Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Trump's Cabinet Takes Shape, or, Donald Trump Thinks his Supporters are Suckers

Donald Trump was elected president after waging a campaign in which he promised to strip people of their rights on the basis of their race and religion.  But he also ran a campaign that targeted corruption in government, and became based around upending “politics as usual” and “draining the swamp” of Washington, D.C.  Trump told his supporters that he knew the smartest and the best people.  His people could turn things around and would adopt radically different approaches to those lately embraced in the capital.
Among the recipients of Trump’s ire were representatives of the financial class, and their toxic relationship with government.  A representative of big business himself, Trump claimed that there would be no place for entanglements between public and private interest in his administration.  Nor would there be a place for those members of the political establishment, he claimed, who were compromised or had “sold out” to lobbyists and private interests.
Why people thought the man for this job was this tax-cheating, worker-abusing, student-conning, venomous pustule, who has skin thinner than the wing membrane of a day-old fruit bat, the attention span of a fruit fly, and brains that appear to be made of fruit cobbler, I don’t know.  
But even allowing for a few blind spots--racism, hypocrisy, sexism--on the part of the electorate, Trump is nominating people to serve in his administration who should be categorically excluded on the basis of the central promise of his campaign.  But it turns out that “draining the swamp” really just meant giving it a makeover to keep its blood-sucking, ossified, reptilian inhabitants happy comfortable.
Trump launched the build-up to his inauguration with the much-heralded Carrier deal, which actually marks the start of a corporate welfare bonanza.  Trump both lied about the actual number of jobs to remain in the U.S. after his frenzied negotiations with Carrier, and failed to mention that this “victory” was probably less to do with his blandishments than with the hefty subsidy he offered the company but failed to mention in his public pronouncements.
Carrier offers the corporate world a blueprint for how to deal with this administration.  Inflate the number of jobs you claim to need to outsource, go to the administration, take a little bit of a public beating, but walk away being able to outsource the number of jobs you actually want to outsource, your pockets padded by a public subsidy, and sure in the knowledge that you have a corporate tax break coming your way.  Carrier and Co can get everything they want and more from this administration, now that they know they can play Donald Trump like a fiddle at an Irish reel.  
Trump’s other appointments similarly illustrate the low regard he has for the intelligence of his supporters.  He is clearly banking on them being sucker enough to forget that he spent the primary railing against investment bankers and hedge fund managers, and flaying his appointment for talking to Goldman Sachs.  Because now his pick to head the Treasury is an investment banker and hedge fund manager who comes from the belly of the beast Trump argued was corrupting our government.
When it comes to foreign policy, Trump is similarly unbound by consistency.  He is nominating the CEO of Exxon Mobil.  Some people might say this is a problem because it is unintuitive that the head of a giant multinational would have a foreign policy view.  They need not worry on that score.  Exxon Mobil has a foreign policy, all right.  But it has a foreign policy that represents each and every thing that is wrong and toxic about the conduct of international relations and our world more broadly: unrestrained corporate power; serial and systematic human rights abuses; impunity for physical and structural violence; denial of scientific evidence; exploitation of labor; outsourcing environmental destruction; and the subordination of public to private interest.
Trump’s other national security appointees are a collective joke.  General Flynn was fired from his last post not because he was some fearless Truth Teller, but because he was an incompetent liar who appears to build the foundations for national security policy on the basis of what internet trolls in his dark and odiferous corner of the internet tell him.  
Mike Pompeo is so much of a political insider that in the era of ISIS, a resurgent Russia, troubled US-China relations, the expansion of the War on Terror to Africa, climate change, he still believes that the biggest national security issue of his tenure in Congress was the faux Benghazi ‘scandal’ cooked up by his party leadership.
Trump’s other appointments are singularly noteworthy for the way in which they express a total lack of faith in the public sector and the departments and agencies they intend to run and serve.  We can disagree about the appropriate extent of state intervention, but as a collective, people recognize that there are many fundamental services that are best provided by a central, accountable, representative entity that has a broad public rather than narrowly private interest in mind.  
We do not, after all, trust the private sector to provide social security checks, military security, our mail, agriculture subsidies, mass schooling, and policing.  
And yet Trump is intent on running a Justice Department that doesn’t protect voting rights, intelligence agencies with no pulse on the public interest, a Treasury that ascribes to fantasy economics, and an Environmental Protection Agency that doesn’t recognize the importance of clean air, water, and soil to people’s health and welfare.
He’s staffing an Energy department with climate deniers and denizens of the swamp who are up to their necks in compromising relations with fossil fuel lobbies.  Labor goes to a man who represents the corporate world and doesn’t believe that workers have needs and rights.  Housing and Urban Development goes to a man who, whatever his accomplishments in the medical field, knows as much about historical, social, and economic reality as I do about quantum physics.
It turns out those brilliant people Trump claimed to know were the titans of the financial world who crashed the market and then asked for a bailout.  They were has-been politicians like Rick Perry.  They were the detritus of a primary comprised of people who Trump derided as incompetent and stupid, but who are apparently more than good enough to run the country for voters.  And they are people who do not believe in public institutions, the public good, or public welfare.  

