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Why Voting to Stop Trump Is the Only Choice in 2016


After July’s conventions that anointed Hillary Clinton as Democratic presidential candidate and transformed the Republicans into the Archie Bunker party, the left is engaged in heated discussions about its orientation to November’s election.

Jill Stein of the Green party claimed that voting for her party was “saying no to the lesser evil and yes to the greater good.” This may sound good as a slogan, but it makes voting an individual moral choice, replicating the reduction of society to a collection of individuals that is the hallmark of a neoliberal, consumer-choice world.

Is there a mass movement today that is motivated by the progressive policies of Bernie Sanders and Jill Stein? While there is a pervasive populist sentiment that has a distorted reflection in the Republican and Democratic parties, political anti-corporatism is concentrated among white liberals. What is certainly going on is an awakening of minorities to their social strength, and at this historical moment among Native, African and Latino Americans there is an overwhelming hostility to a potential Trump presidency. The left is in danger of isolating itself from this movement if it insists on its moral purity.

Electoral activity is no more than a strategic choice in the course of building a wider movement.  In this specific instance, while voting for the Greens in a state like Massachusetts will not affect the overall result, in a state like Michigan it could be crucial. The first-past-the-post electoral system limits the number of viable parties to two, making a vote for the Greens a symbolic gesture at best, and a spoiler at worst.

There are practical effects from voting, as Noam Chomsky points out, whether or not it offends someone’s individual conscience. He challenges the assumption “that voting should be seen a form of individual self-expression rather than as an act to be judged on its likely consequences … The basic moral principle at stake is simple: not only must we take responsibility for our actions, but the consequences of our actions for others are a far more important consideration than feeling good about ourselves.” He recalls the ultra-left faction of the peace movement minimizing the dangers of a Nixon presidency in 1968, resulting in “six years of senseless death and destruction in Southeast Asia and also a predictable fracture of the left.”

A Trump presidency has a high probability of inflicting much greater suffering on marginalized and already oppressed populations than a Clinton administration, he considers; it would even strengthen the elite within the Democratic party because “far right victories not only impose terrible suffering on the most vulnerable segments of society but also function as a powerful weapon in the hands of the establishment center, which, now in opposition can posture as the ‘reasonable’ alternative.” As far as the “lesser evil” argument goes, he says “this sort of cost/benefit strategic accounting is fundamental to any politics which is serious about radical change. Those on the left who ignore it, or dismiss it as irrelevant are engaging in political fantasy and are an obstacle to, rather than ally of, the movement which now seems to be materializing.”

Stein would argue that voting Green is a step in the creation of an independent third party, or as Socialist Alternative suggests, a “new mass party of the 99 percent.” But the history of the US shows that for an independent party to be established, it has first of all to be based on a real movement within society, closely connected with that movement, not outside of it. Socialist Alternative’s activities at the Democratic convention were directed at a political minority, organizing a highly visible walkout and encouraging Sanders supporters who came with them to join the Greens. They may have a limited success with a number of them, but the majority of Sanderistas at the DNC intend to stay within the party and not leave the field open to the right.

Members of the Sanders delegations at the DNC told In These Times: “Most delegates weren’t Bernie-or-Bust. We all understand that, ultimately, Trump needs to be defeated, and that—especially in swing states—you need to support Clinton.”  “Bernie’s not the ceiling of what we can achieve in the Democratic Party. He’s the floor … In the coming years there’s a lot of space for us to fight, both within and outside the Democratic Party. I don’t think all political change is going to happen in the Democratic Party. It’s just one field of battle.” “I think the Democratic Party is a battleground. You can either play on it to win, or you can abandon it to the enemy. And I would rather play on it to win.”

Sanders was the figurehead of a political movement that was oriented to restoring the New Deal philosophy of earlier Democratic administrations. Likewise Trump is the figurehead of a white backlash against the growing status of minorities while their own economic prospects slump. Both express an anti-establishment sentiment in society, but in different partisan ways.  Trump’s supporters are going to vote for him no matter what he may say. That is because their vote is not based on rational choice but on desperation – the major parties have ignored the plight of the working class in the deindustrialized Rust Belt and Trump is the only one speaking to them – and that could be a key issue in the mid-West.

Conservative author J.D. Vance explained: “What many don’t understand is how truly desperate these places are, and we’re not talking about small enclaves or a few towns–we’re talking about multiple states where a significant chunk of the white working class struggles to get by.  Heroin addiction is rampant.  In my medium-sized Ohio county last year, deaths from drug addiction outnumbered deaths from natural causes.  The average kid will live in multiple homes over the course of her life, experience a constant cycle of growing close to a ‘stepdad’ only to see him walk out on the family, know multiple drug users personally, maybe live in a foster home for a bit … And on top of that is the economic struggle, from the factories shuttering their doors to the Main Streets with nothing but cash-for-gold stores and pawn shops. … Trump’s candidacy is music to their ears.  He criticizes the factories shipping jobs overseas.  His apocalyptic tone matches their lived experiences on the ground.  He seems to love to annoy the elites, which is something a lot of people wish they could do but can’t because they lack a platform.”

