Be Scared, Be Angry, But For God’s Sake Don’t Wallow

Trump may be the most deplorable president-elect that America has ever had, but he hasn’t destroyed our national innocence or even set back the clock very far. Many of the presidents that we think of as great have had just as terrible ideas about women and minorities and immigrants as he does, and even more rapacious views of our place in the world.

Haven’t you guys read your Ta-Nehisi Coates? Americans killed the Indians, built much of our national economy on the backs of human chattel, and slammed the door to immigrants at the turn of the last century, and locked and double-locked it again in the 1920s. Steve Bannon won’t be the first Jew-hating white supremacist to land in a powerful berth in Washington. We elected Obama yes, but we also re-elected George W. Bush. And I say nothing about our prisons

nor the millions of underprivileged who live in
my flowerpots under the light of five hundred suns

(Ginsberg, “America,” go read it for inspiration). We are as blood-soaked as any other nation, but looking at my Facebook feed this past week it seems to me sometimes that even hardened leftists subscribe to the inane myth of divine American Exceptionalism. Winthrop exhorted the Pilgrims to build a shining city on a hill, he didn’t congratulate them for building it. Go read the history of Israel as told by the Bible, and you will see, as Winthrop saw, that it is one of unmitigated failure. Zionism is a cartoon. American Exceptionalism is a cartoon. Nations rise and fall, and America is surely falling right now. I’m freaked out too, but this isn’t about me.

I have just as dark a view of Trump and the future as anyone, but I also recognize that the election could have easily gone the other way and that if it had all of the conditions for Trumpism would have still been present. Maybe his election shatters the American dream, but dreams are for dreamers. History has always unfolded in a fallen world.

This is not a counsel of fatalism or despair: it is a call to action.

Hate Wins (For Now)

It wasn’t Comey, it wasn’t the e-mails, it wasn’t the Clintons’ overweening sense of entitlement, the shallowness of cable news, the echo chamber of the Internet, or the callow self-righteousness of the Millennials. It was structural, baked in from the beginning, even if the pollsters missed the signals. Half of us, give or take, are still fighting the Civil War, believe that Reagan was the best president this country has ever had, that science is a lie, and that tyranny is not being allowed to use the ‘n’ word in polite society, call a gay person a faggot, or a nice-looking woman a piece of ass. A lot more than half of us rightly understand that the system of globalized capitalism is run by and for the benefit of an educated elite that is mostly concentrated in a handful of wealthy urban regions–New York, London, San Francisco–the same Sodoms and Gomorrahs that the Agrarian Populists of the last century so feared and despised (and that so many of us progressives are waking up in this morning).

Bernie recognized that and said that the system had to be overhauled. Clinton saw that up to a point too, but believed that its worst effects could be mitigated. Trump saw it as an opportunity to be demagogically exploited and he did. Unlike Hitler, Stalin, and Mussolini (one hopes) he doesn’t have a program of global conquest or racial and ideological cleansing ready to roll out; he was a vanity candidate and he’ll be a vanity president. Most of the work of governance will be left to the right wing hanger-ons who flatter him the most and they will do their very worst. There’s not going to be a wall, he’s not going to restore smoke stack industries, or fix the cities. Taxes will be cut, environmental protections will be rolled back, and terrible judges will be appointed to the courts. Undocumented immigrants will be deported at the same pace that they were during the Obama administration. The world will be a little safer for ignorant, backwards-looking white people. Globalized capitalism will march on apace, wealth will continue to flow to the top, and the ice caps will keep melting.

We were just as fucked yesterday as we are today, even if we didn’t know it. But now we do. I don’t see much of a bright side this morning, but I do believe that we progressives can pull the same levers of economic discontent that he did and to just as powerful effect, starting in 2018. The backlash will have its own backlash. Let’s start laying the groundwork for it now.

