Two Fronts: Glass Half Full (or Empty) in Both

Against Trump and the GOP

The good news is that the law is closing in on Donald Trump.  That is also the bad news; as he decomposes under pressure, the likelihood that he will act out in disastrous ways increases.

Most of what C. Wright Mills called “the power structure,” including all but the most reactionary corporate media, hate Trump to pieces.

So do the military and intelligence services and workers in federal bureaucracies.  They wish him ill and would like to see him gone, but he is their boss and they still obey him.

Roughly two thirds of the public loathes him as well.  But, for now and as far into the future as can be foreseen, the spirit of insurrection lies dormant; and despite all that Trump has done to besmirch the office he holds, respect for it remains undiminished.

Also, by all accounts, Trump is as popular as ever within his “base,” a third or more of the voting public. They buy his line that he is God’s gift to the Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave.  The evangelicals among them believe that literally.

And just in case their thinking takes a turn towards decency and common sense, rightwing media are ready on the scene, working 24/7 to keep them dumbed down and on board.

And so, Trump is hanging on by more than just the skin of his teeth.  Nevertheless, the fact remains: his past and present are catching up with him.  Were he less self-deluded, he would be panicking even more than he is.

Needless to say, there was never any reason to hope that Trump would win the 2016 election, much less to vote for him.

The last thing America and the world needs is a narcissistic, racist, nativist, Islamophobe in the White House – a willfully ignorant, stupid, and corrupt egotist formed morally and intellectually in the worlds of real estate moguls, casino tycoons, and reality TV executives.

Even so, before Election Day, there was at least some reason to think that a little good might come from his election.

Ending the power and influence of the two most noxious political families in recent American history, the Bushes and the Clintons, was high on the list.  There was also reason to think that his election would stall, and perhaps even reverse, the Russophobic war mongering that Hillary Clinton and other leading Democrats have been vigorously promoting since the summer of 2016.

Unfortunately, though, none of this has come to pass.  The Bushes are down and out, but Hillary is still around, blaming everybody and everything but herself, her politics, and her ineptitude for her loss to Trump.

Worse, she and Bill, along with their friends and cronies and the “humanitarian” imperialists they empowered are still out there doing harm.

Hillary lost the battle, but she is getting her way on matters of war and peace.  The entire political class nowadays is as bellicose and reckless as she.

The isolationist foreign policy Trump blabbered on about was nothing to applaud; there was nothing internationalist, much less anti-imperialist, about it.  Nevertheless, compared to prevailing, bipartisan strategies for maintaining America’s role as a global hegemon, Trump’s bluster did have a certain appeal.

It turned out, though, that Trump was talking out of both sides of his mouth.  This should have been more evident than it was to the irrepressible optimists among us.  A dead giveaway, obvious from Day One, was there for all to see in his rants about supporting “the troops” – in other words, giving the Pentagon brass and their friends in “defense” industries everything they ask for and more.

Trump’s tirades on trade, on putting “American first” by focusing on the needs of American workers, could also be looked upon as an improvement over the status quo – but for the fact that, on this, everything depends on the details, and Trump never had any in store.  He and the people around him seem not even to have given the matter much thought.

Had Trump really cared about American workers, his first priority would have been to reverse neoliberal economic policies that diminish and otherwise disempower the union movement. He has done just the opposite, acceding to, and even encouraging, Republican efforts to bust public employees’ unions, and to pass right-to-work (actually, right to free ride) legislation.

Anyone who has ever thought that Trump would mount a serious challenge to the kinds of neoliberal economic policies that the Clintons have always favored was plainly deluded.

Diminishing workers’ power for the benefit of Wall Street and the (mainly global) corporations for which they work is what Clintonites do.  It is what Trump does too.  The difference is that because he is an accomplished conman, his attacks on the working class come packaged with “populist” bombast.

Despite everything, though, some good can still come from his presidency – for just the reason that so many of his class brothers and sisters find him appalling.

They despise Trump because he is a buffoon who is undermining the legitimacy of the institutions upon which their power and privileges depend.   From a more progressive point of view, this is – or could be – something to applaud.

I probably log more time listening to old radio programs than most people outside the Trump demographic, but I cannot be the only one who hears the voice of Lou Costello of “The Abbot and Costello Show” every time the Donald opens his mouth. Costello was a comic genius of considerable verbal dexterity, while Trump is a dolt with a vocabulary of a few hundred words.   But Trump’s cadence bares an uncanny resemblance to Costello’s, and so too do his verbal confusions.  The difference, of course, is that, in Trump’s case, they are unintentional.

