The political and social roots of fascist violence in the US

15 August 2017

The eruption of Nazi violence in Charlottesville, Virginia over the weekend has come as a shock to millions of people in the United States and around the world. The images of pro-Nazi white supremacists assaulting counter-protesters and the brutal murder of 32-year-old Heather Heyer have exposed the socially and politically rancid state of American society. Nazi thugs rampaged through a university town and terrorized students and other residents while smirking policemen stood by and winked their encouragement to the attackers. The country that presumes to preach morality to the world and holds itself up as the beacon of law and democratic stability is breaking apart at the seams.

There is a vast difference between the deep-felt anger of millions of ordinary people over the events in Charlottesville and the formal hand-wringing and hypocritical condemnations of violence by politicians from the Democratic and Republican parties and the corporate media. Their statements reek of insincerity. Their pro forma denunciations of the violence in Charlottesville are devoid of any serious examination of the underlying social and political conditions out of which it arose.

Typical was Monday’s editorial (“The Hate He Dares Not Speak Of”) in the New York Times, which speaks for the Democratic Party. The editors criticized Trump for not condemning the white supremacist groups responsible for the violence. They declared that Trump “is alone in modern presidential history in his willingness to summon demons of bigotry and intolerance in service to himself.” The president is clinging to white supremacists, the editors added, “in his desperation to rescue his failing presidency.”

Were it not for Trump, the Times implies, the streets of America would resound with hymns of brotherly love. But the “Evil Trump” interpretation of history explains nothing. The swaggering thug in the White House is, like the violence in Charlottesville, a symptom of a deep and intractable crisis.

As a political and social phenomenon, fascism is a product of capitalism in extreme crisis. Analyzing the rise of the Nazi movement in Germany in 1932, Trotsky explained that the ruling class turns to fascism “at the moment when the ‘normal’ police and military resources of the bourgeois dictatorship, together with their parliamentary screens, no longer suffice to hold society in a state of equilibrium… Through the fascist agency, capitalism sets in motion the masses of the crazed petty bourgeoisie and the bands of declassed and demoralized lumpenproletariat—all the countless human beings whom finance capital itself has brought to desperation and frenzy.” (“What Next? Vital Question for the German Proletariat”)

Fascism is not yet a mass movement in the United States. The national mobilization of far-right organizations to oppose the removal of a statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee drew only several hundred people.

Notwithstanding their limited support among the broad mass of the population, however, these reactionary elements enjoy the backing of powerful sections of the state, including the White House itself. They have the financial support of billionaire backers (Stephen Bannon, Trump’s fascistic chief strategist, has developed close ties to hedge fund executive Robert Mercer). And they have the active sympathy of significant sections of the police and military apparatus.

Throughout his campaign and his first seven months in office, Trump and his fascistic advisors have pursued a definite political strategy, based on the belief that they can exploit widespread social anger and political disorientation to develop an extra-parliamentary movement to violently suppress any popular opposition to a policy of extreme militarism and social reaction.

However, Trump is less the creator than the outcome of protracted economic, social and political processes. His administration, composed of oligarchs and generals, arises out of a quarter-century of unending war, four decades of social counterrevolution and the increasingly authoritarian character of American politics. Torture, drone assassinations, wars of aggression, police murder—overseen by both Democrats and Republicans—form the backdrop to the events in Charlottesville.

Trump’s greatest asset has been the character and orientation of his political opponents within the ruling class. He defeated Hillary Clinton in the 2016 election because the Democrats ran as the party of the status quo, the embodiment of complacency and self-satisfaction. Since the election, their opposition to Trump has been oriented entirely to the intelligence agencies and the military, where fascist elements flourish, on the basis of demands for a more aggressive policy against Russia. They are unable and unwilling to advance a program that can command any significant popular support since they represent an alliance of Wall Street and privileged layers of the upper-middle class.

Trump has been able to win a certain base in regions of the country that have been devastated by deindustrialization, profiting from the reactionary role of the trade unions, which long ago abandoned any opposition to the demands of the corporations, promoting instead the poisonous ideology of economic nationalism. The “American first” agenda of the Trump administration has found fertile ground among the privileged and thoroughly corrupt trade union executives.

An additional ideological factor has served to fuel the rise of white nationalist organizations: the legitimization of explicitly racialist politics by the Democratic Party. While the Democrats and their media affiliates have denounced the openly racist actions of the neo-Nazis in Charlottesville, the fact remains that the white nationalists have been aided and abetted by the relentless promotion by the Democratic Party and its allies of race as the primary category of social and political analysis.

Endless columns and articles have appeared in the pages of the New YorkTimes and other publications promoting the concept of “whiteness” and “white privilege.” It was Times columnist Charles Blow who, in a June 2016 column denouncing the film Free State of Jones, attacked “the white liberal insistence that race is merely a subordinate construction of class.” As the World Socialist Web Site commented at the time, Blow “is not a fascist, but he thinks very much like one.”

The obsessive fixation on racial politics, from the Democratic Party and the fraternity of pseudo-left organizations that operate in its orbit, reached a peak in the election campaign of Hillary Clinton, which was organized on the principal that all social problems are reducible to race and racism, and that the grievances of workers who are white are the product not of unemployment and poverty, but of racism and privilege.

The racialist interpretation of politics, culture and society by the Democrats was politically convenient in that it served to divert attention from the issues of social inequality and war, while blaming white workers—not the capitalist system and the ruling class—for the election of Trump.

