Can We Keep Our Republic?

November 30, 2016 § Leave a comment

My Fears

“The deliberations of the Constitutional Convention of 1787 were held in strict secrecy. Consequently, anxious citizens gathered outside Independence Hall when the proceedings ended in order to learn what had been produced behind closed doors. The answer was provided immediately. A Mrs. Powel of Philadelphia asked Benjamin Franklin, “Well, Doctor, what have we got, a republic or a monarchy?” With no hesitation whatsoever, Franklin responded, “A republic, if you can keep it.” (Benjamin Franklin) “http://www.whatwouldthefoundersthink.com/a-republic-if-you-can-keep-it

I share Mrs. Powell’s fear.   I think we face an unprecedented threat to our republic .  Ben  Franklin’s assurance was conditional in 1787 and he could not conceive of the kind of threats we now face.

Donald Trump and the Constitution

During the lengthy campaign leading to the triumph of Donald Trump he made no secret of his hostile attitude toward the Constitution’s limits on executive power.  He railed against the protection of journalists’ right to be critical of his proposals.  He promised changes in slander and libel laws so that his critics could face civil penalties.  He prescribed jail or loss of citizenship for the offense of flag burning.  He called for religious testing of immigrants fleeing from oppression and death.  He promised mass deportation of Muslim citizens.  He plans for significant expansion of our prison system by creating a privately operated system of new facilities.  Steve Bannon, his choice for a top advisor, has a history of proposing restriction of the franchise to property owners, acknowledging his approval of its disproportionate impact on the right of black citizens’ voting rights.

Our present military force is greater than any other nation.  Trump promises to significantly expand it.  One of his favored military advisors is a retired general who led attendants at his political rallies in a call for jailing Trump’s political opponent.  “Lock Her Up”. He has expressed admiration for Vladimir Putin, the Russian dictator and has expressed disdain for our NATO alliance.

To summarize:  Donald Trump reacts impulsively and angrily toward any restriction on his ability to do whatever he wants to do.  He is about to become President of a country whose governing document is specifically designed to impose those restrictions.  I expect him to react to that circumstance just as he does to any other restraint of his discretion.  Some of his advisors, e.g.  Reince  Priebus, Mike Pence and Kelly Ann Conway, will try to act as a regency for his presidency and protect him from  bad decisions.  I doubt the efficacy and endurance of that arrangement.  Donald Trump does not react passively to restrictions of his power.

A Precipitating Event

I expect that sometime during Trump’s presidency, ISIS  or some other group opposed to the U.S. will cause a repeat of the kind of disaster we experienced on September Eleven.  Trump will then react by claiming authority necessary to protect us from imminent invasion or from other similar events.  The regency will disappear and he will assume the same kind of authority over the United States of America as he had over his private business empire.

When that happens, normal political conflicts will be regarded as unacceptable distractions interfering with the efficient response to external threats.  Normal electoral politics will be suspended.  And George Orwell’s 1984 will finally become reality.  Opposition to Trump’s activities will be treated as treason and rebellions will be ruthlessly crushed.

A Historical Precedent

I am aware that mention of analogies to Hitler’s Germany have been discredited as hysterical and inappropriate political tactics.  I still believe it is instructive to point out some parallels.

 

Like Trump, Hitler never received a majority vote in a German election.   Hitler, in violation of the Versailles  Treaty, expanded Germany’s military force. As Trump replaces the Clinton era, Hitler, a few months after the 1933 election, displaced Paul  von Hindenburg, first by becoming Chancellor and then, after Hindenburg’s death, becoming Dictator as a result of the Enabling Act.  Trump used Mexican and Muslim immigrants as scapegoats to evoke fear and support by his followers.  Hitler used the Reichstag fire to ignite fear of communists among his followers.   He stoked hatred of Jews and homosexuals to justify brutal repression.  Hitler created a huge system of prisons for the victims of his mass arrests.  Trump is calling for an expansion of privately operated prisons to contain the expected increase in the number of arrests.  As part of his plan to expand across Europe, Hitler forged an alliance with Benito Mussolini of Italy.  Trump has apparently  chosen Vladimir Putin as his Mussolini.  [To me they seem like two scorpions in a bottle:  each intending to dominate the other.]  Hitler used mass meetings featuring military pomp and incendiary  speeches by him to maintain and increase popular adoration of him.  Trump has just announced a series of “Thank You” rallies to maintain emotional ties to his adoring fan base.

