Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Revolutionary Disseverance, “You say you want a revolution? Well, you know…”

When Senator Sanders called for a political revolution at the first Democratic Presidential debate you could feel the palpable discomfort on stage.  Only Jim Webb addressed the word “revolution” directly, and with a heartfelt disdain and contempt befitting his own incongruity: Webb looked like he was auditioning looking for a Republican debate circa 1974 so that he might run to the left of Reagan.  Secretary Clinton was typically self-conscious in posing her own establishment contrast as a “progressive who likes to get things done.”  She then invoked just a shard of that seemingly necessary and utterly vile American Exceptionalism. 
This not only irks but also means to suggest that she knows what sells and will not sell within short-attention span America.  What will opponents use against Senator Sanders or anyone who questions the innate superiority of American choices? “I love Denmark. We are the United States of America…” blahblahblah.  We have not had an educational or nuanced argument over socialism since the 1930s.  And when has intellectual discourse penetrated the American ethos when instead we can wave a patriot’s flag?

The irony is that America is already in the midst of a revolution. But as Senator Sanders’ Democratic colleagues fail to appreciate, the revolution they should fear is not the one he proposes.  With laser focus on Presidential aspirations the real issues of democracy are being addressed by an army of Republican zealots fully committed to local and State government rule.  The Democratic Party no longer has such organizational religions at their beck and call: the NRA, evangelical Christians, and libertarian corporate wealth now purchasing the memes of their self-interest in the age of Citizens United.  Money is speech, corporations are people.  As legal targets those issues would require a revolution to change: Supreme Court appointments that dramatically shift the majority, a Congress determined to legislate change, and a populace rallied to the causes of progressives supporting a new Congress and Executive.

The problem, as this piece by Elias Isquith makes clear, is that governments engage change only when the roots demand and act.  There is a revolution underway:  Senator Sanders calls for its counterpart, its honest apposition.  But to establishment Democrats Bernie has brought far too much transparency and candor to what a revolution of change would require of us, all of us on both sides of the revolutions.  (http://www.salon.com/2015/10/20/the_democratic_party_is_in_deep_trouble_the_big_question_that_bernie_sanders_is_at_least_trying_to_answer/.  Be sure to follow up with the Vox piece by Matt Yglesias, as well.)

Democrats are currently losing that revolution to the real revolutionaries of the Right on the ground and in the halls of power from small town halls to Congress.  Senator Sanders is determined to proclaim the need for revolution as fervently as the Democratic establishment denies that it already underway and we are losing.   He is appealing to the American people to understand that the revolution is right before their eyes and that they will suffer its consequences by the sheer din of their own complacency.  Is he as frustrated as he is optimistic that Americans will not rise, listen, learn, and act?

Conservative Republicans not only control those basic levels of government at present, their activists have religious determination to see their causes through.  Make no mistake, in America the Right’s causes are motivated not only by their particular religion but by a determination to succeed characteristic of true religious zealotry.  To elevate political goals to the level of intransigent certitude that accepts nihilism over compromise is religious narcissism.   Democrats could use a warm dose of that zealotry while doing their best to remain keenly aware of the unwelcome consequences of both certitude and narcissism.  Under these circumstances we cannot ignore the whole house is on fire and we're going to have change the terms of engagement.  Just how is that going to be accomplished?

Isquith mentions how Democrats once had organized labor to provide some of that zeal for their cause but also how this has been systematically dissolved, especially since the age of Reagan.  “Unions” is as demonized a term as “liberal” while “conservative” has mainstreamed into acceptable, nay, normative American discourse.  The result should be plain to see: Republicans are not only zealots for their policies, they have been effective evangelicals with messianic claims.  As we follow the efficacies of language we can also turn to the success of dogma: no claim can quite touch America’s religious sensibilities more a than the disdain for taxes.  This topic has effectively been reduced to another dogmatism, reiterated with the catechismic simplicity of Norquistism.  Just say no.

