Democrats In Disarray: Demagoguery Is No #Resistance To Captain Chaos | Blog#42
Almost three months after an abject defeat, Democrats still aren’t united in a resistance movement. In the Senate the best the leadership has come up with is being absent from confirmation votes. In the House, Nancy Pelosi, hasn’t found a cogent strategy or a coherent voice. Meanwhile, everything liberal and progressive Democrats have mostly taken for granted is under assault and it doesn’t appear that leaders in Congress are coordinating approaches on a systematic basis. This level of disorganization, at this critical point, doesn’t bode well, given the monumental proportions of what is about to hit our nation.
There are also the progressive forces working outside the Democratic party. Our Revolution is doing a great job of mobilizing voters on the issues as well as getting progressive candidates elected within state party apparatuses, state houses, and the U.S. Congress itself.
Robert Reich continues to be a force of nature, doing the outstanding yeoman’s job of keeping voters informed by sharing the day’s news and supplementing them with clear and concise analysis in daily broadcasts from the Resistance. Reich is one of the scant few leaders who’ve risen to the occasion and have been steering a largely unhappy Democratic party, from the outside. But, recently, Reich has been deviating from the service he took upon himself to provide eight years ago and, at times, ventures into the murky and very dangerous territory of demagoguery:
In the face of an authoritarian oligarch who not only is ignorant of most things related to governing, but doesn’t care to know, demagoguery is the very last thing we need. Donald J. Trump, no matter how much we dislike him, won this election according to the rules both parties were agreed to. A win, no matter which candidate won, would be achieved through the electoral vote, and not the popular vote. Donald J. Trump focused his campaign on winning the requisite number of electors. Hillary Clinton, apparently, did not.
Hillary Clinton conceded the election. Her win of the popular vote does nothing to change the outcome. Continuing to harp on something that never had relevance as far as determining a victor is unproductive, demagogic even, and it is harmful in that it instills the opposite value that is being claimed. Democracy depends on the adherence by all to the rules set by our society for majority rule. Don’t like the rules? Change them when you have a majority, but do so by building consensus and not through cycles in which each party grabs power, as has been done over the last thirty years.
The see-saw of Republican and then Democratic majorities, with periods of divided government in between, have resulted in the oligarchic mess we are now mired in. What comes after, if we, collectively, don’t do anything to restore and, even instill, a greater sense of civics? How does a new cycle begin after Trump? Each successive swing since the second Reagan administration has been sharper, going either way, with both sides employing undemocratic tactics in order to overcome barriers and push through goals. The ability to build consensus has been completely lost.
We’ve spent most of the first six years of the Obama presidency marveling over how low the Republican party has sunk and how chaotic it had become. Suddenly, in 2016, that party is not only no longer in chaos, but it turns out that it is the Democratic party that is in deep trouble and its leadership both unwilling and powerless to allow for a fix.
More than ever now, it is necessary to immediately and decisively move beyond the election results and the grief and rage right-of-center liberals continue to express. We need to finally face the reasons why the election was lost so we can finally begin, in earnest, to coalesce as a united resistance to what will turn out to be the single most destructive presidency and Congress in decades.
This nation has been in crisis of governance for quite some time, and this election has thrown us into a tailspin, as we’ve gone from a plutocracy (bad enough) to an oligarchy (even worse) and are now a session of Congress away from seeing every bit of progress we’ve made as a modern society, mainly the New Deal, Civil Rights achievements and Great Society, rolled back, our education system at risk of religious distortion and transmogrification, and our cities, air and water supply, laced with the toxins of capitalist ethics run amok.
How did this happen?
As time goes on, we will see a lot of work analyzing why so many among us made the choice of Trump. Some important questions are raised in an Atlantic magazine piece that looks at the failure of our national civics education:
“Public schools are failing at what the nation’s founders saw as education’s most basic purpose: preparing young people to be reflective citizens who would value liberty and democracy and resist the appeals of demagogues. In that sense, the Trump phenomenon should be a Sputnik moment for civics education. Just as Soviet technological advances triggered investment in science education in the 1950s, the 2016 election should spur renewed emphasis on the need for schools to instill in children an appreciation for civic values and not just a skill set for private employment.”