They embody corruption, indulgence, and all the forms of corrupted power that Trump pretended he would destroy.  And they will populate a White House headed by a man who brought out the worst in people during his campaign and who has so much confidence in the stupidity of his supporters that he isn’t even bothering to hide the fact that he is constructing a government designed to enshrine corporate power and wealth on an unprecedented and unassailable scale.  

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Thanksgiving Message to Donald Trump

President-elect Donald Trump, you have offered what you think is a healing message on Thanksgiving, declaring that we should “begin to heal our divisions,” while acknowledging that this can’t happen “overnight.”  
However, your efforts at healing would be almost comical if they weren’t so deeply cynical and disingenuous, and so blithely dismissive of the consequences of your campaign and election.  Your call for national healing removes responsibility from yourself and your campaign, and disseminates it widely, allowing you to dodge all personal responsibility, one of the consistent features of your life in politics and business.
You spent the last fifteen months launching vicious, demeaning, dehumanizing attacks on Americans on the basis of their race, religion, nationality, gender, and sexuality.  
You spent the last fifteen months advocating war crimes and crimes against humanity.
You spent the last fifteen months promising to strip rights from people on the basis of their religion.  Your running mate would like to strip rights from people on the basis of their sexuality.  You repeatedly questioned whether other Americans can serve as full citizens depending on their race.
President-elect Donald Trump, you won the support of grotesque white supremacists and white nationalists, neo-fascists and anti-Semites.  You might not have openly asked for their support, and you might think he can “disavow” that now, but they heard your shrill dog-whistle, and there is a reason that these groups, who do not normally support candidates from mainstream parties, saw their savior in you.
Your cabinet nominees so far illustrate no remorse and no recognition of the damage you have done to our country.  Filling your administration’s ranks with racists and anti-Semites sends a very different message from your superficial and insulting Thanksgiving message.
You spent the last fifteen months building and running a campaign designed to tear our country apart and make huge numbers of people in our national community fear for their safety, security, well-being, and future.  You can’t walk away from that by seeming to say, ‘let’s heal, get over it, I don’t have anything with these people.’
You have resurrected and empowered dangerous emissaries from the darkest and most violent eras of our nation’s history and our world’s history.  You should understand how Americans feel when they hear the chants of “Heil Trump!”, the nazi salutes, the anti-Semitism, the slurs against black and Latino citizens, and the cries of “Take our country back” that accompany these symbolic and violent gestures.
Until you make profound amends for your hateful rhetoric, violent policy proposals, terrifying appointments, corrupt dealings, and abjectly ignorant and destructive pronouncements, none of which you have repudiated or expressed any meaningful remorse for, there can be no healing.  

In 15 months, you and your associates (admitted or otherwise) have done untold damage to our country, and have no business suggesting that the rest of us do the work of healing.  This Thanksgiving and every day that you don’t come to terms with what you have done to our country, Donald Trump, you can get stuffed.  

Monday, November 21, 2016

Pence Opens the Door to Torture and Lawlessness

Donald Trump’s supporters are fond of championing the president-elect’s commitment to “law and order.”  As we know from his threats to provoke a constitutional crisis, unleash a bloodbath, support the assassination of his opponent, muzzle the press, etc, Trump’s embrace of “law and order” is highly selective.  We also know that the phrase itself served Trump and his supporters as a weapon as they sought to dehumanize undocumented immigrants, ostracize American Muslims, and defame black and Latino Americans.
The irony of the term is daily becoming clearer.  Mike Pence, a man who supports stripping LGBTQ Americans of their rights and subjecting them to conversion therapy to “fix” them because of their sexuality, recently outlined another area where a Trump administration will take a decidedly flexible approach to “law and order.”
Asked what a Trump administration would have to say about reinstituting the torture practiced during the Bush administration--since condemned as illegal, immoral, and counterproductive--Pence responded, “We’re going to have a president who will never say what we’ll never do.”
If you sift through the stinking pile of spin surrounding that answer--and for their candidate being a straight-talker, Trump supporters spent most of the campaign explaining why their candidate didn’t actually mean any of the things he said--it sounds like the Trump administration is willing to countenance what many Democrats and Republicans alike recognize to be an immoral, indefensible, and illegal activity.
This shouldn’t surprise us, since Trump also suggested murdering civilian non-combatants because of their family links to those suspected of terror.  Trump also suggested carpet bombing cities, using the illegal and indiscriminate deployment of violence to target ISIS.  
It is clear that the president- and vice president-elect are prepared to countenance committing war crimes and crimes against humanity.  
Trump, Pence, and each one of Trump’s nominees thus far exhibit a dangerous disregard for the law, abject unwillingness to learn from recent foreign policy disasters, callousness for human life, dignity, and rights, and basic cruelty in their willingness to exploit and harm people on the basis of their race, sexuality, religion, gender, and nationality.  

