What to Do Now

Well, I’m back. My PC forgot how to do wifi — the problem is not with the wifi, since all the other wifi thingies in the house are all fine. So naturally the quick fix is to connect the laptop to the router with an ethernet cable. But the laptop has no ethernet port, and it took me awhile to get my hands on a USB ethernet adapter. So I’m back online, but some day I’m going to have to try to get the wifi function fixed.

Anyway — the question at hand is, what should we do now? I started out to write about what the Democrats should do, and I still wrote a lot about that. But there’s also the individual dimension — what should each of us do?

I do urge that people engage with the Democratic Party. There are a lot of (naive, inexperienced, mostly young) people out there who question why we need parties at all. Maybe I’ll write about that some time. The short answer is republican government doesn’t function without them. Without the organizing function of party, government becomes every politician for himself. So they always form. And because of the way we run elections in the U.S., we are pretty much stuck with two dominant national parties, like it or not. However, explaining why that’s true will need to be the point of another post.

There’s a battle royale going on for the DNC chair; the main contenders are Rep. Keith Ellison and Labor Secretary Tom Perez. Perez and his supporters have made it a nasty fight. It got so bad that members of the California DNC issued a statement denouncing the mud slinging. “Now more than ever, the Democratic Party needs to have a principled debate about its future that is based on issues and organizing strategy,” they said.

Well, yes. So the first thing the Democrats need to do is stop with the internal character assassination. I have no reason to dislike Perez, and he might be good in the job, but the dirty in-fighting thing makes me want him to lose.

Along those lines, this was spotted on Facebook, to the question of “What the Democrats should do now”: “Clean house. Be done with the Clintons. Get some new blood. Don’t cry so much. Put forward new ideas not just slam the other side. No more name calling. Appeal more broadly. Listen to middle America. Stop starting/continuing war abroad.”

Matt Taibbi wrote last June,

The maddening thing about the Democrats is that they refuse to see how easy they could have it. If the party threw its weight behind a truly populist platform, if it stood behind unions and prosecuted Wall Street criminals and stopped taking giant gobs of cash from every crooked transnational bank and job-exporting manufacturer in the world, they would win every election season in a landslide.

Again, more good advice. But from what I’ve seen so far, the old leadership that got it so wrong is putting him a massive fight to stay in control. And if they do, we’re sunk.

If the Democrats are a brand, what does that brand stand for? A big part of the problem is that I don’t think it stands for anything any more. It is the party that is somewhat less awful than the other party. It is the party that generally doesn’t stand in the way of cultural progress, but you can’t trust it with economic progress. It is the party that pays lip service to being for working people, but usually isn’t.

Duncan Black wrote an awesome post a short time back that I recommend. Here is just a bit:

We’re sort of reaching the breaking point of the decades long battle between the party that promises to kick those other people, and the party that promises not to kick them quite so hard. I think there have been some signs of Dems recognizing it, but they’re still largely locked into that way of thinking. ACA, for all its benefits, just couldn’t be implemented without making it fucking hard for people. That the subsidies aren’t generous enough makes it too expensive for people, and that’s a problem, but it’s one thing to be forced to buy a car you can’t really afford, another to buy a car that you can’t afford that you have to take in for repairs every other week. The government can’t just provide the nice things it once provided because reasons. Hell, once upon a time they built community pools and golf courses. Now your HOA might have a pool.

We’re the richest damn country in the history of the world (close enough, anyway). Life shouldn’t be so hard. Not against The Data, but the data doesn’t really capture what’s going on for “the middle class.” It isn’t that wages are stagnant or shrinking – though that’s an issue too! – It’s that doing the right thing and having a tiny bit of luck is no longer enough to achieve economic security anymore. Life’s a crap shoot from 18-67 (soon to be longer, if Republicans get their way). We’re all one medium sized economic hit (including medical) away from the downward spiral. And thanks to that glorious bankruptcy bill, once you get into a hole you’re probably trapped there. Bipartisany goodness to make David Broder swoon. 74-25 in the Senate, 302-126 in the House. But the Dems are the good guys! Yah, well, not enough of them and not consistently enough. Vote for Dems and the share of them voting for horrible things will shrink slightly!

And it isn’t complicated. Thinking that it is complicated is the problem. There are better and worse ways to achieve things, and the wonks can fight it out, but the point is to achieve them. And, really, given how small the nice things budget is who cares?

“There are better and worse ways to achieve things, and the wonks can fight it out, but the point is to achieve them.” To, you know, actually do stuff. And if you manage to do stuff that will be good for working folks, be sure to follow through and let working folks know about it. IMO part of the opposition to Obamacare comes from the fact that lots of folks have yet to figure out what it is and how it works. That makes it easy to lie about.

For years, Democrats have made promises that they will Fight For You! if you send them to Washington. So we send them to Washington, and with the rare exception of the problematic ACA, nothing much changes. So along with stopping the nasty infighting, we need leadership that has a clue. No more wishy-washy centrism. No more “interest group brokerage party that seeks to mediate between the claims and concerns of left-wing activists groups and those of important members of the business community,” to quote Matt Yglesias.

No more selling us out, Democrats. No more assuming that we have to vote for you because we’ve got no other choice. Be for something, stick to it, do it. Deliver.

The rift between the coastal liberal college-educated Democrats and working class people will have to be mended, and that won’t be easy.  I’ll have more thoughts on that in coming posts.

