Friday, September 30, 2016

The End Of It All -or It Can't Happen Here

In a 1935 novel, It Can’t Happen Hereauthor Sinclair Lewis wrote about what would happen if fascism (as it was then spreading across Europe) were to triumph in America. It probably isn't his best work as an author, but it IS a highly resonant work today.
Sinclair imagined the American fascist leader as a senator called Buzz Windrip. He described him as  a “Professional Common Man … But he was the Common Man ­twenty-times-magnified by his oratory, so that while the other Commoners could understand his every purpose, which was seen as exactly the same as their own, they saw him towering among them, and they raised hands to him in worship.”  He “was vulgar, almost illiterate, a public liar easily detected, and in his ‘ideas’ almost idiotic.”  ‘I know the Press only too well,’ ” Windrip opines at one point. “Almost all editors hide away in spider-dens, men without thought of Family or Public Interest … plotting how they can put over their lies, and advance their own positions and fill their greedy pocketbooks.”
Windrip is obsessed with the balance of trade and promises instant economic success:
“I shall not be content till this country can produce every single thing we need … We shall have such a balance of trade as will go far to carry out my often-criticized yet completely sound idea of from $3000 to $5000 per year for every single family."  [A very tidy sum in that time]  However absurd and empty his promises, he nonetheless mesmerizes the party faithful at the nominating convention (ironically held in Cleveland!):
“Something in the intensity with which Windrip looked at his audience, looked at all of them, his glance slowly taking them in from the highest-perched seat to the nearest, convinced them that he was talking to each individual, directly and solely; that he wanted to take each of them into his heart; that he was telling them the truths, the imperious and dangerous facts, that had been hidden from them.”
And all the elites who stood in his way? Crippled by their own failures, demoralized by their crumbling stature, they first mock and then cave. As one lone journalist laments before the election (he finds himself in a concentration camp afterward): “I’ve got to keep remembering … that Windrip is only the lightest cork on the whirlpool. He didn’t plot all this thing. With all the justified discontent there is against the smart politicians and the Plush Horses of Plutocracy — oh, if it hadn’t been one Windrip, it’d been another … We had it coming, we Respectables.”

Fast forward - 81 years later, and many of us do have it coming.  Sinclair Lewis may have been a prophet.
An American elite that has presided over massive and and increasing public debt while pilfering the treasury for private gains, that failed to prevent 9/11, that idiotically chose a disastrous war in the Middle East, that obliviously allowed financial markets to nearly destroy the global economy, and that is now so bitterly divided the Congress is effectively a moot point in a constitutional democracy: “We Respectables” as Lewis described them....deserve a comeuppance.
The vital and valid lesson of the Trump phenomenon is that if the elites cannot govern by compromise, someone outside will eventually fill the void to govern by manipulation of populist passion and brute force. It's not that Lewis was prophetic, it's that he understood the dynamics of how tyranny rises to power. He observed how fascists were rising to power in Europe and merely imagined the same scenario in an American setting.

Those who don't remember the lessons of the past are doomed to repeat it.

To Say Trump Is A Fascist Is Actually An Insult To Fascists It's true. Dictators such as Mussolini actually had some semblance of cohesive thought attached to their tyrannical regimes if only glimmers...and only occasionally. A contrast from what we witness in Trump's bubble of delusion and fragmented nonsensical blathering.

