It is clear in the determination by the New York Times and Washington Post to do all in their power to bring Trump down. It is clear in all the cultural forces that are seeking to hem in Trump’s powers, and that have largely done so.

The deep state is also working against Trump. The purport of the news from the Mueller investigation and of the recent testimony of military commanders about Trump’s proximity to the nuclear football is that the board members of the security state are as panicked by Trump as the rest of us. Their careers have been devoted to keeping lunatics out of the engine room. They are going to try to take Trump out by legal means; and one day we will learn the story about everything they did to keep him away from the football.

The successful sequestration of Donald Trump shows the limits of presidential power, and the importance of other political expressions than the highest and most official ones.

Trump rose because he recognized the force of marginalized reactionary voices. Indeed, to return to my theme, the American stage is today peopled with speakers once thought to be off limits, or extreme. And there is a benefit to the left in that. There are deep divisions in the country over the future, the old center is shattered. Many issues are up for grabs, and the left is going to have a lot to say. Trump is more symptom than cause of that unrest. But the disrupter in chief has reanimated the left.

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21 Responses

  1. Keith
    Keith on November 25, 2017, 5:07 pm

    PHIL- “… how many people in our society have faith in capitalism today?”

    How many people in our society actually understand what capitalism is? Or socialism,etc? Labels. Nowadays that is all they are. Verbal flags for people to rally around or oppose. Understanding is virtually nil. And dogged loyalty to the two corporate parties is overwhelming. “Liberals” steadfastly support the Democratic corporate candidate who will implement the corporate agenda while stabbing them in the back rather than support a Third Party candidate who actually reflects their priorities.

    PHIL- “Instead, today we find ourselves living in that rarest of things, a radical age.”

    True, but not in the way you perceive it. The elites are radically restructuring society in plain sight even as you and other liberals obsess over your “radical” identity politics. For example, misogynism is an inevitable consequence of militarism and empire, not a separate issue to be dealt with in isolation. And Trump is the consequence of the Democrats abandoning their base to secure fat-cat funding. The Democrats have succeeded in becoming the primary party of the elites which is, nonetheless, supported by those party loyalists who refuse to hold the Democrats accountable for their actions.

  2. pabelmont
    pabelmont on November 25, 2017, 7:51 pm

    Phil: “capitalism had to be taken out by the roots”

    OK, but it is good to distinguish several aspects of capitalism. One is the power of the BIGs (and billionaires who got to be such because of capitalism) to buy/capture the administrative and legislative branches of governments; money in politics; corruption.

    Another is the commitment to “growth” which has led and promises to continue to lead to spread (of concrete, asphalt, trash, poisons in air-water-earth) and to growth of world population to support “economic growth”.

    Another is the commitment to a chicken-bigTV-computer-SUV in every pot. Massive mining, manufacturing, tree-cutting, monoculture farming, etc., operations, ever growing. (But curiously, not ever-growing wages. I think they are out of their minds.)

    Last, observe that the great corporations which have so very, very much sway in Washington DC have not called with a single voice for action to curb GWCC on a “war footing”. they seem to think that ever increasing amounts of CO2 in the air is just dandy.

    So there are a lot of reasons not to like capitalism. Since the once-thought-to-be socialist USSR and China each seem to have made accommodation with capitalism, I don’t know that a comparison with socialism is exactly right.

    Maybe “managed diminishment” in place of unconstrained growth” as an economic philosophy. Might even, somehow not be anti-capitalist. But, first, get money out of politics. And then work on GWCC. Maybe Palestine too.

    • Citizen
      Citizen on November 26, 2017, 8:11 am

      How will we “get money out of politics when SCOTUS had declared money is free speech? When congress critters, for example, know their real power and enhancement of same–comes from being the “bacon” provider for special interests?

  3. JosephA
    JosephA on November 26, 2017, 12:11 am

    As “The Who” once sang so succinctly in “We won’t get fooled again”:

    Meet the new boss,
    Same as the old boss…

    Trump is clearly an orange imbecile, and his team is inexperienced, borderline embarrassing with their lack of professionalism and disregard for the law.

    This country’s politicians are so very bought and paid for, I don’t see real change coming any time soon at the Federal Level. The only hope would be true campaign finance reform (100% publicly funded elections) coupled with anti-Gerrymandering, among other things.

    As I always say, “here in America we have the best government money can buy”!

  4. RoHa
    RoHa on November 26, 2017, 2:32 am

    What left?

