What is to be Done?

Photograph by Nathaniel St. Clair

To believe the mass media America is in a malaise. Well, some Americans are. But for Trump and the MAGA crowd rage would be a better word. Call it malaise—or for some raging malaise—a general sense of dissatisfaction finds some confirmation in public opinion polls. A significant number of people use terms like ‘dissatisfied’ or ‘unhappy’ to describe how they feel about life in America now. This is perhaps not surprising given the financial crash of 2008, the Covid pandemic and climate change. The sense of malaise however is really only felt by those people who were at some point more or less content with things as they are. But a great number of Americans have never been satisfied with ‘things as they are.’ After all, four decades its founding a country in pursuit of happiness a descended into a civil war that left a half million people dead. The fifties are often cited as a time when most Americans were relatively happy. But if that was so, how come they gave way to the turbulence of the sixties? Something must have been about to boil over.

I think we may be at a point something like the sixties—a point where some long overdue radical change in American politics may be possible. Two global events have awakened many people to the need for something more than palliative politics. Covid—and the game show host who was president—made many people reconsider what has been the Republican mantra: that government is the problem. The increasing number and severity of floods and wildfires and tornadoes and hurricanes brought on by climate change has also made Americans see that ironically government is the problem, not because of it is too big but because it is too ‘small’—that is to say its weakened powers of regulation and diminished size have made it hard to respond to the catastrophes caused in part on by climate change.

Before I comment on those crises and stage they have set for the coming elections I will offer a few more general observations about America and its peoples.

The view that most Americans by their nature are a happy and optimistic people has always been mostly wishful thinking. That they should be happy has become for many Americans an oppressive weight. Why aren’t you happy? Something must be wrong with you. People respond to this question in different ways. Some go to a therapist. Some shop. If you’re a MAGA type you’re not happy because America is being ruined by immigrants, blacks, Muslims, gays—I could go on with that list of villains but I’ll stop there. Many of these presumed foes are faux.

The mass media has purveyed the idea that there was a time when most Americans were happy with the state of things. For conservatives now this is the Reagan era. After the turmoil of the sixties ended we got Reagan. It was morning in America. He was an idiot and lot of people loved him. He had jelly beans on his desk and Nancy baked a cake for the ayatollahs. Reagan followed the script written for him by people who would be in time called neo-cons. And that script led to a real con being elected president. Wow. For the arteriosclerotic leaders of the Republican Party like Mitch McConnell et al, Trump and his followers wrecked the script and they hope somehow he will self-destruct and leave MAGA in confusion. Trump may well self-destruct but if he goes down he will try to take the Republican Party with him. In this at least he is like Hitler who in his final days decided that the German people weren’t worthy of him. The thing is, Trump is not an aberrancy. He is the logical end of what began with Nixon and blossomed with Reagan. Trump is—among other things—the star of a TV reality show. But unlike Reagan he doesn’t follow any script. And why would he since he is a stable genius who knows everything?

MAGA is, as I say, the dissatisfaction of Americans with other Americans. In their minds the usual bogeymen I’ve mentioned they see Americans who are not real Americans. But this is America now: black, Latinos, gays and so on. This divide is bemoaned every day in the mass media. It is said to be the cause of political deadlock and many other clichés. That division has always existed. It has been a fault line in America from the very beginning. America is a democracy whose foundation involved two great crimes. The importation of slaves and the theft of a continent. The division of Americans is between those who know these crimes and those who know them, but want to repress them. That is why something as innocuous and silly as drag shows can stir a violent reaction. As a recent article in this journal pointed out—primetime television regularly featured such entertainers as Milton Berle, George Gobel and Jonathan Winters in drag. All this long before women and gay rights became central issues.

Since 1968 the refuge for these angry people is the Republican Party. The racism that outlasted the Civil War expresses itself as bigotry and hatred for all people who by their difference are felt as a threat by the rightwing white Christians and gun-toting males with beer bellies.

For that reason the growing antagonism between those two sides is not to be bemoaned, let alone resolved—as if that is even possible—that antagonism is an opportunity for the rest of us. Those of us who are more or less rational.