Trump considered running for president for decades. Those who didn’t see him coming — or kept treating him as a joke (myself included there) — had not yet absorbed the precedents of Sarah Palin emerging in 2008 as proof that an ardent Republican, branded as an outsider, tailor-made for reality TV,  and proud of her own ignorance would emerge...not so much as a messiah... .but a John the Baptist blowing fart noises through her clenched fist to herald in the true messiah of conservative populism, Trump...who was waiting patiently and strategically for his time to come.Trump's candidacy was underrated for all of 2015. He intuitively grasped the vanishing authority of American political and media elites, and he had long fashioned a public persona perfectly attuned to blast past them. Despite his wealth and inherited privilege, Trump always cultivated a commoner facade. He flaunted his wealth in a way that connected with the masses. He lived the rich man’s life most working men dreamed of — endless glamour and women, for example — without sacrificing a way of talking about the world that would not be out of place on the construction sites he regularly toured or dim lit corner barrooms just before last call.
His was a poster boy in a cult of capitalist aspiration. His appearances on “The Howard Stern Show” cemented his appeal. His friendship with Vince McMahon offered him an early entrée into the world of professional wrestling, with its bizarre fusion of sports and fantasy.
He was a macho media superstar.
One of the more amazing episodes in Sarah Palin’s early political life, in fact, bears this out. She popped up in the Anchorage Daily News as “a commercial fisherman from Wasilla” on April 3, 1996. Palin had told her husband she was going to Costco but had sneaked into J.C. Penney in Anchorage to see … one Ivana Trump, who, in the wake of her divorce, was touting her branded perfume. “We want to see Ivana,” Palin told the paper, “because we are so desperate in Alaska for any semblance of glamour and culture.”
Trump cultivated this image and took to reality television as a natural. Each week, for 14 seasons of The Apprentice, he would look someone in the eye and tell them, “You’re fired!” A conversation any humane boss would hate to have with an employee. Yet it was was something Trump obviously  relished, and the cruelty became entertainment.
In hindsight, it is clear he was training both himself and his viewers.
If you want to understand why a figure so widely disliked nonetheless powers toward the election as if he were approaching a reality-TV-show finale, look no further.
His reality television tactics, as applied to presidential debates, wiped out rivals used to a different game.
And Reality-TV training has conditioned enough of us to hope he’ll win  In the shame-free media environment of reality TV, where the assholes often win.
In the end, the audience supports them because they’re assholes.

The late 20th century expanded the notion of who might be qualified for public office. Once, candidates built a career through experience in elected or Cabinet positions or as military commanders; they were effectively vetted and selected by peer review. That elitist sorting mechanism has slowly imploded. In 1940, Wendell Willkie, a businessman with no previous political office, won the Republican nomination for president, pledging to keep America out of war insisting Hitler was no threat, and boasting that his personal wealth inoculated him against corruption: “I will be under obligation to nobody except the people.” He lost badly to Franklin D. Roosevelt, but nonetheless, since then, nonpolitical candidates have proliferated, from Ross Perot and Jesse Jackson, to Steve Forbes and Herman Cain, to this year’s crop of Ben Carson, Carly Fiorina, and, of course, Donald J. Trump.
This further widening of our democracy — our increased openness to being led by anyone; indeed, our accelerating preference for outsiders — is now almost complete.
 In 2000, when George W. Bush lost the popular vote and won the election thanks to Electoral College math and, more egregiously, to a corrupted partisan Supreme Court vote. Al Gore’s concession spared the nation a constitutional crisis, but the episode generated widespread unease, not just among Democrats. Today half of Americans now believe the system is rigged to one extent or another.
The combination of deserved mistrust & barriers to the popular will, especially when it comes to choosing our president, are now almost nonexistent. While this is good news in a way, it's a double edged blade. And America is ripe for the slashing.

In Plato’s Republic he argues that his version of democracy, which is a political system of maximal freedom and equality is a place where every lifestyle is allowed and public offices are filled by a lottery.  He wrote that the longer such a democracy lasted, the more democratic it would become. That its freedoms would multiply; its equality would spread. Deference to authority would wither; tolerance of any kind of inequality would come under intense threat; and multiculturalism and sexual freedom would create a state like “a many-colored cloak decorated in all hues.”
 But it is inherently unstable. As the authority of elites fades, views and identities can become so magnificently diverse as to be mutually uncomprehensible. And when all the barriers to equality, formal and informal, have been removed; when everyone is equal; when elites are despised and full license is established to do “whatever one wants,” you arrive at late-stage democracy. There is no kowtowing to authority here, let alone to political experience or expertise. While we are hardly the Utopia of Plato's Republic, there are resonances.

"It is when a democracy has ripened as fully as this", Plato argues, "that a would-be tyrant will often seize his moment." (No, Plato was not a prophet either of course...but he was logical!)
The tyrant makes his move by “taking over a particularly obedient mob” and attacking his peers as corrupt. If not stopped quickly, his appetite for attacking the rich on behalf of the people swells further. He is a traitor to his class — and soon, his elite enemies, shorn of popular legitimacy, find a way to appease him or are forced to flee. Eventually, he stands alone, promising to cut through the paralysis of democratic incoherence. It’s as if he were offering the addled, distracted, and self-indulgent citizens a kind of relief from democracy’s endless choices and insecurities. He rides a backlash to excess—“too much freedom seems to change into nothing but too much slavery” — and offers himself as the personified answer to the internal conflicts of the democratic mess. He pledges, above all, to take on the increasingly despised elites. And as the people thrill to him as a kind of solution, a democracy willingly, even impetuously, repeals itself.
It's increasingly hard not to see Plato’s vision as a murky reflection of our own times, and Trump as the demagogic tyrannical character plucked directly out of one of the first books about politics ever written.

