The Reichstag Fire Next Time

The coming crackdown

When each day brings more news than we are used to seeing in a week, and the kind of news that only the most catastrophic imagination can accommodate, we find ourselves talking about the Reichstag fire. Time feels both accelerated and slowed down, and so we imagine that we have been talking about the fire for years. It is the new president’s new clothes: invisible, yet always present in our perception of him.

The Reichstag fire, it goes almost without saying, will be a terrorist attack, and it will mark our sudden, obvious, and irreversible descent into autocracy. Here is what it looks like: On a sunny morning you turn on the television as you make coffee, or the speaker in your shower streams the news, or the radio comes on when you turn the ignition key in your car. The voices of the newscasters are familiar, but their pitch is altered, and they speak with a peculiar haste. Something horrible has happened—it is not yet clear what—and thousands are dead, and more are expected to die. You hear the word “terror.” You feel it.

Illustrations by Lincoln Agnew. Source photographs: Adolf Hitler © Hulton Archive/Getty Images; crowd saluting Hitler © Visual Studies Workshop/Getty Images

You reach for your cell phone, but the circuits are busy, and will be for hours—it will take you the rest of the day to check in with your loved ones. They are safe, but changed. And so are you. So are all of us. Tragedy has cast its shadow over every space where you encounter strangers: the subway, your child’s school, your lunch spot. People are quieter, less frivolous, yet they are not subdued. They share a sense of purpose that is greater than their fear. They are experiencing something they’d only read about: War has come to their land. Everyone is a patriot now.

You used to scoff at that word, or argue that dissent was the highest form of patriotism. But now you find that the word expresses what you are. Now is not the moment for dissent. A couple of public intellectuals insist that it is, and you feel embarrassed for them. They quickly fade from the scene, and this serves to underscore an unprecedented sort of unity.

Nowhere is this unity more evident than in Washington. Bills are passed unanimously. These laws give new powers to the president and his security apparatus. The president, unpopular and widely considered incompetent before the attack, now steps up to direct the war effort. His demeanor—which some used to deride as primitive—is well suited for this new black-and-white era. His administration institutes sweeping surveillance to ferret out enemies at home, and wages one war and then another abroad.

American public life is profoundly transformed. The press becomes uncritical of the government. There is no outright censorship; correspondents are part of the effort now, as they were during the Second World War. American casualties pile up, the foreign carnage is enormous and unmeasured, but there is scant domestic resistance. Only at the margins of politics and the media do some people question the usefulness and legality of the war effort.

The government pushes the limits further, cutting off access to the judiciary for those deemed the enemy. The president is no longer unpopular, and he can impose his will on Washington and the country. The country is in a forever war, a state of exception that has taken away many American freedoms, some of which were ceded voluntarily.

That is what we talk about when we talk about the Reichstag fire, and it has already happened. Like sad versions of the characters in The Wizard of Oz, who set off in search of traits they already possess, we are living in fear of an event that will catapult us into a terrifying future, when the event has already occurred—and has given us our terrifying present.

The actual fire in the Reichstag—the German parliament building—burned on the evening of February 27, 1933. Adolf Hitler had been appointed chancellor four weeks earlier, and already he had begun placing restrictions on the press and expanding the powers of the police. Yet it is the fire, rather than Hitler’s toxic first steps, that is remembered as the event after which things were never the same, in Germany or in the world.

Hitler capitalized on the fire by taking an uncompromising militant stand: “There will be no mercy now. Anyone standing in our way will be cut down.” This, in turn, probably boosted his popularity, paving the way for a victory for the Nazi Party in parliamentary elections a week later.

Hitler immediately began cracking down on the political opposition. The day after the fire, the government issued a decree allowing the police to detain people without charges, on the grounds of prevention. Activists were rounded up by his paramilitary forces, the SA and the SS, and placed in camps. Less than a month later, the parliament passed an “enabling act,” creating rule by decree and establishing a state of emergency that lasted as long as the Nazis were in power.

Anschluss—the annexation of Austria—was still five years away, and the start of the Second World War six and a half, but the Reichstag fire was used to create a state of exception, as Carl Schmitt, Hitler’s favorite legal scholar, called it. In Schmitt’s terms, a state of exception arises when an emergency, a singular event, shakes up the accepted order of things. This is when the sovereign steps forward and institutes new, extralegal rules. The emergency enables a quantum leap: The sovereign has to have enough power to declare a state of exception, and then by that declaration he acquires far great­er, unchecked power. That is what makes the change irreversible, and the state of exception permanent.

Every galvanizing event of the past eighty years has been compared to the Reichstag fire. On December 1, 1934, Sergei Kirov, the head of the Communist Party in Leningrad, was murdered by a lone gunman. The killer, Leonid Nikolaev, was arrested and executed, but the assassination is remembered as the pretext for creating a state of exception in Russia. Show trials and mass arrests followed, swelling the gulag with people accused of being traitors, spies, and terrorist plotters. To handle the volume, the Kremlin created troikas—three-person panels that doled out a sentence without reviewing the case, much less hearing from the defense.

More recently, Vladimir Putin has relied on a succession of catastrophic events to create irreversible exceptions. In 1999, a series of apartment bombings in Moscow and cities in southern Russia killed hundreds. This allowed Putin to proclaim that he could summarily execute those deemed “terrorists” and became a pretext for a new war in Chechnya. In 2002, the three-day siege of a Moscow theater served as a demonstration of the principle of summary execution: Russian law enforcement pumped the theater full of sleeping gas, entered the building, and shot the hostage-takers as they lay unconscious. The Kremlin also used the theater siege as a pretext to ban the already cowed media from covering anti-terrorist operations. Two years later, more than three hundred people, most of them children, died following an attack at a school in Beslan, in southern Russia. Putin used this catastrophic event to cancel the elections of local governors, effectively abolishing the country’s federal structure.

The thinking that transforms tragedy into crackdown is not foreign to the United States. During the crisis that followed the Alien and Sedition Acts at the turn of the nineteenth century, the ruling Federalists and the opposition Republicans accused each other of treason and a fatal lack of vigilance, of being Jacobin puppets. The courts, stacked with Federalist appointees, wasted no time shutting down opposition newspapers.

Half a century later, Abraham Lincoln suspended habeas corpus, the right not to be imprisoned without civilian judicial review. He did this to be able to indefinitely hold rebels whom he judged a danger to the Union—but whom, he said, “the courts, acting on ordinary rules, would discharge.” It wasn’t until 1866 that the Supreme Court ruled the practice unconstitutional.

By the next major war, the First World War, speech perceived as critical of or detrimental to the American war effort was punished with prison sentences as long as ten years. Historian Geoffrey Stone has called Woodrow Wilson’s Sedition Act of 1918 “the most repressive legislation in American history.” Thousands of people were arrested—many without a warrant—and 249 anarchist and communist activists were deported to Soviet Russia. It wasn’t until later that Supreme Court Justices Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. and Louis Brandeis started on a dissenting streak that ultimately restored and clarified free-speech protections.

