Monday, November 7, 2016

Will the US slip into Fascism?

Well, we survived another long American political campaign and tomorrow it will (we hope) all be over. I believe it is pretty simple, people who are voting for Trump are crazy and/or stupid. At this point I really don't know how to sugarcoat it. This is a racist, misogynistic, profoundly crooked, tax evading, violence inciting, serial lying, sexual predator, with the attention span of a gnat, and an anger management problem, who has actually called for nuclear proliferation. And if anyone thinks, at this point, that Hillary Clinton's faults are even vaguely comparable to Trump's they are deeply delusional.

Make no mistake, Trump could turn the United States into a fascist bloodbath. The scenario could play out multiple ways - here's one way: Trump comes to office and actually believes that he can deport the 30 million or more undocumented immigrants. He starts the process and it becomes clear fairly quickly that the US is not logistically prepared to undertake such a massive effort. To complete such a task the federal government would literally need hundreds of thousands of INS officers working around the clock, and even then it is not clear it could be done. In his frustration (an emotion that he seems to have in the same abundance as a three year old), Trump makes an off the cuff remark, maybe on twitter, that the government needs the help of patriots to complete the task. Armed vigilante groups appear overnight all over the country, but especially in the southwest. In their patriotic fervor they begin rounding up anyone who looks vaguely like they are from south of the boarder. In an effort to defend themselves, racialized people begin to band together in groups, some of them armed. Sporadic violence begins to break out. Many law enforcement agencies who clearly side with Trump and the vigilantes refuse to act in their roles as police. The violence quickly escalates and spins out of control. When it becomes clear that it is out of control, bang, Trump calls out the national guard and declares martial law under the NDAA. Now, provided that the military was willing to stand with him, this would be the beginning of a de facto fascist government.

If you have spent any time in the US, you know that this is not a wildly far fetched scenario, particularly given Trump's rhetoric so far. It's not complicated. It's fairly simple. It is already clear that Trump says that he will do things that he clearly has no right to do under the Constitution. You can't, for example, restrict people from entering the country based on religion. The president has no authority to build a wall on the border of Mexico. The president certainly has no authority to restrict press freedoms, as well as no authority to put opponents in jail on a whim.

I'm not saying that this is exactly what would happen if Trump were elected president. I'm saying that this is a perfectly believable scenario given what we know so far about him and the people he has empowered.

I don't know how the vote will go tomorrow, but I hope calmer heads will prevail. And even if Trump loses, it is clear that the US is teetering on the brink of disaster and the next decade or so will be a make or break point for the nation and maybe the world.

Monday, October 31, 2016

"President Trump"... History could bite us in the Ass. . . .

In the early 1930s many people in Germany and throughout the world were simply incredulous at the idea that Hitler would come to power. Mussolini had already come to power and more or less constructed a police state. But Mussolini was a bit of a buffoon and Italy, in its own right didn't really constitute a major military threat. Hitler, on the other hand, was no buffoon, and even though Germany had been badly damaged by the First World War, people in France, England, Russia, and the US, knew that Germany was a significant industrial power and could pose a significant and existential threat to many nations.

But Hitler's rise to power might be seen, in some senses, as inevitable. Many Germans felt deeply betrayed by their leaders and the Entente Alliance at the end of the First World War. Conservative Germans felt as though they were losing the Germany they knew; they felt that they were far too indebted to the Alliance, that they were being played, and that the Weimar Republic was degenerate and perverse. For conservative Germans, Hitler represented the old Germany, the good Germany of "law and order," of proper German culture and religion, as well as a resurgence of German industrial and economic power. In order to get power, Hitler traded on these nationalist feelings, he whipped up racism knowing that the Germans who felt that they had been hard done by a the end of the Great War would lap it up. Hitler promised to make Germany Great Again, and he used nationalist and racist rhetoric to sell that promise.

The sane people in Germany and elsewhere understood by instinct what Hitler represented. While the Western powers were far from perfect, particularly in the colonial efforts, Hitler represented a level of threat that arguably very different, and one that smart people knew was overwhelming.

I think that smart people understand what kind of threat a man like Trump represents. His rhetoric is shockingly similar to the fascist rhetoric of the 1930s. There is here, I believe, an existential threat to society, and it revealed by the rhetoric of racism, violence, misogyny. Like the fascists, Trump shifts the blame for social problems on outsiders and a supposed elite. He denigrates anyone who opposes him as a social enemy or a criminal. He talks of reinvigorating US industrialism and economic power but always against a backdrop of "foreigners" who "steal" American jobs and prosperity.