Conclusion 

I hope I’m wrong about all this.  It would be a wonderful surprise if Trump becomes equal to the job of being a benign intelligent president.  My problem is:  I see nothing in his past to promise that result.

In Case You Missed It

November 27, 2016 § Leave a comment

I am using this blog to encourage my readers to watch an episode of Bill Moyers Journal.

Moyers interviews Paul Krugman about Picketty’s book, “Capital in the 21st Century”, a book I have written about in previous entries in this blog.  [Just click on the blog and use a search for “Picketty” (without the quotes).

Here is a link to the Moyers episode:  http://billmoyers.com/episode/what-the-1-dont-want-you-to-know-2/

I know you have other things to do besides paying attention to this blog.  If you don’t have time now, just keep the link until you have an hour or so to enjoy an interesting conversation between two smart guys about a book I think is the most important book written in the last few decades, maybe since Das Capital or Keynes’ General Theory ….

Bob

 

What Do We Do Now III

November 27, 2016 § 4 Comments

The main purpose of this blog item is to encourage people to read an article in the Atlantic brought to my attention by my friend and mentor,  Milton Lower.  Here is link:

http://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2016/10/how-democrats-killed-their-populist-soul/504710/

This expresses one of my two persistent frustrations with the strategy of the Democratic Party:

 

First:   The Democratic Party’s inattention to the effects of globalization and technology changes that have disempowered the middle-class working class men and women in Middle America.  Yes, I know we have lectured them about going back to school and being “realistic” about accepting inevitable changes.  They have responded the same way as blacks and women responded to:  “Just be patient.  We’re wording on it.”  They learned the same thing ignored groups have always learned:  Power is shared  only when it is demanded in ways that make the powerful sufficiently uncomfortable.  I only hope the lesson does not take as long and cost as much in human misery as the lessons of racial and gender equality did.

Second it’s deliberate abandonment of support for and interest in the American Labor Movement.  [Note I do not write “The AFL/CIO”.  I do not write that because I believe that it is way past time to redesign the American Labor Movement to make it a “Movement”, not a “special interest group”, not a “lobbyist group” and not an ATM machine for financial contributions to candidates’ campaigns.] [ I hasten to add that my professional life  largely consisted 0f representing and working with unions.  I admire and support their efforts because they often furnish the skill and muscle necessary for grassroots organizing.]

I distinguish our present unions from a movement because, with some notable exceptions, their focus seems unchanged from the 1930’s and 40’s:   organizing construction maritime and industrial workers.  I believe we need changes in the law and changes in organizing skills necessary for organizing unskilled workers in retail, health care , residential housing and food service industries.  And, before we can achieve changes in our laws, we must change our political vision and goals.

The SEIU and the United Farmworkers of the 1960’s are models of the kind of organizing needed now.  To organize unskilled workers consumer boycotts are necessary.  It is easy to replace unskilled workers unless they are protected by changes in our labor laws.  But replacing lost customers might attract management’s attention if it was significant and persistent.  This kind of organizing calls for partnerships between unions and nonunion workers and families, exactly the kind of alliances we need.  There are legal risks and barriers preventing unions from using boycotts as a bargaining tool.  But nonunion groups can choose not to patronize  businesses resisting negotiations with unions.  Such informal alliances could be powerful political as well as economic forces.

The bitter irony of the defense of NAFTA and TPP is that they have been defended by supporters, including Barack Obama, by observing that they will reduce prices of retail goods sold in megastores like Walmart.  I could liken this argument to the apocryphal advice of Marie Antoinette :  “Let them eat cake.” but that would be too tacky.  The point is  they are additional threats to the power of unions, the exact opposite from what I think we should be doing.

I should mention that the writer of the Atlantic article barely mentioned the AFL/CIO in his description of the New Deal’s populist policies.  The creation of the CIO and the Wagner Act lent strength to FDR’s efforts and, until Taft-Hartley gutted that legacy, the working class in America was on its way to becoming a model of a labor/politics/partnership capable of protecting America from corporate domination we now confront.  I have a suspicion that he is too young to be aware of FDR”s redesigning of the labor movement and its power-shifting effect.

A Personal Asid

My experience in politics began before working class power waned.  I am an “old fogy” and it frustrates me to realize that two or three generations have come to maturity without knowing about (and, therefore, without caring about) a world in which working people had power, not in the form of grants from government, but real power.  Blacks and women weren’t told, “Here’s some money to keep you satisfied; just don’t demand a share of our power.  We’re busy with other issues.”  No.  The laws were changed to protect their rights to demand and claim power.  That’s the kind of power working class Americans need.

