What Would Happen If Donald Trump Were Impeached?

NEWS & POLITICS
The latest whirlwind of news about Trump, Comey and Russia has again stoked the chorus for impeachment. Here’s how it might happen.

Photo Credit: Gage Skidmore / Flickr

Around midday on Monday, Congressman Al Green, a Democrat from Texas, held a press conference to call for the impeachment of Donald Trump. The firing of FBI director James Comey, Green said, was an obstruction of justice falling clearly into that basket of “high crimes and misdemeanors” prescribed in the Constitution as grounds for impeachment.

Green should have waited a day. Because by the time the sun went down on Tuesday, advocates for Trump’s impeachment had a lot more to work with.

On Tuesday evening, the New York Times reported that Trump asked former FBI director James Comey to drop an investigation into former national security adviser Michael Flynn. “I hope you can see your way clear to letting this go, to letting Flynn go,” Trump said to Comey, according to Comey’s notes on the meeting. “He is a good guy. I hope you can let this go.”

The White House denied the report, which was subsequently confirmed by numerous media outlets.

The Comey news broke before Washington had a chance to catch its breath from Monday’s shocking revelation. Late on Monday afternoon, the Washington Post reported that Trump had divulged highly classified material to Russian diplomats in an Oval Office meeting last week – material so sensitive that homeland security officials scrambled to place calls to US intelligence agencies afterwards to warn them that the information had leaked, via the president’s mouth, to Moscow.

Trump told Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov and ambassador Sergey Kislyak about spying by an unnamed US partner that had revealed an alleged Islamic State plot involving laptop computers and airplanes, the Post reported.

The White House trotted out national security adviser HR McMaster on Monday evening to call the Post report “false” – but then the president, on Tuesday morning, as much as confirmed it on Twitter, although he did not specify the information was classified.

“As president I wanted to share with Russia (at an openly scheduled WH meeting) which I have the absolute right to do, facts pertaining … to terrorism and airline flight safety,” Trump wrote. “Humanitarian reasons, plus I want Russia to greatly step up their fight against Isis and terrorism.”

The episodes have once again stoked the chorus calling for the impeachment of Trump, a chorus that has steadily built over the four months of the Trump presidency.

Some Democratic lawmakers immediately questioned the legality of Trump’s alleged statements to Comey, with Senator Dick Durbin saying it “again appears to cross the line into the obstruction of justice”. Elijah Cummings, a top congressional Democrat, said, “clearly we’ve got a smoking gun and a lot of dark smoke.”

As for Monday’s bombshell, legal analysts say that Trump is correct in noting his “absolute right”, as president, to share information as he pleases. The president’s discretion overrides any categorical classification, and there has been no assertion that Trump broke a law by allegedly sharing the information.

The president may, however, have broken his oath of office, according to analysis at Lawfareblog, whose top six analysts joined in a byline to write: “It’s very hard to argue that carelessly giving away highly sensitive material to an adversary foreign power constitutes a faithful execution of the office of president.”

The blog notes that allegations of oath violations have been central to every previous case of impeachment or near impeachment.

“Let’s not minimize it,” legal scholar Alan Dershowitz said on CNN late Monday. “Comey is in the wastebasket of history. Everything else is off the table. This is the most serious charge ever made against a sitting president of the United States. Let’s not underestimate it.”

The case against Trump was, to some minds, already strong. A campaign is under way to impeach Trump for allegedly violating constitutional bans on receiving certain gifts. Others have argued for an arcane application of constitutional law under which the vice-president and cabinet together might declare the president unfit to serve.

Green was not alone in seeing the firing of Comey as the last straw. As FBI director, Comey was leading an investigation into alleged ties between the Trump presidential campaign and Russian operatives. Trump told interviewer Lester Holt last week that the Russian investigation was on his mind when he fired Comey.

“And in fact when I decided to just do it, I said to myself, I said ‘you know, this Russia thing with Trump and Russia is a made-up story, it’s an excuse by the Democrats for having lost an election that they should have won’,” Trump said.

To many ears, the lines were a blank admission of obstruction of justice à la Nixon. In a Saturday Night Live parody of the scene, Holt, played by Michael Che, stops the interview to ask his production team: “So … did I get him? Is this all over?” Holt listens to his earpiece. “No, I didn’t? Nothing matters? Absolutely nothing matters any more?”

Who has been impeached before?

Two presidents, Bill Clinton (1998) and Andrew Johnson (1868). (Congress may also impeach judges.) Articles of impeachment were passed against Richard Nixon by a congressional committee, but Nixon resigned before the House of Representatives could vote on the matter, meaning that technically he was not impeached.

Impeachment does not mean expulsion from office. Under the constitution, impeachment happens in the House of Representatives if a majority approves articles of impeachment previously approved in committee. Then impeachment goes to the Senate, where a two-thirds majority vote is required to convict the president, upon which he would be removed from office.

Both Johnson and Clinton were impeached in the House but then acquitted in the Senate and remained in office.

What can a president be impeached for?

“Treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors”, the constitution says. Needless to say, there’s debate over what all those terms mean.

Johnson was charged with breaking the law by removing the US secretary of war, which, in the aftermath of the civil war, was not his decision as president to make. Clinton was charged with obstruction of justice and with perjury, for allegedly lying under oath to a federal grand jury about his affair with Monica Lewinsky.

Had Nixon not resigned, he might have been convicted in the Senate on one of three charges: obstruction of justice, abuse of power or defiance of subpoenas. In any case, Gerald Ford, who was Nixon’s vice-president and who succeeded him, pardoned Nixon of any crimes a month after Nixon resigned.

Can a president be removed apart from through impeachment?

Theoretically, yes, under the aforementioned 25th amendment, which was ratified relatively recently, in 1967, to clear up succession issues made painfully urgent by the assassination of John F Kennedy.

The 25th amendment describes a process by which a president may give away power owing to his or her own disability, and a separate process by which power may be taken from a president owing to disability or inability.

The key players in the second case are the vice-president and the top 15 members of the cabinet. If the former and a majority of the latter decide the president is “unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office”, they submit that information in writing to the House speaker (currently Paul Ryan) and Senate president pro tempore (currently the Utah Republican senator Orrin Hatch) and just like that, the vice-president would be acting president.

The president may challenge such a decision, at which point a two-thirds majority in both chambers of Congress would be required to stop the president from regaining power.

It’s conceivable that Trump would not go quietly if his cabinet and vice-president Mike Pence were to gang up on him.

How long do impeachment proceedings take?

There isn’t much precedent to say, but the Clinton case proceeded through Congress relatively quickly, in about three months. That example may be misleading, however, owing to the years-long investigation of Bill and Hillary Clinton, including the Lewinsky affair, by the special prosecutor Kenneth Starr, which preceded it. Starr handed his report and research to the House judiciary committee, which therefore had no need to conduct a time-consuming investigation of its own.

Who’s saying Trump should be impeached?

About 46% of Americans who responded to a Public Policy Polling survey in February, for starters. Public opinion matters because for impeachment to happen, Congress must act, and elected officials sometimes hang their principles on opinion polls.

It’s notable that Nixon, a Republican, faced impeachment in a Congress controlled by Democrats, and Clinton was impeached by a Republican-controlled Congress. For Trump to be impeached, members of his own party would have to turn on him.

That’s why Republican base approval of Trump is so important. If Republican voters do not abandon the president, Republican members of Congress are not likely to.

On the other hand, the Republican Congress might conceivably be enticed into action by the prospect of dumping Trump in exchange for someone they are far more comfortable with: Pence, himself a former congressman and a much more predictable traditional conservative.

Several congressional Democrats have called for impeachment proceedings of some kind. Representative Mark Pocan of Wisconsin said on the House floor in February that if Trump did not divest business holdings and take other actions, then “we’ll have to take other actions, including legislative directives, resolutions of disapproval and even explore the power of impeachment”.

What might Trump be charged with?

Bonifaz, of the Impeach Trump Now group, argues that Trump’s failure to divest from his businesses has already produced frequent violations of constitutional rules for emoluments, or gifts. Investigations into associations with Russia by Trump or his proxies could conceivably produce some kind of disloyalty charge. If Trump has to testify at some point about any of this, he could face a Clinton-style perjury charge. Abuse of power? Obstruction of justice? It seems as if, should Congress get to the point of charging Trump, they may have a buffet of potential charges to choose from.

