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Are Democrats Still the Lesser Evil?

Since Election Day, it has felt as if American politics is unfolding in a dream world; the old moorings have gone missing and nothing any longer makes sense.

But with Inauguration Day almost upon us, we have no choice: either we wallow in the surreality of it all, or we recover our bearings and fight back.

To that end, it is vital that the anti-Trump resistance be disabused of illusions about the Democratic Party.

Even before the neoliberal turn of the Carter and Clinton years, Democrats were a large part of the problem. At their best, they were never more than a small part of the solution.

Then, decades ago, the Clintons and others like them effectively purged the party of its always feeble left wing.

Hillary and Bill are out of the picture for now; that is the silver lining in Trump’s victory. Their influence continues to reverberate, however.

Meanwhile, Republicans are, more than ever, beneath contempt. They are good for making Democrats seem like the good guys, but nothing more.

The world would therefore be a better place without Democrats or Republicans in it. But wishing won’t make it so. There is no way forward that does not take this stubborn fact into account.

Neither is there any way around the fact that Democrats are bound to play a major role in efforts to fight back against Trump. In a duopoly party system like ours, it could hardly be otherwise.

This is why the fact that Democrats have taken the lead in promoting anti-Russian animosities that could lead to nuclear war is so disconcerting – and dangerous.

Until recently, Democrats were thought to be, and probably were, less bellicose than Republicans. It is no longer clear that they are.

Of course, by most, if not all, other measures, Republicans are worse, sometimes a lot worse, than Democrats. But those measures count for nothing in a world blown to oblivion.

Does it follow, then, that the Democratic Party is no longer the Lesser Evil? The question is more complicated than might appear.

***

Our “founding fathers” (all of them were men) included slaveholders and merchants involved in the slave trade. They were also ardent supporters of efforts to supplant and, if need be, wipe out the indigenous peoples of the Americas.

Nevertheless, a remarkable number of them were distinguished political thinkers in the Enlightenment tradition.

To this day, the incongruity hardly registers. When it is pointed out, Americans, not all of them white, shrug it off, or blame the norms of the times.

Nowadays, slavery (though not its consequences) is finished, and genocide is no longer officially condoned. On the downside, though, serious political thinkers in high office are about as common as snowstorms in July.

Work in political philosophy is now confined mainly to academic precincts where its effects upon real world politics are, for all practical purposes, nil.

Even so, politicians do sometimes talk the talk. But even when the words are the same, the ideas behind them seldom are.

Pollsters tell us that a majority of Americans, though not as many as in the recent past, call their political views “conservative.” However, their thinking, such as it is, has little to do with any of the major strains of conservative political philosophy.

Republican politicians with philosophical pretensions are especially at fault. Most of them are later-day classical (nineteenth century) liberals.

Americans who identify with the Progressive tradition and the New Deal-Great Society political settlement are on sounder ground when they call themselves “liberals.” But because many of them are too opportunistic to be principled, the connection is highly attenuated. It is also relevant that courage is rare in liberal circles; and that, as Robert Frost famously remarked: “a liberal is a man too broad-minded to take his own side in a quarrel.”

Then there are the disconnects that cluster around notions of democracy.

There are many normative and descriptive democratic theories, but they all agree that democracy is about the people taking charge of their own affairs. That description hardly fits democracy in America today.

What we have instead are Democrats and Republicans peddling candidates bearing their brands to a passive citizenry — in much the way that manufacturers of consumer goods peddle theirs.

Like the parties that field them, the candidates on offer are generally like-minded. This is no accident; for all practical purposes, they are all owned by overlapping sectors of what Bernie Sanders – remember him? — called “the billionaire class.”

Nevertheless, for at least the past century, the Democratic Party has been the friendlier of the two to Enlightenment values. There were exceptions, however, especially before the 1960s. Most of the exceptions arose out of efforts by Democratic Party leaders to keep white supremacists in the Solid South on board.

In recent decades, Democrats and Republicans have drifted apart – mainly over social issues that do not bear directly on their paymasters’ interests.

Therefore, our politics suffers simultaneously from an anti-democratic, inequality exacerbating ideological uniformity and a degree of party polarization that all but disables effective governance.

In this worst of both worlds, it is no wonder that Trump got enough votes in the right places to defeat Hillary Clinton, a living embodiment of the status quo. To many of those voters, anything seemed better than the system in place.

Trump seemed to offer something new. He did indeed. But as many of those voters will discover to their regret, the changes he offers will only make things worse – not just for the targets of his and their animosities, but for most of them as well, and for nearly everyone who is not obscenely rich.

