Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Clinton and the PUMAs still debt-collecting from Obama

Mike Allen, for Axios:
The worst-kept secret inside Democratic circles is how bitter Hillary Clinton's team is at President Obama over her election loss...[they are] blaming Obama - more than Putin, FBI Director James Comey or, um, Hillary herself - for the defeat. Clintonites feel that if Obama had come out early and forcefully with evidence of Russian interference in the campaign, and perhaps quicker sanctions, she might be president today. 
The persistent refusal among Clintonites to accept any responsibility for the defeat of their campaign seems easy enough to explain with the usual points about cultishness and epistemic closure - but how to explain the special resentment for Obama? Even if you insist that Putin cost Clinton the election, it seems like blatant displacement to then say that Obama, by failing to stop him, is even more responsible.

Seeing this much animus seep through the facade of solidarity with Obama and his base that Clintonites tried to present, I can't help but detect an undercurrent of pretty familiar entitlement:
[T]he sentiment, among today's PUMAs, is everywhere...Obama was an affirmative action president, and [PUMAs] expect us to "make history" again...out of some weird sense of reciprocal obligation.
If you believe that Obama did not deserve to beat Clinton in 2008, it's easy to see how you might come to think of supporting him as an unearned favor that he would, some day, need to pay back. And if you think that he missed a crucial opportunity to do so by ensuring victory for Clinton, you might very well see this as something more than incompetence - you'd be tempted to see it as a direct betrayal. This is how entitlement breeds resentment; and it's why Clintonites, to explain that resentment, have to displace blame from Putin onto the man who should have stopped him.

It is not irrelevant, of course, that this man happens to be black. Clinton's 2008 campaign was irredeemably poisoned with racial entitlement, and the polls make it clear that those attitudes and biases remain among her supporters to this very day. Given that the "Putin stole it" narrative is already heavily inflected with one form of racism, we shouldn't be surprised to find related grievances towards Obama inflected with another.

Monday, January 30, 2017

Millennials and people of color are the opposition

I've been looking through Trump's favorability polling, and you will be shocked to learn that his support remains divided by gender, race, and age. The first divide remains the weakest: only a slim majority of women (50.9%) disapprove of Trump, and while he can't win majority support from men, he does have a plurality of them (at 48.3%). Race, on the other hand, remains the strongest divide: people of color give Trumpo his strongest disapproval ratings (63%), while his strongest approvals come from white people (53.2%). Similarly, the age gap is pretty distinct:


Trump is winning most of his support from the olds, with a slight bump from doofuses in Generation X; meanwhile, the only age group where he faces majority disapproval is Millennials (at 55%).

While the sample sizes are too small to specify the intersectional percentages with much confidence, it seems generally clear that race is playing the largest role in determining opposition to Trump, followed by age, and then gender. If you are a person of color, you are almost certainly going to view him unfavorably whether you are young or old; if you are white, then the age trends become more significant. Gender predicts a slight preference, but the other factors seem more important - if you are young you're likely to disapprove of Trump even if you're a man, and if you're old you're likely to approve of him even if you're a woman, and if you're a person of color you'll disapprove either way.

None of this will come as much of a surprise to anyone who's been paying attention to the demographics of American politics in recent history, but the age dynamic is worth emphasizing since it's so persistently ignored by in the media. And for reasons I've noted repeatedly, age gaps are always worth bearing in mind whenever the confrontations and rhetoric between the left and the right start getting militant.

Saturday, January 28, 2017

Trump is pitting Americans against the submerged state

The consensus take on Trump's opening salvo of executive orders is that he's overpromising by failing to take into account basic issues of implementation and legality - and that this, eventually, will turn into a political liability. These "quick moves could hurt Trump down the line," according to Politico. "Trump’s aggressive pace in his first days as president could backfire," Abigail Tracy writes for Vanity Fair. And David Axelrod argues that these failures will become a challenge for Trump:
Trump, he said, could face an even more difficult challenge..."The appeal he had as a candidate is that people clearly want someone to snap their fingers and just make something happen, and he saw that desire and played to that desire," Axelrod said.
This gets Trump's appeal right, but one should pause before assuming that Trump will be blamed for any of this. Most of the obstacles he faces are fairly bureaucratic, technocratic and legalistic in nature, which is precisely why so many publications are having to roll out explainers about them. And though wonks and pundits certainly care about these things, most Americans are far more interested in seeing problems solved than in how we get there. 

