Magical Thinking Is Stopping Us From Taking to the Streets

A Donald Trump protester on Inauguration Day. (Fibonacci Blue / Wikimedia)

 

Paul Street TruthDig- Dec 11, 2017

The archplutocratic tax cut Washington politicians are working on this holiday season ought to be a call to arms for the United States’ populace. The nation’s economy is already so savagely unequal that the top 10th of its upper 1 percent owns as much wealth as its bottom 90 percent. Its corporations are raking in record profits. Half of its citizens have no savings. Half its population lives in or near poverty. Twenty-one percent of its children are growing up at less than the federal government’s notoriously inadequate poverty level, and 41 million Americans—12.3 percent of the population—are “food insecure.”

It is against the backdrop of this shocking disparity and related want that one should try to comprehend the regressive and malignant sociopathology of a Republican tax “reform” that:

● Drastically slashes the corporate tax rate without closing loopholes and deductions that allow the nation’s already cash-flush corporations to register their profits overseas.

● Does nothing to switch corporations’ focus from maximizing short-term returns to investing in the creation of more jobs and higher wages.

● Encourages corporations to invest in automation without offering any assistance to displaced workers.

● All but eliminates the estate tax for the nation’s richest families.

● Adds $1.5 trillion to the nation’s debt over the next decade, setting the stage for major slashes to the nation’s three biggest social insurance programs—Social Security, Medicaid and Medicare (they will be cut back in the name of “scaling back” so-called entitlement programs to “reduce the deficit”).

● Gives a major tax cut on profits multinational companies have stashed in offshore tax havens.

● Cuts taxes on “pass-through” businesses—a benefit that will be disproportionately enjoyed by the rich.

● Makes it easier for rich people to classify themselves as businesses to get a tax break.

● Increases the complexity of the tax code.

● Tightens deductions for lower- and middle-income wage-earners.

● Subsidizes private and religious schools, a boon to corporate school privatizers and the religious right.

● Repeals Obamacare’s individual mandate, which will leave millions without health insurance and raise the cost of health insurance.

The GOP tax “reform” rewards the already rich and punishes the poor at a time, The Atlantic notes, “when post-tax corporate profits have hovered at a record-level high for the last seven years, and the 1 percent’s share of total income is higher than at any time in the second half of the 20th century.” The just-passed Senate bill, likely to be “reconciled” with the right-wing House version and signed by Donald Trump before Christmas, grants what New York magazine calls “a huge windfall for the wealthiest Americans.” It is “certain to exacerbate income [and wealth] inequality at a time when the playing field is already heavily tilted towards the rich.” The New Gilded Age is slated to become yet more grotesquely unequal.

As some GOP congressmen have acknowledged, Republican legislators are acting at the command of their billionaire and millionaire “donor class.” “My donors are basically saying, ‘Get it done or don’t ever call me again,’ ” Rep. Chris Collins, R-N.Y., candidly told The Hill.

Adding authoritarian insult to plutocratic injury, the Senate tax bill was rammed through the upper chamber with brutal speed and barely a speck of public input. As John Cassidy notes in The New Yorker, “the process … [has] … been a travesty of the legislative process. … [T]here have been no public hearings, and the measure is being rushed through in a few weeks, with virtually no transparency.”

The speed-up and smash-through reflects Republicans’ awareness that a significant majority of the populace rejects the tax “reform” (it’s curious how commonly regressive measures are sold as “reforms”). A Nov. 15 Quinnipac poll found that just 25 percent of U.S. voters approve of the Republican tax plan. More than half (52 percent) disapprove. By a 59 to 33 percent margin, voters said that the plan “favors the rich at the expense of the middle class,” and 61 percent believe “the wealthy would mainly benefit.” Just 36 percent believe the plan will lead to an increase in jobs and economic growth.

This makes the Trump-GOP House and Senate tax bills “among the least popular pieces of major legislation in modern history, with the public rejecting it by a two-to-one margin,” Derek Thompson wrote.

So why don’t we see millions of Americans in the streets protesting the brazenly oligarchic tax heist being perpetrated in the name of “fairness,” “simplicity” and even “democracy”? I can’t answer that question in full here. The forces and factors that have turned tens of millions of Americans into an inert mass are numerous and complex. They deserve book-length treatment and have received it: See, for starters, Alex Carey’s “Taking the Risk Out of Democracy: Corporate Propaganda versus Freedom and Liberty”; Sheldon Wolin’s “Democracy Incorporated: Managed Democracy and the Specter of Inverted Totalitarianism”; Chris Hedges’ “Empire of Illusion: The End of Literacy and the Triumph of Spectacle”; Henry Giroux’s “Terror of Neoliberalism: Authoritarianism and the Eclipse of Democracy”; and my own “They Rule: The 1% v. Democracy.”

Part of the answer lies in the pervasively disseminated belief that we the people get meaningful say on the making of U.S. policy by participating in the “competitive” biennial major-party and candidate-centered elections that are sold to us as “politics”—the only politics that matter. Showing how and why that’s a false belief was the mission of my last Truthdig essay, titled “U.S. Elections: A Poor Substitute for Democracy.”

A second populace-demobilizing form of n thinking that is keeping people quiescent in the face of abject racist, sexist, ecocidal and classist-plutocratic outrage is the belief or dream that Russiagate special prosecutor Robert Mueller will save us and our supposed democracy by putting together a slam-dunk case for impeachment and removal on grounds of collusion with Russia and/or obstruction of justice.

A remarkable 47 percent of the electorate already supports impeachment less than a year into Trump’s first year. But so what? There is an outside chance that the malignant quasi-fascist tumor that is Donald Trump can be cut out this way. As liberal commentator Peter Beinart notes in The Atlantic, however, the odds of impeachment are poor. This is because “impeachment is less a legal process than a political one,” and the partisan alignment in Congress favors Trump in ways that appear unbreakable, given Republicans’ control of Congress and the dogged determination with which Trump’s white nationalist base is deplorably determined to stand by its man, no matter how low he sinks. As Beinart explains:

Passing articles of impeachment requires a majority of the House. Were such a vote held today—even if every Democrat voted yes—it would still require 22 Republicans. If Democrats take the House next fall, they could then pass articles of impeachment on their own. But ratifying those articles would require two-thirds of the Senate, which would probably require at least 15 Republican votes. …That kind of mass Republican defection has grown harder, not easier, to imagine. It’s grown harder because the last six months have demonstrated that GOP voters will stick with Trump despite his lunacy, and punish those Republican politicians who do not. … Among Republicans, Trump’s approval rating has held remarkably steady. Trump’s approval rating among Republicans has not dipped below 79 percent since he took office. None of the revelations from Mueller’s investigation—nor any of the other outrageous things Trump has done—has significantly undermined his support among the GOP rank and file.

Meanwhile, Arizona’s Jeff Flake and Tennessee’s Bob Corker, the two Republican senators who have had the decency to openly challenge Trump, have lost much of their support from GOP voters in their states.

Also rightly skeptical about prospects for Trumpeachment is Newsweek’s liberal political editor Dalia Lithwick. She finds it distinctly possible now that the purported “rule of law” has become “a relic” in “our ongoing nightmare of creeping authoritarianism.” She says we may have to shed the “magical thinking” that tells us that the U.S. “is a nation of laws, not men” as we behold “the shocking norm-and-truth defiance of the GOP tax bill, the refusal of the GOP leadership to criticize or even comprehend the enormous violence done by Trump’s anti-Muslim tweets, the president’s staggering support for the candidacy of Roy Moore, the silent Republican collusion to the seating of demonstrably unfit judges, and the virulence of the White House’s attacks on the press.” As one Trump outrage has piled up on top of another this year, Lithwick reflects, “it’s become clear that absolutely nothing will persuade Trump supporters and Republicans in Congress that it’s time to disavow the president. Given that reality, it often feels like it wouldn’t be enough for Mueller to hand us a smoking gun and an indictment. What if they threw a conviction and nobody came?”

The Mueller investigation, Lithwick writes, has helped “numb us, and leads to a declining sense of agency. … So long as Mueller is working, filing documents, and convening grand juries,” we are lulled into believing that “nobody has to take to the streets.”

The chances of Mueller or some journalists coming up with blockbuster revelations powerful enough to shake Trump’s hold on the GOP and his white-nationalist base are low. Most Alabama Republicans still back alleged child molester Roy Moore. The great majority of conservatives get their news from the pro-Trump, right-wing media ecosystem, led by Fox News, talk radio and Breitbart. As Beinart notes, that media can be counted on to “downplay or distort virtually anything Mueller or the mainstream press discovers” and to depict any push for Trump’s removal as a provocative “ ‘left-wing coup.’ ”

It seems more likely that Trump will be removed from the White House by his insane, cardiology-defying McDonald’s diet than through constitutional defenestration.

Forget for a moment the fact that establishment liberals like Beinart and Lithwick likely exaggerate the significance and degree of Russian intervention in the 2016 election (a drop in the bucket compared with the influence of U.S. corporate and financial money). Forget also that impeachment would place the right-wing Christian Mike Pence in the Oval Office; that the tax bill is slated for Trump’s signing long before he could be gotten rid of through impeachment or—another fantasy—ejection on the grounds of the 25th Amendment; and that U.S. plutocracy reigns with corporate Democrats in office, too (review the neoliberal records of the Bill Clinton and Barack Obama presidencies). Those key points aside, Beinart and Lithwick offer wise and informed counsel on how impeachment is a pipe dream that helps keep citizens passive and, as Lithwick notes, off “the streets.”

Here I might add that the nightly roster of talk-show hosts and comedians making endless fun of the ridiculous bad grandpa in the White House (Trump is a truly a gift that keeps on giving for late-night comedy) may help feed the fantasy that Trump is just a passing dream and not a clear and present danger to democracy and life on earth.

In an important commentary in The New York Review of Books in March, Russian dissident Masha Gessen tried to warn U.S. liberals and progressives against putting their anti-Trump eggs in the Russia basket. Gessen felt that the Russiagate gambit would flop, given a lack of smoking-gun evidence and sufficient public interest, particularly among Republicans. Gessen also worried that the Russia obsession was a deadly diversion from issues that ought to matter more to those claiming to oppose Trump in the name of democracy and the common good: racism, voter suppression (which may well have elected Trump, by the way), health care, plutocracy, police- and prison-state-ism, immigrant rights, economic exploitation and inequality, sexism and environmental ruination—you know, stuff like that.

Some of the politically engaged populace noticed the problem early on. According to the Washington political journal The Hill, last summer, “Frustrated Democrats hoping to elevate their election fortunes have a resounding message for party leaders: Stop talking so much about Russia. … Rank-and-file Democrats say the Russia-Trump narrative is simply a non-issue with district voters, who are much more worried about bread-and-butter economic concerns like jobs, wages and the cost of education and healthcare.”

Here we are now, half a year later, careening into a dystopian holiday season. With his epically low approval rating of 32 percent, the orange-tinted bad grandpa in the Oval Office is getting ready to sign a viciously regressive tax bill that is widely rejected by the populace. The bill will be sent to his desk by a Congress whose current approval rating stands at 13 percent. It will be a major legislative victory for Republicans, a party whose approval rating fell to an all-time low of 29 percent at the end of September—a party set to elect an alleged child molester to the Senate.

The dismal, dollar-drenched Democrats, the party of “inauthentic opposition,” are hardly more popular. Their approval mark was 37 percent in a recent CNN poll, their lowest level in 25 years. Pervasive scorn for the party is richly appropriate, given its role as “the graveyard of social movements” and its long history of serving the nation’s financial, corporate and imperial ruling class. As the venerable progressive hero Ralph Nader recently told The Intercept:

There are some people who think the Democratic Party can be reformed from within by changing the personnel. I say good luck to that. What’s happened in the last twenty years? They’ve gotten more entrenched. Get rid of Pelosi, you get Steny Hoyer. You get rid of Harry Reid, you get [Charles] Schumer. Good luck. … Unfortunately, to put it in one phrase, the Democrats are unable to defend the United States of America from the most vicious, ignorant, corporate-indentured, militaristic, anti-union, anti-consumer, anti-environment, anti-posterity [Republican Party] in history.

“Unable” or unwilling? As two sharp Canadian correspondents recently wrote me in response to Nader’s reflections:

“ ‘Unable?’ No. Unwilling? Absolutely. The Democrats are ‘history’s second-most enthusiastic capitalist party,’ in the words of Richard Nixon strategist Kevin Phillips. They are dive artists. This is what they do: provide the illusion of opposition. “They are unreformable. Workers need their own party” (Matt Gardner).

“It is worse than merely being unable to defend working people from the Republicans. The Democrats are serially complicit in these multi-level attacks and the wars launched on the outside world” (Gabriel Alan).

The plutocratic tax “reform” right now is a perfect example. The GOP is likely to pass this epic fiscal robbery in the next few weeks—Merry Christmas, 1 percent—and the inauthentic opposition party, which essentially elected Trump last year (see this remarkable new volume) are blathering on endlessly about Russiagate while pathetically bemoaning that Trump is not being more “bipartisan,” on the model of the malicious right-wing president Ronald Reagan’s 1986 tax bill. MSNBC’s rambling rock star Rachel Maddow is a ferocious lioness on Russiagate and a whiny kitten on the arch-corporatist, Putin-like tax bill.

