Disingenuous attacks on Bernie Sanders persist — and his popularity climbs

The Democrats’ hypocrisy fest:

Clinton loyalists are still trying to tar Sanders as a sexist troglodyte. Read the polls — It’s not working 

The Democrats' hypocrisy fest: Disingenuous attacks on Bernie Sanders persist — and his popularity climbs
Bernie Sanders (Credit: Reuters/Max Whittaker)
If there is one thing that Hillary Clinton’s loyalists can never resist, it is a chance to sully the name of Sen. Bernie Sanders, who continues to be a thorn in the Democratic establishment’s side. Last week it was no different, when Democratic partisans seized on an opportunity to vilify and paint the Vermont senator as a cultural reactionary who is willing to sacrifice women’s reproductive rights if it means advancing his populist economic agenda.

This opportunity came when Sanders, on his “Come Together and Fight Back” tour with newly elected Democratic National Committee chair Tom Perez, made a planned stop in Omaha, Nebraska, to stump for mayoral candidate Heath Mello, a former state senator running against Republican incumbent Jean Stothert. The episode began about a week earlier, when the liberal activist website Daily Kos, along with other notable Democrats, endorsed Mello against his Republican opponent, seemingly unaware of the fact that he is not exactly progressive when it comes to abortion (though he isn’t exactly a fervent anti-abortion right-winger either). Then, on Wednesday, an article from The Wall Street Journal reported that Mello had supported a bill as state senator that required “women to look at an ultrasound image of their fetus before receiving an abortion.”

This predictably created a maelstrom, even though the Journal article turned out to be shoddily reported. While Mello did indeed co-sponsor the 2009 bill cited, it only required the physician performing the abortion to inform patients that an ultrasound was available; it did not require a woman to receive or look at an ultrasound. Nevertheless, over the years Mello has supported other legislative measures — including a 20-week abortion ban — that are no doubt troubling for any progressive. Shortly after the Journal’s report, the president of NARAL Pro-Choice America, Ilyse Hogue, released a statement slamming Sanders and Perez for supporting Mello:

The actions today by the DNC to embrace and support a candidate for office who will strip women — one of the most critical constituencies for the party — of our basic rights and freedom is not only disappointing, it is politically stupid. Today’s action make this so-called “fight back tour” look more like a throw back tour for women and our rights.

After Hogue’s statement, Clintonites quickly took to social media to pile on, using Sanders’ endorsement of Mello as further evidence that the Vermont senator — and by default the progressive left — does not consider women’s reproductive rights and other “social issues” to be nearly as important as economic ones. The implication is that Sanders believes women’s rights are worth sacrificing if it means combating economic inequality or corporate power. (No progressives have ever made this argument, of course.)

In response to the criticism, Mello told The Huffington Post that while he is personally opposed to abortion, as mayor he “would never do anything to restrict access to reproductive health care.” A certain degree of skepticism is warranted, considering Mello’s history of flip-flopping on this issue, but the mayoral candidate is clearly not the anti-abortion extremist depicted by Hogue and others.

Last year Hogue — along with most liberal Democrats — had a far more more forgiving attitude toward Hillary Clinton’s running mate, Sen. Tim Kaine of Virginia, who, like Mello, is personally pro-life. “I am okay with people having a different moral system than I do as long as they don’t legislate that on me or anyone else,” said Hogue in a statement last July, adding, “7 in 10 Americans support legal access to abortion and some of them are like Senator Kaine, who feel personally opposed but still believe that it’s not for a politician to determine for anyone else. . . . I believe [Clinton] chose Tim Kaine because she trusts the guy, and I trust her.”

Of course, Kaine wasn’t just personally pro-life; like Mello, he also had a history of supporting anti-abortion measures as governor of Virginia. As ThinkProgress reported in July (around the same time as Hogue’s statement), while in office in Richmond Kaine had “pushed for adoption over abortion, promoted abstinence-only education, passed a law that required parental notification for minors wanting an abortion, and banned late-term abortion.” ThinkProgress noted, “He even signed a bill to use state dollars to create ‘Choose Life’ license plates, which funded state ‘Crisis Pregnancy Centers’ — facilities whose sole purpose is to dissuade pregnant women from getting an abortion.”

So this entire Heath Mello incident appears to be a thinly veiled sectarian attack against Sanders, driven by bitterness and resentment. For the most outraged Democrats, the problem hasn’t so much been that the Democratic National Committee is supporting a candidate who is moderately pro-life — after all, their 2016 vice presidential candidate was moderately pro-life — but that Bernie Sanders (who still won’t call himself a Democrat, much to their chagrin) has supported a candidate who is moderately pro-life.

Needless to say, capitulating on LGBT rights or women’s reproductive rights is not an option for progressives — and never has been. If a candidate like Mello were indeed planning to “strip women of basic rights and freedoms,” then Sanders would be well-advised to retract his endorsement and vehemently reject Mello’s candidacy. But that’s simply not the case.

This kind of hypocrisy and bad faith is consistent with the Clinton loyalist strategy over the past year or so — to discredit and vilify Bernie Sanders and the entire progressive movement that has formed around his candidacy. A year ago during the Democratic primaries Clinton supporters were singing the same tune, portraying the democratic socialist as a cultural and political dinosaur and insisting that the candidate’s supporters were a bunch of sexist white guys (that is, “BernieBros”). The Clinton camp even depicted Sanders — who has a D- rating from the National Rifle Association — as a gun nut or a “very reliable supporter of the NRA,” as Clinton once put it. In fact, Clinton advocated the same exact position on gun policy as Sanders did during her 2008 presidential campaign.

In addition, the Clinton campaign has consistently promoted a false dichotomy between economic issues and social ones, in an effort to make it appear that Sanders, one of the most passionate critics of economic inequality and corporate malfeasance, only cares about the first type — a blatant falsehood that is refuted by his 40-year record in politics. Sanders has long been one of the most socially progressive politicians in Washington and advocated for LGBT rights long before it became the politically expedient thing to do. To cite just one example, he strongly opposed the now-infamous 1996 Defense of Marriage Act, which was signed into law by Bill Clinton and supported by Hillary Clinton.

The Clinton camp has basically sought to use Sanders’ passion about economic inequality and political corruption against him, as if someone who is this intense about economic issues must be a “class reductionist” who cares little about social and cultural issues. (It is only mainstream liberals, of course, who treat economic and cultural matters as if they could somehow be separated.) “If we broke up the big banks tomorrow . . . would that end racism? Would that end sexism?” Clinton absurdly asked at one point.

Unfortunately for the Democratic establishment, these disingenuous attacks have failed. According to various polls — including a new Harvard survey released last week — Sanders is currently the most popular politician in America. It is not surprising — or perhaps it is deeply surprisingly for some Democrats — that African-Americans, Hispanics, women and millennials view Sanders the most favorably, while white men view him the least favorably.

After just a week on the road, the Perez-Sanders “unity tour” has gotten off to a rocky start. This latest incident reveals the depth of lingering resentment and friction within the Democratic Party. It is clear that many Democrats want Sanders to fall in line and use his influence to serve the party and, as long as he remains an independent gadfly fighting for principles over party, they will keep trying to discredit him. Of course, one of the primary reasons for Sanders’ popularity is that he clearly places principles before party — so we can expect his popularity to keep on growing, even as the smears become more and more desperate.

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.

Cornel West – Democrats delivered one thing in the past 100 days: disappointment

The time has come to bid farewell to a moribund party that lacks imagination, courage and gusto

Nancy Pelosi
‘The 2016 election – which Democrats lost more than Republicans won – was the straw that broke the camel’s back.’ Photograph: Alex Wong/Getty Images

The distinctive feature of these bleak times is the lack of institutional capacity on the left – the absence of a political party that swings free of Wall Street and speaks to the dire circumstances of poor and working people. As the first 100 days of the plutocratic and militaristic Trump administration draw to a close, one truth has been crystal clear: the Democratic party lacks the vision, discipline and leadership to guide progressives in these turbulent times.