Because these individuals are broadcasting their desire to violate the law and inflict pain and suffering on Americans and people around the world, we have the opportunity to use all of the tools at our disposal--senate confirmation hearings, public protest, outspoken condemnation, and the courts--to put a halt to the climate of violence and fear that the Trump administration is promising to usher in to our country and the world.  

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Senators, Oppose Michael Flynn as National Security Advisor

Islamophobe Michael Flynn
I just wrote the following to my Senator, asking him to oppose Donald Trump's nominee to serve as National Security Advisor. If you are troubled by the character of this and other appointees, I would encourage you to write to your senators and ask them to vote against confirming these nominees. In the case of the national security advisor, there is no senate confirmation. But senators could still weigh in.
Dear Senator Heller,
I am writing to express my strong opposition to President-elect Donald Trump’s nomination of Lt General Michael Flynn to the post of National Security Advisor.
I think a combination of irresponsible views and associations, and a basic lack of integrity and consistency, would make Flynn a dangerous agent in the White House, and a poor advisor to an administration which already possesses an uninformed and toxic worldview.
In addition to his troubling affinity with Vladimir Putin’s Russia, and his consulting firm’s close links to an increasingly authoritarian government in Turkey, Flynn has articulated his vision for a world order defined by fear of our country.  
I assume you share my dismay at the idea that the United States should conjure up fear and subservience in other people and countries around the world, and that you also recognize how fear of our designs and imperial power helped to create in the first place the power base and rationale of the international terrorist organizations which now make our world less safe.
In Lt General Flynn’s alternative universe, we should arm Syrian rebels willy nilly and fuel the fire of civil war as we did in the aftermath of our invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan.
Having tracked Flynn’s statements over the past year or more, I have seen him offer entirely contradictory assessments of the origins and antidotes to conflict in various parts of the world, depending on his growing proximity to the Trump campaign.  His increasing proximity to a president-elect who has pledged to commit war crimes has also seen Flynn express conditional support for torture, the murder of civilian non-combatants, and other war crimes and crimes against humanity which he previously opposed.
A man who revises his opinions on such fundamental matters with such regularity can hardly be trusted to offer sound advice or push back if our president-elect asks the military or intelligence services to engage in illegal and immoral activities.  
Finally, Lt General Flynn is openly Islamophobic.  He has stoked public fears of Islam and of Muslim Americans by arguing that “fear of Muslims is rational.”  He has also described Islam as a “political ideoogy” and a “cancer.”
Presumably, Senator Heller, you do not share Flynn’s comfort with characterizing the religion of around a quarter of the world’s population in this way, or with tarring its adherents.  And you presumably recognize the deadly peril you would create for American Muslims by legitimizing this hateful and ignorant rhetoric through supporting Flynn’s nomination.
I urge you to do everything in your power to oppose the nomination of an inconsistent, morally quiescent Islamophobe with dangerous ties and outlandish ideas.  Can  you reassure me and other Nevadans that you will oppose Lt General Flynn’s nomination?
Thank you for your time, and I look forward to your prompt reply.
Jeff Schauer
Las Vegas, NV

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Trump's Inability to Absorb Criticism Bodes Ill