The Second World War brought another presidential assault on the Constitution: the internment of more than a hundred thousand Americans of Japanese descent. Then came the ­McCarthy era, when the government took up spying on the enemy within and accusations of treason, whether or not they were supported by evidence, ruined life after life. The next generation of Americans lived through the secrecy, deceit, and paranoia of the Vietnam War years, which culminated in a president who had his opponents prosecuted and wiretapped. For Americans in the twentieth century a state of exception came close to being the rule.

Not all the periods of exception are remembered as repressive: In State of Exception, the Italian philosopher Giorgio Agamben notes that Franklin Roosevelt invoked emergency powers for the passage of the New Deal in 1933, arguing that economic catastrophe warranted “broad Executive power to wage war against the emergency, as great as the power that would be given to me if we were in fact invaded by a foreign foe.” Writing in 2005, Agamben drew a narrative line from the state of exception in Europe following the First World War to that in America following 9/11.

As long as war is raging, political consensus supports the crackdowns. Legal scholar Stephen Holmes calls this wisdom “the intuitive claim that grave emergencies require discretionary authority to act outside and against inherited rules and standard operating procedures.” There is no proof that such a response is effective—and there is even copious evidence that it leads to abuse of power and damage to society—but the temptation to both seize and cede power in the face of fear proves irresistible time after time.

Source photographs: Donald Trump © JB Lacroix/WireImage; Vladimir Putin © Mikhail Svetlov/Getty Images; Barack Obama © Ron Sachs-Pool/Getty Images; George W. Bush © Luke Frazza/AFP/Getty Images; protest © Creative Touch Imaging Ltd./NurPhoto/Getty Images; drone © Erik Simonsen/Getty Images

The war that began in 2001 is unlike other wars: The enemy is not a nation or an army but a tactic, one that has existed for millennia. This war cannot be won, because a tactic cannot be eradicated. A war that cannot be won cannot end, and so it has not. Nor have the liberties surrendered by Americans in response to 9/11 been restored. Under President Obama, the war on terror morphed into the more grammatically sensible war on terrorism. The Patriot Act became the Freedom Act. The use of torture appears to have been largely discontinued, but the camp at Guantánamo Bay continues its shameful existence—with a reduced number of inmates, though numbers are never a good measure of liberty. Millions of Americans who voted in the last election have lived with the war on terror for as long as they can remember.

In his farewell address in Chicago, Obama could claim only that he had “worked to put the fight against terrorism on a firmer legal footing. That’s why we’ve ended torture, worked to close Gitmo, reformed our laws governing surveillance to protect privacy and civil liberties. That’s why I reject discrimination against Muslim Americans,” he said, interrupted by cheers before continuing, “who are just as patriotic as we are.” Over the course of more than fifteen years, the essential premise—that the United States is at war, and that the Other in this war is Muslims—has remained unchanged. Trump claims that Muslim Americans celebrated 9/11, while Obama says that they are just as patriotic as we are; that they are not us is one of the few things the two men agree on.

The current state of exception rests in part on the national state of emergency, which George W. Bush declared three days after the September 11 attacks, which he renewed every year of his presidency, and which Obama also renewed every September of his. The president’s ability to impose and renew a state of emergency is technically limited by the 1976 National Emergencies Act, which requires Congress to vote on the state of emergency within six months of the day it is imposed. But such a vote has never occurred—even though the act has been invoked at least fifty-three times. In practice, the president wields unilateral power over emergencies.

The National Emergencies Act can be invoked for disasters beyond an actual war—Obama declared a national emergency in anticipation of the swine flu epidemic in 2009—but it invariably represents both an outsized reaction to a perceived threat and a journey outside what we maintain is normal national and social conduct. At any given time in the past decade, roughly thirty simulta­neous states of emergency have been in effect. Dozens of executive orders, and numerous other directives and regulations, have stemmed from these states of emergency—all of them creating powers that would be impossible in the increasingly illusory normal state of things. A state of emergency allows the president to unilaterally seize control of the media, food supplies, and commercial vessels, for instance. The fact that Bush and Obama did not utilize some of the more extreme possibilities of the state of emergency testifies only to their restraint, not to the legal limitations. At the same time, we know less and less about the powers the government has exercised; since 2001, an ever-increasing number of these emergency powers have been classified.

The state of exception also rests on the Authorization for Use of Military Force, which was passed by Congress three days after the attacks in 2001. It gives the president sweeping power to

use all necessary and appropriate force against those nations, organizations, or persons he determines planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001, or harbored such organizations or persons, in order to prevent any future acts of international terrorism against the United States by such nations, organizations, or persons.

The law, passed with a single dissenting vote, remains in force as the nation enters its fourth post-9/11 presidential term.

Today, when it is said that a terrorist attack is sure to happen, it is assumed that the attack will be carried out in the name of the Islamic State. The premise of inevitability is notable—one would think that such acts of terror occurred in the United States on a regular basis. Since September 11, 2001, however, there have been eleven attacks ostensibly driven by jihadist ideology; they have claimed a total of ninety-five lives. “The death toll has been quite similar to other forms of political—and even non-political—violence Americans face today,” a recent report from the New America foundation summarized. The report referred only to domestic terrorism and mass shooting incidents, but many more Americans have died at the hands of the state: In the first four months of this year, the use of deadly force by police claimed three times as many lives. These killings, extrajudicial by definition, are a symptom of the state of exception, which has turned the police into a military force. As a nation we insist on being united in fear of the one-in-millions chance of a particular kind of violence. That we seem so certain of the outlines of the Reichstag fire to come reveals the fact that it has already occurred.

Among the victims of the sixteen-year-old state of exception are hundreds of individuals identified, prosecuted, and sentenced under emergency rules. Since the war on terror began, the United States has prosecuted an average of forty terrorism cases per year, about half of them on the basis of informant operations. Convictions that result from such cases—and convictions result almost without fail, usually as the result of a plea bargain—fetch higher sentences because of something known as the terrorism adjustment in federal sentencing guidelines. The adjustment went into effect following the World Trade Center bombing of 1993 but was used most widely after 9/11. This was a law passed by Congress, yet it created an exceptional category of crime that could not be addressed by normal law. One example is the prosecution of two Iraqi refugees who were tried in Bowling Green, Kentucky, for allegedly intending to help insurgent fighters battling U.S. forces back home. The men were convicted of terrorism, even though the accusation against them—that they aided fighters confronting an army—doesn’t fit standard definitions of terrorism. They were sentenced to life in prison, in the case of a man arrested at the age of twenty-three, and forty years behind bars, for the one who cooperated with the prosecution. This was the case that Trump aide Kellyanne Conway presumably had in mind when she conjured the memory of the Bowling Green Massacre—something that never happened but, according to the logic the country has applied over the past decade and a half, could have happened.

