Hacked to Pieces

This has been the week that Russian hacking finally was mostly taken seriously. If you missed the New York Times’s long expose on how our political system was hacked, please take the time to read it. Since that piece was published, unnamed senior intelligence officials told NBC and ABC that Vladimir Putin was personally involved, and that Putin did intend to tilt the election to Trump.

Lots of people continue to believe this news is just propaganda, and not all of those people are Trump supporters. Some die-hards on the Left are certain the stories are being circulated by Clinton supporters trying to sway the Electoral College. But I think the hacking stories need to be taken seriously.

Because I think the Russian hacking issue needs to be taken seriously, I think it needs to be separated from the issue of whether Trump legitimately won the election. As long as it’s about the election, partisans will continue to fight over what’s true and what isn’t based on how it reflects on their candidate.

People will be arguing until the end of time whether the hacking really made that much difference in the election. My opinion is that of all the things that soured Clinton’s campaign, the revelations from Wikileaks were very low on the list. The actual revelations may have been embarrassing to the people involved, but none seemed to me to be devastating. The worse of them merely reinforced what many of us already believed, that Clinton really was isolated from the bread-and-butter issues that mattered to most Americans and that the DNC had its thumb on the scale for her throughout the primaries. But those things were apparent without the leaks.

However, in the unlikely event the electors use the hacks as a reason to deny Trump the presidency, I’m not going to argue with them.

Even so, too many people are not moving on from the election, seems to me. Clinton supporters are still moaning all over social media that She Wuz Robbed and the election was rigged and Comey letter and hacking and fake news and it wasn’t fair, and probably the election was rigged and it’s all Bernie Sanders’s fault. In other words, they’re a lot like the Sanders supporters who still believe Sanders really won the primaries and Clinton somehow stole it from him.

I endorse what Josh Marshall says here:

Just to put my cards on the table, I believe there is a good likelihood, probably even a probability, that if the Russian subversion campaign had never happened and James Comey had never released his letter, Hillary Clinton would be prepping to become our new President. My own guess is that Comey’s letter had the bigger impact. These were both profoundly damaging events in the race and Clinton lost by very tight margins in most of the newly (hopefully temporarily) red states. I see little way to challenge this assertion.

But the tiny margins are only one side of the story. Let’s take Wisconsin. The final tally puts Trump ahead by .8%, or 22,748 votes. That’s a tiny margin. Any number of things could have shifted the balance. Spending the final week of the campaign talking about a new investigation of Clinton’s emails was more than enough to tip the balance. Spending not just a single trip but more concerted time in the state could have too. But now look at the shift from 2012. The shift in the direction of the GOP was 7.7%. That is a huge shift over four years. Huge. There’s no getting around that. If you step back from Wisconsin to the larger Upper Midwest region and indeed the United States you see something more fundamental. Donald Trump did what we all remember Barack Obama doing in 2008: He changed the shape of the electorate.

What all of this comes down to is that something very big happened in this election that was quite separate from Comey and Putin.

And if Clinton had squeaked out the Electoral College win, by now that very big something would have been completely brushed aside. The one silver lining to her loss is that maybe Democrats will be forced to confront their failures as a party. But many of them are still in denial that Clinton or the Democratic Party are in any way at fault.

Right now the Dems are dividing up into pro- and anti-Keith Ellison factions. Rep. Keith Ellison is campaigning to be the next DNC chair, and I endorse him wholeheartedly. I think he’s just the guy we need. But yesterday I heard someone who wants a centrist chair say that we have to be careful about moving too far Left and getting McGoverned.

After the debacle that was November 8, they’re still worried about being McGoverned? And not concerned about continuing to be Clintoned?  Unreal.

People are also still arguing about whether the Democrats need to win back working-class whites. Some still think that demographic trends will lead the Dems to glory some day without having to deal with working-class white voters. Someday minorities will be a majority, and younger voters tend to be more liberal, so Dems will rule. Some day. And then a guy actually said this:

“Demographically, the Electoral College is heading in the right direction” for Democrats, Dan Pfeiffer, a former adviser to Mr. Obama, said. What Mr. Trump pulled off, he added, “would be hard to replicate.”

What would be hard to replicate is the fact that younger voters clearly wanted somebody else entirely to vote for, and The Establishment is still in denial about it. But let’s move on …

One of the smartest commentaries I’ve seen yet is by Matt Bai, who says — correctly, IMO — that Trump was made possible by the fact that hardly anyone trusts our civil institutions any more.

There was a time, not long ago, when it was possible to believe that no one would pay a very steep price for that cascade of failure during the Bush years, when just about every trusted institution in American life seemed to collapse of its own dereliction.

Disgraced pundits kept on pontificating. The CIA kept right on stonewalling — successfully — to keep its history of torture sealed off from public view. The parties in Washington kept on fighting like spoiled brats. The bankers kept on making money and loaning it out.

A decade passed, and American voters seemed to have settled into their cynicism, in the same way baseball fans still filled the stadiums after the steroid debacle and Catholic parishioners still lined the pews after coming to terms with chronic abuse.

No wonder we’ve become a post truth society. If the Bush years taught us anything, the “experts” on the teevee are all idiots, and “truth” can be whatever the guy with the biggest megaphone says it is. And he’s probably lying.

Trump had figured out that no one really believed the elite media anymore — the same media that said Iraq was an existential threat, that the banks had to be saved, that Obama would transform our dysfunctional politics. The same media that nightly featured a cavalcade of smug morons whose only qualification to opine on TV was an almost pathological shamelessness.

