Tag: Trump

Why, when it comes to the Right, do we ignore events, contingency, and high politics?: What Arno Mayer Taught Me

One of the many reasons I resist the Trump-as-fascist argument is that it often leads to (or accompanies) an inattention to or eclipse of matters of high politics and elite action: the jockeying for position at the highest levels of state, the coalitions and fractures within the dominant regime, the day-to-day events in which policy gets formed and unformed. There’s no intrinsic reason that an invocation of fascism should require that inattention; the best historical studies of fascism don’t ignore these questions at all. In the American context, however, the invocation of that parallel—whether to McCarthyism or now to Trump—often does. The reason for that, I suspect, is that most people tend to think of fascism as primarily a form of mass politics, that […]

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 […]

What Michael Rogin means to me, particularly in the Age of Trump: Traditional politics matters!

A Facebook post by Lisa Duggan reminds me of the power of Michael Rogin’s book The Intellectuals and McCarthy. Though it’s less famous and influential than Rogin’s later book Ronald Reagan, The Movie, The Intellectuals and McCarthy was a formative text in my own development. It came at a critical moment in my thinking—either the year before I went to graduate school or in my first year of graduate school—and permanently left its mark. In his book on McCarthy, Rogin took aim at historians like Richard Hofstadter and social theorists like Daniel Bell who had argued that McCarthyism was essentially a form of irrational mass politics, a midcentury American populism that, though right-wing, was the inheritor of left-wing movements like the Populists or Young Bob LaFollette’s movement in the 1920s […]

The real parallel between Hitler and Trump

I’ve been reading David Cay Johnston’s excellent book The Making of Donald Trump. And without mentioning or even alluding to Hitler or fascism, the book raises an interesting—if unexpected—parallel about Trump’s and Hitler’s rise to power. One of the themes in a lot of the historical scholarship about Germany in the 1920s and 1930s is how Hitler and the Nazis were able to take advantage of the systemic weaknesses of Weimar: the cracks in the political structure, the division among elites, the fissures in the parties, the holes in the Constitution, and so on. What Johnston narrates, in almost nauseating detail, is how Trump’s ascension to wealth and fame and power—long before he makes his 2016 run for the presidency—is dependent […]

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 […]

Political Criticism in the Age of Trump: A How-To, or A How-Not-To

At some point in the coming weeks, I’d like to write an essay, a brief essay, on political criticism in the Age of Trump—a how-to, or a rules-of-the-road, for the way we ought to be doing analysis right now. One of the counters I often get to the various claims I make about the weaknesses or vulnerabilities or incoherences of the Trump regime—or when I point out policy moments when I think those weaknesses, vulnerabilities, or incoherences are being expressed—is this: Well, even if Trump pulls back from position x or even if he does action y (where y is not as a bad as z), he’s still awful, he’s only doing it to save his ass, he’s not giving […]

Stop freaking out about Pence

I really wish people would stop with the “if Trump steps down or is impeached, Pence takes over, and that’ll be really bad because he’s not just super right-wing in a consistent and serious way, but he’s also super effective and politically potent and powerful” line.   First of all, we have zero—as in no—evidence that Pence is a super effective political player. Long before Dick Cheney was in the Bush White House, he had demonstrated his political savvy and skills, on multiple occasions and in multiple institutions and venues. Not so, Pence.   Second, it makes no sense to think Pence is super effective and powerful, on the one hand, yet has simply suffered the unfortunate happenstance of being […]

3 Ways Forward For Trump

Looking beyond Flynn, it seems like there are three ways forward. First, status quo: we have four years of this stand-still, in which a dysfunctional presidency keeps the entire nation in a permanent state of high drama and anxious alert, punctuated by the occasional act of brutality without a lot getting done. Second, someone takes charge: either a James Baker-type fixer is brought in to stabilize the White House and regularize its operations so that Trump has the semblance if not reality of a functional presidency OR the Republican leadership steps in and figures out a way to sideline Trump either through resignation or impeachment. Third, war. I don’t see any other options. Am I missing anything?

Beauty and the Beast: Donald Trump as the Interior Decorator in Chief

Given the latest news about these immigrant raids, this post will seem out of touch, tonally off. I apologize in advance, though I wonder if there’s a connection. Like all of you, I’ve been thinking a lot about Trump. His The Art of the Deal has been sitting with me, in my head, for the last several weeks. The book’s salient theme, the thing that marks Trump most, is not, as many people have noted, that he’s any kind of great capitalist or builder of buildings. Nor is it that he’s any kind of great dealmaker. When you read about his deals, you feel as if he is as bored as you are, though, God, can he drone on about the details. […]

Trump: 0. Democrats: 0. The People: 1.

1. Donald Trump was handed a major defeat tonight when the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals refused to reinstate his travel ban. The three-judge panel, which included a George W. Bush appointee, unanimously rejected one of Trump’s key arguments: that when it comes to immigration and national security, the actions of the executive branch are not subject to judicial review. Although our jurisprudence has long counseled deference to the political branches on matters of immigration and national security, neither the Supreme Court nor our court has ever held that courts lack the authority to review executive action in those arenas for compliance with the Constitution. To the contrary, the Supreme Court has repeatedly and explicitly rejected the notion that the political […]

If you’re willing to support a boycott of US academic conferences over Trump’s ban, why not BDS?