Donald Trump and his team spent the entire recent campaign mocking people who called for respect and safe spaces.  They answered the calls for civility and for a campaign free of racism and other forms of bigotry by doubling down on policies and rhetoric that insulted and threatened the safety and liberties of many communities within our country.
Vice-President elect Mike Pence recently attended a performance of Hamilton,the much-praised play, and was addressed in clear and respectful terms at the end of the performance by the cast.  Shushing members of the crowd who booed the running-mate of a candidate endorsed by supremacists, who himself has worked tenaciously to deny rights to same-sex couples in his home state, the cast declared, "We, sir, are the diverse America who are alarmed and anxious that your new administration will not protect us.”
Their remarks were framed in a respectful fashion, they were based on well-founded fears, and they simply asked to be heard.
Donald Trump responded with his trademark tweets, “Our wonderful future V.P. Mike Pence was harassed last night at the theater by the cast of Hamilton, cameras blazing. This should not happen!  The theater must always be a safe and special place. The cast of Hamilton was very rude last night to a very good man, Mike Pence. Apologize!"
Firstly, it’s absurd to hear a man who has derided what he describes as “politically correct” calls for safe spaces suggesting that the theater--historically a venue for the expression of political and social critiques--should be a space free of criticism and critical thought.  Trump, whose campaign is based around being a tough, truth teller, has been proven time and again to be a lying, hypocritical, thin-skinned man, eager to bully people when he holds the cards, but unable to stomach the kind of criticism that will be routine during the presidency.
Trump has turned our entire country--through his incendiary rhetoric and policy proposals, and now through his dangerous cabinet nominations--into a zone that is unsafe for many people of color, religious minorities, same sex couples, and political dissenters.  That he would compare the polite criticism directed at Pence, which basically amounted to a plea to hear people’s voices, to the vile cauldron of insults and slanders that Trump has launched at our fellow citizens, is a measure of the man’s delusional, ignorant, and callous persona.
That Trump would call a firm if polite request to be heard “harassment,” thereby equating it with the physical assaults he has made on women, or the toxic consequences of his words, demonstrates that this is a man utterly unfit for office.
It also demonstrates that Trump is in for some major disappointments.  If he thinks a few trite words can draw a line under 15 months of blistering hate, he is wrong.  If he thinks the white supremacist, Islamophobic, authoritarian cabinet nominees will sail through the senate, he is wrong.  

If he can’t handle Hamilton’s gentle injunction to his running-mate, a disgusting man who wants to subject same sex couples to conversation therapy to “fix” their sexuality and love for each other, Trump is in for a rough four years.  Because those of us who are under threat from his incoming administration and those of us who care about the liberties of our fellow citizens are not going to let up.  

Friday, November 18, 2016

Senators, Oppose Mike Pompeo as CIA Director

Congressman Mike Pompeo
The following is the text of a letter I sent to Nevada Dean Heller, asking him to vote against Donald Trump’s nominee for the post of CIA Director.
Dear Senator Heller,
I am writing to express my dismay at President-elect Donald Trump's nomination of Congressman Mike Pompeo to the directorship of the Central Intelligence Agency.  I hope that you will use all of your influence and all of your power in the senate to reject--and urge your colleagues to do the same--what I believe to be a dangerous nominee.
Congressman Pompeo has devoted much of his time in Congress on committees to investigating what was repeatedly proven to be the non-existent Benghazi scandal.  Congressman Pompeo's partisan obsession with this episode demonstrates both rank ignorance of how the diplomatic and national security structures of our government function, and wildly misplaced and deeply uninformed priorities.
Congressman Pompeo has also been highly supportive of the secret NSA surveillance, about which intelligence leadership lied directly to Senators charged with providing oversight.  Congressman Pompeo's support for these programs and for the secrecy and dishonesty with which they were executed suggests that he is likely to continue the unacceptable tradition of hiding critical information about programs that impact privacy from you and your colleagues who provide oversight, and from the public at large.
Congressman Pompeo moreover attacked whistleblower Edward Snowden, whose efforts are the only reason we know about these dangerous programs.  In attacking Snowden, Congressman Pompeo suggested that he hoped the whistleblower would face a death sentence if he returned to the United States.
Congressman Pompeo has also attacked Islamic leaders in the United States, suggesting that any such leader who failed to denounce terrorist actions would be "potentially complicit" in terrorism.  Logically and morally, this is a repellent statement.
Finally, Congressman Pompeo has opposed the closure of Guantanamo Bay and the movement of prisoners to the United States to face justice.  This is effectively a vote of no-confidence on his part in the efficacy of the federal government he would like to serve in this new capacity and the justice system and constitutional structure to which we are all accountable.
Congressman Pompeo's misguided priorities, ignorance, support for the violation of civil liberties, attacks on whistleblowers, lack of faith in the system he desires to serve, and Islamophobia in the wake of a presidential campaign defined by religious bigotry and racism make him unfit to act as Director of the CIA.
As you know, many Nevadans wear a libertarian stripe, while others identify as liberals.  What these two ideologies that define most members of our state community have in common is a belief in the importance of individuals rights and liberties.  Among these are rights to privacy and rights to information about what our government does in our name.  Congressman Pompeo poses a threat to both these rights, and I think many other Nevadans would join me in opposing his nomination.
Thank you for your consideration, and please let me know whether you feel able to oppose Congressman Pompeo's nomination to this post.
Jeff Schauer
Las Vegas, NV