Who is the arbiter of truth these days? We have no Edward R. Murrow or Walter Cronkite. Frankly, we get better information from John Oliver than from the Network Evening News. So, why not pick whatever smug moron you want to believe and ignore the rest of them? Truth is whatever you want it to be.

Something big has happened in our civil life, and it is a lot bigger than James Comey or Vladimir Putin or pizzagate or emails. It is bigger than Clinton or Trump. It’s that our civil life has lost all cohesiveness. There appears to be nothing real there; it’s all smoke and mirrors. Facts don’t matter. History is fungible. Believe what you like.

Trump’s victory not replicable?  Seriously?

Why People Turn to Dictators

Michael Kruse writes in Politico that Trump voters have high expectations.

“I think you’ll start seeing improvements in six months,” Bill Polacek said in his corner office at JWF Industries, where he’s one of the owners of one of Johnstown’s last manufacturing plants.

Dave Kirsch stood in the parking lot of Himmel’s Coal Yard in Carrolltown, where he drives a truck, and expressed optimism and preached patience–not, though, that much patience. “My boss, he’s a pretty smart man,” Kirsch told me, “and he said it can’t change overnight, but he said give it six months to a year.”

Maggie Frear, a retired nurse, told me toward the end of our meeting one evening in her home that the changes Trump pledged would “take him at least a couple months.”

Now, you and I know that Trump ain’t gonna do squat for these people in six months to a year. Or two years. Or four years. Or twenty years. You know that by the cabinet he’s putting together. The signals so far are that he’s going to give Republicans a free hand to carry out their most regressive agenda, including gutting Medicare and Social Security.

Even Trump’s infrastructure plan is a scam, according to Bernie Sanders:

“During the presidential campaign, Donald Trump correctly talked about rebuilding our country’s infrastructure,” Sanders said. “But the plan he offered is a scam that gives massive tax breaks to large companies and billionaires on Wall Street who are already doing phenomenally well. Trump would allow corporations that have stashed their profits overseas to pay just a fraction of what the companies owe in federal taxes. And then he would allow the companies to “invest” in infrastructure projects in exchange for even more tax breaks.”

It was Sanders’ strongest rebuke of Trump’s plan, which incentivizes companies to invest in infrastructure projects through tax breaks rather than direct spending. He has proposed an approximately $1 trillion plan to invest in rebuilding the nation’s roads, bridges, and other infrastructure, though it has seen backlash from both sides of the aisle.

“Trump’s plan is corporate welfare coming and going,” Sanders wrote.

(Even if they got a tax break, why would companies invest in public infrastructure, anyway? Why would they spend money on projects that don’t benefit them exclusively, or that will never give them a profit? That makes no sense to me.)

Kruse writes that those Trump voters will turn on Trump if he doesn’t deliver. And he’s not going to deliver. Indeed, if you go back and take apart Trump’s campaign rhetoric, it doesn’t add up to much but slogans. People heard what they wanted to hear.

But the value in reading the Politico piece is that it does give a sense of how these voters in Pennsylvania saw the election, and themselves. They’ve been ignored for a long time. The system doesn’t work for them. Their communities are deteriorating; their sons are being lost to drugs. Clinton-style Democrats offered nothing but platitudes for decades. Trump became the object of their hopes.

Charles Pierce said, “Explain to me how what’s being described here is not people indulging an addiction to the political opioids.”  He also said:

And we finally come to the nub of it. In the campaign just passed, racism and xenophobia and sexism were not “the only reasons” Trump won. That’s stupid. There is genuine economic anxiety and despair in the country. But they were the accelerant. They might not have been the biggest reason why he won, but they damn sure were a big part of filling his rally halls and getting his voters to the polls, and not just in the South, either. All American populism falls into the trap of scapegoating The Other eventually; if it didn’t, Bernie Sanders would be picking his Cabinet right now.

This is something I keep trying to emphasize. Some portion of Trump supporters are flat-out white supremacists, sure. But a lot of them are people who would be much less racist now had their culturally induced racism not been fed and nurtured for years by scapegoating.

“For most U.S. workers, real wages — that is, after inflation is taken into account — have been flat or even falling for decades, regardless of whether the economy has been adding or subtracting jobs,” Pew says. Real wages peaked in January 1973 and have been falling ever since. That was the beginning of the end, and it happened shortly after the the point at which affirmative action was finally being enforced. I graduated college in 1973, and as I remember mine was the first graduating class that was really impacted by it. I have no reason to think that affirmative action caused real wages to decline — there were a whole lot of other causes for that — but it was what people saw.

Throughout the 1970s and 1980s it was common for people to scapegoat affirmative action for their deteriorating economic conditions. Now they’re scapegoating immigrants. Politicians and right-wing bobbleheads openly have encouraged this. It’s easier than explaining the real reasons.

But the deteriorating economic conditions were what opened the door to the scapegoating. And we are dealing with long-range deterioration; most of the workforce today doesn’t remember the good old days, but they heard about them from Dad. Or Grandpa. It makes me crazy when someone points to a “good” quarterly jobs report and says, “See? There’s no problem. I don’t know what those people are complaining about.”

Ian Welsh wrote recently,

It is nice that you don’t think that racism and racists get stronger when times are bad, and that people who don’t see a pay raise in 40 years are likely to turn to nasty politics, and it is even important that you think so, since your sheer stupidity and blindness makes it harder to stop, but you are wrong. You are, in fact, part of the problem, because problems happen and we need to be able to fix them, and you and your type are making it harder to do anything by muddying the water.

The inability to separate partisanship from a clear understanding of the world is at the heart of why we are where we are today. Clear consequences of action and non-action are dismissed wholesale until it is too late to do anything about it.

