Will the Trumpian nightmare lead to a real “political revolution” after all?

Out of darkness, light:

Slavoj Žižek argued Trump would be better for the left than Clinton — and if we survive this, he might be right

Out of darkness, light: Will the Trumpian nightmare lead to a real "political revolution" after all?
(Credit: Getty/Win McNamee/Andrew Harrer)

Last November, the Marxist philosopher Slavoj Žižek turned a lot of heads when he announced shortly before the 2016 presidential election that if he were American, he would vote for Donald Trump over Hillary Clinton — not because he thought Trump was the lesser evil, but precisely because he was the greater evil.

The Slovenian intellectual’s hope was that the election of a vulgar, right-wing extremist like Trump would “be a kind of big awakening” that would trigger “new political processes” in America. In other words, with a reactionary demagogue as transparently abhorrent and dangerous as Trump in the White House, a popular movement on the left would emerge to challenge not only Trump’s reactionary populism, but the neoliberal status quo that had long prevailed in Washington. Clinton, argued Žižek, stood for an “absolute inertia” that would stifle a populist movement on the left, and while there was great danger in a Trump presidency, there was also great danger in electing Clinton — especially in the long run.

This was obviously a controversial — and very Žižekian — opinion that most on the left did not espouse. One of the most prominent leftist intellectuals of our time, Noam Chomsky, called it a “terrible point,” remarking that “it was the same point that people like him said about Hitler in the early ’30s.” Chomsky means the German Communists, who in the early 1930s were more critical of the reformist Social Democratic Party — which they preposterously labeled a “social fascist” party — than they were of the Nazis.

“The left could have been organized to keeping [Clinton’s] feet to the fire,” noted  Chomsky in an interview with Al Jazeera. “What it will be doing now is trying to protect rights … gains that have been achieved, from being destroyed. That’s completely regressive.”

While Chomsky is absolutely correct — the Trump administration’s assault on civil liberties, democracy and the Constitution has only just begun, and the left will be on the political defensive for the next four years — Žižek’s point was perhaps not quite as far off as as Chomsky believed.

Shortly before the election, many people wondered what would become of the far-right populist movement that had been energized under Trump after the election, which most assumed he would lose. It is doubtful that it would have just withered away, as many liberals no doubt hoped. With Clinton in the White House, the Democrats would have been at a clear disadvantage in both the 2018 midterm elections and the 2020 elections (think of the Obama backlash during the 2010 midterm elections, and then consider how much more well-liked Obama was than Clinton).

This is particularly important when you consider that 2020 is a census year, which means that the party that comes out on top will have greater control of redrawing district lines across the country. The GOP has been able to maintain control of the House since 2010 in large part because of the extreme gerrymandering that was implemented after the 2010 Obama backlash — and in four years the winning party will have similar power (currently, Republicans control state legislatures in 24 states, while Democrats only control five).

Of course, this is still some distance away, and a lot can happen in the interim. Though we are just one month into Trump’s term, his presidency has already surpassed all recent predecessors in scandal and controversy, and the dysfunction is palpable. At times it is hard to imagine how the United States can survive another 47 weeks of this unhinged and extremist administration. While many had hoped that Trump would curb his divisive rhetoric as president and take a more pragmatic approach to governing, the exact opposite has occurred, and it is now clear that fanatics like Steve Bannon and Stephen Miller are running the show (and that Trump’s erratic, impulsive and thin-skinned personality cannot be controlled).

Thus, Chomsky’s pessimism was well-founded when he said that the government is now in the hands of the “most dangerous organization in world history.”

At the same time, it appears that some of Žižek’s hopes are materializing as well. The clearest example of this was the massive Women’s March in Washington — along with hundreds of sister marches across the country — the day after Trump’s inauguration. According to various political scientists, it was the single largest day of protests in American history — and peaceful demonstrations have continued ever since.

Trump’s controversial executive orders and cabinet picks have led to a sustained grassroots resistance in the first month of his presidency, and it is unlikely to die down anytime soon. Moumita Ahmed, who founded the Facebook group “Millennials for Revolution” (originally “Millennials for Bernie”), recently told CNN that she believes this is “not just the beginning of the ‘tea party of the left’ but a larger movement for civil rights that could make history,” and that the protests will “continue and get bigger and bigger.”

As long as Trump is in the White House, the demonstrations are likely to grow. What remains unclear is whether this grassroots resistance will be as effective in shaping electoral politics as the Tea Party was back in 2010 — and whether the Democratic Party will be as welcoming to the populist left as the GOP was to the populist right.