Senators, Oppose Jeff Sessions as Attorney General

Senator Jeff Sessions (credit: Gage Skidmore)
The following is the text of a letter I sent to Nevada Dean Heller, asking him to vote against Donald Trump’s nominee for the post of Attorney General
Dear Senator Heller,
I write to request that you use all of your influence and voice in the United States Senate to oppose the nomination of Senator Jeff Sessions to the position of Attorney General.
As you may know, Senator Sessions’ nomination to a federal judgeship was rejected by your Republican colleagues because he had a history of demeaning civil rights organizations, referring to activities that have brought justice and civil liberties to our fellow citizens as “un-American” and “Communist inspired.”  Senator Sessions has made a range of racist comments, and has spoken critically of the Voting Rights Act.  
The need for that crucial piece of civil liberties legislation has been made very clear by recent efforts in southern states to make access to voting more difficult.  This stands in clear contrast to what is in many ways a model electoral framework here in Nevada, built through collaboration between Republicans and Democrats.
Senator Sessions has also been a strong opponent of immigration reform.  As a Latino, a Nevadan, and an American, I see respect and support for migrants as part of your duties as senators and a core responsibility of the federal government.
These statements and positions demonstrate that Senator Sessions is unfit for the post of Attorney General.  President-Elect Donald Trump pledged to begin the work of healing the nation badly damaged by his divisive and racist campaign.  His nomination of Senator Sessions demonstrates that his commitment is thus far deeply insincere, and I think that the rejection of this nomination by you and your senate colleagues, across party lines, could send him a reminder of the pledge he made to the American people.
Can you please indicate in your reply whether you plan to reject the nomination of Jefferson Beauregard Sessions to the position of Attorney General?
Many thanks for your attention to this message, and I look forward to your reply.
Jeff Schauer
Las Vegas, NV  

Robert Reich for UC Berkeley Chancellor

UC Berkeley’s Chancellor recently announced that he will soon step down from the position.  Nicholas Dirks’ authority at Berkeley had become increasingly tenuous, dominated by campus sexual harassment scandals, luxury housing and an expensive fence, rumors of an office escape hatch, questions about a personal trainer, and the failure to anticipate a serious budget deficit.  Dirks will be replaced sometime after the new year.
The UC Regents and Presidents would like their constituents to believe that the process is in good hands, but members of a UC Berkeley Faculty Association are launching an effort to see Berkeley Professor, Robert Reich, be appointed to lead the state’s and the country’s leading public university.  Reich, a former Labor Secretary who supported Bernie Sanders during this year’s primary, has become known for his advocacy and his documentary, Inequality for All.
Faculty leaders used an editorial in the Daily Californian to lay out their arguments about how the process should work and why Reich would be an excellent candidate.  They cited Reich’s activism, his public policy knowledge, and the fact that he is “a firm believer in public education and the public interest.”
As crucially, faculty called for the opening up of the traditionally secretive process of choosing a Chancellor: “The short list of candidates selected by the search committee and forwarded to the president should be publicly discussed and not the subject of secret deliberation.  The candidates should be invited to campus for public presentations and questions from the university community—faculty, staff and students.  The final choice should be made by the president and the UC Board of Regents after consultation with the Academic Senate to ensure a candidate supported by the campus community [is chosen].”
Because Berkeley is a public university and relies on public trust and support, the call for a more open process is important and the idea of Reich as Chancellor is appealing.   Students have echoed the call.
Reich’s appointment would serve several important purposes.  
It would install someone with ample experience of administration and insight into public policy at the head of a crucial public institution.  Reich has managed a federal department, and teaches in the public policy school at Berkeley.  Universities do not stand apart from the public.  They are products of the same political economies that shape people's daily lives and life-long fortunes.  Reich understands this social, political, and economic context, and should prove able to deftly negotiate these currents with a larger picture and vision in mind.
A Chancellor Robert Reich would bring an activist’s vigor to an office that has recently seemed by turns powerless, ambitionless, inept, and at times downright irresponsible in its approach to student affairs, the political economy of the university, and the university community more broadly.  Reich’s voice would be strong, well-informed by his experiences at the heart of federal government and of UC Berkeley.  He would carry the stature he has built with students and a nation- and state, and campus-wide community of activists, political figures, and concerned citizens.
A Chancellor Robert Reich would be a voice for the students, faculty, and staff whose voices have been increasingly ignored by a growing, lumbering, and deaf bureaucracy atop the University of California.  Reich would be simultaneously critical of administrative bloat, while also recognizing that there are other factors in play.  But most importantly, he would speak and advocate for students who are burdened by high fees, faculty who have become overburdened, staff who are often undercompensated, and a university community that revolves around the labor of its citizens rather than the corporate mentality of its top echelon of bureaucrats.
A Chancellor Robert Reich would bring a political savvy that is sorely lacking in the leadership of UC more broadly and Berkeley particularly.  Current administrators seem comically (and tragically) unaware of the extent to which scandals large and small impact the public’s views of and willingness to fund California’s wonderful but troubled university system.
When people read about a member of the Board of Regents sexually harassing his employees, and what read like cover-ups on campuses about the same, they wonder whether this is an institution they can trust.  When they read about the entanglement of some Regents with vast business and financial networks, they wonder whether the institution is not modelling some of the corruption that has become a feature of our country’s politics.  When they read about other campus chancellors moonlighting for for-profit educational firms and spending money scrubbing the internet to burnish their personal reputations, they wonder whether they can trust the leadership of their public universities with further funds.
Robert Reich’s experience, politics, and ethics make him well situated to begin turning a page on what has been a troubling decade for Berkeley and UC.  Perhaps, if he were to be bold enough, and if Californians felt that they could trust their universities more, his appointment could also help to turn the page on a much longer period of state divestment from UC.  Stemming and reversing the tide of privatization is an important step in returning UC and Berkeley to Californians as the public-supported and public-minded institutions they were built to be.
Finally, our country is facing a presidency defined by a know-nothing approach to public policy, hostility toward many communities within our country, and contempt for public institutions and for critical learning and thought.  Supporters of the president-elect have at various times discussed rolling back federal support for universities, suggested they might crack down on the freedom of speech and inquiry that define these institutions, and committed to pursuing undocumented students on university campuses.
In the face of this potential onslaught, universities need to be led by people with real public stature, an activist bent, proven leadership, a commitment to public institutions, and concern and compassion for the students who populate their campuses.  Higher education needs leaders who understand that universities are communities of learning and discovery rather than businesses.  
Robert Reich would be an excellent choice to lead UC Berkeley from the Chancellor’s office, and I urge the UC Regents and UC President Janet Napolitano to appoint him to this position.  