***

One thing that Trump will not change is the fact that it takes a lot of wishful thinking to discern more than Coke and Pepsi differences between the two parties on matters affecting the wishes of American capitalists. In this respect, ours is a one party state – with two competing electoral wings.

Nevertheless, it is practically axiomatic to anyone with any sense at all that, in comparison with Republicans, Democrats are the lesser evil.

They are — on social issues. Democrats are less retrograde than Republicans. It isn’t even close.

It doesn’t follow, though, even for those for whom these differences matter a lot, that it is always wisest to vote for Democrats over Republicans.

The case for always voting for Democrats boils down to a logical principle and an indisputable fact. The principle is just that if the goal is to bring about the best possible outcome by choosing between A and B, and if A is better (or less bad) than B, choose A; the fact is that Democrats and Republicans are equally bad on everything except social matters where Democrats are better (less bad).

The argument is sound as far as it goes. But all it shows is that one should vote for the Democrat if all that matters are the issues on which Democrats are better. There are other things that can and do matter — including the long-term consequences of lesser evil voting itself.

In the 2016 Presidential election in the United States, there were additional reasons not to vote for the Democrat: among others, that it was not clear that Clinton actually was the lesser evil all things considered, a point to which I will return; and that, even if she was, there are thresholds beneath which there are pragmatic as well as moral reasons not to sink.

I have argued repeatedly, on this site and elsewhere, that, in that election, concerns about the long-term consequences of lesser evil voting, along with the failure of both Clinton and Trump to exceed even minimal threshold considerations, overcame the case for voting for the lesser evil, whichever of the two that might be.

There is no point in repeating the arguments now, except insofar as they shed light on what to make of, and do about, the Democratic Party in the months and years ahead.

The case against Hillary is moot; we dodged that bullet. The case against Trump was never seriously in dispute. There is therefore no need to demonstrate how awful he is or how awful his presidency is likely to be.

With Obama still officially in charge, nothing really bad has happened – yet. The task before us now is to prepare for when it does.

Hillary is the devil we know — too well. Trump is one of Donald Rumsfeld’s “known unknowns.” At this point, all we can say for sure about him is that whatever he does will be harmful to everyone except himself, his family, and his class brothers and sisters, and that the Trump era will be monumentally corrupt.

It will be reactionary and incompetent too, if his choices to fill cabinet posts and other top-level positions are any indication; and the policies that they and he will concoct will be ridiculously inconsistent.

***

Even so, it is at least arguable that Clinton was a worse choice – for a reason that does indeed shed light on the role that the Democratic Party is likely to play in the struggles ahead.

When Party honchos parachuted her into New York State to be its Senator, the line was that, as a First Lady (official wife), Clinton had garnered a lot of useful “experience.” This was, to say the least, an exaggeration. In truth, all she did – apart from her role in the Hillarycare fiasco – was promote the neoliberal line championed by her husband.

However, over the past decade and a half, Hillary’s fate and neoliberalism’s came to be inextricably intertwined – in the public mind and, to a considerable degree, in reality as well.

The Clintons didn’t initiate the neoliberal turn in Democratic Party politics; they may not even have believed in it. But it was during Bill Clinton’s presidency that the transfer of wealth from workers and everyone else who is not obscenely rich to the few who are took off, with dire moral and material consequences.

Progressive opponents of neoliberal policies have become more militant and creative than they used to be; and wide strata of the public, the young especially, have become energized – to an extent not seen in nearly half a century.

Others have suffered in silence, and with less lucidity. Many who did ended up voting for Trump – if not enthusiastically, then for their own lesser evil reasons.

For this and more, Hillary has a lot to answer for. But this is not the worst of it.

As Secretary of State, Clinton, with Obama’s acquiescence, empowered “humanitarian” interveners hell bent on overthrowing governments that resist American domination — effectively guaranteeing that the United States would continue to be a serial violator of international law, and would remain enmeshed in never ending wars in the Middle East and elsewhere.

Even so, Trump is so vile and so unsuited to the office of the presidency that, running against him, she would still be the lesser evil, hands down – but for her fondness for military “solutions” to problems she and her neocon and liberal imperialist co-thinkers helped create, and the fact that her dedication to regime change isn’t confined, like Reagan’s and the Bushes’, and her husband’s were, to “enemies” that the United States could vanquish with impunity.

Like Obama, whose thinking she influenced, she wanted to “pivot” towards Asia – in other words, to take China on. More dangerous still, she wanted to reduce Russia to the miserable condition it fell into in the nineties, as its regression to capitalism unfolded.

