The Plain, ‘Popular’ Speaking Of Bernie Sanders And Jeremy Corbyn

One of the highlights of the recent Bernie Sanders and Jeremy Corbyn campaigns–one, a failed attempt to secure the nomination to become the Democratic Party’s presidential candidate, and the other a comparatively successful attempt by the Labour Party to derail the Tories in the United Kingdom–has been their plain speaking. Both Sanders and Corbyn relied on straightforward ‘messaging’; they spoke unapologetically about their political views and vision; they did not back down from supposedly ‘can’t-win’ electoral platforms; they did not waffle about or ‘triangulate. Wonder of wonders, they seemed perfectly cognizant of the fact that they would face political opposition, but that did not deter them from continuing to discuss and defend, in unvarnished terms, the democratic socialist and populist ‘agenda’ that was the centerpiece of their claim to become President or Prime Minister. If asked ‘Are you really saying that X?’–where X might be ‘taxing the rich’ or ‘supporting the Palestinian cause’ or ‘socialized healthcare’–the Sanders or Corbyn response, quite typically, was, “Why yes, that’s exactly what I meant, and here’s why.” (In sporting terms, Sanders and Corbyn decided to swing for the fences–rather than sitting on them. Perhaps they would lose; but they would only lose an election, not their integrity. They appeared prepared to pay that price.)

This plain-speaking, this directness, this unapologetic standing by and behind their political convictions, a rare species of political fearlessness, did not go unnoticed. Both Sanders and Corbyn attracted many young folk disenchanted–or just plain bored–by politics; they attracted many older folks turned off by the endlessly vacillating, weaselly language of conventional politics. By keeping their platforms simple, Sanders and Corbyn were not just comprehensible, they also managed to be inspiring. Years and years of being subjected to the inanity and indirection of political discourse has produced a diverse electorate that yearns for plain speaking and a kind of transparent, even if occasionally bumbling, sincerity. Sanders and Corbyn both ‘delivered’; neither are inspiring speakers; their prose is not lofty; they do not appear to have taken classes in oratory or rhetoric; but importantly, they did not appear ‘coached’ and bland and inoffensive either. They knew they would cause offense; they accepted such a cost as part of the price of doing politics, of trying to get a certain kind of message out and about. They also knew the rhetorical value of their manner of speaking.

It will remain an enduring scandal that the Democratic Party in the US could not quite see the wisdom of such plain speaking during the 2016 election season, and instead decided to throw its weight behind a candidate who could not bring herself to drop a language that appeared too cautious, too timid, too ready to compromise. Neither could the Labour Party in the United Kingdom; many of its members and leaders attacked Corbyn relentlessly in the lead-up to the election. In the US, we are left saddled with the dysfunctional presidency of Donald Trump; in the United Kingdom, a second election to resolve the uncertainty created by the unstable Tory-DUP coalition seems quite likely. One can only wonder what the political landscape would look like today if these candidates had not been sabotaged by their own parties.

There are lessons to be learned here; the politician who makes the effort to do so knows an attentive audience–and participants in political action–awaits.

The United Kingdom Sends Political Driving Directions To The US

Democracy’s biggest problem–without exaggeration–is the contempt politicians feel for those who elect them. The electors, the people, the voters; the heart of electoral democracies. One crystalline manifestation of this attitude occurs during those events that are designed to remind us, by their periodic occurrence, that we live in electoral democracies: elections. Then, the people’s opinions are presumed and assumed–under the guise of ‘interpreting’ their ‘responses’ to ‘surveys and ‘polls,’ all infected with their own methodological biases. They are treated as generic entities, their preferences and passions turned into quantitative assessments that terminate in gnomic pronouncements like, ‘Candidate X is unelectable.’  Or, even worse, much worse, the electors’ minds will be read, and similar presumptions and assumptions are made; these are ignorant and ahistorical and made from isolated and insular positions, infected with their ideological biases, and they result in identical assessments: ‘Candidate X can never win; his or her platform is unworkable and out of step.’ Management consultants and political experts rule the roost, while those who actually wield power–if only they knew it–are systematically ignored.