The current tension between progressive activists protesting on the street and the Democratic establishment was displayed by an interesting exchange last week between House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and an NYU student at a CNN town hall. After pointing out that a majority of millennials no longer support the capitalist system, the young student asked Pelosi whether she felt that the Democratic Party could “move farther left to a more populist message, the way the alt-right has sort of captured this populist strain on the right wing,” and if the Democrats “could make a more stark contrast to right-wing economics?” The question — or, more explicitly, the statement that young people are rejecting capitalism — made Pelosi visibly uncomfortable, and the congresswoman felt it necessary to emphasize the Democratic Party’s loyalty: “I have to say, we’re capitalist ― and that’s just the way it is.”

This is understandable — after all, the Democratic Party does support capitalist party, and the House minority leader can’t be expected to make radical pronouncements. But Pelosi was so concerned with defending the sanctity of capitalism that she failed to answer whether the Democrats could or should espouse a more populist economic message, akin to the social-democratic platform that nearly carried Bernie Sanders to victory over Clinton.

That kind of Democratic resistance to economic populism is making many progressives question whether the party is ready to lead a viable resistance against right-wing populism. Some progressives are starting to join other left-wing organizations like the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA).

Of course, it is a truism in American politics that third parties are not viable alternatives if the goal is to succeed in electoral politics — and as long as there is a winner-takes-all system in place, this will obstinately remain true. The pragmatic approach for the populist left is to work to transform the Democratic Party itself, as groups like Brand New Congress and Justice Democrats have set out to do, while sustaining a popular movement on the ground.

Likewise, the pragmatic approach for the Democratic leadership is to embrace the growing grassroots left and combat Trump-style populism with their own anti-establishment message. With a historically low approval rating, Trump is already the most unpopular president in modern history, and his party is now the “establishment.” That means the Democrats will have the perfect opportunity to lead a popular and successful resistance in 2018 and 2020 if they can adopt a compelling populist message of their own.

With the many profound crises that currently face humanity, there are plenty of reasons to be pessimistic about the future. The worst-case scenario is that the Trump presidency could sound a “death knell for the human species,” as Chomsky put it last year. But if we are lucky enough to avoid World War III, this nightmare could also bring about the “big awakening” that Žižek imagines — and could trigger a popular movement to reverse the damage that has been done over the past 50 years.

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 Twitter: @dilgentbureauct.

The Trump press conference: A ferocious conflict within the ruling elite

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17 February 2017

The news conference given by Donald Trump Thursday afternoon was extraordinary and unprecedented. The event took on a surreal character as, for more than 75 minutes, the US president traded insults with journalists and otherwise engaged in a bitter battle with his nemeses in the media. It is not comparable to anything seen before in modern American history, even at the height of the Watergate crisis.

In witnessing such a spectacle, it is always necessary to uncover the rational content, the underlying political dynamic. In this case, the press conference gave expression to a vicious conflict within the American ruling class over foreign policy as the United States hurtles toward war.

The news conference was initially called to announce Trump’s new pick for labor secretary, but this took up only one minute of the event. Trump began with a litany of achievements and actions he has taken since his inauguration, which was largely directed at the ruling elite in an appeal for support. The stock market has “hit record numbers,” corporate regulations are being eliminated, immigrants are being targeted for deportation, and Trump has ordered a “massive rebuilding” of the US military, among other right-wing measures.

However, from the media, channeling the US intelligence apparatus, questions focused almost exclusively on the ties of the Trump administration to Russia and the circumstances behind the forced resignation earlier this week of Trump’s national security advisor, Michael Flynn, over his pre-inauguration telephone conversation with the Russian ambassador.

Trump responded with a diatribe in which the media served as a stand-in for his real opponents in the US ruling elite, comprising the bulk of the permanent military-intelligence apparatus that really runs the government, regardless of which party controls the White House or majorities in Congress. He repeatedly denounced what he called “illegal leaks” to the media from sources within the intelligence agencies.

It was remarkable that when Trump directly denounced the media as a mouthpiece for the intelligence agencies, there was no attempt to rebut him. Everyone knows it is true. Likewise, when he flatly denied any contact between his campaign and Russian intelligence agencies, not a single reporter could cite evidence to the contrary.

In the course of the press conference, Trump blurted out a number of astonishing comments that point to the extreme dangers facing the entire world.

Responding to questions about what he would do about a Russian ship conducting surveillance operations in international waters off the coast of Connecticut—the same type of operations US warships conduct on a much larger scale off the coasts of Russia and China—Trump said, “The greatest thing I could do is shoot that ship that’s 30 miles off shore right out of the water. Everyone in this country’s going to say ‘oh, it’s so great.’” He continued, “If I was just brutal on Russia right now, just brutal, people would say, you would say, ‘Oh, isn’t that wonderful.’”