As the Trump administration was intensifying its cultivation of fascistic forces over the past several months, Google—in alliance with those sections of the state particularly associated with the Democratic Party—was implementing a program of censorship targeting left-wing and progressive websites, above all, the World Socialist Web Site. The response of all factions of the ruling class to the social and political crisis that has produced Trump is to seek to block and suppress any challenge to the capitalist system.

Long historical experience has demonstrated that fascism can be fought only through the mobilization of the working class on a socialist and revolutionary program. The fight against the extreme right must be developed through the unification of all sections of the working class, of all races, genders and nationalities. Opposition to fascism must be connected to the fight against war, social inequality, unemployment, low wages, police violence and all the social ills produced by capitalism.

So long as the interests of the working class are not articulated and advanced by taking on an independent political form, it is the forces of the extreme right that will benefit. The urgent task is to build a revolutionary leadership in the working class.

Joseph Kishore

http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2017/08/15/pers-a15.html

Fascism Here We Come: the Rise of the Reactionary Right and the Collapse of “The Left”

Photo by Alec Perkins | CC BY 2.0

The white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia over this last weekend is an important moment in American politics, symbolizing the ascendance of the reactionary right and showcasing the dangers of its toxic assault on democracy, equality, and the rule of law.  News outlets on early Sunday reported that one person was killed on August 12th after a car accelerated into a crowd of counter-protestors, while dozens more were injured.  That intimidation, terror, and murder are tools of the reactionary right in their war on people of color and non-Christians is nothing new in history.  Still, the most recent wave of right-wing hate is instructive, offering numerous lessons regarding the state of American politics.

First, the incident reveals that right-wing fascism has officially “arrived” on the American political scene, as seen in Trump’s refusalto condemn the murders.  Trump knows he can’t afford to alienate racist elements on the right to get re-elected, and he doesn’t want to alienate them, since he himself is a racist and a bigot.  Hence the refusal to use clear lanaguage to condemn the murders.  His political reasoning here is completely transparent, as he’s spent his entire political career cultivating hate on the reactionary right.  Although Trump eventually condemned the attack after receiving a large amount of negative press, his reversal is part of a broader trend Trump is known for, in which he initially signals to racists in his support base that he approves of their actions, thereby devaluing any later reversal as merely the product of political pressure, rather than principled opposition.  The damage, of course, has alredy been done.  Far-right fascists and racists know that the president supports their behavior when he goes out of his way to provide them cover.

The second lesson from this tragedy relates to the futility of claims that Trump and his far-right supporters are the sort of people with which “the left” should be working.  First, there’s the claim among numerous “left” pundits that Trump’s campaign represented the rise of working class populism, the implication being that Trump himself was a working class hero set on restoring America’s past economic greatness.  Other nonsense abounded about Trump the principled anti-imperialist, but that rhetoric is contradicted by his administration’s beliggerent rhetoric and nuclear threats toward North Korea, his militarism in Syria, and his embrace of increased sanctions against Russia.  The rhetoric about Trump the economic populist is contradicted by his record since taking office of embracing typical corporatist Republican policies, incuding deep cuts in social welfare spending, deregulation of big business, and efforts to ram through tax cuts for the wealthy.

It would be silly and wrong to say that all Trump supporters are right-wing fascists or extremists.  Many are simply conservatives who do not embrace racism or bigotry. According to data from the Pew Research Center and elsewhere, while two-thirds to three quarters of Trump supporters embrace reactionary and bigoted social views, the quarter to third do not.  Still, the recent push among numerous “leftists” to seek an alliance between the left and the far right (a “Brown-Red” alliance) is worrisome considering the growing data suggesting the right-wing elements of Trump’s support base are out-and-out fascists.

Three recent surveys raise alarm bells on the Trump-fascist front.  First, there was a poll reported in the Washington Post which found that a plurality of Trump voters believed that white Americans face “a lot of discrimination” in the United States.  Comparatively, just 19 percent said “Latino people” face “a lot of discrimination,” while just 22 percent felt the same about “black people.”  These results suggest mass delusion on the part of much of Trump’s base, considering the mountain of social science data demonstrating that people of color are systematically discriminated against in the mass media, on the job market, in the criminal justice system, and in other social settings.  This paranoia is no doubt feeding the reactionary right’s escalation of the “culture war” against people of color.

A second recent poll suggests that much of Trump’s support base has fallen into a cultish relationship with the president, expressing a blind trust for “The Donald” and authoritarian contempt for the press.  As the Economist reports, nearly half of Republican Americans now believe that the government should “shut down” news media outlets for “broadcasting stories that are biased or inaccurate,” while over half think these outlets should be fined for allegedly pushing falsehoods – the First Amendment be damned.  If these reactionaries get their way, government will be empowered to decide what constitutes responsible or accurate journalism.  Cultish support for Trump is most evident in the Economist’s polling of trust for Trump, in comparison to trust of various media outlets.  Three-quarters of Republicans state they trust Trump more than each of the following news outlets: CNN, the New York Times, and the Washington Post.  While conservatives have long lambasted these outlets for their alleged liberal bias, the same cannot be said for other outlets, including the neoconservative Weekly Standard and the National Review.  But three-quarters of Republicans say they have more trust in Trump than these outlets.  More than half of Republicans express greater trust in Trump than Fox News.