The Democratic strategy after their convention is to turn to disaffected middle-class Republicans rather than try to win over the white working class. But its plight is not something that can be written off as a political manifestation of right-wing extremism that can be countered by a left policy, as Stein does. There is a real social crisis here that requires the agency of the oppressed themselves to resolve. A radical, progressive agenda imposed from outside without any meaningful means of achieving it is not going to impress these people because they have been patronized and ignored for so long.

This movement is one driven by economic collapse and complete loss of confidence in the ruling elite. Widespread police abuse legitimized by the “broken windows” and “zero-tolerance” philosophies has undermined state legitimacy, and Black and Hispanic communities have begun to defend themselves; white workers are being written off and this is driving them into Trump’s arms. Clinton is certainly not the answer to these problems, but it will be infinitely easier to campaign on them under her presidency than under Trump’s. He will empower the police and security forces to do more than put protesters on trial: he will arm them to imprison and assassinate his critics.

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Filed under 2016 Election, Bernie Sanders, Democratic Party, donald trump, Hillary Clinton, latino americans, populism, Uncategorized

The struggle continues: Sanders’ supporters ready to keep up the fight for social justice


Bernie Sanders has annoyed political pundits and party strategists alike with his stubborn insistence on taking his campaign all the way to the Democratic party convention in July. On Tuesday evening he told supporters in Santa Monica, after the California primary: “We are going to fight hard to win the primary in Washington DC. And then we take our fight for social, economic, racial and environmental justice to Philadelphia.”

The New York Times described his speech as one of “striking stubbornness” that “ignored the history-making achievement of his Democratic rival.” Although Clinton has presented her delegate count as a victory for women’s rights, it is more a victory for the Democratic party machine, aided by the media that announced her presumptive nomination for presidential candidate on Tuesday, just before voting began in California and five other primaries.

Even after Barack Obama, Joe Biden and Elizabeth Warren had formally endorsed Clinton on Thursday, Sanders’ supporters backed his decision to carry on. Iliana Jaime, 18, a high school senior, welcomed the stance and said she wanted Sanders to remain in the race until the convention next month. “I don’t think a revolution ends with a certain number of delegates,” she said. “It’s crucial he keeps going until the end. His impact is really obvious in a lot of ways aside from just being president. It would kind of be giving into the system that he is trying to reject if he did drop out at this point.”

Sanders told a rally in Washington DC that the campaign would go on because it is “based on a vision that our country must focus on social justice, on economic justice, on racial justice, on environmental justice. And when the overwhelming majority of young people support that vision, that will be the future of America.”

The Nation editor Katrina vanden Heuvel wrote that “Clinton may take the nomination, but Sanders surely has won the political debate. … He has astounded even his supporters, winning more than 20 contests, 10 million votes and 1,500 pledged delegates, the most of any true insurgent in modern history. He has captured the support of young voters by record margins. And he did so less with personal charisma than with the power of his ideas and the force of the integrity demonstrated by spurning traditional deep-pocketed donors in favor of grass-roots fundraising. … Sanders has already nudged Clinton to the left on key issues during the campaign, including trade policy and the minimum wage. The Democratic National Committee made one important concession last month by allowing Sanders to name five strong progressive allies to the platform committee (though the DNC also vetoed one Sanders pick, National Nurses United executive director RoseAnn DeMoro, on the strange grounds that it did not want labor leaders on the candidate’s lists).”

While early on Clinton was able to leverage her appeal among African American voters, especially in the South, by the end of the campaign Sanders appeared to have overcome his early missteps with this section of the American public. The Washington Post reported: “Summoning congregants last week in a historic East Oakland sanctuary that helped give rise to the civil rights movement and the Black Panther Party, he spoke passionately about the plight of many blacks: Too many children are raised in poverty, too many youths can’t afford to go to college and can’t find jobs, too many adults are locked in jails. The system is rigged against them, and he vowed to change it. The audience rose in applause and affirmation. There were hurrahs and smiles and shouts of ‘Amen!’ ”

Sanders has headed a movement that is not going to go away after the presidential election. Unlike Obama’s campaign in 2008, the movement is independent of his campaign organization, being based on a grassroots bottom-up approach rather than a top-down model. In particular, he has energized youth to support his social democratic program. The Huffington Post commented: “Sanders has not demagogued his way into relevance among the impressionable youth. He has simply stated their legitimate grievances directly and forcefully. Young people have been hit hard by the country’s economic anemia. It’s not surprising that they gravitated to the candidate calling for a major overhaul of the system. … Bernie Sanders did not create the movement that political pundits like to credit him with. He has, instead, spent a year serving rather effectively as the voice of people left behind by a broken economy. And until that economy is fixed, the movement will not go away, no matter who rises to lead it.”

A major survey of youth voters between 17 and 19 years old found overwhelming support for Sanders: 1.94 million voted for Sanders compared to 727,000 for Clinton. The Guardian reported: “Jasmine Brown, a student at Claflin University in Orangeburg, South Carolina, is one of those young voters. She grew up two hours east of Orangeburg in Georgetown, where, according to the 2010 census, 24.1% of people live below the poverty line, a figure that rises to 34.9% for those younger than 18…. Brown came away from [Sanders’ rally] inspired. She would go back to Georgetown, back to the projects where she grew up, to tell young people – some of them in danger of going down the wrong path – that there was hope for the future. … She travels back to her home city every weekend, revisiting the Georgetown projects where she grew up, speaking to students from her old school.”