Of course the Republican establishment wants only a revolution it can control, or more like a rebellion that continues to fuel zealotry without undermining the interests of the managing oligarchs and kleptocrats.  This dilemma is it at the heart of their current disarray in choosing a new Speaker: the rebellious are in control and their revolution will carry the day.  Here is where Democrats must pause for at least two reasons.  

First, the religious and social conservative zealots will make their own strange reconciliation with Wall Street economics and others because they are determined to win the election.  As urgent as their cause may be, they are willing to accept incremental advances without relinquishing their greater objectives.  Second, though we may enjoy their current circular firing squad, our revelry will be short-lived when real politics happens on school and town boards, county legislatures, and State houses that control the discourse. Because of the realities of gerrymandering, a Republican Congress fears the local primary over their Democratic opponents and can deny that the country’s greater good is founded upon compromise.  The Republican Congressional sinecure, like their grifting, is made from religious zeal that blithely welcomes apocalypse, so long as that governmental dysfunction insures their individual success.  Religious zealotry becomes indistinguishable from personal narcissism.

Rather than fear Senator Sanders revolution, Secretary Clinton will require its complement from Democrats if there is even the slightest chance that, as she says, she will be “a progressive who likes to get things done.”  What she fails to appreciate is that there is precious little common ground as far as Republicans are concerned (today, as a matter of course, they are threatening her impeachment before her nomination, much less election).  If she believes her own rhetoric ---and don’t we all wonder about that---when she says, “I know how to find common ground…” she vastly underestimates the power of religious zealotry to direct her opponent’s actions.  More early term Obama for 2017?  That she might advance Senator Sanders’ call for revolution is unlikely, no matter what we think of convictions that play into the hands of opponents ideologically.  The issue is practical, just as she claims to understand.  Who believes that? 

Perhaps what she needs instead is a revolution, a Sanders revolution led by Sanders to meet the Republican revolution already underway.  If the republic can withstand the consequences of revolutions, it may yet win the battle over religious zealots who would choose nihilism over compromise.

While establishment Democrats point to future demographics and resort to perceived saleable arguments, Sanders progressives recognize the broader implications of denial and the consequences of political ennui.  We not only feel the Bern, we know the Republican’s zealots will not yield.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Deadlines and Revolutions

I'm not presuming to offer advanced lessons in civics here but rather make a few observations about how institutions persist, however we might want them to change.  Today was deemed an "important" deadline for Presidential campaign contributions.  I received solicitations from both Mrs. Clinton and Senator Sanders.  I'm sure those identifying with the word "conservative" also received the same from other candidates.  Today was about money, about promises to change the system, perhaps even a call to revolution of one kind or another.  Everyone involved promises to change the country at its very core.  Whether or not you believe that is a good idea or however you might like to see that happen, let's be clear: as Gil Scot-Heron told us back in the day when revolution was just as popular a rallying cry, the revolution will not be televised.  But neither should you expect it to go live anytime soon.  

First a few facts to fuel my claim that the forces of inertia will prevail.  

America and its government, its politicians are owned by the donor class and they above all are the least interested in change.  The system as we know it is their property, rigged to their advantage, and run by their capital. We don't vote for person or policy so much as the ones who have paid for the law and have the influence to extract their privilege.  It is the law that is actually for sale, driven by ideologies that favor wealth's celebrity, and with it all of their commensurate advantages.  Citizen's United made this purchase of the system of government perfectly legal and the next President will very likely secure a Supreme Court that will have a profound effect upon the future by virtue of how it understands the past.  But let us not get ahead of ourselves here. We are well to remember that elections are bought--- unless what? And it is this rather unremarkable recognition links Trump and Sanders voters.

