Category: The Left

When it comes to domination—whether of race, class, or gender—there are no workarounds

Thomas Edsall says some frustrating, historically shortsighted things in this interview with Isaac Chotiner. After calling for the Democrats to be more moderate, to trim on issues that divide the country—the presumption being that moderation in one party breeds moderation in the other or that moderation in one party checks the extremism of the other (we’ll come back to that)—Edsall brings up the infamous Boston busing battle of the 1970s. This exchange ensues: Q: So what do you draw from the busing controversy then? What advice would you have given racial justice advocates in the 1970s? A: The goal of school integration was a crucial and important one. The mechanism to achieve it—of pitting working-class whites against working-class blacks—was not […]

Stokely Carmichael and Clarence Thomas

“This [the opposition to segregated schools] reinforces, among both black and white, the idea that ‘white’ is automatically superior and ‘black’ is by definition inferior.”   —Stokely Carmichael and Charles Hamilton, Black Power   “This position [against segregation in schools] appears to rest upon the idea that any school that is black is inferior, and that blacks cannot succeed without the benefit of the company of whites.”   —Clarence Thomas, Missouri v. Jenkins

Forty Years of The Firm: Trump and the Coasian Grotesque

In his classic article “The Nature of the Firm“—which I wish would be put on the list of required reading for political theorists; it really should be in our canon—the economist R.H. Coase divides the economic world into two modes of action: deal-making, which happens between firms, and giving orders, which happens within firms. Coase doesn’t say this, but it’s a plausible extrapolation that making deals and giving orders are, basically, the two things businessmen know how to do. In the last year, it’s occurred to me, on more than one occasion, that Trump is a Coasian grotesque. Making deals and giving orders: that’s all he knows how to do. Except that he doesn’t. As we’re seeing, he’s really bad […]

Kate Millett, 1934-2017

I just heard, via Lori Marso, the news that Kate Millett has died. I remember the very first time I read Sexual Politics. I’m embarrassed to say it was well into my teaching at Brooklyn College. It was for a course on counterrevolution, some time around 2005 or so, and we were doing a lengthy section on the right-wing backlash against the feminist movement. I was looking for a text that would state the strongest revolutionary argument for feminism, not just substantively but rhetorically. I wanted to give students a sense of the ferocity of the attack—intellectual, political, cultural—that feminism posed in its original incarnation. After reading around a bit, it was obvious that there was only one candidate: Sexual Politics. […]

The very thing that liberals think is imperiled by Trump will be the most potent source of his long-term power and effects

John Harwood has a good piece about Trump’s downward spiral of weakness: Increasingly, federal officials are deciding to simply ignore President Donald Trump. As stunning as that sounds, fresh evidence arrives every day of the government treating the man elected to lead it as someone talking mostly to himself. … “What is most remarkable is the extent to which his senior officials act as if Trump were not the chief executive,” Jack Goldsmith, a top Justice Department official under President George W. Bush, wrote last weekend on lawfareblog.com. “Never has a president been so regularly ignored or contradicted by his own officials,” Goldsmith added. “The president is a figurehead who barks out positions and desires, but his senior subordinates carry on […]

In America, who’s more likely to win an election: a scam artist or a war hero?

This campaign commercial for Amy McGrath, who is running for Congress in Kentucky, has got the Twitterati excited.   The campaign of McGrath seems in line with a decision, leaked last June, by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee to field candidates who had seen combat, along with “job creators” and “business owners.” The question is: does it work? In the last ten presidential elections, only one candidate who actually fought in a war has won: George HW Bush. All the rest either served their country by shooting flicks (Reagan) or manipulating family connections or deferments to avoid combat (Clinton, George W. Bush, Trump) or simply weren’t eligible for a draft (Obama). Meanwhile, enlistees, soldiers, and war heroes, Republican and Democrat alike, […]

The Bane of Bain

Back in 2012, Barack Obama made so much hay out of Mitt Romney’s connection to Bain Capital that a distraught Cory Booker was inspired to cry out, “Stop attacking private equity. Stop attacking Jeremiah Wright.” Booker called Obama’s attacks “nauseating” and “ridiculous,” which earned him a supportive tweet from John McCain. Fast-forward to 2017. The Obama people are now pushing hard for Deval Patrick, the former two-term governor of Massachusetts, to run for the Democratic nomination in 2020. Guess what Patrick has been doing since he left the governor’s mansion? Working at Bain Capital. It’s something. The combined forces of Wall Street and the Hamptons—sorry, Clinton and Obama—are pushing hard, variously, for Joe Biden (who’s making strong noises that he’ll be […]