Brown says many students look up to her as someone who came from that neighbourhood and made it to college. “I don’t brag about what I’m doing, but I let them know: ‘Just because you’re from this area you can go out and, you know, do big things’.” Even if Sanders does not win the nomination, Brown says, she will continue to support him away from the presidential race.

While most of Sanders’ supporters will vote for Clinton in November to keep out Trump, many of his passionate volunteers will turn to state and local political fights to advance the ideas of the campaign. “Brand New Congress,” co-founded by the former director of organizing technology in the Sanders campaign, intends to impact the 435 Congressional seats up for election in 2018. “The idea is to pull in people who have not necessarily been involved politics before, people who are not willing to compromise their principles, people who truly believe that we can regain our democracy,” Yolanda Gonzalez, a BNC Team Leader told AlterNet.

Gonzalez, a teacher for 20 years, was the Latino Outreach Coordinator for the Bernie Sanders campaign and has spent a large part of the past year volunteering for campaign events in the Southwest. “These same volunteers [that] are often dismissed by campaigns are super organized and passionate about the political revolution,” Gonzalez explained.

The House and state elections are the battleground that the plutocratic elite is also aiming for with their checkbooks: billionaires like the Koch brothers have given up on the presidential race because of the disarray in the Republican camp. Trump’s nomination has coincided with a fragmentation of the campaign after his racist attacks on the judge in the fraud case against the real estate “Trump University,” which stepped over a line even for conservatives.

It’s possible the Democrats will take both the Senate and the House in November, because of the Republican meltdown; but what will dominate the political future of the United States is the social movement that has built up rejecting Clinton’s neoliberalism and Trump’s racism.

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The Shifting US Political Landscape: A Dawning New Consciousness Against Politically Engineered Wealth Inequality


The US presidential primary campaign has brought into sharp relief social shifts that have transformed the political landscape and confused ideological allegiances. These shifts reflect a changed consciousness among voters about politically engineered wealth inequality. That voters across the country flatly reject the neoliberal policies that pass for conventional wisdom among both Reaganite Republicans and Clintonite Democrats is a much more important story than calculations of possible delegate counts at national conventions.

These shifts have fractured the Republican social coalition built under Nixon and Reagan between business and social conservatives. In states where Republicans gained majority control in 2010 as a result of the Tea Party vote, legislatures have been moving to restrict social freedoms embraced in the rest of the country. In North Carolina, the state rushed through a bill in the dead of night to prevent local towns creating ordinances protecting the rights of transgender people to use the bathrooms of their choice, and also removed general protections against discrimination on religious and racial grounds. In Georgia, on the other hand, the governor vetoed a similar bill because of pressure from big business groups.

Washington Post correspondent Dana Milbank explains: “Corporate America is traditionally conservative, reluctant to react to social controversy and divisive issues. But as public sentiment shifts dramatically on gay rights and as pro-equality millennials become a large bloc of consumers, business is shedding its reticence. … When the Georgia legislature took up legislation giving religious groups the right to deny services to gay people, corporations by the dozen voiced their objections. Disney and Netflix said they would stop filming in Georgia, and the NFL said the bill would jeopardize Atlanta’s hopes of hosting the Super Bowl.”

By moving further to the right on social issues, a third of the Republican electorate has isolated the pro-business elite, who have now lost control of their party’s apparatus. While the party leadership consistently lowered taxes on the super-rich and its legislators and lobbyists achieved affluence, it delivered nothing but job losses and uncertainty to their working-class white voters. This is what Donald Trump was able to exploit in his demagogic anti-immigrant appeals to the Republican base. According to the Pew Research Center, between 2008 and 2012 “more lower-income and less-educated white voters shifted their allegiance to Republicans. These voters had fled the Democratic Party and were angry at Mr. Obama, whom they believed did not have their interests at heart. But not all of them were deeply conservative; many did not think about politics in ideological terms at all … For many blue-collar Republicans, anger against Mr. Obama now extended to their own party’s leadership, whom they viewed as not only failing to stand up to Mr. Obama, but also as colluding with him to make their lives worse.”

At the same time, the international role of the US has blown back into its political life. Glenn Greenwald argues that when Trump advocates waterboarding for terrorists he is merely stripping away the pretense over what the US has actually done. Tom Engelhardt reflects that while Washington seems unable to function effectively, the so-called war against terror has transformed the public acceptance of domestic surveillance and authoritarian rule to the extent that it has created “something like a new system in the midst of our much-described polarized and paralyzed politics.  The national security state doesn’t seem faintly paralyzed or polarized to me.  Nor does the Pentagon. … In this ‘election’ season, many remain shocked that a leading candidate for the presidency is a demagogue with a visible authoritarian side and what looks like an autocratic bent. All such labels are pinned on Donald Trump, but the new American system that’s been emerging from its chrysalis in these years already has just those tendencies. … a Trumpian world-in-formation has paved the way for him.”

On the Democratic side, the strong showing of the Sanders campaign has brought new social layers into political activism, in opposition to the party establishment and union bureaucracies. The overwhelming and enthusiastic support he has received from millennial youth has a huge significance, according to University of Massachusetts professor Richard Wolff. It means that “a fundamental shift in American politics is underway,” he says.  “The fact that he has done as well as he has done, getting an excess of 40 percent or even closer to half the votes in so many states and winning as many states as he has is an unspeakable change in American politics and will have enormous ramifications for the future.”