Recently,  anger and frustration ignited the worst  aspects of their nature.  Many of them were charmed by Trump’s promises.  What we better hope now is that the would-be dictator  who courted them isn’t smart enough to give them some of what they want.  If we’re lucky, he will betray them and we may get another chance.  If so, I  hope we don’t blow it – again.

 

 

A Response to Kurt Eichenwald

November 20, 2016 § 3 Comments

My Agreement With Parts of Eichenwald’s Article

A few days ago, in my Facebook account, I posted a Newsweek article by Kurt Eichenwald entitled “The Myths Democrats Swallowed That Cost Them The Election”.   The author, in a tone that varied between smug contempt and pompous hubris, asserted that Bernie Sanders would have been easily destroyed if he had been the nominee for president instead of Hillary Clinton.  He claimed to have obtained a two foot thick opposition research document prepared by the GOP to demolish Bernie.

He aimed his contempt at anyone who suggested that Bernie might have won if he had been the Democratic Party’s nominee for president.  He also denounced any voter who refused to vote for Hillary because of disappointment about Bernie’s defeat in the Primary election.

I absolutely agreed with him about those who refused to vote for Hillary because Bernie did not win the primary election.  I have no patience with those who wasted their vote on splinter candidates or refused to vote at all because their original choice was not the nominee.

What I Did Not Agree With

Here is what Kurt Eichenwald published under his byline in last week’s Newsweek Magazine:

It is impossible to say what would have happened under a fictional scenario, but Sanders supporters often dangle polls from early summer showing he would have performed better than Clinton against Trump. They ignored the fact that Sanders had not yet faced a real campaign against him. Clinton was in the delicate position of dealing with a large portion of voters who treated Sanders more like the Messiah than just another candidate. She was playing the long game—attacking Sanders strongly enough to win, but gently enough to avoid alienating his supporters. Given her overwhelming support from communities of color—for example, about 70 percent of African-American voters cast their ballot for her—Clinton had a firewall that would be difficult for Sanders to breach.

When Sanders promoted free college tuition—a primary part of his platform that attracted young people—that didn’t mean much for almost half of all Democrats, who don’t attend—or even plan to attend—plan to attend a secondary school. In fact, Sanders was basically telling the working poor and middle class who never planned to go beyond high school that college students—the people with even greater opportunities in life—were at the top of his priority list.

So what would have happened when Sanders hit a real opponent, someone who did not care about alienating the young college voters in his base? I have seen the opposition book assembled by Republicans for Sanders, and it was brutal. The Republicans would have torn him apart. And while Sanders supporters might delude themselves into believing that they could have defended him against all of this, there is a name for politicians who play defense all the time: losers.

Here are a few tastes of what was in store for Sanders, straight out of the Republican playbook: He thinks rape is A-OK. In 1972, when he was 31, Sanders wrote a fictitious essay in which he described a woman enjoying being raped by three men. Yes, there is an explanation for it—a long, complicated one, just like the one that would make clear why the Clinton emails story was nonsense. And we all know how well that worked out.

Then there’s the fact that Sanders was on unemployment until his mid-30s, and that he stole electricity from a neighbor after failing to pay his bills, and that he co-sponsored a bill to ship Vermont’s nuclear waste to a poor Hispanic community in Texas, where it could be dumped. You can just see the words “environmental racist” on Republican billboards. And if you can’t, I already did. They were in the Republican opposition research book as a proposal on how to frame the nuclear waste issue.

Also on the list: Sanders violated campaign finance laws, criticized Clinton for supporting the 1994 crime bill that he voted for, and he voted against the Amber Alert system. His pitch for universal health care would have been used against him too, since it was tried in his home state of Vermont and collapsed due to excessive costs. Worst of all, the Republicans also had video of Sanders at a 1985 rally thrown by the leftist Sandinista government in Nicaragua where half a million people chanted, “Here, there, everywhere/the Yankee will die,’’ while President Daniel Ortega condemned “state terrorism” by America. Sanders said, on camera, supporting the Sandinistas was “patriotic.”

The Republicans had at least four other damning Sanders videos (I don’t know what they showed), and the opposition research folder was almost 2-feet thick. (The section calling him a communist with connections to Castro alone would have cost him Florida.) In other words, the belief that Sanders would have walked into the White House based on polls taken before anyone really attacked him is a delusion built on a scaffolding of political ignorance.”

