Reflections and Correspondence at the Abyss

Yggdrasil, a modern attempt to reconstruct the Norse world tree which connects the heavens, the world, and the underworld – Public Domain

Coughing is a Sign of Weakness

The television footage of White House acting Chief-of-Staff Mick Mulvaney being kicked out of the Oval Office by Donald Trump for coughing during a television shoot with ABC’s George Stephonopolous was chilling. “Let’s do that over, he’s coughing in the middle of my answer,” Trump said.

“I don’t like that, you know. I don’t like that….If you’re going to cough, please leave the room,” Trump said to Mulvaney while shaking his tangerine-tinted head. “You just can’t, you just can’t cough.”

Jackie Alemany, a former Trump campaign staffer, found the incident unsurprising. “I was told by multiple people when I came aboard,” Alemany tweeted, “to never cough or sneeze while in the presence of Trump. He thinks it’s a sign of weakness and lack of control.”

As one wag quipped, “Never Cough or Sneeze” sounds like a good name for Trump’s health care plan if he ever comes up with one.

I was reminded of the time Trump made some of his top underlings (including serial Hatch Act-violator Kellyanne Conway and Trump’s chief economic advisor Larry Kudlow) cringingly testify as to his “calm demeanor” during his last White House meeting with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer.

The way this president degrades his own staff ought to be setting off anti-authoritarian alarm bells. Instead it just sparks wry amusement and resignation.

In this as in so many other ways, the Madness of Wannabe King Don is eerily normalized.

Testing an Idea

CNN reported last week that “Donald Trump just keeps ‘joking’ about serving ‘more than two terms’ as president.” It’s another authoritarian quirk from the aspiring fascist strongman. People might want to hear this “joke” as more than just a put-on. As correspondent Mary Elizabeth Kelley-Bibra writes from Germany:

“This is really dangerous. Trump is just ‘testing’ the ‘idea,’ I think, in an attempt to gauge what the public response might be (a) to his rejecting the [2020] election results if he loses and refusing to step down, or (b) if he wins, changing legislation to allow himself to run for a third term or declare himself ‘President for Life.’ The problem is that no one seems to be taking this very seriously. It is not a joke. So long as it doesn’t look as though there is anything or anyone to stop him, his march to the Throne of Despotism continues in step, unimpeded, and likely successfully to the cheering throngs of his idiot supports and with the tacit consent (through inaction) of the rest of the American people.”

Exactly. Did I say that this observation comes from Germany?

Believe the Autocrat

In Sinclair Lewis’ strangely haunting 1935 novel It Can’t Happen Here, the American fascist president Buzz Windrip rises to power in part because so many folks just can’t seem to take him seriously. Lewis’s liberal protagonist Doremus Jessup “simply did not believe that this comic tyranny could endure.”

I am reminded of something that Masha Gessen wrote in the New York Review of Books the day after Trump was elected:

“Believe the autocrat. He means what he says. Whenever you find yourself thinking, or hear others claiming, that he is exaggerating, [remember that] that is our innate tendency to reach for a rationalization. This will happen often: humans seem to have evolved to practice denial when confronted publicly with the unacceptable. Back in the 1930s, The New York Times assured its readers that Hitler’s anti-Semitism was all posture.”

“Our Radical Democrats”

Speaking of things that serious people might want to take seriously, here are some passages from the “speech” in which Donito Trumpolini officially announced his re-election campaign in Orlando, Florida last week:

“One person has a higher percentage [approval rating] than your favorite President Donald Trump. You know who that president is?… His name is George Washington…Just imagine what this angry left-wing mob [the corporate-imperialist Democratic Party-P.S.] would do if they were in charge of this country. Imagine if we had a Democrat president and a Democrat congress in 2020. They would shut down your free speech, use the power of the law to punish their opponents, which they’re trying to do now anyway…They would strip Americans of their constitutional rights while flooding the country with illegal immigrants in the hopes it will expand their political base, and they’ll get votes someplace down the future…..Our Radical Democrat opponents [LOL, deeply conservative corporatists and imperialists like Joe Biden and Pete Buttigieg – P.S.] are driven by hatred, prejudice, and rage. They want to destroy you and they want to destroy our country, as we know it. Not acceptable, it’s not going to happen. It’s not going to happen. To understand Democrats’ ruthless tactics, look no further than the United States Supreme Court and our court system nationwide.”

