Against Obstruction

Against Obstruction

Just a few days after the election, the Left is already splitting into two camps: those who call for total obstruction of GOP congress, a-la Mitch McConnell in 2009, and those who find such tactic counterproductive. I’m in the latter camp. There are several reasons.

First, Democrats right now have a very weak electoral standing: we lost the control of government on all levels: local, state and national. Such power vacuum will deprive us of levers we need to execute a sound resistance strategy.

Second, the dynamic of modern-day US politics is such that the public treatment of left obstruction is different than the treatment of right obstruction. Right obstruction is viewed by the public as more legitimate and worthy of sympathy than similar attempts coming from the left. There are many reasons for that, fair and unfair, and we can complain about them, but that is the reality.

Third, Democratic weakness is out there in the open and everyone knows it. So any attempt at flexing muscle is laughable at this point. It’s like trying to bluff your opponent off a hand with nothing, when everyone at the table knows you don’t have a hand. However righteous your impulses might be right now, it’s not a noble fight of David vs Goliath. David, in our case, is weak, disoriented and without a weapon. And Goliath knows it.

Fourth, Chuck Schumer, who would technically lead the rebellion, would no doubt be a subject of anti-Semitic attacks, subtle or not-so-subtle, if not from Trump, then from his base. Those attacks will likely succeed at reaffirming Trump’s base suspicion that there’s some sort of international cabal that prevents him from bringing jobs back to Ohio, given the current Zeitgeist. Trump knows how to play this game of innuendos perfectly.

Fifth, if and when Trump encounters problems with his agenda, he won’t be able to blame it on Democratic minority. We should not let him have a ready scapegoat. He won, he should show us all what he’s got. It’s his party now. We should not give him reasons to point fingers. If he wants to point fingers it should be at his own Congress and Paul Ryan, not the Democrats.

You have to know when to fold’em, folks, and now is the time. There will be a better time to push forward, but it’s not today.

The Annihilation

It is painful. We didn’t just lose. We got annihilated. In a matter of hours the whole political map of the US got upended in an unprecedented manner. No chattering classes saw it coming. I was nervous about Hillary’s chances, but even I tried to mask my uncertainty with optimism that was now proved unfounded. I saw more Trump signs in PA and dismissed this as unscientific because polls said otherwise. Polls showed Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin as solidly blue states. Because now we know that they are not, Democrats don’t have a safe starting point to the White House anymore. Those white folks in the rust belt won’t change their opinion in time for 2020 election. Now they’re in Trump camp. Aside from that, Hispanics didn’t carry over FL and NC and AZ for Dems, as we hoped.

This data from the Rust belt and Sunbelt states is significant in another way. It shows a wave of white voters voting with an intensity of a minority group, because this is how they see themselves now – a disenfranchised minority. If this pattern holds, then the emerging Democratic majority that everyone was talking about is not about to happen anytime soon. There simply won’t be enough Hispanics and Blacks to counterweigh the strength in the white turnout. GOP, in their 2012 autopsy wanted to reach out to Hispanics. This election showed that they don’t really have to do it just yet, if they energize the whites. And they will milk it for years to come.

And the women vote, that was the most painful. 53 percent of women voted for Trump, vs 43 percent for Clinton. Rage at the establishment exceeded concerns about his character. People knew who he is and still voted for him. It’s a one big middle finger to the elites.

It’s over, folks. It’s not the country we thought it was. The gravitational center of the country is, whether we like it or not, is white nationalism. The US liberals are in a wilderness for some time. Protests at this stage are pointless – what are you objecting, the will of the people? Trump hasn’t done anything yet. Protesting now is counterproductive. Today, we sit tight, and let him go ahead with his agenda (yes, I know, SCOTUS and ACA are gone.) It’s sad but true. But in the meantime, we can work quietly to improve our standings down-ballot: redistricting, local elections, governorships. I wonder if those protesting today are prepared for that kind of unglamorous grind.