The neoliberal vision of the Democratic party has run its course. The corporate wing has made it clear that the populist wing has little power or place in its future. The discipline of the party is strong on self-preservation and weak on embracing new voices. And party leaders too often revel in self-righteousness and self-pity rather than self-criticism and self-enhancement. The time has come to bid farewell to a moribund party that lacks imagination, courage and gusto.

The 2016 election – which Democrats lost more than Republicans won – was the straw that broke the camel’s back. The unfair treatment of Bernie Sanders was but the peak of the iceberg. In the face of a cardboard Republican candidate equipped with pseudo-populist rhetoric and ugly xenophobic plans, the Democratic party put forward a Wall Street-connected and openly militaristic candidate with little charisma.

The crucial issues of a $15 minimum wage and saying no to fracking, no to TPP, no to Israeli occupation and yes to single-payer healthcare were pushed aside by the corporate wing and the populist wing was told to quit whining or take responsibility for the improbable loss.

The monumental collapse of the Democratic party – on the federal, state and local levels – has not yielded any serious soul-wrestling or substantive visionary shifts among its leadership. Only the ubiquitous and virtuous Bernie remains true to the idea of fundamental transformation of the party – and even he admits that seeking first-class seats on the Titanic is self-deceptive and self-destructive.

We progressives need new leadership and institutional capacity that provides strong resistance to Trump’s vicious policies, concrete alternatives that matter to ordinary citizens and credible visions that go beyond Wall Street priorities and militaristic policies. And appealing to young people is a good testing ground.

Even as we forge a united front against Trump’s neofascist efforts, we must admit the Democratic party has failed us and we have to move on. Where? To what? When brother Nick Brana, a former Bernie campaign staffer, told me about the emerging progressive populist or social democratic party – the People’s party – that builds on the ruins of a dying Democratic party and creates new constituencies in this moment of transition and liquidation, I said count me in.

And if a class-conscious multi-racial party attuned to anti-sexist, anti-homophobic and anti-militaristic issues and grounded in ecological commitments can reconfigure our citizenship, maybe our decaying democracy has a chance. And if brother Bernie Sanders decides to join us – with many others, including sister Jill Stein and activists from Black Lives Matter and brown immigrant groups and Standing Rock freedom fighters and betrayed working people – we may build something for the near future after Trump implodes.

https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2017/apr/24/democrats-delivered-one-thing-100-days-disappointment

Our Two Party System is Dead

The philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900) famously proclaimed the death of God.  Following this far more momentous precedent, it would now be fair to proclaim the death of the debilitating, semi-established duopoly party system that disables progressive politics in the United States.

The analogies are many.

Nietzsche claimed that it would take centuries for the Divine body to decompose.

By this, he did not just mean that it was no longer possible, without self-deception, to believe that there is an omnipotent, omniscient, perfectly good being who created all that is and with whom human beings can have personal relationships.  Materialist philosophers a century earlier could have said that, albeit not in as colorful a way. Nietzsche took it for granted.

His deeper claim was that ways of thinking and being – and forms of civilization — that rested on belief in God were finished as well.

This included quite a lot – not literally everything, but nearly everything of fundamental importance.  In his view, prevailing notions of truth and morality were among the first casualties.

He insisted, however, that it would take a long time for all the consequences to take effect. Therefore, the churches would likely remain full for generations.  The synagogues too, though Nietzsche’s view of synagogues was, to put it mildly, ambivalent; and, though he knew little and cared less about them, the mosques as well.

They might even seem to thrive.  But they would not be what they were because, with the divine corpse decomposing, their foundations were gone.

That, from time to time, there would be periods in which parts of God’s decomposing body would flourish therefore does not embarrass Nietzsche’s claim.  Church, synagogue, and mosque attendance might rise from time to time; and, for any number of reasons, some people some of the time might rally around the old, essentially defunct, religions.  But, at its core, it would all be a sham because, whether “believers” know it or not, superseded ways of thinking and being cannot be replicated except in ironic ways.

The implication was that the sooner people realize this, the sooner they see the world as it is and not as they would like it to be, the better the world will be.

It will be better not because people will be happier or because they will have an easier time navigating their way through life’s tribulations, but because it will be more honest.  Like Aristotle, Nietzsche was what we would today call a “virtue ethicist.” Honesty – and authenticity more generally – was high on his list of virtues.

He was also a critic of democracy and egalitarianism and other emanations of Enlightened thought.

And he was a master ironist.   It was in that capacity that — to use a word that Stephen Bannon and other Trumpists have besmirched — he called for the “deconstruction” of the God idea and all that rests upon it.  This was how he would have humanity realize the goal of Enlightened thinking, as described by Immanuel Kant and philosophers in the classical German tradition: it would free humanity from its “self-imposed nonage.”

***

It is impossible, of course, to say exactly when God died.  That death – so consequential for humanity and so irrelevant to everything beyond human control — was a process, not an event.

The death of the two party system in the United States is a process too.  But the consequences are so much more limited, and the time frame so much shorter, that it could look to future historians very much like an event — if there are future historians, that is; in other words, if, despite Democrats and Republicans and Donald Trump, we somehow survive environmental devastation and avoid nuclear war.

If our luck holds to that extent, the 2016 election season could well come to be seen as the moment when the duopoly died or, rather, when the process that did it in reached a culminating point.

For anyone with an even vaguely Nietzschean sense of the order and value of things, it can only seem grotesque to liken the demise of something as inherently base as America’s party system to the death of an idea as foundational and sublime as the Christian  — and Jewish and Muslim — God.

Nevertheless, the similarities are plain and the comparison is instructive.

Enlightenment thinking began to undo the God idea more than a century before Nietzsche came on the scene; and decades before he declared God dead, there were philosophers in Germany – for example, the Young Hegelians (as a very young man, Karl Marx was one of them) – who thought that the question of God’s existence had been settled and that the pertinent philosophical and political questions had to do with why the belief persisted nevertheless.  To probe those questions, the Young Hegelians sought to uncover the human meaning of ideas of God.

The duopoly system in American politics was also mortally ill before the duopoly died – not for nearly as many years, of course, but nevertheless, for a long time, as political settlements go.

The beginning of the end came in the late seventies, when Jimmy Carter was President, and when the political economic order that had been in place since the end of the Second World War seemed suddenly to have become stuck in a permanent crisis – with economic growth impeded and inflation on the rise.

Creditors found the situation intolerable; they also found themselves more empowered than they had been when the ambient economic scene was more robust.

Under these conditions, they were not shy about throwing their weight around in Washington.   Leading capitalists favored the Republican Party, of course; that was in their DNA.  But they channeled money to Democrats too.  Where there is influence to be purchased, they have always been bipartisan.

Within leading academic and policy circles, neoliberal political economists had been marginalized since the time of the New Deal.  Suddenly, their standing changed one hundred eighty degrees as the ruling class, and therefore the political class, took up the neoliberal cause.

The idea was to disencumber markets, capital markets especially, from regulations enacted to save capitalism from the capitalists, and also to give manufacturers relief from regulations that protect the environment.  Another major objective was to diminish the countervailing power of organized labor and other civil society groups, giving capitalists freer rein.

Under the cover of “supply side” economic theories, they also wanted to reform the tax code – effectively robbing from the poor to give to the rich.

And so, a political regime took shape that aimed to undo the progress of preceding decades.  The neoliberals set out not just to stop progress in its tracks, but also to turn back the clock as best they could.

On the Republican side, this led to purging the party of its liberal wing, attacking unions, resurrecting laissez-faire economic policies, and revving up Richard Nixon’s “Southern strategy” and related efforts to bring “the silent majority” on board.  It led, in a word, to the “Reagan Revolution.”

The Reaganites did all they could to set Wall Street free to make money with other peoples’ money, and they encouraged the exportation of jobs to parts of the world where labor was cheap.  They reset the political agenda.  But, at first, they were not able to implement much of the agenda they established – in large part because Democratic majorities in the House and Senate wouldn’t allow it.

It therefore fell to opportunists in the Democratic Party to consolidate and expand the Reagan Revolution by bringing the opposition along.  This is the principal “legacy” of the Clinton presidency.