No one cares about rules

Just consider what would seem to be the most serious objection to Trump's executive orders: the Muslim ban and the sanctuary city defunding scheme are both illegal. Will Americans care?


Predictably, Trump supporters aren't too concerned about the "rules" - but here, the crucial point to consider is that even 41% of Democrats don't harbor in-principle objections, and the general population is even more ambivalent. There are substantial reasons why Americans are mobilizing against Trump, but contrary to what Chris Hayes and MoveOn.org seem to think, rulebreaking probably isn't one of them.

No one cares about the individual mandate

Similarly, Politico notes that "key members of Congress weren't consulted" about Trump's very first executive order, which "could effectively gut [the] Affordable Care Act’s individual mandate"; this may very well make health insurance unaffordable for millions of Americans, and Michael Hiltzik argues that "Republicans will find it very difficult to evade responsibility for the consequences, because they will emerge in direct response to Trump’s order."

But this isn't quite true. If Trump manages to destroy the individual mandate, this will allow a lot of healthy people to stop paying for insurance that they don't think they need. The second-order consequence will be that insurance pools will have fewer people, and those people will tend to be sicker. Only then do you get to the third-order consequence, where insurers charge higher rates to cover a smaller, sicker pool.

In other words, Trump only gets blamed for what happens next if you buy a fairly complicated and counterintuitive three-step economic analysis of cascading effects that are mostly invisible to the typical consumer. Most Americans (63%hate the individual mandate, in part because it doesn't appear to have any direct relationship to the goal of providing effective and affordable health care - so there's no particular reason to assume that they'll blame Republicans for any problems that emerge as Trump gets rid of it.

No one cares about the submerged state

Expect this kind of dynamic to emerge time and time again: Trump will violate some law or destroy some government program, and the liberal-left will have a difficult time objecting to it because people generally aren't inclined to defend either. This ideological pathology didn't come from nowhere. It's a direct consequence of what Cornell professor Suzanne Mettler calls the submerged state:
Americans often fail to recognize government’s role in society, even if they have experienced it in their own lives. That is because so much of what government does today is largely invisible...its benefits are channeled through the tax code and subsidies to private organizations...The submerged state obscures the role of government and exaggerates that of the market.
There could be no clearer example of how this problem plays out than Trump's attack on health care. If we had a simple, single-payer system in which the government directly provided insurance, the consequences of any attempt to shrink it or eliminate it would be obvious, and Americans would have a stronger investment in defending it. But instead, the ACA was designed to do something far more complicated: to provide affordable health insurance using a system "based on the private marketplace", one that would maintain the role of private, profit-seeking corporations as insurance providers.

This attempt to preserve capitalism made the ACA so insanely complex, and the government's role so remote and indirect, that today when Trump tries to dismantle Obamacare, most people don't know what's going on - and they don't care. This approach to policymaking, Mark Schmitt writes, has been powerfully abetted by
Democrats enraptured by subtle, invisible social policies...liberals moved away from large, decisive programs such as Medicare and embraced gentler interventions that could be seen as using market forces for social good...liberals adopted the Delphic pronouncement that government should “steer, not row”—that is, provide subtle incentives to guide the private sector along the right path.
The submerged state similarly weakens the rule of law. Consider, for example, Trump's plan to defund sanctuary cities. Arguably, this violates a Supreme Court ruling that "if the federal government wants to put conditions on funding to local governments, the conditions must be reasonably related to the purpose of the funding." If most Americans felt some personal interest in this ruling, then it's easy to imagine Trump's executive order turning into a political liability.

But why suspect this will happen when 57% of the population doesn't think they're using government social programs at all? The government's role in providing for the general welfare is so enormously obscured that only some Americans will feel any stake whatsoever in defending abstract laws regulating federal funding. 