It’s surreal. An explosion of sex scandals, the interminable Russia madness, a bizarre embassy move in Israel, an Alabama freak show, a prolonged game of bizarre verbal-thermonuclear chicken between the insane clown president in Washington and the dear leader in Pyongyang combine with the National Football League, Netflix, online shopping and porn, endemic video-gaming, epidemic mass shootings and the mindfulness and happiness industries to run diversionary interference for the evermore drastic and dangerous upward concentration of “homeland” wealth and power. Meanwhile, the death knells of the coming environmental catastrophe Trump is dedicated to accelerating—with unmentionably climate change-driven “wildfires speaking apocalyptic destruction” across Southern California this week—ring across the land and the world, barely breaking into the presidentially obsessed news cycle.

Welcome to the de facto banana republic that is, as Noam Chomsky said, America’s “really existing capitalist democracy—RECD, pronounced as ‘wrecked.’ ”

Revolution, anyone?

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Gangster Capitalism and Nostalgic Authoritarianism in Trump’s America

Gage Skidmore

Dec 6, 2017

Henry Giroux / Salon

Just one year into the Donald Trump presidency, not only have the failures of American democracy become clear, but many of the darkest elements of its history have been catapulted to the center of power. A dystopian ideology, a kind of nostalgic yearning for older authoritarian relations of power, now shapes and legitimates a mode of governance that generates obscene levels of inequality, expands the ranks of corrupt legislators, places white supremacists and zealous ideologues in positions of power, threatens to jail its opponents, and sanctions an expanding network of state violence both at home and abroad.

Trump has accelerated a culture of cruelty, a machinery of terminal exclusion and social abandonment that wages a war on undocumented immigrants, poor minorities of color and young people. He uses the power of the presidency to peddle misinformation, erode any sense of shared citizenship, ridicule critical media and celebrate right-wing “disimagination machines” such as Fox News and Breitbart News. Under his “brand of reality TV politics,” lying has become normalized, truthfulness is viewed as a liability, ignorance is propagated at the highest levels of government and the corporate controlled media, and fear-soaked cyclones of distraction and destruction immunize the American public to the cost of human suffering and misery.

Under the Trump administration, culture has been weaponized and is used as a powerful tool of power, misinformation and indoctrination. James Baldwin, in a 1979 New York Times essay titled “If Black English Isn’t a Language, Then Tell Me, What Is?” wrote, “People evolve a language … in order not to be submerged by a reality that they cannot articulate.”

This is certainly true for Trump, who recognizes that the normalization of state-sanctioned lying kills democracy, and destroys the capacity to produce informed judgments. Trump’s serial lying is daunting in that it normalizes discourses, “actions, and policies exempt from moral evaluation [and] treated as beyond good and evil.” As Hannah Arendt argues in “The Origins of Totalitarianism,” the erasure of truth, facts and standards of reference furthers the collapse of democratic institutions because it is “easier to accept patently absurd propositions than the old truths which have become pious banalities. Vulgarity with its cynical dismissal of respected standards and accepted theories carried with it the worst … and [is] easily mistaken for courage and a new style of life.”

As language is emptied of any meaning, an authoritarian populism is emboldened and fills the airways and the streets with sonic blasts of racism, anti-Semitism and violence. New York Times columnist (and former Salon reporter) Michelle Goldberg rightly observes that Trump makes it difficult to hold onto any sense of what is normal given his relentless attempts to upend the rule of law, justice, ethics and democracy itself. She writes:

The country has changed in the past year, and many of us have grown numb after unrelenting shocks. What now passes for ordinary would have once been inconceivable. The government is under the control of an erratic racist who engages in nuclear brinkmanship on Twitter. … He publicly pressures the Justice Department to investigate his political opponents. He’s called for reporters to be jailed, and his administration demanded that a sportscaster who criticized him be fired. Official government statements promote his hotels. You can’t protest it all; you’d never do anything else. After the election, many liberals pledged not to “normalize” Trump. But one lesson of this year is that we don’t get to decide what normal looks like.

There is more at work here than the kind of crass entertainment that mimics celebratory culture. As Byung-Chul Han argues, “every age has its signature afflictions.” Ours is an unprecedented corporate takeover of the U.S. government and the reemergence of elements of totalitarianism in new forms. At stake here is the power of an authoritarian ideology that fuels a hyperactive exploitative economic order, apocalyptic nationalism and feral appeals to racial cleansing that produce what Paul Street has called the nightmare of capitalism.

Trump engages in a culture war that militarizes the social media and in doing so creates a politics of diversion while erasing memories of a fascist past that bears an uncanny and terrifying resemblance to his own worldview. As Zygmunt Bauman observes in “Strangers at Our Door,” Trump’s endless racist discourses, taunts and policies cast blacks, immigrants and Muslims as “humans unworthy of regard and respect” and in engaging in the dehumanization of the Other shifts major social problems away from the “sphere of ethics to that of threats to security, crime prevention, and punishment, criminality, defense of order, and, all in all, the state of emergency usually associated with the threat of military aggression and hostilities.”

Trump makes no apologies for ramping up the police state, imposing racist-inspired travel injunctions, banning transgender people from serving in the military, and initiating tax reforms that further balloon the obscene wealth gap in the United States. All the while using his Twitter feed to entertain his right-wing, white supremacist and religious fundamentalist base at home with a steady stream of authoritarian comments, while showering affection and legitimation on a range of despots abroad, the most recent being the self-confessed killer, Rodrigo Duterte, president of the Philippines.

According to Felipe Villamor of the New York Times, “Mr. Duterte has led a campaign against drug abuse in which he has encouraged the police and others to kill people they suspect of using or selling drugs.” Powerful authoritarian leaders such as Russia’s Vladimir Putin and China’s Xi Jinping appear to pose an especially strong attraction to Trump, who exhibits little interests in their massive human rights violations. Trump’s high regard for white supremacy and petty authoritarianism became clear on the domestic front when he pardoned former Arizona Sheriff Joseph Arpaio, a vicious racist who waged a war against undocumented immigrants, Latino residents and individuals who did not speak English. Arpaio also housed detainees in an outdoor prison that he called his personal “concentration camp.”

As Marjorie Cohn observes, Arpaio engaged in a series of sadistic practices in his outdoor jail in Phoenix that included forcing them “to wear striped uniforms and pink underwear,” “work on chain gangs,” and be subjected to  blistering Arizona heat so severe that their “shoes would melt.”  There is more at work here than Trump legitimating the practices of a monstrous racist; there is also expressed support for both a culture of violence and state-sanctioned oppression.

Trump’s authoritarianism cuts deeply into the fabric of both government and everyday politics in the United States. For example, despicable and morally reprehensible acts of collaboration with an emergent authoritarianism have created a Republican Party that echoes an eerie resemblance to similar flights of moral and political corruption that characterized the cowardly politicians in power in Vichy France during World War II.

Former conservative talk-show host Charles Sykes is right to argue that members of the current Republican Party are “collaborators and enablers” and as such are Vichy Republicans who are willingly engaged in a Faustian bargain with an incipient authoritarianism. Corrupted by power and willing to turn a blind eye to corruption, stupidity, barbarism and the growing savagery of the Trump administration, Republicans have surrendered to Trump’s authoritarian ideology, economic fundamentalism, support for religious orthodoxy and increasingly cruel and mean-spirited policies, which “meant accepting the unacceptable [all the while reasoning] it would be worth it if they got conservative judges, tax cuts, and the repeal of Obamacare.”

Alarmingly, they have ignored the criticisms of Trump by high-profile members of their own party. For instance, Sen. Bob Corker of Tennessee, the chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, accused Trump of “debasing the nation” and “treating his office like a reality show.” Corker warned that Trump may be setting the U.S. “on the path to World War III.”

Egregious examples of political barbarism, state violence, the morally reprehensible and the utter corruption of politics and democracy have become all too familiar in the first year of Trump’s presidency, and the list just keeps growing. Trump’s hatred of Muslims and undocumented immigrants is visible in his call to build walls rather than bridges, to invoke shared fears rather than shared responsibilities, to destroy all the public institutions that make democracy possible, and to expand a culture in which self-interest, greed, militarism and repression expand the ideology, social relations and practices that breathe life into what might be called gangster capitalism, rather than the less odious notion of a Second Gilded Age.

Trump has no shame and seems to delight in a pornographic display of moral indiscretion that produce waves of not only moral outrage but a constant theater of distraction. Against growing concern over his connection with the Russians, he fires James Comey as head of the FBI. In the face of his failure to pass any of his regressive legislative policies, particularly around healthcare reform, he insults fellow Republicans in Congress. As Robert Mueller’s investigation heats up, he publicly humiliates Jeff Sessions, his own attorney general.

In the interest of political expediency, both Trump and presidential counselor Kellyanne Conway have called for the election of Roy Moore, Republican nominee for the Alabama Senate seat abandoned by Sessions. Moore is a theocratic extremist, religious fundamentalist, homophobe and accused sexual predator. More than a half dozen women have now accused him of various forms of sexual misconduct when they were teenagers and he was in his 30s. Trump and Conway’s defense rested on the morally vacuous claim and obscene rationale that it was necessary to elect Moore to the Senate so Trump would have another Republican Senate vote to pass a tax bill that functions as a wet kiss and wedding gift for the rich. It gets worse. This is not simply politics without a moral referent. It is a politics that embraces civic regression, and represents a form of evil one associates with the forms of domestic terrorism that characterizes totalitarianism.

Trump is the apostle of moral blindness and unchecked corruption. He revels in a mode of governance that merges the idiocy of a never-ending theatrics of self-promotion with a deeply authoritarian politics of contempt, punishment and humiliation free from any kind of self-reflection or moral evaluation.  One under-analyzed example can be seen in his contempt for young people, whether expressed through his attempt to expel more than 700,000 Dreamers from the United States, sanction a budget that eliminates or cuts major social provisions for poor and vulnerable youth, or advocate a tax reform billthat will impose massive suffering and hardships on minorities of class and color.

Trump has given new force to the rise of the punishing state with its obsession with security, incarceration, public shaming and the resuscitation of debtor prisons and the school-to-prison pipeline. Trump’s contempt for the lives of young people, his support for a culture of cruelty and his appetite for destruction and civic catastrophe is more than a symptom of a society ruled almost exclusively by the logic of the market and a “survival of the fittest” ethos, with its willingness if not glee in calling for the separation of economic, political and social actions from any social costs or consequences. It is about the systemic derangement of democracy and the emergence of a politics that celebrates the toxic pleasures of the authoritarian state.

While there is much talk about the influence of Trumpism, there are few analyses that examine its culture of cruelty and politics of disposability, or the role that culture plays in legitimating intolerance and suffering. The culture of cruelty and mechanisms of disposability reach back to the founding of the United States as a settler-colonial society.  How else does one explain a long line of state-sanctioned atrocities: the genocide waged against Native Americans in order to take their land, enslavement and breeding of black people for profit and labor, and the passage of the Second Amendment to arm and enforce white supremacy over those populations? The legacies of those horrific roots of U.S. history are coded into Trumpist slogans about “making America great again,” and egregiously defended through appeals to American exceptionalism.

More recent instances indicative of the rising culture of bigoted cruelty and mechanisms of erasure in U.S. politics include the racially motivated drug wars, policies that shifted people from welfare to workfare without offering training programs or child care, and morally indefensible tax reforms that will “require huge budget cuts in safety net programs for vulnerable children and adults.” As Marian Wright Edelman points out, such actions are particularly alarming and cruel at a time when millions of American children “are suffering from hunger, homelessness and hopelessness. Nearly 13.2 million children are poor – almost one in five. About 70 percent of them are children of color who will be a majority of our children by 2020. More than 1.2 million are homeless. About 14.8 million children struggle against hunger in food insecure households.”

Trump is both a symptom and enabler of this culture, one that enables him to delight in taunting black athletes, defending neo-Nazis in Charlottesville and mocking anyone who disagrees with him. This is the face of a kind of Reichian psycho-politics, with its mix of violence, repression, theatrics, incoherency and spectacularized ignorance. Trump makes clear that the dream of the Confederacy is still with us, that moral panics thrive against a culture of rancid racism, “a background of obscene inequalities, progressive deregulation of labor markets and a massive expansion in the ranks of the precariat.”

In an age of almost unparalleled extremism, violence and cruelty, authoritarianism is gaining ground, rapidly creating a society in which shared fears and unchecked hatred have become the organizing forces for community. Under the Trump regime, dissent is disparaged as a pathology or dismissed as fake news, while even the slightest compassion for others becomes an object of disdain and subject to policies that increase the immiseration, suffering and misery of the most vulnerable.

Under the shadow of 9/11, fear has gained a new momentum as more and more individuals and groups are denigrated, labeled as disposable, subject to forms of social and racial cleansing that are in accord with the force of a resurgent white supremacy emboldened by the fact that one of its sympathizers is now president of the United States. Rejecting the most basic elements of a sustainable democracy, Trumpism has unleashed a rancid populism and racially inspired ultra-nationalism that sustains itself by looking everywhere for enemies while occupying the high ground of political purity and an empty moralism.

In the past, racist Democrats and Republicans did everything they could to cover over any naked expressions of their racism. This is no longer the case. Under Trump, both racist discourse and the underlying principles of white supremacy are both encouraged and emboldened. In the midst of the collapse of civil society and the public spheres that make a democracy possible, every line of decency is crossed, every principle of civility is violated, and more and more elements of justice are transformed into an injustice. Trump has become the blunt instrument and Twitter preacher for displaying a contempt for the truth, a critical citizenry, and democracy itself. He has anointed himself as the apostle of unchecked greed, unbridled narcissism and limitless militarism.