Chelsea and Me: On the politics—or non-politics or pseudo-politics—of engaging a power player on Twitter

Let me preface this post with a disclaimer: I’m probably as embarrassed as you are—in fact, more embarrassed, I’m sure—that I’ve devoted as much thought to this tempest in a teacup as I have. But having poured this much thought into this little tea, I feel that I should share, lest my cup spilleth over. So here goes. I’m finding the pushback—at this blog, on Twitter, and across Facebook—about my exchange with Chelsea Clinton super interesting. One of the leitmotifs of the pushback is that it’s somehow unfair of me to engage Clinton about Arendt. Now that it was an act of almost spectral comedy, if not lunacy, to so engage, I’ll freely admit. Which is mostly why I posted the whole […]

The Democrats: A party that wants to die but can’t pull the plug

Yesterday, I noted my exasperation, in the face of the economic desperation of the younger generation, with the Clintonites in the Democratic Party. Young men and women are drowning in massive debt, high rent, low pay, and precarious jobs, and what do the Democrats have to offer them? In today’s Times, Chuck Schumer, the highest elected official in the Democratic Party, gave an answer: Right now millions of unemployed or underemployed people, particularly those without a college degree, could be brought back into the labor force or retrained to secure full-time, higher-paying work. We propose giving employers, particularly small businesses, a large tax credit to train workers for unfilled jobs. This will have particular resonance in smaller cities and rural areas, […]

We have the opportunity for a realignment. We don’t have a party to do it. Yet.

One of the interesting things about the great realignment elections—1860, 1932, 1980—is that the presidents who win them (Lincoln, FDR, Reagan) never run simply against the losing candidate. Nor do they run simply against the party of that candidate. They run against a decades-long regime, which is never simply a party or political regime, but always, also, a social regime. Lincoln ran against the slaveocracy, who had nested in the Democratic Party. FDR ran against the economic royalists, who had found their protectors and agents in the Republican Party. Reagan ran against a complex of “special interests” (civil rights organizations, unions, feminist groups, poverty programs) that had captured the Democratic Party. In repudiating Carter, Hoover, Breckinridge/Douglas—and the Democrats of 1980, […]

The Jewish Question has always been, for me, a European question

Jean-Luc Mélenchon, the French leftist leader who I was hoping would beat Macron in the last election, really sullies himself with this comment about French collaboration with the Holocaust. Responding to Macron’s speech in which Macron said France needed to take responsibility for its role in the roundup and extermination of the Jews (for decades, a touchy subject in France), Mélenchon resorts to the worst nationalist tropes to defend the honor of the French nation. Never, at any moment, did the French choose murder and anti-Semitic criminality. Those who were not Jewish were not all, and as French people, guilty of the crime that was carried out at the time! On the contrary, through its resistance, its fight against the [German] invader and through the […]

Trump: The Profit Unarmed

In the wake of the collapse yesterday of the Republicans’ effort to repeal Obamacare—let’s hope this really is the endgame of that effort—it’s time to re-up, first, this piece I did for the Times, just after the House Republicans’ effort to repeal Obamacare collapsed; and, second, this piece I did for n+1, arguing that Trump’s would be a spectacularly weak and ineffective presidency, along the lines of Jimmy Carter’s. It goes without saying that it’s too early to celebrate, and now that McConnell has declared his intention to pass a simple repeal (rather than repeal and replace), we need to stay on the phones. But there is some reason to think, as Brian Beutler argued yesterday, that even though the House GOP came back […]

On China Miéville’s October: An Arendtian History of the Russian Revolution

I just finished October, China Miéville’s turbo-charged account of the Russian Revolution. Think Ten Days That Shook the World, but in months: from February through October 1917. With each chapter narrating the events of each month. Just some quick thoughts here on what has been one of the most exhilarating reading experiences of my recent past. 1. I don’t think I’ve ever read such an Arendtian account of revolution as this. I have no idea if Miéville has read Arendt or if he counts her as an influence. But if you want a purely political account of revolution, this is it. There are workers, there are peasants, there are soldiers, there are parties, there are tsars, there are courtiers. Each of them bears his […]

