To Fight the Right Make Them React

You can detect a certain pattern in the US civil discourse: a reaction is always faulted more than the action itself.

A black man gets shot? The protesters get the blame.

Kids in school get shot? Their parents receive death threats.

A woman gets raped?  Why destroy a promising young fella future in the aftermath.

Trump said this or that? But Hillary called people deplorable!

Notice a big pattern here: We don’t like victims and we don’t like their reaction to the injustice.

I sense a big PR opportunity for the beleaguered left.

When was the last time you saw an anti-abortion ad? I see one on the billboard along the NJ Turnpike all the time. Now think of the last time you saw a progressive social ad? In my 20 years in the US I never saw one. This is a major tactical oversight of the left. The left is very good at writing articles and arguing on TV, but their efforts are non-existent in the areas and in the format that regular people access every day. Where are all the ‘Overthrow you corporate overlords’ billboards along the highway?

Anyway, this is not a minor shortcoming. The right has perfected this game, and it is not much different from their usual MO: attract the gullible with one message and sell them something else. Good example of such con is pseudo abortion clinics that they call ‘crisis pregnancy centers’ which are actually anti-abortion establishments masquerading as help centers. But a lot of desperate poor women end up there. The bullshit works! Why shouldn’t we employ the same approach? Except we won’t be even selling bullshit.

To keep rust belt workers attention on Trump and GOP can be achieved by placing a few ‘where are the jobs?’ billboards strategically along a highway with a (left-wing) website at the bottom. Those websites should look like a garden variety right-wing site: a flag, an eagle, a Declaration of Independence, etc. Then welcome them with a message that America is not what it used to be anymore. And it’s not like the message doesn’t hold up to reality. Then, praise the time when the unions were strong. Then ponder about what happened to them. Then link the declining wages to the decline of unions. I’m just throwing ideas out there but you get my drift. It doesn’t have to be an explicit socialist message. Then they look around and see Trump’s administration filled with cronies. I mean Trump is doing all the work for us already.

Hell, it doesn’t even have to be a website. It’s all about the visuals. Lack of a link would actually compel people to look it up.

You consider yourself a patriot? Great. We have something for you too. Have an ad designed like Soviet poster art from the 20s: A worker with a hammer and a fat guy in a tux and a top hat and a sack with $$ on it. Place it on a public bus in a Midwestern city, or, hell, Texas, just for shits and giggles. I mean this is a compelling visual that will reach people on a visceral level. I dare Fox News to mock it as Soviet propaganda. It’s gonna totally blow in their face if they’re too loud about it. First, they’re friends with Russia now, second by talking about it they would have show the image, which will draw even more attention. Third, the left will have a ready compelling rebuttal: ‘what, are you saying you’re against the working class?’ And finally, it’s not the 80s anymore, you can’t scare anyone with the word ‘socialism’ anymore.

Or better yet: the ubiquitous ‘Jesus loves you’ poster. Put it out there, but link it to Pope Francis-style message of compassion for the weak, instead of some TV huckster asking for money. That’s gonna be refreshing.

Another idea: treat expansion and preservation of voting rights as the left’s equivalent of NRA. VRA is the new NRA. Be as vocal about it as possible. Again, the advantage here is totally on our side.

It’s not about collecting money, not about building customer base, not about clicks or likes. It’s about spreading the message, or ‘sowing doubt’ to use the well-known tactic of tobacco companies and climate deniers. Let’s feed them their own shit.

All of it might sound absurd, but everything Trump did was absurd. You can’t fight absurd with another Paul Krugman article. It’s time for us to do some crazy shit.

So our goal in the next few years is to offer an action, in a sense a giant trolling exercise, to which the right will be forced to react. When I say action, I don’t mean protests and demonstrations – quite the opposite. Protests are a reaction and are bound to draw ridicule and dismissal. What I mean is the methodical deployment of the 1st amendment that will withstand any challenge in courts. Just like what they do with the 2nd amendment. No amount of civic deaths will do anything to the power of NRA. In the same sense, no amount of outrage on the right to our ‘sickle and hammer’ billboards in public places will be able to do anything, other than make them look like fools. I have to stress: not articles, not graphs and charts, not academic papers, not talking heads analysis. I mean visual displays in public places. And they will overreact, they will be foaming at the mouth. The right made us react to their juvenile behavior for decades. Now let’s make them react.

Possible Paths for Democrats

The writer I respect, Jonathan Chait of New York Magazine, argues that collaborating with Trump will hurt Democrats politically. As I mentioned in my previous post I tend to disagree with that assessment and I gave my reasons. After reading his article and thinking over his arguments, I still think the cautious approach of picking our battles as opposed to a blanket obstruction is a correct one.

The GOP now controls all three branches of government, but the GOP grip on power is a fragile one. There will be three major forces at play that may start tearing GOP apart as soon as Trump assumes power: Trump and his loyal team; his base with their expectations; and Paul Ryan with his fiscal agenda. These three forces are innately antagonistic. Trump values loyalty above expertise and he revels in the adoration of his base. These two camps will be together for a while, as it takes time, years perhaps, before they can really get disappointed and abandon him.

But then there’s Paul Ryan. Well, Paul Ryan and Steve Bannon – Trump’s new chief strategist – don’t quite get along, to put it mildly. While at Breitbart Bannon’s goal was explicitly to “destroy Paul Ryan’s political career.” Alt-right, and their chief mastermind Bannon are not necessarily fiscally conservative. Bannon has no love for Ayn Rand. They are white nationalists, yes, but that doesn’t automatically translate into supporting tight fiscal agenda so beloved by modern-day GOP. It’s the same story with white nationalist uprisings in Europe: they’re not railing up against taxes per se but rather against immigrants. Paul Ryan’s support of Trump, reluctant before the elections and now fully vested, hinges on Trumps signing off on his tax cuts bills and nothing else (as Ryan doesn’t care for the white rural nationalists and their grievances, but rather for the donor class and their concerns).

When Trump can’t deliver to his base what he has promised, having an obstructionist Chuck Schumer could come in quite handy in order to shift the blame. Why give them such an easy escape in a form of Schumer (A New York Jew! Global conspiracy!) when there’s another ready target available – Paul Ryan. Trump’s base (and his loyal team) doesn’t hold any special love for Ryan and Congress in general.

If Trump’s policies turn out to be a standard run-of-the mill GOP agenda: tax cuts for the rich, destruction of the safety net and regulations, then Schumer should exploit the gap between Trump’s base and Paul Ryan, who would be the public face of this agenda. Here, voices like Bernie and Elizabeth Warren would be indispensable. They can really get the message out to the Rust belt areas to tell them that they’ve been had. And what will Bannon and his alt-right attack dogs choose to do in this situation? Attack Schumer or attack Paul Ryan? Remember, Bannon has a major beef with Ryan.

But if Trump’s agenda will follow up on his campaign promises, which are essentially anti-Ryan and anti-standard GOP (preserve Medicare and SS, tariffs and protectionism), then the assumption can be made that he’s, indeed, not a Republican and he doesn’t care for a standard Republican platform and won’t care if a Congress deeply wedded to these ideas suffers defeat at the polls. Schumer can and should work together with this kind of Trump. This way there’s a good chance the alt-right will stay quiet. Schumer is working with Trump for the little guy and not the elites, you see.

Just throwing some thoughts out there.

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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