A Progressive’s Answer to Trumpism

Published on

The Washington Post

A discarded hat on the sidewalk outside Trump Tower in New York on Oct. 8. (Photo: Mike Segar/Reuters)

As election 2016 winds to an end, it’s hard not to begin looking beyond Nov. 8. With Donald Trump behind in the polls and lashing out at the media, there is rampant speculation that Trump is laying the groundwork to launch his own media empire in the wake of his likely defeat. Yet, if he loses, Trump’s next move may well be less important than what’s in store for his supporters, whose long-simmering pain and rage have exploded into plain view.

It would be easy to dismiss Trump’s supporters as “deplorables” and simply move on. But while Trump has undeniably incited racism, misogyny and ugly behavior among his base, it’s critical to understand the context in which their fury has come to the fore.

The U.S. and global economies are in the midst of a tectonic shift. This election — along with Brexit and the spread of nationalism across Europe — has made it impossible to deny that millions of people are desperate for solutions and demanding to be heard. They are tired of being ignored by the elites who have failed them. For Hillary Clinton and the Democratic Party, the lesson of 2016 should not be that Trump voters are irredeemable. It should be that by paying more attention to the plight of blue-collar workers, and offering inclusive solutions to the great challenges roiling our country and the world, they have a real opportunity to expand the Obama coalition of minorities and young people who make up the Democratic base today.


Trump supporters disproportionately live in places where economic mobility is low and opportunities for young people in particular are scarce. Over the past two decades, the incomes of white men without a college degree — the one group Trump is winning by strong margins — have fallen dramatically in comparison to the incomes of their more educated counterparts. Meanwhile, as new trade deals increase foreign competition and technology continues to advance, the good-paying jobs that traditionally sustained the middle class in many parts of the country are disappearing forever. Disruption may be sexy in Silicon Valley, but it doesn’t look nearly as attractive from the factory floor.

As surreal as it may seem to some, Trump has convinced many working-class voters that he feels their pain. He has offered simple, albeit hollow, solutions (“we’ll build a wall!”) to their problems despite his own history of employing undocumented workersmanufacturing products overseas and importing Chinese steel.And of course, he has shamefully stoked racial fears and resentment in the process.

A serious progressive agenda should grapple with the grave challenges that many Trump supporters face. To that end, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) — who won strong support from working-class whites in the primaries — offered a useful blueprint. To start, we need a more progressive trade policy that gives priority to working people over corporate lobbyists and profits. As Roosevelt Institute fellow Mike Konczal argues, a truly progressive vision for trade would not embrace Trump’s retrograde protectionism but would strengthen workers’ rights and preserve the ability of countries to regulate multinational corporations. We also need debt-free college to increase opportunities for the next generation. And we need “Medicare for all” to create more security and flexibility as the traditional nature of work evolves.

While these ideas are represented in the Democratic platform, progressives should fight to ensure that Clinton and the party act on these ideas moving forward. Moreover, they will have to speak directly to communities that have been ravaged, with a message that truly recognizes and respects their anger and pain.

As University of California at Berkeley law professor Ian Haney-López recently wrote in the Nation, “Remaking our politics and economy depends on a broad coalition that must include substantial numbers of racially anxious whites. Ignoring their fears, or worse, pandering to them, further impoverishes all of us. Instead, we must have a unified message for whites as well as people of color: Fearful of one another, we too easily hand over power to moneyed interests, but working together, we can rebuild the American Dream.”

Whatever happens when the votes are counted in two weeks, it will be a political and moral imperative for Democrats to start paying attention to many of Trump’s supporters and working to advance an inclusive populism that gives them hope for their future. If they fail, it’s only a matter of time before a more polished, less toxic Trump emerges and threatens to drag us all back into the past.

Katrina vanden Heuvel is an American editor and publisher. She is the editor, publisher, and part-owner of the magazine The Nation. She has been the magazine’s editor since 1995.



Dakota pipeline showdown at Standing Rock: When a powerful corporate chief is resisted by defenders of Native American ceremonial grounds

Kelcy Warren, Energy Transfer Partners’ well-heeled chief, meets his match in North Dakota with Lakota Sioux

Dakota pipeline showdown at Standing Rock: When a powerful corporate chief is resisted by defenders of Native American ceremonial grounds
(Credit: Afp/getty Images)

In bad movies (and bad history alike), the Native American ceremonial pipe figured prominently as symbol of defeat — typically in a cliched scene of subdued chieftains signing a treaty of surrender and passing around a “peace pipe” in a sorrowful gesture to seal the raw deal.

The reality is that the communal smoking of a ceremonial pipe, often filled with tobacco, is a centuries-old tradition rich in spiritual meaning for many Native people who see it as an eternal channel through which tribes seek metaphysical strength, courage and endurance. The ceremonial pipe both shapes and conveys Native people’s living history, a story that’s perpetually being written.

Indeed, a dramatic new chapter is unfolding this year in a volatile confrontation on a remote stretch of the Northern Plains in rural North Dakota. It’s a “Battle of Two Pipes,” pitting the cultural power symbolized by the Native American pipe against the bruising financial power of a giant pipeline, owned by Energy Transfer Partners.