A key characteristic of the most frightening regimes of the past hundred years is mobilization. This is what distinguishes the merely authoritarian regimes from the totalitarian ones. Authoritarians prefer their subjects passive, tending to their private lives while the authoritarian and his cronies amass wealth and power. The totalitarian wants people out in the square; he craves their adulation and devotion, their willingness to fight and die for him. Mobilization was just as important an element of Hitler’s 1933 consolidation of power as his crackdown. Victory rallies, national holidays, and parades demonstrated, even forced, the unity of a nation. In Germans into Nazis, historian Peter Fritzsche makes no mention of the Reichstag fire but devotes a chapter to the May Day parade of 1933, a daylong, citywide spectacle “carefully choreographed to .?.?. demonstrate the national sense of purpose that was now said to animate the German people.”

To totalitarianism watchers, Trump’s campaign rallies, which segued into his victory rallies, including his “America First” inauguration, have looked familiar and perhaps more worrisome than an imaginary future fire. To historians of the twenty-first century, however, they will likely look like logical steps from the years of war rhetoric that preceded them, not quantum leaps. A nation can be mobilized only if it knows its enemy and believes in its own peril.

It is not clear how many Germans attended that May Day parade because the spirit moved them and how many were compelled by fear or force. Four and a half decades later, in “The Power of the Powerless,” the Czech dissident Václav Havel described an individual who “lives within a lie,” the lie of the official ideology, without consciously accepting or rejecting it. Totalitarianism robs a person of the very ability to form an opinion.

Fear has a way of catapulting citizens into the inside of a lie. Following the apartment-building bombings of 1999, Russians huddled together, forming neighborhood patrols, eyeing strangers and neighbors alike with suspicion, and then threw their support behind the recently appointed prime minister, Vladimir Putin. In one of his first public statements, the unknown, gray little politician promised to hunt down terrorists and “rub them out in the outhouse,” rhetorically trampling the foundations of the justice system.

Americans, too, have finely honed instincts for banding together in the face of an attack. Within hours of the September 11 attacks, 150 members of Congress gathered on the Capitol steps and sang “God Bless America.” Some of them held hands. The strongest country on the planet was making a spectacle of fear and resolve. The following day, a train traveling between Boston and New York was stopped because passengers had been alarmed by the presence of a Sikh man; he was removed. Two days later, enabling legislation—bills on war powers and the state of emergency—were passed.

Trump does not have to declare war—this has already been done—or even proffer an assessment of the danger. But he has already shown that he can deftly use the coercive power of the state of being at war—this is, possibly, the only political tool of which the president has instinctive mastery. During his first address to a joint session of Congress, Trump orchestrated more than two minutes of applause for the widow of a fallen Navy SEAL. It was 125 seconds of naked cynicism that left no one in the audience any choice but to stand and applaud. The following day Breit­bart falsely claimed that several top Democrats had refused to do so. This was a preview of the coercion by national unity that we talk about when we talk about the Reichs­tag fire, but it was also reminiscent of the early weeks and months following 9/11, when Bill Maher and Susan Sontag were shamed for breaking rhetorical ranks.

In Russia, it took many years for Putin to consolidate power, and it wasn’t until 2012 that his regime assumed its current retro-totalitarian character. Over the years, the use of terrorist attacks to justify successive crackdowns has grown familiar and gradually transformed the country’s thinking. The lack of logical connections between events and their ostensible consequences, along with the general degradation of the judicial system and law enforcement, eroded all trust in the government—to the extent that every time a terrorist attack occurred, many Russians assumed that the government, no matter what it said, was behind it. When a bomb went off in the St. Petersburg Metro in April, killing fourteen people, journalists and Russia watchers instantly assumed that the Kremlin had organized the attack in order to detract attention from or to stifle emergent anti-corruption protests.

Over the years many Russians, including me, have come to believe that the apartment-building bombings in Moscow and elsewhere were organized and carried out by the FSB, the intelligence agency, in order to shore up Putin’s power grab. There has never been a transparent and satisfying investigation of the blasts, but the available evidence stacks up in favor of this theory.

When we talk about the Reichstag fire, we speak not only about an event that precipitates a state of exception and launches coercive national mobilization but also of a conspiracy. Many Germans were certain that the Reichs­tag fire was set by the Nazis themselves. So much evidence supported this theory that for decades after the Second World War a Nazi conspiracy was the historians’ consensus. During the same period, it was generally accepted that the Kirov murder was a secret-police assassination. But when all the available information on the Kirov murder was excavated in the late 1980s and early 1990s, there was no proof to back up the conspiracy theory: It is now believed that Kirov was killed by his assistant’s jealous husband. In the 1960s, reporting cast doubt on the theory that the Nazis burned down the Reichstag, but in the 1990s, a new wave of evidence suggested they may have been involved after all. Historians continue to debate the issue. (A young Dutch Communist was apprehended at the scene, tried, and sentenced to death by beheading.) It is certainly too early to exonerate Putin and the FSB for the apartment bombings, but the Russian autocrat may eventually be proved to have simply seized an opportunity, as he has done many times since. For now, though, we do not know enough, and this paucity of information, too, is one of the signs of an autocracy.

Autocracies thrive on and engender fear, ignorance, and—their combined product—conspiracy theory. Writing in his diary in January 1934, the linguist Victor Klemperer assessed a genre of joke. “Conversations in heaven are popular. The best one: Hitler to Moses: But you can tell me in confidence, Herr Moses. Is it not true that you set the bush on fire yourself?” The joke shows Hitler and the satirist sharing a conspiratorial worldview: The person telling the joke believes that the führer set the Reichs­tag fire and also that Hitler sees the world through the lens of his own deception. Everyone is both a conspirator and a conspiracy theorist.

The September 11 attacks, like all unimaginable events, spawned conspiracy theories. Trutherism spread far and wide; its younger cousin, birtherism, grabbed hold of a smaller but more vocal constituency. By the time Trump was elected president, America was living through an epidemic of conspiracy thinking. Some were convinced that Hillary Clinton ran a child-sex ring from a pizza shop in Washington; others that every recently dead Russian man was connected to Trump’s election victory. No one now seems to believe that most things are what they seem: usually, a mess.

When we talk about the Reichs­tag fire, we talk about the consequences of a catastrophic event. But in our case, these consequences—a legal state of exception, a sense of living under siege, popular mobilization, and an epidemic of conspiracy thinking—are already in place. Indeed, they are the preconditions of our current predicament. Trump used the conspiracy thinking and the siege mentality to get himself elected. Once president, he used the state of exception to begin lobbing missiles, dropping bombs—nothing less than the so-called Mother of All Bombs. Mobilization, the popular sense of being together in constant battle, ensured that Trump’s first forays into war looked good on TV. At the same time, Trump overestimated the power given to him by the siege mentality. When he attempted to ban Muslims from entering the United States, for example, he encountered great popular and institutional resistance.

Here lies our best hope for reversing the effects of the next Reichs­tag fire: American civil society is strong—far stronger, paradoxically, than it was before the election. And something remains of what Hannah Arendt observed in a letter from 1946:

People here feel themselves responsible for public life to an extent I have never seen in any European country. For example, when all Americans of Japanese descent were locked up willy-nilly in concentration camps at the beginning of the war, a genuine storm of protest that can still be felt today went through the country.