These candidates are not selling themselves to the highest bidder.  While Mrs. Clinton promises to change government for purchase, she participates in donor class dependence, claiming that to do otherwise is political suicide.  This is because politics is not policy, it is a system that exists as a virtual organic entity dedicated to perpetuating itself.  That entity has multiple organs: political, religious, military, ethnic entities that gather to form larger bodies of influence but at the heart of the matter is identity, that is, who We the People think we are.  Trump and Sanders say they are both immune to the influence of money---their common link--- and yet, I submit, two very different things are going on when they assert their independence.  The difference between them is a revolution's worth of identity.

Any recognition of our bought-and-sold politics upsets the powerful donor-buyers, be they individuals, corporations, or other interests. All such interests maximize their profit by convincing the less influential to vote in their interests. However else identity is formulated, to be American is to convince us to identify with The Dream, the entrepreneurial hope that we too might become as rich as Croesus.  In this way "Americans" need not vote who they are but only who they wish they were.  With Trump his self-financing has coupled itself to our American wealth and security dream and a nativist revanchism that sees the "other" (particularly the under class of immigrants) as the cause of middle class stagnation and decline.  Calling these human beings "illegals" is meant not only to delegitimize their political status but also to assert that they have not secured the same human rights as others who are "Americans."  This classic plantation-owner strategy rallies around hate and uses race to manipulate the fearful to identify with the "real" American interests of wealth and the wealthy. There is something inveterately American about this American Dream identity, something both familiar and deeply troubling.  The purpose of government is to maintain the vision of The Dream.  Trump supporters believe he can't be bought because he has achieved The Dream and that those he castigates are the cause of their problems, stealing their wealth and opportunities. They see themselves as losing power, as a majority emerges who are not like them. This alone would be enough to motivate them to vote but because they also recognize that their donor class--- a class to which they aspire--- has no care for their "plight," their views entangle become with establishment Republicans (aka the donor class).

Chances are, however, that some donor-class candidate will suffice to win their vote if the un-purchased Mr. Trump fails to win the nomination.  This is because at the core of their ideology is the notion that their world is being taken away from them by this "other," that their hard-earned taxes go to pay for those who "want free stuff," as Mr. Bush has put it. But it is also because their American Dream is to become nothing less than that donor class, immune to the insecurity that can then purchase influence and guarantee outcomes.  Freedom means to do as you please---for yourself and your family in particular--- and for that all you really need is money and the legal right to acquire whatever you want.  It would be a mistake to underestimate the appeal that this has had historically: scapegoats have been named, "real American" identity secured, a positive entrepreneurial aspiration and goal has been established, and with that a certain set of whistles, codes, and nods will create an "us" that wages its battle against "them."  This is not so much a theory of governance as it is a crisis of identity emerging in a world in which diversity is the emergent norm and opportunity scarce but for the already secure.  Of course, American security is also not what it was and that fact has provided since 9/11 yet another pivot of fear.  The rallying cry is to "take back America."  From whom?  To where?  These are the usual questions but now they have been answered.  Mr. Trump has seen to that.  The revolution he promises is to become him.

Of course the contrast in what it means to be a not-for-purchase candidate could not be more stark. Senator Sanders proposes nothing less than a revolution where our economic interests are matched to collective ethical standards, in which case education, health care, safety, environmental protection, work, retirement, women's rights, gender equality, etc. are treated as human rights under government's aegis as guarantor and protector. The Senator's detractors call this European Socialism as if what American Exceptionalism means is not to have such human rights but instead The Dream.  We know Senator Sanders can't be bought--- certainly not for $32 and change on average--- and there is every reason to believe that he is, as he has always been, consistent to his convictions. But do note too: he has no Party apparatus, no Congressional representatives or Governors, no one in the greater system of governance that wholly supports his views and this is why Sanders is unelectable at present. But we can take this further: the Sanders Revolution is not imminent, even if he were somehow to win the Democratic nomination and then the Presidency.