Bill Clinton was the best Reaganite President ever, better than Obama, better than both Bushes put together, better than the villainous old Gipper himself.   He did it because he could; not because he believed in “trickle down” economics or other Reaganite nostrums.  He did it to help himself and his paymasters, by working both sides of the street.

It was a slow process but, in time, on the Republican side, the inmates took over the asylum; while, over the course of the eighties and nineties, the Democrats became Republicans in all but name.

However, to this day, the old duopoly structures, like the churches and synagogues and mosques, have remained more or less unchanged.  In recent years, they even seem to have thrived.

Throughout the long nineteenth century – from, roughly, the War of Independence to World War I – the American party system was comparatively fluid; the Republican Party itself was a product of its transformations.

Since World War I, third party activity has played a far less significant role in American politics.  Third party organizing, on both the left and the right, has come to very little; indeed, most efforts have failed outright.   Even parties that have survived for several election cycles – the Greens, for example, or the Libertarians – have never had more than a marginal impact on the larger political scene.

It could have been different last year.  Disappointed Sanders supporters could have either brought the Greens out of the margins or forged a new electoral presence on their own.    It never happened, however; thanks, at least in part, to Sanders’ defection to the Clinton camp.

And so for the time being, same as it ever was, Democrats and Republicans are all we have.  Nevertheless, the two party system is defunct.  The party machines remain, the apparatchiks are still there, and “politics,” for most Americans, is still about electoral contests between Democrats and Republicans.   But like Christianity, on Nietzsche’s telling, it is all built on a foundation of bad faith.

Those who think otherwise are deceiving themselves; trying, in vain, to defy historical currents that are bound to prevail.  This is happening even now, before our eyes. It can sometimes be hard, as it were, to see the forest for the trees, but the evidence is there: each year, the ranks of “independents” grow, and levels of satisfaction with the major parties declines.

Where, not long ago, people identified as Democrats or Republicans, hardly anyone does nowadays; not even people who can be counted on to vote reliably for candidates from one or the other side.

***

As the electoral results from 2016 came in, it looked, for a moment, as if at least the Republicans were riding high.  No one thinks that any longer – not as their decomposition proceeds apace, just as palpably as the Democrats’.

Even on a worst-case scenario, a few more electoral cycles should suffice for both Republicans and Democrats either to dissipate entirely into the ether or else to survive as historical remnants only, hanging on by the skins of their teeth.

Entrenched institutional structures are keeping them both alive for now, but as the parties themselves become increasingly irrelevant, those institutions will be unable to go on playing that role.

Therefore, in not too many more years, the duopoly system will exist in historical memory only – in much the way that, in Nietzsche’s view, the God of Christianity, Judaism and Islam will, in due course, join the gods of Greek and Roman antiquity.

Had events played out in 2016 as most informed people thought they would, we would be at that point already.  Trump had, in effect, run against the Republican Party and defeated it; and Hillary Clinton was set to finish both him and the Republicans off.

Many voters hated her (mostly for the wrong reasons), and hardly anyone genuinely liked her, but at least she wasn’t a raving embarrassment.  More important by far, the political, social, economic and media “power elite” was behind her a thousand percent.

But she was such an awful candidate that she managed to lose to a billionaire buffoon.

Having decided that blaming elderly white working class voters in rural areas was unwise, influential Democrats and their media flacks now blame the Russians – with every breath they take.  Could they be that intent on starting World War III?  Or is it just that were they to face up to their own ineptitude, they fear they would lose their grip on the institutional power they still enjoy thanks to the duopoly’s continuing existence?

Whatever the reason, there is comfort in the realization that they, like the Republicans, are doomed.

Republicans need Trump to get their agendas through; Trump needs them because neither he nor his people are capable of governing.   It is a marriage made in hell.

But, sooner or later, as scandals surrounding Trump mount and as more and more Trump voters realize that they have been conned, Republicans will come to the realization that they are better off without the Donald, after all.

And Trump, desperate to hold onto his credibility by keeping, or appearing to keep, the promises he made while campaigning, will find it expedient that he would be better off without Republican deficit hawks tearing those promises to pieces.

Many, probably most, Trump voters could care less about the Republicans’ several agendas.  They didn’t vote for Trump because they were pro-Republican or even because they liked him.   They voted for Trump because they were fed up with the Democratic Party, and because they were inclined to think that a rich businessman who says whatever is on his mind would be a better “change agent” than a money-grubbing Washington insider who talks in weasel words.

Being in thrall to unjustifiable and patently false, but quintessentially American, beliefs about the essential goodness of rich businessmen, they thought that Trump was beyond feathering his own nest, and that he would know how to shake things up and make change – for the better — happen.

Boy, were they wrong!

As a rule, people resist admitting their mistakes.  But with Trump and his band of dunces calling the shots, it should not take much to convince the voters Trump duped that the man is more like the Wizard of Oz than the Ayn Rand hero they imagined him to be.

The problem, though, is that those voters were right last November about Clinton and the Democrats; and, except for some hand wringing about the need to be less dismissive of the sad sacks Trump duped, nothing much in that department has changed.

What has changed, however, is that, outside the Democratic Party and at its fringes, an anti-Trump resistance movement is taking shape.

As long as Trump and his minions remain preposterous, that movement will not subside the way that, for example, Occupy Wall Street did.  That condition is sure to be fulfilled; Trump and the people around him were born preposterous.  They cannot help themselves.

If the Democratic Party holds fast to its ways, the anti-Trump resistance will sweep them aside – either directly, by leading voters out of the morass that the Democratic Party has become, or, on the Tea Party model, by taking the Party over and transforming it beyond recognition.

Either way, the Democratic Party’s days are numbered.

The Republicans’ days are too.   Indeed, it is a miracle that the GOP has survived for as long as it has under the weight of its cultural contradictions.  And yet, that jumble of yahoo theocrats, rightwing libertarians, conformist suburbanites, High Finance buccaneers and well-heeled members of the Country Club set has so far managed to hang together.  Could that hideous mélange long survive Trump and the Trumpists too?  The chances are slim.

Nietzsche asked: “what are these churches now if they are not the tombs and sepulchers of God?”

We could ask, with similar justification, what are the duopoly’s institutional structures and engrained habits of thought and practice now if not the final resting place of a party system that would long ago have passed away, but for the efforts of Democrats and Republicans to maintain their stranglehold over the body politic?

The duopoly is dead; and the sooner this fact registers, the better off everyone who stands to gain from (small-d) democracy will be.

ANDREW LEVINE is the author most recently of THE AMERICAN IDEOLOGY (Routledge) and POLITICAL KEY WORDS (Blackwell) as well as of many other books and articles in political philosophy. His most recent book is In Bad Faith: What’s Wrong With the Opium of the People. He was a Professor (philosophy) at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and a Research Professor (philosophy) at the University of Maryland-College Park.  He is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion (AK Press).

http://www.counterpunch.org/2017/03/17/our-two-party-system-is-dead/

Open borders are the only way to defeat Trump and build a better world

Everyone’s wrong on immigration:

This entire debate is built on cruel and false assumptions. Here’s the truth: Immigrants’ rights are human rights

Everyone's wrong on immigration: Open borders are the only way to defeat Trump and build a better world
(Credit: Getty/John Moore)

There were other immigrants who came here in the bottom of slave ships, who worked even longer, even harder, for less, but they too had a dream that one day their sons, daughters, grandsons, granddaughters, great-grandsons, great-granddaughters might pursue prosperity and happiness in this land.
— Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson, March 6, 2017

The immigration debate has become mired in myths, falsehoods and half-truths, with little clarity among liberals or conservatives alike. Conservatives think there’s nothing wrong with Trump defending America to keep “the bad ones” out because, after all, every sovereign nation should have that right. Liberals concede the point, but modify it a bit by claiming exception for the “good ones,” such as the Dreamers (those who were “brought” here at a young age “due to no fault of their own”). Immigrants’ rights advocates seek an elusive middle ground, even as the terrain of immigration has shifted from morality or economics or even national identity to the spectacle of crime and punishment.