What would it take in practice to trigger enough Republicans into action?

Republicans had promised to impeach Hillary Clinton as soon as she took office. But what they might not have remembered is that two-thirds of the Senate is required to convict a president of impeachable offenses. The Democrats are in the minority, but they do have 48 Senate seats out of 100.

The most important factor for Republicans in deciding whether to go after Trump would seem to be the disposition of Republican voters. If the people turn on the president, Congress may follow.

Might Trump resign before he’s impeached if there’s a smoking gun, as Nixon did?

What kind of mood does Pence seem to be in? Is he implicated? In the scenario of a Pence succession, it would be up to the current vice-president to pardon Trump or not. Maybe Trump would be more likely to get out of the way and avoid all or some impeachment proceedings – in this truly hypothetical scenario – if Trump felt reassured that Pence, upon acceding to power, would pardon him.

Could he refuse to comply with proceedings?

Only two months into the Trump presidency, we’ve already heard warnings, issued by members of Congress, about this or that constitutional crisis being afoot: Trump impugns judges; Trump overrides legislated regulations; courts block executive actions. There are many opportunities for further constitutional crises during the Trump years, and a Trump refusal to go along with prospective impeachment proceedings is certainly easy to imagine. In which case: who controls the military?

Could he refuse to step down if he’s found guilty?

See above.

Would Pence go down with him?

Not likely. There’s a school of thought that says a key reason the Republican congressional majority would assent to a Trump impeachment is because then they would get the president they really want, Pence. The closest historical precedent to a double whammy of this kind is the resignation in a bribery scandal of Nixon’s vice-president, Spiro Agnew, in 1973, a year before Nixon went down. But the alleged crimes were unrelated.

Elections have consequences. Is this all actually just a fantasy for liberals and conservative purists who cannot accept that Trump won?

Reasons this might not be true include the fact of Trump’s historically low popularity rating at the two-month mark. Trump sits at 38% approval, according to Gallup, 20-some points behind the historical average for first-term presidents. Additionally, Trump seems to be flying unusually close to the sun, in terms of his conduct as an elected official. During his campaign he refused to release his tax returns on the grounds that the usual rules did not apply to him. His refusal to divest from his businesses as president, on similar grounds, could lead him into legal hazards that other presidents have avoided. And the investigations into his campaign’s ties to Russia continue. Finally, Trump is truly a Washington outsider, which could increase his vulnerability to acts of bureaucratic infighting or hidden treachery, as evidenced by the incredible number of leaks from the intelligence community so far.

On the other hand, the election of Trump has been a particularly painful blow to the progressive psyche, more so even perhaps than the re-election of Bush as the atrocities of the Iraq war mounted in 2004. Republicans suffered for eight years from what some of their critics called Obama derangement syndrome, becoming so wrapped up in their opposition to the president that any sense of greater purpose seemed sometimes to be lost. Are progressives and conservative purists suffering from Trump derangement syndrome? It’s possible. We’ll find out.

Julia Carrie Wong contributed reporting to this story

http://www.alternet.org/news-amp-politics/what-would-happen-if-donald-trump-were-impeached?akid=15583.265072.65H-Cd&rd=1&src=newsletter1077076&t=20

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How the movement brought down a president

Eric Ruder describes how the movement against the U.S. war on Vietnam gained strength, handing the empire its most bitter defeat.

Members of Vietnam Veterans Against the War on the march

Members of Vietnam Veterans Against the War on the march

THE OPENING weeks of Donald Trump’s presidency have been a whirlwind of reactionary executive orders, revelations about contacts between Trump’s campaign and Russian officials, open warfare between the White House and U.S. intelligence services, and Trump’s furious attacks on the media for printing leaks from his administration.

And then there are the protests.

There was the Women’s March on Washington, with sister demonstrations across the country and around the world. In the following days, there were spontaneous eruptions in opposition to Trump’s bigoted executive orders targeting Muslims and the undocumented.

As Trump’s approval ratings sink further, there’s speculation that Trump could be impeached. It’s still far-fetched–but not as far as it used to be, according to British bookies, who doubled the likelihood to nearly 50 percent that Trump would be out of office before his first term was up.

All this begs the question: What would it really take to bring down Donald Trump? To answer it, it’s worth looking back four decades to the last–and only–time a president was forced to resign. What factors compelled Richard Nixon to leave office in disgrace in 1974?

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THE IMMEDIATE crisis that triggered Nixon’s eventual resignation was the attempt by the White House to cover up its role in the burglary of the Watergate office complex in Washington, D.C.,

Five men carrying bugging devices and a large wad of cash were caught in the middle of the night in the Democratic Party’s national headquarters in the Watergate complex. Four of the men had ties to the CIA and had also taken part in the Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba in 1961.

When the ties between the burglars and Nixon’s Committee to Re-Elect the President (CREEP) became public, the wheels were set in motion toward impeachment.

But the larger context of the Watergate scandal is essential to understanding Nixon’s downfall.

In his book The War Within: America’s Battle Over Vietnam, author Tom Wells cites the recollections of Roger Morris, a National Security Council staffer under Nixon. “Watergate–the whole generic beast–is a product of the administration’s insecurity and paranoia fed by the war in Southeast Asia and by an inability to cope with that dissent, and [by] these perceptions of dissent widening around it in an almost conspiratorial way,” said Morris.

In fact, the scandal was driven by “excessive concern over the political impact of demonstrators,” a desperate bid to stem leaks from the White House (sound familiar?), and “an insatiable appetite for political intelligence,” according to the testimony by John Dean, a Nixon operative, before the Senate committee that investigated Watergate.

The same men who broke into Watergate also broke into the home of Daniel Ellsberg, the Pentagon employee who leaked the Pentagon Papers exposing U.S. war strategy in Vietnam, in an unsuccessful bid to stop further leaks to the press from him.

Thus, a full recounting of Nixon’s downfall must start with the story of how an antiwar movement that had begun as a tiny minority barely a decade earlier grew to involve practically every strata of American society.

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

THOUGH THE antiwar movement began in the mid-1960s with handfuls of activists debating what if anything could be done to protest the war, the Black freedom struggle of the previous decade served as a beacon of inspiration.

The civil rights movement had already shown that dedicated masses of people had the power to arouse public outrage and mobilize sufficient pressure to bring change, even in the face of government intransigence.

There were three main elements that ultimately led to the U.S. defeat in Vietnam and Nixon’s unraveling: the Vietnamese resistance to the U.S. military machine, the revolt of U.S. soldiers and sailors within the military machine itself, and the popular mobilizations that spread from campuses into society at large.

In a 1965 speech, Malcolm X captured in his typically blunt style the bravery and resilience of the Vietnamese resistance to the American war drive. “Little rice farmers, peasants, with a rifle–up against all the highly mechanized weapons of warfare–jets, napalm, battleships, everything else, and they can’t put those rice farmers back where they want them,” he said. “Somebody’s waking up.”

As Joel Geier explained in a 2000 article “Vietnam: The Soldiers’ Revolt” in the International Socialist Review, the U.S. military couldn’t devise a strategy to defeat Vietnam’s guerrilla fighters, who carried out hit-and-run on American targets by night and melted back into the countryside and their roles as peasant farmers during the day.

In this form of guerrilla war, there were no fixed targets, no set battlegrounds, and there was no territory to take. With that in mind, the Pentagon designed a counterinsurgency strategy called “search and destroy.” Without fixed battlegrounds, combat success was judged by the number of NLF [National Liberation Front] troops killed–the body count…For each enemy killed, for every body counted, soldiers got three-day passes and officers received medals and promotions. This reduced the war from fighting for “the hearts and minds of the Vietnamese” to no larger purpose than killing.

In January 1968, the NLF and the North Vietnamese Army deployed a combined force of some 70,000 and fought to win the national capital of Saigon, along with the capital cities of 34 provinces. Relying on broad popular support to maintain the element of surprise, the Tet Offensive dealt a major political blow to the American war effort, even if it failed to achieve lasting military results.

The scale of the uprising against the U.S. military and the South Vietnamese government demonstrated before the eyes of the world that all the talk out about collapsing support for the NLF and a war effort on the verge of breakthrough success was simply lies.

Though the U.S. eventually rebuffed the offensive, the military relied on the utmost brutality to do so, using the same scorched-earth tactics in the cities that it had used to crush resistance in the countryside.

