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Saturday, February 17, 2018

Sam Webb: Mass killings, Trump, and some loose ends

Mass killings, Trump, and some loose ends

Sam Webb

1. I find it hard not to despair at moments like this, but I also can't help but feel anger at the Republican Party and the NRA that over and over have prevented any, even the most mild, measures to institute gun control and other steps that will cut down on this senseless slaughter of children, teachers, and other innocent people. What they offer in the wake of yesterday's mass shooting, instead, is what they have offered on earlier occasions when gun violence stole away the lives of innocent people — their prayers and perhaps a conversation at a later date. That's it.

When nothing happened after Sandy Hook, I concluded that gun control legislation was dead-on-arrival as long as this retrograde gang is in control of Congress. And with Trump in the White House, the obstacles only become bigger. The craven dependency of both to the NRA and their own retrograde politics are an effective barrier to any solutions, including common sense gun laws, to the reoccurring cycle of mass killings. And this will continue to be the case until we elect a Congress that is committed to meaningful steps to address this national crisis. This fall we have that opportunity. Let's seize it by electing a Democratic Party majority in both chambers of Congress.

2. With the election of Ronald Reagan in 1980, the extreme right began its ascendancy in the Republican Party and became a wrecking ball in U.S. politics. Too many on the left, however, awash in the contemporary language of neoliberalism and influenced to a degree by sectarian notions from the sixties, didn't get this. It didn't register on their radar screen. What did was a critique that saw the two parties as nothing more than "two peas in a pod." And whatever differences existed between them were not worth noting.

This analytical-strategic blind spot turned this grouping of the left into passive observers of one election cycle after another. Meanwhile, right wing extremists were of a different mind. They planted themselves squarely on the terrain of "bourgeois" politics and its electoral cycles. For them it was anything but a spectacle. Indeed, they seized this terrain and catapulted themselves from the edges of power into its main corridors. In so doing, they shifted the balance of power in Washington and nationally in favor of the most reactionary class and social forces in the country.

This new constellation of anti-democratic power should have been obvious to any observer of politics long ago. But for some on the left, it was only with the election of Trump — an authoritarian president, enjoying the near uncritical support the Republican Party — that some melting away of these flawed positions began.

To what extent? Well, the elections this fall, in which the overriding challenge is to elect a Democratic Party majority in the Senate and House, will provide a pretty good answer to that question. Let's hope the melt is extensive. We need every hand on deck if we hope to turn the possibility of a Democratic wave election into a reality.

3. Perhaps it is obvious, but the outcome of the elections in November won't be decided in cities like Berkeley or Cambridge or San Francisco or Los Angeles or New York. It will be decided elsewhere – in states like Michigan, Indiana, Wisconsin, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Illinois as well as congressional districts that are purple or red and have to be flipped if the Democrats are to become a majority in both chambers of Congress.

In other words, Democrats have to score big in states and congressional races in which the politics aren't as liberal, the demographics not as favorable, and the districts gerrymandered to favor Republicans. In normal times, that might be a insurmountable hurdle. But these times are anything but normal. So much so that the structural advantages that the Republicans enjoy going into the fall elections could dissipate in the face of an unpopular authoritarian president, a Democratic Party intent on making major electoral gains, and the surging energy of women and a larger opposition that resists narrow boundaries.

4. I hear said that Trump embraces and practices the politics of victimization and resentment. No quarrel here. But it would also mention in the same breath two other things: First, these same politics have animated the right for decades ago. Indeed, they have been the grease that catapulted it to positions of power in Washington and in a majority of state capitals.

At the same time, it would be a mistake to see Trump as simply a continuation of these politics. His sense of victimhood and resentment are unapologetic, unconcealed, and unconstrained. Moreover, he speaks for a mass political constituency that viscerally shares his sense of resentment and victimization. Not least, the logic of his politics, evident in his nearly daily lacerations to the fabric of our democracy, could lead, if not challenged, to authoritarian rule – that is a qualitative break from the historically constituted norms, values, and practices of democracy and democratic governance of our country.

Luckily, the elections this fall give the American people an opportunity to rollback his assault, coauthored with his Republican counterparts in Congress.

The other thing I would say is that the politics of resentment and victimization (and I would add the politics of nostalgia) are inseparable from the animus of racism, misogyny, and nativism. It's in their pairing with these particular forms of inequality and oppression that these politics gain their visceral power and tenaciousness, especially among white males.

5. It is said that the fish rots from the head. Well, that is the case in the White House. And last weekend we got another example of this when Trump made no mention the two ex-wives of Rob Proctor who were the victims of sexual violence. At the same time, there are no innocents running around the White House. Whether everyone knew of Porter's history of sexual violence early on is debatable. But it is preposterous to think that the main principals, including Trump, didn't. Moreover, the footprints of most of the staff are evident in the subsequent coverup and attempts to discredit Porter's ex-wives.

At some level, one has to wonder if their thinking is that Porter's ex-wives got what they deserved. After all, Porter is a "man of great integrity."

6. The unified Korean delegation marching into the stadium for the opening of the Olympics was an impressive. and hopeful sight. We can only hope that it leads to further steps to ease tensions on the peninsula and in the region. Of course, little help can be expected from the Trump White House. And if you wanted some evidence, albeit symbolic, of its posture toward the thawing of relations, it was on display when Pence sat stone faced and with his hands at his side as the Koreans walked in as one.

7. It strikes me that to reduce the Mueller investigation and the heated controversy around the FBI to simply an intra-class conflict in which each side is pursuing some narrow class interests and nothing more is shortsighted, notwithstanding being dressed up in the gown of Marxism or Marxism-Leninism, albeit a dogmatic one. Usually, attempts to stuff reality, which is always contradictory, complicated, and novel, into such rigid schemes yield little analytical fruit. It misses more than it captures, and thus can easily mislead politically. The purpose of theorizing is to give us an approach or entry points to understanding reality, not to substitute for or simplify it.

8. Watching the event below hosted by the Obama White House is uplifting, but also very bittersweet, knowing that in the White House today sits someone who is so morally, politically, socially, and culturally retrograde and irredeemable.

John Case
Harpers Ferry, WV

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