This is just one of the many ways that Trump, an adolescent boy in a septuagenarian’s body, is a cartoon character, leading a cast of cartoon characters even more preposterous than he – people like Ben Carson and Scott Pruitt, for example, or Betsy DeVos.    The office of the president used to convey a sense of majesty; under Trump, it conjures up thoughts of Looney Tunes short features.

Elites despise Trump for that; but it is the silver lining in an otherwise intolerable state of affairs. Bill Clinton’s dalliance with Monica Lewinsky introduced a healthy dose of demystification into the veins of the body politic.  However, compared to almost anything Trump does, that was small potatoes.

That Trump’s style is the inverse of No Drama Obama’s is one reason why establishment types despise him – enough even to overwhelm the structural factors that would otherwise lead them to back a class brother unreservedly.

They could care less about race or religion or ethnicity, and less still about gender – good luck, though, telling that to Hillary Clinton and her fans.  But they do care about what an out of control egomaniac could do to undermine the norms, practices and institutions from which they benefit so egregiously.

Perhaps too they are a tad patriotic and put off by the harm Trump is doing to the political project that began in Philadelphia one hundred fifty-five plus four score and seven years ago.

Such considerations certainly weigh heavily on the minds of the vast majority of the American people; there is no reason why they should be any less compelling within the more enlightened precincts of the power elite.

The problem, though, is that if Trump goes, Mike Pence would replace him; an ideologically committed reactionary theocrat, as opposed to a self-aggrandizing opportunist with no settled convictions – just some talk shows on Fox News that he likes.

Would we be better off with Pence?  I would say that if Congress would assert its constitutional authority over matters of war and peace, the answer would be No.

My reason is that, under Trump, a militant opposition is brewing, encouraged more by his cartoonish ludicrousness than by the politics he is promoting.  With a non-entity like Pence in the White House, opposition would subside.

But, at this point, there is no reason to think that Congress would assume its constitutional responsibilities, and, even if the predicted “blue wave” materializes in November, putting the House and Senate under the control of pusillanimous Democrats, there is not much reason to think that would change.

In any case, under either Trump or Pence, the miscreants Trump empowered to undo most of the worthwhile things the government does would be even freer than before to set about their nefarious tasks.

A half century ago, the country and world barely survived Kennedy’s “brightest and best.” With or without Trump, we may not be quite so lucky with the dumbest and the worst.

Against the Clintonites and their Democratic Party

If events cause Republicans to see the light in time, or if, as is broadly predicted and much more likely, the midterm elections in November result in a Democratic landslide, a “blue wave,” Trump will be impeached.

Then he would be tried in the Senate, where a two-thirds super majority is necessary for conviction and removal from office.  It is extremely unlikely that any impending blue wave would be substantial enough to make that happen.

The new normal, since even before Trump came on the scene, is that Senators vote along party lines.  For Trump actually to be removed from office, at least some Republican Senators would have to defect.  It is not impossible that enough of them would, but, at this point, nobody should count on it.

Only two other sitting presidents have ever been impeached, Andrew Johnson and Bill Clinton.  Neither was convicted by the Senate but, in both cases, Clinton’s especially, the issues involved were trivial compared to those involving Trump.

Nixon resigned before push came to shove, so we will never know whether he would have been convicted in the Senate.  However, Trump’s “high crimes and misdemeanors” – the plainly actionable ones — are even more egregious than Tricky Dicky’s.  Even so, unless Republicans decide to sell Trump out, his chances of prevailing in the Senate are, at least for now, a lot better than Nixon’s would have been.

On the other hand, Trump is a quitter; throughout his business career, whenever there was some percentage in it for him, he was the first out the door.  But he cares about his image, his brand, and his bottom line – and maybe also about the bottom lines of his idiot sons and his airhead daughter.  Were he to resign the presidency in disgrace, like Nixon did, those concerns would wreck him. There is no way he could resign the presidency except in disgrace.

Nixon was an internally conflicted man, but he had no similar conceits; psychologically, resignation was a more palatable option for him than it would be for Trump.    Also, there are no Barry Goldwaters or Howard Bakers in today’s GOP to tell Trump that his time is up.