What struck Arendt was the spontaneous and active expression of solidarity on the part of ordinary Americans who “declared that if something like that could happen, they no longer felt safe themselves.”

The comparison to contemporary protests may not be entirely straightforward. Leading arguments rested on the impossibility of religious discrimination; popular protest relied on a general sense of injustice and the rational argument that banning the entry of people from seven majority-Muslim countries would do little to protect Americans from terrorism. But by pointing to the ineffectiveness of the proposed ban, some of these arguments unwittingly reinforced the idea that Americans can make themselves safer by shutting out some part of the world.

Most recent protests share a fundamental flaw: They project the assumption that things were fine until America inexplicably elected Trump. The women’s marches, the immigrants’ marches, the scientists’ marches, the protests in defense of the Affordable Care Act and freedom of speech, and the earliest of the protests, which simply expressed outraged disbelief at the results of the election, all serve the purpose of staking out the current norms and vowing to defend them. It’s hard to argue with the urge; all indications are that the current norms are far preferable to the reality of the near and distant future. Yet most of the protests live within a lie—the fiction that the threats of the Trump presidency are not only grave but also new. His war against the national press is a grotesque blowup of many years’ worth of growing regimentation of access, concentration of power, and government opacity. Trump’s war on immigrants builds on the mass deportations of the Obama years, which were themselves built on the siege mentality of the Bush years. Trump’s casual bomb-throwing is enabled by the forever war begun nearly sixteen years ago.

To confront the threat we face, it is not enough to advance the rational argument that an American has a lesser chance of dying in a terrorist attack carried out by a refugee than of being struck by lightning. Nor is it enough to focus on the grave injustice of tarnishing immigrants as potential criminals and Muslim refugees as potential terrorists. It is most certainly not enough to revel in the beauty, intelligence, and wit of the many people who have come out to protest Trump’s attacks on humanity and its planet. There is, in fact, no room for self-congratulation in the actions we need to take.

To be worthy of the lofty name “resistance,” the opposition to Trump must aim to break the country’s post-9/11 trajectory. It must question the very premise of the war on terror, challenge the very fact of a perpetual state of emergency, and confront not only the Trump presidency but the legacy of the Bush and Obama Administrations. Organizations such as the A.C.L.U. have been doing this for years. The Trump presidency has not only, paradoxically, brought the group millions of dollars, it has also, potentially, rallied millions of people to the cause. Now is the time to stop waiting for the Reichs­tag fire and start battling the consequences of the one we already had—Trump and the legal and public conditions that are enabling his presidency.

 

 

This Is Where Obama Choked.

The American people had damn near an absolute right to know this information.

It so happens that Friday is an official Ratfcking Holiday, and a very important one. It’s June 23 or, as we who celebrate it like to call it, Smoking Gun Day. It was 45 years ago to the day that H.R. Haldeman stopped by the Oval Office and, with a tape recorder whirring merrily away in a drawer, he and Richard Nixon discussed how to get the CIA to turn off the FBI’s investigation of Watergate because that investigation was moving into “some productive areas.” They talked about ripping scabs open, and “that whole Bay of Pigs thing,” and having Walters tell Gray not to go into this thing any further, period. “All I can conclude,” Patrick Buchanan reportedly said when this tape finally came to light, “is that the old man has been shitting us.”

So, in honor of the day, The Washington Post comes up with an amazing tale of the way ratfcking is done in the modern era. It begins with a top-secret communique delivered to President Barack Obama last August.

Inside was an intelligence bombshell, a report drawn from sourcing deep inside the Russian government that detailed Russian President Vladi­mir Putin’s direct involvement in a cyber campaign to disrupt and discredit the U.S. presidential race. But it went further. The intelligence captured Putin’s specific instructions on the operation’s audacious objectives — defeat or at least damage the Democratic nominee, Hillary Clinton, and help elect her opponent, Donald Trump.

The dynamite, she go boom.

At that point, the outlines of the Russian assault on the U.S. election were increasingly apparent. Hackers with ties to Russian intelligence services had been rummaging through Democratic Party computer networks, as well as some Republican systems, for more than a year. In July, the FBI had opened an investigation of contacts between Russian officials and Trump associates. And on July 22, nearly 20,000 emails stolen from the Democratic National Committee were dumped online by WikiLeaks.

I seem to remember this remarkable coincidence.

The piece is too long, too well reported, and too detailed to summarize in block quotes, but what it makes sadly clear is that the culture of secrecy within the intelligence community worked invariably to empower the ratfcking, rather than to hinder it.

Over that five-month interval, the Obama administration secretly debated dozens of options for deterring or punishing Russia, including cyberattacks on Russian infrastructure, the release of CIA-gathered material that might embarrass Putin and sanctions that officials said could “crater” the Russian economy.

All well and good. Go get ’em, tiger.

However, like so many things about the Obama administration, the response to what the Russians did was measured and allegedly proportional. (“I feel like we choked,” one official told the Post.) But, you may ask, what about the election that was going on at the same time the Obama administration was retaliating for Russian interference in its process?

They were concerned that any pre-election response could provoke an escalation from Putin. Moscow’s meddling to that point was seen as deeply concerning but unlikely to materially affect the outcome of the election. Far more worrisome to the Obama team was the prospect of a cyber-assault on voting systems before and on Election Day. They also worried that any action they took would be perceived as political interference in an already volatile campaign. By August, Trump was predicting that the election would be rigged. Obama officials feared providing fuel to such claims, playing into Russia’s efforts to discredit the outcome and potentially contaminating the expected Clinton triumph.

This, right here. This is where they choked. The American people had damned close to an absolute right to the information their government already had. The most fundamental act of citizenship is the right to cast an informed vote. The idea that the Obama administration withheld the fact that the Russians were ratfcking the election in order to help elect a vulgar talking yam is a terrible condemnation of the whole No Drama Obama philosophy. Would Donald Trump have raised hell if the White House released what it knew? Of course, he would have. But, as it was, the American people went to vote with only about half of the information they needed to assess his candidacy. This was a terrible decision.

Before departing for an August vacation to Martha’s Vineyard, Obama instructed aides to pursue ways to deter Moscow and proceed along three main paths: Get a high-confidence assessment from U.S. intelligence agencies on Russia’s role and intent; shore up any vulnerabilities in state-run election systems; and seek bipartisan support from congressional leaders for a statement condemning Moscow and urging states to accept federal help.

Ah, yes. “Bipartisan support.” The brilliant snow-white unicorn pursued by that administration for nearly eight years. How did that work out? How did it ever work out?

On Aug. 15, Johnson arranged a conference call with dozens of state officials, hoping to enlist their support. He ran into a wall of resistance. The reaction “ranged from neutral to negative,” Johnson said in congressional testimony Wednesday. Brian Kemp, the Republican secretary of state of Georgia, used the call to denounce Johnson’s proposal as an assault on state rights. “I think it was a politically calculated move by the previous administration,” Kemp said in a recent interview, adding that he remains unconvinced that Russia waged a campaign to disrupt the 2016 race. “I don’t necessarily believe that,” he said.