Friday, November 11, 2016

Song for Three Soldiers--Stephen Vincent Benet

For Veterans Day, Remembrance Day, and all those who suffer because of conflict.









Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Transfigured at the Polls?

History as progress.  The idea that human societies and nations are on a trajectory that tilts endlessly upward has been a recurring feature of historical thinking.  Few professional historians entertain such an idea--the recurrence of heartbreak, violence, suffering, and inequality dictate otherwise.  But I think it is nonetheless an idea that lurks in the backs of most of our minds when we think about our families, societies, and world.
Tomorrow my students are discussing the work of the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission, and I am re-reading Desmond Tutu’s account of his experience with the TRC, No Future Without Forgiveness.  
At the beginning of the book, the South African archbishop and anti-apartheid activist recounted how in 1994, the very act of lining up and waiting to vote, in a deeply divided and unequal country “helped us South Africans to find one another...they found fellow human beings...who had the same concerns and anxieties, and aspirations.”
Tutu went on to write that for South Africans, the country’s first democratic election in 1994 “was a veritable spiritual experience.  It was a mountaintop experience.  The black person entered the booth one person and emerged on the other side a new, transfigured person.  She entered weighed down by the anguish and burden of oppression, with the memory of being treated like rubbish gnawing away at her vitals like some corrosive acid.  She reappeared as someone new” (7).
Of course, ending the effects of apartheid proved to be more complicated than a single election or the single act of voting.  
But I was struck, reading Tutu’s words today, about how different the election was for many of us yesterday.  How waiting in line I, too, surveyed my fellow voters, sipping coffee or checking their watches or digging for driver’s licences in the soothing desert morning sun.
When I surveyed them I couldn’t help but wonder which among them voted for the candidate who pledged to strip away the rights of my fellow citizens on the basis of their race, religion, or and sexuality.  I couldn’t help but wonder whether any of them had stood at rallies and cheered when the candidate sneered about ILLEGALS! and insinuated that people murder his opponent.   I couldn’t help but be curious as to which of my neighbours, the people I pass on the street, voted for a ticket that wants to subject people to therapy because they love another man or another woman.  

I wanted to know who was voting for a candidate who has committed himself to making millions of Americans feel frightened in our own country, and in our own communities.   We've experienced our own kind of transfiguration, but our elevation is to the status of the "enemy within" that needs to be monitored, disciplined, or perhaps eviscerated.