It has been said that all empires rise flourish and fall. And history bears this out. But how long did it take for the Romans to decay?
Could it be that the Donald has emerged from the populist circuses of pro wrestling and New York City tabloids, via reality television and Twitter, to prove not just Plato but also James Madison right, that democracies “have ever been spectacles of turbulence and contention … and have in general been as short in their lives as they have been violent in their deaths”?
Is the death of our democracy attempt necessary? Have we reached the pinnacle of what we could have achieved and now must walk off a cliff voluntarily?  I for one hope not.

It will take more than Woody's great music to defeat today's fascist.

The rise of a mass movement -Who are they?
After the suffering of recession, rampant unemployment, and despite hard work with stagnant or dwindling pay, for many the future stretches ahead with relief always just out of reach.
We observe those who helped create the last recession facing no consequences, but rather renewed fabulous wealth, the anger reaches a crescendo. The reasons for today’s rage are not hard to find, although many elites have shamefully found themselves able to ignore them.
The jobs available to the working class no longer contain the kind of craftsmanship or satisfaction or meaning that can take the sting out of their low and stagnant wages.
The once-familiar avenues for socialization — their church, their union hall, theirVFW — have become less vibrant and social isolation more common. Global economic forces have pummeled blue-collar workers more relentlessly than almost any other segment of society, forcing them to compete against hundreds of millions of workers throughout the planet whose cost of living is far less. No one asked them in the 1990s if this was the future they wanted.

  The impact of "globalization" has been more brutal than any economists predicted.
No wonder suicide and mortality rates among the white working poor are spiking dramatically.
“It is usually those whose poverty is relatively recent, the ‘new poor,’ who throb with the ferment of frustration,” the moral and social philosopher Eric Hoffer said.
  Where since the "great awakening" in the 1800s, religion long provided some emotional support for those being left behind in modernity (for one thing, it invites practitioners to defy the elites as unholy), Its positive effect has waned as modernity itself as well as  personal greed has penetrated the administration of the doctrines and mythology. In the U.S. the churches themselves are more likely to be the "mega" variety, led by elites looking to enrich their bank accounts and preaching doctrines far removed from anything actually attributed to Jesus. The newly poor; the former working class, abandoned by the elites for cheaper sheep to shear on foreign soil are ripe low hanging fruit for any demagoguery to come along and harvest. This is the wine made from the Grapes Of Wrath folks.

So the great culture wars of the 1990s and 2000s have ended in a routing.
The result has been a more diverse mainstream culture — but also, simultaneously, a subculture that is alienated and despised, and ever more infuriated and bloody-minded.
While this is an age in which a woman might succeed a black man as president, it is also one in which a member of the working class has declining options to make any sort of decent living.
This is a time when gay people can be married in 50 states, but working-class families are hanging by a thread. It’s a period in which we have become far more aware of the historic injustices, yet we ignore the desperate plight of today’s working ­class.

So late-stage vulture capitalism created a righteous, revolutionary anger that late-stage democracy has little or no ability to moderate or constrain — and has actually helped exacerbate.
For the the former working class, having had their morals roundly mocked, their religion deemed impotent, and their economic prospects decimated, also find their very gender and race, indeed the very way they talk under attack (in their view).
So they are lashing out.
Much of the newly energized left has come to see the white working class not as allies but primarily as bigots, misogynists, racists, and homophobes, (and to be honest there is certainly that element in the mix, and the frustration experienced only gives them cause for more new recruitment). But in generalizing like this, we are also condemning those often at the near-bottom rung of the economy to the bottom rung of the culture as well.
A struggling white man in the heartland is now told to “check his privilege” by students at Ivy League colleges.
Even if you agree that the privilege exists, we need to find empathy with the object of this disdain.
Why? Because we are better than that. Because if we don't find it, there will be more tea parties and more Trumps. Assuming the current batch don't actually seize power and destroy civilization.