Final Push in PA

Canvassed in PA again this weekend. A lot of Trump/Pence signs, but a lot of quiet Hillary voters too, who prefer not to display their allegiances in their yards. If there is a quiet majority out there, as Trump hopes, there’s one and it’s not going to vote for him. Tomorrow I’m going to PA for the final push to Get Out the Vote.

Whatever happens tomorrow, I’ll know I did my part.

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Westworld

westworld

After watching the very first episode of HBO’s Westworld it was hard for me to deny that the show’s appeal, aside from superior writing and cinematography, has a potential to spill over from the world of entertainment into our public and political discourse. Already now, after episode 3, it’s clear to me that its aim goes beyond a mere Sunday night pastime; the showrunners cleverly are setting us up to ask questions that we don’t ask ourselves but should. The show of this caliber is long overdue. I’m not writing a recap though, there are plenty of those already. This is just a brief glimpse of the show’s potential as a cultural and political imprint.

What is a real world? Is it the world where you live and work, or is it an adult Disneyland where, like in a videogame, you assume a character, and break out of your inhibitions? But then, the same case – that you’re playing a character – can be made about your everyday existence. The world where you live and make your living is, too, a world of pretense. That’s a marketing ploy behind Westworld – a fictional Wild West-themed park where you can break away and indulge in your fantasies. It does offers you a release, a manufactured freedom, but where you essentially trade one type of mask for another. Would there even be a demand for such a theme park if people found fulfillment in their real lives? Today, when our identities revolve around what we do for a living, we’re prevented from knowing who we really are. It is, perhaps, this search for identity, rather than pure entertainment, that provides a steady stream of customers shelling out $40K a day for the experience.

The park is a place that, as one frequent visitor points out, “answers a question you’ve been asking yourself: Who you really are.” Yet, it doesn’t take us long to spot the obvious extension of this premise: It is also a place to discover who you are not but want to become.

As sentient customers of Westworld how do they choose their game character? If you chose to become a nice guy in Westworld, is it because you’re prevented from being a nice guy in your real life, or is it the opposite: you’re an asshole who wants to be good but prevented from a moral conduct by the overwhelming forces of the real world? Is, then, a simulated reality a reflection of your genuine character or a channel for release of suppressed evil tendencies? And conversely, if you’re a nice guy in the real world who recoils from murder and rape and injustice, why would you want to engage in “violent delights” in your spare time? Can nice guys become bad if given a chance and shielded from judgment?

Dolores, a robot whose task is to be abused and/or ‘saved’ by the customers, muses: “I think when I discover what I am, I will be free.” She’s up to something here. While her consciousness is merely a code, it’s the code that brings her closer to singularity – that is becoming sentient. The allegories and the implications and allusions to our own humanity are immense here. It enters Kantian territory (I’m a little obsessed with Kant these days; took Kantian philosophy class this fall, so I’m like a teenager who’s just discovered Ayn Rand!) What if we, too, can’t be free until we figure out who we are?

If we are a thinking species, a sentient beings, this distinctive feature offers a liberation from a mere reliance on instincts. Dolores is not yet free because she’s a subject to her programming. We as humans are (free), in a sense that we possess a free will. But then other constraints come forward, the constraints of a moral code.

It blows my mind what these guys – writers, producers – are aiming for, if this is their plan, which I think it is. They want us to think of freedom – a grand concept – in a philosophical sense. In the course of the series, as robots gain consciousness, I suspect we will be faced with a question: who is more human and thus more free? Here, I would like to separate the notions of libertarian freedom from philosophical (Kantian) freedom. I wrote on the concept of freedom before as I was trying to give this overused and, frankly, too broad a term, a definition. I’m not satisfied with the notion of libertarian freedom where a person’s freedom is manifested merely in his actions – things that he does because there’s no physical preventive mechanism. Kantian freedom, on the other hand, is not a freedom to do what we like. Such freedom originates in the world of ideas, the a priori world as opposed to empirical world, thus it is guided by reason and not our desires or inclinations. Because it is guided by reason, it is also a subject to moral code, to rules that are universal and independent of our earthly circumstances. Thus freedom, in a philosophical sense, is the ability, no, a requirement to live by a moral code that is a) universal and b) binding because we’re sentient beings (as opposed to, say, animals who cannot be expected to abide by the notion of “ought”). It is, thus, unfortunate that the word and the concept of ‘freedom’ has been so watered-down, so emptied of meaning in current public discourse that it now means whatever you want it to mean. That is another big reason why I’m so excited with narrative possibilities of Westworld: it will force us to ponder on these concepts, it will force us to ask ourselves questions we were too busy to ask before.