In 2014, ETP, a Texas oil behemoth, went public with its scheme to build a massive oil pipeline from the fracking wells of the Bakken oil fields in northwestern North Dakota. ETP’s 30-inch-wide Dakota Access pipeline would cut a 1,172-mile-long scar diagonally through the heart of North Dakota, South Dakota, Iowa and Illinois.

If ETP’s $3.8 billion line is completed, it would carry 570,000 barrels of oil a day through most of the four states’ watersheds and wildlife habitats; it would transit hundreds of farms and ranches and make 200 river crossings. All the water and land in its path would be endangered, for one unpleasant fact about pipelines is that they regularly leak, sometimes rupture and can blow up (an especially relevant concern with fracked Bakken oil, which is not only some of the dirtiest crude on the planet but also is exceptionally flammable and “more prone to explosions than earlier thought,” according to U.S. officials).

Kelcy Warren is the honcho of Energy Transfer Partners and its parent financial outfit, Energy Transfer Equity, a fossil fuel colossus that also owns Sunoco oil and Southern Union gas. Warren’s company — with such an unkempt environmental record plus national notoriety for bulldozing over opposition from outraged landowners and communities — regularly has state and federal regulatory authorities to clear its pat. This is done the old-fashioned way: Warren, ranked by Forbes as the 86th richest American, pumps big bucks into the campaign coffers of key politicos, drawing from corporate funds as well as his personal $5.45 billion fortune.

Consider Warren’s recent Texas play. For the last two years, ETP has laid siege to one of the Lone Star State’s most spectacular and environmentally unique regions — the mountainous, desert ranch country of Big Bend, which includes historic sites and artifacts of Comanche, Mescalero, Chiso and other indigenous cultures dating back more than 14,000 years. Despite adamant local protests, ETP is presently ripping the land with the 148-mile-long, 42-inch Trans-Pecos Pipeline that will export gas from West Texas to Mexico. “We feel like we’ve been invaded,” said one member of the local citizens group, Defend Big Bend.

They have been — with the Obama administration’s approval and the collusion of their own state officials, who blithely handed the sledgehammer of the state’s power of eminent domain to the private corporation, letting it take people’s land for its own profit.

Why? Follow the money. Since 2013, CEO Warren has become Texas Gov. Greg Abbott’s No. 4 donor by personally bestowing $700,000 on the governor’s campaigns. Last November Warren’s coziness with Abbott came full circle when the governor awarded the pipeliner a seat on the prestigious Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission, ironically making Warren an environmental “steward” of state parks in the area he is presently despoiling.

And he plans on destroying more majestic American land, too, for Warren’s contested Dakota Access pipeline would run just outside of the town of Cannon Ball, North Dakota, along the northern edge of the Standing Rock Reservation. Warren was so obtuse that he didn’t realize (or care) that the tribe’s deep connection to the area adjacent to Standing Rock doesn’t stop at the reservation’s arbitrary boundaries: The Dakota Access pipeline project would gouge right through ancestral lands and burial grounds.

Corporate routers likely assumed that the reservation’s 8,500 mostly impoverished Lakota Sioux had no clout, so there was no need to get their permission, especially since the pipeline wouldn’t actually be on tribal land. Bad assumption. Imagine a corporation running a pipeline through Arlington National Cemetery.

Not since the days of General George Custer has an Anglo been as surprised as Kelcy Warren by a powerful force of Indians thwarting his ambition. You can learn more and donate to the tribes’ fight at standingrock.org and sacredstonecamp.org.


The 2016 elections: American democracy in shambles


21 October 2016

In the aftermath of the final presidential debate on Wednesday, the US media is in an uproar over statements made by Republican candidate Donald Trump that he might not recognize the result of the November 8 election.

Asked by debate moderator Chris Wallace from Fox News whether he would “absolutely accept the result of this election,” Trump replied that he would “look at it at the time,” and would “keep you in suspense.” On Thursday, Trump climbed down on his remarks somewhat, saying that he would “accept a clear election result.” However, arguing that Clinton “is the most corrupt and dishonest person ever to seek office,” he added that he would reserve the right “to contest or file a legal challenge in the case of a questionable result.”

Trump’s comments at the debate are in line with previous statements that the election is rigged by the media in favor of Clinton, and his assertions, which clearly have racist overtones, that millions of Americans, particularly in urban centers, are voting illegally. He is pitching his appeal to conditions that will develop after the elections, seeking to channel social anger and hostility to the entire political system in an extremely right-wing direction.

From the media and dominant sections of the political establishment, the response has been universal condemnation of Trump for besmirching the purity of American democracy. The Washington Post proclaimed that “respecting the will of the voters has since the end of the Civil War allowed for a peaceful transition of power that has made this country the envy of the world.” The New York Times added that Trump has turned from “insulting the intelligence of the American voter to insulting American democracy itself.”

Republican Senator and former presidential candidate John McCain issued a statement declaring that a concession to the victor in an election is “an act of respect for the will of the American people, a respect that is every American leader’s first responsibility.” And Vice President Joe Biden, donning the mantle of sanctimonious outrage, said in a speech on Thursday, “If you question, if you assert that a democratic election is fixed, you are attacking the very essence of the notion of whether we have a democratic system.”

These statements from newspaper editorial boards and leading politicians reek of hypocrisy. They also express a nervousness whose causes extend far beyond the comments of Mr. Trump. The political representatives of the ruling class are rushing to the defense of a political system that is increasingly seen as illegitimate by broad sections of the population.