There’s all kinds of scapegoating going on. I’m still seeing people blaming the third-party vote for Clinton’s loss, which rather ignores the larger issues of why it was so damn close to the likes of Donald Trump. The Clinton supporters who demanded we vote for Clinton because Supreme Court picks! had a point in a very narrow sense, but they were ignoring a whole lot of big, festering problems that already had been ignored for too long.

And those were what cost her the election.

Ian Welsh continues,

The warnings on climate change and about the rise of the racist right go as far back as the 80s, in my memory. Why? Because the evidence was already there for people to see. By the late 80s, we could see that the inequality data was going in a radically bad direction, for example, and people were already saying, “This will lead to the rise of bad people, like fascists.”

This was not hard to predict. It was obvious. You did not need to be some sort of special genius, you just had to ask yourself “What happened last time?”

What you had to be “special” to do was to ignore it, to hand wave it away, to spend your life (and many, many lives were dedicated to the project) saying, “Oh, no, inequality is no big deal. They aren’t really poor, they have TVs!”

And history repeats itself:

Right after the Versailles treaty, Keynes was able to predict the gross outlines of history right through to World War II. He said, “Well if you do this to the Germans, they aren’t going to put up with it forever, and it will enable the rise of really nasty people.”

You had to be a special sort of idiot, or a partisan fool, not to see it coming once someone like Keynes had explained it to you (and many others knew it as well).

The fact that Trump, for all his instinctual salesmanship and ruthlessness, is pathologically un-self aware and not the sharpest tack in the box may save us. But we may have a relatively narrow window of opportunity, because more intelligent would-be dictators no doubt are lining up behind him.

And if we want to escape this noose, we must not simply dismiss Trump voters as being deluded idiots. We need to take them seriously, which is not the same thing as agreeing with them. If Trump fails to deliver as spectacularly as I suspect he will, we need to be ready to step in and offer them something besides the wonky little tweaks to the status quo they’ve been getting from Democrats for far too long.

But the other thing we need to keep in mind is that people are drawn into authoritarianism by feelings of alienation and helplessness. The psychologist/philosopher Erich Fromm, who escaped Nazi Germany, saw this first hand:

“We have seen, then, that certain socioeconomic changes, notably the decline of the middle class and the rising power of monopolistic capital, had a deep psychological effect… Nazism resurrected the lower middle class psychologically while participating in the destruction of its old socioeconomic position. It mobilized its emotional energies to become an important force in the struggle for the economic and political aims of German imperialism.”

“It was the irrational doubt which springs from the isolation and powerlessness of an individual whose attitude toward the world is one of anxiety and hatred. This irrational doubt can never be cured by rational answers; it can only disappear if the individual becomes an integral part of a meaningful world.”

We all have a deep need for a sense of connection to others and belonging to whatever society we are planted in, Fromm said. People who are jerked around and treated as disposable cogs for too long are likely to lose that sense of connection or belonging. And then they are likely to give themselves to an authoritarian dictator, because through him they think they will find power. That’s really what Trump was promising — stick with me, and you’ll share in my power. The system won’t kick you around any more.

There’s no question there’s a lot of racism and sexism and nativism and a lot of other things going on with Trump voters that cannot be tolerated or overlooked. My argument is that those isms are symptoms, not causes, but to deal with those symptoms requires making changes than enable alienated people to become integral parts of a meaningful world. And that won’t begin until we address their economic concerns a lot more seriously and aggressively than we have since Franklin Roosevelt’s day.

But we are reaping the consequences of non-action, and both political parties are to blame for it.

All the World Is Staged?

This morning I saw an ABC News report that al Qaeda is planning terrorist attacks in the U.S. on Monday. Seriously, al Qaeda.

CBS News has learned about a potential terror threat for the day before the election.

Sources told CBS News senior investigative producer Pat Milton that U.S. intelligence has alerted joint terrorism task forces that al Qaeda could be planning attacks in three states for Monday. …

… U.S. authorities are taking the threat seriously, though the sources stress the intelligence is still being assessed and its credibility hasn’t been confirmed. Counterterrorism officials were alerted to the threat out of abundance of caution.

A senior FBI official told CBS News, “The counterterrorism and homeland security communities remain vigilant and well-postured to defend against attacks here in the United States.  The FBI, working with our federal, state and local counterparts, shares and assesses intelligence on a daily basis and will continue to work closely with law enforcement and intelligence community partners to identify and disrupt any potential threat to public safety.”

And it would be the FBI leaking this, wouldn’t it? It’s like the fake terror alert the Bush Administration put out just before the 2004 election, which is credited with tipping the election to Bush. Somebody wants to mess with our heads.

The Guardian reported today,

Deep antipathy to Hillary Clinton exists within the FBI, multiple bureau sources have told the Guardian, spurring a rapid series of leaks damaging to her campaign just days before the election.

Current and former FBI officials, none of whom were willing or cleared to speak on the record, have described a chaotic internal climate that resulted from outrage over director James Comey’s July decision not to recommend an indictment over Clinton’s maintenance of a private email server on which classified information transited.

“The FBI is Trumpland,” said one current agent.

The currently serving FBI agent said Clinton is “the antichrist personified to a large swath of FBI personnel,” and that “the reason why they’re leaking is they’re pro-Trump.”

And are these the same people telling us about an increased terrorist threat? By al Qaeda, of all groups? What happened to ISIS? Never mind; I suppose one boogeyman is as good as another.

But now everything in the news is suspect. Google is running a tribute to Walter Cronkite today. We need a Cronkite now; someone who can speak with authority to the nation about what’s really going on.