According to Nick Turse’s Kill Anything That Moves, the U.S. counteroffensive left more than 125,000 homeless in Saigon and unleashed “an astonishing 600 tons of bombs, plus barrages from artillery and tank cannons” in the southern city Hue, destroying 80 percent of its built structures. More than 14,000 civilians were killed, mainly by U.S. fire, and some 627,000 became homeless.

Though it didn’t become public until a year and a half later, the My Lai Massacre, in which a company of U.S. soldiers massacred hundreds of unarmed villagers, came to stand as the most shocking atrocity in a war full of shocking atrocities. It was carried out six weeks into the U.S. counteroffensive against Tet.

The counteroffensive also produced an especially harrowing turn of phrase that captured the essence of the U.S. war strategy. The commanding officer in charge of recapturing Ben Tre in Kien Hoa province explained the absolute devastation of the town to reporters by saying, “We had to destroy the town to save it.”

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

U.S. SOLDIERS also absorbed the meaning of Tet, stepping up their own resistance to the U.S. war drive in response. After all, if the war wasn’t winnable, why should any soldier risk his life to fight it?

If U.S. soldiers had, prior to Tet, turned their officers’ commands to “search and destroy” into missions to “search and avoid,” many turned to outright disobedience after the invasion.

By June 1971, the Armed Forces Journal reported that the ranks were in a state of open revolt:

Our army that now remains in Vietnam is in a state approaching collapse, with individual units avoiding or having refused combat, murdering their officers and noncommissioned officers, drug-ridden, and dispirited where not near-mutinous…[C]onditions [exist] among American forces in Vietnam that have only been exceeded in this century by…the collapse of the Tsarist armies in 1916 and 1917.

Whole units began discussing and debating the war among themselves, and some ended up deciding en masse to refuse to go on patrols. Black soldiers–emboldened by the civil rights movement, yet assigned to the most dangerous tasks by racist commanding officers–were particularly drawn to the growing revolt within the U.S. military.

As disaffection grew, some soldiers targeted gung-ho officers looking to enhance their opportunities by upping their number of kills with aggressive patrols rather than the Vietnamese resistance. By some estimates, 25 percent or more of the officers and noncommissioned officers killed in Vietnam lost their lives to “fragging”–which took its name from the fragmentation grenades rolled under a commanding officer’s bunk.

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

THE REVOLT in the ranks of the U.S. military was decisive in U.S. military leaders reaching the conclusion that they couldn’t continue to prosecute the war. But that revolt would have been unthinkable without the massive civilian antiwar movement, which helped to expose the doublespeak of the American government and military.

The movement also built GI coffeehouses and an entire counter-narrative to the lies regularly emanating from the Pentagon to show soldiers who refused to fight that they could find a whole community ready and willing to support them.

The first acts of the antiwar movement had been a series of teach-ins on college campuses in the spring of 1965 that drew thousands of students into discussions about the war just as Democratic President Lyndon Johnson ordered stepped-up bombing of North Vietnam and the first U.S. ground troops landed in South Vietnam.

At the teach-ins, which initially featured debates with Johnson administration officials until the officials stopped showing up because they failed to convince anyone, antiwar faculty and students engaged thousands of students.

The teach-ins focused attention on the many contradictions of the U.S. war effort–killing poor peasants in the name of peace, propping up despised dictators in the name of “spreading democracy,” destroying villages in order to save them.

On October 15, 1969, some 2 million people participated in hundreds of local actions across the U.S. Many large cities had rallies of tens of thousands, while students wore armbands on campuses. A month later on November 15, the largest demonstration in U.S. history up to that point took place in Washington, D.C., drawing between 500,000 and 750,000 people.

The White House carefully managed media perceptions, asserting that Nixon paid no attention to the protests and had spent the afternoon watching college football. But as later investigations by journalists and historians revealed, Nixon was distraught over the size of the mobilizations.

“The demonstrators had been more successful than they realized, pushing Nixon and his National Security Adviser Henry Kissinger away from plans to greatly escalate the war, possibly even to the point of using nuclear weapons, and back toward their ‘Vietnamization’ strategy of propping up the Saigon regime,” author Gerald Nicosia wrote in Home to War: A History of the Vietnam Veterans’ Movement.

The protests grew even more intense in response to the U.S. invasion of Cambodia in early 1970, which sparked a student strike. The police and National Guard were called out to confront student protesters.

On May 4, the National Guard killed four and wounded nine students at Kent State University in Ohio. Ten days later, city and state police killed two students and wounded 12 at Jackson State, a historically Black college in Mississippi.

Rage at the killings of unarmed students further accelerated the outpouring of antiwar protests. All told, some 8 million students took part in strikes that affected 1,350 colleges in May alone. “Faculty and administrators joined students in active dissent, and 536 campuses were shut down completely, 51 for the rest of the academic year,” wrote Wells in The War Within.

Two years later, Nixon would win reelection in the 1972 election, driving the antiwar movement and other activists into a state of near-total despair. Yet the internal strife and generalized sense of crisis surrounding the administration led a paranoid president to embrace a scorched-earth war strategy–in Vietnam, against the press and against his political rivals, both real and perceived.

Combined with the lack of any strategy to avoid military defeat, the U.S. war in Vietnam metastasized a Cold-War era confrontation with a marginal player into a military and political crisis that dealt a defeat to the world’s main superpower–and ultimately brought down the world’s most powerful head of state.

https://socialistworker.org/2017/03/07/how-the-movement-brought-down-a-president

In the age of Trump, conservative thought has died at last

From Edmund Burke to Mr. Burns:

Conservatism once had a coherent philosophy. After the neocons, the bigots and the neo-fascists, nothing’s left

From Edmund Burke to Mr. Burns: In the age of Trump, conservative thought has died at last
Edmund Burke; Charles Montgomery Burns, William F. Buckley, Jr. (Credit: Wikimedia/Fox/AP/Nancy Kaye/Photo montage by Salon)

One way to understand what we are witnessing, amid the national humiliation of Donald Trump’s presidency, is to see it as the total collapse of conservative ideology. That might seem like a strange claim in a year when the far right seems ascendant throughout the Western world, and when the Republican Party nominally controls the White House and both houses of Congress for the first time in a decade. But I think it’s accurate, and all the breathless Ayn Rand fanfics hidden away in the hard drive of Paul Ryan’s Windows Vista PC don’t make it less so. (It does not follow, by the way, that “liberal” ideology is in such great shape either, and the two phenomena are not unconnected. Topic for another time!)

As a political force, American conservative movement has been morally and philosophically bankrupt for decades, which is one of the big reasons we are where we are right now. Largely in the interest of preserving their own power and empowering a massive money-grab by the class they represent, Republicans have cobbled together cynical coalitions by trying to appease multiple constituencies with competing and often contradictory interests: Libertarians, the Christian right, the post-industrial white working class, finance capital and the billionaire caste. Those groups have literally nothing in common beyond a shared antipathy for … well, for something that cannot be precisely defined. They don’t like the idea of post-1960s Volvo-driving, latte-drinking liberal bicoastal cosmopolitanism, that much is for sure. But the specific things they hate about it are not the same, and the goals they seek are mutually incompatible and largely unachievable.

But behind that political devolution lies the ideological implosion that’s been coming a long time, longer than I can possibly summarize here. It’s safe to say that Edmund Burke and Alexander Hamilton, two 18th-century titans the modern conservative movement likes to cite as forebears, would be horrified by the limited, narrow-minded and intellectually inflexible nature of so-called conservative thought in the 21st century. How those guys would make sense of the fact that supposedly intelligent people who claim to share their lineage have hitched their wagons to the idiocy, mendacity and delusional thinking of the would-be autocrat in the White House — an implausible caricature of the stupefied mob democracy Burke and Hamilton hated and feared — I can’t begin to imagine.

Even so, the final stages of the collapse have arrived with startling suddenness. Just a few decades ago, William F. Buckley successfully appointed himself as the intellectual standard-bearer of the American right, in large part by purging overt white supremacists and conspiracy-minded ultra-nationalists from the mainstream conservative movement. Buckley was a slippery and devious character, and despite his command of classical languages and all that, was more like a guy who plays a first-rate intellect on TV than the real thing. Arguably his decision to drive the troglodytes from the temple was more a matter of political strategy than moral principle (although I believe he was genuinely ashamed of his early embrace of segregation).