The new forces that created that opportunity are many. One is the long-term demographic changes in America, the growth of the Latino population and the emigration of Asians, Muslims—all people who are not white and not Christian. The Republican Party has won the majority of the popular vote only once in the last thirty years. The misadventures in Iraq and Afghanistan are another reason. These caused the needless deaths of Iraqis, Afghanis and Americans but also drained trillions of dollars, a drain that has left the health care system, the educational system and the infrastructure of the country in their present dilapidated state. Most Americans now know they were conned after 9/11 by the neo-cons. Another cause is the so-called ‘tax reforms’ enacted by neoliberal pawns. These have created a country with the greatest disparity between the top and the bottom among developed states. Go to any big city and look at the makeshift campsites of homeless people squeezed into the interstices left by wealth. Add to these things the effects of climate change worsened, tornadoes, floods, wildfires of frequency and severity here to for unseen. And finally the covid pandemic.

In a nation beset by all these problems a conman and the host of a reality TV show became president. A common remark I hear is that it all seems surreal. How could seventy-four million people have voted for him in 2020? Well, as H.L. Mencken said, “Nobody ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American people.” A gloomy thought for a leftist. Nevertheless let’s assume there is or must be some truth in Mencken’s words. What are we then to do? Here two things suggest where we should start.

One is the August 9 election in Ohio where the Republican Party rushed through a proposal that would have required 60% of the votes amend the state constitution. Since the Supreme Court over-turned Roe vs. Wade, seven states have voted—some of them clearly red states—have passed laws protecting abortion rights. As in some of those states the result of the election in Ohio was a resounding victory of those opposed to the law, 57% to 43%. So Mencken’s comment needs some amendment. When enough Americans turn out they clearly outnumber the idiots.

The second thing that should suggest where to start was an August 7 article in this journal. The article was written by Mark and Paul Engler. Its title is “Lessons From Gramsci for Today’s Social Movements. Gramsci who was born on January 22, 1891 (I can’t resist mentioning that January 22 is my birthday also) was an Italian Marxist who was imprisoned in 1926 by Mussolini and spent the last eleven years of his life until he died in 1937. Like many other intelligent people who spend much of their life in prison Gramsci wrote more than thirty notebooks which taken together run to 3000 some pages covering subjects such as history, philosophy, Marxist thought and other topics. I have read some of his prison writings and the key concepts relevant to how the left may begin to bring about radical change in our current political situation are these (all of these are discussed in greater detail in the Englers’ article: Contra some Marxists, the crisis of capitalism is just as likely to lead to fascism as it is to socialism or communism. Those leftists bent on gaining power must recognize that social conditions require them to recognize when to pursue one of two strategies, the war of position or the war of maneuver. The latter strategy can only be pursued when the conditions of a takeover are ripe. The former strategy calls for social organization, education. As the Englers emphasize, many of these activities consist of engaging with a wide range of peoples not usually thought of as working class.

The reason for some optimism is that the present is that the very divisions in American society now present the best opportunity for transformational change since the since Ronald Reagan’s election ushered in an era of phony consensus when ‘technocrats’ are to be trusted over politicians. The very term ‘technocrats’ is a chimera. No one who has any role in governance at any level is a disinterested mediator of political differences.

The midterm election of 2022 is another sign of the opportunity our political mess now presents. Yet another sign is the increasingly precarious position of the con man who has dominated American politics since 2016.

There remain great obstacles to the radical change American society needs. But the real obstacles need to be sorted out from the imaginary ones. Trump and his MAGA followers are often cited as an obstacle for two reasons, one being the possibility that he will win reelection in 2024, the other being that the Republicans now control the House of Representatives. The first of these is a near impossibility—except for one possible development that I will take up—but the second helps to make radical change a possibility. I will deal with Trump first.


Everyone to the left of Mr. Pillow Mike Lindell should welcome Trump’s nomination as the Republican candidate for president. Those who hate Trump outnumber those love him by roughly two to one. The only way he could win the general election is the possibly entry of a ‘centrist’ third-party candidate. Of late one has surfaced, the scumbag from West Virginia Joe Manchin whose greatest achievement is to defeat any measure that might slow climate change. If Manchin decides to run I don’t know what Democratic party leaders might do short of kidnapping him and spiriting him off to a ‘dark’ location. Perhaps a research station Antarctica—Guantanamo would involve too much publicity. The Democratic Party used to have pretty good mob connections—maybe they ought to revive them.