Really, now. How did it ever work out?

The meeting devolved into a partisan squabble.

“The Dems were, ‘Hey, we have to tell the public,’ ” recalled one participant. But Republicans resisted, arguing that to warn the public that the election was under attack would further Russia’s aim of sapping confidence in the system. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) went further, officials said, voicing skepticism that the underlying intelligence truly supported the White House’s claims. Through a spokeswoman, McConnell declined to comment, citing the secrecy of that meeting. Key Democrats were stunned by the GOP response and exasperated that the White House seemed willing to let Republican opposition block any pre-election move.

So they choked a second time, scared out of what they should have done by Mitch McConnell, ace conniver. (What the hell did they expect? Patriotism?) I repeat: the American people needed to know this before they voted, spin and fauxtrage and punditry be damned. They had a right to factor the question, “Why does Putin want this guy to be president?” into their thinking in the voting booth.

When U.S. spy agencies reached unanimous agreement in late September that the interference was a Russian operation directed by Putin, Obama directed spy chiefs to prepare a public statement summarizing the intelligence in broad strokes. With Obama still determined to avoid any appearance of politics, the statement would not carry his signature.

It’s at moments like this that I wish he’d never given that speech in Boston in 2004. It froze him into a public persona and a political stance that made even justifiable partisan politics look like base hypocrisy. It is entirely possible that, at what we must now believe was a critical moment (if not the critical moment) of his presidency, the better angels of a president’s nature were the voices he should have avoided at all cost.

Anyway, read the whole thing. It’s a fascinating window into presidential decision-making on the fly, as well as a look at how intelligence is gathered and managed. The 2016 presidential election was corrupted at its heart, and we do not know yet how fully it was corrupted, and that’s the most lasting scandal of all.

http://www.esquire.com/news-politics/politics/news/a55836/obama-russian-interference/

The politics of Bernie Sanders and Jeremy Corbyn are the progressive path forward

Blairites and Clintonites must bring themselves to admit that “third way” centrism is a relic of the past

Sorry, centrist liberals, the politics of Bernie Sanders and Jeremy Corbyn are the progressive path forward

Jeremy Corbyn; Bernie Sanders (Credit: AP/Frank Augstein/Jae C. Hong)

It has been over a week since the U.K. election that left the political establishment reeling in Britain and around the world. And though Prime Minister Theresa May will remain in office — for now — Jeremy Corbyn was correct when he said last week that the election had “changed the face of British politics.”

The snap election that was supposed to have crushed Corbyn — and the Labour Party — once and for all has instead re-energized the British left, while throwing serious doubt on the Conservative Party’s future. When Theresa May arrogantly called the election in April, polls indicated that her Conservative Party would win by a historic landslide, and the British press — which has been fiercely against Corbyn since he was elected as leader of the Labour Party two years ago — ran giddy headlines predicting the death of his party. There was no doubt whether May and the Tories would win a majority; it was only a matter of how massive that majority would be.

But if we have learned anything over the past year, with the election of U.S. President Donald Trump and the “Brexit” referendum result last summer, it is that absolutely nothing is certain in this populist age. May was expected to “Crush the Saboteurs,” as the Daily Mail’s front page read after her announcement in April, but instead she ended up crushing her own party, which lost its majority in the House of Commons after leading by more than 20 points just a month earlier.

Meanwhile, the unconventional and “unelectable” Corbyn, who has been smeared and misrepresented by the British media for the past two years — and who has faced repeated mutinies within his own party — generated the highest turnout for a U.K. election since 1997 and won a larger share of the popular vote than Tony Blair did in 2005. It was an even bigger upset than last year’s Brexit shocker.

Even Labour Party members and Corbynites had been resigned to the Tories winning back their majority; their goal had been simply to keep that majority as slim as possible and to not be completely humiliated. But Theresa May was the only one humiliated on election day, while the leftist Labour leader was clearly vindicated after years of abuse.

And Corbyn’s political success will be felt far beyond the shores of Great Britain. For weeks and months to come pundits and political strategists will continue to ask themselves how this happened, and many will no doubt try to spin and distort what happened last week. But the answer is simple: The old-school socialist triumphed because he ran an effective grassroots campaign with a compelling message that offered principled leadership and a progressive platform to galvanize the working-class and young people of Britain. Though Labour clearly benefited from May’s poorly run campaign, there is little doubt that Labour’s progressive manifesto was essential to its parliamentary gains.

Before the election, Corbyn’s approval ratings were in the gutter after years of his being maligned by the British press. An analysis of 2016 by The Independent found that more than 75 percent of press coverage had misrepresented Corbyn (and his views), while more than half of the (purportedly neutral) news articles were “critical or antagonistic in tone, compared to two thirds of all editorials and opinion pieces.”

By contrast, the British public was broadly supportive of Corbyn’s actual policies. According to a poll by The Independent, along with a May survey by ComRes for the Daily Mirror, the major policies featured in Labour’s general election manifesto earned strong support from the British public, while the right-wing Tory manifesto was widely rejected. It is not surprising then that the candidates’ approval ratings changed places during the election, as their policies were publicized. According to the latest polling by YouGov, May’s approval ratings have plummeted to Corbyn’s pre-election levels, while the Labour leader’s ratings have surged.

It is already quite clear how last week’s election has changed politics in the U.K., but its outcome has also been felt across the Atlantic.

Much has already been said about the obvious parallels between Corbyn’s Labour Party success and the rise of Sen. Bernie Sanders in the U.S. and what the British election means for American politics. Like Jeremy Corbyn, Bernie Sanders was seen by the commentariat as a fringe socialist kook who was completely unelectable — and like Corbyn, he created a mass movement that appealed to working people and young voters in particular. Sanders was by far the most popular candidate among millennials in the 2016 election, while Corbyn’s Labour Party won 63 percent of aged 18 to 34 and increased voter turnout for 18- to 25-year-olds from 45 percent in 2015 to about  72 percent last week, according to exit polls from Sky data. Similar to the scenario in the U.K., the majority of Americans tend to support Sanders’ social democratic policies, including his support for Medicare for all and raising taxes on the rich.

Of course, there’s at least one obvious difference between the two progressive politicians: While Corbyn has been personally unpopular in his country, Sanders continues to rank as the most popular politician in the United States. Moreover, Sanders consistently outperformed Hillary Clinton in the polls against Donald Trump last year and would have likely defeated the Republican billionaire handily — barring a major spoiler candidate like Michael Bloomberg.

This reality continues to infuriate many establishment Democrats, who have inevitably tried to dismiss and downplay Corbyn’s success in Britain, noting that Labour still didn’t win a majority of its own. If a centrist Blairite were leading the party, they insist (with no empirical basis whatsoever), then he or she would have been elected prime minister, say centrist Democrats. The same people who were gloating about Labour’s anticipated ruin just a month ago — and using it as evidence that a populist shift to the left would be disastrous for the Democratic Party — are now spinning Labour’s historic accomplishment to fit their narrative. Clearly there is a lot of denial going on here. The Blairites and Clintonites cannot bring themselves to admit that “third way” centrism is a relic of the neoliberal 1990s. They refuse to see the writing on the wall, even as it stares at them directly.