In any event, racism, anti-Semitism, xenophobia and other forms of paranoid thought were never absent from American conservatism — as in the “Southern strategy” that got Richard Nixon elected in 1968, and made a big comeback during the great renaissance of the Reagan revolution. Those who expressed such views were expected to keep it clean, so to speak, and to observe rhetorical limits. Ben Carson and Clarence Thomas were welcomed at the country club; Klansmen and neo-Nazis and guys who handed out homemade brochures set in 8-point type about the Bilderberg Group were exiled to the strip mall. Immigration, always the great rift in conservative politics, was politely and pointedly ignored, like the ripping fart laid by the bank president’s wife at her garden party.

It couldn’t last, and it didn’t: The grand bargain the Republican elite thought it had struck with the loonier fringes of the lumpenproletariat came undone in spectacular fashion in 2016. Donald Trump and his pitchfork brigade stormed the country club, chugged all the Pinot Grigio straight from the bottle and then barfed it up on the imitation Persian carpets. Blowhard bigot Steve Bannon is running strategy for the White House, while his crony Stephen Miller — variously compared by late-night TV hosts to “Sméagol in a suit” or a younger Montgomery Burns — dispenses outrageous lies on the president’s behalf.

What’s left of the conservative intelligentsia is either whimpering in the corner alongside New York Times columnist David Brooks or groveling before its new overlords and swearing eternal fealty. Either way, it’s pathetic. Buckley may have been an erudite con artist to a large extent, but he had a coherent worldview, avoided telling outright falsehoods and would genially have agreed that there were some good things about the Enlightenment, and perhaps even about postwar American culture. It’s a long slippery ride downhill from him to this dude, the leading intellectual apologist for the Trumpian counterrevolution.

This is insane. [“This” being continued immigration by “Third World foreigners.”] This is the mark of a party, a society, a country, a people, a civilization that wants to die. Trump, alone among candidates for high office in this or in the last seven (at least) cycles, has stood up to say: I want to live. I want my party to live. I want my country to live. I want my people to live. I want to end the insanity.

I don’t know about you, but when I encounter someone with an expensive education who ought to know better using the term “my people” with no clear point of reference — he does not mean, say, the general population of the United States — I can almost hear the singing and see the flickering torchlight. As Molly Ivins once observed about a famous 1992 speech by Pat Buchanan (which I witnessed live, from the floor of the Republican convention in Houston), that probably read better in the original German.

That’s the climactic passage from “The Flight 93 Election,” a now-infamous viral essay by Michael Anton, a onetime George W. Bush speechwriter who has more recently been hired as a policy aide by Trump’s National Security Council. Anton published it in September under the pseudonym Publius Decius Mus, a reference so obscure and self-aggrandizing that even Buckley would have found it unbelievably pompous. (The historical Decius was a Roman consul who supposedly sacrificed himself for his troops — and, of course, for the empire.)

Several things strike me about the “Flight 93” essay, the first of them being its sheer propagandistic balls-out bogosity. Anton is a compelling prose stylist in a distinctively contemporary vein: He can turn a phrase and establish a rhythm, is not averse to pop-culture references and Internet-speak, and can deploy big words without getting in over his head. But his arguments are based in shameless Trumpian bullshit; I may be kidding myself, but I don’t believe Buckley would ever have descended to such a torrent of lies. In Anton’s imaginary universe of September 2016, crime was “way, way up” and “rising fast,” the economy was in ruins, Hillary wanted to admit “a million more Syrians” and America was about to be swamped in “a tsunami of leftism” that would unleash “vindictive persecution against resistance and dissent.”

None of that is remotely related to reality, and Anton certainly knows it. What is startling for a leftist reader is the fact that roughly one-third of Anton’s arguments correspond closely to those of, say, Bernie Sanders, as when he excoriates “the sophists of the Davoisie oligarchy” (i.e., the neoliberals) who rationalize “lower wages, outsourcing, de-industrialization, and endless, pointless, winless war.”

On the other hand, like nearly all right-wingers Anton has an enormous blind spot that prevents him from perceiving any difference between mainstream liberalism and “the left.” It’s almost hilarious to envision a world in which Hillary Clinton, of all people — the most conservative and most nationalistic Democratic presidential nominee since approximately forever (since Al Smith? Since Woodrow Wilson?) — could be successfully depicted as a socialist-feminist dictator in waiting. Since that world was our actual world last fall, it isn’t funny at all.

Or maybe he’s just pretending to think that Clinton was Trotsky in a pantsuit. Anton is no neocon, but he speaks and understands the neocon code. As a former Bush administration employee he is almost certainly an apostate to the neocon worldview, which is internationalist and imperialist, enthusiastic about free trade and agnostic on immigration, and eager to minimize religious and racial conflict. (If you haven’t noticed those are all things about recent conservatism that the Trump movement forcefully rejects.) One could plausibly say that it is the remnants of the neocon old guard, like John McCain, Lindsey Graham and their allies in the CIA, who are fighting a last-ditch counterinsurgency against the Trumpian takeover of conservatism.

I would speculate that Anton’s Göbbels-scale lies about virtually everything, although their substance is borrowed from Trump and Bannon, have their ideological roots in the neo-Platonist scare-gospel of Leo Strauss. That legendary University of Chicago political philosopher taught generations of young neocons that selling falsehoods to a gullible public in service to a noble cause is not merely defensible but necessary.

Anton’s gullible public, however, is his fellow conservative intellectuals. He is trying to convince them that their cause is lost and it’s time to try something new. Like most liars, salesmen and writers, he gets carried away by the force of his own rhetoric and reveals more than he means to. The gist of “The Flight 93 Election” is only partly that America faces an invasion of transgender P.C. Islamic terrorism and, like him or not, Donald Trump represents our last chance to eat non-Sharia, non-Communist apple pie without kale mixed into it and chai poured on top of it. Anton himself admits that conservatives say that every four years, and it’s never quite true.

His real point is that conservatism has failed — that the entire 200-odd-year tradition of strategic counterattack against revolution that began with Burke, and was designed to preserve as much power and privilege as possible and carve out a middle way between too much autocracy and too much democracy, has arrived at a dead end. Those on the right who accepted the pre-Trumpian status quo, even if they complained about it, Anton says, had “implicitly admitted that conservatism is wrong. Wrong philosophically, wrong on human nature, wrong on the nature of politics, and wrong in its policy prescriptions.”

Is he trolling his fellow so-called conservatives, or trolling himself? That passage feels to me like a mea culpa and an act of repentance. Anton’s solution to this impasse, needless to say, is not for conservatives to go back to first principles and recover the analytical, conciliatory and pragmatic spirit of Burke. He mocks the Burkean tradition once by name, and several times by implication, which is something like a priest denouncing the pope. Conservatism is wrong; Anton wants “his people” to live, and he sees that life made possible through in a unique revolutionary leader, an “alleged buffoon” who is “more prudent — more practically wise” than all those who opposed him. In other words, he wants conservatives to abandon their failed ideology and embrace a new one. That one has a name too, and many people on the American right were positively aching for it.

http://www.salon.com/2017/02/18/from-edmund-burke-to-mr-burns-in-the-age-of-trump-conservative-thought-has-died-at-last/?source=newsletter

Obama’s legacy: Identity politics in the service of war

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29 July 2016

Barack Obama concluded his address to the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia Wednesday night by declaring himself ready to “pass the baton” to the party’s nominee and his former secretary of state, Hillary Clinton. Accounts of the address in the corporate media have repeatedly referred to the US president casting Clinton as the continuator and custodian of his “legacy.”

But what is the legacy of Obama? In its essential political terms, it consists of his having succeeded in overcoming internal divisions on the question of war that have plagued the Democratic Party for half a century. His administration marks the return of the Democrats to their roots as the premier party of US imperialism, a status the party maintained though two world wars and the subsequent Cold War with the Soviet Union.

Obama, who was swept into office on a wave of popular antiwar sentiment, will enjoy the dubious distinction of being the first president to keep the US at war throughout two full terms in office.

He has continued the wars he inherited in Afghanistan and Iraq, while launching a new one that toppled the government and decimated the society of Libya; engineering a proxy war for regime change that now includes US troops deployed in Syria; and carrying out attacks in Somalia, Yemen, Pakistan and beyond.

With its “pivot to Asia” and steady buildup of US-NATO forces in Eastern Europe, Washington’s military might has been increasingly directed against Russia and China, in a relentless quest for global hegemony that poses the growing danger of a third world war.