Trump, absent a third-party rogue, is a bogey man. Manhattan District Attorney Alvin L. Bragg, Jr. has now indicted counts him on thirty-four felonies—or ‘indicated’ as Trump put it—of fraud. I will ignore whether he will be found guilty of them though from week to week that possibility seems to grow. The important thing is that for all the media chatter about his bravado—how it will only fire up his base and increase his campaign war chest and so on—the man is clearly shaken. And for good reason. Much more serious indictments loom—they are the investigation of January 6, the classified documents he took to Mar-a-Lago, his ‘perfect’ phone call to the top election official to ‘find’—invent, that is—1180 more votes in order to overturn the 2020 election results there, and lastly the Department of Justice investigation into his attempts to overturn the election results of 2020 elsewhere. All of these involve far more serious matters such as obstruction of justice, racketeering, perjury and interference in a federal election—note how these charges sound like those commonly brought against mobsters. And no wonder. Trump has been a con his whole life. He has even conned himself that he, a demonstrable moron, is a genius. If any of these other investigations result in indictments Trump will find himself in the biggest jam of his life. A lesser case is also significant. E. Jean Carroll won her civil case of defamation against Trump. And now is suing him for defamation again for remarks he made after losing that case.

The day may come that Trump will rue his election as president. Up to that time he only conned local officials, his MAGA backers, his television audience His creditors soon realized he was a con but they were resigned to settling for ten cents on the dollar. He is finding out now that the federal prosecutors and a dogged prosecutor like Fanny Willis are another kettle of fish. The feds especially. They have unlimited time and money to pursue him and they relish landing a big fish like him to show that our corrupt criminal justice system occasionally delivers something not unlike justice. Whether he will ever end up in prison is uncertain. But what is certain is that he is going to be mired in a tar pit of legal woes for years that will cost him dearly. He is probably running for president as much to raise money to pay his lawyers as he to at least occupy center stage one more time.

It still seems to me unlikely that Trump will be sent to prison, but stranger things have happened in recent years. Like his becoming president. I’ve said that this was in some ways the result of a long trend in American politics that began with Ronald Reagan. Since politics has been mainly a television show the Republicans seized Reagan because he was an actor who was happy simply to read his lines. With Trump they ended up with a television star whose only script was whatever popped into his mind in the last ten seconds. Yet Trump’s election in 2016 was from another standpoint a fluke. He won the party nomination mostly because the field was so crowded—he never won a majority of the vote in any of the primaries. Then in the general election he ran against one of the most unpopular people in country Hillary Clinton, who ran a stupid campaign and yet still won the popular vote. Had she bothered to campaign in Wisconsin and Pennsylvania she probably would have been president. Joe Biden’s main appeal was that he was anodyne and—despite his malapropos—rational. Those who think he’s getting all foggy due to his age are I guess too young to remember he was like that when he was forty. And when all the votes were counted he beat Trump by a comfortable margin. And he will easily beat him again barring, as I say, some third-party spoiler.

All commentary about how Trump may exploit his legal woes to his political advantage is so much media fluff. The mass media needs to puff him up because they cover presidential elections the same way the cover the Kentucky Derby. They do this simply to boost their ratings and their ad revenues. It is financially profitable for the media to build him up, to speculate about another Trump presidency. At this point, worrying about him winning the general election is like worrying about another ice age. He will probably try to steal it again. If somehow the votes are somehow ‘produced’ this will cause the biggest crisis in American since Lincoln’s victory in 1860. And again it is not out of the question that the military will resolve. If it looks like his theft is going to succeed the military may well act. With a very few exceptions the generals hate his guts. His visit to the graves in Normandy of American soldiers will not be forgotten by them.

It appears now that Trump will win the Republican nomination and this is what all rational adults should want.

Since roughly 2018 nothing he has done or said has changed the poll numbers about him. After six years of his act the only people who are undecided about him are those who don’t care and don’t vote. The rest of Americans either love him or hate him.