Most Americans who have no direct experience with the immigration system are easily misled by xenophobic claims that often sound commonsensical, such as the (false) notion that immigrants drive down wages and make those who are native-born lose their jobs. They may not want to go to the extreme of taking up arms to defend the nation — as do the Minutemen on the southwestern border — but they passively accept the myths. What many don’t realize is that each time a right is taken away from immigrants, with implied consent, it eventually affects citizens’ rights, too. To remain distant from the issue is no longer an option for any of us. Secretary Ben Carson’s comment above had less to do with our past history with slavery than our future ideal for immigrants.

We want to shut ourselves up behind a wall — paid for by Mexico, of course — as we turn citizenship into a privilege derived from exaggerated notions of loyalty. Such self-disciplining consciousness is the other side of the overt criminalization of immigrants. American citizenship has become the sole passage to a utopia of freedom by way of crushing the undeserving other, the poor immigrant.

What is going on? Why has the country turned so anti-immigrant (despite hollow claims from politicians that we remain “a nation of immigrants”)? Did 9/11 cause this? Is it because of President Donald Trump? Or is there something predating terrorism or the authoritarian upsurge? Is changing sentiment toward immigrants rooted in rational anxieties, such as concern about jobs? Or does it represent a free-floating, pessimistic discourse that is as much a part of our self-construction as the optimism we’re more used to hearing?

Here are some of our most damaging misunderstandings in this defining area of national policy:

1. There is no line to get into.

Americans seem to think that if you are a capable person somewhere in the world, you just need to get in line, and if everything checks out, you’re in. Or if you have relatives who have spent their life in America and you want to join them, you’d join the line. The idea that people should “get in the back of the line,” a mantra we hear every time the topic of so-called comprehensive immigration reform comes up, doubles down on the nonsense.

There is no line. There is only a nightmarish engagement with an immigration bureaucracy for those lucky enough to deal with it.

Perhaps there is a theoretical line. If you are a sibling of a Filipino citizen, you may wait up to 20 years to get in — if your family member will take full financial responsibility, at the risk of being pursued in court if an emergency compels you to seek public assistance. If you are a high-skilled immigrant in demand by Silicon Valley, you may seek an H-1B visa. But you must be the type of person who fits corporate America’s vision of a good citizen in every aspect of your life. Immigrants with technical skills arrive on a presumed pathway to citizenship, even if theoretically they are temporary immigrants.

What if you are a bright young person with a visitor visa but want to study and live in the United States? Adjusting your status may not be easy, and if you run afoul of any technicalities, you’re out of luck and “illegal.”

What if your visa has lapsed, yet you found the resources to establish a life here, marrying a citizen and having children? Can you correct your status? You’d have to prove hardship of a kind that would satisfy the immigration bureaucracy, a fantasy of torture and devastation for yourself and your family, rather than any realistic definition of hardship.

The line is a fantasy. Those whom corporate America desires go straight to the front anyway, their papers awaiting them and their families. For those who have ever struggled in life, who may be from poor backgrounds but want to better themselves through education and civic participation, the options are limited.

Many of us know someone who may be an outstanding citizen in every respect, even a prominent member of the community, except for the lack of technical legality. They may even have the money to pursue a legal avenue. Have we ever considered why these people choose to remain “illegal”? If there were a line for accomplished immigrants who desired to fix their status, wouldn’t they join in?

Shouldn’t the immigrant, without having to be tied to an absurd mythology of hardship, be able to fulfill the desire to stay, based on equities built up that would be lost with the finality of deportation? Isn’t that what most people imagine when they say those who want to stay should “get right with the law,” that they should pay the fines and “get their citizenship”? Our immigration practices have become so distorted that such possibilities do not really exist.

2. The distinction between legal and illegal is meaningless.

Both restrictionists and reformists love to say, “I’m for legal immigration but against illegal immigration.” The current regime’s most prominent nativists love to make this claim, even as their intent is to end legal immigration, just as we did, more or less, during the 1920s.

Yet a more absurd proposition is difficult to imagine, given a government that encourages underground migration and suppresses official migration with every resource at its disposal. An immigrant is always in a tenuous situation — as our predecessors knew well before we formalized whom we wanted and whom we didn’t — as he or she moves from temporary to permanent, denizen to resident, illegal to legal, or in the reverse direction, with ambiguity clouding the definition at any given time.

Before neoliberalism reshaped immigration policies in the 1990s, professional workers used to be in an extended limbo because their status, once they were sponsored by an employee, wasn’t exactly clear. They were not supposed to be here, but they were and already working for their sponsor, based on the probability that their labor certification would be approved. We never had a problem with “illegality” in the case of professionals, though we have cleared things up in their favor quite a bit since then.

On the other hand, what is your status if you applied as a refugee from, say, Central America 20 or 30 years ago? Your application was provisionally approved, but has fallen into limbo; a deportation order has not been issued, but your status has lapsed. We wanted you when there was a “Soviet-sponsored” Marxist insurgency that we were fighting, but we don’t care about you when we’ve decided to leave homegrown turmoil alone. Meanwhile, you’ve gone to school, had children, started a business, employed workers and paid taxes. Your children are allowed to sponsor you when they come of age. Shortly before they are able to do so, are you legal or illegal? Do you become legal the day they apply for you or do you have to wait until approval? In the years it might take immigration officials to decide your case, are you legal or illegal?

Many of us know of such ambiguous situations, which apply to all migrants, except those whom corporate America has desired unreservedly over the last 30 years, since we brought immigration into line with neoliberal economic needs. Our federal immigration laws consist of layers upon layers of irrational, inconsistent, even bizarre and inexplicable exceptions, preferences, loopholes, punishments, waivers, mandates and discretions that render the division between “legal” and “illegal” meaningless.

3. Immigration law is by nature exclusionary and racist.

We didn’t always have a federal immigration bureaucracy. The idea began in the 1870s and 1880s, when we had finished building the railroads and accomplished enough developmental goals to feel that we could dispense with cheap imported labor. The presence of large numbers of Chinese and other Asians on the West Coast led to the complaints about unfair job competition that we hear today, buttressed by similar inflammatory rhetoric. The racist Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 was our first immigration law, setting the tone for our federal bureaucracy ever since then.

For Justice Stephen Johnson Field, who ruled on the first important case upholding exclusion, Chae Chan Ping v. United States in 1889, Chinese people “remained strangers in the land,” forever alien and unassimilable. We went from individual states setting the conditions for immigration to a federal bureaucracy founded on excluding a subpar race from tainting our racial stock.

From our country’s foundation until our first immigration laws, our openness allowed us to successfully assimilate immigrants of diverse origins, all of whom had at first been looked upon suspiciously, such as the Germans and the Irish. Once we established a federal bureaucracy, it needed continuous rationales to sustain itself and grow. After excluding Chinese people, the country moved on to Japanese people, and then Eastern and Southern Europeans including Jews, followed by subversives during the cold war and finally Muslims and Arabs as the latest targets for exclusion.

Some of us may be under the illusion that we follow objective criteria to decide who comes in and who stays, observing standards that make moral, economic or political sense. That has never been the case since the beginning of federal immigration policy.

The targets have varied, but the logic remains the same. At the beginning of the 20th century, progressives, trade unionists, eugenicists and respectable politicians of all stripes were angered by large numbers of “inferior,” disease-carrying, non-English-speaking Southern and Eastern Europeans, so we shut them out with the 1924 national origins quota system and decided instead to unofficially bring in large numbers of Mexicans.

We preferred Mexican immigrants persisting in limbo to European immigrants we would have to accommodate as citizens. We just had to make sure to periodically evict them from territorial assertion, as we did during the Great Depression, and as we did when we followed up the Bracero Program (importing guest workers) with Operation Wetback (involving mass deportation), a pattern that repeats to this day. We might say that we had an unofficial bracero program since the beginning of the North American Free Trade Agreement until today, but we now want to expel that labor force.