He has also energized rank and file trade unionists to buck their leaders’ reflexive support for the candidate most favored by the party establishment. A group calling themselves “Labor for Bernie,” formed last June, have succeeded in helping Sanders win the endorsements of more than 80 union locals and four national unions, including the postal workers, communications workers, and nurses’ unions. Labor Notes reports: “The Food and Commercial Workers came out for Clinton in January. But a month later, Northern California UFCW Local 5, whose 28,000 members work in grocery and food processing, endorsed Sanders. The executive board vote was 30 to 2, according to Mike Henneberry, the local’s director of communications and politics. He said the local hasn’t gotten any pushback from the International. ‘For us, it was not a very difficult decision,’ he said. ‘Compare an individual who’s been supporting workers since he was mayor of Burlington with someone who’s been on the board of Walmart’.”

Similarly, although the leadership of the SEIU service employees’ union have endorsed Hillary Clinton, the largest public sector union in New Hampshire came out for Sanders. Clinton only supports a minimum wage of $12 while the union is campaigning for $15.  “I never thought I would see involvement like there was when Obama ran,” said SEIU Local 1984 vice president Ken Roos. “But people were stopping me in the hall at work, or even in the street—they would say, ‘Bernie’s the man, we gotta go for Bernie.”

The political class is swinging behind Clinton to suppress this movement from below. Sanders’ victories, however large, are ignored by the media, or explained away as only appealing to liberals in predominantly white states. When Sanders won over 70 percent of the primary vote in Washington and Hawaii, and 82 percent in Alaska, CNN described the states as “largely white and rural.” However, a third of Alaska’s population is nonwhite, 15 percent being indigenous Americans, while Hawaii has never had a white majority. The huge turnout for caucuses in Washington state also brought in many nonwhite voters. Sanders press secretary Erika Andiola told Democracy Now: “Bernie’s supporters are very, very pumped up. You know, they’re very excited about going out to caucus. And it’s a lot of young people, it’s a lot of new voters. … [In Yakima county in Washington state] about 45 percent to 50 percent of the community there is Latino—very diverse county. Bernie had a rally there. We had 7,000 people turn out. We ended up winning the county by 75 percent or 76 percent.”

Regardless of who wins the nomination for the Democrats or the Republicans, these social changes and the new anti-plutocratic consciousness among voters of both parties will shape the outcome of the presidential election in November. That will pit the popular result against the entrenched deep party and state systems that Obama was unable to budge and which voters across the spectrum are rejecting.

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Filed under 2016 Election, Bernie Sanders, Democratic primaries, donald trump, Fight for 15, Hillary Clinton, National Security Agency, political analysis, Uncategorized

What Victory for Bernie and Trump in Michigan Means: American Workers Vote Against Neoliberalism


What the voting in the US presidential primaries has revealed so far are some important realignments in the social consensus underlying the two-party system. A surprise win for Bernie Sanders in the key rustbelt state of Michigan upset political commentators and the Democratic establishment and has led to renewed attention on class issues submerged under decades of neoliberalism. Meanwhile,  Trump’s win in the state’s Republican primary underlines the fact that he is the only Republican candidate to address working class fortunes directly.

Sanders’ consistent opposition to free trade deals contrasted sharply with Bill Clinton’s implementation of NAFTA in the 1990s: the state lost more than 46,000 jobs in the last 25 years because of that single deal. Exit polls reported that “nearly six in 10 voters thought trade took away American jobs – and nearly six in 10 of people who said that, backed Sanders. … This echoes the Republican side of the primary. More than half of voters thought that trade cost jobs; four in 10 of them backed Donald Trump.”

Hillary Clinton had relied heavily on identity politics to give her the vote, as it had in Nevada and South Carolina, and pollsters assumed that the black population of Detroit would go for Clinton in the same way. Instead, according to Politico, Sanders’ “appeal to youth voters busted through the color line – Clinton won blacks 60-40 (not 80-20, as she did in her Tuesday win in Mississippi) – and Sanders fought her to a draw among under-40 African Americans. … And she barely held on to win Genesee County, home to Flint, the emotional focal point of her Michigan effort – and, in many ways, her entire campaign.”

Sanders campaigned through the whole state, appealing to white and black workers alike, while Clinton focused on African American communities like Flint and Detroit in east Michigan. The New York Times reported: “Mr. Sanders crisscrossed the state, speaking to more than 41,000 people, and his campaign opened 13 offices and hired 44 staffers to carry his message. He also visited places that were largely overlooked by the Clinton campaign, including Traverse City and Kalamazoo.”

The rejection of candidates favored by the Republican establishment in that party’s primaries is evidence that their voters are motivated by more than resentment of immigration, since all the candidates have voiced opposition to legalizing undocumented people; they are antagonistic to what they perceive as a corrupt political system that has betrayed them, and consider the wealthy Trump to be independent of corporate manipulation.

Trump’s rallies attract disparate groups, ranging from white supremacists to people angry about jobs being outsourced abroad.  This creates a potent mix of people susceptible to group hysteria as Trump makes his outrageous attacks on Muslims and immigrants; but while the media focus on these remarks, the bulk of his populist message denounces trade agreements and America’s economic decline.