Trump is a Caesar

Critics like Axelrod suspect that the public will turn on Trump when his dramatic promises and force-of-will politics crash against the complexity of modern governance. For another perspective, however, consider Gramsci:
It is the sheer complexity of civil society that paradoxically makes such Caesarist interventions feasible...Charismatic figures...present themselves as being able to "get the job done" without the time-consuming need to win over the institutions of civil society. Caesarists figures are thus likely to be populist leaders who make direct, personal appeals to the people. (Steven Jones)
Instead of turning against Trump, Americans may very well turn against the government. In Trump, they will see the same figure who they identified with during the election: an angry voice of rebellion against an entrenched, recalcitrant establishment. They will sympathize with his failures and grievances, because they too have faced the merciless, unyielding logic of late capitalist neoliberalism, with its unconquerable institutions and its indifference to their problems; instead of feeling betrayed by Trump, they will see Trump as an underdog, and believe that he's being betrayed by America.

The theory that Americans will blame Trump for his failures in governance ultimately assumes a faith in government procedures and institutions that no longer exists. To defeat him, the opposition needs to abandon the submerged state and present a vision of government that powerfully and directly intervenes in society and gives people nice things:
Give people nice things, and make it easy. Provide things that it is generally understood that government should provide. Education, health care, roads, sidewalks, supertrains. Generous unemployment benefits, easier bankruptcy, affordable childcare that doesn't have some absurd eligibility formula, consumer protection laws. Everything should be universal benefits paid for by taxing rich people more than we do. (Atrios)
Use the government to give people what they want, and Trump loses his scapegoat. Hide the government behind the market, and America has nowhere else to turn - it can only get lost in the futile ambitions of messiahs and madmen.

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Why not just obstruct everything Trump wants to do?

Michael Tracey has noticed that people who once insisted that Obama be "given a chance" to govern are now advocating absolute opposition to Donald Trump - and for that reason, he writes,
proponents of that position should at least recognize that they're changing the "rules of the game" and dispatching with certain "norms" around how presidents are treated at the very beginning of their terms...at least acknowledge the shift.
It's not clear to me why one would need to "acknowledge" any such thing. Why not simply proceed on the understanding that the shift has taken place, and address any objections to that claim as they arise? Tracey himself concedes that "it could well be right to hold Trump to a different standard," so I don't see anything that necessarily needs to be explained or defended here. As far as I can tell, some people believe that the previous rule no longer applies, and no one - not even Tracey - has actually contested this judgment. 

That said, setting aside the burdens of explanation, the rationale for a rule change strikes me as fairly obvious. A standard perspective on the past eight years holds that Republicans pursued a historically unprecedented strategy of near-absolute obstruction - popularly known as the McConnell Strategy - in order to guarantee gridlock under a Democratic president. It was this strategy that liberals demanding cooperation with Obama were reacting to; it was this strategy, and not its opponents, that "changed the rules of the game" and "dispatched with certain norms" of American politics.

What I puzzling is not that some critics have called for Democrats to play by the new rules, but that Democrats, to the last Senator, have insisted on playing by the old ones. Every one of them has now cast at least one confirmation vote for one of Trump's nominees. Even Senator Dick Durbin - who in 2010 openly acknowledged that Republicans were simply working to "deny the president a record of accomplishment" - has now voted to confirm Trump's Secretary of Defense, his Secretary of Homeland Security, and his Ambassador to the United Nations.

As far as I can tell, Tracey also seems to think that we should play by the old rules. What this means, of course, is that Republicans will continue to advance objectives amenable to Republicans, while Democrats will find themselves trapped in gridlock for the foreseeable future. If we are to accept this state of affairs for the sake of maintaining some kind of foolish consistency, I can appreciate Emerson's thoughts on that point; but regardless, I don't see anything overtly wrong with playing by the new rules, so if Tracey has objections, he should actually spell them out.