Mr. Eichenwald was not content of scold those who failed to vote for Hillary because of their disappointment about Bernie’s loss. He included a list of what he claimed were such damning facts about Bernie that his candidacy would have been doomed.  His list of those “facts” consisted of one ordinary garden variety lie and a few others he gleaned from trolling the internet for negative items about Bernie Sanders.

Is Eichenwald Responsible For This Attack On Bernie Sanders?

My answer is “Yes”.   Did he bear no responsibility for publishing the trash attacks on Hillary Clinton since he was reporting the contents of a GOP research document?  I think it belies political reality to excuse him on that ground.

This is like: “Don’t tell anyone you heard it from me, but there are rumors that Mabel is a lesbian drug addict and a convicted felon.”  Lies and damaging assaults on a person are harmless unless they are repeated by people to large audiences.  Kurt Eichenwald, a contributor to a general circulation magazine is acutely aware of that simple truth.  He picked a crucial time and a political target.  He knew exactly what he was doing.

It took me less than a half hour to locate most of his sources.  So, as a preliminary observation, it is obvious that everything he cited had been well known before and was available to attack Bernie during the primary election period.  I don’t recall any of it mentioned in the debates   So Hillary Clinton’s campaign did not see it as horrific as Mr. Eichenwald did or they would have mentioned it.

I understand the audience then was different from the general election audience but it is hard to believe that some of it would not have surfaced if it were as powerfully disgraceful as Mr. Eichenwald claimed.  Are we to believe Hillary failed to use Eichenwald’s “devastating” weapons because she didn’t want to damage him?  Please!  There are many ways to wield political weapons:  Surrogates, planted news stories, leaked “background” briefings for trusted news sources – and Hillary Clinton and her staff certainly were experienced and sophisticated enough to know them all.  The truth:  They  didn’t use Eichenwald’s trash because they didn’t think it would help them.

Here is a List of Eichenwald’s Deplorables

What did he offer to prove that Bernie Sanders’ past disqualified him from winning a presidential election.  Here is the list.

1.   Bernie Sanders thinks rape is ok.  This is a lie.  It is based on a two page article, one of several, written by Bernie for an ‘alternative”  newspaper in Burlington Vermont for which he was paid $50 per article.  In my opinion it is not well written and it is plainly based on Bernie’s dabbling in Freudian psychology.  He wrote about mastubation fantasies of both men and women that involved rape and argued those fantasies suggested pathological  subconscious problems.  It in no way stated or suggested that “rape is ok”.  Here is link to a reprint of the article: http://www.npr.org/sections/itsallpolitics/2015/05/29/410606045/the-bernie-sanders-rape-fantasy-essay-explained

2.  Bernie Sanders was on unemployment benefits until his mid-thirties.  This is true.  It is no secret that Bernie Sanders life has been  somewhat  outside mainstream culture.

It is also true that he has competed in elections for Mayor of Burlington Vermont, governor of Vermont, U.S. House of Representatives from Vermont, U.S. Senator from Vermont and candidate for president.  He was elected and re=elected for four terms as Mayor; elected to Congress in 1988 and served there, winning elections every two years, until 2012,, when he was elected to the U.S. Senate from Vermont. Here is a link to Bernie’s remarkable political history:  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Electoral_history_of_Bernie_Sanders

Given  that electoral history,  he has been  thoroughly vetted and his past has been critically examined by a host of political opponents in over twenty political contests.

3.  He stole electricity from a neighbor when he failed to pay his bills.  The facts:  Bernie was unemployed.  He lived in the back of an old brick building and, when he could not pay his electricity bills, he would run an extension cord to the basement and plug it into the landlord’s circuit.  Eventually he was evicted because he could not pay his rent.  Is that admirable?  No.  Is it sufficient to disqualify Bernie Sanders from running for public office? No.  He won thirteen contested elections according to one account I found.

4.  He co-sponsored a bill to send nuclear waste to South Texas.  This is true.  The bill passed the House and Senate and was signed by the President.  I know something about this issue.   The South Texas destination was in  Starr County on the Mexican border. Its population is very poor.  The County offered to accept and treat this waste because they needed the money paid by Vermont.  It is not an admiral transaction but, so far as I know, no admiral solution has been found for this problem.