I hope that we can work and organize and do whatever it takes to ensure that this election doesn’t come to assume the reverse significance of South Africa’s 1994 election, and that our communities didn’t emerge from this election and the era it ushers in defaced by the misuse of the law, savaged by dehumanizing language and violent acts, and stripped of the rights that provide a path to economic security and keep the oppressed from social death.

Friday, November 4, 2016

Donald Trump, my Grandfather, and Tuesday

When I think about how to vote on Election Day this year, I’ll be wearing a number of different hats.  Each of them, in different ways, will shape my decision.
I will vote as an historian, someone who spends a lot of time thinking, teaching, writing, and reflecting on the past.  The "history repeats itself" line that is often deployed to justify the study of the past is a little simplistic.  
However, historians can use knowledge and critical thinking to evaluate how convergences of ideas and practices in other times and places have led to particular outcomes.  We can think about which of those variables are peculiar to that time and place, and which we can see emerging for similar reasons elsewhere.  We can understand human motivations and behavior with reference to their social, cultural, and economic contexts.
When I listen to Donald Trump, I think of the 1930s.  I don't mean that Donald Trump is equivalent to Hitler.  I'm not saying he's a Nazi or that he will send Jews (or anyone else) to the gas chamber.
But I would argue that Trump possesses many of the attributes of a fascist, and that this should worry us.  Trump is an ethnic nationalist, who claims that not all people possess the full attributes of citizenship.  He claims that some people should not be able to serve in certain capacities because of their race or religion, and has argued that some Americans, on the basis of their religion, should bear--privately or publicly--markers that identify them as a kind of internal menace to their fellow citizens.  
He is a militaristic, jingoistic nationalist, who believes in American exceptionalism.  He might not use the word, but this is what he means when he describes how our country should be able to bomb, plunder, murder, and torture with impunity.  The irony that a "law and order" candidate should possess this view, as well as so much contempt for courts and the checks of democracy, is one that Trump shares with fascists of the 1930s.
He also shares their vitriol toward international institutions and frameworks, their threats to suppress media, their cult of personality, and their combination of populist rhetoric with plutocratic economics.
Finally, Trump shares fascists' disdain for democratic politics when it does not yield the desired results.  He has insinuated that his supporters should assassinate his opponent, has refused to say that he will respect the results of the election, and is running a campaign staffed by people who have called for a constitutional crisis or a bloodbath if Trump loses.
Trump shares broad policy characteristics with the variety of fascists of interwar Europe, and also many similarities when it comes to political culture.  While this does not mean that under Trump the United States would become a nation of death camps and Gestapo raids, it suggests that he could do significant and lasting damage to our national social fabric, which endures because of at least a rhetorical commitment to universally applicable laws and values.
So I am voting against Donald Trump because he represents a resurgence of an identifiable threat that has the capacity to engulf our nation and our world in conflict.
My second hat is as the grandson of an undocumented immigrant.  Donald Trump, of course, would prefer the term "illegal."  He refers to people like my grandfather, who came to the U.S alone as a teenager to make a better life for himself as an "Illegal," as though the entire existence of this man should be summed up by a single action.
To Donald Trump, it doesn't matter that my grandfather was not then and never has been a scrounger.  It doesn't matter to him that my grandfather labored in fields before finding his way to Oakland, where he worked for a railroad company, married into a family of Mexican Americans, and became a father to six children, while paying taxes and earning the respect of everyone he met in his life.
It doesn't matter to Donald Trump that after my grandmother died, my grandfather--with the support of his extended family--raised his younger children as a single parent.  It doesn't matter that he helped to equip his children with the means and the confidence and the support network to pursue successful lives, whether that meant following him into a union job for the railroad, entering the classroom in a pre-school, middle-school, or college, or any one of the other paths to success and fulfillment that my mother and her siblings found.
It doesn't matter to Donald Trump that my grandfather helped to create a family woven into the fabric of his community or that he labored with solidarity for those who shared his trade.  It doesn't matter that he remarried around the time of his retirement, that he and my nana travelled the world, that he stayed connected through visits to his family in El Salvador to his roots.  It doesn’t matter that he has been a far better example of good citizenship and strong values to his grandchildren than the likes of Donald Trump, a man who exploits others, doesn’t pay his taxes, and talks in vicious, contemptuous terms of his fellow citizens.
My grandfather has for many years now been a U.S. citizen, but before and since he received his citizenship he paid taxes and contributed to his country, his community, his family, and his society more of real value than anything Donald Trump has offered.
And so I am voting against Donald Trump because he thinks that my grandfather and people like him can be stripped of their humanity, their worth, their complexity, and cast out of our communities.