Monday, January 23, 2017

Liberals are talking about Gandhi again

Friday's counterattack against Richard Spencer has prompted the usual recriminations from liberal critics of violent protest - and among them, Clare Coffey notes, are an unusual number of appeals to absolute pacifism. It doesn't have to be that way; the simpler thing would just be to say that this particular act of violence was ill-advised, which you can do even while leaving the door open to other acts of violence. Chomsky:
...should we take our guns, go out in the street and start destroying Chase Manhattan bank? Well, if you want to get killed in five minutes that's a good suggestion...are there circumstances in which it might be justified to take up arms to overthrow a repressive government? Yeah, sure. For example, I was in favor of the conspirators who tried to kill Hitler. I think that was a good thing to do.
This isn't a particularly ambitious line of argument; Chomsky just relies on principles that most people agree with, like "avoid inconsequential suicide", to advise against violence in a particular case. A liberal who wanted to make this kind of point against punching Spencer would still be wrong, but at least he would still be operating within the intellectual and moral framework of liberalism.

Instead, we're seeing another kind of objection entirely: grand philosophical claims like "violence breeds violence" that are decisively at odds with what liberals actually believe. This point is even clearer when we consider just how many liberals are appealing to Gandhi, who consistently grounded his objections to violence in radical Hindu mysticism. Consider four of the actual arguments Gandhi made about violence against Nazis - what liberal will openly endorse this?

1. Pacifism is such an absolute moral imperative that we should even be willing to accept the complete annihilation of an ethnic minority or target nationality. Gandhi, to the people of occupied Czechoslovakia: "If Hitler is unaffected by my suffering, it does not matter. For I shall have lost nothing worth. My honour is the only thing worth preserving." On the holocaust: "The calculated violence of Hitler may even result in a general massacre of the Jews...if the Jewish mind could be prepared for voluntary suffering, even the massacre I have imagined could be turned into a day of thanksgiving and joy...to the God-fearing, death has no terror." To the people of Great Britain: "You will invite Herr Hitler and Signor Mussolini to take what they want...If these gentlemen choose to occupy your homes, you will vacate them. If they do not give you free passage out, you will allows yourselves man, woman and child, to be slaughtered, but you will refuse to owe allegiance to them."
2. Pacifism is worth it if it makes murderous oppressors feel bad about what they did in retrospect. "The German Jews will score a lasting victory over the German gentiles in the sense that they will have converted the latter to an appreciation of human dignity."
3. Violent defense of the oppressed deprives them of the opportunity to experience the personal growth that comes from suffering, and also delays their entrance into the afterlife. "And suffering voluntarily undergone will bring [the Jews] an inner strength and joy which no number of resolutions of sympathy passed outside Germany can. Indeed, even if Britain, France and America were to declare hostilities against Germany, they can bring no inner joy, no inner strength...[Death] is a joyful sleep followed by a joyful waking that would be all the more refreshing for the long sleep."
4. Violence is never justified because Hindu metaphysics teach us that there are no such things as facts. "Satyagraha...excludes the use of violence because man is not capable of knowing the absolute truth and, therefore, not competent to punish."

None of this is to contest Gandhism itself; if you buy into his metaphysics, it makes perfect sense. Similarly, if (say) you accept the Mennonite understanding of Jubilee as "a theological concept providing insight into the nature of God...[as] a guide for living which is to be observed in normal daily practice among believers" (Sloan, 297) then it might make sense to invoke John Howard Yoder or Menno Simons in your complaints about Nazi-punching. The same goes for pacifists from Tolstoy to MLK: in every case, their ethic is embedded in a broader intellectual and philosophical framework (often with religious facets) that has to be accepted or abandoned as a whole.

Suffice to say that almost none of the people who are invoking pacifist icons and pacifist slogans like "violence begets violence" actually take any of this seriously, or even aspire to apply these principles consistently. This is at the very least hypocritical; it represents a disrespectfully opportunistic and selective approporiation from the struggles and traditions of other cultures; and it reflects, in its motivated reasoning, the liberal fetishization of order and procedure that becomes indistinguishable, in its extreme, from the inhuman operation of fascism itself.