Wedded to both creating a culture of civic illiteracy and the plundering of the planet for both his own personal gain and that of his corporate cronies, Trump has done more than assault standards of truth, verification and evidence. He has opened the door to the dark cave of moral depravity, political corruption and a dangerous right-wing nationalist populism that, as Frank Rich observes, threatens to have “remarkable staying power” long after Trump is gone.

Gangster capitalism under Trump has reached a new stage, in that it is unabashedly aggressive in mounting a war against every institution capable of providing a vision, a semblance of critical agency or a formative culture capable of creating agents who might be willing to hold power accountable. The American public is witnessing a crisis not merely of politics but of history, vision and agency, or what Andrew O’Hehir more pointedly called the acts of a domestic terrorist. This is a politics of domesticated fear, manufactured illusions and atomizing effects. Trump is the product of a culture long in the making, one fueled by the triumph of finance capital, the legitimation of a rancid individualism and a crippling notion of freedom. In this age of precarity, infantilizing publicity machines and uncertainty, a sense of collective impotency and fear provides the breeding ground for isolation, the corporate state and the discourses of inscription, demonization and false communities.

A culture of immediacy, an economy of profound boredom, instant gratification and spectacularized violence, has created a society of deliberate forgetting and a sadomasochistic culture that thrives on humiliation, revenge, a culture of punitiveness and an aesthetics of depravity. Trump signifies the death of the radical imagination and the apotheosis of its opposite: a lackluster hatred of thoughtfulness, creativity and inventiveness. Trump makes clear

I think the artist Sable Elyse Smith is right in arguing that ignorance is more than the absence of knowledge or the refusal to know. It is also a form of violence that is woven into the fabric of everyday life by the power of massive “disimagination machines.” Its ultimate goal is to enable us to not only consume pain and to propagate it, but to relish in it as a form of entertainment and emotional uplift. Ignorance is also the enemy of memory and a weapon in the politics of disappearance and the violence of organized forgetting. It is also about the erasure of what Brad Evans calls “the raw realities of suffering” and the undermining of a politics that is in part about the battle for memory.

Trump within a very short time has legitimated and reinforced a culture of social abandonment, erasure and terminal exclusion. Justice in this discourse is disposable along with the institutions that make it possible. What is distinctive about Trump is that he defines himself through the tenets of a predatory and cruel form of gangster capitalism, while using its power to fill government positions with what appear to be the walking dead and at the same time produce death-dealing policies. Of course he is just the overt and unapologetic symbol of a wild capitalism and dark pessimism that have been decades in the making. He is the theatrical, self-absorbed monster that embodies and emboldens a history of savagery, greed and extreme inequality that has reached its endpoint — a poisonous form of American authoritarianism that must be stopped before it is too late. Trump makes clear that democracy is tenuous and has to be viewed as a site of ongoing contestation, one that demands a new understanding of politics, language and collective struggle.

Trump’s reign of terror will come to an end. But the forces that made Trump possible will not end with his political demise. This means that in the ongoing struggle against authoritarianism, progressives need a language of critique and possibility. This suggests the need for a new vocabulary that refuses to look away, refuses to surrender to either the dictates of consumerism, fear or bigotry. It also suggest a left/progressive movement that does more than say what it is against. It also needs a vision and an ongoing project that enables it to say what it is for. This could take the form of creating a political, economic and social platform rooted in the principles of democratic socialism.

Ariel Dorfman, drawing upon his own memories and experience of authoritarianism under Gen. Augusto Pinochet, the Chilean dictator, speaks to the need for such a language. He writes: “It brings back to me the imaginative enormity that every true demand for radical change insists upon. It catches a missing feeling of our age: the belief that alternative worlds are possible, that they are within reach if we’re courageous enough, and smart enough, and daring enough to take control of our own lives.”

We get a hint of such a language in the words of the writer Maaza Mengiste, who calls for a discourse of passion, power, responsibility and justice, one that “will take us from shock and stunned silence toward a coherent, visceral speech, one as strong as the force that is charging at us.” In the age of Trump, we need to take seriously the notion that education is at the center of politics — that, as Stuart Hall has consistently stressed, “politics follows culture.” For Hall, this meant that addressing oppression cannot rest with an emphasis on economic structures, however important. What was also needed was recognizing how domination worked at the level of belief and persuasion, which suggested that education and consciousness-raising was at the center of politics.

As Hall puts it, “You can’t just rest with the underlying structural logic. And so you think about what is likely to awaken identification. There’s no politics without identification. People have to invest something of themselves, something that they recognize is of them or speaks to their condition, and … you won’t have a political movement without that moment of identification.”

This suggests a politics that begins both with a vision of what a democratic socialist society might look like and a narrative that makes power visible. This implies a language that is both rigorous theoretically and accessible. Moreover, it means developing a vocabulary that moves people, speaks directly to their problems, allows them to feel compassion for the other and gives them the courage to talk back. This suggests forging the appropriate pedagogical and symbolic weapons that make knowledge meaningful in order to make it critical and transformative. Rethinking politics means creating a vocabulary that enables us to confront a sense of responsibility in the face of the unspeakable, and to do so with a sense of dignity, self-reflection and the courage to act in the service of a radical democracy. It also means providing the theoretical tools that enable people to connect private problems with wider social issues.

In the face of Trump’s brand of authoritarianism, progressives need a vocabulary that allows us to recognize ourselves as agents, not victims, in the discourse of a radical democratic politics. We need a politics that addresses systemic problems and refuses gangster capitalism’s insistence that all problems are personal, an exclusive matter of individual responsibility and privatized solutions. This is not to underplay how difficult it is to acknowledge any viable sense of the outrage and struggle in an age when the power of culture, new digital technologies, social media and mainstream cultural apparatuses seem almost overwhelming in their deleterious effects on shaping agency, desires, values and modes of identification. But rather than surrender to such forces, they need to be reworked in the interest of a set of collective and emancipatory modes of communication, social relations and forms of resistance.

At the same time it is crucial to remember that there is more at stake here than a struggle over meaning. There is also the struggle over power, over the need to create a formative culture that will produce new modes of critical agency and contribute to a broad social movement that can translate meaning into a fierce struggle for economic, political and social justice. Power is never entirely on the side of domination, and there are numerous examples of resistance cropping up all over the United States. Not only it is evident in youth movements such as Black Lives Matter and the Dreamers, but also middle-aged women in the red states fighting over what Judith Shulevitz calls “the big issues for the resistance [such as] health care and gerrymandering, followed by dark money in politics, education and the environment.”

Activists are also mobilizing over immigrant rights, mass incarceration, police violence, abolishing nuclear weapons and environmental justice, among other issues. Facing the challenge of fascism will not be easy, but Americans are marching, protesting and organizing in record-breaking numbers. Hopefully, mass indignation will evolve into a worldwide movement whose power will be on the side of justice rather than impunity, bridges rather than walls, dignity rather than disrespect, and kindness rather than cruelty. What is crucial is that these discrete movements come together under a larger political and social formation in order to develop alliances capable of developing into a democratic socialist party, one willing to make resistance a necessity rather than not an option.

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America’s War on America

America’s War on America

The Capitol in Washington at dawn before the Senate Republicans passed their sweeping tax bill. (J. Scott Applewhite / AP)

This world is one great battlefield,
With forces all arrayed;
If in my heart I do not yield,
I’ll overcome some day.

Charles A. Tindley, 1901

The vultures have started circling. In a sane world, legislation that adds $1.5 trillion to America’s debt ($20 trillion and rising by the second) would not be celebrated as “just what the country needs to get growing again.” Yet here we are.

The new U.S. tax plan is a scam—a corporate coup—that benefits a few rich and powerful Americans that make the most and want to pay the least. They are the owners of our country, the plutocrats and oligarchs that run this nation and tell politicians what to do, such as increase the military budget from $793.7 billion in 2017 to $824.6 billion in 2018. We, the 99 percent, are not in the club. Anyone who wants a fair and just society becomes an enemy of the state.

The story of income inequality in the United States is as old as the republic itself. But the latest tax-cut measure takes capitalist greed to a new level of inhumanity. The bill has the potential to destroy life for millions of working families, women, children, the sick, old and poor. That sound of doomsday you hear in the distance is not “ka-boom.” It’s “ka-ching.”

As George Carlin said “The owners know the truth. It’s called the American dream because you have to be asleep to believe it.”

Well, America, we are long past due to wake up and stop being slaves to a system that does not care about the greater good. Both the Republican and Democratic parties are complicit and responsible for our unequal present and uncertain future. Neither has a path toward freedom and equality for all. The liberal vs. conservative paradigm is a dirty trick, meant to divide the American people and maintain the illusion of democracy while neoliberal oligarchs and corporatists have looted the public for the past 30 years without conscience or consequence.

History offers a strange parallel to modern times. According to NPR, in 1933, with the U.S. facing a financial crisis that threatened the monetary system, a group of right-wing financiers plotted to overthrow Franklin Delano Roosevelt and create a fascist military government. They reportedly recruited Smedley Butler, a retired Marine general, to lead the coup, which was known as the Business Plot, or Wall Street Putsch. Butler, the epitome of a soldier and veteran, “saw it as treason, and he reported it to Congress,” said Sally Denton, who wrote a book on the conspiracy called “The Plots Against the President: FDR, a Nation in Crisis, and the Rise of the American Right.” While the conspirators denied the plot and the media dismissed it as a “gigantic hoax,” Butler testified under oath before a special House Un-American Activities Committee (the McCormack-Dickstein special committee). His account was confirmed in a final committee report, though no one was ever prosecuted.

Before Christmas will be the culmination of America’s imperial robbery—one last score before the owners retire. This means war, the declining empire against the rest of us, and war is a racket. A few profit. Many suffer. In 1935, Butler wrote a book on the subject and explained how to end the racket:

1. Take the profit out of war.

2. Let youths who would bear arms decide whether there should be war.

3. Limit military forces to home defense purposes.

Butler added:

The only way to smash this racket is to conscript capital and industry and labor before the [nation’s] manhood can be conscripted. One month before the Government can conscript the young men of the nation — it must conscript capital and industry and labor. Let the officers and the directors and the high-powered executives of our armament factories and our munitions makers and our shipbuilders and our airplane builders and the manufacturers of all the other things that provide profit in war time as well as the bankers and the speculators, be conscripted—to get $30 a month, the same wage as the lads in the trenches get.

Let the workers in these plants get the same wages—all the workers, all presidents, all executives, all directors, all managers, all bankers—yes, and all generals and all admirals and all officers and all politicians and all government office holders—everyone in the nation be restricted to a total monthly income not to exceed that paid to the soldier in the trenches!

Let all these kings and tycoons and masters of business and all those workers in industry and all our senators and governors and majors pay half of their monthly $30 wage to their families and pay war risk insurance and buy Liberty Bonds.

Why shouldn’t they?

They aren’t running any risk of being killed or of having their bodies mangled or their minds shattered. They aren’t sleeping in muddy trenches. They aren’t hungry. The soldiers are!

Give capital and industry and labor thirty days to think it over and you will find, by that time, there will be no war. That will smash the war racket—that and nothing else.

Of course, we haven’t followed Butler’s advice. Although the draft ended in 1973, the volunteer military became the new American segregation. The media, military, policymakers, political leaders and even the public propagate dangerous myths and platitudes that enable perpetual war. And now the empire has brought war home, to our doorsteps, with a corrupt, duplicitous tax bill that could leave many people hurting for years to come.

But it’s not too late to learn from Butler and smash the war racket. All Americans who oppose the tax bill need to act fast. The first step is reconciliation. Groups that have been fighting each other need to come together. People who experience oppression have to stop with the divisive identity politics, stand as one and accept that some pseudopopulist leaders, and most political leaders overall, in reality are false prophets and common enemies: the .1 percent and those who do their bidding. They don’t give a damn about anyone who is not in the club. All they care about is money and power. And they will do whatever is necessary to get—and keep—as much as they can of both.

Once the 99.9 percent recognizes we share the same enemy, we can mobilize a united front and perform consistent acts of civil disobedience. We can return to a grass-roots mentality of cooperation and revive the civil-rights, injustice-fighting spirit of the 1960s on a local, regional, state and national level. We can revive sit-ins, protests, strikes, marches and boycotts. We can shut down businesses and make corporations feel the pain in their bottom lines. We can disrupt the system and change the status quo. It may be our only hope.

Coordinating a massive civil disobedience movement will require leaders to step up. These leaders will need to rise from outside the mainstream, perhaps from underground resistance groups already in existence.

We are not just talking about reform. We need revolution. Be revolutionary. Only revolution makes reform durable. This will take courage, sacrifice and organization. Achieving economic justice won’t be easy. But a better future for future generations—ending the never-ending cycle of poverty and providing a path to financial survival—is possible if people muster the will to put aside their differences and fight for what is right together.

Start this Christmas, or whatever holiday you celebrate, and spend less money this season. Instead of buying tons of gifts from Amazon or another corporate store, support a mom-and-pop shop. Do something that doesn’t cost a thing: Write a poem, draw a picture, cook a meal. Give from the heart.

Start small. Stop buying that daily cup of coffee. Make your coffee at home. Give up fast food. Bring lunch from home. Tell a friend and family member to do the same. A handful of companies control all the world’s major brands. Organize a boycott of corporations that do harm.

Then, we can work on creating a stronger, democratic, economic system. Economist Richard Wolff advocates for worker cooperatives and democratic workplaces. He believes the solution for capitalism’s brutalities is easier than you think.

Whatever you do, get informed by trusted sources.