5.  He violated campaign finance laws.  Eichenwald does not bother to add that the “violations” consisted of individual donors giving more that the $2,700 maximum permitted by applicable law to the Sanders campaign.  The campaign refunded the excess money to each donor identified by the FEC,, but the process was and is a monster process to handle during a campaign.  It is true that Bernie’s staff was not as experienced running nationwide campaigns as Hillary’s and their donors were not well advised about contribution limits.  Eichenwald’s implication that the violations were deliberate and criminal was unwarranted .

6.  He voted against the Amber Alert law.  Bernie voted against this law because he felt it included broad mandates of minimum prison sentences for a wide range of crimes and he believed it unconstitutionally preempted the function of criminal court judges.

7.  He voted for the 1994 Crime Bill but criticized then First Lady Hillary Clinton for supporting it.  Bernie voted six times to remove the provision for mandatory sentences and the death penalty from this law.  He was unsuccessful and reluctantly voted for the bill because it included new protection for women and other measures he supported. Then-First Lady Hillary Clinton spoke strongly in favor of increased incarceration, labeling at risk youth as “super-predators” who had to be “brought to heel.”  He criticized her for those statements.

8.  He attended a 1985 Sandinista rally in Nicaragua at which a speaker denounced  U.S. policies in Central America.  The Sandinista leader, Daniel Ortega, was the duly elected President of Nicaragua.  Our Congress supported the Sandinistas’  defeat of Somoza, a brutal dictator.  Sanders attendance at that rally was in line with American policy.  The Reagan conspirators’ support of the Contras was the scandal, not Bernie’s attendance at a rally.  About a half dozen of Reagan conspirators were convicted of crimes for opposing the Sandinistas and some went to prison.

9..  Eichenwald claimed the GOP would label Bernie Sanders as a “communist” who supported Fidel Castro .  He said that would insure his loss of Florida.  That claim assumes that the “Red Scare” days of  Joe McCarthy are still with us and should govern our political choices. I don’t believe it nor do I believe we should approve those discredited claims as a basis for selecting political candidates.  Bernie Sanders is not a communist and he has not embraced the policies of Fidel Castro and Eichenwald knew it when, without comment, he published that charge.

Summary

That’s it.  That’s the basis for Eichenwald’s pronouncement that Bernie Sanders was DOA as a candidate for President of the United States.  It is the most extreme example of a headline unsupported by a story that I recall ever reading.  I submit it is a reckless and despicable hit-piece inappropriate for a news magazine like Newsweek.

So Why Am I Taking The Trouble To Respond To This Trash?

I respond because I believe Bernie Sanders is one of the leaders of the Democratic Party who can help us recover from the disaster of the 2016 presidential election.  This pointless and intellectually dishonest attack on Bernie Sanders comes at the precise time when we need his effort to redesign the Democratic Party to be an effective  opponent of the Donald Trump presidency.  I don’t believe we should imitate the irresponsible tactics of Mitch McConnel:  Just obstruct and oppose everything Trump tries to do.  We should reshape the Democratic Party into a skilled, effective nationwide political machine based on precinct level organizing and clear principles aimed at rebuilding a coalition that can win elections at all levels from county courthouses to the White House.

For Extra Credit

If you want to read a more thorough rebuttal to the Eichenwald article, here is a link;

https://www.pastemagazine.com/articles/2016/11/newsweeks-kurt-eichenwald-continues-his-sad-spiral.html

 

 

What Do We Do Now II

November 17, 2016 § 2 Comments

What is our Task?

Several times on this blog I have expressed my belief that the Democratic Party must resurrect its partnership with organized labor.  I believe the results of  the presidential election affirm my belief.   We cannot hope to recover from this loss unless we change our party’s response to the angry working class voters in Pennsylvania, Ohio, Wisconsin and Michigan who lost patience with the Democratic Party and chose the only alternative to “more of the same” by voting for Donald Trump. I mention those workers because those states figured so prominently in the debacle of the election.  They are only examples.  Their brothers and sisters elsewhere in America share a lot of their despair and anger.

The  Past Fifty-One Years

Why did a significant share of working class white people in these states vote for Trump?  I reject the answer from outraged Hillary supporters:  “They are racists and were attracted by Trump’s racist bigotry.”  I think it is more complicated.  Here is the experience of those voters during the past fifty-one years, i.e. two generations:  Beginning with the Civil Rights Act of 1965 and continuing to the present, we have had a significant cultural and political shift toward tolerance of racial,  ethnic and religious minorities; toward equality of opportunity for women and toward acceptance of GLBTQ life styles including marriage equality.  Especially during the eight years of the Obama administration, this progress has been embraced and celebrated by the Democratic Party. I don’t mean these problems have  been resolved, but progress has been made and the Democrats’ proud role in supporting those changes is well known.