My third hat is the Latino heritage bequeathed to me by my grandparents and my mother's family.  This is tied up not only in my grandfather's immigration status, and what Donald Trump would use that status to do to young people like him.  It is also tied to what Donald Trump says about the place that people like me can occupy in our country.
Donald Trump suggested that Mexicans are rapists, murderers, and drug dealers.  With that *wink, nod* he allowed that there were undoubtedly some good Mexicans.  But the combination of language and coy denial (the same denial he uses to declaim his sexism or his suggestions that his people go out and shoot his opponent) are designed to leave no doubt as to where his sympathies lie.  His America would be less cluttered with people like me who he thinks represent some cultural threat to real Americans.
Donald Trump also suggested that Latinos are incapable of serving in all of the capacities associated with full citizenship in our country.  He argued that a Mexican American judge should be disqualified from dealing with cases involving white Americans like Trump because his race makes him biased and unfit.  That single argument is a blow at the foundation of our legal system and the security of Latinos in America.
So I am voting against Donald Trump because when combined with the racist characterizations of Latinos in this country, and the violence his campaign has whipped up among supporters, he is giving notice to anyone who looks like my aunts and uncles, sounds like my grandfather, and shares the heritage of my cousins.  If he has his way *wink, nod*, we're all second class citizens.  
My final hat is my ideological orientation.  I would identify as a social democrat, and would associate myself with this ideology that shares with some others of the left the conviction that civil rights are insufficient guarantors of well-being, and that they must be accompanied by other social and economic rights--to healthcare, education, workplace protections, and robust social welfare.
American liberalism--and Trump’s fascism--likes to pretend that our supposedly exceptional and remarkable culture, history, and character make us unfit for social democracy.  But that argument is really just a way of saying that Americans don’t deserve the security, opportunity, and liberty that comes along with the reordering of our politics and economics.
The world's social democracies are far from perfect.  But they offer their citizens equal if not greater access to the civil liberties that Americans like to believe we uniquely enjoy, along with far greater "freedom"--from fear, uncertainty, poverty--in the economic and social sphere that we enjoy in our country.  Donald Trump’s election would deal a body blow to any possibility in the near future of moving in such a direction.  
Social democrats were among the first to recognize the dangers posed by fascism.  But in parts of Europe, they led their ideological feuds with other parties of the left and the center blind them to just how far fascism could go in transforming and consuming their world.
So I am voting against Donald Trump because I don’t think that social democrats today should make the mistakes they did in the 1920s and 1930s, and because I know that my vote is not the only tool at my disposal for shaping opinions and policies.  I can vote to avert disaster and spend the next four years writing letters and blogs, protesting, donating, calling, and advocating with any other tools that come to hand to shift away from our weak liberal political economy toward something that offers more to the middle and working class.
Trump’s economics--by, for, and of the 1%--offer nothing other than the license to spit vitriol at different people.  His foreign policy is the same: nothing beyond the satisfaction--if anyone could so derive satisfaction--of lashing out furiously at the world.  
I can understand voting for a third party if you think the choices are bad.  I can understand not voting as a statement of sorts.  I won’t condemn either of those approaches.  But if you are considering them, I also ask you to consider what the election of Donald Trump would mean, from an historical perspective, and for the safety, prosperity, and humanity of your fellow Americans.
It might feel good to talk about “blowing the whole thing up,” and voting for Trump as a way of sticking it to an insufficiently democratic and responsive political system.  But when you blow things up, people get hurt.  And blowing things up by voting for Donald Trump ensures that those who get hurt will suffer because of their religion, their race, and their language.
And I am not sure that a country that is as diverse as ours can come out the other side of a Trump presidency intact.  So if you vote for Trump for the sake of something big and dramatic, you are also launching an attack on the foundations of our legal system and the citizenship of the Americans who Trump is encouraging people to hate and resent.
Normally, I might be in Nevada, the state where I now live, making calls and knocking on doors to persuade people that Donald Trump is dangerous to our country and to many of my fellow-citizens.  Instead, I have just arrived in California, to visit my grandfather.  He is eighty-seven years old.  He will not recognize me.  He does not know where he is.  I hope he will derive some comfort from being surrounded by his family.  
That is hard to see and to accept.  But it is even harder to accept that the life that he and generations of others built for themselves and their families, and the security they thought they won by coming to a country defined by a strong constitution, a robust democracy, and a culture of acceptance is in such jeopardy.  

A vote cast in the service of hatred will have no positive impact on public policy, and dangerous consequences for our society.  Fiat lux.