The disenfranchised will accept any liar who pretends to represent them.

These working-class communities see themselves “disinherited and injured by an unjust order of things.” To quote James Hoffer.
And so they wait, and they steam, and they lash out. This was part of the emotional force of the tea party: which wasn't just  against the advancement of racial minorities, gays, and women but the simultaneous demonization of their white working-class world, its culture and way of life.
Obama never intended this, but he became a symbol to them of this cultural marginalization.
As the tea party swept through Washington in 2010, as its representatives repeatedly held the government budget hostage, threatened the credit of the U.S., and refused to hold hearings on a Supreme Court nominee, the American political and media Establishment mostly chose to interpret such behavior as something other than unprecedented. But Trump saw what others didn’t, as Hoffer noted in his 1951 publication, The True Believer: “The frustrated individual and the true believer make better prognosticators than those who have reason to want the preservation of the status quo.”

Why would I, a lefty by nature; try to understand and indeed suggest empathy is needed for people who in the modern era generally oppose my own views and espouse intolerance and in pockets...hatred...indeed "deplorables" (with or without baskets)?
Precisely because we NEED to be better than that
...because of the quality of mercy
...and because we need to find our own magnanimity.
It is not easy...but I know we have these qualities and we must find them within ourselves.
Finding a solution to their very real problems must be part of our agenda, if only to prevent Trump or the next would be, self aggrandizing, totalitarian from destroying civilization.
And make no mistake. That's exactly what will happen.
We need to understand how dire the need is to defeat Trump, and we need to address the social ills that fermented his rise...or we will have another Trump in short order to defeat.

What is the critical ingredient that can save democracy from itself?
The political Establishment is battered and demoralized, deferential to the algorithms of the web and to the monosyllables of a gifted demagogue, but this is not the time to give up all hope.

The country has endured far harsher times than the present without succumbing to rank demagoguery; it avoided the fascism that destroyed Europe; it has channeled extraordinary outpourings of democratic energy into constitutional order. Yet Democrats who are gleefully predicting a Clinton landslide in November need to both check their complacency, and understand that the Trump question is no cause for partisan Schadenfreude. It’s much more dangerous than that.

The Trump success as a presidential candidate is an existential threat not merely to the U.S. but to humanity.
This is a gravely important election the likes of which, frankly the U.S. has never seen.

Those of us who backed Bernie Sanders (myself included), might want to reflect that their critique of Clinton’s experience and expertise and facile conflation of that with corruption  is now only playing into Trump’s hands. That it falls to Clinton to temper her party’s ambitions has been uncomfortable to watch, since her willingness to compromise and equivocate is precisely why many Americans find her distrustful. But here are the facts. She is all we have left to counter the threat.

She needs to grasp the lethality of her foe, moderate the kind of identity politics that unwittingly empowers him, make an unapologetic case that experience and moderation are not vices, address much more directly the anxieties of the white working class—and Democrats must listen. and all of us rational people need to support her now.
More to the point, those Republicans desperately trying to thwart this monster deserve our passionate support, not our disdain. This is not the moment to remind them that they brought this on themselves. This is a moment to offer solidarity, especially as the odds are increasingly stacked against them politically (opposing Trump will ruin their party standing as he amasses power...we are seeing even his most ardent critics in the GOP now kowtowing and bowing before him. We have seen this the Wiemar Republic. And I am NOT overemphasizing the threat Trump represents).
They need, quite simply, to disown their party’s candidate.
They should resist any temptation to loyally back the nominee or to sit this election out.
They must take the fight to Trump at every opportunity,  and they must unite with Democrats and Independents against him, they must be prepared to sacrifice one election in order to save their party and their country...maybe humanity itself.
For Trump is not just a wacky politician of the far right, or a riveting television spectacle, or a Twitter phenom or bizarre working-class hero. He is not just another candidate to be parsed and analyzed by TV pundits in the same breath as all the others.
In terms of our liberal democracy and constitutional order,
Trump is an extinction-level event.
It’s long past time we stop denying this.
I don't care who you are, what your political ideologies are...Hillary Clinton as fate would have it, is now the only person who stands between survival and The End Of It All.

Like her or not, she is the ONLY viable option to the end of the world.
She has the intellect, stamina, qualifications and poise to do the job.
Your world will NOT end if you vote for her.
It very well will if you don't.

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