According to Guardian reporter Thomas Frank, a study carried out by a union-affiliated group found that the main attraction of Trump for white working-class voters in Cleveland and Pittsburgh was his blunt approach to these questions. “As far as issues are concerned, ‘immigration’ placed third among the matters such voters care about, far behind their number one concern: ‘good jobs / the economy’,” notes Frank. “‘People are much more frightened than they are bigoted,’ is how the findings were described to me by Karen Nussbaum, the executive director of Working America. The survey ‘confirmed what we heard all the time: people are fed up, people are hurting, they are very distressed about the fact that their kids don’t have a future’ and that ‘there still hasn’t been a recovery from the recession, that every family still suffers from it in one way or another’.”

The likelihood of Trump becoming their presidential candidate has thrown the Republican party establishment into panic mode. But the party is now too fragmented to be able to mount a strong alternative. The Republican-controlled legislature has reinforced Trump’s claim to better political management skills by its own undermining of government legitimacy, from the threat of government shutdown in 2011 to its refusal to even consider any candidate nominated by Obama for the Supreme Court. Moreover, in the debates “Trump, Cruz, and Rubio ascribe to Barack Obama any and all problems besetting the nation … the Republican critique reinforces reigning theories of presidential omnipotence. Just as an incompetent or ill-motivated chief executive can screw everything up, so, too, can a bold and skillful one set things right.”

The much more diverse Democratic voters are not in disagreement over policy so much as their judgment of the candidate most likely to defeat the Republicans. In fact, Trump has succeeded in energizing new sections of the Democratic base to prevent him coming to power. He has done more than the Democratic leadership to rouse voters’ enthusiasm since they are as guilty as the Republicans of undermining working class jobs and have moved well away from a New Deal perspective. Sanders seeks to restore this orientation, but while he appeals to millennial youth who are bearing the brunt of the continuing recession, many older Democrats see Clinton as the safer candidate to beat Trump.

Candidates’ support is also connected with their attitudes to the Obama administration: while Sanders is favored by white liberals critical of Obama’s presidency, most African Americans are supportive of Hillary Clinton, since they see Obama as having achieved small victories domestically. Black youth who face unemployment, police harassment, and huge college loan debt are far more sympathetic to Sanders.

Latinos who are critical of Obama for failing to carry out promises on immigration reform gave Sanders a victory in Colorado on Super Tuesday, where they make up nearly 15 percent of eligible voters in the state. Juan Gonzalez pointed out there has been a 40 percent increase nationwide since 2008 in the number of eligible Latinos that could vote in the coming election. He added: “You’ve seen Univision say that they’re going to use all of their television stations and their networks to promote a 3 million-voter registration drive among Latinos. I think what’s actually needed is more of a Freedom Summer campaign by the Latino youth of America, similar to what happened in the civil rights movement … where thousands of Latino youth go into their communities and say, ‘You’re not going to deport our parents. We’re American citizens, and we’re going to make a stand in terms of Basta Trump’.”

These shifts in electoral allegiances make it by no means certain that Clinton will win the Democratic nomination, but if she does, she will have to adopt much of Sanders’ platform in order to defeat Trump’s populist appeal. Either way, new sections of the American working class have been energized by the redrawing of class lines in political discourse.

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Filed under 2016 Election, Bernie Sanders, Democratic primaries, donald trump, Hillary Clinton, Michigan, Neoliberalism, republican primaries, Uncategorized

Waking Up to the Minority Vote, the New, Decisive Force in Post-Obama Politics


The South Carolina Democratic primary voted overwhelmingly for Hillary Clinton as presidential candidate, by a margin of 50 percent over Bernie Sanders. Rather than analyzing the meaning of this vote, the media and the campaign professionals immediately turned to the candidates’ prospects on Super Tuesday, when a large number of states hold their primaries.

However, there are some important messages here which are obscured by a narrow focus on the political process. African Americans in South Carolina turned out in unprecedented numbers to participate in the primary – 6 out of 10 voters were black. And of those, 83 percent voted for Clinton. The Associated Press reported that in exit polls about 7 in 10 voters said they wanted the next president to continue Obama’s policies, indicating ideological agreement with Clinton’s strategy of building on his legacy.

The first thing to note is that the result should be seen as a class vote against the possibility of a Republican president. The relentless media reporting of Trump’s anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim propaganda, together with the pronounced right-wing rhetoric of the Republican debates, are perceived rightly as a threat to black workers. Trump has succeeded in making abundantly explicit the racist basis of the Republican party, empowering extreme white supremacists, and making the Republican brand anathema among minorities. This goes a long way to undermining the Republican strategy of delegitimizing Democratic presidents and may lose them the Senate.

African Americans voted pragmatically for what they saw as the best candidate to defeat a Republican, and specifically, Trump.  Janell Ross commented in the Washington Post: “Black voters in South Carolina cast 6 in every 10 Democratic primary votes, according to CNN’s exit poll data. That ratio is huge — and sets a record-high in South Carolina black voter participation rate. The previous high was 55 percent, set in 2008, when the first black president was on his way to being elected. … these are its outcomes when black voters are convinced of their ability and authority to fundamentally shape American democracy. It is a result that should begin to crush the popular and often repeated myth that black political behavior in 2008 and 2012 was nothing more than a blip, a fleeting kind of emotion-only engagement inspired by a singular and history-making black candidate.”