Mass blind trust in a political leader – especially a con-man as narcissitic, duplicitious, and shamelessly deceptive as Trump – raises dire concerns about the ability of critical literacy skills to survive moving forward.  When citizens favor blatant propaganda as their primary source of information about the world, there is little hope that they will be able to separate themselves from reactionary, officially-endorsed fascism.  The cult of Trump will provide cover for an administration that has long expressed contempt for freedom of the press, and is now indicating its support for fascist policies aimed at criminalizing journalists for reporting on classified intelligence the Trump administration would prefer be kept secret.

A final red flag is raised regarding a new poll reported on by the Washington Post, which finds that 52 percent of Republicans would support postponing the 2020 presidential election if Trump says it is necessary to root out voter-fraud before allowing a vote, while 56 percent say that shutting down elections is acceptable so long as Republicans in Congress agree.  No matter that Trump has presented no evidence of rampant voter fraud in the last election, or that the political experts who actually study the issue conclude that voter fraud amounts to a miniscule and trivial amount of all votes cast.  In a political world in which Lord Trump’s word is gospel, and media outlets challenging his propaganda are heretics, the truth no longer matters.

The organized left has been in serious trouble for years, which is evident in the decline of labor unions, the disappearance of leftist public intellectuals in academia, the rightward drift of the Democratic Party, and the complete failure of the Green Party to make inroads with the mass public.  There are of course some positive signs, as seen in the rise of Black Lives Matter and protests against the Trump administration – particularly those protests that provide a constructive agenda by supporting greater government funding for education and the introduction of universal health care.

Despite these positive developments, much of “the left” – if one could call them that, have turned to increasingly desperate statements and actions in an effort to become relevant again to American politics.  This desperation manifests itself in numerous forms.  First, there is the trend toward dealing with the Trump administration and reactionary supporters with kid’s gloves, downplaying the importance of the right’s bigotry and prejudice, as seen not only in racist and xenophobic rhetoric, but policies that discriminate against Muslims, people of color, and immigrants.  Some have claimed that Trump should be supported by leftists because of his election rhetoric about returning jobs to America, in opposition to free trade, and in support of normalizing relations with Russia.  None of this rhetoric has manifested itself in tangible policy proposals or actual policies, now more than half a year into this administration, which is a sign of how little commitment Trump had to these positions.  As it’s become harder and harder to maintain the myth that Trump’s electoral victory was a product of mounting anger among a working class left behind in the era of outsourcing and free trade, some on “the left” have tried to promote a “Brown-Red” alliance agenda by claiming that the far right can join with the far left to fight oppression and defeat the liberal media and the “deep state.”

Now some Green Party personalities and some of their “public intellectual” supporters who are nominally on the left seek to make common cause with openly white nationalist reactionaries.  This development demonstrates a serious intellectual decline in what counts for “the left.”  By downplaying the severity of the racist, sexist, classist, and xenophobic tendencies of the far-right and the reactionary elements of Trump’s base, individuals who claim to support the left betray the long history of resistance to bigotry, prejudice, and oppression that has historically defined progressive social movements.  Any sane person should want to have nothing to do with right-wing bigots or fascists, although this point has been obscured in talk of a “Brown-Red” alliance.

The decision by Cobb and McKinney to ally with fascists is a serious betrayal of progressive values.  It harms the credibility of anyone on the left who still claims the mantle of the democratic, anti-racist politics.  The Green’s alliance will not be forgotten by people of color, immigrant rights groups, and those opposing America’s Islamophobic turn. One can’t realistically “work with” right-wing nationalists one minute, then claim common cause with minority groups that are the targets of reactionary fascists.

Much of what remains of “the left” today is comprised of anxious, angry individuals who are rightly angry at a dysfunctional political-economic system that fails to represent the needs of the bottom 99 percent.  These individuals often feel deeply isolated from American mainstream society, and unfortunately, have been willing to gravitate toward all types of kooky ideas due to the decline of left-public intellectualism in the neoliberal era.  As public educational institutions have been dismantled and privatized, professors have been pressured and bullied by administrators and state officials to abandon advocacy work. And with the decline of American labor unions, productive venues for progressive activism have also begun to dry up.

Conspiratorial and extremist personalities have stepped forward to fill the left vacuum.  “Left” thinkers embrace authoritarian false prophets such as Assad in Syria and Putin in Russia, and portray these faux revolutionaries as on the vanguard of “anti-imperialism,” despite their repressive domestic human rights records, simply because they are against American militarism.  Others on the left fall into conspiracism, embracing 9/11 trutherism, and various “deep state” conspiracies such as claims that a secret intelligence apparatus was responsible for the JFK assassination and for framing Nixon for Watergate.  Never mind that there is a federal recording (made by Nixon himself) in which the former president openly speaks about paying off the Watergate burglars with hush money; we wouldn’t want to let evidence get in the way of a good conspiracy.

With the rise of “Brown-Red” alliance propaganda, some “leftists” have thrown their lot in with truly despicable individuals.  For example, McKinney and Cobb have recently sought to make common cause with noted Alex Jones groupies such as Mike Cernovich and Robert Steele, both with deeply troubled histories of embracing white nationalism.  Cernovich shamelessly embraces the rhetoric of “alt-right” sexists, referring to men he deems insufficiently masculine as “cucks,” while embracing conspiracy theories such as Pizzagate, and advocating IQ testing for immigrants.  He has claimed that date rapeis not real, and has encouraged men to “slut shame” black women to avoid AIDS.  Steele is a David Duke sympathizer who publishes commentary along with Duke about the dangers of the “Zionist deep state,” as tied to conspiracies about how Jews control American politics, media, and banking institutions.  Steele gained infamy after an appearance on Alex Jones’ Info Wars claiming that NASA was running a child slavery ring on Mars.  And Steele explicitly compares Jews to animals, although I will not do him or Duke the favor of linking to any of his repulsive commentaries.  Echoing Steele’s anti-semitism, McKinney also has a long, sordid history of collaborating with blatant anti-semites, despite the presence of many anti-Zionist activists and intellectuals throughout the U.S. and the world who reject anti-semitism.