Friday, January 6, 2017

How UBI would help fight climate change

My friend Jarrod Myrick - author of "Jarrod's corner" for the Matt Bruenig newsletter, and tireless advocate for Universal Basic Income - has suggested that I write a few words about how UBI would help fight climate change. I'm a little wary of making this case, simply because I think that both causes stand on their own merits: a UBI is a good idea for reasons that are mostly unrelated to climate change, and climate change needs to be managed for reasons that have very little to do with UBI. Nevertheless, Jarrod's intuition on this is better than mine is, so here are three arguments that I think you could made (in order of weakness to strength):


I. DEGROWTH WOULD CURB EMISSIONS

The theory here is that some people, with a guaranteed income, would simply drop out of the workforce; that the labor supply contraction would lead to a drop in GDP; and that this reduction in economic activity would in turn lead to a decline in greenhouse emissions. This is probably the most popular take on this that I've seen, though I think that on these terms it ends up being the weakest.

One immediate problem with this argument, as given, is that it's not clear that UBI would necessarily shrink the labor supply. People work because they need income, but since they also work for other reasons, one can't simply assume that a UBI would catalyze a net reduction in work. If it turns out that UBI gives us the same "amount" of economic productivity (whatever that means) but simply changes the incentives, then an environmentalist argument for UBI that relies on generalized degrowth falls on its face.

A second problem is that even if UBI curbs economic productivity, it may not necessarily follow that this would curb greenhouse emissions. That's because emissions may not be a function of GDP; in the last few years, for example, the two have arguably uncoupled, and there are historical examples of countries that have seen simultaneous economic contraction and growth in carbon emissions. While most data seems to point to a relationship between the two, I don't think we can make assumptions about what would happen given a massive intervention aimed at global reductions in economic activity.

These objections may seem distinct, but I think that they are actually related, and if we bear them in mind we can build a stronger case:


II. EMANCIPATED LABOR WOULD BE GREEN

The degrowth argument, we have seen, rests on two basic assumptions: that people will only work if they need income, and that work necessarily produces greenhouse emissions. Both of these claims, I've suggested, may be faulty. But what if, instead, we suppose that wage-slavery disproportionately incentivizes certain kinds of work - in particular, work tied to the exploitation of fossil fuels?

If this is true, then UBI may very well free people up to engage in labor that produces fewer carbon emissions, with a net positive impact for climate change. This is an argument that can be made without generalized claims about GDP and "economic productivity" and how these things relate to UBI and climate change.

Here, what I think you would have to argue is that there is a direct relationship between wage slavery and the irresponsible use of fossil fuels. Conceptually, this strikes me as a pretty intuitive point: it makes sense that the same economic regime that recklessly exploits labor would also recklessly exploit fossil fuels. All you have to do here is make the standard Marxist environmental case that wage-slavery is what facilitates the bourgeoisie's mobilization of the means of production in an infinitely escalation pursuit of capital - and that technologically, those means of production have always relied in one way or another on burning fossil fuels.

Capitalists, in fact, implicitly recognize this point when they insist that the fix for climate change must be technological - that we cannot hope to place limits on economic activity, and must instead hope for some kind of technological silver bullet that lets us chase profits without burning coal. This point is certainly true if you take wage-slavery for granted; in that case, all you can do is dream of some magical form of production where infinitely expanding resource extraction somehow doesn't have deliterious environmental consequences. It seems to me, however, that no matter how politically and logistically difficult it is to launch UBI, that this approach is still more plausible than the probably-physically-impossible fantasy of infinite clean energy.

Regardless, what seems clear to me is that the fight for UBI and against climate change are both caught up in a basic political fight against capitalism. And for that reason, I think there's a third argument that's even stronger than the first two:


III. UBI WOULD INSTITUTIONALIZE DEMOCRATIC REDISTRIBUTION

You absolutely cannot fight climate change without massive redistribution. And the only way that you get there is by creating powerful institutions through which people can democratically expropriate the commonwealth from rich people who are hoarding it.

The problem is that this is a huge political lift, and since climate change is a progress trap, most people don't feel motivated to fight it. The consequences for failure, as apocalyptic as they are, are also extremely long-term, and by the time anyone feels motivated to do anything about carbon emissions it will probably already be too late.

But this, I think, creates an extremely strong case for UBI - because UBI creates a redistributive institution powerful enough to fight climate change that would provide immediate and significant material benefits for everyone. Once you enshrine the principle that everyone deserves a basic standard of living regardless of ideas about desert, that redistribution on the scale of (say) at least 10% of the national income is warranted, and that we should build a state institution powerful enough to guarantee this - from here, the case for funding green international development is open-and-shut. And more importantly, the systematic leverage that the rich have to fight it has been severely undercut.