Second, although a number of prominent black intellectuals like Michelle Alexander and Cornel West are highly critical of the Clintons’ record of legislation in the 1990s that led to mass incarceration of African American men and the dismantling of poverty programs, that message hasn’t reached the black working class. The history that black people remember is the vilification of Bill Clinton by the Republican Congress over the Monica Lewinsky affair, and, as Toni Morrison indicated by calling him the “first black president,” identified with his being hounded by the establishment.

Third, most black workers get their politics from their local churches and mainstream Democratic party leadership. And that was pro-Clinton and anti-Sanders. “A host of well-known, influential and well-connected black elected officials and leaders of civic and religious institutions have made their support for Clinton quite clear. And they have done everything possible to identify themselves as people opposed to a Sanders candidacy. … And, almost as if to say that the shooting death of an unarmed black person is the modern uber-black experience, the Clinton campaign has collected endorsements from several grieving black relatives. The mother of Trayvon Martin has even stumped for Clinton and explained her pro-Clinton voting rather logically in some detail. … Clinton [frames] issues like childcare and the gender wage gap, voting rights and criminal justice and gun policy reforms in ways that make their importance to black voters clear.”

Her political positioning as a champion of African American workers was prefigured in the Nevada primary. Clinton’s victory there was mainly due to the votes of casino workers in Las Vegas, who thanks to the efforts of Nevada senator Harry Reid were given time and opportunity to caucus at their places of work. In These Times contributor Steven Rosenfeld reported from one of the casinos: “Calvin Brooks, a Louisiana native, has been a bellman for 19 years in this hotel. Speaking slowly and deliberately, he explained why Clinton was his choice. ‘This is a union state. This is a union city. The president that we need today is somebody that will stand with us, to keep us together as a whole,’ he said. ‘My mind is made up for Hillary, someone who has been in the White House, not around it’.” Erlinda Falconer, an African-American women and blackjack dealer at the casino for 18 years, told Rosenfeld: “The majority of us realize how serious this election is and the impact it will have on our country and state. This is very, very important. There’s a lot on the line This isn’t a popularity contest. This is trying to get back on track.”

While earlier in the campaign Sanders took on board the criticisms of Black Lives Matter activists, he was too late to the party. Radicalized black youth may have challenged Clinton over her role in the 1990s, but they haven’t influenced the older majority. On Wednesday she was confronted at a fundraiser in Charleston by Ashley Williams, a Black Lives Matter protester, who demanded she apologize for the consequences of her husband’s 1994 crime bill and for having called black youth “super-predators” in a 1996 speech on crime.

Moreover, white progressives have difficulty dealing with race. Sanders’ attempt to reduce racial issues to economics are in line with his social-democratic outlook. But this perspective is inadequate to deal with the complex interrelations of class and race in America. The Washington Post commented: “Clinton doesn’t shy away from race. Sanders talks about race, too, of course. But he seems to do so at a remove, and his attempts to make a convincing link between his economic message and race continue to fall short. … Clinton openly talks about the necessary role that whites must play in healing and bridging the racial divide.” This has resonated with African Americans who resent being told that they are responsible for dealing with white resistance to acknowledging the role of slavery and the defeat of Reconstruction in American society.

Whoever wins the nomination and presidency, the social, cultural and demographic changes in the US are asserting themselves in the elections. The narrative of an “anti-establishment” vote is being superseded by a class consciousness that empowers African American and Latino voters. The realities of class struggle in America today require tackling racism head-on, something that the left has not attempted since the 1930s when the American Communist party sent members into the South to organize black and white workers into unions, risking their lives in the process.

Rather than tying the fortunes of the left to Sanders’ coat-tails, it needs to address the movements that have built up around this election and build an inclusive and pluralist movement that takes the heritage of the Occupy movement into new territory.

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A Dead Justice and A Split Court: Deadlock and Uncertainty Threatens the Legitimacy of the US State


Overnight the death of justice Antonin Scalia has made the role of the US Supreme Court a major issue in this year’s presidential elections. It has also undercut activist moves by the Supreme Court conservative majority to curb presidential power and roll back liberal laws on abortion, public sector unions, affirmative action, and political representation.

There is no pretense any more that the Court is an impartial body standing above politics. Within an hour after the announcement of Scalia’s death, the Republicans, led by Mitch McConnell, vowed to block any Obama nomination – implicitly rejecting the legitimacy of the 2012 election and the authority of the presidential office. So it appears that for the next 11 months at least, the court will be split 4-4 between liberals and conservatives.

Scalia was a pugnaciously partisan ideologue, constructing a rigidly “originalist” interpretation of the constitution that rationalized the reversal or gutting of liberal laws by prioritizing legal texts over legislative intentions. He was part of the majority that struck down the Voting Rights Act and upheld Citizens United. Activist Bianca Jagger tweeted: “I have never forgotten this quote ‘Mere factual innocence is no reason not to carry out a death sentence properly reached’.”

The implications of some of the court’s recent rulings now come sharply into focus. One in particular is the conservative majority’s shock decision last week to place a hold on implementation of the Obama administration’s Clean Power Plan that set emission standards on power plants. A lower court had already rejected state and coal industry appellants’ demand that the regulations be blocked while the case was heard, and normally the Supreme Court would have waited until the lower court had made its decision. The hold has the effect not only of neutralizing Obama’s regulatory agenda, but also sabotages international agreements on curbing carbon emissions.