Our history of exclusion is inherent in the nature of the bureaucracy and in all the laws that have been passed to empower it. During World War II we decided not to admit Jews seeking refuge from the European inferno. The logic of Asian exclusion easily led to the internment of Japanese-Americans by our most progressive president. Today we willfully exclude some of the best and brightest amont us, if they happen to be Latino or Muslim or Arab. Exclusion affects whole classes of people and causes great national damage each time.

4. The contemporary havoc goes back to the 1996 law.

But the repugnant national origins quota system, the internment of a whole race of people and the persecution of individuals because of political beliefs are all things in the past, right? We don’t do these things anymore, do we? After all, what was the great liberalization of the 1960s all about, if not to end such practices?

In reality, some of the most barbaric practices we as a nation have followed in terms of removal, slavery and exclusion have come back in full force due to a reconceptualization of immigration under the 1996 law called the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act. The key word here is “responsibility,” used in a twisted neoliberal manner, placing burdens that are not so much responsibilities as refusals of humanity.

Though Trump’s so-called travel ban has been getting all the attention, the infinitely greater area of concern is his targeting of every immigrant as potentially a “criminal alien” subject to “expedited removal.” The authority that Trump needs to put his genocidal plan into action was gifted to him under the 1996 law. It vastly expanded the definition of crimes and included everything from shoplifting to child neglect as “aggravated felonies” that could lead to deportation without appeal. “Expedited removal” means that the traditional safeguards offered to those under deportation proceedings are gone, and prosecutorial discretion is limited to the point of nonexistence.

The distinction between legal and illegal is intentionally blurred in such laws. “Aggravated felonies” retroactively subject not just undocumented people but legal permanent residents to deportation. Countless permanent residents have fallen under the net of this repressive law, one of the worst in our nation’s history. Years or decades ago someone may have copped a guilty plea to a misdemeanor to get a lighter sentence, as is common in our criminal justice system. An encounter with the police, bringing the earlier “crime” to light, may abruptly destroy that person’s life.

The 1996 law severely curtails the chances for refugees to have a fair hearing, while asylum seekers are presumed guilty when making a claim and put in a mandatory detention that can last for years. Families who have experienced torture in countries that the U.S. has often had a hand in destabilizing are then placed in detention among hardened criminals and made to wait for years before knowing their fate.

The 1996 law was part of the same movement toward “personal responsibility” — a euphemism for blaming victims for social crimes against them and then punishing them — that also resulted in “welfare reform” and expanded the reach of counterterrorism in a law that became a precursor to the Patriot Act. These three laws — on immigration, welfare and terrorism — overlap in some respects, for instance in curtailing judicial review or ending public assistance for legal immigrants.

5. Neoliberal economic policies are the main cause of “illegality.”

So-called illegality is a self-created bureaucratic problem, which is convenient for the neoliberal state to address as a criminal matter. It comes in handy because it keeps the lid on demands for democracy across racial lines, and it maintains a permanent underclass without rights, acting as a counterweight against universal fairness in the workplace.

The modern problem of illegality began in 1994 with the passage of NAFTA. That agreement offered a set of advantages to American big business and agriculture, creating tremendous pressure on Mexican small industry and farms and leading to the displacement of millions of workers, and many of them headed north. NAFTA freed capital movement at the same time as it restricted labor movement. So on the one hand, we created dire pressure for migration northward — to call it “push and pull” seems disingenuous, as if referring to inexorable laws of economics — at the same time as we cut off pathways to legal migration.

Before the 1990s, we always had a pattern of circular migration from Mexico. Migrants came and went; they didn’t necessarily want to stay for good. Almost 30 million Mexicans entered the country between the start of the Bracero Program and the 1986 immigration law, but most of them went back. But the neoliberal regime made the price of mobility prohibitive. Border controls became so repressive, and the price of re-entry so high, that many migrants decided to put down roots. The children of these migrants have become the Dreamers we now claim are the immigrants worthiest of our compassion.

When we wanted cheap agricultural labor we willfully let in large numbers of immigrants whom we did not want to assimilate. Now that the latest phase of globalization has run its course, the Trump regime wants to repatriate these people, long resident in our country, back “home.” We can always crack the wall open a bit when we need a new burst of cheap labor.

Under neoliberalism, we shuffle off unwanted labor to our private detention system, which daily commits horrors on a scale worthy of history’s worst nightmares. Our policy preference is to put immigrants in detention for long periods of time before expelling them, so that they become revenue-earners for private prisons. Under Trump we are about to witness a massive resurgence of the private prison industry, which lobbies for criminalization of immigrants.

6. Comprehensive immigration reform is a boondoggle.

In every version it appears, comprehensive immigration reform, a favorite prescription of both parties, is nothing but a Trojan horse to sneak in and formalize existing inhuman practices. Each immigration reform bill has been increasingly regressive, starting with the one that actually passed, Ronald Reagan’s 1986 Immigration Reform and Control Act.

Every comprehensive immigration reform proposal attempts to do three things: 1. It further criminalizes and delegalizes growing categories of people, reducing pathways to citizenship, while offering some sort of legal status to those few who qualify within increasingly narrow boundaries. 2. It seeks to convert immigrants into guest workers to the extent possible, implementing a regime that strays from linear outcomes. 3. As a bargaining chip to sway restrictionists, who may have problems even with limited forms of legal status, it implements new policing measures to harden the already militarized border.

Comprehensive immigration reform is no solution. The 2006, 2007 and 2013 bills were each more draconian than their predecessors. The last one, under Obama, was much harsher than the ones Bush wanted. Militarization, which already stands at mind-boggling levels, with more than 20,000 border patrol agents, would have gone up drastically in each immigration reform bill. To the extent that a wall can exist, it already does. Each time an immigration reform bill is proposed, its legalization provisions don’t become reality, but its militaristic provisions come true by other means.

Ever since the 1970s — with the arrival of Southeast Asian and Caribbean refugees, and the growing visibility of Asians in our population — sharply restrictionist moves have been packaged as comprehensive immigration reform. Environmentalist John Tanton has been at the fount of most recent anti-immigrant advocacy. His Federation for American Immigration Reform, along with associated organizations such as the Center for Immigration Studies and NumbersUSA, seeks to end legal immigration. Immigration reform bills have moved this goal closer and closer in sight, until Trump can almost smell victory. FAIR and its affiliated organizations are consulted by the press on every policy move and given equal footing with the vast array of pro-immigrant groups.

7. The Dreamers have been a destructive wedge issue.

This relates to my point about how some immigrants who are offered ambiguous legalization, rather than universal access to citizenship being offered to everyone under predictable conditions. The Dreamers are the splinter group artfully deployed to silence the demand for rights for all other immigrants.

The concept of the Dreamers arose in the early 2000s (Sen. Dick Durbin was an early proponent), once the 1996 legislation had had time to do its work. Instead of welcoming the immigrant, as we had done through all our history, we would welcome only the Dreamer. Anyone not certifiably a Dreamer would not belong.

Who exactly is a Dreamer? A Dreamer is the postmodern version of a slave, embodying the idea of the pliant immigrant with which we seem most comfortable. The Dreamer is brought here against his will (evoking the rhetoric of slavery), yet harbors no resentment toward the white majority who have enslaved his people. The Dreamer is not expected to mind that his parents may not be recognized as people, even if they have present in the community for decades. The Dreamer willingly pays for college out of pocket, putting up with all the obstacles strewn by anti-immigrant states, particularly in the South and Southwest. The Dreamer is unashamedly invested in the capitalist dream that he or she will have to purchase, as a consumer but not a citizen. The Dreamer is expected to be grateful for grudging symbols of identity, a temporary work permit or a driver’s license. The Dreamer begs to be granted the least token of recognition in return for partaking in our collective dream.

What about elderly and disabled people, the creative and artistic, the bohemian and nonconformist, all those not employed in the professions that neoliberalism elevates? What about the parents of Dreamers? What about those who have committed any transgressions? They don’t count as Dreamers;, they are “criminal aliens.”

The Dreamer is seen as accepting exclusion as a principle in return for being made a provisional part of our nationhood. No doubt Trump will use the Dreamers to split the rest from this small slice, to whom he might grant minimum concessions on the road to ending legal immigration. The Dreamers would be expected to go along, because all comprehensive immigration reform bills, former President Barack Obama’s included, have separated the “good” from the “bad.”