From a historical standpoint, it must first of all be pointed out that until the middle of the 20th century every election in the United States was “fixed,” insofar as large portions of the population were barred from voting. Women were only given the right to vote in 1920. The systematic disenfranchisement of African Americans in the South—through poll taxes, Jim Crow segregation and other measures—was only ended in the mid-1960s, a byproduct of the immense social struggles of that period. And it was only in 1971 that the age of eligibility for the franchise was lowered from 21 to 18. Until then, young men could be drafted to fight and die in wars at the order of a commander-in-chief they could not vote for.

For the past four decades, democratic forms of rule have been under systematic attack, in line with the extreme growth of social inequality. A turning point came with the campaign to impeach Bill Clinton over a sex scandal in 1998 and 1999, followed by the theft of the election in 2000. To the extent that the 2000 elections are mentioned at all in the present discussion over Trump’s comments, it is to praise Al Gore’s “respect for the process” in accepting the Supreme Court decision to hand the election to George W. Bush.

In fact, the 5-4 decision by the highest court in the country to halt the recounting of ballots in Florida installed in office an individual who lost the popular vote and, if all the ballots had been fairly counted, the electoral vote as well. In one of the decisions culminating in this travesty of democracy, the Supreme Court asserted that the American people have no constitutional right to vote for the president of the United States. The rigging of the 2000 election was carried out, not in the back room of a county courthouse, but by the highest court in the land.

In early December 2000, in advance of the decision in Bush v. Gore, WSWS editorial board chairman David North noted that the decision would reveal “how far the American ruling class is prepared to go in breaking with traditional bourgeois-democratic and constitutional norms.” In the end, the blatantly political action by Supreme Court was met with no serious opposition from the Democratic Party and Gore, or from the media and political establishment as a whole. The outcome, as the WSWS wrote at the time, “revealed the lack of any significant constituency within the ruling elite for a democratic adjudication of the presidential election.”

The ruling class has demonstrated its contempt for democracy through its actions over the past decade and a half. The attacks of September 11, 2001 were followed, under Bush and then Obama, by a raft of anti-democratic measures justified by the “war on terror”: the Patriot Act; warrantless mass surveillance; indefinite detention without trial; torture and “extraordinary rendition”; drone assassination, including of US citizens; the establishment of the Department of Homeland Security and the Northern Command, a military jurisdiction to oversee the increasing domestic use of the military. To this list must be added a militarized police force that kills more than 1,000 Americans every year.

As for the electoral process, Supreme Court decisions have undermined the Voting Rights Act and sanctioned state laws requiring photo IDs and other restrictions aimed at disenfranchising poor, elderly and minority voters. Some 6 million citizens (one out of every 40 eligible voters) are barred from voting due to previous felony convictions. The Citizens United decision in 2010 abolished restrictions on big business financing of candidates and their political action committees. It is estimated that more than $7 billion has been spent on the 2016 elections, all told, twice what was spent in 2012.

Everything is done to prevent independent and third-party candidates from having their names appear on the ballot, including requirements that they gather tens or even hundreds of thousands of signatures. Many states will not even count write-in votes. Meanwhile, the media works to ensure that the official “debate” remains safely confined to the narrow framework acceptable to the ruling class.

“American democracy” is a hollowed-out shell, overseen by two parties that are controlled by the financial oligarchy and the military. The experience of the Obama administration—which came to power promising “change you can believe in”—has only demonstrated to millions of people that their vote has no impact on the policies of the ruling class.

The protracted decay of American democracy has culminated in the election of 2016, a contest between a millionaire scion of the Clinton dynasty and a billionaire real estate speculator and reality television star.

Trump himself is a product of a diseased social and political system, the legitimate heir of the “war on terror.” As for Clinton, she is merely another expression of the same disease, running her campaign on the basis of the same scandal-mongering used by the Republicans against her husband, combined with McCarthyite smears that have a long and noxious history.

The Democrats’ stock response to any question about leaked emails exposing Clinton’s ties to Wall Street is to change the subject to the completely unsubstantiated claim that it is all the handiwork of Russian President Vladimir Putin. While Trump has said that he might not accept the election as legitimate, if Clinton is defeated the Democrats will declare that it is the result of Russia’s interference in the electoral process.

Behind the whole rotten process, the fundamental issues are covered up or ignored. The reality of American “democracy” can perhaps be summed up in the fact that, three weeks before November 8, the American military has launched a massive military escalation in the Middle East, and there is no significant discussion about the consequences in an election that is supposedly the principal means through which the population can affect policy.

The crisis of democracy is a product of the decay of American capitalism, overseen by a ruling class that is determined to advance a policy of war abroad and austerity at home—a policy that requires ever greater attacks on democratic forms of rule. Whatever happens on November 8, it will resolve nothing, and only set the stage for a protracted political crisis that can be resolved only through the independent intervention of the working class on the basis of a revolutionary socialist program.