Trump pointed out the implications of such a clash, given that Russia and the United States have the two largest nuclear arsenals in the world. “We’re a very powerful nuclear country and so are they,” he said. “I have been briefed. And I can tell you one thing about a briefing that we’re allowed to say because anybody that ever read the most basic book can say it: a nuclear holocaust would be like no other.” In other words, there are ongoing discussions, at the highest levels of the American government, about a potential nuclear war with Russia, for which preparations are well advanced.

When challenged by one reporter on why there was no response by the US government to a series of what he called “provocations” by Russia—largely consisting of incidents provoked by US and NATO war maneuvers along Russia’s borders—Trump replied, “I’m not going to tell you anything about what response I do. I don’t talk about military response.”

He expanded on this theme, declaring that he would not talk about military operations in Iraq, North Korea, Iran or anywhere else. “You know why? Because they shouldn’t know. And eventually, you guys are going to get tired of asking that question.”

Such conflicts within the ruling elite over foreign policy are usually fought out behind the scenes, as with discontent within the military-intelligence apparatus over Obama’s retreat from a direct military intervention in Syria in 2013, when he failed to enforce his so-called “red line” against the government of Bashar al-Assad.

This time, however, the conflict has exploded into the open. Aside from the specific form that the debate within the US state apparatus has taken, it is an expression of an underlying crisis of the entire capitalist order. Twenty-five years of unending war are metastasizing, with extreme rapidity, into a major conflict involving large nation-states. National security journals are full of articles in which there is open discussion about war with Russia, in which the question is not if, but when and how. Trump, on the other hand, has focused his attention on China. In either case, the consequences are incalculable.

What was perhaps most striking is how remote the entire press conference was from the sentiments and concerns of the vast majority of the American population. There was virtually no questioning at the press conference about Trump’s war against immigrant workers or the nationwide day of protest by immigrants and their supporters that was taking place at the same time.

Those participating in the mass protests that have erupted since Trump’s inauguration are not motivated by a desire to launch a war with Russia, but by hatred of Trump’s authoritarian, anti-democratic policies and the oligarchic government that he has set up.

Trump’s critics in the Democratic Party and media, however, are responding to powerful sections of the US ruling elite who welcome Trump’s ultra-reactionary domestic policies—tax cuts for the wealthy and corporations, deregulation of corporations, attacks on democratic rights, persecution of immigrants—but regard his posture of seeking better relations with Russia as intolerable.

The Democrats have responded with passive handwringing while Trump has assembled his cabinet of billionaires, ex-generals and right-wing fanatics, and issued a series of reactionary and unconstitutional executive orders. But when given the opportunity to attack Trump as soft on Russia, they engage in savage witch-hunting that recalls nothing so much as McCarthyism.

There is no faction with the American ruling class that is opposed to imperialist war. In the struggle to prevent war, it is up to the working class to intervene independently, opposing both factions in the US ruling elite, both Trump and the line-up of the CIA, the media and the Democratic Party.

Patrick Martin

WSWS

Ivanka goes out of style

More women are refusing to buy what she’s selling

Donald Trump’s daughter is learning a hard lesson in politicized American consumerism

Ivanka goes out of style: More women are refusing to buy what she's selling
(Credit: Getty/Chip Somodevilla/Salon)

Despite scrambling to the press to take credit for the scuttling of a barbarous anti-LGBT executive order that had been floating around President Donald Trump’s offices, waiting for just the right devastating smirk from Anderson Cooper to find a hospitable berth in the president’s damaged mind, Ivanka’s personal and professional brand took a major hit when Nordstrom announced it would not continue to carry her apparel line. The anti-Trump boycott movement Grab Your Wallet took credit, and Nordstrom levied the only sick burn a Trump can truly feel: “Low sales.”

Having your allegedly prestigious brand dumped by Nordstrom and, as is now the case for her jewelry line, Neiman Marcus, is not good for a woman of Ivanka’s stature. But — for now — she’s still stocked in Bloomingdale’s and Macy’s and Lord and Taylor, perfectly respectable runners-up, as well as Amazon and its subsidiary Zappos. She could keep making money off her sensible flats for years to come. But discount marts T.J. Maxx and Marshall’s ordering their employees to chuck her wares into the gen pop racks? That’s a flat rejection from a safety sorority. And when Belk, a Southern department store chain that could not be more synonymous with Red State Hair, 86-ed the Ivanka line, things really got real in the land of lady-business wear. Sad!

There’s no such thing as divorcing your politics from your consumption — every rural American who saw their Main Street devoured by a Walmart knows this. The only thing I know about the Woolworth’s brand is that four African-American college kids in ties sat down at its lunch counter in Greensboro, North Carolina, in 1960 and demanded their humanity be recognized in the only way a capitalist system can and will. That lunch counter sit-in spawned a wave of similar ones across the South, and associated boycotts cost the company about $1.6 million in today’s dollars. The desegregation of lunch counters followed. In America, money talks. (Unfortunately, it also tweets in all-caps.)