Kurt Eichenwald has a new article up at Newsweek about the many connections between Moscow and the Trump campaign. The evidence may be circumstantial, but there’s boatloads of it. Many scoundrels have been convicted on less. Yet I see people on the Right and Left dismissing the possibility of a Trump-Putin connection as just Clinton propaganda. When we read something that doesn’t jibe with our views, we assume we’re just being manipulated.

We can’t run a democracy this way.

Stuff to read: An American in a Strange Land and Pain, anger and fear: US voters deprived of a serious presidential election.

End Times

What about those Cubbies, eh? I don’t know whether to be happy for Chicago or worried that the Unusual Event in Cleveland is somehow a harbinger of more weirdness to come.

At least, it’s all be over soon … one way or another …

Why Certainty Is Killing Us

There’s a great article/short video at the New York Times‘s site that I urge everyone to check out. Here’s the video by itself:

From the article:

Dr. Kruglanski is best known for his theory of “cognitive closure,” a term he coined in 1989 to describe how we make decisions. “Closure” is the moment that you make a decision or form a judgment. You literally close your mind to new information.

If you have high “need for closure,” you tend to make decisions quickly and see the world in black and white. If you have a low need for closure, you tolerate ambiguity, but often have difficulty making decisions. All of us fall naturally somewhere on this spectrum.

But during times of fear and anxiety — like, for example, right now — everybody’s need for closure increases. We tend to make judgments more quickly, regardless of the facts. We’re also drawn to leaders who are decisive and paint solutions in simple terms. After the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, Dr. Kruglanski and his team of researchers found that as the color-coded terrorism threat system increased, support for President George W. Bush went up accordingly. The more uncertain our world seems, the more we compensate by seeking out certainty.

In my talk in Brooklyn a few days ago, I argued that moral absolutism, which appears to offer clear, simple answers to moral questions, doesn’t really work. And then I touched on the problem of ambiguity in making moral decisions.

I realize people often are uncomfortable with ambiguity. They want clear rules and sharply defined boundaries. They want all phenomena to be properly sorted into their socially acceptable conceptual boxes. That’s why some people prize moral absolutism. That’s a mostly workable strategy for getting through life, but it’s not real. It’s an artificial order superimposed on the messiness of reality. And sometimes failing to accept reality causes more trouble than it solves.

One of the great humanistic philosophers of the 20th century, Erich Fromm, wrote that people often escape into authoritarian mass movements because they fear freedom. A lot of that fear of freedom is a fear of ambiguity, a lack of clear, bright lines that make your choices for you.

I think we see a lot of that fear in America today. And notice that some of the same people who talk about how they want to protect their freedom seem hell bent on destroying everybody’s freedom to do that. It’s like they’re protecting their freedom to be not free. But those clear, bright lines are not likely to come back, so this is a situation we’re going to have to deal with for a while.

It seems to me that vast numbers of people across the political spectrum have seized upon simplistic, black-white visions of the world instead of dealing with the messiness and ambiguity of reality. Political leaders, for example, are seen as absolutely good or absolutely evil. Your hero’s opponent is hell bent on getting us into war and bringing on a New World Order under corporate control, and probably eats puppies for breakfast, while your favored political leader is pure and holy and above criticism, and electing him/her will take away all the frightening things and make the world behave as you wish it would. Fill in the names of any politicians into that last sentence; you can find plenty of people who think that way.

In this fevered environment the most absurd conspiracy theories are accepted as holy truth, and those who don’t accept them as gospel are derided as “sheeple” and dupes of the system. It doesn’t help that people are making money with clickbait sites running fake news stories that appear to confirm the worst of the nonsense.

But certainty is very comforting psychologically. In the words of the great Eric Hoffer,

To be in possession of an absolute truth is to have a net of familiarity spread over the whole of eternity. There are no surprises and no unknowns. All questions have already been answered, all decisions made, all eventualities foreseen. The true believer is without wonder and hesitation. … The true doctrine is the master key to all the world’s problems. With it the world can be taken apart and put together. [The True Believer, p. 82]

Getting back to Erich Fromm — one of his seminal works is the book Escape From Freedom (1941), in which he argued that many people simply cannot function within the ambiguities of a truly free society. Such people tend to “escape” in three ways. One, they seek to become part of an authoritarian system, handing their moral and political agency over to an authoritarian leader; two, they become destructive and just want to destroy everything they don’t like; three, they become hyper-conformist, adapting to the opinions and moral values of whatever group he associates with.

We’re seeing all of that now. The terrible irony is that many of the people trying to escape freedom are screaming that they are fighting for their freedom.  But it’s not freedom they seek, but its opposite.

American politicians have been stoking the fires of fear as far back as I can remember.  It used to be fear of Communism. Then it was fear of racial desegregation. Then it was anti-war hippies, women’s libbers, liberals and gay people. It’s always something. But now a large part of the American electorate are fear junkies. They’re like horror movie fans; they want to be frightened, and they want a big, strong hero to come along and save them from the monsters. And as many keep pointing out, this is exactly how totalitarian regimes take hold.

I like the way the video closes:

How do we know the difference between extremism and fighting for a just cause? There’s no easy answer to the question. That’s what makes certainty so dangerous. When you dismiss other points of view, when you ignore information that is critically relevant to making a good judgment. That’s why we should be suspicious of our own sense of righteousness. The alternative is the abyss.

We should be suspicious of our own sense of righteousness. Amen. Righteousness is intoxicating; it makes us feel powerful, especially against that thing we’re afraid of. But it does nothing to help us think clearly or make sensible judgments. It makes us blind to the abyss.