I’ve recently heard from numerous self-described leftists who defend the supporters of the “Brown-Red” alliance agenda, but the moral bankruptcy of these apologists’ claims have been stripped bare considering the wretched politics of individuals like Steele and Cernovich.  Steele has reached out to me in the past, seeking to recruit me in his battle against “the deep state.”  It was immediately clear that there was something very wrong with this man, which was apparent when he started spouting “deep state” conspiracies about Watergate, 9/11, and JFK.  Not yet knowing about his anti-semitism, I politely told him I had no interest in anything he was selling.  That Green Party leaders could be supportive of such a figure speaks poorly of their judgment.

Marginalized from access to mainstream political, economic, or media institutions, some claiming to speak for “the left” have concluded that the path forward is in allying with fascist forces on the right.  This act of desperation reveals the utter failure of the Green Party to make serious inroads with the public or in gaining political power.  But this Hail Mary is destined to fail. No progressive social movement is ever going to be built by propping up reactionary bigots and conspiracy theorists, who have zero interest in the fight against economic inquality, racism, and capitalism more broadly.  Progressively minded people would be far better served opposing the relatively small number of Americans who openly advocate reactionary white nationalism, and instead focusing on the millions of people of color, in addition to working class, middle class, and poor Americans who are all increasingly left behind in an era of growing corporate, plutocratic power over politics.  There is still time to return respectability to the progressive community in America, but this can’t happen so long as fascist enablers speak for the left.

More articles by:

Anthony DiMaggio is an Assistant Professor of Political Science at Lehigh University. He holds a PhD in political communication, and is the author of the newly released: Selling War, Selling Hope: Presidential Rhetoric, the News Media, and U.S. Foreign Policy After 9/11 (Paperback: 2015). He can be reached at: anthonydimaggio612@gmail.com

https://www.counterpunch.org/2017/08/15/fascism-here-we-come-the-rise-of-the-reactionary-right-and-the-collapse-of-the-left/

The White House and the fascist rampage in Charlottesville

14 August 2017

After months of deliberate planning and coordination with the police, the Nazi “Unite the Right” rampage in Charlottesville, Virginia reached its deadly apogee Saturday afternoon when a 20-year-old Hitler admirer from Ohio drove his car through a crowd of counter-demonstrators, killing 32-year-old Bernie Sanders supporter Heather Heyer and wounding 14 more people.

The corporate press has focused on Trump’s failure to verbally condemn the violence of the far right. But the American media’s handwringing over Trump’s statements is not only naive. It deliberately covers up the extent to which the White House was involved in encouraging and inciting and even planning the Nazi mobilization in Charlottesville. The White House is crawling with pro-fascist operatives. Why would Trump condemn the actions of those whom he and his pal, Steve Bannon, view as a critical political constituency?

This Nazi riot is not an aberrational event in American politics. It is the product of Donald Trump’s strategy to build an extra-constitutional fascist movement outside the framework of the two parties, itself an expression of the putrefaction and collapse of American democracy under the weight of staggering levels of social inequality.

In the past three weeks, Trump and his advisors—Stephen Bannon, Stephen Miller and Sebastian Gorka—have escalated the administration’s efforts to whip up support among fascist elements who form the core of his political base.

Trump has attacked Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, challenging one of the most powerful legislative figures in his own party. He has made bellicose threats that the US is “locked and loaded” for war against North Korea and appealed to his billionaire constituents as well as the police, immigration and border officials, and the military to support his “tough on crime” and anti-immigrant policies.

In the process, he has emboldened the forces that took over the 22,000-student University of Virginia campus on Friday. The Nazis carried out a torchlight parade across the campus, founded and designed by the author of the Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson, while chanting “blood and soil,” “Sieg Heil,” and “one people, one nation, stop immigration.”

At dawn Saturday morning, dozens of uniformed fascist militiamen armed with assault rifles and shotguns deployed downtown, establishing military control over the heart of the 50,000-person city. After the militia had secured the area, without police interference, vans filled with people from across the country poured into the city center, unloading hundreds of Nazis armed with guns, knives, chains, metal poles, baseball bats and pepper spray.

What happened next can be described only as a fascist riot. Police withdrew from the scene and Nazis began attacking counter-demonstrators in the streets, shouting racial and homophobic slurs while chanting “Heil Trump.” Straggler counter-demonstrators were pulled into the Nazi melee and beaten mercilessly, while the police looked on.

Brian McLaren, a pastor who had traveled to Charlottesville as a counter-demonstrator, told the press that “the police hung back quite a distance” as the Nazis launched their attack. Then, in the early afternoon, James Fields Jr. of Maumee, Ohio sped through the crowd in his car, flipping bodies over the hood like bowling pins.

Virginia’s Democratic governor, Terry McAuliffe, responded to criticism by stating on Sunday that the police did “great work” over the weekend. McAuliffe, former head of the Democratic National Committee and prominent fundraiser for Bill and Hillary Clinton, said the murder of counter-protestor Heather Heyer could not have been prevented. “You can’t stop some crazy guy who came here from Ohio and used his car as a weapon,” he declared.