The System we need understand more fully warrants a Capital Letter: it is no less than a Living Entity, just as real as any Corporation is effectively a Person with extraordinary privilege.  And this System represents the Character of the American People: it does not change unless there is an overwhelming majority working within the System itself to alter its very nature.  Given President Obama's two convincing elections we have discovered there is no such overwhelming desire to change the System nor the majority in power to effect that change.  The events of 9/11 did not precipitate a collective determination to make ourselves better as a people, as a nation but rather to extract a vengeance that only served to empower further the goals of those immune to change.  We received no "satisfaction" of vengeance or victory, nor did we rise to any other greater collective aspiration.  The Dream, which is the fantasy come true in Mr. Trump, in fact has continued and reinforced itself in the hearts and minds of a significant number of Americans.

If you support Senator Sanders ---and I too made another contribution today following the appeal to the Federal rules governing the campaigns---his chances of nomination, much less victory are still slim to none. This is not negativity. This is because one person simply cannot change the System, as the Senator notes time and again.  But neither can We the People unless an overwhelming majority come to dominate the structure itself and change the collective's character, our deepest aspirations of identity.  This kind of change is something Tea Partists and conservatives have understood at the grass roots where every election, down to the local school boards, they have indeed altered the character of America.  Some forms of social change, like the implementation of LGBT rights have met their stiff opposition but here, at last, demographics and financial interests coincide to thwart obstructionism.  Have no doubt that these hard won rights will be fought every step of the way forward in the name of The Dream.

Let us not forget that the System is not merely the people who run it, otherwise it would not be a system at all: the people within the structure are exactly what is replaceable. The System would require structural change and that more frequently happens incrementally--- yet another civics lesson to be drawn from Republican Party electioneering and victories.  Since just short of half the country will not support Senator Sanders ideas under any circumstances even if a majority might well offer rousing cheers, the System will require a revolution from within to change. Senator Sanders' objectives would require us to evolve our ethical identity: America would have to love all of its people more than profit, value labor more than property, and pursue its role in the world to peacemaker rather than mere enforcer of its interests. Does anyone here really think that America really wants that?

The Tea/Republican Party continually restakes its claim for some or another, currently trumped up, version of The Dream. Progressives need to see matters through this lens as well as their own.  President Obama didn't fail us--- for all his corporatism and willingness to perpetuate the previous administration's militarism--- Mr. Obama only demonstrated that the System is no more in his control than it is in ours, it does not actually belong to We the People, and so it is just as likely to regress as it to progress only in increments or in fragmentary victories. He continues to speak of the arc of history because otherwise there is no chance for change. There is just not enough We where that decisive change will shift the collective discourse and cause the structure to refashion itself, our ethos as a nation has not yet evolved.  And that revolution of character, that change of heart is the very heart of Bernie Sanders' candidacy. I will continue to support Senator Sanders because he has both the integrity and the vision I endorse but no one should doubt we are as a country a very long, long way from his revolution.  That is a revolution for the heart and soul of America and we're not there yet, deadlines notwithstanding.

Monday, September 28, 2015

The News from Abroad

As we recover from Pope Francis adulation we notice that Rome isn’t burning but basking in a brighter light of self-legitimation claiming relevance for modernity while Republicans procure a new meaning to the word "arson."  Is there a word for burning down your own House?  Or the Republic?
We’ve heard so much about faith and conscience with tears of affirmation flowing on the streets and from the seat of the Speaker and just as much about “a victory for the crazies” that comes not from another cultured despiser but from one of their own. (http://www.newsday.com/long-island/rep-peter-king-john-boehner-s-resignation-is-victory-for-the-crazies-1.10889507)

I am reminded of a mention in Newsweek from an era no less troubled or bereft of insight, somewhere around 1975 when Olds still made their Custom Cruiser.  Not quite the Pope's new Fiat but don't let that fool ya'.  It's still not true that 
“The news from abroad has become unintelligible.”  This would be the end of civilization and we're not quite there yet.  It would be tantamount to saying that we cannot understand each other, that language is untranslatable, and actions unaccountable.  Incidentally, I would also be out of a job. We need to interpret reality, not succumb to unknowing even when we know we can’t know.  All the same might be said for what’s going on at home.  Whether we look to some bygone past or the present, we’re be no better off if we just give up trying to make sense of the madness.