Of course, this assumes that our representative democracy survives as such for a few more election cycles. We are in danger of slipping into totalitarianism. The next couple of years could be critical.

How to resist? What is the best course? First, I suggest that further ridiculing the dumb hillbillies who voted for Trump is counterproductive. They are not the enemy.

I’m going to copy and paste something I found on Facebook.  The author is Yale historian and Holocaust expert Timothy Snyder.

Americans are no wiser than the Europeans who saw democracy yield to fascism, Nazism, or communism. Our one advantage is that we might learn from their experience. Now is a good time to do so. Here are twenty lessons from the twentieth century, adapted to the circumstances of today.

1. Do not obey in advance. Much of the power of authoritarianism is freely given. In times like these, individuals think ahead about what a more repressive government will want, and then start to do it without being asked. You’ve already done this, haven’t you? Stop. Anticipatory obedience teaches authorities what is possible and accelerates unfreedom.

2. Defend an institution. Follow the courts or the media, or a court or a newspaper. Do not speak of “our institutions” unless you are making them yours by acting on their behalf. Institutions don’t protect themselves. They go down like dominoes unless each is defended from the beginning.

3. Recall professional ethics. When the leaders of state set a negative example, professional commitments to just practice become much more important. It is hard to break a rule-of-law state without lawyers, and it is hard to have show trials without judges.

4. When listening to politicians, distinguish certain words. Look out for the expansive use of “terrorism” and “extremism.” Be alive to the fatal notions of “exception” and “emergency.” Be angry about the treacherous use of patriotic vocabulary.

5. Be calm when the unthinkable arrives. When the terrorist attack comes, remember that all authoritarians at all times either await or plan such events in order to consolidate power. Think of the Reichstag fire. The sudden disaster that requires the end of the balance of power, the end of opposition parties, and so on, is the oldest trick in the Hitlerian book. Don’t fall for it.

6. Be kind to our language. Avoid pronouncing the phrases everyone else does. Think up your own way of speaking, even if only to convey that thing you think everyone is saying. (Don’t use the internet before bed. Charge your gadgets away from your bedroom, and read.) What to read? Perhaps “The Power of the Powerless” by Václav Havel, 1984 by George Orwell, The Captive Mind by CzesÅ‚aw Milosz, The Rebel by Albert Camus, The Origins of Totalitarianism by Hannah Arendt, or Nothing is True and Everything is Possible by Peter Pomerantsev.

7. Stand out. Someone has to. It is easy, in words and deeds, to follow along. It can feel strange to do or say something different. But without that unease, there is no freedom. And the moment you set an example, the spell of the status quo is broken, and others will follow.

8. Believe in truth. To abandon facts is to abandon freedom. If nothing is true, then no one can criticize power, because there is no basis upon which to do so. If nothing is true, then all is spectacle. The biggest wallet pays for the most blinding lights.

9. Investigate. Figure things out for yourself. Spend more time with long articles. Subsidize investigative journalism by subscribing to print media. Realize that some of what is on your screen is there to harm you. Learn about sites that investigate foreign propaganda pushes.

10. Practice corporeal politics. Power wants your body softening in your chair and your emotions dissipating on the screen. Get outside. Put your body in unfamiliar places with unfamiliar people. Make new friends and march with them.

11. Make eye contact and small talk. This is not just polite. It is a way to stay in touch with your surroundings, break down unnecessary social barriers, and come to understand whom you should and should not trust. If we enter a culture of denunciation, you will want to know the psychological landscape of your daily life.

12. Take responsibility for the face of the world. Notice the swastikas and the other signs of hate. Do not look away and do not get used to them. Remove them yourself and set an example for others to do so.

13. Hinder the one-party state. The parties that took over states were once something else. They exploited a historical moment to make political life impossible for their rivals. Vote in local and state elections while you can.

14. Give regularly to good causes, if you can. Pick a charity and set up autopay. Then you will know that you have made a free choice that is supporting civil society helping others doing something good.

15. Establish a private life. Nastier rulers will use what they know about you to push you around. Scrub your computer of malware. Remember that email is skywriting. Consider using alternative forms of the internet, or simply using it less. Have personal exchanges in person. For the same reason, resolve any legal trouble. Authoritarianism works as a blackmail state, looking for the hook on which to hang you. Try not to have too many hooks.

16. Learn from others in other countries. Keep up your friendships abroad, or make new friends abroad. The present difficulties here are an element of a general trend. And no country is going to find a solution by itself. Make sure you and your family have passports.

17. Watch out for the paramilitaries. When the men with guns who have always claimed to be against the system start wearing uniforms and marching around with torches and pictures of a Leader, the end is nigh. When the pro-Leader paramilitary and the official police and military intermingle, the game is over.

18. Be reflective if you must be armed. If you carry a weapon in public service, God bless you and keep you. But know that evils of the past involved policemen and soldiers finding themselves, one day, doing irregular things. Be ready to say no. (If you do not know what this means, contact the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum and ask about training in professional ethics.)

19. Be as courageous as you can. If none of us is prepared to die for freedom, then all of us will die in unfreedom.

20. Be a patriot. The incoming president is not. Set a good example of what America means for the generations to come. They will need it.

–Timothy Snyder, Housum Professor of History, Yale University,
15 November 2016.

And with that — Merry Christmas.