The New York Times commented: “A clear majority of Americans, including many Republicans, agree that global warming is or will soon be a serious threat. Nearly two-thirds said they would support domestic policies limiting carbon emissions from power plants. But flexibility, a generous time frame for compliance and public opinion were not enough to sway 27 states that sued to stop what they call a ‘power grab’ by the federal government and Mr. Obama’s ‘war on coal.’ Many of these states depend heavily on coal-fired plants for their power and many are run by Republican governors, who either willfully disbelieve well-established climate science or find it politically impossible to take steps necessary to reduce emissions.”

The majority’s decision was also an unprecedented challenge to the legitimacy of executive action. Talking Points Memo noted: “the eagerness of the court to intervene in the implementation of the Clean Power Plan also plays into a larger narrative of a conservative Supreme Court preparing to wage war over how Obama has used his executive power. Coupled with how the Supreme Court has framed a blockbuster immigration case heading its way, the stage is set for the court to engage in the question of whether Obama’s executive powers need to be reined in.”

It stood to concretize a split between the three branches of government, encouraged by the polarization of state legislatures, a stalemate in Congress, and Republican ideological denial of the dangers of global warming that prevents a rational energy policy. Essentially, the erstwhile Court majority had openly set itself up against public opinion and thrown in its hand with the oligarchical opponents of any kind of regulation.

According to ThinkProgress: “This particular challenge to the Clean Power Plan does not arise in a vacuum, however. It is really only one face of a multi-faceted effort to shrink the powers of the presidency and prevent agencies like the EPA from carrying out their lawful authority. Last November, at an annual convention of the Federalist Society — a conservative legal organization whose members include several sitting senators and three Supreme Court justices — the gathered attorneys appeared obsessed with various plans to limit agency actions. … The states challenging the Clean Power plan rely heavily on a 2014 opinion by Justice Scalia suggesting that ‘clear congressional authority’ may be necessary when an agency takes a novel regulatory action. … The challenge to the Clean Power Plan… is also one of the most ambitious attempts to rethink the role of government to reach the Supreme Court in years. And five justices thought this challenge had enough merit that they halted the Clean Power Plan before any lower court had even considered those rules.”

Since Congress is likely to be deadlocked for the indefinite future, such a challenge to the legitimacy of the executive branch’s actions would have made it virtually impossible for it to function. A Democratic president, whether Clinton or Sanders, would have found the power of the office severely curtailed.

Scalia’s death has brought this challenge to a screeching halt. Under the court’s rules, 4-4 split decisions will not set precedents and will leave intact the lower court rulings under review. Linda Hershman pointed out in the Washington Post: “Most of the country, though, is governed by appeals courts dominated by Democrats. The suit against Obama’s environmental initiative, which the Supreme Court just stayed, came from the liberal D.C. Circuit, which had unanimously refused to grant the stay. Now the Obama administration can simply have the Environmental Protection Agency come up with a slightly different new plan and run to the liberal D.C. courts to bless it and refuse to stay it. … Even if the GOP blocks [Obama’s] nominee, the policy outcomes would be very similar to what they’d be if the court had a liberal majority.”

UPDATE: Talking Points memo notes: “Even if a Republican president ultimately names Scalia’s successor, the conservative legal movement will have suffered a dramatic setback by virtue of how many important cases it had queued up for this year that will be thrown into turmoil by a court with only eight justices and the potential for 4-4 tie votes. … the Supreme Court’s critics have been … pointing to a pattern in which a right-leaning justice sends a hint that the court is ready to take a case targeting some particular precedent, which in turn prompts legal activists to rush to get a case like that to the court’s doorstep. Legislators in red states have meanwhile pushed the envelope in legislation — with, for example, laws that restrict abortion access and voting rights — on the assumption they’d face friendly terrain if challenges to the laws made it to the Supreme Court. That advantage is no longer a given.”

Obama now has eleven months to craft his legacy. And the stakes in the presidential election have been raised significantly. As Josh Marshall commented: “Regardless of what happens with Justice Scalia’s replacement, there will be likely at least three other Justices to be appointed over the next 4-8 years of the next President’s term. The stakes on all the issues people care about—from abortion to guns, from campaign finance and voting rights to affirmative action and the environment, depend upon 9 unelected Justices who serve for life.”

Despite the Republicans’ plans to prevent Obama appointing a new justice, he must do so in order that government continues to function. He must not allow the extreme right to provoke a constitutional crisis that would benefit only the plutocracy in its economic and political assault on working poor and middle class Americans. Otherwise the US will further lose state legitimacy and become as fractured as the Republicans themselves.

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Filed under 2016 Election, Antonin Scalia, clean air act, judicial overreach, State legitimacy, Supreme Court, Uncategorized

Trump and the Young Americans: Do You Remember Your President Nixon?


According to the media, the most significant political event of 2015 was the meteoric rise of Donald Trump in the Republican presidential primaries. Trump kicked off 2016 with a new campaign ad that ramped up fearmongering to new levels, featuring his demand to halt entry of all Muslims into the US, together with a mash-up of photos of the San Bernardino killers, Islamic State fighters, a US warship firing cruise missiles, exploding buildings and footage of migrants supposedly crossing a desert border.