To assert madness is beyond our comprehension does nothing to empower our better, albeit imperfect understanding.  It emboldens the mad because they know they aren’t.  Not only aren’t they mad, they are perfectly sure they aren’t.  As Professor Krugman rightly asserts, the current machinations of Republican “leadership” will only portend more government dysfunction and obstructionism because such certainty is their aim.  (http://www.nytimes.com/2015/09/28/opinion/paul-krugman-the-blackmail-caucus-aka-the-republican-party.html?action=click&pgtype=Homepage&module=opinion-c-col-left-region&region=opinion-c-col-left-region&WT.nav=opinion-c-col-left-region)  Do we need to remind ourselves that the only thing more dangerous than ignorance is certainty?

Is it mad to dissemble in order to dismantle the work of government?  Hardly.  It may be sedition or in the most generous sense ---if you are mad enough to think that a 21st century superpower can function without government--- it can understood as just another philosophy of polity.  What we can understand is that this is deliberate, calculated, and advocating a clearly stated agenda.   Less government is government, at whatever cost to the needs of a republic that projects its empire and provides the standard for economic stability in a world that teeters on disaster as an everyday experience.  But never underestimate the power of conviction to overwrite reality: it’s a mainstay of politics and religion driven by intractable principles and self-proclaimed rectitude.

In the Age of Meme where “fact” is reduced to mere repetition, let us not forget that the literalist faithful will listen only to those who confirm their views: views created and reinforced by those from whom they learned their meme.  For the Republican meme-teaser, enter Fox News, Rush, et.al.  For the refashioned Catholic, that would be Pope Francis.  Irony never suffers from transparency but it is cannot help but be lost on the literalist yearning for genuineness.

Let’s imagine for just one moment that the President actually gives the Tea Party caucus the government shutdown they would apparently prefer to Congressional funding of Planned Parenthood.  I mean the entire agenda of shutdown with no “essential services”: airports without air traffic controls, no paychecks for government workers, including the military, no food inspection, thousands of trucks left at the borders and container ships in port, shall we go on?  We might want to return to facts, such as the obviously edited and manipulated videos that are being touted as “evidence” of human atrocity or Mrs. Fiorina’s blatant lies of having seen even worse video.  But would that change minds? (http://www.factcheck.org/2015/09/planned-parenthoods-services/)   Facts don’t have a hold on a reality that is, in this age of verbal ingemination, nothing more than virtual hearsay.  There is real hope for truth, but that would only be possible if we were as equally willing to accept truth as provisional, incomplete, and not much like such conviction, much less faith.

Say it with enough certitude like Mrs. Fiorina, or sincerity like Pope Francis, and you rise in the polls or are lauded for possessing the spiritual elan of a “strong, decisive” leader.  We so desperately want that feeling of groundedness, stability in our fragile existence, the human assurance it’s all just gonna be fine in the end--- but are so utterly incapable of understanding the consequences of incontrovertible assertions or what we must endure before the end.

All of this may frighten you to the bone but have no doubt that a significant portion of the voting electorate wants conviction for the same reason it wants faith: because creed proffers the only challenge we have to face palpable change, everyday uncertainty, and our urgent feelings of vulnerability.  The Pope’s gentle and humanistic tones bring needed serenity but can’t aver the problems that come when faith becomes an affront to enacted secular law.  (Enter Kim Davis on the Rightwing meme machine.)  We may each have, as Pope Francis said, a human right to conscientious objection but how is that without consequences for others too?  One wonders if that right to conscientious objection extends to the views of the Church on women’s health.  He assures us we will be “forgiven” for disagreeing or, worse, acting in ways that may honestly cause our conscience to be just as concerned for his belief in supernaturally conferred moral infallibility. 