The purpose of this weekend’s violence was to send a message to Trump’s detractors in the Republican and Democratic parties that he has an alternative base to which he can appeal. Accordingly, the Nazis held their rally just two hours from Washington DC.

A timeline of the three weeks preceding this weekend’s rampage makes clear the systematic and calculated campaign of the Trump White House to mobilize the most backward and reactionary social forces in the country.

  • On July 22, Trump made a bellicose speech to an audience of sailors to mark the commission of a $13 billion aircraft carrier.
  • On July 25, he delivered a speech in Youngstown, Ohio glorifying Christian religious extremism.
  • On July 26, the Department of Justice filed a “friend of the court brief” stating that private corporations are not barred from firing employees based on their sexual orientation. That same day, Trump tweeted that his administration would bar transgender people from military service and nominated antigay Kansas Governor Sam Brownback to be the State Department’s ambassador at large for international religious freedom.
  • On July 28, Trump told police and immigration agents in Long Island, New York that he loved watching criminal suspects “get thrown into the back of a paddy wagon.” He urged them to rough up people being detained, saying, “Please don’t be too nice.”
  • On August 2, Trump and Republican Senators Tom Cotton and David Perdue announced legislation, the Reforming American Immigration for Strong Employment [RAISE] Act, which would slash legal immigration in half. At a press conference announcing the plan, Trump’s advisor Stephen Miller echoed the anti-Semitic language of the German Nazi Party when he denounced CNN’s Jim Acosta as having a “cosmopolitan bias.” On the same day, the media reported that the Justice Department was planning to sue colleges for “discrimination against whites.”
  • On August 6, Trump launched a “Real News” program on his Facebook page in an attempt to build a personalist following outside the framework of the mainstream media.
  • On August 8, White House aide Sebastian Gorka, who is a member of the Hungarian fascist Order of the Vitez, said the fascist bombing of a mosque near Minneapolis, Minnesota might be a “fake hate crime” that was “propagated by the left.” The following day, Gorka told Breitbart News that “white supremacists” are not “the problem,” and that terrorism is the product of Islam.

In the days that followed, Trump launched his war threats against North Korea and Venezuela and made new attacks on the top Senate Republican, Mitch McConnell.

This weekend’s Nazi violence is stamped with the political trademark of Bannon, Miller and Gorka. Nazi demonstration leader Jason Kessler acknowledged after the event that organizers had “networked with law enforcement” for months in advance of the “Unite the Right” provocation.

Kessler also met with several Republican officials in preparation for the Nazi mobilization. Shortly after Trump’s inauguration, Kessler held a press conference with Virginia Republican gubernatorial candidate Corey Stewart to denounce Charlottesville’s plans to remove the statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee.

In March, Kessler traveled to Washington, D.C. to meet with Virginia Congressman Tom Garrett, who represents the Charlottesville area. Kessler posted on Facebook that he had “a very productive meeting today with Congressman Tom Garrett,” and acknowledged that he was in discussion with Garrett over how Kessler’s Nazi groups could support Trump’s anti-immigration measures: “We talked RAISE Act and Stop Arming Terrorists: 2 great bills we support,” Kessler’s post read.

The events in Charlottesville and Trump’s drive to develop an extra-constitutional fascist movement are a warning to the working class in the US and internationally. The program of the fascists in the White House and on the streets of Charlottesville is for genocidal war abroad and the mass internment and murder of immigrants, LGBT people, Jewish people and socialists at home.

Fascism is the excrescence of the decaying social order of American and world capitalism, which, in the figure of Donald Trump, has vomited up a fitting expression. It will not be stopped through moralistic appeals to the political establishment, but only through the mobilization of the working class united across racial, national and ethnic lines and politically armed with a revolutionary program for the socialist reorganization of the US and world economy.

Eric London

http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2017/08/14/pers-a14.html

GOP launches counteroffensive against the media — to distract America from its massive failure

Republicans promised real accomplishments in Trump’s first 200 days. Now they must fall back on propaganda

Donald Trump’s base is shrinking, no matter what he tweets to the contrary. Two hundred days into his term, he has few legislative accomplishments to tout — despite Republicans controlling the White House and both chambers of Congress for the first time in a decade — and nobody to blame.

The president is increasingly frustrated that his raucous campaign-like crowds in friendly red states have not drowned out the Russia investigation or poll numbers that have him sinking to below 35 percent approval — and those poll numbers are starting to make congressional Republicans nervous.

Now Republicans have launched a counteroffensive.

It’s still 15 months until the midterm election, but in some ways the campaign is in full swing. House Republicans unveiled a new website on Monday meant to provide counterprogramming that depicts an alternative 200-day timeline highlighting GOP accomplishments and building up a favorite Republican boogeyman: the media.

“House Republicans aren’t distracted by the newest countdown clock on cable news or partisan sniping in Washington, D.C.,” the website, “Did You Know,“ reads. Republicans hope to blame the press for not writing more about their legislative achievements. Trump even took a break from his vacation to send off a barrage of tweets early Monday morning blasting the “Fake News” media.

But unlike the propaganda “real news” videos posted to Trump’s Facebook page in recent months — made to appear as “real” news segments hosted by Trump’s daughter-in-law Lara — House Republicans’ new venture more closely resembles the commercials put out by previous re-election campaigns.

“You don’t care about those things. You care about finding a good job, taking care of your family, and achieving the American Dream, and so do we,” the House GOP’s new ad announces.

Of course, some may recall that House Speaker Paul Ryan promised that “this will be the most productive presidency and Congress in our lifetimes” and initially pledgedto repeal and replace portions of Obamacare by spring and tackle tax reform before the August recess.