That women might think twice about buying an Ivanka outfit right now is not surprising. I once recoiled physically from a pair of shoes because they were “designed” by a celebrity whose image I did not see aligning with my own, a decision with a mere $79.95 and my own dumb pride, not the tacit approval of an authoritarian regime, hanging in its balance. Ivanka’s lifestyle brand, designed to be so non-controversial and non-threatening that it might as well not even exist, has now become synonymous with an administration seemingly hell-bent on discriminating against our most vulnerable, helping sick people die faster, and maybe starting World War III before anyone manages to change the password on the president’s phone. Who wants to cop to wearing that look?

Trumpsters are fighting back online, but few of the Ivanka defenders appear to be legitimately dedicated customers, and not only because they’re secretly teen boys from Macedonia. Ivanka has a problem because no there there to defend — her designs lack distinction. As long as Banana Republic doesn’t hire Sean Spicer as its spokesmodel, cubicle-crawling America will be able to clothe itself for the work week if her line disappears tomorrow. Ivanka’s wearables are economically vulnerable because they are needed by none, and now coveted by few.

Take the Ivanka Trump Soho Solutions Work Tote with Battery Charging Pack. It comes in three colors of leather; it’s fine. Looking at one online, it appears to be polished, professional and functional, and if the stitching is decent and the hardware can stand up to a year’s worth of weekday wear, it’s not a bad buy. It’s also utterly generic. This bag says nothing about its owner except “I want people in the office to stop mistaking me for an intern.” Say what you want about Kellyanne Conway’s bonkers style, but at least she has some.

Up until now, this has been the core strength of Ivanka Trump™ — and I don’t just mean the business strategy that makes her Hettie heels indistinguishable from every other knock-off Aquazzura at the mall. While Daddy Trump received his rage-love injections on the Cheeto Circus Rally Circuit, Ivanka’s job was to act as a blank canvas — or a blush crepe sheath, at least — upon which the female and non-caveman electorate could project their last-ditch hopes for reasonable human leadership. What Ivanka and her father likely didn’t bank on was that her utility to Daddy’s more reluctant supporters — the superficial proof that he hadn’t screwed up every last thing he ever touched in his life — was dependent on her continuing to shine professionally and personally through the storm of excrement swirling around his Oval Office.

The shit has hit the proverbial cap-sleeved blouse now, and #WomenWhoWork are apparently not having it. What Ivanka must realize is that she isn’t really selling floral knit shells and A-line dresses anymore, at least not to the #BuyIvanka crowd. She’s selling them a proxy to her father, and they’re supporting her with a MAGA chorus of janky memes, not shoe receipts.

The funny thing about products designed to appeal to everyone is that they are either bulletproof, by virtue of defining or redefining the standard — Starbucks, Coca-Cola, Target, Netflix, Budweiser, Taylor Swift — or they remain third-tier and if they disappear, nobody really cares or notices. You can’t convince Americans to boycott things they love without a strong reason, and you can’t make them be loyal consumers of crap they don’t want. The proof is in the latte foam: All of those brands I just mentioned, with the exception of Ms. Swift, have been the targets of recent conservative boycott threats.

No Jesus on the cups? No guns in the store? Hiring refugees? #PourOutStarbucks! Allowing people to choose their own restrooms? #FlushTarget! A show called “Dear White People?” #CancelNetflix! A Super Bowl commercial celebrating many languages and ethnicities? #SiegPepsi!

Has Coke apologized to Nazis? Are Starbucks employees trained to bless your Glock? Did Target set aside special potties “For Ted Cruz Only?” Not exactly. Forget the pointless “Hamilton” boycott — it’s not a boycott if you just can’t get tickets — the day a critical mass of suburban white people skip their Starbucks fixes to make a rhetorical point about things that have very little bearing on their overall health and happiness is the day that old guys in Make America Great Again hats say “no thanks” to a cold Bud because the company ran an ad celebrating a German dude’s financial success. Posturing online is one thing, but Macedonian teens run on Fanta, that “Iron Fist” trailer looks sick, and female Republicans in the Nordstrom demographic would probably rather vote for Hillary Clinton than cut up their charge cards forever over a wrap dress that looks like every other wrap dress on the racks. Ivanka 0, American Women emoji-100.

As my colleague D. Watkins might say, congratulations, Ivanka, you played yourself. Humans might gravitate to material success and power, but they have no motivation to fight — or in the case of Americans, even mildly inconvenience themselves — for something that has no center. Ivanka believes in her own exceptionalism to the point of thinking that the actions of her father’s administration wouldn’t tarnish her, but an influential subset of American consumer now sees through the tasteful fabrics which don’t quite disguise the ugly reality. When you lie down with dogs, Ivanka, don’t be surprised when their fleas stick around.