Ultimately, I'm not sure how the fight against climate change ever gets off the ground without something resembling this approach. It's not clear that UBI would spark degrowth, or that degrowth would bring down greenhouse emissions; it seems possible that UBI would free people to engage in labor that's less environmentally destructive, but even this is fairly speculative. What strikes me as certain, however, is that people aren't going to fight for adequate redistributive institutions unless there is some kind of powerful, immediate benefit - something more than just the intellectual conviction about the levels of CO2 in the atmosphere. UBI is exactly the sort of incentive the fight against climate change needs.

Thursday, January 5, 2017

Echoes of Jonah Goldberg's "Liberal Fascism" from the Center for American Progress

Think Progress's Ned Resnikoff has indulged in one of the center's favorite pastimes - trying to link socialism to fascism. There's a lot to unpack here, but for now I just want to look at two points:
1. Trump received support from William Johnson, chair of the American Freedom Party, "through his American National Super PAC."
2. The American Freedom Party advances "a particular strain of white supremacism known as Third Position ideology." Its "most important antecedent is Strasserism...Third Position [ideologue]...Benito Mussolini — the fascist leader par excellence — began his career in politics as a scribbler for various socialist publications; he would go on to smuggle elements of socialist thought into a right-wing, nationalist framework."
Two responses:

1) This all sounds awfully sinister until we notice that the American National Super PAC raised a grand total for Trump of...$14,966. That's less than three people maxing out on their contributions. That's just about $2,000 more than alt-centrists raised for Trump in a single week.  To give you a sense of scale, here's the record-breaking attendance for the American Freedom Party's most recent conference:


So the argument here is that, among the usual cesspool of ethnonationists who always vote for Republicans, this "Third Position" faction (which supposedly draws on socialist ideas) has become unusually powerful and influential? That may very well be the case - but Resnikoff hasn't put in the work to show it. This genre of casual dot-connecting, with zero attention to basic questions of scale and operational relationships, is usually the province of the Lyndon LaRouche pamphleteer who wants to trace Dick Cheney's political philosophy back to Aristotle - not of mainstream political thought.


2) This touches on the deeper problem with Resnikoff's argument, which is that he reads into the opportunistic and transient rhetoric and posturing of (some) historical fascists an underlying ideological affinity - thus "On the white left, it remains subtext." Note the implication of "remains": fascism snuck into leftist thought long ago, and we are supposed to suspect that it's still there, albeit hidden as secret "subtext".

But consider just two of Resnikoff's historical touchstones: the Strasserites and Mussolini. After crediting the Strasserites with putting "the Socialism in National Socialism," Resnikoff notes in passing that
Hitler had Gregor and other prominent Strasserists murdered in the 1934 purge known as the Night of the Long Knives. Otto fled Germany, and lived in exile until 1974.
One might say that this was a way of taking the socialism out of National Socialism, and for good reason: it had become an obstacle to success. By November of 1933, the Nazis were running out of money and bleeding support - in part, because German businessmen were alarmed by their occasional criticism of capitalism. It was only by undercutting Strasser through an alliance with the aristocrat Franz von Papen that Hitler ascended to chancellor. From there, the ascendence of fascism was a story of destroying the welfare state - and murdering its radical partisans.

Similarly, Resnikoff notes that Mussollini was a "scribbler for various socialist publications" - but neglects to mention that one of the very first political actions that we can call "fascist" was the 1919 attack on Avanti - the socialist daily where Mussolini had worked as an editor. That incident exemplified Mussolini's rise to power, and its exercise: his base was gangs of black-shirts who attacked leftists and workers on behalf of the rich, and far from "smuggl[ing] elements of socialist thought" into power, he built an oligarchy that brutally suppressed the influence of labor and radicals.