Ryan’s gamble on a glossy new campaign meant to distract from his failed policies is likely to pay off. Republican voters have long been primed to distrust the mainstream media. A poll released late last month found that nearly half of all Republicans are in favor of courts shutting down media outlets that publish biased information. A majority of Republicans also said they support fines for media outlets that put out biased or inaccurate news reports.

As mentioned earlier, Trump’s personal Facebook page — not the White House’s Facebook page — has recently taken to producing what it calls “real news” video clips that highlight positive stories ignored by the media as controversy further engulfs the administration. Last week, Lara Trump, the wife of Trump’s youngest adult son, Eric, informed more than 2 million viewers that Trump donated his presidential salary to the Department of Education.

A nearly identical video was posted Sunday by Trump supporter Kayleigh McEnany, a former CNN contributor who announced her departure from the network only hours before appearing in the pro-Trump propaganda video. On Monday, it was announced that McEnany would become the next spokesperson for the Republican National Committee.

“Thank you for joining us, everybody. I’m Kayleigh McEnany, and that is the real news,” the conservative television commentator said to end her “News of the Week” segment for Trump’s Facebook page.

McEnany’s seamless transition from CNN to “Trump TV” to the RNC is such a transparent circumvention of the fourth estate that even conservative commentator Erick Erickson complained on Twitter: “How very Soviet.”

In fairness, Republicans aren’t trying to hide their propaganda push. The Trump campaign said it plans to use its fledgling Facebook show to “continue to promote real news” and to “talk to Americans directly.”

Sophia Tesfaye is Salon’s Deputy Politics Editor and resides in Washington, D.C. You can find her on Twitter at @SophiaTesfaye.

Will the Trump team disasters finally put an end to the businessman myth?

Greed is not good:

The idea that businessmen are better equipped to run the country is why our nation is poised for catastrophe

 

If you were wondering exactly how Anthony “The Mooch” Scaramucci was able to weasel his way into the White House, you have to recall that he wasn’t only a Donald Trump sycophant; he was also touted as a businessman who could “fix” problems career politicians couldn’t. This is the guy who asked Barack Obama what he planned to do about the way that Wall Streeters were being treated like piñatas during a town hall in 2010. And it is the same guy who dropped $100,000 to appear in the sequel to Oliver Stone’s “Wall Street,” the film that brought us Gordon Gekko and his famous line, “Greed is good.”

Forget that Gekko ultimately lands in jail or that the sequel is also designed to make us aware of the unethical behavior of Wall Street types, the Mooch wanted in on “Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps” so badly he was willing to pay a yuuge sum of money for a chance to appear in two brief cameos that amounted to around 15 seconds of screen time. The Mooch wasn’t the only businessman that wanted in on the film. Trump was also set to appear in it, but his scene was eventually cut.

The story of The Mooch and “Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps” is an apt tale to help illustrate how weirdly confused our nation has become over the myth of the businessman. Even though both of Stone’s films focus on how the folks working in Wall Street are crooked, dodgy and dangerous, they each managed to build an aura around the cult of the businessman. Gekko is a criminal, but everyone loves his “greed is good” swagger.

For some bizarre reason the public is aware that businessmen, whether they work on Wall Street or are New York real estate moguls, are often shady, greedy and selfish, but they still believe somehow that they possess critical and valuable skills that could transfer to running government. There is the public sense that businessmen are effective leaders despite overwhelming evidence that businessmen can and have been vile, corrupt and incompetent.

Generalizations are always a fraught enterprise: clearly not all businessmen are terrible people, but that isn’t the point. The point is that the mistaken idea that businessmen are better equipped to run the country is exactly why our nation is poised for catastrophe. And that’s not an exaggeration. We literally have a government being run by a kakistocracy that has no idea whatsoever what they are doing.

I’m not trying to put politicians on a pedestal here either. But there is a basic difference between people trained to accumulate profit and people trained to foster public support.

Our nation has long held the notion that businessmen are more skilled and trustworthy than politicians. Public trust in government is at a historic low of 20 percent. Even more shocking, a 2015 Gallup poll showed that the public trusted stockbrokers more than senators.

We can track the legend of the businessman back to the Gilded Age or to Ayn Rand or to Ross Perot, but regardless of its historic origin, the key question is whether the complete and utter disaster that is the Donald Trump administration will finally put an end to the delusion that a business background naturally prepares one to hold public office.

Days before the inauguration, Trump stated, “I could actually run my business and run government at the same time.” On the campaign trail we heard repeatedly that he had skills and training that would help him do a better job as president than our nation had ever seen before. In fact his entire campaign was centered on the idea that his business background would not only be adequate, but would actually be better suited to a successful presidency than political experience.

Within months of taking on his new job, Trump later remarked, “This is more work than in my previous life. I thought it would be easier.” It was a clear sign that he didn’t have the slightest clue what the job of president actually entails.

There has been much reflection on how a bigoted blowhard managed to win the election, but there has not been enough attention to the fact that the bigoted blowhard had absolutely no training for the job. Trump is the first person ever elected to the office of president in our nation that has not either served in the military or held public office.

It’s hard to know where to start when describing the stunning failures surrounding the Donald Trump presidency. From hiring competent staff, to identifying the components of the nuclear triad, to hosting heads of state, to launching a legislative agenda, Trump has been a disaster on all fronts.

