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Trump and the Road Ahead: There’s Nothing in the Middle of the Road but Yellow Stripes and Dead Armadillos

November 11, 2016
trump-protestors-boston

Youth (mostly) take the streets in Boston in response to the election of Donald Trump. Similar spontaneous demonstrations have occurred these past two days all over the country, including Denver.

1.

I decided I’m going to write about this election and what the future holds in store over the next few weeks and months. We are entering a new, a darker period in the history of country, and given then United States’ leading (if declining) role internationally, and in the world. In part I want to analyze what happened, how it was that Donald Trump, one of the sleaziest products of human evolution, could emerge as the victor in the presidential contest and as such, hold the levers of power in his hands.

I will make a few comments on the election results, although others have done so quite well, well enough so that a few general commentaries should suffice. More importantly I want to share my thoughts on what bodes ahead for the country and the world and what, in my opinion, can be done to limit the damage about to be inflicted upon us. It helps to strip away all illusions; this might sound depressing to some, but it really isn’t. It is only by knowing, understanding the world as it is, that we can change it, make it a better, more peaceful, fairer, more environmentally secure, creative and democratic place.

This entry is by way of an introduction to what I intend to write about. I’ve held off on saying that much – other than a long interview on KGNU (the transcript of which is on-line) commenting on the bipartisan nature of U.S. Middle East foreign policy. Besides, over the course of this past presidential election campaign, others have essentially said what I was thinking and far more eloquently that I could. No need to add unnecessarily to the ton of verbiage that was being churned out.

But now I have decided to write some.

I will do so regularly with an effort to look at both the political and social realities that are taking shape with my ideas on how to proceed keeping in mind strategies and tactics to insure and defend the common good.

  • I do so because in the country and the world, we are heading into a period of international instability and of domestic reaction. Actually, we’ve been there for some time now, Trump’s election just verifies trends that have been emerging for decades but now are upon us full force. We’ve been moving in this direction for some time, from what I can tell for more than 45 years, sometimes slowly, sometimes, as under the Reagan and George W. Bush presidencies more quickly. Now it appears we are lurching head on into the darkness at greater speed. As the late song writer, Malvina Reynolds once sung, “You think you’ve hit bottom…well there’s a bottom below.”
  • I do so for my family, for my former students and for friends and acquaintances that, for better or worse, trust and respect my judgement and want to know what I am thinking and doing right now. I do so – believe it or not – modestly. Some people write best using a cutting, sarcastic tone. I can do that, and often have. But my goal in these next few months – as we all prepare for the long haul of a Trump presidency – is different: to do so in a controlled, calm manner. There are bickering elements of our social and political world, potential allies that are now at odds – liberals and leftists, ethnic enclaves. Can we come together as the 280 tribes of native peoples have, along with their environmental allies, to forge common cause? In the end, as a longtime friend told me decades ago, good politics is little more than controlled rage. Without the rage – rage at exploitation, injustice, racism, war – politics lacks a soul. Without control, focus, however, meaning serious analysis, planning, ideological work, broad-based social movements and cooperation (otherwise known as solidarity) based on a program, politics becomes cynical and counter-productive.
  • I want to add here – it really is no secret – although I tend not to flaunt it – is that as I write these reflections, I do so as a life long Marxist and socialist. I will remain such until my dying day. There are certain elements of Marxism that are, simply put, an integral and permanent part of my being.  They are not going to change. What are they briefly? The Marxist critique of capitalism is at the center of my thinking, and has been for the past half century. It has helped me immeasurably to understand the world in which we live through the decades. It is a way of looking at and interpreting the world and it has helped me understand the world, make a commitment to contributing to the common good and has provided me with what is left of my hopes for the future. Over the years, in which life itself has humbled and chastened me, my views of what it means to be a Marxist has evolved – throw out all that hooey about vanguard parties, “leading the masses” – in the trash heap. Jose Marti, before he died fighting Spanish colonialism in Cuba (to be replaced by an American variety) spoke in that stunning song “Guantanamera” about “casting his fate with poor and oppressed of this world.” That expression still resonates with me. It suits me.  I’m not trying to be someone else that I am not…but “I cast my fate with” others, not to “lead” them, but to share their struggles and ultimately their fate. They are my allies in the struggle for preserving life on earth by reversing climate change and for “a better world”and I am theirs. Mine is a voluntary commitment in the sense that I have had life choices that others really don’t have. Working class people, people of color have good reason to be suspect of those of us born of privilege, be it economically, racially or both. Building trust, takes time. On the other hand, it is of no use to try to be something you are not. Just doesn’t work and it helps to understand one’s situation, one’s background without illusions, to be at peace with who we are. It gives one strength, perspective, and although I would not overstate it, a sense of calm, despite the storm around us.

2.

To the degree that I could, I tried to stay away from the polarizing Clinton-Sanders-Jill Stein debates having a sense that after the election liberals and leftists would need to come together to limit the damage of whomever the future president might be. Of course we had our views. Nancy and I both worked for and supported Bernie Sanders and did so enthusiastically. Once he was knocked out of the running by Clinton supporters and DNC shenanigans, we weren’t sure how to proceed, having little sympathy for the “Clinton heritage” both on domestic and foreign policy, worried about the results of a Trump victory about which we had no illusions, not sure if voting for Jill Stein was worth the effort. In that way we were like hundreds of thousands, if not millions of people in the country torn between voting our values or “being practical” (as one Clinton supporter put it). In the end, once Sanders was knocked out of the running, and there was little expectations it would end otherwise, it turns out, there was no “right choice” “correct line” from where I am sitting. You could support the sinking ship that was the Clinton brand of corporate liberalism or vote Green. It’s hard to say which choice was more futile.