Obama’s administration will also be remembered for its vast expansion of drone warfare, targeted assassinations and kill lists, along with vicious attacks on civil liberties and the militarization of America’s police.

What is extraordinary in the face of all of this is that war was not even a subject of discussion at the convention in Philadelphia. The silence on the matter was guaranteed by the fraudulent opposition candidate Bernie Sanders, who publicly backed Obama’s wars during his campaign, and officially ended his “political revolution” by uncritically endorsing Clinton, the chosen candidate of both Wall Street and the massive US military and intelligence apparatus.

In advance of both major party conventions, there were many comparisons in the media of this presidential election year with that of 1968, with predictions that, once again, there could be violence in the streets.

While no doubt the Trump campaign has escalated the atmosphere of violence in American politics, wholly ignored in these largely superficial analogies was the core issue that brought about the violence of 48 years ago: mass popular opposition to the Vietnam War, which ended up tearing the Democratic Party apart.

The incumbent Democratic President Lyndon Johnson was unable to run for re-election because of the hostility within his own party to the war in Vietnam, expressed in support first for the candidacy of Eugene McCarthy and then for that of Robert Kennedy, who broke with Johnson on the issue.

While Robert Kennedy’s assassination was followed by the nomination of Vice President Hubert Humphrey, a supporter of the war, and his subsequent defeat by Republican Richard Nixon, Vietnam shattered the ideological foundations of the old Democratic Party, based on the filthy deal that was the foundation of Cold War liberalism: lip service to social reform at home, combined with unwavering support for US imperialism abroad.

In 1972, the antiwar candidate George McGovern won the nomination and was defeated by Nixon. Nonetheless, the Democratic Party was compelled to take antiwar sentiment into account, in its political calculations, for decades after the war in Vietnam ended.

A chasm had opened up between the party’s leading personnel within the US capitalist state and the Washington think tanks, who remained committed proponents and strategic thinkers of US imperialism, and a political base, including academics and upper layers of the middle class, in which there remained broad hostility to war.

This produced internal conflicts within the party in one election after another. On the one hand, Democratic candidates were compelled to posture publicly as opponents of war, in order to retain credibility with broad sections of the party’s electoral constituency. On the other hand, the Democratic candidates sought desperately to maintain credibility with the corporate and military-intelligence establishment, which expected that the candidate, once elected, would conduct foreign policy with the necessary ruthlessness.

In the aftermath of the election of George W. Bush came the mass antiwar demonstrations of 2003, and the subsequent attempts by various pseudo-left forces to channel this opposition back into the Democratic Party.

With the 2004 presidential election, Howard Dean emerged as an early favorite, campaigning as the representative of the “democratic wing of the Democratic Party” and appealing to antiwar sentiment within the party. Even after his candidacy was derailed by the party establishment and the media, John Kerry, who had supported the war, was compelled to posture as an opponent, tying himself up in political knots and handing a re-election victory to Bush.

Finally, in 2008, the decisive reason that Barack Obama won the nomination and Hillary Clinton lost it was Clinton’s vote in 2002 to authorize the US war in Iraq.

In the promotion of Obama’s candidacy, his racial background was presented, particularly by the pseudo-left, as some kind of credential for progressive and antiwar politics, even as a close examination of his political record showed that he was no opponent of militarism. His family and professional connections to the US intelligence apparatus, meanwhile, were kept out of the news.

While Obama’s election was hailed by the pseudo-left as “transformative,” what has emerged over the course of his administration, facilitated by these same political forces, has been the utilization of identity politics in the furtherance of US imperialism.

This formula was on full display at the Philadelphia convention, where identity politics—the promotion of race, gender and sexual orientation as the defining features of political and social life—was woven directly into an unabashed celebration of American militarism.

This found carefully crafted expressions in Obama’s speech, including his declaration that “our military can look the way it does, every shade of humanity, forged into common service,” a claim that could be made on behalf of another “all volunteer” imperialist fighting force, the French Foreign Legion.

He went on to state, “When we deliver enough votes, then progress does happen. And if you doubt that, just… ask the Marine who proudly serves his country without hiding the husband that he loves.”

The US military had long been a bastion of fanatical homophobia, with over 114,000 service members forced out, with dishonorable discharges, over the issue between World War II and the scrapping of the “Don’t ask, don’t tell” policy in 2011. That allowing gays into the military would erode discipline had been an article of faith for the US command.

Central to support for changing this policy was the recognition, within both the ruling political establishment and decisive layers of the military brass, that it would prove politically useful in winning support for the military among a privileged upper middle class layer that had identified with the politics of American liberalism.

The message at the convention was explicit: “These are your troops. These are your wars. They are being fought in your interests.”

Similar issues of identity politics were employed by the Obama administration in its attempts to whip up the anti-Russian hysteria that was on display in Philadelphia. Thus, well-orchestrated campaigns were mounted around Pussy Riot and statements made by Putin in relation to gays during the Sochi winter Olympic games.

In response to the heated rhetoric at the convention, the Washington Post’ssecurity columnist wrote a piece entitled “Clinton has now made the Democrats the anti-Russia party.” He noted: “In their zeal to portray Donald Trump as a dangerous threat to national security, the Clinton campaign has taken a starkly anti-Russian stance, one that completes a total role reversal for the two major American parties on US-Russian relations that Hillary Clinton will now be committed to, if she becomes president.”

The anti-Russian campaign has been ratcheted up sharply in response to the WikiLeaks release of Democratic National Committee emails exposing the collaboration of the DNC leadership and the Clinton campaign in the attempt to sabotage the campaign of her rival, Bernie Sanders, and rig the nomination.

Clinton and her supporters have attempted to quash any discussion of the damning contents of these emails by casting their release as a “national security” issue, with the absurd charge that Vladimir Putin was the real author of the leak, aiming to subvert the US elections.

The same method, it should be recalled, was employed in response to earlier exposures of US imperialism’s crimes abroad and wholesale spying at home, with Chelsea Manning, Julian Assange and Edward Snowden bearing the consequences in the form of vicious persecution, imprisonment and exile.

Opposition to this relentless repression, as well as to war, found no expression in the Democratic convention. Needless to say, Clinton not only supported, but participated in both.

Most tellingly, a whole political layer, commonly referred to as the “neoconservatives,” which broke with the Democrats in the 1960s and 1970s and moved into leading positions with the Reagan and Bush administrations, have now come home, issuing open letters and statements in support for Hillary Clinton.

This political evolution of the Democratic Party is not merely the matter of machinations within the party leadership and the state apparatus. It has a social base within a privileged social layer that has moved sharply to the right, providing a new constituency for war and imperialism. The systematic fixation on the issues of race, gender and sexual orientation—deliberately opposed to that of class—has provided a key ideological foundation for this reactionary turn.

The convention in Philadelphia has exposed a party that is moving in direct opposition to, and preparing for a confrontation with, a growing radicalization of the American working class.

The next period, as the class struggle emerges powerfully, will see a resurgence of opposition by American workers to war.

The Socialist Equality Party is the only party campaigning to prepare and give conscious political expression to this development, fighting for the political independence of the working class and the building of a mass international movement against war based on a revolutionary socialist program. We urge all of our readers to support and build the SEP campaign of Jerry White for president and Niles Niemuth for vice president.

Bill Van Auken

WSWS

Hiding in plain sight: the history of the War on Drugs

Hiding in plain sight: the history of the War on Drugs

By Paul Bermanszohn

On August 13, 2015

Post image for Hiding in plain sight: the history of the War on DrugsThe War on Drugs was a direct response to the African American uprisings of the 1960s. Its racist and repressive effects continue to be felt today.

Photo: A scene of the 1967 Newark Rebellion, by Don Hogan Charles.

Recent US history, from the 1960s until today, shows the War on Drugs to be a crusade of repression against African American people, incarcerating millions to prevent a renewal of the struggle for freedom.

We need to look at the whole picture of this drug war, not just a fragment or a piece of it. Most writers on this subject either get lost in the details or cannot see past the lie that the US is a “democracy.” In either case they often fail to see the realities of this history, even though the facts are clear. Presenting well-known events in chronological order clarifies the inner connection among these events and brings out their larger significance.

Indeed, placing the history in sequence makes it plain: the Great Migration brought on a Great Rebellion. A vindictive Great Repression was orchestrated to crush the Great Rebellion and prevent its continuation. Masked as the so-called “War on Drugs,” which has swept millions into prisons and jails across the US, the Great Repression has, in effect, punished generations for the “sins” of their ancestors — those who dared to rebel.