Don’t believe the lying spin doctors, political hucksters and fearmongers.

Don’t listen to the greedy thieves, warmongers and profiteers.

Stop following the misleaders and wolves in sheep’s clothing.

They are all bastards. And don’t let the bastards get you down.

With 90 percent of all media controlled by six corporations, finding trusted sources can be challenging. But the truth is out there. Make those media outlets your news sources. Get rid of all the other noise, misinformation and disinformation.

Read Wolff’s book, “Democracy at Work: A Cure for Capitalism.” Visit his website, Democracy at Work.

Listen to Jimmy Dore. Read Chris Hedges, Black Agenda Report and Consortium News.

Be critical and skeptical. Provide alternatives. Don’t wait for someone else to develop the mass of people we need for change to come. Take the initiative. Be the change. Be a connector. Be an agitator for justice. Contest elections. Build mass movements. Elevate underrepresented voices.

Together, we can take the profit out of war and start a massive anti-war movement.

Do whatever good you can to help redeem America.

Start today.

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Forget Trump and Discover the World

Forget Trump and Discover the World

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An Insubordinate President

Paul Street- Truth Dig Contributor  Nov 15, 2017
Gage Skidmore / CC BY-SA 2.0

“Insubordinate elites,” as the distinguished American foreign policy historian Alfred W. McCoy calls them, have long been a problem for the United States empire. They privilege their own personal interests and/or concept of serving their own nations above fealty to the United States, its allies and the Western-based multinational corporate and financial interests that reign behind the shield of U.S. power.

Over the years, these disobedient foreign leaders have come in different forms. Some have been men of the socialist, populist and nationalist left—actors like Mohammad Mossadeq (Iraq), Jacobo Arbenz (Guatemala), Patrice Lumumba (Congo), Fidel Castro (Cuba), Ho Chi Minh (Vietnam), Kwame Nkrumah (Ghana), Sukarno (Indonesia), Salvador Allende (Chile), Michael Manley (Jamaica), Maurice Bishop (Grenada), Daniel Ortega (Nicaragua) and Hugo Chavez (Venezuela). Washington has responded to the defiance of these and other “left” Third World and “developing nation” actors with assassinations, assassination attempts, coups, coup attempts, invasions, counterinsurgency campaigns, espionage, propaganda and the cultivation of political and military opposition and influence within the noncompliant states.

But you don’t have to be on the anti-imperial left to become what the U.S. ruling-class and imperial establishment considers an insubordinate elite and get put on Washington’s shit and target lists. The South Vietnamese dictator Ngo Dinh Diem was considered Washington’s man in Saigon until his refusal to roll back corruption and make any concessions to reform turned him into an embarrassing obstacle to U.S. control. The John F. Kennedy administration approved a CIA-assisted coup that murdered Diem and his powerful brother.

Panama’s dictator Manuel Noriega was on the CIA payroll during most of the 1980s. After he stole yet another election in 1989, however, he faced withering criticism from Washington and the U.S. media. “In the interim,” Noam Chomsky observed five years later, “Noriega had shown improper signs of independence, offending the master by lack of sufficient enthusiasm for Washington’s terrorist war against Nicaragua and in other ways.” The U.S. invaded Panama, killing thousands and taking Noriega away to rot in a federal prison.

Saddam Hussein ceased to be Washington’s good friend in Baghdad when he got cocky and invaded oil-rich Kuwait, challenging a U.S.-sponsored petro-state and threatening to become an excessively powerful new force in the oil-rich Middle East. A vicious U.S. assault (the so-called Persian Gulf War, a one-sided imperial slaughter) ensued, followed by years of mass-murderous U.S.-led economic sanctions and a full U.S. invasion and occupation (leading to Saddam’s death, along with that of more than a million other Iraqis) in 2003.

Another example is the long U.S.-sponsored Afghan President Hamid Karzai. “Despite the billions in aid lavished on Karzai,” McCoy notes in his new book “In the Shadows of the American Century: The Rise and Decline of US Global Power,” U.S. calls for him to be an effective U.S. ally by being less openly corrupt “led to public tantrums” and “inflammatory outbursts from Karzai.” The George W. Bush and Barack Obama administrations “found it impossible to control Karzai. … With Washington’s reform initiative effectively neutered, much like Diem had done decades earlier, Karzai was free to spend the next four years presiding, as the sardonically dubbed ‘mayor of Kabul,’ over the growth of the Taliban resistance movement.”

Yet another case is the Philippines’ thuggish president, Rodrigo Duterte. He turned against the United States, breaching his country’s 70-year alliance with Washington, and cozied up to China last year. The rupture came after President Barack Obama had the gall to weakly criticize Duterte’s extrajudicial murder of thousands in the name of the war on drugs. “Who does he think he is?” Duterte responded, adding: “I am no American puppet. I am the president of a sovereign country, and I am not answerable to anyone except the Filipino people. Putang ina mo [Your mother’s a whore], I will swear at you.”

Which brings me to another violent and mean-spirited Obama-hater: Donald Trump. Incredible as it might seem, the United States, the global superpower itself, has been plagued by the presence of an insubordinate, dysfunctional, corrupt and excessively nationalistic elite in its own top “democratically elected” position—the U.S. presidency.

Trump is no leftist people’s champion, obviously. Think Diem, Noriega, Karzai and Duterte—not Fidel, Lumumba, Allende, Ho or Hugo. He’s a malignantly narcissistic real estate baron whose basic missions in life are to advance his own wealth and glorify his personal image and brand. He is venality and ego on steroids—too commercial and selfish to be an actual fascist, but an ugly epitome of the worst excesses of the capitalist, plutocratic, racist, sexist, militaristic and ecocidal American system.

The problem for the U.S. ruling class is that the American system and empire is compelled to sell itself as humanitarian, multicultural, peaceful, democratic, benevolent and wise. “The United States,” then-Secretary of State Madeleine Albright said in 1999, channeling the establishment conventional “American exceptionalist” wisdom, “is good. We try to do our best everywhere.”

“If we have to use force,” Albright had explained one year earlier, “it is because we are America. We are the indispensable nation. We stand tall and we see further than other countries into the future, and we see the danger here to all of us.”

“Our security,” Obama intoned in his first inaugural address, continuing the exceptionalist mythology as he prepared to commit new war crimes, “emanates from the justness of our cause, the force of our example, the tempering qualities of humility and restraint.”

It’s hard to match such nationally and imperially self-congratulatory rhetoric and marketing with the history, persona and conduct of “Prima Donald.” As a candidate with a long record of sexual harassment and racial insult, “Trumplethinskin”:

● Gave his fellow ruling-class presidential contenders juvenile and nasty nicknames (“Little Marco,” “Low Energy Jeb,” “Crooked Hillary”) and even insulted the looks of one candidate and other candidates’ wives.

● Encouraged violence against black protesters and embraced the nation’s racist police state, calling for a “national [racist] stop-and-frisk law” (which would create a national racist state of martial law) in the name of “law and order.”

● Absurdly claimed that the nation was being overrun by illegal Latino immigrant rapists and murderers.

● Was transparently addicted to the language and imagery of hyper-masculinist violence.

● Embraced torture (“it works”) and called for the murder of alleged Islamic terrorists’ families.

● Asked why the U.S. had nuclear weapons if it couldn’t use them and insanely advocated the nuclear weaponization of arch-reactionary and absolutist Saudi Arabia.

● Mocked Asians and a disabled journalist in front of hot microphones.

● Behaved like a boorish and unprepared adolescent during his not-so-presidential debates with Hillary Clinton, whom he called “a nasty woman” and threatened (to the applause of his white nationalist campaign rally attendees) to “lock up.”

This is a very abbreviated list.

As president of the United States, Trump has:

● Falsely and childishly claimed that the “fake news” media exaggerated the size of mass protests over his election.

● Went (also on day one) to the CIA headquarters to tell stone-faced intelligence chiefs that the U.S. might have another chance to invade Iraq and “get the oil.”

● Made preposterous, paranoid-style charges, claiming that he was denied a popular-vote victory by illegal immigrant voters and that he was wiretapped by Obama.

● Tweeted a cartoonish film of him beating up “CNN” at a wrestling match.

● Tweeted a denunciation of a retail firm that dropped its daughter’s perfume brand.

● Displayed open affinity for authoritarian rulers like Vladimir Putin, Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi and Rodrigo Duterte.

● Continued to absurdly deny the existence of anthropogenic (really capitalogenic) climate change, the biggest problem of our—or any—time.

● Advance-pardoned a convicted racist and fascist sheriff (Joe Arpaio) who created deadly open-air “concentration camps” (Arpaio’s own proud term) to detain suspected undocumented immigrants of Latino background.

● Targeted strangely selected Muslim (and other) nations for transparently racist travel bans.

● Called a distinguished federal magistrate who ruled against his travel measure “a so-called judge.”

● Claimed that another federal judge’s ruling against his scam “university” was tainted by the jurist’s Latino ancestry.

● Threatened genocidal and thermonuclear war (“fire and fury”) on North Korea, putting millions of lives at risk on and around the Korean peninsula while engaging in a cartoon-like war of words with North Korea’s equally bizarre ruler, Kim Jong Un.

● Defended neo-Nazis and other vicious white nationalists, offering them dog-whistle encouragement after they marched by torch light and killed in defense of Confederate (slave power) war statues.

● Phoned Duterte to call him “a good man … doing an unbelievable job on the drug problem.”

● Insulted U.S. ally South Korea by claiming that it was once “part of China.”

● Alienated even Australia by cutting off his initial phone call with that nation’s head of state when the prime minister reminded Trump of the United States’ commitment to absorb a small number of refugees.

● Openly obstructed “justice” by firing and intimidating top federal law enforcement officials.

● Used the presidency to advance his own global real estate fortune.

● Worked to suppress minority voting rights in advance of the 2020 elections.

● Consorted with a top adviser and close friend (Roger Stone) who uses the threat of mass right-wing, white-nationalist violence to discourage efforts to remove Trump.

● Continued to engage in juvenile Twitter assaults on his political enemies and media critics.

● Gave himself a “10” on Puerto Rico hurricane relief after he bungled the federal emergency response to Hurricane Maria’s devastation of the island.

● Attacked San Juan’s mayor for calling him on his failure.

● Told Puerto Ricans they didn’t experience a “real catastrophe like Katrina.”

● Suggested the Puerto Ricans were lazy and lectured the island about the crushing debt unjustly imposed on it by U.S. finance capital.

● Idiotically told North Dakota residents that the White House would make North Dakota’s drought “disappear” (“It’ll all go away; you’ll see”).

This, too, is an abridged list. The record of abnormal incidents in the insane clown presidency of Donald Trump goes on and on. The Twitter- and Fox News-addicted Bad Grandpa Trump is a great embarrassment for Brand USA.

To make matters worse from a U.S. ruling-class perspective, Trump campaigned outside and against conventional neoliberal and ruling-class policy wisdom. He came into the presidency as a reactionary “populist” and nationalist demagogue. He ran as an open critic of the expansive, multilateral and “free trade” globalism long embraced by the United States’ wealth and power elite. Claiming (absurdly) to be a champion of the heartland’s “forgotten” white working class, he denounced corporate globalization, calling the North American Free Trade Agreement a jobs destroyer.

He denounced Wall Street’s abandonment of the nation’s middle and working classes and promised to bring back the nation’s lost manufacturing and coal-mining jobs. Speaking to his imagined, vast, white working-class Archie Bunker- and Joe the Plumber-esque base, Trump has channeled Pat Buchanan-esque “America First” isolationism, protectionism and unilateralism. He promised a trade war with China, calling the nation’s leading trading partner the perpetrator of “the greatest [job] theft in history.” He denounced the U.S. political system as hopelessly corrupt.

Insulting ruling classes and nations abroad, he has lectured European NATO allies on their duty to “pay up,” bashed Japanese and Chinese imports, told Japan to pay for the U.S. military bases that occupy it, called South Korea’s free-trade agreement “horrible,” and told South Korea to pay for the anti-missile system the U.S. set up there.

Unlike the classy, erudite and refined imperialists Barack Obama and Bill and Hillary Clinton, the Muslim-obsessed Trump has never read a memo, white paper or report from “Wall Street’s think tank”—the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR), the granddaddy of all U.S establishment policy formation groups.

Trump joined in the chorus of right and left opposition to Obama’s “pivot to Asia” and CFR-recommended gambit to contain the rise of China with multilateral trade agreements designed to split Eurasia between East and West—the Trans-Pacific Partnership and the Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership. By McCoy’s expert, deeply informed account, Trump’s election has significantly escalated the pace of U.S. imperial decline, accelerating Beijing’s transcendence over Washington as the world’s preeminent power.

All of this and more has been deeply dysfunctional and disobedient as far as the American ruling class is concerned. It’s not for nothing that Trump was shunned by leading corporate and financial campaign donors, who preferred any number of Wall Street- and CFR-vetted candidates, starting with Hillary Clinton and Jeb Bush, over him in 2016. And it’s not for nothing that “The Lyin’ King” has faced relentless corporate-state media criticism and mockery along with a campaign for impeachment or some other form of removal ever since he defeated the national elite’s preferred presidential selections last year.

The arch-imperial super-spook, former National Intelligence Director James Clapper (a curious liberal hero these days) and Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chair Bob Corker, R-Tenn., have gone on national television to question Trump’s fitness for the presidency, hinting at 25th Amendment removal on grounds of incompetence.