During that same period of time  we have experienced a loss of manufacturing jobs due to globalization, changes in technology and the political disappearance of any meaningful support of or attention to the interests of organized labor.  The victims of those losses have been told to re-educate themselves, abandon the skills learned on factory floors and, so far as concerns their rage at losing  their status as successful middle class workers with decent incomes, they have been told to “get over it”.  Their unions have been politically ignored and, largely because they have been unable to offer any effective response to these changes, their members have seen less  reason to maintain solid political opposition to “Right to Work” laws that further weakened the strength of unions.

So, to summarize, while the Democratic Party has supported significant progress for women, blacks and gays, the labor movement, which is the only way to empower working class Americans, has been rarely mentioned by spokesmen for the Democratic Party and absent from  agendas for the Party’s political efforts.

In the presidential election of 2016, Donald Trump based his campaign on a set of promises aimed straight at the white working class.  He railed against the trade pacts that he claimed were responsible for the export of jobs.  He opposed immigration policies he claimed would endanger the homeland  as well as take jobs from white American workers.  He promised to rebuild America with indigenous workers.

Is it logical or fair to assume the white workers’ attraction to those promises was based on Trump’s bigotry?  I don’t think so.  Of course, American culture still harbors a distressing strain of bigotry, but I do not believe it motivates a majority of Americans.  That would presume that the past fifty years of effort had little or no effect. I long ago discovered that racism and bigotry are more prevalent in silk stocking neighborhoods than working class neighborhoods.  It is an old and discredited canard that middle class workers are racists and well educated wealthy upper crust members are not.

One more thing I should mention:  These angry voters were not poverty stricken.  People who face daily struggles to stay alive have no energy for political struggles.  The working class whites who were attracted to Trump’s message were those, or the children of those, who had enjoyed a comfortable middle class life, during the fifty’s, sixties and seventy’s , but whose jobs had disappeared with factory closings and technological displacement.  The culture in which they thrived had disappeared and Trump promised its return.

Here is a link to three episodes of Van Jones’ interviews with working class families in Gettysburg Pennsylvania concerning their support of Donald Trump.  Episode One is shown first on the screen.  Episodes Two and Three can be watched by clicking on their panels on the right column beside the screen.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=60YG8RFGWfo  These interviews illustrate some of the ideas in this blog post.

A Personal Aside:  The Texas Experience

I am old enough to remember the fifty’s  and sixties.  I remember the union organizing in the refineries and steel mills and the telephone industry in Texas.  The  Steelworkers union, the Oil Workers union and the Communication Workers union struggled to overcome the racism that threatened the solidarity necessary for the power of those efforts.  Union halls were educational institutions persuading workers who moved into Houston, Beaumont and Port Arthur from East Texas, that racism was a divisive barrier to successful collective bargaining.  It was difficult and required lots of painful trial and error, but, by 1963,  the former CIO unions joined political coalitions with Chicanos, black activists and white liberals and the combination of those alliances and the motivation based on collective bargaining became a powerful force in Texas politics.

Ralph Yarborough was elected to the Senate after being defeated in a race for governor by about 3,500 votes.  In 1962, Don Yarborough, no relation to the Senator, ran an openly pro civil rights campaign for governor, defeated Price Daniel, a U.S. Senator who returned to Texas to oppose him, and was defeated in a runoff by  John Connally, a protege of Lyndon Johnson, who was dispatched to Texas to prevent the emergence of a liberal political organization capable of holding Johnson accountable when he backed measures like Taft-Hartley, a law that significantly thwarted the ability of  unions to organize workers. Yarborough lost to Connally by about 25,00 votes.  Texas conservatives were leaving the Democratic Party to become part an emerging Texas Republican party.  It is a strong likelihood that, in 1964, due to this split in conservative forces, Don Yarborough would have become governor of Texas in 1964 (governors were elected to two-year terms in those days).  In 1963, JFK was assassinated in Dallas and John Connally was wounded.  That made him a hero and prevented a liberal takeover of the state house in Austin.