Classical music performers take a stand against Trump’s travel ban

Budapest Festival Orchestra in New York

By Fred Mazelis
11 February 2017

Performers in the classical music field have joined the widespread protest over the Trump administration’s attempt to ban the entry of refugees and visitors from seven Muslim-majority countries that he has branded the sources of terrorism.

Symphony orchestras in major US cities (and many smaller cities as well) have large and growing numbers of immigrants in their ranks, and the music they perform is international in scope and history. Visiting orchestras, of course, consist almost entirely of non-US citizens.

Iván Fischer and the Budapest Festival Orchestra

In the case of the highly regarded Budapest Festival Orchestra, currently in the midst of a five-city US tour, the travel ban nearly prevented the participation of one of its members. Only the last-minute intervention of BFO conductor Ivan Fischer succeeded in securing the entry into the US of an Iraqi-born Hungarian cellist who is a vital part of the ensemble’s string section. The cellist is a Hungarian citizen, but holds Iraqi citizenship as well.

The Budapest orchestra’s tour brought it to Newark, New York, Boston, Chicago and Ann Arbor, Michigan. Its programs, featuring the Bronx-born Richard Goode, one of the greatest American pianists, consisted of Beethoven symphonies paired with some of his piano concertos.

Ivan Fischer is a Hungarian conductor and composer whose work, especially with the Budapest Festival Orchestra, has attracted acclaim and wide recognition. He is known as an outspoken opponent of extreme nationalism and the growth of ultra-right elements, both in the government of Viktor Orban in Hungary today, and elsewhere as well.

The 66-year-old conductor, of Jewish ancestry, lost some of his grandparents in the Holocaust. He told the New York Times that he saw echoes of the past–when Jewish musicians were removed from such orchestras as the Vienna Philharmonic and Berlin Philharmonic and later exiled or in some cases killed–in the current conditions of the rise of anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant hatred. “Having learned this lesson,” he is quoted as saying, “I have a very strong determination not to allow that ever to happen.”

According to the BFO website, the orchestra has for a number of years been performing in abandoned synagogues in Hungarian towns and villages where the Jewish communities were destroyed in the Holocaust. The local community hears a free concert, and also a brief talk about the synagogue and the history of the local community. Fischer sees this as part of an effort to combat the danger of renewed anti-Semitism, along with hostility to immigrants and refugees.

Fischer is also known for his unusual and imaginative attempts to break down barriers that have been allowed to grow between classical music and today’s audiences. These have involved fresh presentations of important classics, without violating the content and spirit of the compositions. In Budapest he has sometimes held concerts where the programs are not announced in advance, and he has also attracted audiences of tens of thousands for open-air performances.

On his current tour, the Times reports, the BFO’s performance of Beethoven’s immortal Fifth Symphony saw music students from New York’s Juilliard School and Bard College suddenly move onto the stage to join with the older musicians in the work’s closing measures. In a performance of Beethoven’s Ninth, choristers appeared in different parts of the auditorium for the Ode to Joy choral finale.

Conductor and pianist Daniel Barenboim is also known as a defender of the rights of immigrants and refugees, as well as an opponent of the brutal and longstanding Israeli occupation of the West Bank. He joined Fischer last December for a fund-raising concert for the Budapest ensemble’s “synagogue project.” The orchestra’s official funding was cut back last year, possibly as retribution for its conductor’s outspoken political stance.

American orchestras have issued statements or otherwise indicated their opposition to the travel ban. One of the more prominent examples was the special program presented by the Seattle Symphony on February 8, a program which originated at the initiative of the musicians themselves. The concert, titled “Music Beyond Borders,” consisted entirely of music by composers from among the seven countries targeted by Trump’s travel ban. The composers included two Iranians, an Iraqi, a Sudanese and a Syrian.

The principal trumpet for the Seattle Symphony, introducing one of the works, noted that about one-quarter of the 80 musicians of the orchestra were immigrants, hailing from 15 countries. The music on the program reflected a cross-fertilization between Western and Middle Eastern classical traditions, and included a large number of instruments not usually heard in US concerts, among them an oud (a stringed instrument related to the lute) and a santoor (an Iranian instrument similar to the hammered dulcimer).

http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2017/02/11/musi-f11.html

Donald Trump and the Reichstag Syndrome

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The Reichstag Fire in 1933, regardless of the culprit, gave Adolf Hitler a pretext for consolidating power as quickly placed blame for the fire on anarchists and Marxist elements. Now, writes Connolly, “the very visibility of our public actions against Trump—and they must be continued—encourages them to find a pretext of violence to escalate their demands and public support for more extreme action.” (Photo: Wiki Commons)

Donald Trump is sounding very dangerous these days.