The disastrous consequences of this attitude were only too clearly on display in the 2016 US elections. The Democratic Party ran a disastrous campaign from start to finish; it ran a candidate deeply unpopular with huge swathes of the electorate; it undermined a candidate who had actually brought ‘new blood’ to the party, and embodied the best chance of maintaining and sustaining a voter coalition that had put a black man with a Muslim middle name into the Oval Office in consecutive elections; it refused to believe that a populist platform that actively sought to roll back economic inequality, which had mobilized millions of new voters, was ‘practical’ or ‘viable.’ The Democratic Party paid for its hubris; but even worse, so did we.

Across the pond, the British electorate have just shown the Democratic Party the errors of its ways. The Labour Party, led by Jeremy Corbyn, laid out an uncompromisingly populist, democratic socialist platform; they did not attempt triangulation or limp centrism; they spoke to clearly expressed needs; they, in short, listened to their potential voters, they articulated a clear vision, unapologetically; and wonder of wonders, miracle of miracles, they succeeded at the ballot box, disrupting a supposedly global triumph of rightwing populism. The Tory Party lives on, as does the Theresa May administration, but only just; a no-confidence vote in their hastily cobbled together coalition with the DUP is almost certain.

The Democratic Party, of course, very closely resembles a death cult these days, obsessed with a relentless drive towards rendering itself both irrelevant and politically extinct; the election for the chair of the DNC revealed this quite clearly, as does its refusal to put the Clintons behind it, and pay attention the clamoring voices of the millions of voters it stands to gain if only it would give them what they want: affordable, single-payer healthcare, housing and education for all, clean drinking water and air, a chance for their children to do better than their parents did before them. It should heed the political driving instructions conveyed to it by the British electorate: stop pulling right, turn left.

Nixon, Kissinger, And The 1971 Genocide In Bangladesh

This evening, Jagan Pillarisetti and will be speaking at the New York Military Affairs Symposium on ‘Indian Air Force Operations in the 1971 Liberation War.’ Our talk will be based on our book Eagles over Bangladesh: The Indian Air Force in the 1971 Liberation War (Harper Collins, 2013). Here is the jacket description:

In December 1971 Bangladesh was born. Its birthing was painful: it had suffered a brutal genocide conducted by its former countrymen from West Pakistan, and a war between the indigenous Mukti Bahini (Liberation Army) and the Indian Armed Forces on one side, and the West Pakistani Armed Forces on the other. War broke out on the Western and Eastern fronts in December 1971 and ended quickly; the West Pakistani Army surrendered in Dacca two weeks later. A significant factor in facilitating the Indian Army’s progress to Dacca was the IAF, which neutralized the Pakistan Air Force (PAF), and provided deadly, timely and accurate firepower to support the Indian Army. The IAF flew a variety of missions: counter-air raids on airfields, steep glide dive-bombing attacks on runways, aircombat with PAF Sabres, helicopter borne operations, paradropping, and shipping attacks. Eagles Over Bangladesh: The Indian Air Force in the 1971 Liberation War, provides a day by day recounting of the IAF’s activities, commencing with raids on Dacca on the first day of the war, and moving on to the final coup de grace delivered on the Governor’s House, all the while bolstered by first-person descriptions from IAF pilots. [links added]

I’ve been warming up for the talk by reading Gary BassThe Blood Telegram: Nixon, Kissinger, and a Forgotten Genocide and I’m reminded, yet again, of what total and utter shits and moral reprobates those two were. There is little I can say to lengthen the already existent and damning charge sheets against Henry Kissinger (the approval of whom by Hillary Clinton was one of the many reasons why I could not bring myself to vote for her.) Let me instead, quote the always eloquent and erudite Patrick S. O’Donnell on the subject:

Henry Kissinger, a moral monster who exemplified the dark arts of immoral and amoral Realpolitik while at the pinnacle of political power in the United States, is a living reminder of why we established (several ad hoc and hybrid, as well as one permanent) international criminal tribunals and need universal jurisdiction in the quest for international criminal justice. If you’re not well acquainted with the precise reasons why Kissinger is rightly referred to in some quarters as a “war criminal” (although one could plausibly argue he is also guilty of crimes against humanity and complicity in genocide, among other crimes), see the first and still best summary of the particulars of this searing public indictment in Christopher Hitchens’ The Trial of Henry Kissinger (Twelve, 2012; first edition, Verso, 2001, 2002 with new preface).