All of this raises an interesting question: How on earth did the nation’s unelected and interrelated dictatorships of money and empire let the vicious sociopath Donald Trump into the White House? Aren’t the wealth and power elite’s big-money-drenched and highly corporate mass-mediated candidate selection and vetting processes designed to prevent insubordinate elites (of whatever ideological or other persuasion) from rising into higher office?

Yes, they are, but the American ruling class, it turns out, is not as politically omnipotent and all-seeing as some lefties seem to think even in its own imperial “homeland.” Trump was something of an extraordinary exception to the normal money and politics rule last year. As the distinguished liberal political scientists Benjamin Page (Northwestern) and Martin Gilens (Princeton) note in their new book “Democracy in America?”:

It is extremely difficult to win a major government office without the backing of affluent campaign donors. … To be sure, the 2016 ‘outsider’ campaigns of Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump seemed to demonstrate that—at least under certain circumstances—huge contributions from the usual millionaire and billionaire donors may not be necessary to compete. But of course, Sanders did not win the Democratic Party nomination, let alone the general election. Trump was an extremely unusual case: His celebrity and communications skills markedly lowered his campaign costs by giving him an enormous amount of free media exposure. And Trump had his own fortune to fall back on, if necessary, which also helped make him unusually independent of megadonors.

Among the “certain circumstances” that let Trump slip into the Oval Office last year, we must include the wage and income stagnation that has long plagued the nation’s working-class majority (even as the rich have gotten ever-more obscenely prosperous) and the transparent takeover of the both the nation’s two dominant political organizations by Wall Street and corporate America. Millions of ordinary Americans resent those who seem to have jumped ahead of them—“whether they focus on wealthy corporate executive and hedge-fund managers or on immigrants and minorities” (Page and Gilens).

The rigging of the Democratic primaries against Bernie Sanders was key. By tapping and channeling populist “anti-establishment” anger in accord with majority-progressive public opinion, Sanders (who ran against “the billionaire class”) would have defeated Trump (who ran primarily against “immigrants and minorities”).

Trump owed much of his victory to the hopelessly dull and Wall Street-pleasing, proletariat-dismissing/-dissing Hillary Clinton campaign. The elitist and oligarchic Clinton was unwilling and perhaps unable to rally the Democratic Party’s purported lower- and working-class base. She foolishly assumed that popular horror at His Awfulness would provide all the mass mobilization she really needed. As Mike Davis notes in Haymarket Books’ new must-read collection “U.S. Politics in an Age of Uncertainty”:

While Trump was factory-hopping in the hinterlands, [Mrs. Clinton’s] itinerary skipped the entire state of Wisconsin as well as major contested centers such as the Dayton, Ohio, area. The Clinton camp obviously believed that aggressive campaigning in the last weeks by Obama and Sanders, reinforced by celebrities such as Springsteen and Beyoncé, would ensure strong turnouts by African-Americans and millennials in the urban core while she harvested votes from irate Republican women in the suburbs. … Her campaign refused to heed the dangerous signals from Rust Belt, going ‘totally silent on the economy and any future plan what would be helpful to people’ … [showing] stupefying inattention to voter unrest in long-Democratic non-metropolitan counties urged upon Trump by his ‘pugnacious pollster,’ Tony Fabrizio. … In the event, Clinton’s huge popular majorities on the West Coast were worthless currency in the Electoral College while Trump reaped a windfall from his final few weeks of barnstorming the Rustbelt.

The Democrats’ surrender of the white working-class and rural vote was based on an idiotic calculus that turned out to be suicidal in a handful of upper Midwestern battleground and Rust Belt states. “For every blue-collar Democrat we lose in western Pennsylvania,” U.S. Wall Street Sen. Charles Schumer infamously and falsely predicted, “we will pick up two moderate Republicans in the suburbs in Philadelphia, and you can repeat that in Ohio and Illinois and Wisconsin.”

Nope.

Still, Trump deserves credit for keeping the evangelical wing of the Republican Party loyal for the general election—no simple achievement given Trump’s salacious and sinful record as a self-aggrandizing New York City-based media narcissist, casino mogul and sexual predator. As Davis adds, “Boss Tweet” played his cards right, keeping the religious right on board with clever and significant concessions:

[I]f visceral nationalism and white anger gave him the nomination, it was not enough to ensure that the big battalions of the GOP, especially the evangelicals who had supported [Ted] Cruz, would actively campaign for him. Trump’s stroke of genius was to allow the religious right, including former Cruz cheerleaders David Barton and Tony Perkins, to draft the Republican platform and then, as surety, to select one of their heroes [Mike Pence] as his running mate. … To ensure implementation of the [right-wing] agenda, Trump promised to recompose the federal judiciary with evangelical fellow travelers, beginning with the vacancy left by the death of Justice Antonin Scalia. … With the Supreme Court at stake and Mike Pence smiling from the dais, it was easier for the congregation to pardon the crotch-grabbing sinner at the head of the ticket. Trump, as a result, received a larger share of the evangelical vote than Romney, McCain or Bush, while Clinton underperformed Obama among Catholics, including Latinos.

Add in the dark support he got from the neo-fascistic, Mercer family-supported “alt-right” (gained in part by making the noxious white nationalist Steve Bannon his top campaign official), the cost-saving gift of free media attention, and the red state-amplifying impact of the Electoral College—the “unthinkable” Orange Ascendancy was sealed. The election fell into the insubordinate real estate mogul’s lap, much to the surprise of most pollsters and prognosticators, present writer included.

The neoliberal “deep state” ruling class has been trying to figure out how to deal with Trump ever since. A military coup and assassination are out of the question in the “homeland”—this isn’t Honduras. The setting requires more civilized and constitutional methods of containment and, perhaps, removal: trying to surround him with as many establishment actors as possible; helping keep his approval numbers just hovering above his “deplorable” white-nationalist Amerikaner base with a steady drumbeat of negative media; investigating him and his inner circle for “Russian collusion.”

Besides weakening the naughty Trump, the conspiratorial Russiagate campaign has the benefit of diverting public attention and discussion away from the bipartisan corporate state’s responsibility for the New Gilded Age capitalism’s hollowing out of America. It exonerates the two dominant capitalist parties, the American empire, and the corporate media from legitimate blame for the chilling rise of Herr Donald. It also helps keep the flames hot beneath Washington’s ongoing New Cold War with the proudly disobedient and nationalist rulers atop Washington’s No. 2 geopolitical rival, Russia (China is No. 1).

Last September, in one of the more colorful rhetorical flourishes against Trump, the hilariously disobedient Dear Leader Kim Jong Un said that he would he would “surely and definitely tame the mentally deranged dotard with fire.” He will do no such thing, of course. Meanwhile, however, it would appear that the “dotard” is being tamed by the U.S. political, economic, media and imperial elite—with the threat of impeachment and the presence of just enough “deep state” neoliberal handlers within his bizarre administration.

The tough-talking trade warrior predictably went all mushy on China during his recent trip to Asia. He dropped charges of currency manipulation and told the Chinese that he didn’t blame them for attacking the U.S. market. He also shelved his verbal wargames with North Korea for the most part. That was him being a good, well-behaved Donald: The nation’s unelected and interrelated dictatorships of money and empire have no interests in a trade war with China or a shooting war with North Korea.

The leading oddsmaker site Ladbrokes recently gave Trump a 40 percent chance of “leaving office via impeachment or resignation before the end of his first term.” The Robert Muller III investigations could certainly help make that happen, along with Trump’s foolish habit of feuding with top Senate Republicans.

But 40 percent is too high.

The corporate Democrats probably want to keep the president around to run against in 2018 and 2020. Trump-hating worked like a charm for them in last Tuesday’s elections in Virginia and New Jersey. Top Democrats likely hope that His Awfulness will permit them to sweep back into office without having to make too many concessions to their party’s progressive-liberal Bernie Sanders wing.

In the meantime, those of us on the actual left can hardly be expected to get teary-eyed about Trump’s role in furthering the decline of U.S. global power—well underway since at least George W. Bush’s foolish and blundering invasion of Iraq. As Noam Chomsky noted in the late 1960s: “The costs of empire are in general distributed over the society as a whole, while its profits revert to a few within.”

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Mourning Roy Halladay, a Master Who Craved the Big Moments

Photo

In his 2010 no-hitter against the Cincinnati Reds, which was the second no-hitter in postseason history, Roy Halladay struck out eight batters and walked one. Credit Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images

Roy Halladay never threw a pitch in the World Series. He expected this to bother him, someday. For most of his dozen years with the Toronto Blue Jays, Halladay was probably the best pitcher in baseball, and only a trade to the Philadelphia Phillies could bring him to the postseason. He made it twice, in 2010 and 2011, without winning a pennant.

“I remember in Toronto just sitting watching the playoffs, wondering how I would do — if it would change me, if I would be a different kind of pitcher, if I would have success,” Halladay said in March, at a picnic table beside the Phillies’ spring training practice fields in Clearwater, Fla.

“I just always wondered what it would feel like to be in those situations — and the whole time I was thinking what it would feel like to win a championship. And then, after being in it twice, I realized I was just wondering, How would I stand up? Would it be everything that I thought it was? And it was.

“So, for me, just having the opportunity meant every bit as much as winning it or not winning it. The rest, as they say, it’s in the cards. But as far as what you can control, just having those opportunities was all I ever wanted.”

Halladay died on Tuesday when the small plane he was piloting plunged into the Gulf of Mexico. He was 40 years old, and the only person on board.

He left behind a wife and two sons. He coached youth teams and seemed to be enjoying a blissful retirement — “in the air or on the water” as he wrote on his Twitter page, where he posted this right under his handle: “Courage is not being fearless but rather acting in spite of the existence of fear!”

That playoff debut, the one he had wondered so much about, will stand as Halladay’s signature performance. He threw a no-hitter against the Cincinnati Reds, the first in the postseason since Don Larsen’s perfect game in the 1956 World Series. And that was as good as it got.

In Halladay’s final playoff game, the next fall, he lost by 1-0 to the St. Louis Cardinals and Chris Carpenter, an old teammate who had taught Halladay his curveball while playing catch in the minors. Somebody had to win that day, and it was his friend, not him. Halladay had given his best, and lost. It happens, and he was rational enough to understand that.

I was in the Phillies’ clubhouse after that loss, when Halladay expressed a version of the comment above. It has struck me ever since as the essence of the competitor: All you really want is a chance to test yourself, to see how it all turns out with everything at stake.

Halladay had gotten his opportunities. He was proud of how he had handled them.

We spoke this spring as part of my research for a book I am writing on pitching. I had chased Halladay for two years, through his agency and his former teams, with no luck. On my visit to Clearwater, Greg Casterioto, the Phillies’ director of baseball communications, told me Halladay was there, working with prospects on the minor league side. He met me at the picnic tables while the major leaguers played on the main field.

Halladay was a little bigger than I remembered, as many players are when their training stops. He had been a fitness fanatic when he played, and said the work — the way it flowed into the competition — was what he missed most since retiring in 2013, at age 36.

Durability was Halladay’s hallmark. He pitched 63 complete games from 2002 through 2011, 30 more than any other pitcher in that decade. His back gave out, but he said his arm always felt strong. The workload never caught up to him because he measured it precisely.

“If I threw 120 pitches in a game, I would throw a 20-pitch bullpen,” Halladay explained. “If I threw 100 pitches in a game, I would throw a 40-pitch bullpen. If I only threw 80, I’d throw a 60-pitch bullpen. So I was always getting the same amount of pitches in a five-day period.”

We talked a bit about the modern state of pitching. Halladay had eight seasons of at least 220 innings, a total no pitcher reached in 2017. He said today’s pitchers, with their turbo fastballs, tried too hard to strike hitters out.

“I felt like with two strikes — 0-2, 1-2 — if they didn’t swing at it, it was going to be strike three,” he said. “I wanted something that they had either had to swing at and put in play, or was going to be a strike on 0-2. Now it’s two extra pitches, and we’re getting back to 2-2 and the count goes on. So I think it’s just changed a lot in the way people think about pitching. They want to stay just off the plate to where they’re avoiding contact.”

Halladay induced weak contact — and so many awkward swings — using the Greg Maddux model of moving the ball in or away on either side of the plate. Hitters knew that Halladay could carve an X in the air, down by their hands or out by their handle, with his sinkers and cutters. He could also lock them up with a curve in the zone, or a split-change — a pitch he learned from Rich Dubee, a Phillies coach — in the dirt.

“I wanted them to swing at every pitch,” he said. And with an arsenal like that, why not?

Halladay’s success was hard-earned. After parts of three seasons in the majors, the Blue Jays sent him to Class A to rebuild his psyche and master a lower arm slot. He appreciated how fleeting success could be, and approached his work with a serious demeanor that evoked Steve Carlton, an earlier Phillies ace.

Carlton was my baseball hero when I was young. My son now roots for the Phillies — his grandparents have tickets — and Halladay was his favorite. When I took him to the Hall of Fame two years ago, he took a picture with the cap Halladay wore for his perfect game in 2010. After our tour, he asked for a framed Halladay photo collage from a store on Main Street.

On Tuesday, my son took inventory of the shrine to Halladay in his bedroom: two framed wall-hangings, two bobbleheads, a pennant and a baseball card. He didn’t cry at the news of the crash; he is 15, too busy for that. He asked if he could go to the Y to practice jump shots. Basketball tryouts are coming up.

I told him I’d have to pick him up in the middle of writing this column, and he said not to bother; he wanted me to write a good story. I insisted he go, because Halladay would have wanted that. He laughed — it’s a trite thing to say, and I barely knew the man. But I meant it.