Stoking up fear is as central to Trump’s strategy as it is to the Republican leadership’s. It enables him to promote himself as a Bonapartist strongman: too rich to be corrupted, able to overcome Congressional deadlock with his no-nonsense “management” skills, and capable of directing arbitrary acts of military retaliation. US News & World Report’s Mort Zuckerman comments: “He swoops in on his helicopter and proudly asserts, ‘Hey, I’m rich.’ Why pretend? His wealth conveys the impression he is incorruptible and thus above our campaign finance system which now allows politicians to garner unlimited funds from unidentified wealthy donors and corporations. … The public likes Trump’s self-description as a strong leader who will take charge, rip up opponents and make the big problems go away.”

The sensationalist media reporting of terror attacks energizes his supporters’ xenophobic resentment at demographic change that reduces their privileged access to resources and opportunities. And this resonates with the Republican base. The Washington Post found that the threat of terrorism was the most important political issue for 39 percent of Republican voters, outranking by far domestic issues like tax policy or healthcare, and half of all Republicans named Trump as the candidate they would most trust to handle it. Commentator Josh Marshall noted that December’s Republican primary debate was marked by “repeated invocations of fear, the celebration of fear, the demand that people feel and react to their fear. This was logically joined to hyperbolic and ridiculous claims about ISIS as a group that might not simply attack America or kill Americans but might actually destroy the United States or even our entire civilization.”

But it’s not only the Republicans. Since so many Americans live precariously from paycheck to paycheck, the disruption of a symbol of civilizational stability – like Paris – creates the fear of a descent into chaos, a breakdown of order, endangering life and property. Muslims are then demonized by the authorities as the unreasoning, nonhuman embodiment of this scenario. Tom Engelhardt notes that in 2015: “Hoax terror threats or terror imbroglios shut down school systems from Los Angeles to New Hampshire, Indiana to a rural county in Virginia. The Dallas Symphony Orchestra, citing terror attacks in Paris and San Bernardino, cancelled a prospective tour of Europe thanks to terror fears, issuing a statement that ‘orchestra management believes there is an elevated risk to the safety of musicians and their families, guest artists, DSO personnel, and travelling patrons’.”

The other side of this heightened fear is the increased political influence of minorities and women, codified by Trump and other Republican candidates as “political correctness.” One of his supporters, a retired college administrator, explained how her frustration with political correctness connected with her hostility to minorities. “When we wrote things [at her college], we couldn’t even say ‘he’ or ‘she,’ because we had transgender. People of color. I mean, we had to watch every word that came out of our mouth, because we were afraid of offending someone,” she said. “And you look at these people who have never worked and they’re having babies and they’re getting free rent and free food stamps and free medical care. … Something has to be done because we’re shrinking, we’re being taken over by people that want to change what America is. You can’t say it nicely,” she added.

Sometimes political correctness campaigns in colleges can be disproportionate and teachers’ speech needs to be protected; however, as well as sometimes showing a lack of judgment, youth are proving they want to tackle deeply-rooted racism and sexism and insist on real changes in what is socially acceptable. Protests at the University of Missouri over the racial insensitivity of the administration forced the resignation of the president and chancellor in November; the dean of students at Claremont McKenna in California also resigned after an email she sent to a Latina student saying she would try to better serve minority students who “don’t fit our CMC mold” surfaced. At Ithaca College in New York State, protesters accused the college president of responding inadequately to an incident where an African-American graduate was repeatedly called a “savage” by two white male alumni.

The heightened militancy of college students over institutional racism is closely connected to the rise of the “Black Lives Matter” movement. According to Al Jazeera, “Jonathan Butler, the Mizzou graduate student who went on a hunger strike to bring about Wolfe’s resignation, has said that the former college president’s demise started with ‘MU for Mike Brown,’ a Black Lives Matter-affiliated student group formed in solidarity with the uprisings in nearby Ferguson over the shooting death of unarmed teenager Michael Brown. At Boston College, student organizer Sriya Bhattacharyya has also cited the importance of BLM: ‘At the core of all these [campus] movements is the unifying belief that black lives matter’.”

Al Jazeera also pointed out that the media has ignored activism at the high school level. After the white police officers responsible for the deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner were not indicted, “high school students across the country organized solidarity protests in Seattle; New York; Denver; Oakland, California; Minneapolis and Boston. In February, about 250 high school students in Santa Fe, New Mexico left school to protest constant testing and the state’s new mandated exam. In June, Milwaukee high school students walked out of class to protest against the county executive takeover of low-performing schools. And this fall, high school students in Allentown, Pennsylvania, organized a district-wide student walkout demanding the resignation of the superintendent, the inclusion of a student representative on the school board and summer youth employment opportunities. There were also student walkouts in Chicago; Berkeley, California and Philadelphia that occurred this fall.”

Whoever the candidates are in this year’s presidential election, 2016 is going to be all about the growing power of these young Americans and their determination to fight unprosecuted police killings of young people of color. To quote David Bowie: “We live for just these twenty years. Do we have to die for the fifty more?”

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Filed under Black Lives Matter, donald trump, latino americans, police violence, Republicans, Uncategorized, Xenophobia