Joseph Kishore


How religion has shaped American politics over the past 50 years

Inside the evangelicals: 

North Carolina exemplifies how the Christian left’s past informs its present — it’s not just the Christian right

Inside the evangelicals: How religion has shaped American politics over the past 50 years

A stained glass window adorns Mother Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Philadelphia, Wednesday, July 6, 2016. The church marks its 200th anniversary in the city where it was founded by a former slave. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)(Credit: AP)

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

On Oct. 3, Longwood University, a public university in Virginia, hosted the first and only 2016 vice presidential debate. In what were described as the debate’s “most sincere” and “most honest” moments, Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA) and Gov. Mike Pence (R-IN) discussed their religious faiths.

Pence, a Roman-Catholic-turned-evangelical, appealed to familiar concerns of the Christian right, such as abortion and “the sanctity of life.” Kaine, a Roman Catholic, emphasized the moral responsibility of honoring individual choice.

That Pence pivoted toward abortion is not surprising. Since 1973 — when the landmark Supreme Court decision Roe v. Wade legalized the right to an abortion — the Christian right has put abortion, as well as homosexuality and “family values,” at the center of conservative politics.

This particular focus stemmed from the fear, particularly among white southern evangelicals, of disturbing an old order based on white supremacy, heterosexuality and female domesticity. Decades of judicial and legislative progress toward a more inclusive and democratic nation as a result of the civil rights, women’s rights and gay liberation movements of the 1960s and 1970s only increased that fear. It also consolidated southern white evangelicals’ political strength in the Christian right.

It is not surprising, therefore, that since the 1970s, it is the Christian right that has set the discourse about religion in America. What has remained unrecognized is the important role the Christian left has played during the last 50 years.

What is the “Christian left” really?

Generally, left and left-leaning Christians seek religion not so much in expressing faith in social justice. Sociologist Nancy T. Ammerman has found that these “lay liberals” are “defined not by ideology, but by practice.” They especially value practicing Christianity according to the Golden Rule, or Jesus’ message,

“In everything do to others as you would have them do to you.” (Matthew 7:12)

Their concerns include income inequality, racism, violence, hunger and homelessness. They do not necessarily support the hard-line ideological positions of the Christian right, including those regarding LGBTQ Americans and marriage equality.

The Christian left does not easily fit within traditional organizational structures, though they do value church membership.

The Pew Research Center’s 2014 Religious Landscape Survey is suggestive of this trend. In the American South, where 34 percent of residents identify as evangelicals and 14 percent as mainline Protestant, the survey found that at least 21 percent of adults identify as liberal and 32 percent as moderate. These data suggest that the Christian left has found space within evangelical and mainline Protestant southern churches.

A historic tradition, a southern legacy

The Christian left is not a new phenomenon. American Christians have played important roles in many progressive movements dating back to the anti-slavery movement of the early- to mid-19th century.

After the Civil War, many Christians championed workers’ rights, orphanages and schools, women’s suffrage and resistance to American intervention in World War I. During this time, the black church, particularly in the South, became an important instrument in promoting social activism based on ideas of “social responsibility and good works” grounded in Christianity.

The black church was integral to the civil rights movement. At the time, both black and white Christians living in the South confronted head-on the Jim Crow laws, which enforced segregation and voting rights.

In the aftermath of the Supreme Court’s historic decision in Brown v. Board of Education (1954), which made racial segregation illegal, many white Christian leaders joined hands with African-Americans to advocate for racial justice within their white congregations, as racial injustice continued.

One of the most well-known Christian left organizations at the time was the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC). Formed in 1957, the SCLC put black evangelical clergy at the forefront of the movement, including Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. It coordinated with local civil rights organizations and played a role in voter drives and the 1963 March on Washington. That was where King delivered his famous “I Have a Dream” speech.

Perhaps King best summarized his vision for the Christian left, shared by the SCLC, when he wrote from inside a Birmingham jail cell,

“Was not Jesus an extremist in love?”

It is important to note that the Christian left did not limit its reach to racial justice, nor did its significance wane in the 1970s and 1980s, when the Christian right consolidated its political base.

For example, it is not widely known that some Christian denominations welcomed LGBTQ Americans. According to historian Jim Downs, churches for gay men and women, including those located in the South, played an important role in gay liberation in the 1970s. In the 1980s, mainline Protestant denominations such as the Episcopal Church formed support ministries for LGBTQ members. Episcopalians also took a lead role in affirming women’s rights by ordaining women.

A southern phenomenon then and now

This history of Christian activism in the South continues today. North Carolina — a state that has been the focus of my own research — exemplifies how the Christian left’s past informs its present.

Historically one of the most progressive southern states, North Carolina is home tothe Moral Monday Movement. Formed in 2013 by Rev. Dr. William Barber, president of the North Carolina National Association for Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), the movement raises its voice against a wide range of issues related to unfair treatment and discrimination such as restriction of voting rights and cutting funding for Medicaid, welfare and education.

When the Moral Monday Movement began in North Carolina in 2013, religious leaders issued a joint statement urging activism not along partisan but religious lines.

The movement has since spread to other southern states, including Georgia, Floridaand Mike Pence’s home state of Indiana. Moral Monday rallies have also been held inAlabama and Missouri.

Lost in media coverage

Despite the growth of movements such as Moral Mondays, however, the Christian left often gets lost in media coverage during election cycles.

This is not surprising as media coverage of religion is limited. In 2008 and 2012,merely one percent of media coverage concerned religion, and 2016 appears to be no different.

Furthermore, whatever coverage does take place is often limited to conservative Christians and the “red states” of the South.