Trump is a profoundly dangerous man who may very well win the white house in 8 days. And just as people in the first two months of 1933 were incredulous and found it hard to believe that Hitler would really consolidate his power through the ballot box, many people at home and abroad today think that the words "President Trump" are just too hard to believe. But history is an ugly business.  

Saturday, October 29, 2016

Trump vs. Clinton, different models of Conflict. . .

Both Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton pose very real threats to Democracy and peace, but for different kinds of reasons.

The US has always pursued its economic/political interests in aggressive ways regardless of which party occupies the White House. The US has never shied away from supporting the worst kinds of dictators; and while for decades they used the excuse of "communism" as their primary reason for supporting leaders and regimes that clearly were not democratic, for the past couple of decades they haven't really used any excuse, they just know where their geo-political interests are and they act accordingly. Thus, during the Cold War they could support awful regimes like the Shah in Iran, or Suharto in Indonesia, and they did so as part of a supposed political struggle against Bolshevism or Maoism. But since the end of the Cold War, the US has continued to support a host of authoritarian regimes without any meta-narrative concerning Russian or Chinese aggression. These regimes include brutal governments in Thailand, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Jordon, Cameroon, Egypt, and many others. There is really no active excuse used by the US government for such support except the complex game of geopolitics.

Hillary Clinton (along with the past two Democratic Presidents, Bill Clinton and Obama) has played an active and integral part in this international attack on democracy. As a member of a very real two party oligarchy, Clinton has been no less of a so-called "hawk" than many of her Republican opponents.

And as president, Hillary Clinton would continue to pose a threat not only to democracy, but to world peace. Clinton supported the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, the two conflicts that have seriously destabilized the Middle-East and the world in general. And because Clinton is part of a long-standing geopolitical hierarchy that asserts certain perceived US interests against both Russian and Chinese power, she could easily nudge the world into a global, and possibly nuclear, conflict in a number of sensitive locations. Just yesterday the Washington Post was commenting about the dangers posed by a Clinton presidency, as Putin (whose power itself is shaky given the growing crisis in the Russian economy) threatens to use Russian aggression in Syria and possibly the Baltic States to not only "test" a newly inaugurated Clinton, but to use conflict with the West as a classic bait and switch on his own population which, predictably, would rally around the "motherland."

But while we have to acknowledge that Hillary Clinton poses a threat to democracy and peace (more or less a continuation of the threat that both the Democrats and Republicans have been posing for generations now), Trump poses an equal, albeit different kind of threat. Now, putting aside his sheer instability as a person and a potential leader (an instability that has manifested itself countless times during the past year), Trump seems more likely to cozy up Putin, an act that manifests its own kinds of dangers. For one thing, Trump has displayed radical anti-democratic tendencies. His talk of not accepting election results, of jailing opponents, his consistent attacks on the media (and his talk of gagging the media if elected), as well as his generally xenophobic and nationalist rhetoric, are all demonstrations of his threat to democracy. And Trump admires Putin, in part, precisely because he is a so-called "strong-man" leader who rules with an iron fist. Because of his admiration of Putin and the current de facto dictatorship in Russia, Trump is the type of man who, instead of generation conflict with Russia on an international scale, would very likely collude with Putin in efforts to control and subjugate burgeoning democratic efforts globally and simply pair up in a global geopolitical and economic effort to dominate the globe.

While the Democrat-Republican dominance of the US was far too ready to support dictatorships around the world in support of US interests, they also supported certain democracies and democratic efforts where they constituted a bulwark against their perceived enemies. US lawmakers and diplomates often knew that in some areas if they went too far in their anti-democratic efforts they always stood in danger of pushing people too far the other way, potentially towards Bolshevism, for example. But in today's geopolitical atmosphere, American collusion with Russia in places like Syria, the Baltic States, and other political hotspots would leave many nations extremely vulnerable and with little room to maneuver against such a brutal alliance. In other words, as bad as the US policies have been in the past under the de facto Democrat-Republican alliance, it would be unrealistic not to understand that the competition between the US and countries like Russia and China also acted as a wedge issue for some people to promote more democracy.