I learned a lot from Halladay in our interview this spring — how he mastered each of his pitches, how he held them, how he used them to very likely earn a plaque in the Hall. But mostly I learned again that what truly drove him was not the achievement, but earning the opportunity to have it. If he could do that perfectly, he could live with the rest.

Halladay did not live long enough. But his legacy, to me, is powerful and instructive in any field: The purity of the effort matters most.

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Famous Athletes Have Always Led the Way

Michael Eric Dyson OCT. 21, 201

Credit John Dominis/Time Life Pictures, via Getty Images

He’s disrespecting the flag. He’s slighting veterans. He’s showing contempt for the national anthem. He’s not a true patriot.

That is what the critics have been saying about the former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick since he started kneeling during the national anthem last year.

These and other charges rain down on those who dare challenge the nation to do better by blacks. The same thing happened to the track stars John Carlos and Tommie Smith when they raised their black-gloved fists in a black-power salute at the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City to protest the injustices black people faced back home. I remember seeing that gesture, as a 9-year-old boy in Detroit, and feeling that those raised fists helped to shatter my racial innocence. Carlos and Smith were deemed un-American and disrespectful. Brent Musburger, a sportswriter at the time, called them “black-skinned storm troopers.”

There’s another criticism reserved for the black celebrity: That their wealth and fame mean they have little to complain about, and when they speak up, they’re being ungrateful for the privileges they enjoy. But that’s just the point. At their best, the black blessed have always spoken up for the black beleaguered.

You don’t get to be a sports fan — to enjoy the spectacle of black excellence — and look away from what these athletes demand. The issue that primarily moved Kaepernick to take a knee, the killing of unarmed black people by the police, remains a huge problem. The football players who will continue to take a knee this season are part of a noble tradition of sports figures acting from their conscience.

“You’ll never know how easy you and Jackie and Doby and Campy made it for me to do my job by what you did on the baseball field,” the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said to the baseball superstar Don Newcombe — speaking of Jackie Robinson, Larry Doby and Roy Campanella — a few weeks before King was assassinated in Memphis in 1968.

Newcombe was humbled, he told a reporter. “Imagine, here is Martin getting beaten with billy clubs, bitten by dogs and thrown in jail, and he says we made his job easier.”

Americans who are angry with Kaepernick often forget how black entertainers and athletes have used their fame to break down barriers of discrimination. Ray Charles helped to desegregate concert halls; Jackie Robinson integrated an entire sports league. Entertainers and athletes also helped to combat fear of black culture.

The billy club and the baseball bat were competing weapons in the war for the mind of white America. But increasingly, in the physics of race, it became more difficult for two objects to occupy the same space at the same time. The preservation of a society that prevented more black people from thriving ran headlong into an appreciation for the athletic gifts — and, by extension, the humanity — of black people. Robinson, Doby, Campanella and Newcombe were the easiest translation of what the civil rights movement aimed for: Give black folk a chance, treat us fairly, make one set of rules for us all to abide by, and we will do well.

It seemed a reasonable proposition: If you like me, and you like what I am, then like the culture that produced me.

These athletes saw the contradiction between American ideals of fairness and justice and their arbitrary application to people of color. A black person had to be a superstar athlete and beloved icon to enjoy only some of the perks that many white people could take for granted at birth.

All of this seems foreign to people who didn’t — and don’t — depend on their sports stars or their entertainers to double as part-time spokesmen and spokeswomen for their race. Taylor Swift carries no such burden; Bryce Harper curries no such expectation. Sure, Joe DiMaggio made the Italians proud, and Jews exulted in the play of Hank Greenberg and Sandy Koufax. But despite the undeniable prejudice some of them confronted, none truly faced the feisty assortment of bigotries that dogged the black athlete’s path.

Muhammad Ali spoke against the war in Vietnam, often linking it to domestic racial terror, and he paid for his dissent, cast as a villain, a racial pariah, a traitor, a coward, a clueless and unpatriotic dupe. Ali died a hero decades later, but by then his transformation was aided by a disease that diminished his speech.

Colin Kaepernick’s singular act of social conscience has galvanized many in the black community. Scores of my students and other young people around the country regard Kaepernick as a hero for his willingness to speak out for justice, inspiring them in turn to attend local rallies or to join protests against police brutality. These young people find themselves thrust into the swirl of a history that to this point only stared at them from a textbook.

The thing that rich, talented and famous athletes can do is get others to follow them. In this case, with Kaepernick and the many other players who have taken a knee since his initial protest in 2016, it is the coaches and owners who are now coming along, too.

It is also important that privileged white people use their platforms to challenge inequality — and speak out against white fragility and indifference. In the sports world, three white men with power and influence make this plain. The Detroit Pistons coach and president, Stan Van Gundy, spoke bluntly about Donald Trump after he was elected, saying that he didn’t think “anybody can deny this guy is openly and brazenly racist and misogynistic.” More recently, he lamented that the president has made the national anthem a divisive issue. But he saw the positive: “People are now talking about some very important problems.”

Gregg Popovich, the coach of the San Antonio Spurs, has emerged as a brilliant advocate of white people’s facing up to the legacy of white privilege. “We still have no clue of what being born white means,” he has said. And the Atlanta Falcons owner Arthur Blank told me that he was quite sympathetic to the social issues that black people face and that black players express.

These men, united by a sports world that is fueled in many ways by black excellence, are patriots, true lovers of democracy, who want to see substantive social change. That cannot happen without agitation and resistance, without protest and uncomfortable moments of reckoning. Kaepernick’s legacy resides far beyond the gridiron he deserves to play on; it lives in the spiral of social awareness and public conscience that his protest has unleashed.

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Existing Law May Not Solve Our Presidential Crisis

October 17, 2017  TruthDig

Bill Blum
Contributor

Presidential Crisis

What’s that you say? Getting rid of Trump won’t be as easy as 1, 2, 3. (Alex Brandon / AP)

For those of you looking for a legal avenue to cut short the tenure of the 45th president of the United States—our very own real-life madman in the high tower—I have some good news, and some bad.

Starting with the upside, your ranks are growing. According to a Public Policy Polling survey conducted in late September, 48 percent of American voters want Trump impeached. A Harvard-Harris Poll conducted a month earlier pegged support for impeachment at 43 percent.

You can also take comfort in the fact that you’re right to regard Trump as a unique threat to democratic values and institutions, not to mention world peace. From his almost-daily diatribes against the “fake news” media to his Twitter taunting of Kim Jong Un, he’s proved as much over the past nine months.

Although I’m about to drop some bad news as well, let me add first that I’m with you. I have been a “never Trumper” ever since the trash-talking real estate mogul descended an escalator at his midtown Manhattan headquarters in June 2015, with a vacuous-looking Melania by his side, to announce his bid for the presidency, pledge to “make America great again” and denounce undocumented Mexican migrants as criminals, rapists and purveyors of drugs.

Throughout the long and bizarre campaign that followed, I warned in multiple Truthdig pieces of the grave dangers a Trump presidency would pose in such areas of law and policy as freedom of the press, birthright citizenship, immigration enforcement and travel bans, climate change, abortion rights and future appointments to the Supreme Court.

I also was among the first to sound the alarm about Trump’s emotional stability, in a column titled “The Psychopathology of Donald Trump,” published in July 2016. The subject is now the focus of a best-selling book, “The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump,” featuring essays written by 27 distinguished mental health experts.

Since the election, rather than mourn the defeat of Hillary Clinton, I’ve looked ahead, not back. Eyes fixed on Trump, I’ve explored the actual prospects for impeaching the president, as well as indicting him for obstruction of justice, stemming from the firing of former FBI Director James Comey.

But now for the downside: There is no quick legal fix for removing Trump. As long as the GOP controls Congress, impeachment remains a long shot, as it requires a majority vote in the House in favor of articles of impeachment and a two-thirds vote in the Senate to obtain a conviction and removal from office. Two House Democrats—Al Green of Texas and Brad Sherman of California—have introduced impeachment resolutions, but at present they’re going nowhere.

And while Robert Mueller’s investigation of Russian meddling in the election and the dismissal of Comey may result in the prosecution of such former Trump associates as Paul Manafort, Michael Flynn and even Donnie Jr., it’s premature to think that the president will find himself in the crosshairs of a grand jury any time soon. Although the issue remains unsettled, the weight of scholarly opinion is that a sitting president cannot be indicted.

The same, unfortunately, holds true for invoking the 25th Amendment—the latest deus ex machina championed by leading Democrats as a means for sacking Trump. If anything, the amendment is a more implausible vehicle than impeachment.

Ratified in 1967, the 25th Amendment was crafted in the aftermath of the assassination of John F. Kennedy to clear up ambiguities and fill gaps in the Constitution’s original provisions on presidential succession.

The Constitution, as it emerged from the founding convention of 1787, addressed the issue of succession in Article II, Section I, which stipulates:

In case of the removal of the President from office, or of his death, resignation, or inability to discharge the powers and duties of the said office, the same shall devolve on the Vice President, and the Congress may by Law provide for the case of removal, death, resignation, or inability, both of the President and Vice President, declaring what officer shall then act as President and such officer shall then act as President and such officer shall act accordingly, until the Disability be removed or a President shall be elected.

The rule of vice-presidential succession was restated by the 12th Amendment, which dealt primarily with the Electoral College and was ratified in 1804. The 20th Amendment, ratified in 1933, offered more clarification, stating that if the president-elect dies before being sworn into office, the vice president would be sworn in instead.

However, not until 1947, with the passage of the Presidential Succession Act, did the current line of succession take shape, extending from the vice president through the speaker of the House, the president pro tempore of the Senate, the secretary of state, and then to other Cabinet officials.

Still, questions about succession remained—among them, how to define a president’s inability to serve, particularly when the inability is mental or emotional in nature. Who gets to make the determination that such an inability exists? And can the president resist efforts to have himself declared unable to serve?

This is where Section 4 of the 25th Amendment comes into play in the debate over Trump’s mental fitness to hold the most powerful office in the land. The first paragraph of Section 4 advises:

Whenever the Vice President and a majority of either the principal officers of the executive departments [the Cabinet] or of such other body as Congress may by law provide, transmit to the President pro tempore of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives their written declaration that the President is unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office, the Vice President shall immediately assume the powers and duties of the office as Acting President.

The second and final paragraph of Section 4 instructs, in so many words, that the president can attempt to override a declaration of inability by notifying the Senate and House leadership that no such inability exists. Thereafter, the vice president, with the support of a majority of the Cabinet, or “the other body” referred to in the first paragraph, can contest the president’s override. To resolve the conflict and place the vice president in charge, a two-thirds vote of both houses of Congress is required to confirm that the president, in fact, is “unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office.”

The procedures outlined in Section 4 have never been invoked, and it is unlikely that they will be used against Trump. The amendment simply contains too many moving parts and depends on too many external contingencies to make it a viable option.

First and foremost, only the most cockeyed optimists could believe that Vice President Mike Pence would lead what would amount to a de facto palace coup against Trump by initiating the procedures outlined in Section 4. Nor, as an aside, would the nation be better off by having Pence—a religious fanatic—take charge of the federal government.

Second, it is doubtful that Congress, acting without Pence, would enact legislation creating another body that would make a finding of presidential incapacity. To be sure, two bills are pending in the House to do just that. Maryland Democrat Jamie Raskin introduced one to establish an oversight commission on presidential capacity, staffed largely by physicians and psychiatrists. Earl Blumenauer, D-Ore., authored the other bill, which would create an oversight body composed of all former living presidents and vice presidents.

Neither measure, however, has shown any sign of progressing to a committee hearing. Even assuming, improbably, that either could win approval by both the Senate and the House and become law, they would have to be passed by a two-thirds supermajority in each chamber to withstand an inevitable presidential veto.

This does not mean, however, that it is pointless to agitate for impeachment or call for the removal of Trump via the 25th Amendment, or that it is a waste of time to discuss the possibility that Mueller and his colleagues will conclude they can prove an obstruction case against the president. Rather, it means that progressives and never-Trumpers should view the avenues for creating an early Trump exit not just as ends in themselves, but as organizing tools that can draw increasing numbers of Americans into a wider political effort to build a new progressive movement aimed at sweeping the GOP (and eventually, center-right Democrats) from power.

In the final analysis, and most importantly, dumping Trump and ensuring that no one like him ever accedes to the presidency again will require the promotion of an alternative to oligarchic corporate capitalism. As I have written in this column before:

Every major movement of social and political transformation, in addition to championing specific short-term reforms, has been animated by higher principles promising both solidarity and liberation. The American Revolution was moved by the demand for “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” The French version was driven by the ideals of “liberté, égalité, fraternité.” The civil rights movement was propelled by Martin Luther King Jr.’s “dream” of racial harmony and justice. Even Obama’s 2008 presidential run was keyed by a single word of inspiration: “Hope.”

What, then, in this critical hour, is our shared vision of the future? I don’t pretend to have the answers, except to say that in the broadest terms it will be communitarian, diverse, inclusive, respectful of democratic institutions and the environment, and welcoming toward individual freedoms. It will not, if it is to succeed, call for a restoration of the hierarchical neoliberalism of the recent past.

The outcome is uncertain, which only makes the undertaking all the more necessary.

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The Art of Thinking Well

Oct 10, 2017

David Brooks-NY Times

ichard Thaler has just won an extremely well deserved Nobel Prize in economics. Thaler took an obvious point, that people don’t always behave rationally, and showed the ways we are systematically irrational.