Let us add too the craving for authoritative probity and worldly determination that informs the Republican’s impression that the CEO-class is America’s true leadership so that the objective of undisturbed corporate profit can sit comfortably next to a social agenda driven by an uncompromised religious conscience.  These memes may point to a politics of falsehood that disregards the realities of a shared diverse humanity but they are also clear policy objectives meant to be enacted.  And that is not madness.  That is a stated agenda that can be resisted, marginalized to the periphery of power, and consigned to dustbins of history. Madness would be sitting out another election and letting others vote for these policies.  The “crazies” are trying to take power: they have more power when we call them “crazy.” We’re never off the hook; but we’ll hang from the hooks others use if we choose not to take their views seriously.

Monday, September 21, 2015

The Rising Tide

Enter Carly Fiorina, the latest flavor of Republican hell bent on repeating her own versions of self-aggrandizement indifferent to lies or truth.  She believes what she says not because it is true but because she believes in herself.   And this is something The Faithful require since the prerequisite to "truth" telling must be faith, the all-purpose sound byte that avers evidence or reason or reality.  There’s nothing more to it because there’s nothing the facts can do when conviction will suffice. 
That there are no such videos of abortion that Ms Fiorina used so effectively to manipulate her rise in the polls matters not one bit if there is a rise in the polls.  She may prove herself to be the great hope of the faction of Establishment Bankers that own the Old Republican Party: compliant to their bidding and a rouser of the rebellious who will also not rise to revolt against them.  That millions of women, especially the poor in America, would be denied healthcare if Ms. Fiorina’s plans go forward is only as important as her prospects, at least to her.  That we can count on.

One of the ironies of the Big Lie is that we so wish Goebbels had said it that it’s come to that, he said it whether or not he did.  “If you repeat a lie often enough, people will believe it, and you will even come to believe it yourself.”  Someone said it but more importantly many others will repeat: the lessons of propaganda are as old as humankind.  In America the key is to say with feeling whatever you believe and with that douse of conviction that suffices to create a rise in the polls.  The pursuit of power is the all of it, lest we mistake the purpose.

Truth can never survive the declarations of “We the People.”  But the powerful dislike rebellion even more than they distrust the rabble they must entreat to vote for them and against their own interests.  That is the test of democracy in the age of the meme where fact-checkers are ill disposed to interject until the story has profited all and they too can sell their next story.  Power is about the money, but they’re rarely separable when fame lasts only as long as a news cycle.  What would Achilles have thought of that?  No longer regnant over the immortal, fame and fortune are now other forms of renewable and expendable energies, like drilling in the newly opened waters of the Arctic where we can witness the demise of human sustainability on all fronts.

Complexity always confounds and Occam notwithstanding the world is only to be reduced further at painful cost to reality.  Humans persist however both to hone the edge of that razor and to console with a simplicity that does not exist.  Global communication has not only revealed the depths of conflict but the insolubility of the condition that fuels our shared situation.  California burns and Marco Rubio makes jokes about bringing drinking water to the spectacle of the “debate.”  Fiorina and Trump discuss their respective business failures as qualifications for the Presidency.  Democrats look on aghast and yet refuse to admit that their own case has not proven effective enough to win enough voters to oppose the madness.  We are, as a species, running out the clock not because there are too few reasons to act but too many to understand.

It will take a collective will to alter destiny because fate has already taken hold: the past will determine the future because the present is absent, too convicted of its own beliefs to change course --- that would involve changing minds.  At least half of us refuse ever to admit as much and it will likely take far more than that to do the needful.  It’s not all gloom by any measure, the earth remains a beautiful place even if humanity doesn’t make the cut.  In the meantime, hold fast, the storm shows no sign of abating anytime soon.