Fascism anyone? Along with the promotion of a leadership personality cult (the “Great God Trump” as the greatest U.S. president since George Washington), hostility to the (purported) rule of law (“look no further than the United States Supreme Court and our court system nationwide” to see the plot to “destroy our country”), and so much more, scaremongering about the supposed menace of a big radical Left and conflating centrist bourgeois parties like the Democrats with “the [radical] Left” are hallmark characteristics of fascist-style politics. Trump’s recurrent neo-McCarthyite identification of the centrist, dollar-drenched neoliberal Democrats with “radical socialism” is nothing new, but he’s been taking it to scary new levels as the nation descends further into the next quadrennial election cycle.

Of course, the dismal MSDNC-Nancy “We’re Capitalists and that’s Just the Way it is” Pelosi-Dems are playing along with the sick red-baiting game by raising the specter of the supposed “socialist” menace every time neo-New Dealers like Bernie Sanders and his backers call for the attachment of minimal social and environmental decency to the authoritarian and eco-exterminist class-rule nightmare that is U.S. capitalism.

For Public Head-Shaving

Everybody, well a few people on MSDNC’s Republican-Lite “Morning Joe,” are talking about liberal psychotherapist “Jean Safer P.h.D’s” book on how liberals can stay emotionally close (as she claims to do with her National Review editor husband) to their right-wing significant others The book is titled “I Love You But I Hate Your Politics: How to Protect Your Intimate Relationships in a Poisonous Partisan World.”

Give me a f*^king break. Anyone who has an intimate relationship with a Trumpy-pumpy is a collaborator with fascism and should have their head shaved immediately – unless they are going for the bald look, in which case they should be made to wear a bad toupée modeled on Trump’s comb-over.

I’m not much on relationships with corporate Dems, either, but to be involved with a Trump-backer at this stage in the It Can’t Happen Here/the Hell It Can’t process is shameful.  You don’t protect intimate relationships with right-wing creeps, you end them.

Biden’s Brain: the Democrats’ Trump

Speaking of corporate Democrats, look at the bumbling right-wing gaffeling-gun of a despicable doofus that the dismal Dems are promoting as “the adult in the room” for 2020. Please review Time’s list of the “Top Ten Biden Gaffes” here.

Half of the recent Biden-Eastman and-son-boy-Booker story(which I wrote about here last Friday – please review for the ugly details) is about race. The other half is or ought to be about the fact that the corporate Dems are so determined to stop the “radical socialist”(right) Sanders that they are putting up a clearly suffering dementia victim as their official presidential front-runner.

As I expected, liberal talking heads pretended that the main issue with Biden’s remarks was that he admitted working with segregationists back in the day. No, the main issue is that Biden said that Eastland “never called me ‘boy.'” And the real problem with that statement was two-fold: it indicated a pathetic level of racial insensitivity (you don’t joke about white racists calling Black men “boys”) and it’s another of many signs that Biden is suffering from serious mental deterioration. Does the man not know his own race?

Anyone who buys the Biden team’s ridiculous story that Uncle Joe was thinking about how Senator Eastland used to call Teddy Kennedy “boy” should contact me about purchasing a share in the Chicago Skyway.

Joke Biden has only made things worse by refusing to apologize ala Trump.

recent Politico story is titled “Biden Keeps Stepping in It – and His Voters Couldn’t Care Less.” It reports the findings of a new POLITICO/Morning Consult survey conducted after his “never called me ‘boy” comment. The poll determined that Biden’s “most recent flap isn’t hurting his chances in a significant way.”

Translation: Biden is the Democrats’ Trump. They say “Hey, you’ve got an old right-wing racist and sexist white male with dementia who says stupid and offensive shit and so do we!”

Two Men and a Baby in the White House? The Class Buttigieg Serves

Long after it sinks in with Wall Street election investors that Biden’s brain has pickled past the point of presidential viability, perhaps we will witness the next great chapter in American presidential and bourgeois-identitarian political history: two men and a baby in the White House. Look at Time’s cover story on Pete Butiggieg and his husband Chasten Buttigieg, titled “First Family.” At one level, a First Openly Gay President of the United States would represent a real symbolic and cultural human rights victory – just as Obama’s presidency did on race and a female presidency would on gender. At another and deeper level, given Buttigieg’s neoliberalism and imperialism, it could be very dangerous. As John Pilger explained in 2009:

“Obama, the smooth operator from Chicago via Harvard, was enlisted to restore what he calls ‘leadership’ throughout the world. The Nobel Prize committee’s decision is the kind of cloying reverse racism that has beatified the man for no reason other than he is a member of a minority and attractive to liberal sensibilities, if not to the Afghan children he kills. This is the Call of Obama. It is not unlike a dog whistle: inaudible to most, irresistible to the besotted and boneheaded. ‘When Obama walks into a room,’ gushed George Clooney, ‘you want to follow him somewhere, anywhere.’ …The great voice of black liberation Frantz Fanon understood this. In The Wretched of the Earth, he described the ‘intermediary [whose] mission has nothing to do with transforming the nation: it consists, prosaically, of being the transmission line between the nation and a capitalism, rampant though camouflaged.’ Because political debate has become so debased in our media monoculture – Blair or Brown; Brown or Cameron – race, gender and class can be used as seductive tools of propaganda and diversion. In Obama’s case, what matters, as Fanon pointed out in an earlier era, is not the intermediary’s ‘historic’ elevation, but the class he serves. After all, Bush’s inner circle was probably the most multiracial in presidential history. There was Condoleezza Rice, Colin Powell, Clarence Thomas, all dutifully serving an extreme and dangerous power.”

As I’m sure Pilger would agree, we can add sexual orientation to the list of identities that can be “used as seductive tools of propaganda and diversion” on behalf of class and imperial rule.

The S-Word (Socialism) Trumps the F(ascism) and E(xtinction) Words

Taking much of the Trump nightmare in through the prism of the corporate, so-called mainstream media, it has been disconcerting to see liberal and centrist commentators and politicos combine recurrent warnings about the supposed menace of “socialism” (the social-democratish progressive populism of Sanders and his supporters) with chilling reluctance to acknowledge and treat seriously either the real-life fascist menace that is staring them in the face or the even more grave (strange as that feels to write) specter of Ecocide that Trump is helping speed along. Two-and-a-half years into Herr Donald’s hateful, racist, authoritarian, and (last but not at all leas) ecocidal administration, the nation’s reigning Russia-mad, 2020 presidential candidate-crazed, and corporate-directed media and politics culture seems stuck in the mode of “It Can’t Happen Here” – and not just on the F-word, fascism. The even more distressing silence is on some barely mentionable E-words: environmental exterminism edging us ever closer to end-times Ecocide and Extinction.

Correspondent Andrew John writes me from Toronto: “It’s crazy. Abrupt climate change seems to have begun, based on how fast the Arctic is now melting, with a Blue Ocean Event in the very near horizon (September 2021? Or even this summer?) and not 2100, as predicted in the last IPCC Report. But I expect Abrupt Climate Change is kinda like fascism, you don’t really know you’ve passed the tipping points and fallen off the cliff until it’s too late” (emphasis added).

Indeed. The insanely wet May and cool June in the Midwest (I’ve been back and forth between Chicago and Iowa City, directly witnessing many corn and soybean fields that are too wet for seasonal planting and growing) fits the abrupt change model.

People think nature only changes in gradual ways, not in terms of dramatic and revolutionary quantity-to-quality breaks. (Didn’t Engels write a book called The Dialectics of Nature?) Wrong. It is moving faster than predicted, much faster. We need intervention from far superior intelligent life from another galaxy at this point. I’m kidding, but I’m not.

Orwelling Iran

Do the Buddhist thing (exchange yourself for the Other) and the Chomsky thing (imagine Empire turned geopolitically upside down). Imagine the outcome of a Chinese military drone flying into U.S. airspace. Imagine a Russian aircraft carrier and missile fleet in the Gulf of Mexico. Imagine the United States bordered by dozens of Chinese and/or Russian military bases in Canada and Mexico. Then check out this Google map of major U.S. military bases and other NATO military sites within very close proximity to the Islamic Republic of Iran.

If you think the U.S. drone that got shot down by Iran wasn’t in Iranian air space, I’ve got another piece of the Chicago Skyway to sell you. The American Empire can pull this kind of Orwellian shit (“we’ve been attacked by Iran”) because less than 1 in 500 US Americans knows any serious bit of U.S. foreign policy (imperial) history. “Remember the Maine,” the Gulf of Tonkin, even Dubya’s weapons of mass destruction…it draws blanks with most good Americans in 2019. The criminal history is down Orwell’s memory hole as and even before it happens in the U.S.

Trump’s “Humanity”

Speaking of “our innate tendency to reach for a rationalization” (Masha Gessen, as quoted above), I recently tangled with a left friend who thinks we owe Trump gratitude for not bombing and invading Iran. “I don’t doubt the dilemma he found himself in,” my friend wrote. “Thankfully his humanity saw through. He’s a jackass, but he’s not Satan…. He’s the only person with the power to put the brakes on further military escalation, so thank God he did…Better than the alternative, since he’s not getting impeached anytime soon.”