Bass’ book notes that despite a series of anguished reports emanating from US diplomatic staff in Dacca–headed by Archer Blood–who bore witness to the Pakistani Army genocide in Bangladesh, Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger not only ignored these pleas to publicly condemn these atrocities, they refused to bring any pressure to bear on the Pakistani military administration–including but not limited to, not allowing American arms to be used in the massacres. Worse, they remained actively hostile to the Indian government, which was then dealing with an influx of ten million refugees fleeing the killings in East Pakistan. As Bass notes:

Nixon and Kissinger bear responsibility for a significant complicity in the slaughter of the Bengalis. This overlooked episode deserves to be a defining part of their historical reputations. But although Nixon and Kissinger have hardly been neglected by history, this major incident has largely been whitewashed out of their legacy—and not by accident. Kissinger began telling demonstrable falsehoods about the administration’s record just two weeks into the crisis, and has not stopped distorting since.

My father fought in the 1971 war as a pilot in the Indian Air Force; I’m glad he did.

Democratic Party Afraid To Emulate Tea Party Success: Move, Or Get Out Of The Way

You might think that a political party which stands accused of one of the most embarrassing and momentous political defeats in American history, one which was almost entirely due to a series of well-aimed large-caliber shotgun blasts at not just one foot, but all bodily appendages, would be prepared to carry out some serious introspection and to check in for an overhaul at the polity’s nearest service station. You would be wrong. Your political instincts and sensibility do not apply to the Democratic Party, which follows a suicidal logic all its own.

The Wall Street Journal was kind enough to inform us that in recent days, as the ‘battle’ for the Chair of the Democratic National Committee has heated up, pitting Keith Ellisona man favored by the ‘Bernie Sander wing’ of the party–against the ‘bank-friendly’ Tom Perez, the favored candidate of the same folks who led the Democratic Party to the 2016 Nineth November Massacree, are determined to turn this nation’s politics into Groundhog Day:

“Is the Bernie Sanders-Elizabeth Warren wing of the party going to push us too far to the left?” asked former Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell, who also served as chairman of the Democratic National Committee. “Only if they start going after incumbent moderate Democrats in primaries like the Tea Party did.”

Ah, yes, the Fear of the Land of Too Far Left, brought to you by the DNC Who Cried Wolf. Ah, yes, the Terrible Tea Party, whose ‘takeover’ of the Republican Party now stands revealed as a catastrophic failure: full control of the US House of Representatives, the US Senate, and the Oval Office. With misfortunes like this, success does seem less attractive. The wise learn from their foes; the fool merely from himself. The Republican and Tea Party–a composite moniker which seems rather more appropriate given the nature of the entity the Democratic Party confronts–is not possessed of political genius; it merely abides by a crystalline commonsense wholly appropriate to electoral democracies: to govern, to assume power, you need to be voted into office; and to stay there, you must continue to listen to those who put you there. This political axiom is incomprehensible to the Democratic Party, which not content with having dismantled the organized ‘base’ that elected a black man with a Muslim middle name to the White House, intends to continue its ride over the beckoning cliffs. We would be wise to not follow.

The Democratic Party is not a political party; it is a retirement home for the politically incompetent, dedicated to nothing more than servicing the financial fortunes of a motley crew of boring policy wonks, Chelsbillary Clinton sycophants, and your garden variety neoliberal. It shrinks from conflict, the business of politics; it is afraid to govern, to take over the reigns of government. What is it doing, taking up space on the political stage? Perhaps insurance companies and banks and corporate law firms do not pay as much as they do. This trough must be deeper than we thought, bidding the DNC’s snouts to push just a bit further.