  5. Citizen
    Citizen on November 26, 2017, 8:34 am

    I fear nobody who would actually change the nature and character of what our top 1% & their 9% key lacky class desire most will ever hold our highest and highest offices. In this sense, the history of implemented communist, socialist, and capitalist regimes is the source of my cynicism. We don’t live in a cheap Star Wars melodrama, but I wouldn’t know that from what I see and hear voiced by the myriad of politicians and pundits bloating our political media newspeak.

  6. catalan
    catalan on November 26, 2017, 10:28 am

    If Bernie runs and wins in 2020 at least we will see whether the promises live up to the expectation. At this point I am curious what will actually happen if there is free healthcare, free college tuition, break up of the big banks and possibly other companies, massive increase in immigration (that’s also part of the left platform), huge raises in the minimum wage, and a lot of new taxes including taxes on gasoline and stocks. I am a little bit conservative but I am open to the idea that I am wrong and all these changes will usher a Swedish paradise rather than a Maduro hell.

  7. scott9854958
    scott9854958 on November 26, 2017, 12:43 pm

    Oh I agree, the progressive left has an opportunity with Trump. The problem is their platform stinks. Open borders immigration combined with a lavish welfare state doesn’t work. Leftists understood this once upon a time; hell even Bernie got up on the Senate floor in 2006 and mocked the David Koch “they’re doing the jobs we won’t do” palaver. That is a right-wing argument, Bernie said correctly. Now it’s been co-opted, apparently without irony, by the progressive left. Because of the votes. And then there’s drivers licenses for the undocumented. Most Americans really don’t want that, because we all drive and understand the downside. But progressives will never learn. Right now their radicalism all but guarantees 4 more years of what Weiss calls (incorrectly) “the groper.”

    • Mooser
      Mooser on November 26, 2017, 1:47 pm

      “And then there’s drivers licenses for the undocumented. Most Americans really don’t want that, because we all drive and understand the downside.”

      It’s true! Them ferriners won’t stop driving on the wrong side of the road. And the ones from below the equator drive backwards, too!! And progressives wonder who’s bringing the heat which is changing our climate, well it’s people from places where it’s Chile today and hot tamale!

      • Citizen
        Citizen on November 26, 2017, 3:37 pm

        No legal difference at all between a right and a privilege, chili and tamale, eh?

      • scott9854958
        scott9854958 on November 26, 2017, 4:17 pm

        Actually Mooser, it’s more the fact that they think it’s okay to drive after downing 14 Tecates. Not to worry though — Bill DeBlasio has our backs on this. He stood up and bravely said, no deportations for drunk driving. I feel much safer now. Progressives are so in touch with the average voter. They should do great in ’20.

      • Mooser
        Mooser on November 26, 2017, 11:32 pm

        “He stood up and bravely said, no deportations for drunk driving”

        The immigrants don’t get charged for DUI, and the state buys them a new truck!

    • Sibiriak
      Sibiriak on November 26, 2017, 5:06 pm

      Scott9854958: Bernie got up on the Senate floor in 2006 and mocked the David Koch “they’re doing the jobs we won’t do” palaver. That is a right-wing argument, Bernie said correctly. Now it’s been co-opted, apparently without irony, by the progressive left. Because of the votes.

      Yes, votes are critical. And it’s an issue that unites neoliberal democrats and progressives/leftists–both groups believe immigration-driven demographic changes will ultimately undo Republican electoral dominance.

      Ruy Teixeira from the neoliberal Democratic establishment:

      Trump’s coalition won the demographic battle. It’ll still lose the war

      And from the progressive left:

      Everyone’s Wrong on Immigration: Open Borders Are the Only Way to Defeat Trump and Build a Better World

      [ Cf. Stop Asking Me to Empathize With the White Working Class]

  8. seaoftears
    seaoftears on November 27, 2017, 9:52 am

    “If Clinton had won, the sexual harassment wave wouldn’t have happened.”

    I agree. She would have covered them up
    and threatened the women like she did Bill’s

  9. Citizen
    Citizen on November 27, 2017, 3:28 pm

    So, is an Israeli version of the US 1965 Immigration Act ready for Israel? Good for Israel as it has been for US, arguably? Who will play Ted Kennedy? Who, those US Jewish establishment folks who are detailed as key supporters in that history of US legislation volume?

  10. mcohen..
    mcohen.. on November 28, 2017, 5:45 am

    I took a bet that trump will build a trump hotel in damascus.
    Thats is called a learning curve.
    A green zone in baghdad versus a trump tower in damascus.
    I read somewhere that bin laden knew exactly how bush would react after 911 and that same senario was hoped for in syria.did not happen.i believe that obama did the right thing and stayed away from damascus.took the right advice.
    So instead of a clintonian slush puppy clinic, damascus might get a downtown trump plaza.
    And i will won a ten dollar bet

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