Unfortunately, the “red state” identification does not capture the region’s social, political and racial diversity. It is true that religion is important in the South. In 2014,62 percent of adults in the South reported that religion was “very important” to them. However, the percentage of religious southerners who lean Republican and Democrat are roughly the same (approximately 40 percent).

The voices that have been missed

It is important to note that even in this election cycle, the South’s Christian left has not been silent.

On Sept. 26, in the aftermath of the fatal shooting of Keith Lamont Scott by a Charlotte police officer, Rev. William Barber led a “unity rally for justice and transparency” at a historic black church in North Carolina, where he asked his audience to hold up their “faithful voter cards.” He led the gathering in a civil rights marching song.

This year’s presidential election might be an opportunity for the Christian left to become more visible. There were indications of this when on Oct. 6 more than 100 evangelical leaders denounced Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump and warned the media against viewing evangelicals as a monolithic group.

Of course, the “Christian left versus Christian right” discussion is itself limiting. In the context of the rich religious pluralism of the United States, we must ask more broadly what the religious left can do collaboratively to affect change in American political discourse.

There is movement in this direction, including in the federal government. For example, in 2009, just two weeks into his first term, President Barack Obama established the White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships. The office has embraced core principles of the Christian left, including social and economic justice. This year it appointed Barbara Stein to the advisory council, who is the first openly transgender appointee and an active member of the United Church of Christ.

Such examples can prove instructive, especially to local, grassroots organizations. As election day approaches, the Christian left can play an important role in taking a stand in favor of this progress.

The Conversation

Timothy J. Williams is a visiting assistant professor of history at the University of Oregon.


Donald Trump: The Dress Rehearsal for Fascism

Posted on Oct 16, 2016

By Chris Hedges

  Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump speaks at an event hosted by the Republican Hindu Coalition in Edison, N.J., on Saturday. (Julio Cortez / AP)

Americans are not offered major-party candidates who have opposing political ideologies or ideas. We are presented only with manufactured political personalities. We vote for the candidate who makes us “feel” good about him or her. Campaigns are entertainment and commercial vehicles to raise billions in advertising revenue for corporations. The candidate who can provide the best show gets the most coverage. The personal brand is paramount. It takes precedence over ideas, truth, integrity and the common good. This cult of the self, which defines our politics and our culture, contains the classic traits of psychopaths: superficial charm, grandiosity, self-importance, a need for constant stimulation, a penchant for lying, deception and manipulation, and incapacity for remorse or guilt. Donald Trump has these characteristics. So does Hillary Clinton.

Our system of inverted totalitarianism has within it the seeds of an overt or classical fascism. The more that political discourse becomes exclusively bombastic and a form of spectacle, the more that emotional euphoria is substituted for political thought and the more that violence is the primary form of social control, the more we move toward a Christianized fascism.

Last week’s presidential debate in St. Louis was only a few degrees removed from the Jerry Springer TV show—the angry row of women sexually abused or assaulted by Bill Clinton, the fuming Trump pacing the stage with a threatening posture, the sheeplike and carefully selected audience that provided the thin veneer of a democratic debate while four multimillionaires—Martha Raddatz, Anderson Cooper, Clinton and Trump—squabbled like spoiled schoolchildren.

The Clinton campaign, aware that the policy differences between her and a candidate such as Jeb Bush were minuscule, plotted during the primaries to elevate the fringe Republican candidates—especially Trump. To the Democratic strategists, a match between Clinton and Trump seemed made in heaven. Trump, with his “brain trust” of Rudy Giuliani and Chris Christie, would make Clinton look like a savior.

A memo addressed to the Democratic National Committee under the heading “Our Goals & Strategy” was part of the trove of John Podesta emails released this month by WikiLeaks.

“Our hope is that the goal of a potential HRC [Hillary Rodham Clinton] campaign and the DNC would be one-in-the-same: to make whomever the Republicans nominate unpalatable to the majority of the electorate. We have outlined three strategies to obtain our goal …,” it reads.

The memo names Ted Cruz, Donald Trump and Ben Carson as candidates, or what the memo calls “Pied Piper” candidates who could push mainstream candidates closer to the positions embraced by the lunatic right. “We need to be elevating the Pied Piper candidates so that they are leaders of the pack and tell the press to [take] them seriously.”

The elites of the two ruling parties, who have united behind Clinton, are playing a very dangerous game. The intellectual and political vacuum caused by the United States’ species of anti-politics, or what the writer Benjamin DeMott called “junk politics,” leaves candidates, all of whom serve the interests of the corporate state, seeking to exaggerate what Sigmund Freud termed “the narcissism of small differences.”

However, this battle between small differences, largely defined by the culture wars, no longer works with large segments of the population. The insurgencies of Trump and Bernie Sanders are evidence of a breakdown of these forms of social control. There is a vague realization among Americans that we have undergone a corporate coup. People are angry about being lied to and fleeced by the elites. They are tired of being impotent. Trump, to many of his most fervent supporters, is a huge middle finger to a corporate establishment that has ruined their lives and the lives of their children. And if Trump, or some other bombastic idiot, is the only vehicle they have to defy the system, they will use him.