Put simply, there is not one facet of the job of president that Trump seems to have gotten even remotely right. Only a few months into the job it was stunningly clear that Trump wasn’t just addicted to attention and overwhelmed by poor impulse control, but that he really didn’t understand the job he had been elected to do. In a piece for U.S. News and World Report, Robert Schlesinger marveled at “the litany of things that were apparently astonishing to the new president which would come as a surprise to no one who has paid more than a passing amount of attention to national and international affairs.”

Here’s the thing. Politicians make campaign promises all the time that they know full well they will have a hard time delivering. But Trump literally thought he could do things like terminate NAFTA, pull out of NATO and force China to control North Korea. And then there’s the jaw dropping moment when Trump blathered, “Nobody knew health care could be so complicated.”

The list is literally endless at this point. But part of the reason why it is so long is because Trump had no idea how the shared governance of a democracy functions or what it means to work with allies because in his businessman model he really can make absolute decisions without building consensus or making compromises. He has zero appreciation for the notion of the public good, of the value in supporting allies and of the need to respect the opinions of other leaders.

Much has been made about his authoritarian impulses and his dictatorial qualities. But face it; he would be a lousy dictator, too. Even despots know that they have to build alliances and garner popular support. Less than 200 days into his presidency, Trump is at a new all-time low in support with only about one-third of voters approving of him. Most dictators would be worried at those numbers, but Trump blusters on.

Meanwhile his constant threats to fire anyone he disagrees with have created a White House staff with more turnover than we have ever seen. Acting Attorney General Sally Yates, National Security Advisor Michael Flynn, FBI Director James Comey, Press Secretary Sean Spicer, Chief of Staff Reince Priebus, Communications Director Mike Dubke, Communications Director Anthony Scaramucci are only at the top of the list of those who have been fired or have resigned.

During the Obama era, Larry Sabato pointed out in Politico that between 1946 and 2014 there were only about 35 significant involuntary departures of top White House officials. Sure, presidents see considerable turnover when their administrations come under crisis, but the level of turnover in Trump’s team is directly tied to his “you’re fired” mentality. It’s also directly linked to his businessman swagger. And it’s a clear sign that he doesn’t have the leadership skills of a trained politician.

And that brings me back to The Mooch, yet another sign of a businessman who has no business in government. Back when he asked his question of Obama in 2010, Jon Stewart decided to do a bit on him for “The Daily Show.” Stewart quickly pointed out that the Mooch’s question about being a piñata was bizarre.

How could he characterize Wall Streeters as victims?  Hadn’t they been bailed out by the government? And hadn’t they actually done some pretty vile things to attract public outcry? As Stewart addressed the Mooch on camera he admonished him for characterizing himself as a piñata that had been whacked unfairly. “Until your papier-mâché bellies are no longer stuffed with government money, walk it off.”

The crazy part of that story, in keeping with the story of The Mooch paying to be in the sequel to “Wall Street,” is that seven years later this is the kind of guy who gets hired in the White House. The Mooch might be gone, but like the whack-a-mole that is the Trump team, you can be sure there is another one just like him waiting to pop up.

None of this mess gets better until this nation takes responsibility for its unfounded adoration of businessmen. The notion that a businessman is better at politics than a politician isn’t just wrong; it’s led to the Trump administration. And if that doesn’t kill the myth, I don’t know what can.

 

Sophia A. McClennen is Professor of International Affairs and Comparative Literature at the Pennsylvania State University. She writes on the intersections between culture, politics, and society. Her latest book, co-authored with Remy M. Maisel, is, Is Satire Saving Our Nation? Mockery and American Politics.

How Silicon Valley denies us the freedom to pay attention

Free your brain: 

A continual quest for attention both drives and compromises Silicon Valley’s techno-utopian vision

Free your brain: How Silicon Valley denies us the freedom to pay attention
(Credit: Salon/Flora Thevoux)

In late June, Mark Zuckerberg announced the new mission of Facebook: “To give people the power to build community and bring the world closer together.”

The rhetoric of the statement is carefully selected, centered on empowering people, and in so doing, ushering in world peace, or at least something like it. Tech giants across Silicon Valley are adopting similarly utopian visions, casting themselves as the purveyors of a more connected, more enlightened, more empowered future. Every year, these companies articulate their visions onstage at internationally streamed pep rallies, Apple’s WWDC and Google’s I/O being the best known.

But companies like Facebook can only “give people the power” because we first ceded it to them, in the form of our attention. After all, that is how many Silicon Valley companies thrive: Our attention, in the form of eyes and ears, provides a medium for them to advertise to us. And the more time we spend staring at them, the more money Facebook and Twitter make — in effect, it’s in their interest that we become psychologically dependent on the self-esteem boost from being wired in all the time.

This quest for our eyeballs doesn’t mesh well with Silicon Valley’s utopian visions of world peace and people power. Earlier this year, many sounded alarm bells when a “60 Minutes” exposé revealed the creepy cottage industry of “brain-hacking,” industrial psychology techniques that tech giants use and study to make us spend as much time staring at screens as possible.

Indeed, it is Silicon Valley’s continual quest for attention that both motivates their utopian dreams, and that compromises them from the start. As a result, the tech industry often has compromised ethics when it comes to product design.

Case in point: At January’s Consumer Electronics Convention – a sort of Mecca for tech start-ups dreaming of making it big – I found myself in a suite with one of the largest kid-tech (children’s toys) developers in the world. A small flock of PR reps, engineers and executives hovered around the entryway as one development head walked my photographer and me through the mock setup. They were showing off the first voice assistant developed solely with kids in mind.