Donald Trump’s Long-Postponed Implosion

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     God knows it’s too early for post-mortems, but it’s looking more and more like  Trump was hoist by his own petard in pressing so hard all summer on Hillary Clinton’s supposed debilities and corruption.
     Once the public got the chance to see the two of them standing side-by-side at the debate, it became pretty clear to everyone who hadn’t made up their minds already (mainstream Republicans, disappointed Bernie-ites, skeptical Democrats) that she had more stamina and steeliness than he did. And then, after his Alicia Machado meltdown opened the door to the Access Hollywood tape, the groping accusations, and the Howard Stern interviews; after the Washington Post’s and New York Times’s tax and foundation revelations suggested that he was something less than the titan of business and philanthropy that he’d said he was, Hillary’s e mails began to seem less noisome than his own grossness, fatuity, and greed. I’m not talking about his base, of course — but even if they did continue to fill up stadiums, there were never enough of them to get him elected in the general. He had to court a whole new constituency and instead he alienated it.
     Worse still, I think, is his self-pity as the clock ticks down–the lashing out, the narcissistic self-involvement, the threats to sue his accusers and lock up Hillary Clinton once and for all. This is when he should be assuring his troops that he will never, ever surrender–that the movement that they have built together is too important. He should be making it all about them and he seems constitutionally unable to think about anyone but himself. It was incredibly telling, I think, that he began his answer to the Supreme Court question at the third debate by recalling the very bad things Ruth Bader Ginsburg had said about him, or that he whined about the nasty tone of the debate at the Al Smith dinner and how his rich friends are deserting him. Pretty soon he’s going to be saying that being a billionaire is more fun than being president anyway, which can’t but feel like a betrayal if you’d invested as many of your hopes in him as his followers have.
     Decades ago, when THE ART OF THE DEAL was high atop the bestseller list, I can remember hearing Trump brag to some fawning interviewer that his board game was the bestselling board game of all time. It was such a trivial bit of self-aggrandizement. The presidency is important — it comes with awesome powers, responsibilities, and opportunities — but being president always seemed like an afterthought to him. It was all about winning, and now that the path to victory is looking as elusive as it is, he’s sweeping the pieces off the board and taking it home. Sad!

Metro New York Stays Calm and Carries On

A bomb exploded on Manhattan’s 23rd Street and 6th Avenue over the weekend, injuring 29 but killing no one; another un-exploded device turned up on 27th Street when thieves dumped it out of the suitcase it was in so they could steal it. Another bomb went off without hurting anybody in Seaside Heights, New Jersey, and still more unexploded bombs were discovered in Elizabeth, New Jersey when another pair of would-be thieves made off with the duffel bag they were in, but reported its contents to the police. The bomber, Ahmad Khan Rahami, who may or may not have received training and material assistance from Isis or some other terrorist organization, was swiftly apprehended, but not before Donald J. Trump jumped in to raise the fear quotient and deplore the political correctness that prevents American police from treating Islamic visitors, residents, and citizens like Israel treats theirs. As New York magazine’s Eric Levitz put it:

‘Our local police, they know who a lot of these people are. They’re afraid to do anything about it because they don’t want to be accused of profiling,’ Donald Trump told Fox & Friends Monday morning. ‘You know, in Israel they profile. They’ve done an unbelievable job, as good as you can do.’

Trump went on to condemn President Obama for allowing Muslim refugees into the country, decrying the effort to resettle Syrians displaced by war as a ‘Trojan horse’ whose true effect would be to fill America with ISIS agents.

‘How they came into the country in the first place is beyond me,’ Trump said of legal American residents whom he hopes to represent as president. ‘This is cancer from within. This is something that’s going to be so tough. They stay together. They’re plotting.’

Meanwhile, the press marveled at how the sense of business-as-usual prevailed. I love my city and I’m proud of our sangfroid. But I’m not an exceptionalist about it–New York, I think, is like all really big cities (I’m thinking of London in the Blitz) that go on because they have to.

Urban density means you’re not afraid of foreign and ethnic and ideological differences, because you share space with them. There are hundreds of thousands of Islamic and Spanish-speaking people here, not to mention Greeks, Italians, Indians, Asians, and more. Beyond that, we’re constantly having our faces shoved in horrible stuff–poverty, despair, madness, extreme politics of every stripe. I live my nice live in a nice house in a city that is statistically safer than most, but I’ve heard gunfire outside on more than one occasion, and I’ve looked down the barrel of a gun (as many of us have if we’ve lived here long enough). Seven million of us survived 9/11; it was horrible, but we know for a fact that it wasn’t the end of the world. Perfect security is an illusion anyway–people who die of cancer or in car accidents are just as dead as people who die in terrorist bomb blasts and from bullets from legal or illegal guns–but it’s much easier to sustain it when you live in a bubble.