Thanks to his work and others’, we know a lot more about the biases and anomalies that distort our perception and thinking, like the endowment effect (once you own something you value it more than before you owned it), mental accounting (you think about a dollar in your pocket differently than you think about a dollar in the bank) and all the rest.

Before Thaler, economists figured it was good enough to proceed as if people are rational, utility-maximizing creatures. Now, thanks to the behavioral economics revolution he started, most understand that’s not good enough.

But Thaler et al. were only scratching the surface of our irrationality. Most behavioral economists study individual thinking. They do much of their research in labs where subjects don’t intimately know the people around them.

It’s when we get to the social world that things really get gnarly. A lot of our thinking is for bonding, not truth-seeking, so most of us are quite willing to think or say anything that will help us be liked by our group. We’re quite willing to disparage anyone when, as Marilynne Robinson once put it, “the reward is the pleasure of sharing an attitude one knows is socially approved.” And when we don’t really know a subject well enough, in T. S. Eliot’s words, “we tend always to substitute emotions for thoughts,” and go with whatever idea makes us feel popular.

Photo

Richard Thaler, left, won the Nobel Prize in economics on Monday in part because he realized people act irrationally. Credit Scott Olson/Getty Images

This is where Alan Jacobs’s absolutely splendid forthcoming book “How to Think” comes in. If Thaler’s work is essential for understanding how the market can go astray, Jacobs’s emphasis on the relational nature of thinking is essential for understanding why there is so much bad thinking in political life right now.

Jacobs makes good use of C. S. Lewis’s concept of the Inner Ring. In every setting — a school, a company or a society — there is an official hierarchy. But there may also be a separate prestige hierarchy, where the cool kids are. They are the Inner Ring.

There are always going to be people who desperately want to get into the Inner Ring and will cut all sorts of intellectual corners to be accepted. As Lewis put it, “The passion for the Inner Ring is most skillful in making a man who is not yet a very bad man do very bad things.”

People will, for example, identify and attack what Jacobs calls the Repugnant Cultural Other — the group that is opposed to the Inner Ring, which must be assaulted to establish membership in it.

Other people will resent the Inner Ring, and they will cut all sorts of intellectual corners in order to show their resentment. These people are quick to use combat metaphors when they talk about thinking (he shot down my argument, your claims are indefensible). These people will adopt shared vague slurs like “cuckservative” or “whitesplaining” that signal to the others in the outsider groups that they are attacking the ring, even though these slurs are usually impediments to thought.

Jacobs notices that when somebody uses “in other words” to summarize another’s argument, what follows is almost invariably a ridiculous caricature of that argument, in order to win favor with the team. David Foster Wallace once called such people Snoots. Their motto is, “We Are the Few, the Proud, the More or Less Constantly Appalled at Everyone Else.”

Jacobs nicely shows how our thinking processes emerge from emotional life and moral character. If your heart and soul are twisted, your response to the world will be, too. He argues that by diagnosing our own ills, we can begin to combat them. And certainly I can think of individual beacons of intellectual honesty today: George Packer, Tyler Cowen, Scott Alexander and Caitlin Flanagan, among many.

But I’d say that if social life can get us into trouble, social life can get us out. After all, think of how you really persuade people. Do you do it by writing thoughtful essays that carefully marshal facts? That works some of the time. But the real way to persuade people is to create an attractive community that people want to join. If you do that, they’ll bend their opinions to yours. If you want people to be reasonable, create groups where it’s cool to be reasonable.

Jacobs mentions that at the Yale Political Union members are admired if they can point to a time when a debate totally changed their mind on something. That means they take evidence seriously; that means they can enter into another’s mind-set. It means they treat debate as a learning exercise and not just as a means to victory.

How many public institutions celebrate these virtues? The U.S. Senate? Most TV talk shows? Even the universities?

Back when they wrote the book of Proverbs it was said, “By long forbearing is a prince persuaded, and a soft tongue breaketh the bone.” These days, a soft tongue doesn’t get you very far, but someday it might again.

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Faces of Pain, Faces of Hope

Oct 9, 2017
Chris Hedges
Mr. Fish

ANDERSON, Ind.—It was close to midnight, and I was sitting at a small campfire with Sybilla and Josh Medlin in back of an old warehouse in an impoverished section of the city. The Medlins paid $20,000 for the warehouse. It came with three lots. They use the lots for gardens. The produce they grow is shared with neighbors and the local homeless shelter. There are three people living in the warehouse, which the Medlins converted into living quarters. That number has been as high as 10.

“It was a house of hospitality,” said Josh, 33, who like his wife came out of the Catholic Worker Movement. “We were welcoming people who needed a place to stay, to help them get back on their feet. Or perhaps longer. That kind of didn’t work out as well as we had hoped. We weren’t really prepared to deal with some of the needs that people had. And perhaps not the skills. We were taken advantage of. We weren’t really helping them. We didn’t have the resources to help them.”

“For the Catholic Workers, the ratio of community members to people they’re helping is a lot different than what we had here,” Sybilla, 27, said. “We were in for a shock. At the time there were just three community members. Sometimes we had four or five homeless guests here. It got kind of chaotic. Mostly mental illness. A lot of addiction, of course. We don’t know how to deal with hard drugs in our home. It got pretty crazy.”

Two or three nights a month people gather, often around a fire, in back of the warehouse, known as Burdock House.

“The burdock is seen as a worthless, noxious weed,” Josh said. “But it has a lot of edible and medicinal value. A lot of the people we come into contact with are also not valued by our society. The burdock plant colonizes places that are abandoned. We are doing the same thing with our house.”

Those who come for events bring food for a potluck dinner or chip in five dollars each. Bands play, poets read and there is an open mic. Here they affirm what we all must affirm—those talents, passions, feelings, thoughts and creativity that make us complete human beings. Here people are celebrated not for their jobs or status but for their contributions to others. And in associations like this one, unseen and unheralded, lies hope.

“We are an intentional community,” said Josh. “This means we are a group of people who have chosen to live together to repurpose an old building, to offer to a neighborhood and a city a place to express its creative gifts. This is an alternative model to a culture that focuses on accumulating as much money as possible and on an economic structure based on competition and taking advantage of others. We value manual labor. We value nonviolence as a tactic for resistance. We value simplicity. We believe people are not commodities. We share what we have. We are not about accumulating for ourselves. These values help us to become whole people.”

The message of the consumer society, pumped out over flat screen televisions, computers and smartphones, to those trapped at the bottom of society is loud and unrelenting: You are a failure. Popular culture celebrates those who wallow in power, wealth and self-obsession and perpetuates the lie that if you work hard and are clever you too can become a “success,” perhaps landing on “American Idol” or “Shark Tank.” You too can invent Facebook. You too can become a sports or Hollywood icon. You too can rise to be a titan. The vast disparity between the glittering world that people watch and the bleak world they inhabit creates a collective schizophrenia that manifests itself in our diseases of despair—suicides, addictions, mass shootings, hate crimes and depression. Our oppressors have skillfully acculturated us to blame ourselves for our oppression.

Hope means walking away from the illusion that you will be the next Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, Kim Kardashian. It means rejecting the lust for public adulation and popular validation. It means turning away from the maniacal creation of a persona, an activity that defines presence on social media. It means searching for something else—a life of meaning, purpose and, ultimately, dignity.

The bottomless narcissism and hunger of consumer culture cause our darkest and most depraved pathologies. It is not by building pathetic, tiny monuments to ourselves that we become autonomous and free human beings; it is through acts of self-sacrifice, by recovering a sense of humility, by affirming the sanctity of others and thereby the sanctity of ourselves. Those who fight against the sicknesses, whether squatting in old warehouses, camped out at Zuccotti Park or Standing Rock or locked in prisons, have discovered that life is measured by infinitesimal and often unseen acts of solidarity and kindness. These acts of kindness, like the nearly invisible strands of a spider’s web, slowly spin outward to connect our atomized and alienated souls to the souls of others. The good, as Daniel Berrigan told me, draws to it the good. This belief—held although we may never see empirical proof—is profoundly transformative. But know this: When these acts are carried out on behalf of the oppressed and the demonized, when compassion defines the core of our lives, when we understand that justice is a manifestation of this solidarity, even love, we are marginalized and condemned by the authoritarian or totalitarian state.

Those who resist effectively will not negate the coming economic decline, the mounting political dysfunction, the collapse of empire, the ecological disasters from climate change, and the many other bitter struggles that lie ahead. Rather, they draw from their acts of kindness the strength and courage to endure. And it will be from their relationships—ones formed the way all genuine relationships form, face to face rather than electronically—that radical organizations will be created to resist.

Sybilla, whose father was an electrician and who is the oldest of six, did not go to college. Josh was temporarily suspended from Earlham College in Richmond, Ind., for throwing a pie at William Kristol as the right-wing commentator was speaking on campus in 2005. Josh never went back to college. Earlham, he said, like most colleges, is a place “where intellectualism takes precedence over truth.”

“When I was in high school I was really into the punk rock community,” Sybilla said. “Through that I discovered anarchism.”

Emma Goldman?” I asked.

“Yeah, mostly that brand of anarchism,” she said. “Not like I’m going to break car windows for fun.”

She was attracted to the communal aspect of anarchism. It fit with the values of her parents, who she said “are very anti-authoritarian” and “who always taught me to think for myself.” She read a book by an anonymous author who lived outside the capitalist system for a couple of years. “That really set me on that direction even though he is a lot more extreme,” she said, “only eating things from the garbage. Train hopping. As a teenager, I thought, ‘Wow! The adventure. All the possible ways you could live an alternative lifestyle that’s not harmful to others and isn’t boring.’ ”

When she was 18 she left Anderson and moved to Los Angeles to join the Catholic Worker Movement.

“I [too] became pretty immersed in the anarchist scene,” Josh said. “I’m also a Christian. The Catholic Worker Movement is the most well known example of how to put those ideas in practice. Also, I really didn’t want anything to do with money.”

“A lot of my friends in high school, despite being a part of the punk rock community, went into the military,” Sybilla said. “Or they’re still doing exactly what they were doing in high school.”

The couple live in the most depressed neighborhood of Anderson, one where squatters inhabit abandoned buildings, drug use is common, the crime rate is high, houses are neglected and weeds choke abandoned lots and yards. The police often never appear when someone from this part of the city dials 911. When the police do appear they are usually hostile.

“If you’re walking down the street and you see a cop car, it doesn’t make you feel safe,” Josh said.

“A lot of people view them [police] as serving the rich,” Sybilla said. “They’re not serving us.”

“Poor people are a tool for the government to make money with small drug charges,” she added. “A lot of our peers are in jail or have been in jail for drugs. People are depressed. Lack of opportunity. Frustration with a job that’s boring. Also, no matter how hard you want to work, you just barely scrape by. One of our neighbors who is over here quite a bit, he had a 70-hour-a-week job. Constant overtime. And he still lives in this neighborhood in a really small one-bedroom apartment. I think Anderson has really bad self-esteem. A lot of young people, a lot of people my age I know are working for $9, $10 an hour. Moving from job to job every six months. Basically, enough money to buy alcohol, cigarettes and pay the rent.”

“My mom’s generation grew up thinking they were going to have a solid job,” she said. “That they were just going to be able to start a job and have a good livelihood. And that’s not the case. Just because you want to work really hard it doesn’t necessarily mean you’re going to make it.”

“I work as a cashier at the local Christian college,” she said. “It’s a small school with 2,000 students. I work in the cafeteria. The contract changed. The school stopped doing its own food service many years ago. Has been hiring private companies. After I worked there for a year the contract was up. It was a new company and they’re huge. … I think it’s the biggest food service company. They do most hospitals, schools, prisons. And the job conditions changed so dramatically. Our orientation with this new company, they had this HR guy come. He’s like, ‘You’re going to work for the biggest company in the world. You should be so excited to be a part of our team. We’re going to make you great. Anderson used to be this really powerful city full of industry. The employees demanded so much from the companies. And [the companies] all left.’ ”

“We’re just looking at him,” she said. “Why is this relevant? Basically the message was, ‘You guys have no other choice. So you don’t choose to work with us. You have to. And we’re going to do what we want you to do.’ At the time I was taking $7.50 an hour. They hired me at $7.50 from the old company. They hired the people beside me for $8, which I was not happy with. The old employees were making more money because they got consistent raises throughout the years. They would have them do jobs like carrying crates of heavy food up the stairs. Or they moved them to the dish room. Jobs that they knew they physically couldn’t do, in hopes that they would quit. I think. They didn’t want to pay that higher wage. And the students weren’t happy either. So many employees were really upset. Everyone was talking about quitting. We lost about half the workforce. There were 100 employees when they came in. They had reduced down to 50. That makes my job twice as hard. But I still make $7.50. With no hope for a raise anytime soon.”

“I went up to them,” she continued. “I said, ‘I need to make as much as these people at least. I’ve been here for a year. I’m a more valuable employee.’ And they were like, ‘If you don’t like it, quit. Maybe you can get a job at Burger King.’ I was so angry. How dare they tell me to quit. I started talking to some of my co-workers to see if they were interested in making the job better rather than quitting. And a lot of them were. Especially the people who’d been there for years and years and who were familiar with GM and UAW [the United Automobile Workers union]. And weren’t scared of it. So we started having meetings. I think the campaign took two years. And we successfully organized. It’s been a huge improvement. Even though it’s still a low-paying job, everything is set. They can’t change their mind about when we get raises. They can’t change their mind about what the hiring rate is. They can’t take these elderly people and make them start carrying boxes rather than run a cash register. They were also firing people for no reason. That doesn’t happen anymore. … The employees have a voice now. If we don’t like something, when our contract is up for renegotiation we can change it.”