The Winds of Change Are, Unfortunately, Blowing Over a Garbage Dump

Matt Taibbi:

The first symptom of a degraded aristocracy is a lack of capable candidates for the throne. After years of indulgence, ruling families become frail, inbred and isolated, with no one but mystics, impotents and children to put forward as kings. Think of Nikolai Romanov reading fortunes as his troops starved at the front. Weak princes lead to popular uprisings. Which brings us to this year’s Republican field.

There wasn’t one capable or inspiring person in the infamous “Clown Car” lineup. All 16 of the non-Trump entrants were dunces, religious zealots, wimps or tyrants, all equally out of touch with voters. Scott Walker was a lipless sadist who in centuries past would have worn a leather jerkin and thrown dogs off the castle walls for recreation. Marco Rubio was the young rake with debts. Jeb Bush was the last offering in a fast-diminishing hereditary line. Ted Cruz was the Zodiac Killer. And so on.

There’s a lot of talk about whether the Republicans can survive. Clearly, it’s not on its deathbed yet. But reading more of Taibbi, I do wonder what it will survive as. Here he’s describing the Paul Ryan-led rally in Wisconsin from which Trump was dis-invited:

The party schism burst open in the middle of a speech by Wisconsin’s speaker of the State Assembly, Robin Vos. Vos is the Billy Mays of state budget hawks. He’s a mean-spirited little ball of energy who leaped onto the stage reminding the crowd that he wanted to eliminate the office of the treasurer to SAVE YOU MONEY!

Vos went on to brag about having wiped out tenure for University of Wisconsin professors, before dismounting with yet another superawkward Trumpless call for Republicans to turn out to vote.

“I have no doubt that with all of you standing behind us,” he shouted, “and with the fantastic record of achievement that we have, we’re going to go on to an even bigger and better victory than before!”

There was scattered applause, then someone from the crowd called out:

“You uninvited Donald Trump!”

Boos and catcalls, both for and against Vos and the Republicans. Most in the crowd were Trump supporters, but others were angry with Trump for perhaps saddling them with four years of Hillary Clinton. These camps now battled it out across the field. A competing chant of “U-S-A! U-S-A!” started on the opposite end of the stands, only to be met by chants from the pro-Trumpers.

“We want Trump! We want Trump!” “U-S-A! U-S-A!”

Ryan, the last speaker, tried to cut the tension with a leaden joke about the “elephant in the room.” But he still refused to speak Trump’s name, or do more than refer the crowd to a written statement. He just smiled like it was all OK, and talked about what a beautiful day it was.

The threat of a Trump insurgency to the GOP might be mitigated if the GOP had even one strong, respected figurehead for the party to rally around. Alas, all they’ve got is Paul Ryan and John McCain.

My guess is that the Trump faithful might very well split off and form their own party, which in the U.S. is usually the first step toward political irrelevance. But if the worst of the whackjobs follow Trump into eventual oblivion, taking the red-meat-only base with them, it could allow the remaining Republican mainstream to move back toward the center again. Which would be a good thing, in the long run. Maybe they’ll even taken an interest in the governing thing.

But then you’ve got the Democratic Party, which also is being run by out-of-touch aristocrats. The Wikileaks emails show us that even Clinton’s campaign staff worried their candidate had no compelling reason to run.

The correspondence reveals a campaign that has struggled all year to improve a flawed candidate. As far back as March, aides were keenly aware that she was resistant to the media, perhaps out of touch with regular Americans and unable to convey a clear message to voters.

A month before Clinton launched her campaign, her aides worked to corral her well-known love for granular policy details into a message that would both capture her agenda and present a forward-looking, aspirational vision for her presidency.

Nearly a year later, a similar struggle cropped up as they attempted to revise her core campaign message.

“Do we have any sense from her what she believes or wants her core message to be?” asked Clinton adviser Joel Benenson. . . .

. . . .Seven months later and on the cusp of Election Day, the concerns laid out in these emails and others largely remain. Clinton has proven to be a lackluster candidate who has struggled to win over the liberals who gravitated to Sanders during the primary, and who remains ahead in large part due to Trump’s historic weaknesses.

“Right now I am petrified that Hillary is almost totally dependent on Republicans nominating Trump,” Brent Budowsky, a political columnist and former political adviser, wrote in a March 2016 email to Podesta and Roy Spence, an ad maker for the campaign. “She has huge endemic political weaknesses that she would be wise to rectify.”

The electorate is roiling with a desire for change, and the Democratic nominee had no clue.

In our alarm and loathing of Donald Trump, we must not lose sight of how Hillary Clinton came to be the Democratic nominee.

The answer: we live in a moribund democracy, not a thriving one.  A conjunction of corporate political power and immense wealth is forcibly installing a president.  We haven’t confronted this before, either.  We will cast our ritual ballots in November, but not in a free election: the Democratic nominee was imposed upon us by the corporate and the wealthy.

That’s a strong charge, but as I’ve written in the past, that’s pretty much what happened. The Democratic Party itself made sure there was  no real contest. The Clinton nomination was a done deal long before the primaries even began. But why was it so important to her to run, given that she has no real central message or agenda other than “I am competent”? That’s the part that remains baffling to me. Personal ambition is the only answer I can think of, and that’s not a good answer. It wouldn’t be a good answer for a male candidate, either.

Anyway, in short, the Democratic Party itself doesn’t trust its voters to choose the “right” nominee. The GOP has the opposite problem; it lost all control of the nomination process. Neither development is healthy.

IMO the Dems are roughly in the same place the GOP came to be in the 1990s and 2000, when the party was able to dictate who the nominee would be, and got away with knocking down the competition without too much grumbling. The Powers That Be in the GOP obviously had settled on George W. Bush as the standard bearer shortly after Bob Dole’s defeat in 1996, and they spent the next four years skillfully puffing Dubya up. And during the primaries, you could practically see the RNC’s thumb on the scale to be sure Dubya was the one left standing. (And how did Bob Dole get to be the nominee? I can’t believe that was a popular choice.) Well, now it’s the DNC forcing the pre-ordained candidate on the rest of us.