In a column for The New York Times on Tuesday, Sen. Sanders wrote that the British election “should be a lesson for the Democratic Party” to stop clinging to an “overly cautious, centrist ideology.”

He wrote, “There is never one reason elections are won or lost,” adding, “but there is widespread agreement that momentum shifted to Labour after it released a very progressive manifesto that generated much enthusiasm among young people and workers. . . . The  [Democratic] party’s main thrust must be to make politics relevant to those who have given up on democracy and bring millions of new voters into the political process.”

A few days earlier at the People’s Summit in Chicago, Sanders discussed the U.K. election during aspeech, noting that Labour “won those seats not by moving to the right” but by “standing up to the ruling class of the U.K.” He also reiterated that “Trump didn’t win the election, the Democratic Party lost the election.” It seems clear that if the Democratic Party wants to start winning elections again, it should pay careful attention to what is currently happening in Britain.

Conor Lynch is a writer and journalist living in New York City. His work has appeared on Salon, AlterNet, Counterpunch and openDemocracy. Follow him on

If the Russians’ objective was to undermine Americans’ faith in democracy, they succeeded — with Trump’s help

Vladimir Putin, Hillary Clinton and the true cause of Donald Trump’s legitimacy crisis — his own actions

Vladimir Putin, Hillary Clinton and the true cause of Donald Trump's legitimacy crisis — his own actions
Vladimir Putin, Hillary Clinton (Credit: AP/Reuters/Rainier Ehrhardt/Photo montage by Salon)

On Wednesday Vox’s Ezra Klein published a long piece about the current crisis in our government. He wrote that “our president lacks legitimacy, our government is paralyzed, our problems are going unsolved.” I would say that legitimacy, the first of those issues, is the source of all the others.

Donald Trump’s legitimacy problem is not just a matter of losing the popular vote. Other presidents have assumed office after such an outcome. In 1824 John Quincy Adams became president after the election decision was thrown to the House of Representatives. In 1876 Rutherford B. Hayes became president after losing the popular vote to Samuel Tilden by more than 250,000 votes — although corruption was so rife in that election it’s fair to say no one will ever know for sure who got the highest tally. In 1888 Benjamin Harrison won 233 electoral votes to Grover Cleveland’s 168, but lost the national count by about 90,000 votes. It didn’t happen again for 112 years when George W. Bush was installed by the Supreme Court after a virtual tie in Florida and a dubious vote count. And then just 16 years later, it happened again.

Throughout that last 16 years questions have been raised about our democracy, including the workings of the anachronistic Electoral College, the fact that every locality and state seems to have a different system, and the way Republicans have systematically disenfranchised voters whom they believe would be likely to vote for their opponents. There has been underlying doubt about the integrity of America’s electoral system simmering for a long time. This year it has come to a boil.

For at least a year we’ve been aware of social-media propaganda and foreign actors hacking the systems of various arms of the Democratic Party in order to influence the presidential campaign. The experts tell us that the Russian government has directed a number of similar cyber operations around the world and that this one was their most sophisticated. Evidently, the idea was to sow chaos and undermine Americans’ already sorely tested faith in our electoral system.

According to a highly detailed investigative report by Massimo Calabresi of Time, the evidence suggests that Russia’s President Vladimir Putin had a particular ax to grind against former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton for what he termed a “signal” she sent in 2011, which he claimed sparked protests against him. The extent to which Putin truly favored Donald Trump is still unknown, and the question of whether there was any collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russian government is now the focus of various investigations of Congress and a Justice Department special counsel. The odd behavior of Trump’s close associates as well as his obsession with shutting down the investigation certainly raise suspicions. But at this point it is pure speculation to think about what kind of “deal” might have been made.

This week’s story by The Intercept, reporting on an National Security Agency document that showed evidence the Russian military had made serious attempts to infiltrate voter information rolls around the country, suggests, however, yet another way the goals of Donald Trump and the Russian government were the same. Former FBI counterterrorism officer and cybersecurity expert Clinton Watts (best known for his quip “follow the bodies of dead Russians” in testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee) raised some additional questions in a piece for the Daily Beast this week. He believes that the main objective of this operation was not to alter the vote count but rather to instill more doubt about the process.

Watts wrote, “I noticed a shift in Kremlin messaging last October, when its overt news outlets, conspiratorial partner websites, and covert social-media personas pushed theories of widespread voter fraud and hacking.” He cited a Reuters article indicating that a Kremlin-backed think tank report “drafted in October and distributed in the same way, warned that Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton was likely to win the election.” The think tank also advised it would be “better for Russia to end its pro-Trump propaganda and instead intensify its messaging about voter fraud to undermine the U.S. electoral system’s legitimacy and damage Clinton’s reputation in an effort to undermine her presidency.”

It’s interesting to note that at the same moment the operation shifted in that direction, Trump himself was relentlessly flogging exactly the same accusation, saying in every rally from October on that Clinton and her campaign had “rigged the system” in her favor. Over and over again he would suggest that the outcome was predetermined:

When the outcome is fixed, when the system is rigged, people lose hope — they stop dreaming, they stop trying

He routinely told his followers stories like this:

One of the reasons I’ve been saying that the system is so corrupt and is so rigged, is not only what happens at the voters’ booth — and you know things happen, folks.

He passed along tweets like this:

@THEREALMOGUL: 41% of American voters believe the election could be “stolen” from DonaldTrump due to widespread voter fraud. – Politico”

Trump even made bizarre accusations that Hillary Clinton’s campaign chairman “John Podesta rigged the polls by oversampling” and notoriously refused to say whether he would abide by the results if Clinton won. It was obvious that Donald Trump was planning to challenge her legitimacy.

In fact, Trump did more to create mistrust and doubt in the U.S. electoral system than the Russian government’s highly developed hacking and misinformation campaign. Whether they were working together is still unknown but they were definitely rowing in the same direction. As much as the president likes to whine and complain about the Democrats being sore losers, the irony is that Trump himself played the greatest role in undermining the legitimacy of his win.

Noam Chomsky on Trump: The worst is yet to come

This administration’s legislative agenda is uniquely cruel, even for the far right

Noam Chomsky on Trump: The worst is yet to come
(Credit: AP/Nader Daoud)
This article originally appeared on AlterNet.

AlterNet

Renowned linguist and author Noam Chomsky believes today’s Republican Party is “more dangerous than ISIS,” whether or not Trump voters will ever be willing to admit it. According to one May 31 poll, 68 percent think America is on the right track.

Chomsky, on the other hand, believes the country has been on the wrong track since it adopted a neoliberal economic model several decades ago — and things are about to get a whole lot worse.

During the opening of the first zero net energy building at UMass Amherst on April 13, Chomsky began his lecture by explaining why the despair that has ravaged Trump country is a phenomenon unique to America.

“[There’s been] a dramatic increase in mortality among middle-aged white Americans without college degrees, beginning in 1999, recently documented by [Princeton professors] Anne Case and Angus Deaton,” he said.