Johnson’s determined opposition to a strong Democratic Party organization in Texas was prompted by his loyal alliance with  his longtime benefactor, Brown & Root Construction Company, which, with his unflagging support,  became a world wide behemoth through mergers with M.W. Kellog and Halliburton and later absorbed other corporate giants to become KBR.  This corporate network gave us Dick Chaney, former CEO of Halliburton and finally Vice President  and tutor of President George W. Bush.

Texas:  A Model For Other States 

I have just started reading a new book by Max Krochmal, “Blue Texas.  The Making of a Multiracial Democratic Coalition in  the Civil Rights Era”.  It is a model for re-designing the political effort necessary for recovering from the recent election.  I am confident Trump will furnish more than adequate motivation for that effort.

The danger is that we try to respond with more of the “triangulation” strategy of the past 30 years.  Political strategy can no longer be based on the assumption that direct appeals to the “base” (blacks, Chicanos, labor unions and an assortment of white liberals) is unnecessary because they have no place o go except to support whoever is opposed to the current corporate stooge or neofascist billionaire who is running for office.  Thus, “our” candidate has been free to “reach out” to Wall Street friends for money and political moderates with assurance that no radical changes will occur to threaten their political power and prestige.

That kind of political coalition has suffered from the absence of union organizers and leadership for the past fifty years.  In the so-called “rust belt” of our midwest, the displaced and disempowered white workers were eager for radical changes.  Hillary Clinton was the embodiment of “more of the same”.  Her problem was not racism.  Her problem was her lack of appeal focussed on the anger of disempowered white voters.  Her acquired skill at triangulation politics no longer worked.  It served her well in her intra-party contest with Bernie Sanders but the America that elected Bill Clinton no longer exists and the political skills appropriate for it are no longer effective.

Conclusion

I am hopeful that the election of Trump is a sufficient shock to spawn a new Democratic Party; an activist political party which will lead the opposition to Trump’s presidency.  I am not opposed to negotiation of issues which do not conflict with the interests of our natural allies but I hope we will use the information from this election to forge new alliances  into a nationwide coalition similar to the one I have describe in this essay from the past experience in Texas.

The kind of communication technology now available should make that kind of organizing much easier than it was in Texas in the fifty’s and sixties.  We have inspiring leaders in Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren.  We need to embrace their counterparts in the Black Lives Matter community, recruit young people into Young Democrat organizations in every college, junior college and University in America.

And, above all, we must make closer alliances with labor unions, especially unions like the Service Employees international Union (SEIU).  The labor movement needs to be transformed to use boycotts and street demonstrations to organize unskilled workers in retail, janitorial and food service industries.  This will be hard and will require the partnership of liberal whites, blacks and Chicanos, the way the grape boycott did in the sixties under the leadership of Cesar Chavez.  I don’t want to wait until steel mills return to America and heavy industries become centers for union strength.  We need all parts of a liberal community  to coalesce into a powerful force for justice.  Our motto should be

YA BASTA!

 

What Do We Do Now?

November 11, 2016 § 2 Comments

In my last post on this blog I argued that re-energizing and redesigning the American Labor Movement should be a top priority for the Democratic Party’s response to the disaster of this presidential election.  After that rant I found a lengthy article in American Prospect magazine about that subject.  I believe it to be an important article with some new ideas entitled to consideration.

Here is a link  prospect.org/article/if-labor-dies-whats-next

During the past few days I have listened to several spokesmen on TV saying that the Democratic Party’s neglect of the white working class in states like Ohio, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, and Michigan led to Trump’s triumph.  Here is a picture of that triumph:

http://www.politico.com/2016-election/results/map/president

Here is a list of states which enacted Right to Work laws and the years when they did so:

Indiana 2012

Michigan 2012

West Virginia 2016

Wisconsin 2015

I don’t think it is a coincidence that these four states switched to being Right to Work states during the four years leading to Trump’s victory, especially Michigan and Wisconsin.  My daughter, a lawyer in Indiana, contends that Indiana was hopeless even before the adoption of the Right to Work law.   I accept her analysis, but Right to Work laws are like anchors preventing a state’s freeing itself from GOP domination.  Electoral  mistakes can only be corrected with a shift in strength from one political organization to its opposing political organization.  So, when organizational strength is crippled by weakening labor unions , the recapture of political success by the Democrats becomes more difficult.

Here is a map of the states who now have Right to Work laws:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Right-to-work_law#/media/File:Right_to_Work_states.svg

Notice the overlap with the states Trump carried.

I urge my readers to take time to read the American Prospect article.  I hope this subject will, at last, attract the attention of the leadership of the Democratic party.  It contains some creative ideas for strategies for the resuscitation of the labor movement.