I don’t really look for political guidance from anyone, and haven’t for decades, but there are a number of thinkers out there whose opinions I value and with whom I like to check in with, just to see where they are coming from. More often than not I agree with them, although it is more as a kind of reality check than waiting for their commentaries for direction. Other than John Belushi and Dan Aykrod in “The Blues Brothers” I have no heroes. But it should come as no surprise to those who know Nancy and me that when Noam Chomsky or Angela Davis speak, we listen. There are others – Stephen Zunes (might be less known, but quite an interesting thinker, especially on Middle East issue), Rabbi Michael Lerner, Michael Moore, Cornell West – and several close friends here in Colorado with whom we have shared in so many political struggles and social movements over the years. All of them emphasized what has come to pass: the dangers of a Trump presidency far outweighed our distaste for Hillary Clinton, about whom we had few allusions. The near consensus approach of all of these were, despite enthusiasm for Bernie Sanders, that the best way forward to result in the least damage was to “hold our nose and vote for Hillary.”

The dilemma of whether to vote for Hillary, a conservative Democrat (and on foreign policy, a downright hawk) or for the Green Party candidate, Jill Stein is not particularly new. It boiled down to either supporting someone who has good (from our viewpoint) politics on the one hand, but a very narrow social base on the other, or voting for the one who had a significant social base (labor, people of color, women, the environmental and peace movements), but pretty lousy politics. We’ve had pretty much the same, or similar, choices for the past twenty years, maybe more. What made this election different was the shrill, fascist-like Trump rhetoric. Could he be worse than George W. Bush? Than Reagan? Anyhow those were the choices, or as some people like the say…the cards we were dealt. How to play them, ah, that was another question.

Like so many others, in retrospect, I didn’t see Trump coming and was surprised that he is about to become our 45th president. During the campaign, I did comment, as others have, that a country that could elect Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush, could  descend to the still more unfathomable depths of Donald Trump. It was possible, but unlikely. Of course in retrospect the hints were there. I cite three:

  • On two trips this summer (June, August) to Nebraska, Kansas and Kansas City, Missouri I spoke at length with a number of Trump supporters. Actually, I started seeing large pro-Trump billboards twenty miles outside of Denver on I-76 that continued all the way to the Missouri River. Trump country. But I failed to appreciate the strength of that movement. I know that I am not alone in underestimating Trump’s support – it was a national trend – only that I saw the signs but failed to interpret them. That is a pretty serious self criticism from where I am sitting – not to be able to discern the main trend. Although conservative, none were what would call KKK types; they spoke instead of their fear of what the trade deal in the making, the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) would do to working people and farmers and how Hillary Clinton was unacceptable to them. I argued that I didn’t like Hillary much (and at the time hadn’t made up my mind if I’d vote for her or Green Party candidate Jill Stein), but that a Trump presidency would be far worse. For them Trump was the lesser of the two evils (although several of them said they wished he’d stop spouting off and that he was his own worst enemy.)
  • I have a friend, Jim Walsh, a history teacher at the University of Colorado – Denver, UCD as we call it, and the moving spirit of the Romero Theater Troupe. Often in the summers, he bicycles from Denver to Pittsburg and back – quite a hike. There are different ways one can go – either through Nebraska and Iowa or through Kansas and Missouri before entering Illinois, Iowa and Ohio to arrive in western Pennsylvania, but all of them are through “Trump Country.” We talked briefly about our trips through the Midwest. He noted how strong was the support for Donald Trump pretty much everywhere. The conversation gave me pause to wonder, but still I didn’t put it all together
  • Perhaps there are others, but among those commentators that I read, the only one that I recall really nailing the Trump Campaign, predicting that Trump and not Hillary Clinton would win the presidential contest was film maker and political commentator Michael Moore. Moore has repeatedly called for a rebellion within the Democratic Party, for the progressive base to seize the reigns of power from the corporate and Wall Street types (the Clinton faction). For this he has been, to my mind, unfairly savaged by certain elements of the Left here. Yes, there is always a bit too much Michael in Moore’s documentaries, the man’s ego matches his body weight, but he remains a perceptive, generous spirit and his films remain among the best documentaries of life in the United States and the criticisms of him mostly cheap, cruel, factional shots. Michael Moore warned the nation and the world but very few of us took his warnings seriously enough. It was not Moore however, who was out of touch, but the rest of us.

As I write this, anti-Trump demonstrations have flared up all over the country, including in Denver, spearheaded by the country’s youth if the photos I have looked at are any indication. At the same time, the KKK has announced it will take its sheets and hoods out of the closet, go public and celebrate the Trump victory in North Carolina. Gays are being beaten, swastikas are appearing, Moslem women accosted in the two days since Trumps triumph. The nation is polarized, with the center collapsing, reminding me of the title of a Jim Hightower book “There’s Nothing in the Middle of the Road but Yellow Strikes and Dead Armadillos.”

More to follow.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. November 11, 2016 6:06 am

    Write on Rob! I’m back in Leo’s living room with you.

  2. November 11, 2016 7:27 am

    Thanks brother. I look forward to what you have to say. In times of crisis, we on the left are often our own worst enemies, arguing more and producing less. Already plenty of evidence that we will consume another unhealthy dose. We just can’t accommodate the same drill this time. Cutting to the chase, finding a way to agree on a course, and putting it into action is at a premium now that the Trumpcoats are coming, carrying painful damage with them that has already been unleashed.

  3. Ilyess Ksouri permalink
    November 14, 2016 3:21 pm

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