This repression is still underway today. Its effects are clearly racial. But, camouflaged as a “War on Drugs,” it has allowed the country’s rulers to appear “colorblind” or race-neutral — as if they are merely enforcing the law.

The Great Migration

In the early 20th century, fleeing the decaying Jim Crow system of agricultural labor in the fields and farms of the South, millions of African Americans moved out, seeking jobs in the military-industrial centers of the North, the mid West and the West. From World War I to the 1960s, millions migrated from virtual chattel slavery in the South to wage slavery in the North. They found little improvement.

Herded into old ghettos, or into quickly-created new ones, they found discrimination, barely habitable housing with a constant threat of dislocation by projects of urban renewal, or “Negro removal.” Giant housing projects, little more than stacks of shacks, were built to house the many migrants. Overcrowded and neglected schools provided poor or non-existent education for their children.

The misery was compounded by relentless police abuse. When Malcolm X spoke of “the so-called Negro out here catching hell,” he was talking about (and to) this group. Malcolm lived this experience and became the spokesman of urban ghetto dwellers. The desperation and outrage experienced by these migrants made explosion inevitable.

The Great Rebellion

Violent repression of civil rights demonstrators seeking basic respect combined with the migrants’ sufferings to ignite a series of mass urban uprisings across the US. These insurrections are generally seen as individual explosions, city by city, but to grasp their cumulative significance we need to see them as a single process: African Americans striving for freedom in racist America. The rebellion was at the heart of the ’60s and drives American politics to this day, even under the nation’s first black president.

These rebellions are generally dismissed as “riots” and their significance erased.

Kenneth Stahl titled his website and book on the Detroit Rebellion of 1967 The Great Rebellion, but I expand the use of this term to include all these uprisings. Virtually all were precipitated by violent police attacks or rumors of such attacks. Since officials often lie, it is impossible to know what exactly happened in every case, but at any rate a large number of uprisings took place across the country: over 300 cities rose up in the ‘60s, according to the best estimates.

The first insurrection, in New York City, was touched off by a police murder. The initial focus of the demonstration, called for by the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), was the disappearance of three civil rights workers in Mississippi. However, when in the early morning of July 16, off-duty police Lieutenant Thomas Gilligan killed 15-year-old African American student James Powell, CORE decided to change the focus of their protest to police brutality in Harlem.

The protest was peaceful, but rage at the murder grew into a mass confrontation with police. Bands of looters operated in Harlem’s streets at night. Upheaval soon spread to Bedford Stuyvesant. After the New York City insurrection abated, like a series of aftershocks, smaller uprisings took place throughout the area, in upstate NY, NJ and Pennsylvania.

A year later, on August 11, unrest broke out in Watts, LA. Among the first targets of looters were gun stores — and they made full use of their weapons. For almost a week, people fought the police and army to a standstill. Black and white looters working together led King to state that “this was not a race riot. It was a class riot.” The Situationist International even treated the rebellion as a “revolutionary event,” with looting seen as a rejection of the commodity system, “the first step of a vast, all-embracing struggle.”

In 1966, there were 43 civil disturbances of varying intensity across the nation, including a notable uprising in Chicago, where the Puerto Rican community exploded into a week-long rebellion after a police shooting. On April 4, 1967, King delivered what is probably his most important speech: Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break Silence. The relevance of this speech is often downplayed, and if mentioned at all, it tends to be portrayed as King’s speech opposing the US war in Vietnam. It was much more.

In the address, King embraced the world revolution saying, “if we are to get on to the right side of the world revolution, we as a nation must undergo a radical revolution of values. We must rapidly begin the shift from a thing-oriented society to a person-oriented society.” He called the US government “the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today” and called for an end to “the giant triplets of racism, materialism and economic exploitation.”

The speech galvanized the anti-war movement. Just eleven days later, on April 15, 1967, over 400,00 people marched to the UN to demand an end to the war. It was the first demonstration I ever attended. I vividly remember the excitement in the gathering place, Central Park’s Sheep Meadow, still packed with marchers, when word came that the front of the march, which filled the streets the whole way, had reached the UN over a mile away. The movement’s power continued to grow as the spirit of revolution spread.

In just a few years, the US military began to disintegrate. Eighty percent of soldiers were taking drugs. Combat refusals, naval mutinies and fragging incidents — soldiers shooting their officers — became widespread.

In 1967, over a hundred instances of violent upheaval were recorded. Most notably were the uprisings in Newark, were the violence was sparked by rumors of a black cab driver being killed by police after decades of housing discrimination and massive black unemployment, and the one in the Motor City, Detroit, where 43 people were killed after 12,000 soldiers descended upon the city in an attempt to quell the protests.

The Great Repression

The year ’68 proved to be the watershed. The Rebellion reached its peak and the initiative was seized by the forces of order, who subsequently organized the Great Repression. On April 4, 1968, Martin Luther King was killed, probably bygovernment assassination. His murder, one year to the day after his revolutionary speech, strikes some as a signal sent by the government to deter people from taking the revolutionary path. If this is so, it did not work. Following King’s murder the largest insurrection occurred. Over 100 cities exploded.

The Holy Week Uprising was the most serious bout of social upheaval in the United States since the Civil War. The largest insurrections took place inWashington, D.C., Baltimore, Louisville, Kansas City, and Chicago — with Baltimore experiencing the most significant political events. The Liberal Republican Governor of Maryland, Spiro T. Agnew, gathered African American community leaders and subjected them to a dressing down for not supporting the US government strongly enough. Seeking to divide and conquer, he said: “I call upon you to publicly repudiate, condemn and reject all black racists. This, so far, you have not been willing to do.”

Agnew’s speech received national headlines and led to his role in the presidential elections later that year, which centered on the urban uprisings of the preceding decade and created the miserable legacy of today. US politicians refined a coded language to conceal their racial motives. The Republican candidate Richard Nixon ran against the liberal Democrat Hubert Humphrey. The civil rights movement drove not only the KKK; it also drove overtly racist language underground. It did not end either.

The election centered on Nixon’s call for “law and order,” a slogan that meant a tough response to insurgents (called “rioters”) and the still popular notion that politicians should be “tough on crime.” Crime, disorder and violence became synonyms for being black.

Nixon eagerly stated to work on a war on drugs before his inauguration. Early in his presidency, he outlined his basic strategy to his chief of staff: “[President Nixon] emphasized that you have to face the fact that the whole problem is really the blacks. The key is to devise a system that recognizes this while not appearing to.”

Nixon’s diabolical efforts to develop a War on Drugs along these lines involved the highest officials in the US government, including William Rehnquist, later appointed Chief Justice of the Supreme Court by Reagan. Nixon initiated a war on crime as well as the War on Drugs, setting the pattern for future presidents.

Following in his predecessors’ footsteps, Reagan outdid Nixon in his get-tough-on-crime policies and oversaw the steepest rise in incarceration rates. Bill Clinton signed into law an omnibus crime bill in 1994, increasing capital offenses and the federal “three strikes” provision mandating life sentences for criminals convicted of a violent felony after two or more prior convictions, including drug crimes. He poured over $30 billion into militarizing the nation’s police. His group, the Democratic Leadership Council, brought much of the Democratic Party to embrace coded racial politics in order to win over white voters.

For a new beginning

As a movement to stop violent police repression grows across the nation, some of our current rulers seem to understand that they have a tiger by the tail. The Clinton team has begun to suggest that mass incarceration might end. Clinton, herself, as part of her presidential campaign, called “for a re-evaluation of prison sentences and trust between police and communities.”

The Black Lives Matter movement recognizes that discontent fueled by mass incarceration contributes to the movement to stop police murders. Less well-recognized is that granting the police immunity is itself part of the generalized repression of African Americans. The system of mass incarceration rests on a high degree of police discretion in choosing whom to suspect, interrogate and arrest, and in how to do these things. Restricting the police can hardly be allowed if the police are to continue the overall project of racial repression.

Part of developing a new revolutionary movement is to reclaim our history. The masters keep us enslaved by blinding us to our collective strength. The story of the ‘60s uprisings is one rich in power and agency; this is the reason why the rulers want to erase this period from the collective memory altogether.