As legal philosopher, Ronald Dworkin, pointed out a few years ago:
“One of the problems in our intellectual world today is that we’re reluctant to speak of political ideas as true or false. But these ideas are false in the sense, direct sense, that they cannot bear sustained reflection. I, therefore, propose – I must do so very quickly now – that the only remedy for these ills of Democracy, of course we have no option but Democracy, the only possible remedy is education that will introduce complexity.
We – must – we have, for many decades, thought automatically that politics must be kept out of the school. I think that is a maligned additional mistake. I think we must find a way to introduce the complexity of politics into secondary schools, in all our countries, in ways that show that these are not simple crude ideas, captured in slogans – well-captured in slogans – but are ideas that require sustained attention and further thought.”
What’s at issue?
Practically everything we can imagine, from whom the government really serves and protects, to the most basic of human rights and freedoms one can imagine, in all areas of life.
Laws like this one from Kentucky will begin making the rounds in red state legislatures around the nation:
Even in cases of spousal rape.
The Right To Work
One of the many waves of legislative action under way includes a national right-to-work law. The nurses’ union has been very active in progressive politics. Here is a sampling of the issues at hand:
National Nurses United will oppose right-wing so-called “right to work” legislation being introduced in the House of Representatives today that they say poses a significant threat to public health and safety that would also threaten to reduce living standards for millions of American workers.
“Under the façade of protecting worker’s right, this bill is nothing short of a full scale assault on living standards for all workers that would seriously erode the ability of working people to speak out when public protections are at risk,” said NNU Executive Director RoseAnn DeMoro.
States with “right to work” laws have lower wages, worse healthcare outcomes including lower life expectancies, and higher workplace injury and death rates, data has shown. Even the promise of improved business climate is illusory, said NNU.
At issue not only are the right to unionize, but so is practically everything else related to earning a living, healthcare, and… free speech. Not only is a Republican Congress a threat to all those values and rights, so is the U.S. Supreme Court.
One of the most democratically-appealing campaigns I’ve seen in recent weeks has been the work of Our Revolution, the organization that resulted from Senator Bernie Sanders’ primary campaign. Their latest effort aims to send particular members of the Senate a message on closing ranks and joining the resistance to oppose the confirmation of Neil Gorsuch. In the absence of Senate leadership that is assertive enough to impose party discipline, these are the kinds of efforts progressives must make in order to keep voters engaged and apply pressure on neoliberal Democrats who are, in effect, legitimizing the establishment of the Trump oligarchy power structure. At 49 years old, Justice Gorsuch has the potential of sitting on the highest court for decades.
Senator Ted Cruz, who clerked in the Supreme Court, said in October 2016:
“There is certainly long historical precedent for a Supreme Court with fewer justices. I would note, just recently, that Justice (Stephen) Breyer observed that the vacancy is not impacting the ability of the court to do its job. That’s a debate that we are going to have.”
CNN’s analysis stresses that “Cruz’s comments show his willingness to hold open the vacancy in the event Democrat Hillary Clinton emerges victorious on Election Day. Clinton has not indicated whether she plans to renominate Garland or make a different appointment if she wins the White House.” Senator Mitch McConnell is proud of having denied President Obama his high court nominee. There is absolutely no reason why Democrats can’t return the favor now, or is there?
The Hill reports that there is no consensus on blocking Neal Gorsuch. In fact, by The Hill’s tally of which Democrats favor which tack, it appears they are split on the idea of a filibuster:
“But Schumer stopped short of promising a filibuster against Gorsuch, saying instead that Trump’s nominee should meet a 60-vote threshold to get on the court.
“We Democrats will insist on a rigorous but fair process. There will be 60 votes for confirmation,” he said from the Senate floor. “There will be 60 votes for confirmation.”
Sen. Jeff Merkley (Ore.), who began the week promising a filibuster against any nominee from Trump, was on Wednesday the only Democratic senator explicitly voicing support for using procedural tools to stop Gorsuch, a judge on the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals with a sterling academic and legal resume.”