None of this is particularly controversial among historians. As David Neiwart writes,
the path to power for both Italian Fascists and German Nazis was essentially the same: They presented themselves as "revolutionary socialists" in their initial appeals but, finding the political space for such a movement already well occupied on the left by socialists and communists, shifted their appeals and their alliances to the right and center, particularly with business capitalists who finances them, sponsored their activities, and essentially contracted with them to engage in systematic violence against the Left.
It should give even the centrists among us pause to consider that this passage comes not from some conveniently radical publication, but from David Neiwart's introduction to the History News Network's symposium on Jonah Goldberg's Liberal Fascism. There, an endless series of pre-eminent scholars on fascism - Robert Paxton, Roger Griffin, Matthew Feldman, and others - dismantle Goldberg's infamous argument that "liberalism" (which in the parlance of the right is used interchangeably with socialism to mean "state interventions we dislike") is ideologically and historically wedded to fascism.

Resnikoff's attempt to implicate socialism in fascism through the idiosyncratic politics of marginal early funders is not particularly distinct from Goldberg's own efforts - for example, his tortured attempts to connect Hitler to the "radical chic" of German piano manufacturer Edwin Bechstein. Neither are his attempts to rewrite a history where fascism was "smuggled into" and now "remains" a significant "subtext" of leftist thought. Paxton criticizes this "latent (but misleading) Darwinian convention that if we study the origins of something we grasp its inner blueprint," and adds that
Looking mainly at early fascism starts us down several false trails...Concentrating on origins puts misleading emphasis on early fascism's antibourgeois rhetoric and its critique of capitalism.
If we are seriously interested in how fascism can be prevented and resisted, this is a point we should take to heart - but it's not the point Paxton made to Goldberg, and it's not what I would say to Resnikoff. Here's what Paxton had to say about Goldberg:
Goldberg's scholarship is not an even-handed search for understanding, following the best evidence fully and open-mindedly wherever it might lead. He chooses his scholarly data selectively and sometimes misleadingly in the service of his demonstration. 
That, I think, is where we are with Resnikoff and The Center for American Progress. There are interesting and important questions to ask about the relationship between socialism, centrism, and fascism, but the answers will not be found in that essay. 

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Liberals are already working to co-opt socialism for the Democratic Party

In the wake of the 2016 elections, some socialists have turned their attention to the race for the chair of the Democratic National Committee. This, to be sure, will be a fight with consequences, and it seems clear to me that a win by Minnesota Congressman Keith Ellison would be the best possible outcome. For that reason, there are solid tactical reasons to welcome any support he's able to win.

But there are also reasons for socialists to be wary of this race - laid out at length, albeit unintentionally, in a piece this morning by Matt Yglesias. Echoing several other strong endorsements, Yglesias argues that Democrats would be smart to embrace Keith Ellison as DNC chair. For critics of the Democratic party, however, his rationale is less than inspiring:
People whose first major intellectual and emotional engagement with politics was as Deaniacs...became entrenched enough in the establishment that by 2016 they found themselves on the other side of familiar sounding arguments about a previously-obscure Vermont politician’s insurgent primary campaign. 
The promise and the peril of the current generation of people under thirty is that they very much hate the Republican Party but they don’t like the Democratic Party very much either... If that mass of people remains where they were throughout the 2016 election, they’ll be a potentially dangerous force...
I am not sure how much more explicit Yglesias could be. For elite Democrats, the primary and decisive advantage of an Ellison win is his influence with Sanders voters. But this isn't just about his ability to bring them to the polls - when Yglesias writes that Dean voters moved to "the other side of familiar sounding arguments" about politics and policy and "became entrenched enough in the establishment", he writes that approvingly. The hope is not that liberal Democratics will cooperate with the "new people and new energy" that Sanders brought into American politics; the hope is that the establishment will co-opt this movement, just as it did with Howard Dean.

A powerful temptation, moving forward, will be to take liberals at their word when they insist that their goal is to oppose fascism and to oppose Trump. The Democratic primaries, in which the Democratic establishment deliberately sabotaged the campaign of the most electable opposition candidate, should have permanently disabused everyone of that notion - but for those who have already forgotten the lesson, Yglesias's piece should be an instructive reminder. Keith Ellison's candidacy represents just the first step on a tightrope of coalition politics that socialists are going to have to walk for the foreseeable future. We'd do well to proceed with our eyes open.