At the same time, we must also recognize that the uprisings of the ’60s failed. Despite the vast strength revealed in the Great Rebellion, our enemies were able to use the images of violence and looting to further the divisions in US society and to institute their vengeful repression with at least the passive consent of the “white” majority. Time and again, the mainstream media proved a powerful tool in promoting the image of black and brown people as violent, criminal and dangerous.

It must be acknowledged that widespread looting and violence frightened the “white” majority, making it easier for the rulers to split the people and institute the Great Repression. King’s revolutionary non-violence had a much different effect on the American people. This must be pondered by serious revolutionaries.

Conditions for a new revolutionary movement are gradually maturing. There are growing rebellions seeking a new way of life throughout the world. In the US, an ever-spreading movement affirms the value of black lives as increasing numbers of European-American youth take up the struggle of African Americans as their own. Such a movement may, in time, bring an end to the socially constructed notion of whiteness, eliminating a key pillar of the rulers’ domination.

In the Virginia colony in the 17th century, the masters were horrified to see African and European laborers combine to seek to destroy the system of enslavement. Their response was to create a sharp division in condition between their African and their Europeans slaves. They “invented” the white race to split the laborers and preserve their power — a remarkably effective and durable approach.

Race is a social construct devised and manipulated by our masters to maintain their rule. Only by eliminating class society, which continues to depend on racism, can racism as such be swept away.

Paul Bermanszohn, son of Holocaust survivors, is a retired psychiatrist and lifelong political revolutionary. He was shot in the head in an assassination attempt in the 1979 Greensboro Massacre, in which five of his close comrades were killed. His web site is Survival and Transformation.

This article is an edited version of a talk presented at a meeting of the End the New Jim Crow Action Network, on 14 July 2015 (Bastille Day), Kingston, NY.

 

http://roarmag.org/2015/08/us-war-on-drugs-black-repression/

Why No Mark Twain for Our Second Gilded Age?

The Solid Nonpareil

By Lewis H. Lapham

[This essay will appear in “Comedy,” the Winter 2014 issue of Lapham’s Quarterly. This slightly adapted version is posted at TomDispatch.com with the kind permission of that magazine.]

Well, humor is the great thing, the saving thing, after all. — Mark Twain

Twain for as long as I’ve known him has been true to his word, and so I’m careful never to find myself too far out of his reach. The Library of America volumes of his Collected Tales, Sketches, Speeches, and Essays (1852–1910) stand behind my desk on a shelf with the dictionaries and the atlas. On days when the news both foreign and domestic is moving briskly from bad to worse, I look to one or another of Twain’s jests to spring the trap or lower a rope, to summon, as he is in the habit of doing, a blast of laughter to blow away the “peacock shams” of the world’s “colossal humbug.”

Laughter was Twain’s stock in trade, and for 30 years as bestselling author and star attraction on America’s late-nineteenth-century lecture stage, he produced it in sufficient quantity to make bearable the acquaintance with grief that he knew to be generously distributed among all present in the Boston Lyceum or a Tennessee saloon, in a Newport drawing room as in a Nevada brothel. Whether the audience was sober or drunk, topped with top hats or snared in snakebitten boots, Twain understood it likely in need of a remedy to cover its losses.

No other writer of his generation had seen as much of the young nation’s early sorrow, or become as familiar with its commonplace scenes of human depravity and squalor. As a boy on the Missouri frontier in the 1830s he attended the flogging and lynching of fugitive slaves; in the California gold fields in the 1860s he kept company with underage murderers and overage whores; in New York City in the 1870s he supped at the Gilded Age banquets of financial swindle and political fraud, learning from his travels that “the hard and sordid things of life are too hard and too sordid and too cruel for us to know and touch them year after year without some mitigating influence.” Twain bottled the influence under whatever label drummed up a crowd — as comedy, burlesque, satire, parody, sarcasm, ridicule, wit — any or all of it presented as “the solid nonpareil,” guaranteed to fortify the blood and restore the spirit. Humor for Twain was the hero with a thousand faces.

With Groucho Marx I share the opinion that comedians “are a much rarer and far more valuable commodity than all the gold and precious stones in the world,” but the assaying of that commodity — of what does it consist in its coats of many colors, among them cocksure pink, shithouse brown, and dead-end black — is a question that I gladly leave to the French philosopher Henri Bergson, Twain’s contemporary who in 1900 took note of its primary components: “The comic does not exist outside the pale of what is strictly human… Laughter has no greater foe than emotion… Its appeal is to the intelligence, pure and simple… Our laughter is always the laughter of a group.”

Which is to say that all jokes are inside jokes and the butts of them are us, the only animal that laughs, but also the only one that is laughed at. The weather isn’t amusing, neither is the sea. Wombats don’t do metaphor or stand-up. What is funny is man’s situation as a scrap of mortal flesh entertaining intimations of immortality, President Richard Nixon believing himself the avatar of William the Conqueror, President George W. Bush in the persona of a medieval pope preaching holy crusade against all the world’s evil.

Venting One’s Spleen

The confusion of realms is the substance of Shakespeare’s comedies — as a romantic exchange of mistaken identities in As You Like It, in Measure for Measure as an argument for the forgiveness of sin:

But man, proud man,
Dressed in a little brief authority,
Most ignorant of what he’s most assured,
His glassy essence, like an angry ape,
Plays such fantastic tricks before high heaven
As make the angels weep; who, with our spleens,
Would all themselves laugh mortal.

Spleens in the Elizabethan anatomy give rise to mirth because they also produce the melancholy springing from the bowels to remind us that although unaccountably invested with the power to conceive of ourselves as vessels of pure and everlasting light, we were made, as were toads, of foul and perishable stuff. Apes play games in zoos and baobab trees, but, not knowing that they’re bound to die, they don’t discover ludicrous incongruities between the physical and the metaphysical, don’t invent, as does François Rabelais’ Gargantua, “the most lordly, the most excellent” way to remove the smell and fear of death from the palace of his “jolly asshole,” by wiping it first with silk and velvet, lastly and most gloriously, with the neck of a “well-downed goose.”

All humor is situational, but the forms of it that survive the traveling in time — Shakespeare’s romance and Rabelais’ bawdy as well as Juvenal’s satire and Molière’s ridicule — speak to the fundamental truth of the human predicament, which is that men die from time to time and worms do eat them. The jokes dependent upon a specific historical setting don’t have much of a shelf life; the voice between the lines gets lost, and with it the sharing of the knowledge of what is in or out of place.

To look at the early-seventeenth-century painting Interior with Merry Company or at a mosaic of strolling masked musicians from a wall in second-century-B.C. Pompeii is to understand that a good time is being had by all, to infer that for as long as humans have walked the earth, they have found in the joy of laughter a companion more faithful than the dog. But exactly what prompts the lace-trimmed Dutch girls to their lovely smiling, or whether the Roman drum is tapping out a cadence or a song, I cannot say. I wasn’t in the loop; four or twenty-one centuries out of touch, I don’t know who first said what to whom, or why the merriment is merry.

Unintended Humor

Even in one’s own day and age it’s never a simple matter to catch the drift in the wind or judge the lay of the land. Lenny Bruce remarks on the collapse of his off-color nightclub act in front of a milk-white audience in Milwaukee — “They don’t laugh, they don’t heckle, they just stare at me in disbelief” — and I’m reminded of my own first encounter, at the age of 13, with a silence casting me into an outer darkness in a galaxy far, far away.

In the autumn of 1948 on my first Sunday at a Connecticut boarding school, the headmaster (a pious and confiding man, as grave as he was good) welcomed the returning and newly arriving students with an edifying sermon. Protestant but nondenominational, the chapel had been built to the design of an early-eighteenth-century New England spiritual simplicity — white wood, unstained glass, straight-backed pews set in two sternly disciplined rows before an unobtrusive pulpit. The students were arranged alphabetically by class, seniors to the fore, preps, myself among them, fitted into the choir loft above the doors at the rear. My family having moved east from California only a few weeks prior to my being sent off to school, I’d never before seen a Connecticut landscape.

More to the point, I’d only twice been inside a church, for an uncle’s wedding and a police chief’s funeral. The latter ceremony I’d attended with my grandfather during his tenure as mayor of San Francisco during the Second World War, one of the many occasions on which, between the ages of seven and 11, I listened to him deliver an uplifting political speech.