“The jobs we have are boring,” she said. “My job was so boring. Having this as an outlet, also with the challenge of creating the union there, I was able to not feel so useless.”

Sybilla also publishes The Heartland Underground. The zine, which sells for $2 a copy and comes out every four or five months, reviews local bands like the punk group Hell’s Orphans, publishes poets and writers and has articles on subjects such as dumpster diving.

In a review of Hell’s Orphans, which has written songs such as “Too Drunk to Fuck” and “Underage Donk,” the reviewer and the band sit in a basement drinking until one of the band members, Max, says, “Feel free to take anything we say out of context. Like, you can even just piece together individual words or phrases.” (Donk, as the article explains, is “a slang term for a very round, attractive, ghetto booty and is a derivative of the term Badonkadonk.”) The review reads:

Hell’s Orphans has really played some unusual shows like a high school open house, a show in a garage where the audience was only four adults, four kids, a dog and a chicken, and out of the Game Exchange a buy/sell/trade video game store. They’ve also played under some uncomfortable circumstances like a flooded basement in which Nigel was getting shocked by the mic and guitar every few seconds and at the Hollywood Birdhouse one night when Max and Nigel were both so paranoid on some crazy pot that they were also too frozen to perform and couldn’t look at the audience. For such a young band that has done zero touring they’ve had a lot of adventures and experiences.

A poet who went by the name Timotheous Endeavor wrote in a poem titled “The Monkey Song”:

please just let me assume
that there is room for us and our lives
somewhere between your lies
and the red tape that confines

please just let me assume
we’re all monkeys
we’re trained to self alienate
but it’s not our fates

i was walking down the road
i wonder if there’s anywhere around here
that i am truly welcome
spend my dollar move along
past all of the closed doors

In one edition of The Heartland Underground there was this untitled entry:

They pay me just to stay out of thier [sic] world. They don’t want me at work I would just get in their way. They pay me just to sit at home. I feel things harder and see with such different eyes it’s easier for everyone if I just stay at home, if I just stay out of their world and wait to die. I am not inept. I just don’t fit into their neatly paved grids, their machines and systems.

There is no place for a schizophrenic in this world and there is no place for anything wild, crooked, or untamed anymore. When did things go so wrong? Everything is wrong!! They paved paradise and put up a parking lot. They paved the entire fucking planet. I’m on a mission to liberate myself from all the lies that poison me and rot inside my mind, holding me captive and causing me to hate myself and the world. I’m ready to stop hating! I’m ready to become fully human and join life.

The truth is: We’re all drowning.

They think I’m crazy? At least I can see that I’m drowning. No one else is in a panic because they can’t see or feel how wrong everything is. I don’t want to drown. I want to swim and climb up to a high place. I want to rise above.

Arbitrary Aardvark wrote an article called “I was a Guinea Pig for Big Pharma,” about earning money by taking part in medical experiments. He would stay in a lab for about two weeks and take “medicine, usually a pill, and they take your blood a lot. You might be pissing in a jug or getting hooked up to an EKG machine or whatever the study design calls for, and they take your blood pressure and temperature pretty often.” He made between $2,000 and $5,000 depending on how long the study lasted. Most of his fellow “lab rats” were “just out of jail or rehab.” In one study he had a bullet-tipped plastic tube inserted down his nose into his intestines. “It was the most painful thing I’ve been through in my adult life.” He said he and the other subjects did not like reporting side effects because they were “worried that they’ll be sent home without a full paycheck, or banned from future studies.” He admitted this probably affected the viability of the studies. He became ill during one of the experiments. The pharmaceutical company refused to pay him, blaming his illness on a pre-existing condition. He wrote:

I signed up for one that was going to pay $5,000, but a week into it my liver enzymes were all wrong, and they took me out of the study but kept me at the site, because I was very sick. It turned out I’d come down with mono just before going into the study. And then I got shingles, not fun. …

I’d spent 3 years trying to be a lawyer and failed. I’d worked in a warehouse, as the Dalai lama’s nephew’s headwaiter, as a courier and a temp. Lost money day trading and then in real estate. I was ready to try medical experiments again. I tried 3 times to get in at Eli Lilly but never did. Lilly no longer does its own clinical trials after a girl … killed herself during an anti-depressant study. …

Jared Lynch wrote an essay titled “Sometimes the Voices in Your Head are Angry Ghosts” that included these lines:

Death shrouded the whole spacetime of the latter half of high school, coating it in an extra vicious layer of depression. The first night we stayed in the house I sat in the living room, writing about ghosts in a composition book… I had a package of single edge blades in the back of my top desk drawer and sometimes I flirted too closely with that edge of darkness. I thought a lot about the blades at school. My daydreams were consumed by untold suicides, and countless times I came home to find one of my past selves in the tub with his forearm opened wide and grinning with his life essence surrounding him in the tub on the wrong side of his skin.

It was a strange, beautiful time. Melancholia wrapped around the edges with the golden glow of nostalgia for a time that felt like I had died before it existed… I fell into an expected, but incredibly deep pool of depression and I found the single edge razors that one of my future had so graciously left behind in my top drawer. I bled myself because I wanted to be with the lovely, lonely ghosts. I bled myself more than I ever had, but I didn’t bleed enough to capture myself in the barbs of the whirlpool of my depression.

He ended the essay with “I still bear my scars.”

Tyler Ambrose wrote a passage called “Factory Blues.”

What is a factory? What is a factory? A factory is a building of varied size. Some immense tributes to humanistic insatiability, others homely, almost comfortable. Mom and Pop type places, each run-down corner lot a puzzle piece in a greater maze. Gears if you will, all part of the capitalism machine. Some so small they fall out like dandruff, plummeting into the furnaces that keep the monster thriving. Constantly shaking loose another drop of fuel from its decaying hide. For the more fuel it consumes, the drier and deader does its skin become. Until one day, when all the skin has fallen into the fires, and all that remains are rustic factory bones, the beast will fall, and all the peoples of the earth will feel its tumble. And all will fall beside it, when its decaying stench kills the sun.

The cri de coeur of this lost generation, orphans of global capitalism, rises up from deindustrialized cities across the nation. These Americans struggle, cast aside by a society that refuses to honor their intelligence, creativity and passion, that cares nothing for their hopes and dreams, that sees them as cogs, menial wage slaves who will do the drudgery that plagues the working poor in postindustrial America.

Parker Pickett, 24, who works at Lowe’s, is a poet and a musician. He frequently reads his work at Burdock House. He read me a few of his poems. One was called “This is a poem with no Words.” These were the concluding lines.

out of, the affection I receive from concrete whether broken or spray
painted, the old men want that money now want that control even
though they are sad and delusional, if I could I would die from the beauty
of her eyes as they shudder and gasp and relax with natural imperfections which
I hold in high regards, the glow of the city around me reaches to the night
sky, a slate of black chalkboard I wipe off the stars with my thumb one
by one, songs end stories end lives end, but the idea of some grand, silly
truth to everyone and everything with never die, we are born in love with precious life, and with that truth I will giggle and smile until I’m laid to rest in my
sweet, sweet grave.

I sat on a picnic table next to Justin Benjamin. He cradled his guitar, one of his tuning pegs held in place by locking pliers. The fire was dying down. Justin, 22, calls himself WD Benjamin, the “WD” being short for “well dressed.” He wore a white shirt, a loosely knotted tie and a suit coat. He had long, frizzy hair parted in the middle that fell into his face. His father was a steelworker. His mother ran a day care center and later was an insurance agent.

“Kids would talk about wanting something better or leaving,” he said. “Yet they weren’t doing steps to take it. You saw they were going to spend their whole lives here begrudgingly. They would talk stuff. They would never do anything about it. It was all just talk.”

He paused.

“Substance [abuse] ruined a lot of lives around here,” he said.

He estimates that by age 14 most kids in Anderson realize they are trapped.

“We had seen our parents or other people or other families not go anywhere,” he said. “This business went under. Pizzerias, paint stores, they all go under. About that time in my life, as much as I was enthralled with seeing cars rushing past and all these tall buildings, we all saw, well, what was the point if none of us are happy or our parents are always worrying about something. Just not seeing any kind of progression. There had to be something more.”

“I’ve had friends die,” he said. “I had a friend named Josh. We’d say, ‘He Whitney Houston-ed before Whitney Houston.’ He pilled out and died in a bathtub. It happened a month before Whitney Houston died. So that was a weird thing for me. Everyone is going to remember Whitney Houston but no one will remember Josh. At the time he was 16.”

“I see friends who are taking very minimal jobs and never thinking anywhere beyond that,” he said. “I know they’re going to be there forever. I don’t despise them or hold anything against them. I understand. You have to make your cut to dig out some kind of a living. … I’ve done manual labor. I’ve done medical, partial. Food service. I’ve done sales. Currently I’m working on a small album. Other than that, I play for money. I sell a lot of odds and ends. I’ve been doing that for years. Apparently I have a knack for collecting things and they’re of use for somebody. Just paying my way with food and entertainment for somebody. I live right across from the library. Eleventh Street. I can’t remember the address. I’m staying with some people. I try to bring them something nice, or make dinner, or play songs. I do make enough to pay my share of utilities. I wouldn’t feel right otherwise.”

He is saved, he said, by the blues—Son House, Robert Johnson, all the old greats.

“My finger got caught in a Coke bottle trying to emulate his style of slide guitar,” he said of House. “I asked my dad to help me please get it out. There was just something about people being downtrodden their whole lives. I used to not understand the plight of the black community. I used to think why can’t they just work harder. I was raised by a father who was very adamant about capitalism. Then one day my sister-in-law told me, ‘Well, Justin, you just don’t understand generational poverty. Please understand.’ People were told they were free yet they have all these problems, all these worries. … It’s the natural voice. You listen to Lead Belly’s ‘Bourgeois Blues,’ it’s a way of expressing their culture. And their culture is sad. ‘Death Don’t Have No Mercy’ talks about the great equalizer of death. It didn’t matter if you’re black or white, death will come for you.”

He bent over his guitar and played Robert Johnson’s “Me and the Devil Blues.”

Early this morning
When you knocked upon my door
Early this morning, oooo
When you knocked upon my door
And I said hello Satan
I believe it’s time to go

“I’ve seen a lot of GM people, they just live in this despair,” he said of the thousands of people in the city who lost their jobs when the General Motors plants closed and moved to Mexico. “They’re still afraid. I don’t know what they’re afraid of. It’s just the generation they came out of. I worked with plenty of GM people who were older and having to work for their dollars begrudgingly. They’re like, ‘I was made promises.’ ”

“I was born 3 pounds,” he said. “I was not destined for this world. Somehow I came out. I did the best I could. That’s all I’ve done. I’ll never say I’m good at anything. At least I have the ability to think, speak and act. Three pounds to this now. I just can’t see the use of not fighting. You always have to think about what’s going to lay down in the future. What’s going to happen when the factories close down? Are you going to support your fellow co-workers? Are you going to say, ‘No, things will come back?’ Are you going to cast everything to damnation? Cast your neighbors down, say it was their fault the jobs are gone.”

“I’ve never seen the heights of it,” he said of capitalism. “But I’ve seen the bottom. I’ve seen kids down here naked running around. I’ve seen parents turn on each other and kids have to suffer for that. Or neighbors. I’d just hear yelling all night. It’s matters of money. It’s always the kids that suffer. I always try to think from their perspective. When it comes down to kids, they feel defeated. When you grow up in a household where there’s nothing but violence and squabbling and grabbing at straws, then you’re going to grow up to be like that. You’re going to keep doing those minimum jobs. You’re fighting yourself. You’re fighting a system you can’t beat.”

“I’ve seen poets, phenomenal guitarists, vocalists, percussionists, people who have tricks of the trade, jugglers, yo-yo players, jokesters,” he went on. “I admire those people. They might go on to get a different job. They might find a sweetheart. They might settle down. They have that thing that got them to some point where they could feel comfortable. They didn’t have to work the job that told them, ‘So what if you leave? You don’t matter.’ I know a fellow who works at the downtown courthouse. Smart as can be. One of my favorite people. We talk about Nietzsche and Kafka in a basement for hours. The guy never really let the world get him down. Even though he’s grown up in some rough situations.”

And then he talked about his newborn niece.

“I wrote this in about 10 minutes,” he said. “I race down the street because no one else was available. I went to a friend. I said, ‘I wrote a song! I think it’s neat. I don’t think it’s good. But I like the idea.’ I’d never done that.”

He hunched back over his guitar and began to play his “Newborn Ballad.”

You were brushed and crafted carefully

They knew young love and now they know you
How two lives figure into one beats me
But either I’m sure they’ll agree with you

Your eyes will open proud I pray
May the breakneck sides around you come down
Little darling I’ll be your laughing stock
So the mean old world won’t get you down

I ain’t gonna say I ain’t crazy
All are fronting and pestering your soul
When we first meet I can promise to
To listen, to play with, to talk to, to love

There’s nothing no better they’ll tell you
Than your youth, no weight will end
No matter the preference child hear me
Not a moment you’ll have will be absent

My pardon, my dearest apologies
For the scenes and the faces I make
For now you might find them quite funny
But they’ll get old as will I, I’m afraid

Your comforts they don’t come easy
With an hour twenty down the road
We made lives in telling you sweetly
But you can make it, we love you, you know.

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