HRC has been a Russophobe her whole life; she is now a neocon as well. Most of all, she is a Clinton; Clintons give opportunism a bad name.

When she was taking on progressive poses in order to squelch Bernie Sanders’ candidacy and coopt his supporters, she wisely decided to muffle her warmongering.

But when it was just her against Trump, it seemed opportune to let it all hang out. Nobody saw it coming. After all, the Cold War had been over for more than a generation, and even someone as infallibly wrong-headed as Hillary would know not to tempt fate by playing around with the prospect of nuclear war.

But the “liberal” media picked up the ball. Could it be that they like Hillary that much? Or is it guilt for all the free publicity their revenue-driven executives lavished on the Donald?

Whatever the explanation, the consequences are, in their own way, as ridiculous as Trump’s cabinet appointments. It is bad enough when people who should know better take “intelligence” agencies, the CIA especially, at their word. But then to broadcast the Democratic Party’s Russophobic insinuations even while admitting that there is no credible evidence supporting them, is something else altogether.

Most nauseating of all, though, is the way that warmongering “journalists” take RT, Russia Today, to task for being a propaganda arm of the Russian government, even as they work for outfits that are far more blatantly propagandistic.

As I have written before on this site, I defy any fair-minded viewer or listener, to compare, say, the evening lineup on MSNBC or CNN with RT and then conclude that the latter spreads propaganda, and the former does not. RT does responsible journalism; MSNBC and CNN make a mockery of the profession.

And it isn’t just them: The Washington Post is the most disgraceful of all, but The New York Times is not far behind. As it was during the build up to the invasion of Iraq, NPR has become impossible to listen to even for background noise.

The level of hypocrisy is appalling inasmuch as the United States has intervened in nearly every election since the end of World War II anywhere in the world that might not go the way the empire’s leaders thought it should.

And when that was not enough, it would stage coups in countries with refractory governments. Its agent of choice has been, more often than not, the liberal Democrat’s post-election love interest, the CIA.

There is a remarkable double standard at work as well. Israel interferes in European and American elections with impunity — most recently in Scotland and within the British Conservative Party. And is there any plausible impartial standard according to which Benjamin Netanyahu is not more reprehensible than Vladimir Putin? Yet in U.S. government and media circles, not a bad word is said about Israel or its government, while Putin and Russia cannot be demonized enough.

The New York Times has been especially noteworthy too for the condescending way it has been reporting on “ordinary” Americans who question the wisdom of taking intelligence agencies, like the CIA, at their word; and who wonder why so much fuss is being made about Wikileaks publishing authentic documents that are indisputably newsworthy, or, for that matter, why it would matter if Russia actually were their source.

The transmission line, it seems, runs from Hillary and her team to their flacks in corporate media, and then back to the Democratic Party itself, “progressives” and all.

With a few conspicuous exceptions like John McCain, Lindsey Graham and “Little Marco” Rubio, Republicans, so far, have not been quite as bad. Most likely, this is because they want to curry favor with the President-elect. Even so, we owe it to them that not everyone in Congress is a card-carrying member of the War Party.

Are the Democrats, then, no longer the lesser evil? It is hard to listen to them and not draw that conclusion. It is harder still, though, to see a Republican and not despair for the human race.

***

Will Trump staunch the rush to war? Will he even try?

And what will happen as the consequences of his victory sink in – not just with the majority of Americans who have always understood what he is about, but also with the voters who put him over the top in the Electoral College? How will they react when they realize that Trump is the Defender-in-Chief of the swamp he promised to drain?

What will Democrats and Republicans do then? When we know that, we will know which party really is less awful.

Had Trump lost, as he ought to have, and as he would have had Hillary not screwed up so spectacularly, he was on track for smashing the GOP. Republicans knew it, and hated him for it; they probably still do. But because he won, they now find themselves flocking around him shamelessly, eager for their share of the spoils.

Their abjectness must delight his egotistical soul. It could be, though, that they are actually playing him – using him to enact their own far-right agendas.

During the campaign, Trump’s vileness – and his pandering to nativists, racists, and Islamophobes – were reasons enough to reject his candidacy categorically.

But he did outflank Hillary from the left on many issues. That all seems finished now; not only did he choose a theocrat and craven reactionary for a running mate, but his cabinet appointments are every bit as awful as Marco Rubio’s or Ted Cruz’s would have been. The idea that the Republican leadership is calling the shots and only letting the Donald think that he is would account for that.