Case and Deaton found the pattern has spread nationwide in the past two decades, with no end in sight.

“It’s a phenomenon unknown apart from war and pestilence,” Chomsky said. “They have an updated current analysis where they attribute the increase in mortality to despair and loss of status of working people under the neoliberal miracle, which is concomitant [with] heightened worker insecurity.

Thus, during the 2016 presidential election, “the same sectors of the population that are suffering increased mortality turned for rescue to their bitter class enemy, out of understandable, but self-destructive desperation.”

Trump’s 2018 budget, introduced in late May, would prove especially damaging to his working-class voters, due to its deep cuts to social programs. In its most recent analysis, the Congressional Budget Office found that the GOP’s American Health Care Act would strip 23 million Americans of their health insurance over the next decade.

“The consequences for working people are now being exhibited behind the facade of Trump/Bannon/Spicer bluster before the cameras,” said Chomsky. “This is the systematic enactment of the [Paul] Ryan legislative programs, which are unusually savage even for the ultra-right.”

On June 1, Neil Gorsuch joined his Supreme Court colleagues for their first group photo.

“There’s probably worse to come, as further blows to working people are authorized by the Trump/Roberts Court,” noted Chomsky. “Now with Gorsuch on board, who will probably decide to destroy public sector unions on fraudulent libertarian grounds.”

Study shows massive growth of political abstention in 2016 US election

By Eric London
3 June 2017

A study released Thursday by the Pew Research Center revealed that “dislike of the candidates or campaign issues” was the most frequent motive registered voters gave for not voting in the 2016 election. Twenty five percent of registered voters who abstained listed this as their primary reason, double the figure from 2012.

The growth of opposition to both candidates was ubiquitous across all racial, age and education groups.

Among African-American registered voters, the percentage of those citing dislike of the candidates as the main reason for abstaining rose from 3 percent in 2012 to 19 percent in 2016. Among Hispanics, the figure also grew by 16 percent—from 9 to 25 percent.

This 16 percent jump was the largest among racial groups, but dissatisfaction rose among all races. Among white registered voters who abstained, 26 percent listed dissatisfaction with the candidates as their main reason, up nine points from 15 percent in 2012. The figure also grew among Asian registered voters, by 14 points, from 8 to 21 percent.

Dissatisfaction rose among all age groups. Among millennial registered voters (those born in the 1980s or 1990s), 24 percent said opposition to both candidates was their primary reason for abstaining in 2016, up from 11 percent in 2012. The highest rise in opposition was among Generation X (those born in the 1960s and 1970s), growing from 12 to 27 percent from 2012 to 2016. Opposition grew by about 10 points among older voters as well.

Among US-born registered voters who abstained, 25 percent listed dissatisfaction with both candidates as their primary reason, up from 13 percent in 2012. Among foreign-born registered voters, the figure grew from 8 percent of registered abstainers to 22 percent in 2016.

These figures once again explode the lie, advanced by the Democratic Party, the pseudo-left and the Democratic Party-affiliated media, who claim that Donald Trump won the 2016 election because of the racism of the white working class. In reality, voting statistics demonstrate conclusively that Hillary Clinton lost because of a sharp downturn in turnout for the Democrats among all races, particularly among young people. According to the Pew report, racial minorities made up 34 percent of registered abstainers, up 9 points from 25 percent in 2012.

Clinton herself has attributed to her unexpected loss to supposed interference by the Russian government, combined with white racism and misogyny and the intervention of then-FBI Director James Comey. Speaking Wednesday in California, she again blamed Russia for her electoral defeat and broadly hinted at collusion by the Donald Trump election campaign.

She said: “The Russians in my opinion, and based on the intel and counterintel people I’ve talked to, could not have known how best to weaponize that information unless they had been guided by Americans and guided by people who had polling and data information.”

She also blamed misogyny among working class voters: “And at some point it sort of bleeds into misogyny. And let’s just be honest, you know, people who have a set of expectations about who should be president and what a president looks like, you know, they’re going to be much more skeptical and critical of somebody who doesn’t look like and talk like and sound like everybody else who’s been president.”

While psychologists could keep themselves busy analyzing Clinton’s delusions, socialists understand the objective significance of the gap that separates the Democratic Party’s own understanding of the election and reality, which reflects the material chasm separating the ruling class and upper-middle class from the rest of the population.

Clinton did not lose because of unsupported claims of Russian collusion with Trump, but because she appealed only to the most affluent voters, ignoring altogether the concerns of working class voters and denouncing as “deplorables” the less educated, mostly white voters who supported Trump.

The fact that political abstention grew especially among African-American and Hispanic voters shows that Clinton’s campaign strategy—based on appealing to voters on questions of racial and gender identity—turned working class minority and white voters away from the Democratic Party. The orientation to questions of individual identity is aimed primarily at appealing to wealthier voters of all racial categories.

Clinton’s orientation to more affluent voters produced a dramatic shift in the landscape of American two-party politics in 2016. According to data from the American National Election Survey (ANES), the Democratic Party won a majority of votes from the wealthiest 5 percent of the white population for the first time since ANES began collecting data in 1948. Not only did the Clinton campaign win amongst the wealthiest 5 percent of whites, she won by an overwhelming margin, slightly greater than 10 percent. The Democrats won by wide margins among wealthier sections of all racial groups.

On the other side, the poorest two-thirds of white voters supported the Republican candidate, also for the first time in the ANES poll’s 70-year history. The chart below shows the shift, with the Republican margin of victory appearing higher on the Y-axis and the income percentile groups listed from left to right on the X-axis, with the wealthiest 5 percent listed on the right of each graph. The fact that the chart for 2016 has a downward trajectory highlights the degree to which the Democratic Party has become the primary party of the affluent upper-middle class.

Income and the White Presidential Vote, 1948-2016

As the WSWS has previously noted, the wealthy of all races are now more likely to support the Democratic Party because it has proven itself a worthy custodian of the affairs of the financial oligarchy, promoting its wars, bank bailouts, domestic spying operations, deportations, tax windfalls and cuts to social programs, all under the foil of identity politics.

The growth in American National Election Survey (ANES) also shows that Clinton was not the victim of “apathy.” To the contrary, each new poll confirms that the working class in the US is moving to the left, coming into conflict with the political establishment and registering its opposition with varying levels of political clarity.

 

http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2017/06/03/poll-j03.html

Will the Democrats ever stand for something?

If Democratic Party leaders want to be an alternative to the Republicans, they sure have a funny way of showing it, writes Elizabeth Schulte.

Clockwise from top left: Nancy Pelosi, Hillary Clinton and Chuck Schumer

Clockwise from top left: Nancy Pelosi, Hillary Clinton and Chuck Schumer

HILLARY CLINTON resurfaced last month from her long post-election hibernation with a message: “I’m back to being an active citizen–and part of the resistance.”

And just so everybody knows, if it hadn’t been for Russian hackers and FBI Director James Comey bringing up her e-mails, “I’d be your president,” she told CNN’s Christiane Amanpour.