Donald Trump is a New Yorker too, but he was born rich and he cut his teeth in his father’s business, which was building, selling, and managing segregated housing. His life’s mission has been to divide black from white, the rich from the middle class, the middle class from the poor, the hot from the non-hot, and the famous from the non-famous, and now he has applied it to his politics too. Fear and loathing sells, but despite all his efforts, it doesn’t sell anywhere near as well here as it does in other, less-crowded places.

Pneumonia-gate

capture

I didn’t vote for Clinton last spring and though I will vote for her in November, to my mind she is too hawkish by far, we had eight years of the Clintons already, etc., etc. I am one of millions of Bernie-ites who is voting against Trump rather than for Clinton. But come on. Her having pneumonia is not a scandal, not by a long shot.

I’m not saying that it was a good idea for her to keep all her commitments and stand out in the sun on Sunday, but I do know what I did when I got pneumonia. First, I didn’t go to the doctor for days, even though I was exhausted and miserable and had a sixth sense that something really serious was wrong with me. I wasn’t running for president but we had just moved, we were trying to organize our house and get our kids back on their routine, and I needed to finish The New Hate and deliver it to Pantheon on schedule. When I finally did go to the doctor, I waited for four hours and was too impatient to go to a different facility and wait again to get an x-ray (which turned out to be a big mistake as the pneumonia was more serious than the doctor realized).

capture2

Haters and conspiracists are flooding the Internet with long-distance diagnoses (obviously the pneumonia was caused by her Parkinsons, deep-vein thrombosis, concussion, etc.). Obviously. Not just haters, but smart, sober-minded pundits are clucking that it isn’t the disease but the “coverup” that is the problem, a la Whitewater, e-mail-gate, and so on.

capture

So let’s do a thought experiment and imagine that she had announced that she was ill on Friday and canceled all her appearances as her doctor suggested. What would we have heard? That she is too old, too fragile, and too female to be president. That she is a drama queen, trying to upstage the 911 anniversary. That the “pneumonia” is a false flag, raised to divert attention from her “basket of deplorables” gaffe or perhaps to preemptively gain sympathy in advance of a terrible new revelation about Benghazi. That the pneumonia isn’t pneumonia at all and that she should bow out for Bernie or Biden. In other words, all the things that are being said anyway. And what would have happened if Trump had collapsed on Sunday? People would have admired his stoicism and marveled at his incredible energy and determination. Full stop.

The Deeper Roots of The Not-so-New Hate

Joseph Schmitz, a Pentagon Inspector General who left in 2004 under a cloud of accusations of anti-Semitism, is one of Donald Trump’s national security advisors. This has gotten me thinking about the nexus between political anti-Semitism and right wing (and fringe left-wing) politics.  Schmitz says that his 38-year marriage to an ethnically Jewish woman absolves him of any taint of anti-Semitism, but he has other family connections that suggest otherwise–he is the son of John Schmitz, the ultra-right wing Orange County Congressman whose holocaust denial got him booted from the John Birch Society (and who also gained notoriety for having a second family, and whose daughter–but I’ll let you Google that one).

How is it that a “debt king” who proposes to downgrade the US’s sovereign debt, who finances his business empire with Russian capital and staffs his campaign with Russian agents has become the leader of a party that was premised on fiscal austerity and anti-Communism? How has a thrice-married playboy who doesn’t know his Two Corinthians from the Koran become the candidate of choice of so many Evangelicals? And how has an avowedly pro-Israel candidate with an orthodox Jewish son-in-law, a converted daughter, and Jewish grandchildren become a beacon for a neo-Nazi like David Duke?  Believe it or not, I think it has more to do with mathematics—or more precisely, with some innumerate people’s fear of mathematics—than it does with economics.