Democratic Party Mulls Forced Population Transfers As 2020 Strategy

The Democratic Party’s planning for the 2020 elections, as expected, began on November 10th, and have only picked up pace since then–even as party officials and campaign strategists engage in the proverbial struggle to drink from the fire-hose of hot takes seeking to assign blame for the 2016 electoral fiasco. But consensus is emerging, driven largely by the two issues that have most preoccupied party thought-leaders and influencers ever since Hillary Clinton’s concession speech: the banal evil of the Electoral College and the staggering margin of victory that Clinton enjoyed in the popular vote (three million and counting.) That consensus seeks to minimize the demographic dynamite that torpedoed the Clinton Campaign–by way of forced population transfers of minorities, arguably the most reliable voting bloc for the Democratic Party, to those underpopulated regions of the United States that currently enjoy disproportionate representations in the Congress and Senate. As one party leader put it, “We need to take some of those three million votes and put them where they count, where we know they can make a real difference; we need more brown and black folks out in the countryside, up in the mountains. They can’t keep clinging to the coasts. This damn electoral system isn’t changing any time soon; we need to change the country instead.” (There is ample precedent, of course, in American history for such population transfers. Native Americans can relate chapter and verse about the Trail of Tears for instance; and one might plausibly view the KKK-prompted post-Reconstruction migration of African-Americans to regions distant from the Deep South in a similar light.)

The sheer audacity of this plan has injected new life into a party thought to be moribund in its political theory and praxis alike. In one fell swoop it will accomplish the following: place reliable Democratic voting blocs as fifth columns in Republican strongholds; beat the founding fathers at their own game; use the unwashed to triumph over the unwashed; and, of course, introduce multiculturalism to formerly monochromatic regions of the US. (San Antonio, San Diego, and many other Sans have too many taco trucks as it is; some of them could be profitably deployed in, for instance, the Florida Panhandle, the Mississippi Delta, and the prairies. Similar considerations apply to soul food–though not to hiphop.)

Objections to this plan have been restrained, an unsurprising turn of events for a nation preparing for an administration that is equal parts Barnum and Goebbels. Little cover will be needed to accomplish this, and indeed, little force will be too. The Democratic Party is counting on being able to sell this electoral strategy in much the same way it has sold its goods to its members for ever so long: if you do not comply, do not pack up bag and baggage and move to regions picked out by our data management consultants on the basis of calculations that have revealed where your presence will have the most electoral impact, you will be stuck with the Republican Party again.

Who could resist such an enticement?

Thanks Joan Williams, But I ‘Get The US Working Class’ Just Fine

You know the refrain by now: cease and desist from calling Trump ‘fans’ or ‘voters’ ‘stupid racists.’ We must not think of them as ‘ignorant’ They are, instead, ‘economically disempowered’; they constitute a distinct cultural class, one which must now be listened to and studied with all due care and respect; we must understand and try to ‘get’ this ‘culture.’ For all the care that we are being asked to exercise in our interactions with the Trump demographic, Americans might imagine they are budding anthropologists or sociologists being asked to exercise due diligence by some Institutional Review Board for the Politics of Human Subjects. The latest salvo in this unceasing broadside of paternal instruction now appears in the Harvard Business Review, where we are told by Joan Williams that we don’t understand the ‘American working class’ or the ‘white working class.’ (Incidentally, these two terms seem to have become synonymous with ‘Trump voter,’ which is a bit of a mystery when we remember that many ‘working class’ and ‘white working class’ folks voted for Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders and would not have dreamed of voting for Donald Trump.)