Therefore, there is no telling what he will do.

I would wager, though, that a year from now, if the world “as we know it” is still generally intact, and if nothing highly improbable or currently unforeseeable happens, Trump will still be in the White House — even if, as is more likely than not, both the House and the Senate are under Democratic control.

That the GOP is the more odious duopoly party is, for all practical purposes, as certain as any logical truth.  Should a blue wave therefore be welcomed, irrespective of its consequences for the Trump presidency?

The answer is Yes, of course; what is less evil is always, by definition, better.  But that is a logical, not a political, point. Whether to work for lesser evil candidates or even to vote for them at the end of the day is a complicated question.

This is not the place to rehearse the arguments against lesser evil voting; most readers of these words already know them well.  That lesser evil voting has played a major role in bringing both duopoly parties to their current sorry states should be obvious in any case to anyone who approaches the question in a fair minded way.

However, this year, with so much is at stake, it could make sense to vote for lesser evil candidates – at least in cases where the outcomes are not already known with moral certainty in advance.  A blue wave could stop the GOP’s efforts to degrade the federal judiciary by installing rightwing ideologues for life terms, and it could slow down the “deconstruction” (Steve Bannon’s word) of “the administrative state” (ditto).

It might also hobble Trump in other ways – making nuclear war less likely, for example.

Arguably, these considerations would be countervailed in instances where progressive candidates running outside the duopoly’s ambit have a more than theoretical chance of winning. But, with very few exceptions, the chances of that this year are nil.

If the Green Party could not break out of the margins in 2000 with Ralph Nader as their candidate running against George Bush and Al Gore, or in 2016 with Jill Stein running against the two most execrable candidates for president in living memory, it is unlikely to happen in 2018 — even with a cartoon character for a president and an administration packed with vile, cartoonish people some of whom actually make Trump look good.

Thanks to the absence of alternatives good for more than protest votes, there is a groundswell of energy being drawn into the Democratic fold.   When the dust settles, it may turn out that some electoral contests will involve Democratic candidates actually worth voting for– not as lesser evils but as positive goods.

That is the good news.  The bad news is that the old regime seems secure.  It survived in 2016, when the Democratic National Committee put the fix in against the Sanders insurgency, and there is no reason to think that the prospects for dislodging the Clintonite stranglehold over the party are any better now.

On the organizational side, there may soon be more of a left for the Democratic establishment to purge than there has been since the eighties, when the Clintons and those who think like them started doing a number on the party of the New Deal and Great Society. But the ability of the party leadership to conduct a purge, should they want to, seems, as of now, unimpaired.

It doesn’t help that the new Cold War that Clinton and her cohort kicked into high gear two years ago has, by now, spun out of control – to such an extent that even if they wanted to, Democrats probably couldn’t call it off.

It was small compensation, but at least during the original Cold War, social democracy got a boost – because Democrats, and, even more, their more radical counterparts around the world, feared losing the working class to Communists if they didn’t offer progressive alternatives themselves.

Now, there are no Communists.  Indeed, there isn’t much of anything outside the neoliberal consensus.

Therefore, even if some good did come from the Cold War of long ago, nothing good will come from this one. What the new Cold War will do instead is put the military-industrial-national security state complex even more firmly in control than it already is, making nuclear annihilation more likely, and making it harder than need be to recover the rights and liberties diminished or lost since George W. Bush and Dick Cheney declared “war” on “terror.”

With Trump in the White House, the good people of the country are mobilizing against him.  But this is happening against a background of increasing hysteria, the likes of which has not been seen in more than fifty years.

By the sixties, the idea that there are Russians, “Commies,” out to get us, lurking in every nook and cranny, was already a joke.  It still is, but, for at least the past two years, liberal media have been doing their best to put an end to that eminently reasonable frame of mind.  In conjunction with a Trump administration now riding the Clintonite wave, they are doing all they can to make fifties-style paranoia cool again.

Democrats nowadays are keen on “resisting” Trump; having nothing much to offer in their own right, why would they not?   For the most part, their resistance, though tepid, is sound-minded.  On matters of war and peace, however, they oppose Trump from the right.

It is hard not to despise them for that.  This is why it is hard nowadays to support Democrats even on lesser evil grounds; surely there are or ought to be thresholds beneath which the logic of lesser evilism ceases to apply.