At the end of the tour, I asked if the company had researched or planned to research the effects of voice assistant usage on kids. After all, parents had been using tablets to occupy their kids for years by the time evidence of their less-than-ideal impact on children’s attention, behavior and sleep emerged.

The answer I received was gentle but firm: No, because we respect parents’ right to make decisions on behalf of their children.

This free-market logic – that says the consumer alone arbitrates the value of a product – is pervasive in Silicon Valley. What consumer, after all, is going to argue they can’t make their own decisions responsibly? But a free market only functions properly when consumers operate with full agency and access to information, and tech companies are working hard to limit both.

During a “60 Minutes” story on brain hacking, former product manager at Google Tristan Harris said, “There’s always this narrative that technology’s neutral. And it’s up to us to choose how we use it.”

The problem, according to Harris, is that “this is just not true… [Developers] want you to use it in particular ways and for long periods of time. Because that’s how they make their money.”

Harris was homing in on the fact that, increasingly, it isn’t the price tag on the platform itself that earns companies money, but the attention they control on said platform – whether it’s a voice assistant, operating system, app or website. We literally “pay” attention to ads or sponsored content in order to access websites.

But Harris went on to explain that larger platforms, using systems of rewards similar to slot machines, are working not only to monetize our attention, but also to monopolize it. And with that monopoly comes incredible power.

If Facebook, for instance, can control hours of people’s attention daily, it can not only determine the rate at which it will sell that attention to advertisers, but also decide which advertisers or content creators it will sell to. In other words, in an attention economy Facebook becomes a gatekeeper for content – one that mediates not only personalized advertising, but also news and information.

This sort of monopoly brings the expected fiscal payoff, and also the amassing of immeasurable social and cultural power.

So how does Facebook’s new mission statement fit into this attention economy?

Think of it in terms of optics. The carotid artery of Facebook, along with the other tech giants of Silicon Valley, is brand. Brand ubiquity means Facebook is the first thing people check when they take their phones out of their pockets, or when they open Chrome or Safari (brought to you by Google and Apple, respectively). It means Prime Day is treated like a real holiday. Just like Kleenex means tissues and Xerox means copy, online search has literally become synonymous with Google.

Yet all these companies are painfully aware of what a brand-gone-bad can do – or undo. The current generation of online platforms is built on the foundations of empires that rose and fell while the attention economy was still incipient. Today’s companies have maintained their centrality by consistently copying (Instagram Stories, a clone of Snapchat) or outright purchasing (YouTube) their fiercest competitors – all to maintain or expand their brand.

And perhaps as important, tech giants have made it near impossible to imagine a future without them, simply by being the most prominent public entities doing such imagining.

Facebook’s mission affixes the company in our shared future, and also injects it with a moral or at least charitable sensibility – even if it’s only in the form of “bring[ing] the world closer together”-type vagaries.

So how should we as average consumers respond?

In his award-winning essay “Stand Out of Our Light: Freedom and Persuasion in the Attention Economy,” James Williams argues, “We must … move urgently to assert and defend our freedom of attention.”

To assert our freedom is to sufficiently recognize and evaluate the demands to attention all these devices and digital services represent. To defend our freedom entails two forms of action: first, by individual action – not unplugging completely, as the self-styled prophets of Facebook and Twitter encourage (before logging back on after a few months of asceticism) – but rather unplugging partially, habitually and ruthlessly.

Attention is the currency upon which tech giants are built. And the power of agency and free information is the power we cede when we turn over our attention wholly to platforms like Facebook.

But individual consumers can only do so much. The second way we must defend our freedom is through our demand for ethical practices from Silicon Valley.

Some critics believe government regulation is the only way to rein in Silicon Valley developers. The problem is, federal agencies that closely monitor the effects of product usage on consumers don’t have a good category for monitoring the effects of online platforms yet. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) tracks medical technology. The Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) focuses on physical risk to consumers. The Federal Communication Commission (FCC)  focuses on content — not platform. In other words, we don’t have a precedent for monitoring social media or other online platforms and their methods for retaining users.

Currently, there is no corollary agency that leads dedicated research into the effects of platforms like Facebook on users. There is no Surgeon General’s warning. There is no real protection for consumers from unethical practices by tech giants — as long as those practices fall in the cracks between existing ethics standards.

While it might seem idealistic to hold out for the creation of a new government agency that monitors Facebook (especially given the current political regime), the first step toward curbing Silicon Valley’s power is simple: We must acknowledge freedom of attention as an inalienable right — one inextricable from our freedom to pursue happiness. So long as the companies producing the hardware surrounding us and the platforms orienting social life online face no strictures, they will actively work to control how users think, slowly eroding our society’s collective free will.

With so much at stake, and with so little governmental infrastructure in place, checking tech giants’ ethics might seem like a daunting task. The U.S. government, after all, has demonstrated a consistent aversion to challenging Silicon Valley’s business and consumer-facing practices before.

But while we fight for better policy and stronger ethics-enforcing bodies, we can take one more practical step: “pay” attention to ethics in Silicon Valley. Read about Uber’s legal battles and the most recent research on social media’s effects on the brain. Demand more ethical practices from the companies we patronize. Why? The best moderators of technology ethics thus far have been tech giants themselves — when such moderation benefits the companies’ brands.

In Silicon Valley, money talks, but attention talks louder. It’s time to reclaim our voice.

http://www.salon.com/2017/08/05/free-your-brain-how-silicon-valley-denies-us-the-freedom-to-pay-attention/?source=newsletter