He attacks the very legitimacy of the courts, for instance, when he tweets that a “so-called judge” will be responsible if there is a terrorist act during the stay he has imposed on the ban against Muslim entry to the U.S. from seven countries. This is one more example of Trump’s demand that his executive commands be obeyed, regardless of other legal and constitutional considerations. Unfortunately, his actions also alert us to previous periods in U.S history when events were created to create a false context for reckless actions leaders wanted to take. LBJ’s production of a false Gulf Of Tonkin attack to press Congress for a war resolution and George W. Bush’s manufactured “facts” about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq to pressure congressional support for the Iraq war are key examples. Trump has not moved there yet, but he is looking for the opportunity to do so.

“We must continue our protests, while publicizing how they will be nonviolent. They WANT us to be violent; they even hope to construct the appearance of it to justify their repression.”

Reckless, authoritarian leaders are periodically tempted by what might be called the “Reichstag Syndrome.” In 1933 Hitler was handed the Chancellorship of Germany by President von Hindenburg, even though he had not received a majority of votes.

Within three months a fire occurred in the Reichstag—the building in which the parliament met. Was it started by anarchists and Marxists as Hitler claimed? Was it started by Rohmer as Rohmer himself asserted much later? The cause is unclear. But Hitler used the event to announce the necessity of Martial Law to protect the regime. It was used as an occasion to destroy the opposition parties. The event became the cover under which he became Fuhrer.

Do I suggest that Trump and Bannon may follow that precedent? Not exactly. However, they are looking for an incident, an event, whether real or contrived, that allows them to take more extreme action without interference from demonstrations, the courts, or the Congress. The very visibility of our public actions against Trump—and they must be continued—encourages them to find a pretext of violence to escalate their demands and public support for more extreme action.

Our job as citizens is to spread the word about the Trump-Bannon temptation before such action is taken. Doing so to increase the likelihood of resistance against it if and when it happens. We must continue our protests, while publicizing how they will be nonviolent. They WANT us to be violent; they even hope to construct the appearance of it to justify their repression.

Trump is a very dangerous president; we must continue to define him as such even before he escalates his Big Lies further.

William E. Connolly is the Krieger-Eisenhower Professor of Political Science at Johns Hopkins University. His most recent book is, Facing the Planetary: Entangled Humanism and the Politics of Swarming (Duke, 2017)

http://www.commondreams.org/views/2017/02/07/donald-trump-and-reichstag-syndrome

Republicans have invented a delusional storyline about protests around the country

The notion of paid protesters, activists from the far left is “an article of faith” among right wing commentators

Republicans have invented a delusional storyline about protests around the country
Protesters gather for the Women’s March on Philadelphia a day after Republican Donald Trump’s inauguration as president, Saturday, Jan. 21, 2017 in Philadelphia. The march is being held in solidarity with similar events taking place in Washington and around the nation. ()(Credit: AP Photo/Jacqueline Larma)
This article originally appeared on AlterNet.

AlterNet

If those who do not remember history are doomed to repeat it, those who conveniently forget recent history are just digging their own graves.

Just to be clear, we’re not talking about the troubling parallel between Trump’s executive order banning refugees and visa applicants from seven Muslim-majority countries and the U.S.’s reluctance to admit Jewish refugees during the Holocaust, although it applies there too. At least, not directly. No, those forgetting recent history are congressional Republicans. Fresh off their recent electoral success, they seem to think the rise of the Tea Party eight years ago was a one-off event, rather than a portent of what is to come in an age of political polarization.

Two weeks ago saw one of the largest popular protests in history in the Women’s March, which drew over three million nationwide, according to some estimates. Last weekend, as Trump’s executive order went into effect, sowing chaos at airports from coast to coast, spontaneous protests erupted, eventually forcing the administration to scale back the ban on green-card holders. Activists, Democrats, progressive and many ordinary previously apolitical Americans, still reeling from the election of Donald Trump and the consolidation of Republican power at all levels of government, seems to have mobilized in a way not seen since Tea Party protests rippled across the country in 2009.

A reasonable Republican surveying all this might be convinced of the need to proceed with caution on a number of political fronts, like dismantling the Affordable Care Act, reproductive rights or immigration. Tea Party Congressman David Brat isn’t going that route. He’s dismissing it all as a liberal conspiracy.

During an interview with the Richmond Times-Dispatch Monday, Brat was asked about the voter backlash in his district against repealing the Affordable Care Act. He said, “There’s paid protestors, paid activists on the far left . . . They’re being paid to go around and raise havoc.”

This is far from a fringe view. It is an article of faith among many Republicans and conservative commentators that those speaking out against elements of Trump’s agenda are not concerned constituents but outside agitators with dubious funding sources. On Monday, Trump lapdog Sean Hannity asked on Twitter, “Who is bankrolling the protests taking place at airports across the country?”