So, here is the ‘class culture gap’ that liberals, members of the elite, east coast intellectuals of all stripes apparently do not get:

One little-known element of that gap is that the white working class (WWC) resents professionals but admires the rich. Class migrants (white-collar professionals born to blue-collar families) report that “professional people were generally suspect” and that managers are college kids “who don’t know shit about how to do anything but are full of ideas about how I have to do my job,” said Alfred Lubrano in Limbo. Barbara Ehrenreich recalled in 1990 that her blue-collar dad “could not say the word doctor without the virtual prefix quack. Lawyers were shysters…and professors were without exception phonies.” Annette Lareau found tremendous resentment against teachers, who were perceived as condescending and unhelpful.

Doctors are quacks, lawyers are shysters, professors are phonies, teachers are condescending and unhelpful. Got that. So, I get the components of this world view but I’m afraid this is not remotely helpful in helping me bridge the culture gap and disabusing me of my prior prejudices about this ‘group.’ These points of view are, how you say, infected by ignorance and resentment. Reading them articulated as Williams would have us do does nothing to change my opinion of Trump voters as ignorant and racist. (I draw apart ‘working class’ and ‘white working class’ in this fashion because interestingly enough, I have met many non-ignorant, non-racist members of the working class; they are resentful, all right, but they are not resentful of the people whom the Trump demographic appears to be resentful of.) So, I might understand why Trump won, but my understanding will not consist of coming to the realization “Aha, Trump voters aren’t actually ignorant and racist; they’re just resentful of elites.” For I will be tempted to ask: Which elites? The public service lawyers who help the weak assert their rights against the state? The public school teachers who work for low salaries and teach their kids? The doctors who went to medical schools and heal their bodies when they are hurt on the job? The professors whose classes they do not attend? Do the esteemed members of the working class that Williams is pointing us to not know of the entities I point to, or do they not care? In either case, they remain ignorant; their prejudiced beliefs appear without foundation; the generalizations that we are informed of remain just as infected by ignorance, resentment and anger as we imagined them before–and let us not forget, racism is merely ignorance, resentment, and anger coupled with racial prejudice and dominant race power. Williams also conveniently leaves out a description of how the WWC perceives others who are the subject of their resentments–like, for instance, immigrants. My guess is that the WWC considers them shifty sonsofbitches who steal their jobs. Sounds like a real culture clash; a clash between a culture sustained by ignorance, resentment, and racism, and one that is not. These intuitions are confirmed when Williams makes note of the tremendous masculine insecurity that underwrites this same class (or culture); we are entirely unsurprised to find that sexism and patriarchy rules the roost here.  (Trump That Bitch!)

So if Williams’ intention in writing this piece was melioristic i.e., she intended to bridge the divide between the two ‘classes’ she identifies, then she has not succeeded. What she has succeeded in doing is telling us that our impressions of the ‘working class’–such as Williams has identified them–are correct: they are racist, and ignorant, and resentful, and unsurprisingly, they voted for someone who encapsulated their Know-Nothing resentment. To be sure it tells us that a different kind of electoral campaign might have been needed to convince this demographic; that too much faith might have been placed in appeals to their supposed common sense; that a different candidate, who was male, and who could stroke their insecurities and assuage their anxieties might have had more success with them. But it does not make me understand the ‘American working class’ or white working class’ in a way that changes my opinion of their moral and political predilections.

I am, in making this judgment, not writing off the ‘white working class’ as Williams is worried I might; but I’m not letting them off the hook for their racism either. Many Trump voters are economically disempowered; they were right to not believe the promises of the elites, of the Democratic Party; their racism emerged when they decided: a) they knew who to blame for their troubles, and it sure wasn’t members of their own racial group; b) they could live with the overt racism of the candidate they were going to vote for.

Note: Williams confirms my intuition that her piece is suffused with apologia and appeasement when she issues the following gem:

National debates about policing are fueling class tensions today in precisely the same way they did in the 1970s, when college kids derided policemen as “pigs.” This is a recipe for class conflict. Being in the police is one of the few good jobs open to Americans without a college education. Police get solid wages, great benefits, and a respected place in their communities. For elites to write them off as racists is a telling example of how, although race- and sex-based insults are no longer acceptable in polite society, class-based insults still are.