I suspect that Trump, in a surprising epiphany, has simply realized that it would be easier for the US to promote its interests of economic and political domination by just coming straight out with it and colluding with Russian aggression. From the point of view of a man like Trump, someone with clearly evident dictatorial ambitions, such an alliance just makes sense. In the past, when Russia represented a different kind of domination to the Western Capitalist Hegemonic variety, conflict with the Soviet Union was, perhaps, inevitable. But today, when Trump clearly would like to run the US in much the same way that Putin runs Russia, a geopolitical alliance would make more sense, particularly for those interested in straightforward economic and political domination.

Thus, it seems to me that Clinton and Trump both pose threats to democracy and international peace. So, from one point of view, there is very little to choose between them. On the other hand, if you are, for example Kersti Kaljulaid (the centrist, nationalist president of Estonia), or an anti-Asad rebel in Syria, Trump surely poses a more eminent threat.

Either way, the globe is presently a tinder box of conflict and democracy is under serious threat almost everywhere you look. What will happen next is anyone's guess.

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Turning our Backs on Prime Ministers, the necessity of Protest. . . .

"When we revolt it's not for a particular culture. We simply revolt because, for many reasons, we can no longer breath." 

-Franz Fanon 

Years ago (so long ago that I can't even find the post anymore), I wrote about the democratic deficits of modern democracy. The argument went like this - though democracy in general, and capitalist democracy in particular, is supposed to function on certain principles of equality, it fails to live up to these because power inevitably infects the process in such a way that some people's rights are not properly appreciated, or more importantly governments becomes expressions of elite interests rather than an expression of some kind of generalized will. Democratic deficits are visibly more noticeable when governments and courts fail to live up to basic principles of equality before the law. For example, for generations Canada has failed utterly to adjudicate fairly on the rights of indigenous people. Instead of upholding the law, judges have expressed their own white privilege in the way that they have decided on land-claims, equality of funding, energy issues, etc. Similarly, for a long time, even after the Charter of Rights and freedoms was enshrined, Canadian courts and politicians failed to properly recognize rights of the LGBTQ community.

I wrote in my original post that where democratic deficits exist, I believe people have the moral right (and even obligation) to use supra-democratic strategies to make their cases heard. Perhaps the greatest example of this was the Suffragette movement. Women actively disobeyed the law in their struggle for the vote because they felt that this was the only way to make themselves heard. Men (and many women) criticized the suffragettes, saying that their antics demonstrated that they weren't fit to have the vote; that they were criminals, or idiotic, or childish. The problem is, of course, those with privilege don't usually suffer from the effects of democratic deficits so they are really in no position to judge how those who do should express their dissent. Today, the Black Lives Matter movement is in a similar position. It easy for privileged white people to say that these activist are overdoing it, are "going to far," are "trouble makers," etc. But when people are suffering from fundamental injustices, they necessarily decide for themselves the pattern of their dissent.

The kind of privilege that I am talking about doesn't only express itself in such extreme examples. As a white, well-educated, man I have access to the kind of "disinterested," rational argumentation that makes it relatively easy for me to express myself. I am part of a very long tradition of privileged white men who have access this kind of discourse. It would be easy for me to demand that other people conform to my standards of dissent and rebellion, but it isn't reasonable or revolutionary, rather it would be and expression of my privilege.

This is not to suggest that I have no "right" to comment on the strategies or actions of a dissenting or marginalized group. What it does mean is that I have to be extra sensitive to the challenges that such groups face and make sure that I don't simply condemn the actions of others because they don't fit my own notion (as a privileged white man) of what constitutes "acceptable" dissent. It is really easy, even for progressives, to fall into this kind of tacit privilege. The extreme left has been doing it for generations, particularly in the intellectual Marxist traditions.

When any group is fighting for a more socially, politically, and economically equal and just society, I try to put my privilege and biases aside as much as possible and let them define their path of dissent. Because I know that even the best democracies are deeply flawed and protest and dissent are a necessary part of progress.

Politicians, no matter how much they smile, or claim that they are in favour of dialogue, or pretend to sympathize with a marginalized or progressive group, still represent the establishment in many ways. Thus they cannot always be spared from loud, messy, sometimes gut-wrenching protest just because it might not, at this historical moment, seem "appropriate."

I, for one, will try to remember this over the next few years as I watch millennials in particular find sometimes outrageous ways to overcome the democratic deficits that seem to have become endemic in our society. Others seem to have already forgotten the lessons of history.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

So-called "Free Trade" and the Presidential Election. . .