However, the other duopoly party is so execrable, and Trump poses such a clear and present danger, that concerns about thresholds seem misplaced.  After all, Democrats aren’t thatbad; between them and Republicans, it isn’t even close.

True enough, but while they may not be that bad, they are bad enough.

It has gotten so that I, for one, can no longer them on ostensibly liberal cable networks without screaming at the screen.  Their warmongering is bad enough, their hypocrisy is worse.

Imagine: NPR, MSNBC, CNN and others of their ilk disparaging RT by calling it Russian “propaganda,” as if what they do is anything else.  The pot calls the kettle black.

RT is state owned, and its propaganda is certainly more focused on and friendly towards Russia than the propaganda our corporate owned media produce.  The important difference, though, is that its news and production values are excellent, while those of its rivals in the West are poor at best. Anyone who has watched MSNBC in the evenings will know exactly what I mean.

There is no need to argue the point.  It is enough to advise skeptical readers to watch and then compare and contrast.  QED.

Or look at the lawsuit that DNC chair Tom Perez – and deputy chair Keith Ellison, the DNC’s alleged progressive — filed against the Trump campaign, the Russian government, and Wikileaks.

Wikileaks! Clinton, and therefore her Democratic Party have long had it in for them, especially for Julian Assange.

Hillary doesn’t much care for Edward Snowden either.   How dare he tell the American people how the American government is running roughshod over their privacy rights!  And how dare he tell the world how thorough and far-reaching America’s surveillance capacities are, and how reckless her State Department and, more generally, the Obama administration was with the information it obtained by these nefarious means!

Wikileaks got her goat by committing the crime of journalism: uncovering and disseminating facts, without favor or bias.  For Hillary, facts are embarrassments, and irrefutable documentation of what everybody already knew is intolerable.

As America’s Queen in Waiting, entitled to be president after putting up with Bill for so long, she was outraged that Wikileaks would dare expose her cluelessness and incompetence during the Arab Spring, the recklessness of her Libya policy, and then, years later, that it would offer incontrovertible proof of the fact that there was no way the DNC was going to let Bernie Sanders become the Democratic nominee in 2016.  Everybody knew that the fix was in, but in Hillary’s world, that is not the sort of thing one talks about.

Even so, is shielding the Queen from embarrassment a reason to put the world in peril?  Evidently it is in the eyes of the Democratic Party’s establishment.

All this shows, though, is that the time is long past due for the whole sorry Democratic crew – including the Clinton campaign’s chairman, John Podesta – to go the way of the hapless former DNC chair, Debbie Wasserman Schultz.  Podesta is the Director of the (Clintonite, media pundits say “liberal”) Center for American Progress; it was his emails that somebody (those pesky Russians perhaps) hacked.

Clintonite media pundits: spare us, please, your blabber about the best being the enemy of the good.  For that hackneyed truism to kick in, the good has to be good enough.  That is something that the Democratic Party in its Clintonized condition most definitely is not.  It is is not as bad as the GOP, but it is an enemy too.

It may nevertheless be the case that a tactical alliance with it this November is called for in order to defeat Trump and his minions, an even greater enemy.  In other words, it may be that this is one of those times when the saying “if you can’t beat them, join them” rings true.

But if so, it is because we are dealing with the consequences of an extremely unlikely confluence of events.   Donald Trump should never have become the President of the United States.  That he did was as likely, say, as that a retired brain surgeon would become the Secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development or that, after serving a stint as the governor of a retrograde Southern state, an undergraduate accounting major would become America’s ambassador to the United Nations.

In the larger scheme of things, progressives are fighting on two fronts: against a quasi-fascist hard right led by characters like Donald Trump, and against the kinds of center-right (media pundits would say “center-left”) politics that has made the Trump phenomenon, and its analogues elsewhere, possible and perhaps even inevitable.

In the American case, inasmuch as the consequences of presidential elections are so far-reaching, and inasmuch as we only get to vote for presidents once every four years no matter what happens in between, it will require a long and protracted struggle to reverse the harms done by the election of 2016.

But, taking that sad fact into account, both optimists and pessimists can feel all right (or not) about how well or poorly events are playing out as the Trumpian maelstrom unfolds.

On both fronts, it will require protracted struggles to get things back onto a more tolerable course, but, for now, the glass is half empty or half full — depending on one’s point of view, of course; and leaving aside important and disheartening questions about what is in the glass in either case.

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