More good news was the election or reelection to the House of Representatives of Trump favorites like Marjorie Taylor Greene, Mat Goetz and Jim Jordan. For the next two years these lunatics and idiots (Greene is both) will conduct hearing on subjects like Anthony Fauci’s conspiratorial role in the Covid pandemic, Hunter Biden’s laptop and the Gazpacho Police. If they defy Kevin McCarthy and succeed in carrying out hearings on these topics the hearings will be regular features in the mass media, this while adults in America worry about the cost of food, the problem of getting medical care and the tornadoes, floods and fires ravaging their homes. As inept as they are, Democratic leaders can hardly lose. Trump and his minions on television every night are their dream come true.

The current version of the Republican party ought to be an easy target but the Democratic party leadership is so lame and inept it has been unable to compose a simple message to expose the shortcomings of the Republicans. The GOP positions on what the vast majority of American see as the most important issues facing them are at odds with a solid majority of Americans. A neoliberal economy that has transferred wealth from ninety percent of them to the richest ten percent, access to health care, the sorry state of public education and public infrastructure—as a result of the huge transfer of wealth—the devastating effects of climate change and the so-called ‘wedge issues’ of abortion and gun control. The incompetence of the Democratic leaders is seen in their inability up to now to exploit their advantage on all of these issues. All polls show that more than sixty percent of Americans want universal health care. Polls also show that a similar number want abortion rights for women, gun control, better paid teachers, and more public transport. The inept and compromised leadership of the Democratic is a large part of the problem.

Exposing the folly of the right-wing stance on these issues ought to be easy. Take only a few of these issues. The right to abortion is not simply a right to one medical procedure for women. It is about every person’s right to do with his or her body—a right that after all distinguishes free people from slaves. The immigration crisis is not a crisis for most American citizens. Mostly it is a crisis for the immigrants who come from countries so damaged by workings of the global economy and/or climate change—itself a product of that same economic structure—and who seek shelter here. The state of the places they come from is so dire that life in a lunatic asylum like America looks better. Immigration both legal and illegal is a plus for most Americans. Only a glance at the roster of the doctors in a hospital shows that the health care system already short of doctors and nurses would collapse tomorrow if all the doctors and nurses from Asia, Africa, the Middle East, Mexico and South America were sent back where they ‘belong.’ And were it not for ‘illegal’ immigrants a great deal of the food on Americans’ dinner tables would not be there.

The election results of the midterm 2022 elections are another reason for some optimism. All the political pundits in the mass media were surprised by the turnout. Though they shouldn’t have been. The biggest factor they had not counted on was the turnout of young voters. Their polls did not predict this. Their failure stems from their difficulty in reaching people in their twenties and thirties. The usual sites on the internet the pollsters use, Facebook et al, are not those frequented by young people. I teach people in their twenties and early thirties and I know this.

That the 2022 election was no one-off fluke is seen by the recent election in Wisconsin for a position on the state supreme court. The election there was a contest between Janet Protasiewiz—pro-abortion rights, pro-voting rights were the two mainstays of her campaign—and a Trump Republican Dan Kelly who was part of a ploy to reverse Biden’s win there in the 2020 election. It was not simply Protasciewicz’s win that was surprising but the huge turnout for a judgeship election and the size of her victory as well. She walloped the hapless Kelly who true to his idol refused to congratulate her and issued dire warnings that her elections would endanger everybody and could trigger the collapse of the global economy.

On gun control I will only mention an incident following the school shooting in Tennessee. An argument between a Republican politician and a Democratic one ensued. The Democratic politician Jamaal Bowman, who is a teacher, was haranguing the press about not calling out Republicans about gun control was confronted by the Republican representative Thomas Massie whose solution to school shooting is to arm all the teachers. Most Democratic politicians try to argue rationally with such suggestions when they should take a page from Swift. They should agree and suggest that we should arm the kids too. Then you could have an even bigger shoot-out.

Similarly Republican appeals to homophobia have changed. They have largely abandoned opposition to gay marriage as a loser. As recent events show now they have taken up banning books by and about gays and—even more laughable—trying to ban drag shows.

These examples show that there is hardly any risk in pointing out the idiocy of Republicans now.