Over 6,000 academics across the world have announced that they will boycott any academic conference held in the US until Trump’s travel ban—on refugees, and on men and women from seven Muslim-majority countries—is lifted. This has drawn widespread and mostly positive attention in the media. Even the more critical responses have been self-questioning and exploratory rather than hostile and negative. This is all to the good and as it should be. It should also answer what I always found to be one of the stranger critique of BDS: namely, people ask me and other supporters of BDS, if you think Israel is so bad, why don’t you support a boycott of the US? As if proponents of BDS like myself would suddenly, in the face of an academic boycott of […]

Trump was the best the Republican Party could do

There’s lots of news out today suggesting that Trump’s antics and histrionics may be jeopardizing one of the GOP’s top aims: repeal of Obamacare. The Republicans, who originally spoke of repeal, then shifted to repeal and replace, are now taking about “repair.” It’s unclear what that will mean in terms of concrete policies, but it’s very clear that enough of the leadership believes it is losing the political battle over Obamacare such that it now has to describe what it is doing in vastly different terms. Terms not unlike those used by Hillary Clinton during the 2016 campaign. Listen to Paul Ryan as he twists himself into a pretzel: “So what kind of got going on here is, I’ve got a confluence of […]

The American Terrible

Someone recently asked me: if you don’t think Trump is a fascist, what do you think is going to happen? I answered her as truthfully as I could: I don’t know. The fact is: none of us knows. Not even, I suspect, Trump or Steve Bannon. In the course of several argumens and conversations over the last few days—about Trump, what he’s up to, and so on—I’ve sometimes found myself, against my better judgment, drifting into predictions. I start out trying to think about what this current moment means, and I wind up making claims about where we’re going. That’s not a place I want to be. Not simply because my prediction about the election was so completely wrong, not simply because I’m […]

If Trump is a fascist, he may be the most backassward fascist we’ve ever seen

1. Rousseau thought that in a real democracy, each person would be so concerned with the fate of the republic that at any sign of a problem, she’d “fly to the assemblies” to make things right. Tonight she flew to the airports. 2. It is absolutely too soon to predict anything at all, but Trump’s executive order regarding immigrants and refugees has generated so much protest and pushback that it has already generated cracks in the Republican Party. Trump’s people are not as all-powerful and invulnerable as they seem. Quite the contrary. Remember: Donald Trump wasn’t just rejected by the majority of this country. He was also rejected in the primaries by the majority of his party: 55.1% of the Republican electorate voted […]

January Journal

As some of you know, more and more of my commentary now appears on Facebook rather than on this blog. If you’re not averse to joining Facebook, you can catch it there; I encourage you to do so, as the conversations can be quite lively and good, involving lots of different folks. I’m maxed out on friends, but you can follow me. But since a lot of readers don’t want to join Facebook, I’m going to try to make it a regular feature—monthly or semi-monthly—to catch you up to speed on what I’ve been saying there. I’m going to collect various Facebook posts and post them here as a kind of regular journal or diary. Some will be out of date […]

Rally today against Trump’s Plan for Refugees and Muslims

I’m pulling my daughter Carol out of Hebrew School today so that we can attend this rally, at 5 pm in Washington Square Park, against Trump’s pending declaration that most refugees will no longer be given refuge here and travelers from seven predominantly Muslim countries will no longer be welcome here. This is my obligation as a citizen and, even more important, as a Jew. A writer once wrote: Four hundred years of bondage in Egypt, rendered as metaphoric memory, can be spoken in a moment; in a single sentence. What this sentence is, we know; we have built every idea of moral civilization on it. It is a sentence that conceivably sums up at the start every revelation that came […]

Trump’s Inaugural Address versus Reagan’s Inaugural Address

Trump’s Inaugural Address offers an interesting counterpoint to Reagan’s First Inaugural. First, Trump includes an opening thanks not only to all the presidents and worthies assembled (Carter, Clinton, Obama, and Bush) and to all Americans, as did Reagan, but he also thanks “the people of the world.” Obama, like Reagan, didn’t do anything like that in his First Inaugural. Is this a first? Second, and more important, Reagan’s sense of the political enemy was specific and ideological: it was liberalism. Reagan identified a litany of the problems that were ailing America and the targets he had his eye on: the tax system, deficit spending, big government (which he specified as the federal government against the states), and inflation. These were all the indices of the […]

Trumpland, Day 1: What effect will Trump have on phone sex?

I’ve been thinking of starting a diary of life in Trumpland. Less a political journal than a record of the changes in the way we live and speak, the oddities of our new existence. I’ve always been fascinated by the everyday life of politics, how high matters of state insinuate themselves into the lowest corners of our minds and manners. Trump is going to offer us a lot of material. So here are two things I’ve noticed. First, the frequency with which people—friends, colleagues, family, on social media and in real life—talk about Trump starting a nuclear war. What strikes me is how passive the commentary is, as if people were contemplating a coming snowstorm or stretch of bad weather. You’d […]

On how and how not to resist Trump

I have a piece on resisting Trump in the February issue of Harper’s. The opening discussion came to me one Saturday morning in shul, not long after the election, while we were reading the parsha. Gazing back on the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, Lot’s wife is turned into a pillar of salt. Why? Other characters in the Bible disobey God without meeting the same fate. Perhaps it is her irrepressible interest in the destruction she has been spared — her sense that the evil she has left behind is more real than the possibilities that beckon — that dooms her. Instructed to choose life over death, Lot’s wife opts to find life in death. The known past is more compelling than the promised […]

December Diary: From the Political to the Personal

1. About a month before the election, I found myself—don’t ask how or why—in an audience listening to a speech by Jeffrey Wiesenfeld. For those of you who are not CUNY insiders, Wiesenfeld is a former member of the CUNY Board of Trustees. He’s also an ultra-right Zionist who’s got a lot of nice things to say about Meir Kahane (“misunderstood”) and who’s been behind or involved in pretty much every dustup over Israel/Palestine that we’ve had at CUNY these last ten years or so. His most notable effort was trying to deny an honorary degree to Tony Kushner. (I was pleased to find out from his lecture that our massive pushback against him led him to lose a bunch […]