It may be ideologically attractive for Republicans to pretend that the bulk of the dissent from the other side comes from a small, hyper-partisan group with limited electoral clout. But politically, it’s disastrous. The Tea Party’s showing in the 2010 midterms is a case in point. What began as a relatively small movement that seemed a little too enamored with the Constitution and Revolutionary War cosplay quickly delivered the largest House swing since Truman, giving Republicans a solid majority. Now, with a historically unpopular president in office seemingly hell-bent on alienating all segments of the electorate except loyal readers of Breitbart, liberals could be poised to strike back in 2018.

It’s not just those traditionally associated with the left, either. Republicans’ dismissal of the backlash against their policies has rankled some would-be supporters, too. A couple of weeks ago, Talking Points Memo ran a piece, “How the Obamacare Town Hall Script Flipped This Week,” which interviewed Darren Knowles, a special education teacher in Colorado and a two-time voter for George W. Bush, who showed up at Republican Congressman Mike Coffman’s event to voice his concerns about the ACA repeal. After meeting with a few constituents, Coffman slipped out of the event, blaming “partisan activists” for his early departure.

“That really got my blood boiling,” Knowles told TPM. “He said he’d stand up to Trump and this is like Trump’s playbook right here: blame the people who stand up to you. I don’t know what representative Coffman wanted. If we’re concerned, are we not supposed to show up and voice our concerns?”

As congressional Republicans continue to cocoon themselves in a world where people like Mr. Knowles don’t exist, or are the exception rather than the rule, this type of anger and disaffection among their constituents will only intensify, perhaps even to the point that it could further jeopardize their chances of retaining their majorities in both chambers.

Perhaps the greatest irony about the “paid protester” line echoed by many in the GOP is that the Tea Party itself benefited from big-money backers, despite its self-styled image as a popular uprising against government overreach. As the New Yorker’s Jane Mayer reported in 2010, Americans for Prosperity, the Koch brothers’ political advocacy group, coordinated with the Tea Party in 2009, disseminating talking points, funding protests, and cultivating candidates. Meaning the people who participated in Tea Party protests were, knowingly or not, furthering the Kochs’ political agenda.

Despite Republicans’ insistence to the contrary, there is no compelling evidence that the marches and protests cropping up all over the country owe their success to shady funding sources, or a billionaire’s largesse. They have drawn their strength from the widely shared indignation over a president who is quickly confirming his detractors’ worst predictions and a congressional leadership too fearful of its base to stand in his way. Come 2018, Republicans may find they have more to fear from a resurgent activist left.

salon

“Saturday Night Live” reclaims its satirical mojo amid a national emergency

Thanks, Trump!

“SNL” has found a new satirical urgency in the age of Trump — partly because we know how much he hates it

Thanks, Trump! "Saturday Night Live" reclaims its satirical mojo amid a national emergency

Kyle Mooney and Alec Baldwin on “Saturday Night Live,” February 4th, 2017. (Credit: NBC/Will Heath)

For the better part of a decade, NBC’s “Saturday Night Live” seemed to be all about manufacturing viral videos for social media and pandering to an almost insufferable “both sides are equally evil” take on American politics. When “SNL” wasn’t churning out weird-for-weirdness-sake viral hits, it was carefully balancing its criticisms of the Republican Party — a longtime target of the legendary late-night sketch show — with obvious and self-conscious jabs at president Barack Obama and the left. Some of it was deserved, while, other times, “SNL’s” political satire felt soft-pedaled and awkward.

During that time, the impact of “SNL” on the American political scene was eclipsed by “The Colbert Report” and “The Daily Show,” as well as cult-classic films like “Idiocracy” and especially sketch shows like HBO’s “Mr. Show with Bob & David.” As the George W. Bush years wore on, much of the greatest political satire was found online, beginning with Flash cartoons during the dot-com boom and exploding into a media phenomenon via YouTube in 2006. Even a basic cable network like VH1 unexpectedly tested the political satire waters with a short-lived animated sketch show I created and produced, circa 2003 through 2005, called “VH1’s Illustrated,” where we ripped everything from Guantánamo Bay and drug legalization to Dick Cheney’s raping of national parks for oil.

To be clear, when I talk about political satire, I’m specifically referencing short or long-form comedy that focuses its weapons on nefarious social and political elites — targeting powerful villains where it hurts them the most and, more important, owning the message. No apologies. No quarter.

“SNL” used to do this. The cast that emerged in the mid-1980s, for example, created political sketches that both defined and ridiculed the rightward shift in politics during the Reagan era. With its classic sketch about Reagan’s dual personalities, one affable and one brutal and calculating; or Dana Carvey’s George H.W. Bush — complete with Dan Quayle played by a 12-year-old boy; and Phil Hartman’s outstanding Bill Clinton, gregariously illustrating the interdiction of U.N. relief supplies by Somali warlords using menu items from McDonald’s, this period represents  a high-water mark for “SNL” as a whole and for two of its most legendary political minds, Al Franken and Tom Davis.