One Bernie With One Stone

There really is something rotten about the discussion of abortion and the Democratic Party. In a Washington Post oped, the leader of a reproductive rights coalition calls out Democrats who would sideline abortion rights in the effort to build a big tent. Oddly, the author doesn’t cite or link to statements by Nancy Pelosi, the highest-ranking elected official in the Democratic Party, who, within the last several weeks, came out against making abortion a litmus test not once, but twice. Not does the author cite or link to the statement by Tom Perez, the official head of the Democratic Party, chosen by the members of the Democratic National Committee, who supported Mello for the sake of electing Democrats, even if […]

What we talk about when we talk about Susan Sarandon

Susan Sarandon says Trump’s election may help the revolution. Liberals scream, “IRRESPONSIBLE!” The Democrats say that Trumpcare’s victory in the House will help the Democrats in 2018. Liberals say, “Strategy.” Bernie Sanders says abortion shouldn’t be a litmus test. Liberals cry, “SOCIALIST CLASSBRO HATES WOMEN!” Nancy Pelosi says—twice, second time even more strongly—abortion shouldn’t be a litmus test. Liberals say…almost nothing at all. It’s almost as if we’re not really having an honest conversation about our disagreements.

On liberals, the left, and free speech: Something has changed, and it’s not what you think it is

When I was in college and in graduate school (so the 1980s and 1990s), the dividing line on free speech debates was, for the most part, a pretty conventional liberal/left divide. (I’m excluding the right.) That is, self-defined liberals tended to be absolutists on free speech. Self-defined leftists—from radical feminists to radical democrats to critical race theorists to Marxists—tended to be more critical of the idea of free speech. What’s interesting about the contemporary moment, which I don’t think anyone’s really remarked upon, is that that clean divide has gotten blurry. There were always exceptions to that divide, I know: back in the 1980s and 1990s, some radical feminists were critical of the anti-free speech position within feminism; some liberals, like Cass […]

Events, dear boy, events

Events, dear boy, events. That’s what Harold Macmillan is supposed to have said when he was asked what it was that a prime minister most feared. Like most of these famous statements, Macmillan probably never said it. But these days, events are, for me, something, on the whole, that I welcome rather than fear. Our political conversations are so stuck, with people rehearsing the same lines of the same arguments; it doesn’t matter how bitter those arguments are, the familiarity of the lines are a comfort. It’s like a church hymnal. But then something comes along—an Occupy, a Black Lives Matter, a Sanders, a BDS, and long before that, a Seattle—that no one who was not involved in the planning […]

Have You Never Been Mello? On Bernie and Abortion in Omaha

I think Sanders’ defense on NPR of supporting candidates who are anti-abortion is completely wrongheaded. The bottom line commitment of the left is to freedom, to emancipation from all manner of domination, and reproductive freedom is a critical part of that program of emancipation. I simply don’t see how the state or a parent or a husband or a boyfriend or anyone can force a woman to carry a fetus to term and bear a child against her will. I don’t think the left should compromise on that. At all. (Though the left makes all manner of ugly compromises all the time, so it would be a big mistake to cast this entire discussion as strictly about political morality. Like […]

Trump’s Budget and the Fiscal Crisis of the State: Something’s Gotta Give

The Washington Post has a good article this morning on the response on Capitol Hill to Trump’s budget. The big news is that the biggest opposition to Trump’s budget is coming from—it’s almost getting predictable, at this point—not the Democrats but the Republicans. Some of President Trump’s best friends in Congress sharply criticized his first budget Thursday, with defense hawks saying the proposed hike in Pentagon spending wasn’t big enough, while rural conservatives and others attacked plans to cut a wide range of federal agencies and programs. The bad mood among Republican critics was tempered by a consensus that the president’s budget wasn’t going very far on Capitol Hill, where lawmakers reminded everybody that they ultimately control the nation’s purse strings. “While […]

At this year’s seder, don’t turn Trump into Pharaoh: treat him as a plague

Today is Purim, and so we begin the spring cycle of Jewish holidays that will culminate in Shavuos (the subject of my favorite line in all of Martin Scorsese’s films, but I digress). Naturally, I’m thinking about Passover, which we’ll be celebrating in about a month, and the meaning of the Passover story this year. At progressive and liberal seders in the US this year, there’ll be a tendency to interpret the story through the current political moment. How could there not be? Immigrants will be cast as the ancient Hebrews; Trump as Pharaoh. And just as Pharaoh is depicted in the story as a sudden appearance out of the blue—remember, for years, things had been good for the Hebrews, and then a […]