The elites, including many in the corporate press, must increasingly give political legitimacy to goons and imbeciles in a desperate battle to salvage their own legitimacy. But the more these elites pillage and loot, and the more they cast citizens aside as human refuse, the more the goons and imbeciles become actual alternatives. The corporate capitalists would prefer the civilized mask of a Hillary Clinton. But they also know that police states and fascist states will not impede their profits; indeed in such a state the capitalists will be more robust in breaking the attempts of the working class to organize for decent wages and working conditions. Citibank, Raytheon and Goldman Sachs will adapt. Capitalism functions very well without democracy.

In the 1990s I watched an impotent, nominally democratic liberal elite in the former Yugoslavia fail to understand and act against the population’s profound economic distress. The fringe demagogues whom the political and educated elites dismissed as buffoons—Radovan Karadzic, Slobodan Milosevic and Franjo Tudman—rode an anti-liberal tide to power.

The political elites in Yugoslavia at first thought the nationalist cranks and lunatics, who amassed enough support to be given secondary positions of power, could be contained. This mistake was as misguided as Franz von Papen’s assurances that when the uncouth Austrian Adolf Hitler was appointed the German chancellor in January 1933 the Nazi leader would be easily manipulated. Any system of prolonged political paralysis and failed liberalism vomits up monsters. And the longer we remain in a state of political paralysis—especially as we stumble toward another financial collapse—the more certain it becomes that these monsters will take power.

Fascism, at its core, is an amorphous and incoherent ideology that perpetuates itself by celebrating a grotesque hypermasculinity, elements of which are captured in Trump’s misogyny. It allows disenfranchised people to feel a sense of power and to have their rage sanctified. It takes a politically marginalized and depoliticized population and mobilizes it around a utopian vision of moral renewal and vengeance and an anointed political savior. It is always militaristic, anti-intellectual and contemptuous of democracy and replaces culture with nationalist and patriotic kitsch. It sees those outside the closed circle of the nation-state or the ethnic or religious group as diseased enemies that must be physically purged to restore the health of nation.

Many of these ideological elements are already part of our system of inverted totalitarianism. But inverted totalitarianism, as Sheldon Wolin wrote, disclaims its identity to pay homage to a democracy that in reality has ceased to function. It is characterized by the anonymity of the corporate centers of power. It seeks to keep the population passive and demobilized. I asked Wolin shortly before he died in 2015 that if the two major forms of social control he cited—access to easy and cheap credit and inexpensive, mass-produced consumer products—were no longer available would we see the rise of a more classical form of fascism. He said this would indeed become a possibility.

Bill Clinton transformed the Democratic Party into the Republican Party. He pushed the Republican Party so far to the right it became insane. Hillary Clinton is Mitt Romney in drag. She and the Democratic Party embrace policies—endless war, the security and surveillance state, neoliberalism, austerity, deregulation, new trade agreements and deindustrialization—that are embraced by the Republican elites. Clinton in office will continue the neoliberal assault on the poor and the working poor, and increasingly the middle class, that has defined the corporate state since the Reagan administration. She will do so while speaking in the cloying and hypocritical rhetoric of compassion that masks the cruelty of corporate capitalism.

The Democratic and Republican parties may be able to disappear Trump, but they won’t disappear the phenomena that gave rise to Trump. And unless the downward spiral is reversed—unless the half of the country now living in poverty is lifted out of poverty—the cynical game the elites are playing will backfire. Out of the morass will appear a genuine “Christian” fascist endowed with political skill, intelligence, self-discipline, ruthlessness and charisma. The monster the elites will again unwittingly elevate, as a foil to keep themselves in power, will consume them. There would be some justice in this if we did not all have to pay.


Neoliberalism is creating loneliness

Illustration by Andrzej Krauze
Illustration by Andrzej Krauze

There are plenty of secondary reasons for this distress, but it seems to me that the underlying cause is everywhere the same: human beings, the ultrasocial mammals, whose brains are wired to respond to other people, are being peeled apart. Economic and technological change play a major role, but so does ideology. Though our wellbeing is inextricably linked to the lives of others, everywhere we are told that we will prosper through competitive self-interest and extreme individualism.

In Britain, men who have spent their entire lives in quadrangles – at school, at college, at the bar, in parliament – instruct us to stand on our own two feet. The education system becomes more brutally competitive by the year. Employment is a fight to the near-death with a multitude of other desperate people chasing ever fewer jobs. The modern overseers of the poor ascribe individual blame to economic circumstance. Endless competitions on television feed impossible aspirations as real opportunities contract.

Consumerism fills the social void. But far from curing the disease of isolation, it intensifies social comparison to the point at which, having consumed all else, we start to prey upon ourselves. Social media brings us together and drives us apart, allowing us precisely to quantify our social standing, and to see that other people have more friends and followers than we do.

As Rhiannon Lucy Cosslett has brilliantly documented, girls and young women routinely alter the photos they post to make themselves look smoother and slimmer. Some phones, using their “beauty” settings, do it for you without asking; now you can become your own thinspiration. Welcome to the post-Hobbesian dystopia: a war of everyone against themselves.

Is it any wonder, in these lonely inner worlds, in which touching has been replaced by retouching, that young women are drowning in mental distress? Arecent survey in England suggests that one in four women between 16 and 24 have harmed themselves, and one in eight now suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder. Anxiety, depression, phobias or obsessive compulsive disorder affect 26% of women in this age group. This is what a public health crisis looks like.