A Feminist Rant

I couldn’t sleep after the debate night. It’s as if some kind of lurking terror has been unleashed that we had only a vague idea of. I thought we were civil, I thought there were rules and norms, I thought that women would be defended when such obvious and hostile misogyny is displayed, if not by locker room bro, then at least by a person running for the highest public office on earth. I didn’t think it was possible for any man to dismiss it with such ease. But what I saw Sunday, it was chilling, haunting. This is not locker room talk, as we, in a routine gaslight manner, are led to believe. It was a peek at reality that we have been pretending doesn’t have a place in our democracy. Trump threatened to jail Hillary and the room cheered.

I wasn’t the only one in my terror. The chill has reverberated across the entire XX-chromosome community, whether liberal or conservative.

Here’s a conservative Christian woman appalled at GOPs misogyny.

And here’s a twitter rant of another conservative woman who has been defending GOP for years and had finally had enough.

There’s such a profound sense of betrayal, such a crushing, visceral hurt in these words of conservative women, who spent their lives defending their fellow Christian men, only to be let down in such manner because of a mere political expediency.

And this essay by Rebecca Traister is a must-read. For men especially.

Men are in for a rude awakening in November. Good. I’m sick of this bullshit. Women are “to be revered” Paul Ryan said after the tapes came out. What? “Revered”? That statement is revealing on so many levels. In his attempt to paint Trump’s behavior as unacceptable, Ryan revealed his own misogyny: women are objects to be admired. Furthermore, other Republicans, in their attempts to assuage an important voting constituency – white women – pulled out their usual rhetorical staple of “our daughters, wives and mothers”, as if women only exist as appendages to men, but not as independent human beings worthy of respect on our own.

Such men are incapable of examining where their sentiments towards women are originated. And women played along for too long. Fox News women thought that if they comply, look beautiful, wear tight dresses, then they will be allowed into the boys club, become one of the boys and thus protect themselves from a second-class citizenship. But even such strategic acquiescence has been revealed, last summer, by the sexual harassment suit that brought down Roger Ailes, as inadequate. So, no matter how you try to position yourself, you’re bound to lose: if you’re dykey or fat or fall short of modern-day beauty standard then you’re a loser. And if you show your cleavage and dye your hair blond and promote the conservative party line, there’s still no guarantee that the men of power will stand up for you when it matters the most.

The 19th Amendment remedy is coming this November. About time!

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The Difference Between GOP and Dem Ground Game Philosophy

canvassing-for-hillaryThere’s a psychological difference in how Republicans and Democrats approach grassroots organizing. You can sense a near disgust in Republican circles when a word ‘community’ or ‘organizing’ is even mentioned. Yet, this is what wins elections these days.

Koch brothers had a rude awakening the last time around, in 2012, when they spend many millions on air campaigns for Romney and got nothing to show for it.

I think a big reason for the inadequacy of GOP ground game infrastructure can be found in a scam-like nature of the entire GOP voter interaction. It started back in the 1980s with Lee Atwater and his mailing lists that were used less for political purposes and more for scamming those voters, mostly old and scared, out of a few bucks. I mean who else would buy Ann Coulter books and gold coins if not a retiree who’s been told, for years, to be afraid. He’s been conditioned and groomed to become a perfect customer, not a perfect voter.