8. Immigrant rights are human rights.

There is a debate whether constitutional rights extend to all “persons” present in the United States or only to citizens. The Constitution clearly says that rights belong to persons, not just citizens. Today the rights of noncitizens are being abridged as perhaps never before, and there’s a paramount need for the defense of the idea that immigrants have all constitutional rights.

Are freedom of speech and association, due process and equal rights limited to citizens? Such would not seem to be the case if we look at much of our judicial history. Yet there is plenty of judicial precedent for those who want to construct a vision of constitutional rights applying to all people.

When the Chinese Exclusion Act set up the federal bureaucracy, states such as California and Arizona started passing legislation discriminating against immigrants. The courts held at the time that equal protection applied to persons, not just citizens, for example in striking down laws that discriminated against Chinese owners of laundries in California. And in the Truaux v. Raich decision, the Supreme Court held in 1915 that Arizona could not restrict the employment of immigrants.

The important recent landmark case is the Plyler v. Doe decision of 1982, when the Supreme Court held that Texas was obligated to provide access to kindergarten through grade 12 education to all people, regardless of status. In succeeding years, the precedent set by the Plyler decision, when it comes to immigrants’ right to public services necessary for a fulfilling life, has not been consistently applied. Also, if kindergarten through grade 12 access is vital, then isn’t the same true for higher education?

We tend to assume that people present on our soil have access to constitutional rights, at the very least the right to due process and habeas corpus (which was stripped from immigrants in the 2005 REAL ID Act). In reality, we have intentionally created a vast population of essentially stateless or displaced people, refusing to extend constitutional rights to them, regardless of the letter and spirit of our founding documents.

Once we go down that path and create two regimes of law, one for citizens and one for everyone else, then it is inevitable that the regime created for immigrants will start affecting citizens as well, and constitutional rights will become restricted for all, as indeed has been the case over the last few decades. We cannot pretend anymore that what happens to “them,” as immigrants, does not affect “us,” as citizens. In every area of law, from the rights of consumers against corporations to the rights of citizens against the police, we have seen a drastic diminishment. Much of that has to do with our callousness toward immigrants.

9. The president has almost unlimited powers.

To the extent that Trump will be able to have his ban against Muslim immigration approved by the courts (and we seem to be headed toward extension to more Muslim countries), it will be because of the plenary power doctrine.

Ever since the federal immigration bureaucracy came into being, the courts have ceded vast powers to the executive to set the guidelines for immigration. Trump will make full use of this authority, some of it latent, some of it used by other presidents.

The Chae Chan Ping decision of 1889 was the first case, soon after the Chinese Exclusion Act, where the plenary power doctrine became inscribed, justifying the government’s power to exclude. After World War II, several landmark cases that were decided amid an atmosphere of Cold War paranoia — Knauff v. Shaughnessy (in 1950), Harisiades v. Shaughnessy (in 1952) and Shaughnessy v. Mezei (in 1953) — reaffirmed plenary power. Immigrants trying to return to the country were stopped or detained, based on alleged subversive views. Granting such unlimited powers is only asking for trouble when an unscrupulous administration comes along to take undue advantage.

Trump will test the limits of the plenary power doctrine with a range of executive orders and legislative initiatives. The only check on his power to do with immigrants as he wishes is for the courts to return firmly to precedents where limits on plenary power have been acknowledged — and for the courts to take a stand against the existence of this power in the first place.

10. Open borders are the only way to go.

We are in a situation of chaos, breeding technical illegality, because federal regulations have become too complex. Comprehensive immigration reform of any type would make these laws even more cumbersome by drastically curtailing family unification (our quotas, even after the 1965 liberalization, have always been vastly insufficient to the needs) and thus inviting more illegality. I don’t want to rest my case for open borders on the economic justification, but studies in the 1980s noted that world economic output would double if open borders prevailed everywhere, and studies in the 2000s showed even greater gains for the world economy.

Americans often compare the nation to a house, arguing that immigrants who enter without inspection or overstay their visas are like robbers whom we have every right to detain and expel. But a country or even a state or a city or a neighborhood is not a house (just as it is simplistic to compare a country’s budget to a household’s). The nation is dynamic and includes all of us. The nation is an abstraction is only as good as the operation of freedom within it. The same is even truer of the world. If the world cannot be put inside a border, then a country trying to do the same is foolish.

A wall is a fantasy, not a reality, that makes us economically and politically weaker. None of the moral grounds for exclusion make any sense, despite our knee-jerk resort to national sovereignty. Imagine if America had kept admitting Asians throughout the 19th and 20th centuries, instead of allowing them in only after 1965. Imagine if we had continued allowing Southern and Eastern Europeans after 1925. Would we have been a more progressive country, less likely to have succumbed to the burdens of an empire, with a more global outlook in the crucial midcentury years?

Today immigrants are treated as criminals for their violations, with deportation as the ultimate life-altering penalty, and yet immigrants are not provided the rights due to a criminal defendant. Immigration is and always has been a civil matter; it is not a crime to be present without authorization. We have in essence two sets of laws, one for immigrants, who do not have the rights of defendants when charged with “crimes,” and one for everyone else. The only solution to this anomaly is to cease treating immigration violations as crimes and to completely end detention for immigration. If an immigrant commits a crime, he or she should be prosecuted under normal laws, as a criminal defendant not as a “criminal alien.”

Ultimately, the only solution is to reduce the complexities, to end the web of regulations and exceptions — which, just as in corporate law, favor the powerful at the expense of the weak — and to finally shed immigration laws altogether.

Immigration should become a purely voluntary affair, no different than filing taxes. We trust citizens to do that, reporting millions of dollars in income. So why can’t we trust people to report their status and file for changes based on equities they have built in our community? As soon as a person steps on our soil, he or she should have full constitutional rights, so as to not be subject to exploitation. Why can’t we visualize immigration without government regulation? We certainly did very well with that regime until the federal bureaucracy emerged in the 1880s, and with revived global understanding we can do so again.

President Donald Trump is taking advantage, for white nationalist purposes, of a legacy of tragically unfair rules that have defined our immigration system ever since it has existed. We are now bearing the full fruits of a system that was begging to end in catastrophe.

In the first six months of 2011, more than 46,000 immigrants with at least one U.S. citizen child were deported by the Obama administration. In the 10 years following the passage of the 1996 law, more than 12 million people were forced to agree to voluntary departure. Though Immigration and Customs Enforcement under Trump is dramatically apprehending immigrants in public venues — a theater of cruelty meant to terrorize everyone — and causing great consternation, this exact process of splitting up families has been going on for two vicious decades, in numbers that classify as one the world’s major human rights calamities.

Countless numbers of immigrants, even legal permanent residents, have been hauled away from their families, their communities, everything they know and love, based on some minor misdemeanor they may have committed decades ago, which has suddenly been reclassified as an “aggravated felony,” and is cause for their deportation to places they have no memory of. Such immigrants do not have the right to be heard by a judge except in a perfunctory manner, with little room for clemency based on individual circumstances.

We do not call our immigrant detention facilities concentration camps, but at any given time we have about 34,000 immigrants serving time in prisons far from home, waiting to be deported. Is this any different than the prison regimes of the most brutal governments we have protested?

Migration is a human right. A person anywhere in the world has the right to migrate, just as there is a right to free speech or association. In fact, most other rights follow from the right to migrate. If governments are allowed to lock up people behind walls, then it’s only a matter of time before other rights will dissipate, too. If we do not recognize migration as an inviolable human right, and if we do not give up the idea of the wall, we are bound to lose human rights for all of us.

American citizenship, by having become associated with the hypernationalist project, will at first look enviable and untouchable, but ultimately will be so cheapened as to be worth nothing. For the courts, as they face the Trump assault, the challenge is clear: Do away with the plenary power doctrine and extend full constitutional rights to immigrants. Rights should depend on personhood not citizenship, as some of our best legal minds have recognized throughout our history.