If our partisan politics were as rational and money-driven as we like to think, the obvious coalitions would be between Wall Street, Main Street, and Silicon Valley on the right and the unionized– and especially the de-unionized–proletariat, service class, and students on the left. Instead they’re mostly driven by geography, with cities and inner-ring suburbs leaning leftish and exurbs and rural southern and mountain regions rightwards; by race, ethnicity and religion; by education; and even by gender and sexual preference. Jews are over-represented in the intellectual leadership of the neo-Conservative and neo-Liberal right, but as a voting bloc, they are reliably left-leaning (though numerically insignificant–Jews, Buddhists, Muslims, and Hindus together make up about 6 percent of the US population).

Setting Trump aside, whose politics are incoherent and opportunistic, and taking a much broader, high-level view, the great fault lines in our politics are mostly cultural and of long-standing: the north versus the Old Dominion and the western frontier; farmers versus city folk; religious authoritarians versus secular materialists; Northern Europeans versus brown and black people and Jews, Muslims, and Asians. This is how the GOP became the home to both members of the investment class and the white nationalists that once made up such a big part of the Democratic party in the south. And this is why, as I wrote in my book The New Hate: A History of Fear and Loathing on the Populist Right, xenophobia, racism, homophobia, and anti-intellectualism are such potent motivators for its base.

But in some ways the biggest fault line is between people for whom money is a simple means of exchange, a kind of proxy for barter, and people that use money as a means of making more money–and this one runs right down the center of the Republican party and bids fair to fracture its already fragile coalition of wealthy low-tax, anti-regulation contributors, morals crusading evangelicals, and know-nothing white nationalists. The hatred of usury, the fear of fiat money, the horror of fractional reserve banking is closely related to the timeless fear and loathing of sorcerers, witches, Satanists, and Jews, and it is what a gold bug like Ron Paul, a conspiracist like Alex Jones, and a programmatic anti-Semite like David Duke have in common. Farmers and manufacturers (Producers, in the language of the old Populists) are rooted in place; money people are cosmopolitan and globalist.

Protocols of the Elders of Zion anti-Semites didn’t hate the Rothschilds just because they were rich, or because their ancestors killed Jesus. They hated them because they used debt to make something out of nothing (interest)–and because they were presumed to use the leverage that gave them over the debtors to create action at a distance (which is both politics and a kind of magic).

A big part of our cultural divide is numeracy. Math is an esoteric language and tool. People who understand its principles and know how to wield it practically live in a different world than regular people do. When physicists look through its lens, they can see that the world is round, not flat, and that it moves around the sun rather than vice versa. When evolutionary biologists look at the mechanism of natural selection through a lens of mathematical probabilities and genetics, the development of complex organisms isn’t remotely as unlikely as, in the classic analogy of the so-called scientific creationist, a 747 being assembled by a tornado in a junkyard. When a regular person looks at money, he translates it into what he can buy immediately. When a financier looks at money, he sees it the way a quantum physicist sees the underlying constituents of the material world–as something in motion and flux, but that can be understood and predicted up to a point by probabilities.

Conspiracism, gold-buggery, programmatic anti-Semitism, racism, xenophobia, blood-and-soil nationalism and, yes, Trumpism itself are not just rebukes to science–they are an attempt to create an alternative science and economics that anyone can understand.

Why Trump?

My theory of Trump, Limbaugh, and the whole right wing hate circus in a nutshell (Hillary too).

As I see it, globalism and high technology have allowed first world capitalism to expand while dispensing with the need to give domestic workers a buy-in. It’s a temporary victory for the owner/entrepreneurial class but also a fatal contradiction for the system, because it’s politically unsustainable.

The Rush Limbaughs and Donald Trumps of the world are anger entrepreneurs. They rile up the workers that global capitalism has abandoned because they’re good at it and can make a lot of money and gain a lot of power by doing so. Trump’s rise should have given them pause, but they don’t think like Marxists so they don’t see that they are hastening their own demise.

In theory I believe that capitalism can survive this turn, provided it lets go of the idea of endless growth and accepts a vast expansion of the welfare state. But capitalism isn’t sentient and self-critical, it’s just a dumb force like gravity, so it can’t correct itself. For that, you need strong, visionary leaders and powerful communicators, and the Trumps and the Clintons and the Limbaughs have taken all those jobs.

Trump will be hoist by his own petards in November, but Hillary will only postpone the day of reckoning. If I were the kind of person who gets up on soap boxes, I would be shouting this to the rooftops, but isn’t that what Bernie Sanders spent the last year doing?