My beginnings of a response:

A dilemma of his own making. Trump and his handpicked warmonger John Bolton created this insane confrontation in the first place. Whatever saw through, it wasn’t “humanity.” The man has none. Ask the people dying in Yemen, the families torn apart, the folks denied asylum rights at the southern border, about Trump’s “humanity.” Ask Heather Heyer’s mom about Trump’s “humanity.” Ask the Central Park Five about Trump’s “humanity”. Ask his sexual assault victims about his humanity. Ask Earth scientists about his “humanity.” Trump might not be Satan but (a) he might be Satan and (b) he is an aspiring fascist leader in the world’s most powerful office. ‘Jackass’ trivializes the evil of Trump and Trumpism.

Ask the people he’s trying to deny health insurance to about his “humanity.” Ask his previous wives and countless other victims of this wannabe fascist strongman. Who told you Trump possesses humanity?  Please read Sinclair Lewis’s novel It Can’t Happen Here, paying special attention to liberals’ failure to understand that Buzz Windrip is something more and worse than just a buffoon and blowhard.

I think the advice that mattered to Trump at the last minute was that a military attack on Iran would work against re-election. The notion that this guy could give a flying f*#k about others’ lives is a remarkable stretch. His leading biographer has identified him as a “sadist,” a man who literally enjoys the suffering of other human beings. He was a literal textbook study in malignant narcissism on steroids long before he became POTUS. He is doing everything in his considerable power to accelerate the process of turning the planet into a giant Greenhouse Gas Chamber — a crime that will make Hitler and Stalin look like small time punks.

Better than what alternative? I’m no fan of the Dems as you know but they would not be having this particular reckless and dangerous confrontation with Iran, actually. The Obama agreement (based on all kinds of false imperial premises, of course) was insanely torn up and deadly sanctions imposed for one reason: because the Black guy (Obama) claimed the agreement as a great accomplishment. Now it’s come into the open that Trump is doubling down on literal concentration camps for migrants, including legitimate asylum-seekers from Central American countries where he cut off humanitarian assistance. Big family-wrecking ICE-raids are scheduled for today. I could go on. Why are you looking for “humanity” in this guy? Seriously: why?

BTW, I think the shoot-down indicated a military capability US military did not know Iran possessed. Attacking and invading Iran would be an epic quagmire. It’s in much better shape to resist than Iraq in 2003, He doesn’t care about other peoples’ lives, comrade. It wouldn’t work for him politically.

Mother’s Tears and Leftist Great Russian Nationalism 2.0

I was belatedly reading Tariq Ali’s riveting 1960s autobiography Street Fighting Years the other day and ran across this passage, in which Tariq reflects on how the communism of his parents led to his mother shedding tears upon hearing that Stalin had died:

“It was a deformed internationalism because it was based on blind faith to the USSR and its infallible Leader. Neither could be wrong. Mistakes were sometimes committed but the Leader in his wisdom would ensure that they were soon corrected. For three whole decades being a communist anywhere in the world meant becoming a Great-Russian nationalist. With such a world view it is hardly surprising that the first response of many communists to Stalin’s death was to cry…In Eastern Europe, the dictator’s death was greeted with relief. East German workers and students, including many communists, celebrated the event by a spontaneous uprising against their own bureaucratic regime. Their main demand was for the institutionalization of democratic rights for all.”

Ali’s recollection reminded me of witnessing (at age 5) my mother cry over news (delivered by me after hearing it from Walter Cronkite) that the arch-imperial militarist John Fitzgerald Kennedy (JFK) died. JFK represented another if very different hegemonic-Superpower kind of “deformed internationalism.” How odd it is today that I hear from self-described Left folks who seem oddly caught up in “Great-Russian nationalism” – this long after bureaucratic Stalinist socialism was replaced by a specifically capitalist-oligarchic form of authoritarian nationalism. What is that?

I’m not really going into to the Trotsky-Stalin debate here. I’m on record that there was a real if horribly flawed Soviet Achievement (title of a book by the British Marxist historian J.P. Nettl back in the day) outside global capitalism. That said, I would have been on the wrong, well right, well left side of Soviet tanks in East Germany 1953, Hungary 1956, and Prague 1968.

I am not making it up. I really do hear from online lefties who seem not to have processed the elementary fact that the nightmare of capitalism the real thing (I am not a fan of calling the Soviet Union “state-capitalist” even if the USSR mimicked and adopted the classist capitalist division of labor) was set-up in Russia and Eastern Europe in the 1990s. They really do sound like Great-Russian nationalists even after Russia went capitalist (with an actual bourgeoisie and corporate-state oligarchy). And that’s even weirder than sounding like a Great-Russian nationalist in the Soviet era. As Trump might tweet: Sad!

Paul Street’s latest book is This Happened Here: Amerikaners, Neoliberals, and the Trumping of America (London: Routledge, 2022).