Trade is one of the stranger political issues in recent years. For more than two decades now the left has been saying that the trade deals (even going back before the Uruguay Round of GATT negotiations), are not really "free-trade" deals at all, but are rather 'corporate rights' deals that are intended to strengthen the power of multinational corporations to set the economic agenda at national and international levels. There has always been plenty of evidence for this and the recent kerfuffle over CETA has demonstrated this remarkably well. These deals almost all contain clauses that strengthen the ability for foreign or multinational organizations to determine domestic economic and even social policy.

The main political parties in many Western nations have overwhelmingly supported these deals and done a great deal to hide the fact that these deals are not really concerned with open trade per se, but with the suppression of national governments' ability to institute policies that will protect their populations from outside forces. The Democrats and the Republicans in the US, for example, have always, with few exceptions, promoted these deals. Thus it comes as some surprise that a guy like Trump, who as far as I can tell never spoke against these deals until the past year or so (and has certainly taken advantage of these deals to increase his own wealth), is suddenly telling people that NAFTA and other such "trade deals" have been bad. (It is not, of course surprising that Bernie Sanders has spoken against such deals; he has been consistent on this issue throughout his career) It is predictable that much of the Republican establishment is upset by Trump's critique in this regard, given that the Republicans (even more than the Democrats) have promoted and benefited from these deals.

What is a little bit surprising is to see some Republican operatives (people who have supported so-called free trade for years or even decades) try to criticize Hillary Clinton for being in favour of them. Many Republicans have tried to use leaked speeches given by Clinton in which she talks of "open borders" as a strike against her, even though what she has actually said matches exactly what the Republicans have always said. The problem is, of course, that the phrase "open borders," a phrase that used to be associated specifically with the freer movement of goods and services, has now become associated with the movement of people. This is because of the way the rightwing in the US has been talking about the issue of undocumented workers and the perception among many Republicans that Democrats just want to fling open the borders with Mexico and let everyone stream across into the US. (Whether any Republicans actually believe that any Democrats sincerely want this, is somewhat irrelevant. What is important is that they have used the idea as a political tool) But when Ms. Clinton used the phrase "open borders" there is no reason to believe that she meant the free movement of people (in economic theory terms we can read the word "labour" here). Because with the exception of the European Union, no modern trade deal has ever included the free movement of people as individuals who are trading the commodity of their own labour power.  The kinds of deals that Clinton and the Republicans have supported for decades are never concerned with the most common and most traded commodity in the world: labour power.

Thus when Trump's various surrogates (particularly men like Newt Gingrich and Rudi Giuliani) criticize Clinton for 'secretly' wanting to open the borders to anyone in North and South American who wants to come the the US and work, they are knowingly misleading people, and being supremely hypocritical. They are fully aware that Clinton's agenda is the expansion of already existing "free-trade" deals that are concerned with a) reducing trade barriers, and b) (and more importantly) giving corporations and other nations the ability to suppress social and economic programs in other countries.  But even if Clinton were talking about a North/South American Union similar to the EU, where people were allowed to cross borders to work in different countries (and there is absolutely no reason to believe that she has ever promoted this), this would, in fact, be the logical outcome of any real notion of actual 'free-trade,' since to exclude the free movement of labour from a trade deal actually means to exclude the most important and commonly traded of all commodities.

Either way, if you look carefully, you can see Donald Trump's pant on fire.

Monday, October 24, 2016

What's a Progressive to do?

As much as I would like it to be otherwise, I really think that any optimism that the Liberal government would be significantly different from the Harper government on some of the most substantive issues, has turned out to be misplaced. I understand why a number of progressives are having a hard time letting go of their hope for Trudeau, but that hope is beginning to look increasingly naive. There is no doubt that Trudeau brought a different tone to government, and on foreign policy, though he has yet to face a significant test, he certainly seems like an improvement on Harper in a number of ways. However, on healthcare, energy and the environment, native issues (and this a particularly painful one to face), and on the neo-liberal trade approach, Trudeau is really so close to Harper that there is little to choose between them.

Here are some interesting stories concerning this difficult dilemma -

On the Economy - Thomas Walkom has some interesting observations.

On Progressive politics - Tom Parkin has this to say.

On the Precariate - Bill Morneau (who is married into one of the richest families in Canada) tells the rest of us we just need to suck it up.

On Native issues - Dene Moore reminds us that indigenous leaders are already giving Trudeau a failing grade. And you can hear Murray Sinclair saying that Trudeau is breeching the "Indian residential schools" settlement.