That party is more vulnerable now than at any time since the Great Depression. Trump’s transformation of what had been a political party into an unruly mob is one reason. Another reason it that the party has been in decline for thirty years due to demographic changes. It has been a party of white males whose wives dutifully voted as their husbands did. But Trumps defeat in the 2020 elections showed that some of those suburban wives are turned off by his opposition to abortion—and maybe by his crude pick-up techniques too. Now white people compose only sixty percent of the population and since 1990 only one Republican candidate for president has won the popular vote. Demographic changes make it unlikely that will ever happen again—even with greater efforts of chicanery to make it more difficult for non-whites to vote. A Republican appeal to people from Hispanic, Asian and Muslim countries is almost impossible for a party that has flourished with ‘dog-whistle’ racist appeals and whose leader has made bigoted remarks about them commonplace among Republican politicians. The population of young Americans presents another problem for the Republican Party.

Republican positions on all of the issues mentioned here have now little appeal to most Americans under forty. Again I will resort to my own experience as a college professor. In my most recent course white middle-class student made up less than half the students. The rest of the students were either foreign students or students whose parents had emigrated to the US. These students came from places like Puerto Rico, Korea, Egypt and India. The number one issue affecting all the American and foreign students personally was student debt. As to the greatest issue confronting everyone they all agreed it was climate change. Moreover on all other issues like health care, poverty, immigration, abortion, gay rights and so on they were all in general agreement. In other words this generation of American students in their political views have more in common with foreigners their own age than they do with Americans over forty. Malala Yousafzai and Greta Thunberg embody this. They and Americans of their generation all understand that the nation-state system itself is an impediment to solving global issues like climate change. This leads to another matter.

Even with the disintegration of the Republican party other great obstacles to real change remain. Obstacles that are structural. Even as the nation-state system is an obstacle to the resolution of global issues, the political system of the US with not only a federal government but also state governments with their law systems was a huge design flaw and the blame for this can be laid solely at the feet of the famous or infamous Founding Fathers. The real purpose of the Constitution was not to create a democracy but a republic with free speech—and a legislative body to protect the rights of the wealthy class who owned most of the property in this new nation. I should add that I have never read the entire text of the Constitution. What I have read of it seems like a Rube Goldberg device whose complexity is designed to obscure it chief goal. To secure the political domination of the wealthy. This leads to another obstacle.

It is often said that the United States has an empire as show by the eight hundred some military bases in foreign countries and military agreements with even more allies. Granted some of which of late are not acting like allies—Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Israel being the most egregious of our friends. With friends like this, as the saying goes. My point is one often made in this journal. The massive military spending abroad—which often grows to counteract the actions of some our nominal allies—drains money that might be spent on domestic problems.

But there is another way in which the United States is an empire which is not remarked. The US with its fifty states with their own legislatures and system is not really a nation-state like France or Britain. Its fifty states are like parts of an empire too. And this presents a great obstacle to the radical change necessary now. In other words the US with it system of states with their own law codes itself is almost ungovernable in the same way that the globe is by the nation-state system. And for the same reason. As each nation-state goes its own way on the issue of climate change so too does each of the fifty states in the US on both a global issue like climate control but also on critical domestic issues like abortion, gun control and so on.

The persistence of the unresolved domestic issues mentioned above shows this. The two prime examples in this regard are abortion and gun control, as I noted earlier. Our much-lauded Constitution with its provision for state laws and a Supreme Court ensures that a determined minority can always obstruct the will of the majority. Even its principle of the separation of church and state is now under attack.

All of these considerable complications noted, it is nevertheless to seize the moment and destroy the power of the Republican party.

To do this the left from a tactical standpoint needs to simplify its rhetoric on issues like abortion and health care. The main thing is not to broaden its appeal—though that is necessary too—but rather to ensure the turnout of the minorities and the young. Too often the left has allowed the right set the terms of the debate which allows the right to muddy the water and introduce confusion in mass media.

An excursus here on one phony controversy will be helpful. Every time I hear a certain phrase I sigh at the confusion it signals. So I’m going to say something about it hear as advice for the left in its battle with rightwing rhetoric. In their attempts to quash courses on race Republicans have latched onto the term ‘critical race theory.’ Scholars of African American history by using the term ‘theory’ have made a tactical mistake. All theories can be questioned. What’s more ‘critical race theory’ isn’t really a theory at all.