If social rupture is not treated as seriously as broken limbs, it is because we cannot see it. But neuroscientists can. A series of fascinating papers suggest that social pain and physical pain are processed by the same neural circuits. This might explain why, in many languages, it is hard to describe the impact of breaking social bonds without the words we use to denote physical pain and injury. In both humans and other social mammals, social contact reduces physical pain. This is why we hug our children when they hurt themselves: affection is a powerful analgesic. Opioids relieve both physical agony and the distress of separation. Perhaps this explains the link between social isolation and drug addiction.

Experiments summarised in the journal Physiology & Behaviour last month suggest that, given a choice of physical pain or isolation, social mammals will choose the former. Capuchin monkeys starved of both food and contact for 22 hours will rejoin their companions before eating. Children who experience emotional neglect, according to some findings, suffer worse mental health consequences than children suffering both emotional neglect and physical abuse: hideous as it is, violence involves attention and contact. Self-harm is often used as an attempt to alleviate distress: another indication that physical pain is not as bad as emotional pain. As the prison system knows only too well, one of the most effective forms of torture is solitary confinement.

It’s unsurprising that social isolation is strongly associated with depression, suicide, anxiety, insomnia, fear and the perception of threat. It’s more surprising to discover the range of physical illnesses it causes or exacerbates. Dementia, high blood pressure, heart disease, strokes, lowered resistance to viruses, even accidents are more common among chronically lonely people. Loneliness has a comparable impact on physical health to smoking 15 cigarettes a day: it appears to raise the risk of early death by 26%. This is partly because it enhances production of the stress hormone cortisol, which suppresses the immune system.

Studies in both animals and humans suggest a reason for comfort eating: isolation reduces impulse control, leading to obesity. As those at the bottom of the socioeconomic ladder are the most likely to suffer from loneliness, might this provide one of the explanations for the strong link between low economic status and obesity?

Anyone can see that something far more important than most of the issues we fret about has gone wrong. So why are we engaging in this world-eating, self-consuming frenzy of environmental destruction and social dislocation, if all it produces is unbearable pain? Should this question not burn the lips of everyone in public life?

There are some wonderful charities doing what they can to fight this tide, some of which I am going to be working with as part of my loneliness project. But for every person they reach, several others are swept past.

This does not require a policy response. It requires something much bigger: the reappraisal of an entire worldview. Of all the fantasies human beings entertain, the idea that we can go it alone is the most absurd and perhaps the most dangerous. We stand together or we fall apart.


Taking the struggle forward in Columbus

Will Myers and Haley Swenson write from Ohio’s capital city on a surge of protests against police violence–and the questions about strategy now facing the movement.

Protesters speak out in the Columbus City Council room (People's Justice Project)

Protesters speak out in the Columbus City Council room (People’s Justice Project)

IN SPITE of the movement-withering heat of election season, Columbus, Ohio–the political center of a swing state–has seen an upsurge in the struggle for Black lives.

The demand for justice for Tyre King and Henry Green, two of the most recent victims of the Columbus Police Department, was at the heart of two simultaneous direct actions that upset business as usual in Ohio’s capital city on September 26.

One protest–organized by the People’s Justice Project (PJP), a nonprofit organization that is part of the Ohio Organizing Collaborative–took over a city council meeting, leading all council members to exit their own meeting.

The other demonstration, called by the Ohio State University Coalition for Black Liberation (OSU4BL), a campus-based coalition of student and alumni, stopped traffic on a major street near the OSU campus during the evening rush hour.

The two actions were some of the most confrontational and confident the city has seen in the history of Black Lives Matter organizing. They show that many people believe justice can’t wait, even during election season, and that Black Lives Matter is a movement with the power to mobilize people in unlikely places.

But for those committed to opposing police violence in Columbus, the newfound strength of the struggle has led to questions about strategy and tactics after the city’s Democratic Party machine tried to corral the movement into a non-threatening source of votes in an upcoming election for Franklin County prosecutor.

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HENRY GREEN was shot seven times on June 6 by plainclothes police officers Jason Bare and Zachary Rosen, who, according to the surviving victim, didn’t identify themselves after jumping out of an unmarked van and confronting the two.

According to police, Green drew and fired his weapon first. For months, police refused to release any details about the shooting, including how many times Green was shot, even to the victim’s mother.

The escalation of resistance to police brutality in Columbus came after 13-year-old Tyre King was shot three times on September 14 by officer Brian Mason. Mason chased King as a suspect in an armed robbery in which $10 was taken. An independent pathologist’s report concluded that it was “more likely than not” that King was shot while he was running away. According to initial police reports, King drew a BB gun that looked like a real gun.

No officers have been charged and no independent investigation is underway in either case. The only person facing criminal charges in either case is 19-year-old Demetrius Braxton, who was with Tyre King the night he was killed.

On September 19, a delegation of faith leaders delivered five demands crafted by PJP to the Columbus City Council, calling on its members to defund the police department in multiple areas:

— Discontinue the Summer Safety Initiative, a supposed anti-gang initiative, and reinvest its budget into community-based violence prevention strategies, trauma services and youth programming.

— Allocate at least half of the $300 million police and safety budget to prevention, intervention and community-controlled policing.