Why all this posturing? What The Hill article doesn’t mention is that Neil Gorsuch was confirmed as Circuit Court judge in 2006 by 45 Democrats.
Democrats are compromised in their ability to go all out and filibuster, not out of comity, as suggested by Senator Claire McCaskill, but by decades of triangulation, wheeling, dealing, and feeding from the same trough Republican lawmakers gorge on donations from. On a different vote, Senator Claire McCaskill broke with Democrats and voted to undo President Obama’s coal regulations, placing public water safety at risk. Senators Manchin and Warner also voted with Republicans.
These are the rotten fruits begotten by money in politics.
The Right To Privacy
The right to privacy and the surveillance state are inexorably intertwined. That much should have become crystal clear as we learned, thanks to whistleblower Edward Snowden, that practically everyone in our nation was being spied on, thanks to the Patriot Act, passed after 9/11, and laws that prevent even our lawmakers from alerting their constituents about privacy issues.
“THE FBI’S RAP BACK program is quietly transforming the way employers conduct background checks. While routine background checks provide employers with a one-time “snapshot” of their employee’s past criminal history, employers enrolled in federal and state Rap Back programs receive ongoing, real-time notifications and updates about their employees’ run-ins with law enforcement, including arrests at protests and charges that do not end up in convictions. (“Rap” is an acronym for Record of Arrest and Prosecution; ”Back” is short for background). Testifying before Congress about the program in 2015, FBI Director James Comey explained some limits of regular background checks: “People are clean when they first go in, then they get in trouble five years down the road [and] never tell the daycare about this.””
If the assumption that passing such sweeping police laws was safe in a sound democracy in the early 2000’s, what can we say about the existence of such laws in 2016, in an oligarchy presided by Donald J. Trump, an authoritarian and autocrat?
In, “How to Build an Autocracy,” David Frum writes:
“Civil unrest will not be a problem for the Trump presidency. It will be a resource. Trump will likely want not to repress it, but to publicize it—and the conservative entertainment-outrage complex will eagerly assist him. Immigration protesters marching with Mexican flags; Black Lives Matter demonstrators bearing anti-police slogans—these are the images of the opposition that Trump will wish his supporters to see. The more offensively the protesters behave, the more pleased Trump will be. Calculated outrage is an old political trick, but nobody in the history of American politics has deployed it as aggressively, as repeatedly, or with such success as Donald Trump.”
I agree that President Trump will make use of such displays of dissent to his advantage, both with his voters and even center-right Democrats and right-leaning independent voters. But the dangers posed by that pale in comparison with those presented by a far more sinister threat, considering his choice for senior advisers and Attorney General.
The White Supremacist Threat
In a nation that is browning – America is expected to turn into a majority minority within 20 to 30 years, what are the dangers posed by Jim Crow? In a pair of reports, The Intercept’s Glenn Greenwald and his journalists examine exactly this question.
In, “President Trump Has Inherited An FBI With Vast Hidden Powers,” Greenwald writes:
“One of the documents contains an alarming observation about the nation’s police forces, even as perceived by the FBI. Officials of the bureau were so concerned that many of these police forces are linked to, at times even populated by, overt white nationalists and white supremacists, that they have deemed it necessary to take that into account in crafting policies for sharing information with them.”
In a piece, entitled “The FBI Has Quietly Investigated White Supremacist Infiltration of Law Enforcement,” The Intercept’s Alice Speri writes about developments within federal law enforcement, with respect to the investigation of white supremacists and their infiltration of the nation’s law enforcement agencies. The piece centers around internal FBI reports, court cases involving law enforcement personnel who turned out to belong to white supremacist organizations, and details what has happened within federal agencies tasked with tracking these individuals and assessing risk, after the blow-back and subsequent retreat by former DHS Secretary, Janet Napolitano, from the publication of a 2009 intelligence study by the Department of Homeland Security.