I suspect I am, like most of you, like a passenger on the Titanic, sitting quietly in his cabin, pecking away on a Corona portable typewriter, when, suddenly his world became a frightening nightmare, from which, even after he was pulled into a lifeboat and realized he was still alive, continues to haunt him with a new awareness of the fragility of life and a temptation to lose faith and hope.  I am struggling to banish that feeling and reach for some plausible reason for the renewal of that faith.

Bob

 

 

The Power of the Powerless

November 8, 2016 § Leave a comment

A Reason to be Afraid

Anything is possible so the pollsters and analysts could be wrong and Donald J. Trump may become the next president of the United States.  If that happens my despair will last a long time and our constitutional republic will be at risk of disappearing, either metaphorically or literally.  A compulsive Tweeter will be in charge of nuclear codes and the most formidable military force in history.  Current events in Turkey illustrate how suddenly that kind of change can happen.  Fortunately, Turkey does not pose the existential threat that we do because they don’t have our capacity for military destruction.

A Reason to be Concerned

If we dodge the disaster of a Trump presidency we, nevertheless, have good reason to take notice of a sizable number of our neighbors who enthusiastically embraced a man who used fear, hate and prejudice to establish himself as a leader of millions of Americans.  I believe he was able to do this because a large portion of our white middle class  neighbors are enraged because they feel disempowered.  The fact they are mostly white does not mean that their rage is racist.  They are white because they and their fathers and mothers were powerful in America when our economy was dominated by industries that built and manufactured things.  In that economy, the white working class was empowered by a strong labor movement.

The strength of labor unions was not limited to the membership of unions.  The threat of unions forced employers to moderate their mistreatment of employees to weaken the appeal of union organizing.

People who have never had power are not as enraged as those who have been empowered and find themselves disempowered.  It is easy to focus these disempowered Americans on their neighbors who, because of their race or ethnicity, have become the beneficiaries of government efforts to remedy prior discrimination and abuse.  Some of the whites who vent their rage as racist attacks are simply expressing the racism that has never been erased from our culture.  But other whites, who join them, are reacting to the perceived unfairness of government’s concern for minority groups of their neighbors while ignoring their own disempowerment.

I believe Donald Trump has built a political force around this phenomenon.  Rage requires an object.  The technological and world demographical changes that have affected the disempowerment of the American white working class are too amorphous to serve as a satisfying object for rage.  So, racism and bigotry can be diverted toward newly empowered American groups by an amoral demagogue with a TV megaphone.

What is a Rational and Effective Solution?

Empowerment cannot be bestowed.  It can be enabled.  Government cannot grant benefits and expect the beneficiaries to feel empowered.  Hull House solutions are admirable but they do not create power.  They are bandaids for powerless victims.

The only solution for this problem is legal encouragement and protection for the exercise of power by working class Americans.  This kind of power results from collective bargaining, the right to grant or withhold labor as a source of economic power.  The massive imbalance between the power of corporate employers and the power of  the workers who furnish economic value to those employers is a creation of a complex of laws which have imposed that imbalance.  That imbalance must be corrected.

We have models for this solution.  The Wagner Act before it was gutted by the Taft Hartley Act is a start.  The present markets are different from those that worked in the 1930’s.  The work force in need of collective bargaining is dominated by franchise chains of retail enterprises:  department stores like Walmart; food service establishments like McDonalds,  Subway and KFC.  These low skill enterprises require protection against discharge and replacement by strike breakers that are not necessary in organizing other kinds of businesses.  Changes in boycott laws are necessary.

Political Changes

The first step in what will require a long, sustained effort, is recognition by political leaders of this issue.  We have just endured a long political conflict with no recognition of it.  The present electorate will not even understand this essay because they don’t know  what the “Wagner Act” or the “Taft Hartley Act” are.  We have technology that lends itself to adding new issues to the public debate.  We need to find web sites and TV sources to use this technology to restore this issue to public awareness.

Finally, lest my readers conclude I have lost a vital number of marbles, I well understand  this post is like the apocryphal story of King Canute’s effort to stop the tide.  I offer it because I expect that, regardless of outcome of this election, there will be many discussions of what happened and why.  I hope some of them include, in those discussions, what seems to me to be a key factor.

By the way, a beautifully written alternative explanation is J.D. Vance’s “Hillbilly Elegy:  A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis”.  In a previous post I have discussed this wonderful book.

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