One thing that would strongly push the country in the opposite direction than the one Trump intends is for individual states, particularly progressive states in the West or Northeast, to pass laws as favorable to immigrants as the ones in Arizona, Georgia and Alabama have been unfavorable. What if, say, California were to pass legislation extending full human rights to all people present in the state? That would set up a historic confrontation, bringing out all the anomalies in our inhuman immigration regime for due public consideration. “Sanctuary” would become a constructive, constitutional, universal concept, not a purely reactive one against police powers.

Every time we say that we should let immigrants stay because they do the dirtiest work that native-born folks aren’t willing to do, we should remember that we do not justify our ancestors’ arrival with that logic. We deserve to be here because we have a human right to be, just as we accepted this in the centuries preceding racist federal bureaucracies. We are here because we are humans, not because of our utility toward someone else’s comfort.

 

Anis Shivani is at work on a novel called “Abruzzi, 1936.” His most recent books are “Karachi Raj: A Novel,” “Whatever Speaks on Behalf of Hashish: Poems” and “Soraya: Sonnets.” “Literary Writing in the Twenty-First Century: Conversations” comes out in April 2017.

How much did Russian hacking affect congressional races? And how deeply was the GOP involved?

Why is the speaker so blasé about Russian meddling? Maybe because he knows it helped the GOP win close races

How much did Russian hacking affect congressional races? And how deeply was the GOP involved?

(Credit: Getty/Mark Wilson)

If there’s one thing you can say about the Donald Trump presidency so far, it isn’t boring. From horror stories at the border to Trump’s semi-triumphant teleprompter speech and Attorney General Jeff Sessions being personally connected to the growing Russia scandal, this week has been a doozy.

I was not surprised that Sessions finally recused himself from the campaign scandal. It was absurd that he was not required to do so before he was confirmed. What finally forced him to take the step was the report that he had met with the Russian ambassador twice during the summer and fall, after having told the Judiciary Committee that he had not had contact with any Russian officials during the campaign. Top Democrats are now calling for Sessions’ resignation, and the story of his contacts with the Russian ambassador is still unfolding with new details about whether he discussed the Trump campaign.

The upshot is that at the very least Sessions showed appalling judgment in agreeing to meet the Russian ambassador the day after The Wall Street Journal reported that the director of national intelligence had declared that the Russian government was behind the hacking of the Democratic National Committee. It’s very hard to believe that this didn’t come up in the conversation. Even if the two men were unaware of that comment, they must have been aware of the discussion the previous night in a presidential town hall forum with Matt Lauer, in which Trump praised Vladimir Putin in such florid terms that The New York Times story that morning began this way:

Donald J. Trump’s campaign on Thursday reaffirmed its extraordinary embrace of Russia’s president, Vladimir V. Putin, signaling a preference for the leadership of an authoritarian adversary over that of America’s own president, despite a cascade of criticism from Democrats and expressions of discomfort among Republicans.

One of those discomfited was House Speaker Paul Ryan who was quoted in the article saying, “Vladimir Putin is an aggressor who does not share our interests,” and accusing the Russian leader of “conducting state-sponsored cyberattacks” on our political system.

This was just one of the many times Ryan zigged and zagged during the campaign, constantly calibrating how far he could go in criticizing Trump while keeping Trump’s passionate voters off his back. This particular issue was a tough one, since until quite recently the Republicans had been inveterate Russia hawks and the abrupt switch to dovish goodwill was undeniably disorienting.

Prior to Sessions’ recusal on Thursday morning, Ryan held a press conference in which he blamed the Democrats for “setting their hair on fire” to prompt the press to cover the story. That was ridiculous. The press needs no prodding to cover this scandal; it’s as juicy as they get. Ryan also pooh-poohed the idea that Sessions had any obligation to remove himself from the investigation unless he was personally implicated and robotically repeated the contention that nobody had seen any evidence that there was collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russians.

That may be true, and presumably we’ll find out sooner or later. But it’s important to remember that DNC and Hillary Clinton’s campaign chair, John Podesta, were not the only targets of hacking. Russian agents also allegedly hacked the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. That story has been scandalously undercovered, something for which Paul Ryan is no doubt very grateful.

On Dec. 13 The New York Times published an article that laid out how the hacked material was used in various House races. At first the hackers just released a lot of personal information, which was used by hostile individuals to harass and threaten the candidates. Then the hacks and dumps by the person or group known as Guccifer 2.0 became more sophisticated and targeted certain close races, releasing politically valuable tactical information:

The seats that Guccifer 2.0 targeted in the document dumps were hardly random: They were some of the most competitive House races in the country. In [Annette] Taddeo’s district [in Florida], the House seat is held by a Republican, even though the district leans Democratic and Mrs. Clinton won it this year by a large majority.

To prepare for the race, the D.C.C.C. had done candid evaluations of the two candidates vying in the primary for the nomination. Those inside documents, bluntly describing each candidate’s weaknesses, are considered routine research inside political campaigns. But suddenly they were being aired in public.

Taddeo lost her primary race to another Democrat named Joe Garcia who used the hacked material against her. And then this happened:

After Mr. Garcia defeated Ms. Taddeo in the primary using the material unearthed in the hacking, the National Republican Campaign Committee and a second Republican group with ties to the House speaker, Paul Ryan, turned to the hacked material to attack him.

In Florida, Guccifer 2.0’s most important partner was an obscure political website run by an anonymous blogger called HelloFLA!, run by a former Florida legislative aide turned Republican lobbyist. The blogger sent direct messages via Twitter to Guccifer 2.0 asking for copies of any additional Florida documents.

By September, the hacker had released documents in close House races in Pennsylvania, New Hampshire, Ohio, Illinois and North Carolina, working with Republican bloggers who disseminated the information for them. They also posted information on Rep. Ben Ray Luján, D-N.M., the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee chair, even though he was effectively running unopposed.

Both Luján and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi wrote letters to Ryan asking him not to use the material and received no response. His spokeswoman told the Times that Ryan had no control over how the stolen information was used. Nonetheless, there were some Republicans who refused to do so, saying it was inappropriate. They were rare.

I don’t think anyone believes it’s likely that Paul Ryan personally colluded with the Russians in this operation. The fact that many Republicans, some affiliated with the National Republican Congressional Committee and a group closely affiliated with Ryan, eagerly used it to win their campaigns is not surprising. But it is highly unlikely that Republican strategists or party officials with strong knowledge of the House campaigns didn’t collude with the hackers at some point, because it’s difficult to believe that Russians would have which House races to target without some help from people with expertise concerning the 2016 map.

Republican congressional leaders must be thanking their lucky stars daily that the Trump administration is such a scandal-ridden Dumpster fire. If things ever calm down in the White House, somebody might just turn his or her attention to the question of what Paul Ryan knew and when.

Heather Digby Parton, also known as “Digby,” is a contributing writer to Salon. She was the winner of the 2014 Hillman Prize for Opinion and Analysis Journalism.

Democrats debate identity politics

identity2

By Niles Niemuth
15 December 2016

In the aftermath of the victory of Donald Trump over Hillary Clinton, a heated debate has been raging in Democratic Party circles over the efficacy of identity politics and its role in the party’s electoral debacle.

Some figures within the party and its periphery have raised concerns that the overriding focus on racial and gender politics has prevented the Democrats from making an effective appeal to broader segments of society beyond those in better-off and more privileged layers of the middle class.

In a November 18 New York Times op-ed column titled “The End of Identity Liberalism,” Columbia University humanities professor Mark Lilla, seeking to draw the lessons of Clinton’s loss to Trump, writes: “In recent years American liberalism has slipped into a kind of moral panic about racial, gender and sexual identity that has distorted liberalism’s message and prevented it from becoming a unifying force capable of governing.”

While Clinton was “at her best and most uplifting when she spoke about American interests in world affairs and how they related to our understanding of democracy,” he asserts, “when it came to life at home, she tended on the campaign trail to lose that large vision and slip into the rhetoric of diversity, calling out explicitly to African-American, Latino, LGBT and women voters at every stop.”