— Reallocate the $33.4 million bond package that the city is floating to pay for police facility improvements and substations, and use the funds instead for trauma recovery services in neighborhoods hardest hit by violence.

— Work with a task force that includes community members, experts in criminal justice reform and violence prevention, and family members of the victims of police shootings to reinvest the funds.

In addition, the delegation called for independent investigations and transparent prosecutions in the deaths of King, Green and all future victims of police.

Given the evidence that initial police reports are filled with misinformation meant to justify police actions rather than accurately inform, the call for independent investigations opens up a necessary alternative to allowing the cops’ story to stand unchallenged.

But even in cases with strong evidence of police wrongdoing, killer cops are rarely prosecuted–so the call for independent investigations is fundamentally limited.

Coupling this final demand with the call for the city council to reallocate tens of millions of dollars from police to low-income communities is an appropriate strategy in a city that dedicates one-third of its budget to police, while nearly 18 percent of residents live below the poverty line. The city’s investment in police militarization has led to disinvestment in public services that most benefit poor and Black neighborhoods.

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ONE WEEK after this initial airing of the PJP’s demands, close to 250 people filed into the next city council meeting to send their message again.

This time, the anti-police violence opponents focused on ending the “Summer Safety Initiative,” which was responsible for the presence of the plainclothes officers who shot and killed Henry Green.

As Green’s mother, Adrienne Hood, wrote in a letter to Columbus’s main newspaper, the Summer Safety Initiative “has a long history of being implemented strategically in gentrifying areas. Poor people and Black people who live in or near neighborhoods targeted for development are not only priced out of their homes, but policed out of their neighborhoods.”

But it was clear that City Council had no intention of addressing community members’ concerns. When protesters interrupted the meeting to ask City Council President Zach Klein to answer to the demand to end the Summer Safety Initiative, Klein evaded the question and threatened to have everyone escorted out.

Ignoring this threat, a group of activists approached the front of the room and unveiled a banner. Police filed in, but made no threats, and the city council members packed up and left the room. For 20 minutes, protesters controlled the council room, their chants of “No justice, no peace, no racist police!” echoing through the building.

At the same time as the city council occupation, hundreds of Ohio State University students, alumni and campus-area community members led by OSU4BL marched through campus to protest police brutality and raise awareness of King’s life and tragic death.

When the crowd reached a major intersection nearby, people entered the street and formed a large square to block traffic in all directions. They held the space for 13 minutes–one minute for each year of King’s life–in the middle of evening rush hour, despite pressure from police and racist jeers from some drivers.

The group then proceeded to march to the OSU student union, where protesters staged a 13-minute-long die-in. The protest concluded with a rally in the same space, where members of OSU4BL spoke about King and other victims of police brutality, and the importance of continuing the movement and building independent political organization.

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FACED WITH this unexpected upsurge of protest while elections for key public offices were approaching fast, Democratic Party leaders in Columbus scrambled to respond.

One week after the occupation of the council room, Zach Klein and every member of city council posed with members of PJP at a press conference on the steps of City Hall. Klein and fellow council members promised to re-evaluate the Summer Safety Initiative–and little else.

On the one hand, the city council’s embrace of PJP organizers shows the power of the direct actions the week prior. Yet there is little reason to believe there is anything behind Klein’s words except damage control and electoral ambition.

Klein, a former Republican and ex-member of the Federalist Society, is the Democratic candidate for county prosecutor, running against a Republican incumbent who has held the office for a decade and a half. The need for votes explains why he would stand with Black Lives Matter protesters.

But it’s clear that Klein and Columbus’ Democratic machine in general can’t and won’t challenge police killing Black people with impunity. After the PJP press conference with Klein, Columbus Mayor Andrew Ginther, also a Democrat, came out against discarding the Summer Safety Initiative, showing quite clearly that even if city council members have sincere hopes of changing policy, other forces will stand in the way.

Years of effort by Columbus activists to get the city to establish a civilian review board for police misconduct haven’t resulted in any progress, even though Columbus has the second-highest rate of police shootings per capita in the country. And Democratic leaders in Columbus have a long history of covering up police brutality.

Supporting a Democrat as a progressive alternative to a Republican on the issue of police brutality is a strategic dead end–that reality is underlined by the fact that in cities with Democratic prosecutors, the police still virtually never face criminal charges for killing people.

Plus, in this coming election, a longtime anti-racist activist in Columbus, Bob Fitrakis, is also running for county prosecutor as a Green Party candidate and with an explicit Black Lives Matter agenda. Unlike Klein, Fitrakis has promised to appoint independent prosecutors in cases of police shootings; to stop jailing individuals for drug-related crimes and provide treatment instead; and ultimately to jail killer cops.

After the friendly press conference with PJP organizers and city council members, a crowd of about 150 marched to the current Republican prosecutor’s office and protested outside–a further symbol of a shift away from the direction of the protest one week earlier that shut down a city council meeting.

PJP organizer Tammy Fournier-Alsaada promised the crowd that activists would not continue to work with the city council if they felt it wasn’t serious about meeting activists’ demands for a changed Summer Safety Initiative.

Meanwhile, other forces in the city have continued meeting to discuss next steps for grassroots organizing in Columbus–with many activists determined to keep the pressure on Columbus officials and ensure that the Democrats’ political ambitions don’t crush the momentum and potential they’ve seen in the past weeks.