Once again, this does precisely nothing to bridge the ‘culture gap’ whose existence Williams is pointing us to. For I find myself tempted to ask: Which communities? Do white cops get a respected place in black communities? Do blacks in white communities? I have news for Williams. It’s not just ‘elites’ who write off cops as racists; middle-class and poor black Americans do too.

Demonizing Organized Labor And The Road To Fascism

The word ‘union’ occurs five times in Jedediah Purdy‘s Jacobin essay ‘How Trump Won.’

On the first two occasions, Purdy invokes unions as part of an analysis of the demographics of Trump voters:

[U]nion voters abandoned the Democrats dramatically

Clinton was much weaker than Obama with union-household voters: he won them 58–40, she only 51–43. That’s a sixteen-point loss.

Then, Purdy goes on to speculate why union voters might have voted thus:

[L]ower-income and union voters [developed] a post-2008 sense of economic abandonment by the Democrats based on how the party has actually governed in recent years, including both the trade agreements like the Trans-Pacific Partnership and NAFTA and a finance industry that it strongly embraces.

A chunk of those voters are working people who, fifty years ago, might have been getting their basic political information from a union, and are now getting it from a conspiracy-minded far right that convinced them they had a civic duty to vote against the corrupt liar in the race.

On the fifth occasion Purdy makes note of Richard Rorty‘s prescient remarks about a possible evolution of American politics:

Members of labor unions, and unorganized unskilled workers, will sooner or later realize that their government is not even trying to prevent wages from sinking or to prevent jobs from being exported. Around the same time, they will realize that suburban white-collar workers — themselves desperately afraid of being downsized — are not going to let themselves be taxed to provide social benefits for anyone else. At that point, something will crack.

Unions and their workers have cottoned on to one essential fact about so-called American liberalism and progressivism: its extremely thin patina is revealed by its attitude toward labor unions. You might be a liberal when it comes to climate change, same-sex marriage, and the reproductive rights of women, but chances are you are united with conservatives in believing ‘bosses’ and ’employers’ should be able to ‘hire and fire’ their workers as they please. Without this, you believe that workers will not be motivated to work; that incompetent workers cannot be weeded out; that workers will seek out laziness and complacency; that they will wreck public and private sector budgets with their extravagant contracts and retirement schemes. Unions–like teachers unions which prevent brilliant reformist pedagogical schemes from being implemented, public sector unions which destroy municipal budgets–are the causes of all social and economic ills.

With these attitudes towards the right of workers to indulge in collective bargaining, you reveal a very poor understanding of power and how it is acquired and exercised. You show yourself willing to let one economic class be immiserated and disempowered even as another one is simultaneously enriched and empowered.

All too many who fancy themselves social progressives or liberals–and who find themselves impatient with the protections and benefits union demand for their members–need a reckoning with the possibility that they are merely technocratic elites who find the lower classes a little too grubby for their taste and wish they could whip them into shape somehow through the latest management consultancy schemes. There is a common, shared, set of American values that unite liberals and conservatives and it includes the following principle: workers are lazy and can only be motivated by fear of dismissal. From this the corporatization of American social and political values follows. From this follows contempt of populism, of the expressed sentiments of those who cannot speak the technocrat’s language.

The abandonment of the working class and organized labor is America’s greatest scandal–and it has been for a long time. Once upon a time, unionized workers–like in the Lehigh Valley–lived in houses, drove cars, and sent their children to colleges, secure in the knowledge that the American Dream was working for them, that the upward mobility of the next generation was visible in their own lives. There is no such comfort now, and none is forthcoming. The economy has been financialized, manufacturing of tangible commodities sent overseas, unions disbanded and demonized, wages sent plunging, new systems of values put in place.

The insecure, nonunionized worker is perennially on edge, worried about losing his or her job; their wages fall without contracts to hold them up; long-term economic planning is impossible. Scapegoats for misery are demanded; some will be found. by any convoluted reasoning necessary. Relief from fear and paranoia is sought; perhaps in the form of a strong man promising deliverance.

The union makes us strong; without the union, workers seek strength elsewhere.