Considering the crisis of the Trump administration right now, the Democrats’ claims about Russian meddling in the election look more believable than before. But as for this losing the election for Clinton, it’s a lot more complicated than that.

And as for Hillary Clinton being part of a “resistance,” well…come on now.

All the Russian meddling in the world wouldn’t change the fact that core supporters of the Democratic Party didn’t turn out for Clinton because she represented everything they didn’t like about Washington politics–a devoted servant of Corporate America and the political establishment’s status quo.

So even though she won the popular vote by nearly 3 million, Clinton let Donald Trump, the anti-immigrant, misogynist, Islamophobic billionaire, get close enough to steal an Electoral College victory because the Democrats offered so little for voters to turn out for.

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

DESPITE THIS, the Democratic Party–which ought to be in a good position to challenge a politician as unpopular as Trump–is still debating what it should do next. Some party leaders are concluding this isn’t time to lead, but time to start compromising on key issues.

Issues like abortion.

In April, the Democratic National Committee (DNC) threw its support behind Omaha mayoral candidate Heath Mello, a self-described “pro-life” Democrat.

After a storm of criticism from pro-choice forces, including NARAL Pro-Choice America, DNC Chair Tom Perez–who appeared on a stage with Mello alongside Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders–was forced to publicly reaffirm the party’s support for women’s right to choose.

But some Democrats didn’t get the memo.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi made sure instead to emphasize that, yes, the party welcomes anti-choice Democrats. “It’s kind of fading as an issue,” Pelosi told the Washington Post. “It really is.” Pelosi advised Democrats to concentrate more on the issues that affect “working families.”

Of course, abortion isn’t a fading issue–the Republicans have made sure of that by successfully restricting women’s access to abortion services in dozens of states.

Furthermore, characterizing reproductive rights as an issue that “working families” don’t care about–in a country where one in three women have an abortion, many likely in “working families”–is out of step with reality.

Support for abortion rights is one of the main issues that at least rhetorically distinguished the Democrats from the Republicans, and now at a time when it’s so important to take a side, party leaders are discussing whether it might alienate voters they want to attract.

“You know what?” Pelosi said to the Post. “That’s why Donald Trump is president of the United States–the evangelicals and the Catholics, anti-marriage equality, anti-choice. That’s how he got to be president. Everything was trumped, literally and figuratively, by that.”

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

SO UNDERLYING this dispute about whether abortion is a Democratic issue is another discussion about what the party has to do to win over the audience of people who were attracted by Trump’s populist campaign rhetoric in 2016. Leading party figures are opting to downplay so-called “social” issues, like abortion, racism or LGBTQ rights, in favor of “economic” issues.

This warped view of who workers are–the workforce is disproportionately female, people of color and LGBTQ people–and what their concerns include reveals how out-of-touch Democrats are with the people who vote for them. It’s also the case that even by these wrongheaded standards, the Democrats’ populist economic rhetoric is no better in practice for working people than Trump’s.

The fight over health care is an excellent example. In May, House Republicans went after the Obama administration’s Affordable Care Act (ACA), voting for a plan that would eliminate some of the few positive aspects of Obamacare, such as the expansion of Medicaid and a guarantee of coverage for people with pre-existing conditions.

And what was the reaction from Democrats? Something close to rapture. The party that claims to stand for working people stood by and watched as Republicans shredded the ACA in the hopes that this would fatally damage the Republicans with voters.

While most human beings reacted with shock and outrage, Democratic leaders celebrated the fact that the Republicans’ nightmare might help them win a victory in 2018 congressional elections. Democratic strategist Caitlin Legacki summed up the strategy to the New York Times: “Our best shot at stopping the Republicans has always been to let them cannibalize themselves, and this proved that.”

Meanwhile, as Democrats cheered on the Republicans’ passage of Trumpcare, real people with real health care needs face the daily threat of not being able to afford to get well.

Trumpcare is highly unpopular–only 17 percent of the population said it supports repealing and replacing Obamacare with the Republican plan, according to a Quinnipiac Poll. But there is growing frustration with Obamacare, too.

Obama’s health care plan may have included some important reforms, but it also kept in place the worst aspects of for-profit health care, and the result was that insurance became even more expensive for workers.

When Trump and the Republicans threatened to make health care even more inaccessible, they gave Obamacare and the Democrats a lifeline, at least as far as public opinion is concerned. In this context, many people felt they had no choice but to defend the lesser-poison status quo of Obamacare.

Democratic politicians are making similar political calculations when it comes to protecting immigrants under attack from Trump’s new amped-up deportation regime.

In April, as state lawmakers debated making California a “sanctuary state” to stand up to Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ threat to cut off federal funding to states that didn’t cooperate with ICE and immigration enforcement, some Democrats were cautioning against going too far.

“It may feel good to take certain actions, but that could result in real hurt on the ground,” Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti told the New York Times. “My responsibility is to make sure that I bring resources back to my city that come from tax dollars we send to Washington.”

“The civil rights movement was not won by calling Bull Connor a racist,” Garcetti said. “He was a racist. But it was won by saying we should be at that lunch counter.”

Garcetti is forgetting the most important thing that happened at those lunch counters: protest.

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

IF GARCETTI’S strategy of concede and retreat sounds familiar, that’s because it is. The Democrats used the same strategy during Election 2016–when they nominated Hillary Clinton, the status quo candidate with a history of serving wealth and power, as the candidate they were sure would win easily against Trump.

The party behind Clinton’s “campaign of militant complacency,” as author Thomas Frank put it, never even considered that the people who actually vote might be dissatisfied with the status quo she embraced.

In other words, at a time when many people are looking for more radical solutions, the mainstream Democrats are offering something that’s even further to the right of what already exists. And since they won’t actually stand for something, they continue to fall back on the fact that Trump and the Republicans are just worse.

This reality will lead even the best activists–people who care about changing the world a thousand times more than Nancy Pelosi–to conclude that the most important thing we have to do in the next year is get more Democrats into office, no matter what the compromise.

Thus, Bernie Sanders, who himself is staunchly pro-choice, reached the same conclusion as Pelosi that not every Democrat has to be pro-choice to get his support.

The Democratic Socialists of America unfortunately succumbed to this pressure too when it issued a statement in response to Sanders’ support for Heath Mello in Omaha that refused to take a stand and instead advised its members to “trust our grassroots.”

But trusting the grassroots means taking a stand for its political concerns.

It goes without saying that Hillary Clinton isn’t part of any “resistance.” There is, however, a resistance being built. It had its beginnings before the 2016 election, but having Donald Trump in the White House has led more people to think about that we need to get ourselves organized.

Many people will look to the Democratic Party to take the lead in the anti-Trump opposition, but the Democrats haven’t yet, and show no signs at all of doing so. We have to take part in grassroots organizing that stands up to the attacks of both Republicans and Democrats–and that offers an alternative to the status quo Washington politics we’re expected to accept.

 

https://socialistworker.org/2017/06/01/will-the-democrats-ever-stand-for-something