Out of the loop within the walls of the chapel, I assumed that the headmaster’s sermon was a canvassing for votes, whether for or from God I didn’t know, but either way a call to arms, and as I had been taught to do when an admiral or a parks commissioner completed his remarks, I stood to attention with the tribute of firm and supportive applause. The appalled silence in the chapel was as cold as a winter in Milwaukee. The entire school turned to stare in disbelief, the headmaster nearly missed his step down from the pulpit, the boys to my left and right edged away, as if from a long-dead rat.

Never mind that my intention was civil, my response meant to show respect. During the next four years at school, I never gained admission to the company of the elect. I’d blotted my copybook, been marked down as an offensive humorist from the wrong side of the Hudson River.

In the troubled sea of the world’s ambition, men rise by gravity, sink by levity, and on my first Sunday in Connecticut I had placed myself too far below the salt to indulge the hope of an ascent to the high-minded end of the table — not to be trusted with the singing of the school song, or with the laughing at people who didn’t belong to beach clubs on Long Island. The sense of being off the team accompanied me to Yale College (I never saw the Harvard game) and shaped my perspective as a young newspaper reporter in the 1950s.

A potentially free agent, not under contract to go along with the program — able to find fault with an official press release, put an awkward question to a department-store mogul  — I was looked upon with suspicion by the wisdoms in office. The attitude I took for granted on the part of real-estate kingpins and ladies enshrined in boxes at the opera, but I didn’t recognize it as one adjustable to any and all occasions until the winter night in 1958 when the San Francisco chapter of Mensa International (a society composed of persons blessed with IQ test scores above the 98th percentile) staged a symposium meant to plumb to its utmost depths (intellectual, psychological, and physiological) the mystery of human gender.

Wine and cheese to be served, everybody to remove his or her clothes before being admitted to the discussion. Dispatched by the San Francisco Examiner to report on the event, I didn’t make it past the coatracks on which the seekers of the naked truth draped their fig leaves. But even with the embodiments of genius, Mensa wasn’t taking any chances. Confronted with a display of for the most part unlovely and decomposing flesh, the doorkeepers distributed identifying wrist bracelets, blue silk for boys, pink velvet for girls, one of each for gays, lesbians, and transsexuals. What was wonderful was the utter seriousness of the proceeding. Nobody laughed or risked the semblance of a smile; the company of the elect looked with proud disdain upon the fully clothed reporters standing around in unpolished shoes.

Chicolini Really Is an Idiot

Laughter follows from the misalignment of a reality and a virtual reality, and the getting of the joke is the recognition of which is which. The notions of what is true or beautiful or proper held sacred by the other people in the caucus or the clubhouse set up the punch line — the sight of something where it’s not supposed to be, the story going where it’s not supposed to go, Groucho Marx saying, “Gentlemen, Chicolini here may talk like an idiot and look like an idiot, but don’t let that fool you. He really is an idiot.”

Groucho’s appeal is to the faculty named by Bergson as “intelligence, pure and simple,” and I laugh out loud for the reason given by Arthur Schopenhauer: “simply the sudden perception of the incongruity between a concept and the real object.”

Being in or out of the loop is not only a question of separations in space and time, it is also a matter of the distance between different sets or turns of mind. Sudden and happy perceptions of incongruity are not hard to come by in a society that worships its machines, regards the sales pitch and the self-promotion as its noblest forms of literary art. What Twain understood to be the world’s colossal humbug enjoys a high standing among people who define the worth of a thing as the price of a thing and therefore make of money, in and of itself a colossal humbug, the true and proper name for God.

“There are,” said Twain, “certain sweet-smelling, sugarcoated lies current in the world which all politic men have apparently tacitly conspired together to support and perpetuate… We are discreet sheep; we wait to see how the drove is going and then go with the drove. We have two opinions: one private, which we are afraid to express, and another one — the one we use — which we force ourselves to wear to please Mrs. Grundy.”

It is the Mrs. Grundy of the opinion polls from whom President Barack Obama begs the favor of a sunny smile, to whom the poets who write the nation’s advertising copy sing their songs of love, for whom the Aspen Institute sponsors summer and winter festivals of think-tank discussion to reawaken the American spirit and redecorate the front parlor of the American soul.

The exchanges of platitude at the higher altitudes of moral and social pretension Twain celebrated as festive occasions on which “taffy is being pulled.” Some of the best of it gets pulled at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York when it is being explained to a quorum of the monied elite (contented bankers, corporate lawyers, arms manufacturers) that American foreign policy, rightly understood, is a work of Christian charity and an expression of man’s goodwill to man.

Nobody pulls the taffy better than Dr. Henry Kissinger, the White House National Security Advisor in 1970 who by way of an early Christmas greeting that year to the needy poor in Cambodia secured the delivery of thousands of tons of high explosive, but as often at the council as I’ve heard him say that the nuclear option trumps the China card, that the lines in the Middle Eastern sand connect the Temple of Solomon to the Pentagon, that America under no circumstances is to be caught holding Neville Chamberlain’s umbrella, I seldom find the hint of a sign that the other gentlemen in the room know or care that Chicolini here really is an idiot. Even if the gentlemen had their doubts about Chicolini, where would be the percentage of letting them out of the bag? Chicolini is rich, and therefore Chicolini is wise. To think otherwise is an impiety; to say otherwise is a bad career move.

Mocking the Gilded Age

Twain was careful to mind his manners when speaking from lecture platforms to crowds of Mrs. Grundys in both the western and eastern states. He bottled his ferocious ridicule in the writing (much of it in newspapers) that he likened to “painted fire,” bent to the task of burning down with a torch of words the pestilent hospitality tents of self-glorifying cant. He had in mind the health of the society on which in 1873 he bestowed the honorific “The Gilded Age” in recognition of its great contributions to the technologies of selfishness and greed, a society making itself sick with the consumption of too many sugarcoated lies and one that he understood not to be a society at all but a state of war.

We have today a second Gilded Age more magnificent than the first, but our contemporary brigade of satirists doesn’t play with fire. The marketing directors who produce the commodity of humor for prime-time television aim to amuse the sheep, not shoot the elephants in the room. They prepare the sarcasm-lite in the form of freeze-dried sound bites meant to be dropped into boiling water at Gridiron dinners, Academy Award ceremonies, and Saturday Night Live. “There is a hell of a distance,” said Dorothy Parker, “between wisecracking and wit. Wit has truth in it.” George Bernard Shaw seconded the motion: “My way of joking is to tell the truth. It’s the funniest joke in the world.”

Twain didn’t expect or intend his satire to correct the conduct of Boss Tweed, improve the morals of Commodore Vanderbilt, or stop the same-day deliveries of Congress from Washington to the banks in New York. Nor did he exclude himself from the distinguished company of angry apes rolling around in the mud of their mortality. He knew himself made, like all other men, as “a poor, cheap, wormy thing… a sarcasm, the Creator’s prime miscarriage in inventions,” easily seduced by the “paltry materialisms and mean vanities” that made both himself and America great.

A man at play with the life of his mind overriding the decay of his matter, his laughter the digging himself out of the dung heap of moralizing cowardice that is the consequence of ingesting too much boardwalk taffy. His purpose is that of a physician attending to the liberties of the people shriveled by the ambitions of the state, his belief that it is the courage of a democracy’s dissenting citizens that defends their commonwealth against the despotism of a plutocracy backed up with platitudes, billy clubs, surveillance cameras, and subprime loans.

Which is why in times of trouble I reach for the saving grace of the nearby Twain. Laughter in all of its conjugations and declensions cannot help but breathe the air of freedom, and in the moment of delight and surprise that is my laughing out loud at his Extracts from Adam’s Diary or “To the Person Sitting in Darkness,” I escape, if only briefly, from the muck of my own ignorance, vanity, and fear, bind up the festering wound inflicted on the day I was born with the consolation of the philosophy named by Charlie Chaplin: “Life is a tragedy when seen in close-up, but a comedy in long shot.”

Lewis H. Lapham is editor of Lapham’s Quarterly and a TomDispatch regular. Formerly editor of Harper’s Magazine, he is the author of numerous books, including Money and Class in America, Theater of War, Gag Rule, and, most recently, Pretensions to Empire. The New York Times has likened him to H.L. Mencken; Vanity Fair has suggested a strong resemblance to Mark Twain; and Tom Wolfe has compared him to Montaigne. This essay, slightly adapted for TomDispatch, introduces “Comedy,” the Winter 2014 issue of Lapham’s Quarterly, soon to be released at that website.


Copyright 2013 Lewis Lapham