This focus on identity was a “strategic mistake,” Lilla writes. He calls instead for a “post-identity” liberalism that places a greater emphasis on civic duty and a new nationalism, drawing inspiration, in part, from Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal.

Lilla’s column corresponds to remarks made by Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders following the election. Sanders campaigned for Clinton after failing in his bid to win the Democratic nomination, but now he is implicitly criticizing her focus on racial and gender politics. “It is not good enough for somebody to say, ‘I’m a woman, vote for me!’” he said in a recent speech. “What we need is a woman who has the guts to stand up to Wall Street, to the insurance companies, to the drug companies, to the fossil fuel industry.”

The actual content of Sanders’ proposals is reactionary. In the name of “taking on the corporations” he advocates an aggressive economic nationalism that echoes the “America-first” trade war program of Trump. Nor does Lilla propose any serious program to challenge the interests of the corporate elite. In his commentary he makes a vague reference to the Democrats’ long-abandoned policies of social reform, but he does so to advocate not a struggle against the corporate elite, but rather a new, “left” form of American nationalism. His “post-identity liberalism” would “speak to the nation as a nation of citizens who are in this together and must help one another.”

What is most striking, however, is the hysterical response such muted criticisms have evoked. The most vociferous attack on Lilla’s article has come from Columbia University law professor Katherine M. Franke, who equates Lilla with the former head of the Ku Klux Klan, David Duke, in a blog post published by the Los Angeles Review of Books on November 21.

“In the new political climate we now inhabit, Duke and Lilla were contributing to the same ideological project, the former cloaked in a KKK hood, the latter in an academic gown,” Franke writes. “Both men are underwriting the whitening of American nationalism, and the re-centering of white lives as lives that matter most in the US. Duke is happy to own the white supremacy of his statements, while Lilla’s op-ed does the more nefarious background work of making white supremacy respectable. Again.”

For Franke, any move away from a politics based on racial and gender identity is equivalent to the promotion of racism and misogyny. “Let me be blunt: this kind of liberalism is a liberalism of white supremacy,” she declares. “It is a liberalism that regards the efforts of people of color and women to call out forms of power that sustain white supremacy and patriarchy as a distraction. It is a liberalism that figures the lives and interests of white men as the neutral, unmarked terrain around which a politics of ‘common interest’ can and should be built.”

These remarks are echoed by Guardian columnist Hadley Freeman, who denounces criticism of identity politics as the “primal scream of the straight white male.” She argues that those who want to “emphasise what we have in common instead of focusing on the differences” have a “delightfully kumbaya view of the world.”

Journalist Tasneem Raja, in a commentary published on National Public Radio’s Code Switch blog, which is dedicated to racial and identity politics, rejects Lilla’s criticisms as support for white supremacy. She accuses Lilla of being “keen on pulling the plug on conversations about multiculturalism and diversity” and thereby unconsciously playing “right into the hands of the newly emboldened neo-Nazis who helped put Trump in office…”

The unhinged response to Lilla’s column reflects entrenched social interests. Franke speaks on behalf of a layer of American academics for whom the politics of identity is a central mechanism for accessing positions of affluence and privilege.

Identity politics has become an entrenched industry. Many of its professional proponents have high-paying academic positions in black and gender studies. Such institutions are funded to the tune of billions of dollars and politically tied to the Democratic Party and corporate America.

According to her university biography, Franke’s research is focused on feminist, queer and critical race theory. She is the director of Columbia University’s Center for Gender and Sexuality Law, a member of the Executive Committee for the Institute for Research on Women, Gender and Sexuality, and a member of the Steering Committee for the Center for the Study of Social Difference.

The relationship of the Democratic Party–and bourgeois politics as a whole–to identity politics is not accidental or secondary. The fixation on the politics of race and gender is inextricably bound up with the protracted shift of the Democratic Party to the right, in line with the drive by the ruling class to claw back all of the gains that workers won through bitter struggle, particularly in the 1930s and the decades following the Second World War.

For the past half century, as it abandoned any commitment to social reform, the Democratic Party adopted identity politics and programs such as Affirmative Action as its modus operandi, building up around it a privileged layer of the upper-middle class on this basis. This period has at the same time seen a historic growth in social inequality, including, and especially, within minority groups and among women.

Between 2005 and 2013, black households earning more than $75,000 were the fastest growing income group in the country, while the top one percent possessed more than 200 percent the wealth of the average black family. Despite the enrichment of this small but substantial and influential layer, the vast majority of African Americans remain deeply impoverished. Half of black households, nearly 7 million people, have little to no household worth.

At the same time, large parts of the country populated by supposedly privileged white workers, particularly in the so called Rust Belt states where Trump defeated Clinton, have been devastated economically by deindustrialization.

Identity politics found its consummate expression in the Clinton campaign, which was based on an alliance of Wall Street, the military-intelligence apparatus and the right-wing purveyors of racial and gender politics.

The proponents of identity politics such as Franke are opposed to economic and social equality. They regard any orientation to working people on a class basis as a threat to their own racial- or gender-based privileges. They are deeply hostile to the working class—black and Latino as well as white.

The anger that these forces direct toward Lilla will be turned with even greater intensity against a politically independent movement of the working class

http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2016/12/15/iden-d15.html

Donald Trump’s unexpected election win was a revolt against Democrats

Movement of movements:

People will only take so much before they rise up and fight back — this voter revolt has been brewing for a while

Movement of movements: Donald Trump’s unexpected election win was a revolt against Democrats

Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, U.S. July 27, 2016. REUTERS/Scott Audette – RTSK0AM(Credit: Reuters)

This piece originally appeared on BillMoyers.com.

There is a critical lesson to learn from this election: People will only take so much before they rise up and fight back. This voter revolt has been brewing for a while. If the Democrats had possessed the capacity to be self-critical, they would have seen it coming, but I suspect that despite the growing unrest they thought they had everything under control. The party has been getting away with manipulation of the debates and primaries, control of the commercial media, empty promises of a better future and blaming everyone but themselves for decades. That era of hubris is over.

The election of Donald Trump was not because people like him; it was a revolt against the Democratic Party, represented this year by Hillary Clinton. It had little to do with her being a woman and everything to do with her representing the political elites who serve Wall Street interests instead of the people. The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) played a major role. Workers in states where manufacturing jobs were moved out of the country felt betrayed by President Obama and didn’t trust Clinton’s new, weak opposition to the TPP, especially after the Democratic National Committee defeated Sanders’ anti-TPP amendment and his campaign. Bernie Sanders and WikiLeaks further exposed the Democrat’s fake populism and corruption.

Unfortunately, the election of Trump, who was perceived as “the outsider,” will unleash even worse policies than Clinton would have enacted, with the exception perhaps of foreign policy. Clinton’s support for a no-fly zone over Syria would have heightened tension with Russia and increased the risk of a major war. Trump says he’ll work things out with Russia. Members of the international peace community are relieved.

Early indications of the Trump agenda, however, signal lower taxes for the wealthy and corporations and greater military spending, which will likely trigger greater austerity measures for the rest of us. He intends to weaken the less-than-adequate current measures in place to mitigate the climate crisis. Trump’s plans for health care are disastrous. Opening the sale of health insurance across state lines may lower prices but at the expense of coverage. Block grants for Medicaid mean states will sacrifice coverage in times of economic stress.

Trump’s unexpected election has created political space for a new agenda. This is a critical moment when the people must continue their revolt by defining the agenda to create an economy that works for everyone, achieve universal health care, end systemic racism, protect the planet, stop wars and more. Now more than ever, we must be clear about the solutions we want such as taxing wealth, improved Medicare for all, jobs with living wages and a clean energy economy by 2030.

The largest movement of movements against rigged corporate trade deals just stopped the TPP. This is a victory of the people over transnational corporations. Let’s build on that victory by continuing to rise up and put an end to plutocracy. In the words of the recently deceased Leonard Cohen, “Democracy is coming to the U.S.A.”

http://www.salon.com/2016/11/20/trumps-unexpected-election-was-a-revolt-against-the-democrats-and-a-call-for-a-new-agenda_partner/?source=newsletter