“Faced with mounting criticism, DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano disavowed the document and apologized to veterans. The agency’s unit investigating right-wing extremism was largely dismantled and the report’s lead investigator was pushed out. “They stopped doing intel on that, and that was that,” Heidi Beirich, who leads the Southern Poverty Law Center’s tracking of extremist groups, told The Intercept. “The FBI in theory investigates right-wing terrorism and right-wing extremism, but they have limited resources. The loss of that unit was a loss for a lot of people who did this kind of work.”
“Federal law enforcement agencies in general — the FBI, the Marshals, the ATF — are aware that extremists have infiltrated state and local law enforcement agencies and that there are people in law enforcement agencies that may be sympathetic to these groups,” said Daryl Johnson, who was the lead researcher on the DHS report. Johnson, who now runs DT Analytics, a consulting firm that analyzes domestic extremism, says the problem has since gotten “a lot more troublesome.””
“IN 2014, THE Department of Justice re-established its Domestic Terrorism Task Force, a unit that was created following the Oklahoma City bombing. But for the most part, the government’s efforts to confront domestic terrorism threats over the last decade have focused on homegrown extremists radicalized by foreign groups. Last year, a group of progressive members of Congress called on President Obama and DHS to update the controversial 2009 report. “The United States allocates significant resources towards combating Islamic violent extremism while failing to devote adequate resources to right-wing extremism,” they wrote. “This lack of political will comes at a heavy price.”
Critics fear that the backlash following the 2009 DHS report hindered further action against the growing white supremacist threat, and that it was largely ignored because the issue was so politically controversial. “I believe that because that report was so denounced by conservatives, it sort of closed the door on whatever the FBI may have been considering doing with respect to combating infiltration of law enforcement by white supremacists,” said Samuel Jones, a professor of law at the John Marshall Law School in Chicago who has written about white power ideology in law enforcement.”
Fast-forward to this week… Former House Speaker, Nancy Pelosi, in an appearance made these statements about white supremacists:
Steve Bannon, his philosophy, his influence over Donald J. Trump, and his connections, have been the subject of hundreds of articles over the past year. Though there is clear evidence of Bannon’s racist bent, none, however, have produced clear evidence that Bannon is a part of a white supremacist organization. Nancy Pelosi makes serious accusations here, without substantiating them or alerting the public of the issues raised by The Intercept, when it comes to law enforcement, its vulnerabilities, and what’s been done to curtail the work of investigating and then rooting out white supremacists from either joining agencies or removing them from office.
In fact, Pelosi only makes the white supremacist connection with respect to the naming of Bannon to the National Security Council. But what of the other implications and dangers to law enforcement itself, and the closing of the unit whose job it was to investigate white supremacists in law enforcement? Not a word was said about that, and it is curious, as during the month of October, WikiLeaks released an email of Pelosi’s instructing House Democrats not to support Black Lives Matter policy suggestions. As House Minority Leader, Nancy Pelosi’s megaphone is far louder than Glenn Greenwald’s and the totality of this issue needs to be raised with voters.
David Frum, in the quote above, discusses how President Trump will use social unrest. What he doesn’t consider in his piece, in connection to white supremacy in law enforcement, is that social justice groups such as Black Lives Matter, Color of Change, and individual high-profile civil rights activists have been under the watchful surveillance of the FBI, DHS, and local police forces ever since they became active, after 2012. In 2015, The Intercept reported:
“The documents, released by the Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Operations Coordination, indicate that the department frequently collects information, including location data, on Black Lives Matter activities from public social media accounts, including on Facebook, Twitter, and Vine, even for events expected to be peaceful. The reports confirm social media surveillance of the protest movement and ostensibly related events in the cities of Ferguson, Baltimore, Washington, DC, and New York.
They also show the department watching over gatherings that seem benign and even mundane. For example, DHS circulated information on a nationwide series of silent vigils and a DHS-funded agency planned to monitor a funk music parade and a walk to end breast cancer in the nation’s capital.”
For those who remember, there is plenty of precedent for this kind of surveillance. A prime example was COINTELPro. Maybe Pelosi failed to make this connection because surveillance of current Black civil rights movements never stopped and she, herself, is opposed to them?