The subject in question is racism in American society. In other words, it is a subject just as the Civil War is a subject in American history. Were the people combatting rightwing politicians to drop the term ‘theory’ they would immediately win the argument. Who after all would argue that the Civil War or Jim Crow or racism are not legitimate topics in American history? Okay, actually quite a few people. After all the last election showed that there are at least 74 million idiots in this country. But they are hopeless. Don’t worry about changing their ideas—which are actually delusions. Something like 35 to 40% of Americans think the earth is six thousand years old and there were dinosaurs on Noah’s Ark. The point is to crush these people as a political power. Not to educate them.

Really the main thing for the non-Trump party is not to fall back and repeat the mistakes of 2016. Stop worrying about Biden’s poll numbers. For once issues will matter more than personalities—though insofar as personality is an issue Trump is poison to a vast majority of Americans. If I am right—and I probably am—the Democrats could run a dog or a glass of water and win—again with the caveat of a third-party candidate. The defeat of Trump may well break up the Republican Party. Then bolder measures will be possible.

All of the above was written prior to the indictment of Trump on June 13. A segment on the PBS evening news recently concerned the views of sixteen Iowa Republicans to that indictment and the other legal cases that have proceeded. Their continued support of Trump was predictable.

The feature showed again at how divorced run of the mill Republicans are from reality. To mention only a few examples, all but one believed the 2020 election was “stolen.” The events of January 6 were a “setup, one hundred percent,” one panelist said with smug certainty. What in the world did that mean? He said the video showed “the Capitol Police walking these people through the Capitol, talking no problems whatsoever.” The videos of the rioters smashing the doors and beating the cops were apparently staged. These otherwise unremarkable people who hold down jobs that one would expect of these middle class, pursue their daily routines without undue difficulty suffer at the same time from what any psychiatrist would call psychosis—normally this would be a crippling mental condition. Kierkegaard said that madness is rare in individuals but common in crowds.

Watching another story about Trump’s legal woes a few days later I recalled that segment and I began to think of the milieu the participants live in. It was largely the same one I grew up in, white middle class. I also began to think about the one black man who was among the sixteen people on the panel. It wasn’t surprising. Blacks had started deserting the Republican Party after World War II and Nixon’s racist “Southern strategy” more or less finished the job to the point that blacks compose only 2% of Republicans. To deny the racism of the party the Republican leadership put the few black politicians in the party on TV as much as possible. The panel was selected by a Republican pollster. If one considers the arithmetic one of sixteen is 6.25%. To have one black panelist there ought to be forty-nine white panelists. In other words the presence of the black man was quite a distortion of reality. But the Trumpeters in the Republican party are completely out of touch with reality. They live in a world of ‘alternate facts.’


Fanni Wills has now indicted Trump and eighteen others of his advisers and lawyers. This seems to me to be most serious of the cases against Trump. Some of those eighteen defendants will probably cut a deal and testify against him. Giuliani could be one of them. He has begged Trumps for $340,000 to help him pay his legal bills. On top of that he complains that Trump owes him a similar amount for his counsel. What a sap. Welching on bills is a matter of honor for Trump. Trump is not a person who thinks of himself first. He thinks only of himself. There may well be more charges added to that case if Trump keeps posting threats on Truth Social.

When the trial begins in Atlanta it will be televised. This will be another first too. It will be the first time that Trump does not want to be on television. That ought to make at least some of the undecided voters wonder if they want to see him on television every evening.

The lawyers for Letitia James, the New York state attorney general, who is seeking a summary judgement against Trump for his business affairs in the state say Trump’s stated net worth has been “grossly inflated” by him for every year under investigation. In Atlanta Trump finally had to suffer a mug shot of his doughy face. He glowers at the camera. A few days later he told Glenn Beck he would have “no choice” but to lock up his enemies if he is elected president.

Daniel Beaumont teaches Arabic language & literature and other courses at the University of Rochester. He is the author of Slave of Desire: Sex, Love & Death in the 1001 Nights and Preachin’ the Blues: The Life & Times of Son House. He can be contacted at: daniel.beaumont@rochester.edu