Eventually, people do notice when they’re being used. I heard a talking head on MSNBC this morning say that about 40 percent of Americans don’t think the presidential election process is legitimate, and this sentiment is spread across the political spectrum. Distrusting the legitimacy of elections has been a problem for a while, though. Republicans tried their best to delegitimize Bill Clinton’s presidency, for example, in part by blaming Ross Perot. They tried to delegitimize Barack Obama by claiming he only won because he was black — he was the cute novelty candidate, apparently.

Of course, in 2000 when George W. Bush was selected rather than elected, Democrats went along for the sake of tradition, or to keep Democracy alive, or something. That was a mistake.

Once you’ve seen the man behind the curtain, the old myths and buzzwords lose their force. As much as I look forward to seeing the Great Orange Sleazebag have his ass handed to him on election night, I’m not kidding myself that Hillary Clinton will be the president we need right now. She might surprise me, but I don’t think she’s got it in her to surprise me. The best we can hope for is that she’ll not completely renege on trying to pass the Democratic platform.

Going back to the Republicans — I believe the party will survive, but the Trump insurgency will force it to change. The mob of Faux Nooz viewers and Rushbo dittoheads they have counted on to believe their bullshit and vote R will likely desert them for a long time, or at least a couple of election cycles. This might well force them to have to broaden their base, which means they will have to offer something besides hate. They might even have to start making sense. Radical, I know, but stranger things have happened.

But if Republicans change, Democrats will have to change also. They might have to stop being The Party That Isn’t as Awful as That Other Party and actually stand for something. Imagine.

The Can’t-Do Nation

Recently I’ve seen a lot of essays and comments on the glories of pragmatic, incremental change. I’ve even seen social media commenters saying that the U.S. has always been a nation of slow, incremental change.

Which, of course, is bullshit. If anything we are a nation that does things in fits and starts. We will sometimes ride the status quo for awhile, but then when we take a notion to change, we can create big change pretty durn fast.

Or, at least, we used to.  We’ve been in something of a long rut of can’t-do, I admit. But it’s nonsense to say that’s always the way things have been in the U.S.

Let’s just look, for example, at the Progressive Era, which began in 1890 with the passage of the Sherman Antitrust Act. Along with massive amounts of business reform that accelerated when Teddy Roosevelt had anything to say about it, this era also saw the rise of labor unions. Congress passed the first Food and Drug Act in 1906, created the Department of Labor in 1911, and ratified the Sixteenth (income taxes) AND Seventeenth (direct election of Senators) Amendments in 1913. The Eighteenth (prohibition) and Nineteenth (women’s suffrage) Amendments were both ratified in 1919. And those were just the high points. There were countless other laws and regulations passed on both state and national levels that impacted just about everyone in fundamental ways. And while this was going on people were switching over from horses to automobiles and acquiring electricity and telephones.

The Prohibition thing didn’t work out so well, but it was a lot of change — in government, in culture, in technology. Of course many of the laws, such as the antitrust laws, were revised over time, but the initial laws were not exactly tweaks. Many of these changes were transformative, not incremental, change. I talk about the difference below.

Do we need to review the stuff that happened during the New Deal? Do we?  And then think about the 1950s and 1960s. We went to the freaking moon, people. The Civil Rights movement brought about massive changes in our culture pretty quickly because people stood up and said, we gotta change. Not, we gotta change some day.

It seems to me that from the mid-1970s on, we shut down and decided we couldn’t do big change any more. The single Big Thing that has happened is computers and the technology that flowed from that. The Cold War ended, for which some of us took credit, but it really wasn’t our doing, exactly.

In the 1930s we built the Hoover Dam. Now we can’t even fix potholes. Atrios wrote last week,

Infrastructure price tags always sound like huge unthinkable numbers. ONE HUNDRED BILLION DOLLARS. And it is true that it is hard for state and local governments to come up with that kind of money. For the federal government it is chump change, even leaving aside some more creative ways of paying for it.

Once upon a time the US really was ahead of basically every other country in the world. It was shiny and new. We had shiny new highways, our cities weren’t bombed out by wars (though we did a pretty good job subsequently at destroying them ourselves), lower middle class people had things like refrigerator/freezers and cars, and potable water coming out of the tap was the norm. Things were clean. We had nice affordable hospitals. It was an understandable symbol of progress, of modernity.

Now much of the world has those things, along with in some cases some things are more humane and appealing. I don’t think Trump is really talking about BUILD MORE SUPERTRAIN TUNNELS when he says “make America great again,” but it is the case that the country isn’t shiny and new like it was. The Reagan era made nice things, even fixing nice things, unpossible for going on 40 years now. Something has to change.

 Lots of stuff has to change. Oh, but we’re not supposed to do BIG all-at-once change. We have to pragmatic little baby-step change. And while baby steps are better than nothing, there’s nothing inherently virtuous about baby steps. Baby steps are what you do from a position of weakness. Baby steps are what you do when there’s resistance and you lack the means to do big steps.

But we actually have the means to do big steps. We just don’t have the will.

What’s the difference between transformative and incremental change? A definition of transformative change is change that takes us in a new direction, and isn’t just a new variation of what was already happening. One article I found  used music as an example — the invention of musical recording was a transformative change that impacted behaviors like concert attendance and the piano and sheet music industries. However, the invention of cassette tapes over vinyl was an incremental change.