These are just the articles I found in a couple of minutes. Meanwhile, to see a startling example of how the Liberals are mimiking the Conservative's arrogance and total lack of concern for real people's lives, we only have to look at what Liberal MP Nick Whalen had to say.

I know a few progressives are desperately trying to give Trudeau and the Liberals the benefit of the doubt. But in my experience, governments veer further away from their promises as time goes on, not closer. I think it is little short of folly to imagine that Trudeau isn't another neo-liberal who, despite his smiles and selfies, is quickly making it clear that three years from now, working-people, indigenous people, and the environment will be little or no better off than they would have been under the Conservatives. (Granted, of course, that the Conservatives might have gotten considerably worse if they had actually won another election)

I am willing to give kudos to Trudeau for steering us away from the racist rhetoric that the Cons were, and still are, spew. On the issue of democratic reform, we will just have to wait and see.

Friday, October 14, 2016

Neo-Liberalism, Sexism, and the Presidential Dilemma....

I oppose Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton for some of the same reasons: I am a socialist and they are both part of the financial elite; they support the neo-liberal economic agenda; they have both supported radically pro-corporate trade policies (Trump acts as though he hasn't but he has for years), they both defend a capitalist, racist, imperialist nation that has, for generations supported dictators and undermined democracy and socialist efforts worldwide. I think these are pretty good reasons to resist the US and its politicians. You don't have to be that radical to say politics in the US is clown show with few alternatives from the capitalist agenda that has been helping to destroy the environment, suppressed democracy, and enshrined poverty in the very system itself.

But even as a socialist, you don't have to be wildly pragmatic to make an important distinction between Trump and Clinton. They both have records of corruption. But Trump's is much more dramatic than Clinton's, as John Oliver outlines here.

So while they are both corrupt, Trump is demonstrably more corrupt that Clinton. But Trump is also openly racist and promotes racism and conflict at the core of his political agenda. He is openly misogynist and has boasted about his sexual assault behaviour. Electing either Trump or Clinton as president will more or less continue the neo-liberal economic agenda, neither will do much for democracy, for poverty (at home or abroad), nor will they make the radical changes to environmental policy that are necessary. But as president, Trump will legitimize racism and misogyny through his beliefs and behavior. While they will both continue the same kinds of capitalist agendas, Trump threatens to open up a floodgate of violence and hate against women and racialized people. I think that even if you don't believe in the system, these factors make Trump demonstrably worse that Clinton. Some might say that the policies of both are a bit like someone rearranging the deck-chairs on the Titanic as it is sinking. That may be true, but that doesn't mean we should support the guy who is going to encourage people to beat the hell out of, and sexually assault each other as it goes down.

But there is another factor here that should be talked about. Clinton may have a dubious record concerning certain aspects of corruption during her time as a public figure, but if you compare that record to, say, the last Republican presidency, she's a paragon of purity. George W. Bush and Dick Cheney orchestrated illegal wars that killed hundreds of thousands of people. Tens of millions of dollars (if not billions) went totally unaccounted for as wads of cash were reportedly given out to terrorist group as bribes to stop them from undertaking violence. And Bush and Cheney benefited personally from all this through their oil interests, and through corporations such as Halliburton and Blackwater. To compare any contemporary US political corruption to what Bush and Cheney have been responsible for, de facto robs the very notion of corruption meaningless. If Trump supporters were interested in sending anyone to jail, they would never stop calling for the incarceration of Bush and Cheney, two men who destabilized the whole globe, made fortunes doing it, and, arguably, permanently undermined the status and legitimacy of the US as a democracy.

If, like me, you are a socialist with little or no faith in the political/economic system, it is understandable to be dubious about Clinton and Trump for the simple reason that they are both corrupt in various ways and they both represent the capitalist status quo. But if you believe in American capitalism and its supposed democracy, if you believe that, despite its blemishes, the US basically represents what is good in economics and human rights, then to portray Hillary Clinton as some kind of outlier of corruption is just hypocritical because as corruption and dubious behavior goes, she somewhere near the middle of the pack, and in my opinion she comes off much better than Trump.

I continue to believe that the angry, vociferous opposition to Clinton by many Americans is little more than simple sexism. She is not an atypical Democratic nominee in policy matters or in her dubious record. But she is atypical in her qualifications, in as much as she is unquestionably the most qualified candidate to run for president in living memory.

As most of us have heard many women defend Trump's predatory behavior over the past couple of weeks, it is easy to see just what a powerful thing sexism is.