But there’s a deeper damage to the GOP electoral efforts that has the same origins as the direct mail scams. Yes, they will buy the books and herbal cures, yes they will go and vote, but they will not be engaged with the civic, communal life on a deeper level, because such involvement implies volunteering, doing things for free – a notion that short-circuits the business-oriented mind of an average GOP voter. The side effect of this meritocratic, ‘no free lunch’ mindset is that civic life – an activity that you’re not compensated for – is considered a waste of time. Thus Republican volunteers expect to get paid for knocking on doors and expect to get paid for the number of calls they make while phone banking. They’re incentivized the same way as the hapless low-level Wells Fargo employees were incentivized to open phantom bank accounts: the result looks good on paper, but the end-goal – having real customers with real accounts, or in this case, bringing people out to vote – is not achieved. But, hey, everybody got paid in the process! The suits got their millions of consulting fees and the rank-and-file got their $50 for a hundred phone calls. With such a mindset, that treats the civic life as a business, the final result – winning elections – becomes secondary to fattening your bottom line.

Democrats – and I witnessed it firsthand many times – don’t think like this. There are armies of unpaid volunteers who will not miss a door and will call the same number again and again until they get an answer simply because they are not doing it for money. They are doing it for the end result – winning.

Thoughts on Trump and the Elections.

If Trump wasn’t for real, this whole electoral charade would be a magnificent, devastating, masterclass artistic performance. Lose or win, on November 8th, he could’ve given a speech for the ages along the lines of: “Behold how close an unscrupulous buffoon like me can come to running this country. There! Scary? You’re welcome,” and recede from public view never to be seen again. This simple move would secure him the kind of recognition, in the annals of history, that he so desperately seeks – a statesman of the troubled Republic, a bloodletting nurse to the feverish GOP.

It’s unfortunate that he won’t. While a performer by inclination and trade he lacks the artistic message. With Trump there’s no purpose to the show, just the show itself. Even if he wins, he acknowledged that his VP Pence will be running the country. So it’s not like he even wants to do the job; it’s not like he wants to tell us something with this performance. He simply wants to be known as someone who was able to get the job, who ‘won.’ Like in WWE, he doesn’t want to land a devastating punch, he wants to be seen landing a devastating punch.

Which, perhaps, is all there is to him. So with Trump’s presidency we’ll essentially be getting Mike Pence’s presidency, as Trump views his task as solely to #MAGA. That is the scary part. Trump’s various policy ‘whisperers’ who have to tip-toe around his ego to sell him standard GOP policies, can never be sure whether he ‘got’ their drift or not. With Pence there will be no such doubt. We’ll get the Ryan budget, the Scalia-like SCOTUS nominee, we’ll have Larry Kudlow as Treasury secretary and perma-giggling Stephen Moore of The Heritage foundation (I never saw him NOT smiling while discussing his right-wing economics on TV. Wonder why) as his chief economist.

But with an egomaniac like Trump, I doubt we’ll get the repeat of a Bush/Cheney presidential dynamic. While Pence and Co. will want to quietly do their thing, Trump will keep fucking things up that will inadvertently sabotage the smooth running of the GOP fleece machine. With such a short fuse and thin skin he will overstep his executive authority in a matter of months of not days; the matter will end up in the Supreme Court which will rule against him; he will refuse to comply, triggering the constitutional crisis. And at that point, seriously, who the fuck will care about ‘growth’ and tax cuts?

While I’m growing concerned with the tight race I still think it won’t come to this, barring a late-October force-majeur. I canvassed for Hillary in Easter PA with a couple of comrades last Saturday and found this rust-belt area surprisingly anti-Trump. Without PA Trump can’t win. But still what a sad commentary on the state of the republic that has no defense mechanism in place to prevent another dangerous demagogue from winning, if not now then a few years down the road. I guess we’re gonna have to get used to holding our collective breath every four years.