Another article defined incrementalism as a kind of resilience. These are changes that allow us to adapt to conditions as they are. Transformative change, of course changes the conditions.  I think that’s important. It’s not just about whether the change is fast or slow, or whether it’s done in stages or all at once. Is it adapting to prevailing conditions, or is it changing prevailing conditions?

For example, since the 2008 crash nothing transformative has happened to the financial sector. All that was done was just to allow us to survive and adapt to the  monstrosity the financial sector has become. Global climate change calls out for transformative instead of incremental, but so far we’re barely managing incremental. The ACA works, yes, but it’s another example of a mostly incremental change rather than a transformative one. We can say it’s a BIG incremental change, but it’s mostly an adaptation that allows more people to get insurance rather than a real transformation of our health care delivery system.

Incremental change is sometimes just foot dragging. It’s making things work just a little longer, until it can’t be made to work any more. It’s used to keep us placated so the transformative change we really want can be postponed.

Sometimes adaptations to conditions are fine; if conditions are not that bad, or are probably temporary, maybe a few tweaks are all we need. But we’ve gotten into a rut in which we’re told all we will ever get are tweaks.  That’s been doing on way too long.

The Great Democratic Party Schism

In all my years of being a voter I don’t think I’ve ever felt so alienated from the Democratic Party as I do now. In some ways, this year has been worse than 2008.

It has struck me for some time that the Clinton and Sanders supporters are not only disagreeing; we’re speaking different languages. We’re approaching the campaign with entirely different sets of assumptions and values. For this reason, it has been impossible to communicate with each other.

And, frankly, I don’t think this is some temporary blow-up that will be soothed over by Fall, for next year, or ever.

I already tried to explain some of this rift through Moral Foundation Theory (“The Clinton-Sanders Divide and Moral Foundation Theory“) without realizing that real social science types had done a more researched analysis already. See “The Moral Foundations of the Presidential Primaries.” There’s also a somewhat dumbed-down version of this with less detail at Vox.

If you don’t remember Moral Foundation Theory, it basically is an analysis of the moral values and assumptions we carry around in our subconscious that causes us to make the political and moral judgments that we make. If you want to understand how Sanders and Clinton supporters differ, see this chart:

The colored bars that show positive or negative values represent six moral foundations, and you can see a stark difference between the two groups. An explanation of the colored bars, left to right:

  • Blue: Care/Harm — Being kind, nurturing and protective of other people.
  • Green: Fairness/Cheating, or Proportionality/”just deserts” — Treating people in proportion to their actions. The authors of the study say that in this case, “Sanders supporters also stands apart from Clinton’s supporters (and libertarians), in rating proportionality much less relevant to their moral judgments. This aligns with Sanders’ proposing greater expansions of government social welfare programs and higher taxes on the wealthy in comparison to Clinton.”
  • Orange: Liberty/Oppression — Individual liberty and protection from tyranny.
  • Red: Loyalty/Betrayal — Being patriotic and loyal to one’s group, family and nation.
  • Purple: Authority/Subversion — Respecting leadership, tradition and authority.
  • Gray: Sanctity/Degradation — Living in an elevated way and avoiding disgusting things, foods and actions; placing a high value on “traditional” sexual mores, for example.

In most Moral Foundations texts I’ve read, these six values also measure liberalism/conservatism, as shown on this graph:

The graph leaves out the “liberty” value for some reason, but you get the picture — liberals and conservatives value different things. And Clinton supporters appear to be more conservative, as a group, than Sanders supporters.

In particular the difference shown in the red, purple and gray bars has been really evident. Clinton supporters place much higher value on loyalty to the Democratic Party and to their candidate than Sanders supporters. I keep hearing Clinton supporters say of Sanders  “He’s not a real Democrat,” as if this was a trump card; but to Sanders supporters this is meaningless. Recently Clinton supporters have been shocked because Sanders has not been immediately forthcoming with an endorsement of Clinton, never mind that the primaries aren’t over. Clinton supporters also score much higher in authoritarianism and “sanctity” than Sanders supporters (although not nearly as high as most Republicans).

Reaction to this video reveals a lot. It’s like a Rorschach test. Sanders supporters (like me) basically heard Clinton brush us off as inconsequential maggots unworthy of her consideration. Clinton supporters were furious that Sanders is not jumping through the usual party loyalty hoops. But, as I’ve explained elsewhere, even if he did endorse Clinton that’s no guarantee his supporters would transfer their support to her. See above about authoritarianism; Sanders supporters aren’t wired that way.

And somewhere in here we might find the answer to the mystery of why African American voters so heavily favored Hillary Clinton, which makes absolutely no sense to me given her record. I’ve yet to hear an explanation that made sense, other than that black voters don’t think Sanders is electable. My hypothesis is that African Americans on the whole score more conservatively on the Moral Foundations scale, which would make them predisposed to favor Clinton, but I don’t know that for a fact.

But here is another chart to consider:

I picked this up from “Bernie Sanders Is (Still) the Future of the Democratic Party” by Matt Yglesias. The Clinton campaign has been trying — fairly successfully — to frame the Democratic contest as between white men and everybody else. But that’s a plain lie. It’s between younger voters and older voters. This data is from February; I understand that in the more recent primaries Sanders’s numbers have improved among young nonwhite voters to be at about the 50 percent mark.

And I say Democrats ignore this at their peril.

Much of Sanders’s support grew out of a long-simmering frustration with the Democratic Party itself. But a lot of us old folks stuck with it, because we remember what it used to be. (See “Why the Democratic Party Is in Bigger Trouble Than It Realizes.”) But the young folks don’t remember JFK or even Jimmy Carter. They are frustrated that neither party represents their point of view.