Fast-forward to the modern era, and while political comedy had flourished on many other platforms, “SNL” somehow had lost its satirical edge — until this year, that is, and the ascendancy of Donald Trump. It’s difficult to fully encapsulate the importance of the re-emergence of “SNL” as a force for unrelenting political satire. For the first time in at least a dozen years, Lorne Michaels, along with head writers Chris Kelly and Sarah Schneider and naturally this season’s cast, are producing political satire that’s both outrageously funny and totally merciless.

Clearly, Alec Baldwin’s Trump is the centerpiece of the season. And it’s what Baldwin and the crew do with Trump that makes these sketches so wonderful. Unlike in previous seasons, Baldwin’s Trump sketches aren’t simply about an amusingly accurate impersonation. On the contrary, this time around “SNL” is aiming these sketches directly at Trump’s fragile, delusional ego and the show is not pulling any punches. Everything is on the table, and no one in the White House is safe from the “SNL” juggernaut.

Whether the cast is hitting Trump’s erratic cluelessness or Kellyanne Conway’s frantic spin control, cleaning up her boss’s aforementioned erratic cluelessness with her intolerable knack for deflection, or whether it’s Steve Bannon as a Grim Reaper shadow president, there’s almost nothing about Trump’s circus sideshow that “SNL” won’t seize upon. Hell, even the small details make for big statements, like Baldwin’s wearing of a Russian-flag lapel pin during last weekend’s cold open.

What makes the Trump material on “SNL” so brilliant is that, perhaps for the first time, the cast and crew are more than aware that Trump is watching. Rather than being deferential, “SNL” is deliberately crawling up Trump’s ass, and the cast knows this is working, thanks to Twitter. With Trump as the target, there’s a heretofore nonexistent third dimension added to the comedy now. Namely, we know for a fact that Trump despises it and will absolutely obsess about it for days. We know it damages him.

Combined with the jokes and the impressions, this third dimension — call it the Trump effect — gives us a near-perfect illustration of what political satire ought to do: trolling the powerful and despotic, while knowing for certain that it’s having the desired impact. Again, we know he’s watching and it’s destroying him. I’d give just about anything to have surveillance footage of Trump watching one of Baldwin’s performances. He has to be seething, face redder than his ridiculous tie, screaming at the television until hoarse, while internally dying a little more every second.

Now we have Kate McKinnon’s unbelievably accurate impression of Trump’s beleaguered spinbot Kellyanne Conway and, as of last weekend, Melissa McCarthy, too. McCarthy’s unexpected Sean Spicer sketch was perhaps the only Trump-related bit to overshadow Baldwin’s ingenious cold open. Once again, we’re treated to an endlessly hilarious “press briefing” sketch that’s made even better with the inclusion of the Trump effect — the knowledge that it was so unapologetic and so ruthless, there’s perhaps a wishful possibility Trump could fire Spicer because of it.

No, the impact wasn’t solely because Spicer was played by a woman. It was that McCarthy’s impression of Spicer was definitive. There won’t be a better Spicer impression; it’s hers now. McCarthy’s Spicer reminded me of Dana Carvey’s process for celebrity impersonations, in which it’s more about nailing the vibe of a character than sounding like a recording of the person. It’s the difference between a Carvey impression and, say, a Darrell Hammond sound-alike.

It’s important to note that during the Felicity Jones episode a few weeks ago, there were three feminist-leaning sketches in a row during the first 40 minutes of the show, including one that featured McKinnon as the ghost of Susan B. Anthony. On the same night as McCarthy’s Spicer sketch and Baldwin’s Grim Reaper sketch, there was a filmed satire of the Trump administration’s Muslim ban in which an overworked bureaucrat is tasked with awkwardly editing Trump’s new anti-Muslim travel rules into a customs video for passengers on an international flight. This is what political satire is all about.

At the risk of being overly effusive, it’s difficult to underscore how valuable “SNL” has become in the era of Trump. Baldwin, McCarthy, McKinnon and the rest of the troupe are giving America what we so desperately need right now. They’re saying exactly what has to be said and doing so with a direct line to Trump’s addled brain. In some cases, the “SNL” cast might even be risking its own safety. Despite this, they’re rolling on and there’s no sign of their letting up. “Saturday Night Live” has the power, now more than ever, to undermine an administration that transparently seeks to suppress objective reality and oppress the people. And the show has more than risen to the occasion.

Choosing the finest era in the 40-year history of “SNL”  is impossible, but I’d suggest this era is perhaps its most important. I’m relieved and confident to report that truly subversive and smart political satire has triumphantly returned to Studio 8H. Please keep it coming.