CBS News anchor Scott Pelley said this during his February 3rd news broadcast:
Pelley: “It wasn’t clear what Pelosi was referring to. Bannon used to be the head of Breitbart news which has run extreme-right, White-nationalist commentary, but, for the record, our research department has not been able to find any quotes from Bannon himself advocating White supremacy.”
Maybe Nancy Pelosi doesn’t see the connection between civil rights and the danger posed by Steve Bannon. Either way, making unsubstantiated accusations, as she has, increases the risk that they will be ignored as partisan politics, to the detriment of alerting the public and pushing for transparency and full-scale investigations.
The Trumpist reconfiguring of America, as we are about to witness, is in danger of being far more thorough and wide-ranging than the Reagan Revolution. It will be far more dangerous, too, if Democrats continue to be as disorganized and divided as they are. The party can no longer afford to continue operating as it has, with bands of legislators acting as agents of this or that group of special interests. Special interests are who won this election and, for as long as he is in office, Donald J. Trump, our oligarch presides over their interests. Exxon Mobil, Goldman Sachs, Big Oil, Big Pharma, and all the others, each have a seat on the cabinet. Goldman Sachs has three seats. The Democrats, at least for the next four years, are no longer needed to serve special interests. The sooner the Democratic leadership reorganizes based on this new reality and implements the single biggest lesson from Senator Sanders’ successful campaign based on small donors and engaged voters, the better a chance the party will have at rebounding and recovering by 2020, if it does at all.
But for this rebound to take place, the hard work of Democrats in attracting back the lower middle and working classes, has yet to begin. The reconciliation process, after one of the most divisive election cycles in recent memory, has yet to be acknowledged, much less begun. The rancor within the left, is still as palpable today as it was a week after the election, and it is an unhealthy state for it to be in. The fight to keep the party under neoliberal control and install a right-of-center candidate is a destructive one. Just as destructive is the continued effort by many Democrats to continue post-election recriminations. This lingering attitude shows up in a new poll by Public Policy Polling, as reported by The Hill and many other outlets:
“Pollsters also found that a majority of voters, 52 percent, would prefer former President Obama in his old role rather than Trump; 43 percent prefer Trump, and 5 percent are uncertain.”
The poll was badly designed and carried out, for a variety of reasons. for one, Hillary Clinton’s name only appears once in this poll. Another problem is that the numbers don’t quite add up. Then, one wonders, why would President Obama be given as the alternate choice to Trump, rather than, say, Hillary Clinton or the three most successful primary candidates over Trump? Yet, as stated above, many news organizations are choosing to quote from this poll, without exposing some of its underlying assumptions, just as they did all throughout the election. They’re distractions away from our very real existential issues and how our elected leaders are handling or avoiding them.
The issues I raised here aren’t getting much ink in the mainstream press, when they need to be raised in the context of all the other issues we face. Over the last few months, it is a rare politician who hasn’t raised the specter of fascism whenever discussing Donald Trump. But that specter is almost never raised in tandem with concrete issues that span both parties in the way they’ve dealt with civil rights and civil liberties, and that includes all eight years of the Obama administration and very real problems the press has avoided airing out. Here we are now, with nominations for cabinet posts and the first in what could be several Supreme Court appointments the Trump administration will be making, in addition to thousands of judicial appointments the Republicans completely ignored over the last few years, leaving courts severely understaffed. One can be certain that the Trump administration will apply the same zeal it has shown over its first two weeks in filling these vacant judgeships.
As Democratic activists and politicians focus our collective attention on too few issues of utmost importance and too many that should no longer be of concern, in an avalanche of news generated by the incoming administration, Big Media is failing to project the wider picture, as it continues to be selective in what is highlighted and promoted as breaking news. The Intercept’s reports on white supremacy and our law enforcement agencies are germane to the wider conversation about Trump’s choices of nominees and their racist bent. None of the Big Media have either produced their own reports or quoted from The Intercept. Who loses? We all do. Who wins? Captain Chaos.
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