Quoting Matt Yglesias,

Hillary Clinton’s campaign — and, frankly, many DC journalists — has been repeatedly taken by surprise by the potency of some of Sanders’s attacks, because they apply to such a broad swath of the party. But this is precisely the point. Sanders and his youthful supporters want the Democrats to be a different kind of party: a more ideological, more left-wing one.

As Clinton put it in the most recent debate, “Under [Sanders’s] definition, President Obama is not progressive because he took donations from Wall Street; Vice President Biden is not progressive because he supported Keystone [the pipeline]; Sen. Shaheen is not progressive because she supports the trade pact. Even the late, great Sen. Paul Wellstone would not fit this definition because he voted for DOMA.”

To Clinton, Democrats are the party of progressives, and so stuff that Democrats routinely do is, by definition, compatible with being progressive.

But though Democrats are certainly the more left-wing of the two parties — the party of labor unions and environment groups and feminist organizations and the civil rights movement — they’re not an ideologically left-wing party in the same way that Republicans are an ideological conservative one. Instead, they behave more like a centrist, interest group brokerage party that seeks to mediate between the claims and concerns of left-wing activists groups and those of important members of the business community — especially industries like finance, Hollywood, and tech that are based in liberal coastal states and whose executives generally espouse a progressive outlook on cultural change.

Sanders’s core proposition, separate from the details of the political revolution, is that for progressives to win they need to first organize and dominate an ideologically left-wing political party that is counterpoised to the ideological right-wing Republican Party.

It’s gotten so that when we use the words liberal and progressive we don’t mean the same things by them.  As Yglesias says, the more conservative Clinton supporters consider themselves to be “liberal” because they are Democrats, as if “Democrat” and “liberal” were synonyms, even though they might score as centrist or conservative on the Moral Foundation measure. In their minds, electing Hillary Clinton would be “revolutionary” and “progressive” because she’s a woman, never mind that she’s the insider’s insider and the Queen of the establishment.  To them, because they are liberal on social issues they are completely progressive, even if they are utterly unconcerned about income and wealth inequality and wouldn’t know Thomas Piketty from Tyler Perry.

Jeffrey Feldman thinks that the biggest cause of the Great Schism is class consciousness. I’m not sure it was really the healthcare debate that created this shift, but here is what he says:

some version of economic class consciousness began sweeping through the Democratic Party in that debate on healthcare. That debate from 2009 focused people on the idea that policy was controlled by an elite class that has emerged in the neoliberal global economy. In prior class consciousness debates, this elite class might just have been called “capitalists,” but in the post-2009 version, it has become associated with something called the “Davos crowd” or just “Davos,” meaning: the group of powerful, wealthy, jet-setters who attend the Swiss economic summit and others like it, who believe in the free market ideology of globalized neoliberalism, and who are able to command virtually unlimited resources.

These figures exist in both parties. The healthcare debate, however, led many in the Democratic Party to rethink the basic dualism of the American political landscape. It was in that 2009 healthcare debate that many Democrats began to see themselves as engaged in a battle more urgent than the thousand year struggle against Republicans: a battle against the Davos crowd for control of “our” party.

What happened in this Presidential primary between Sanders and Clinton is that the dynamic of the single issue debate–which led to new awareness of intra-party struggle in 2009–was elevated to a much broader debate by refocusing on the financial sector as a whole.
Now, more and more people underwent the same transformation because the arguments about the control of big finance over politics and government seemed clearer or more convincing. This was coupled with the clearest contrast to date of this kind of problem being described since 2009: a top tier candidate who went from having Middle Class wealth to having money on part with the Davis crowd almost entirely by accumulating honoraria from the Davos crowd. And this clear example gave Sanders a unique power in the Democratic Party: his explaining the problem in the Party–which journalists had been pointing out–suddenly had the power to reach a vast audience via an ongoing national campaign–and to turn him into a transformative figure.

In my experience, this issue with global corporatism or predatory capitalism or the “Davos crowd” or whatever you want to call it is not on the radar of most Clinton supporters at all. I never see them address it. They’re stuck in thinking about technocratic answers to particular problems, not about any sort of sweeping change to the status quo.  They’re in love with the word “pragmatism,” which in effect means ignoring the big problems while focusing on tweaking the little ones. And, unfortunately, a lot of the Sanders supporters on social media do not articulate this well beyond calling Clinton names like “corporate whore,” which really isn’t that accurate. So there’s no real exchange of concerns, just name-calling.

A lot of what’s happening in this primary season is the result of the abandonment by both parties of working-class Americans. Even more than that, it’s the abandonment by both parties of youth. All the meanness and greed and tight-fistedness and corporate-centric values are hitting them hardest of all. In today’s America, young people are a resource to be exploited, not invested in. And among the student loans, unpaid internships, disappearance of blue-collar jobs, on-demand and other insecure and exploitative employment, they are feeling the effects of global corporatism/predatory capitalism more intensely than us old folks.

And, rightly, they’re getting pissed. Sanders gets them. Clinton doesn’t. They know that all they’re going to get from her is tweaks and platitudes, and it terrifies them.

And they are pissed.

Unfortunately, you can get cats to march in formation before you can get young liberals focused on any kind of directed, disciplined long game.  Right now they’re all over social media planning a third-party run for Sanders (often with the People’s Front of Judea Green Party), which would be stupid on several levels, and which I am confident he will not do. The way forward is in taking over the Dem party at all levels, replacing the neoliberals and centrists with actual progressives. It will take a few election cycles (I keep making this speech every few years), but it’s do-able if people can work together to do it.

Otherwise, we may be looking at the Democratic Party’s last hoorah. I hate to think what rough beast might take its place.