If it turns out that Trump is not running the show the way he thinks he is, he will be the last to know. Having fought back the Clinton juggernaut, the grandees of the Republican Party, the scribblers and talking heads that berate him in corporate media, and the near entirety of the ruling class, the sick bastard must now be thinking that he is invincible.

Why else would he feel emboldened enough to take on the CIA and the rest of the deep state? Could he not know that he is unleashing forces that can do him in, and that he cannot control?

The effects of hubris — on those in its grip, and on those affected by their folly — have been demonstrated time and again by storytellers, poets and historians.

Could Trump be ignorant of all this, and unaware too of the precariousness of his own situation? That is hard to believe. But it is easy to believe that he is egomaniacal enough to think that what applies to others does not apply to him.

When he falls, he will fall hard; and it will be glorious to behold.

It will also be dangerous, however; who knows what he will do when he lashes out!

Hillary may be more disposed than he, ideologically and psychologically, to end the world “as we know it,” but it would not be beyond the Donald, an adolescent in a septuagenarian’s body, to do the same.

Should it come to that, or if fortune shines on us and it does not, will Democrats be of any use? If the answer is No, as it almost certainly is, what are the implications for what is to be done now?

The impending Trump presidency puts the urgency of this question in sharp relief. This is why getting clear about how awful Democrats are – in their own right and in comparison with Republicans — is more than usually urgent.

Are Democrats Still the Lesser Evil?


Democrats Should Run a Celebrity for President, Too

Our Benevolent Shadow Government

This week, Mark Zuckerberg’s $ 45 billion philanthropic foundation announced it is bringing on David Plouffe and Ken Mehlman, two of America’s most prominent political operatives. It is worth reflecting on the vast, vast power being wielded by the unaccountable foundations of the rich. Let’s do it!

Because private philanthropic foundations generally do philanthropy, they are often regarded as straightforwardly good, or at least benign. Why should be be upset that billions of dollars going to some kind of charities? Well. The short answer is that private foundations represent private power, as opposed to public power. Even though you may feel that a particular private foundation is doing something that you view as good at a particular point in time, the fact is that they represent a structure for the exercise of private power—and the stronger and wealthier they are, the more power over public affairs is concentrated in the hands of a tiny number of extremely wealthy people.

American society has always been a mix of public and private power. The pendulum swings. But if you believe in the basic ideas of democracy—power by the people, for the people—then you should generally want the important issues we face to be decided in the public realm. That means that, in some form, we all get a say in them. A world in which the U.S. government feels fine outsourcing large parts of the social safety net to private foundations is a disaster waiting to happen, because it means that the safety net is then operated at the whim of a few people with no accountability to everyone it serves. You don’t have to believe “charity is bad.” You just have to believe that little things like, I don’t know, public health should be the responsibility of public institutions, not of some guy who had a good website idea when he was 19.

How powerful are private foundations in America? Very powerful. The 50 largest foundations in this country each have assets of more than $ 1.8 billion. Just two organizations—The Gates Foundation (which is also getting an enormous infusion of money from Warren Buffett) and the Chan-Zuckerberg Initiative—have combined assets of about $ 90 billion. That is more than the annual budget of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. And the entire charity world is reflective of the same growing economic inequality that plagues our nation as a whole. In the past decade, “charitable giving deductions from lower income donors have declined significantly, at almost the same rate that contributions from higher income donors have increased.”

Since Congress is one of our most unpopular institutions, it can be hard to get people excited over this, a structural issue that aims to bring capital and its uses under more democratic control. But the solution to “those clowns in Congress” is not “turn over the whole damn system to a bunch of tech billionaires and heirs of old-timey industrialists and hope that their good nature prevails.” The solution is to fix the undemocratic parts of our system. (Kill gerrymandering! Campaign finance reform! And the other usual suspects!) Instead of begging billionaires to give their money to good causes—rather than to, say, plastering their names on various cultural institutions—it makes much more sense to tax these outrageous fortunes into the public till, then empower our elected government to spend it where it’s actually needed. Private foundations with huge resources can do a lot of good things. They are also, by their very nature, tools of the ultra-rich, exercised by the ultra-rich to fulfill the wishes of the ultra-rich. And as Mark Zuckerberg’s stable of political operatives shows, these private entities are quite comfortable influencing public policy. Not the other way around.

Praying that the ultra-rich remain generous and benevolent is not what equality and democracy are about. Rich people with more wealth than they can spend have always been willing to give away money. That’s nice. Unfortunately, if we want a healthy system we’re going to need them to give up something much more dear: power.

Our Benevolent Shadow Government

The Devastating Transformation Of Work In The US

Two of the best-known labor economists in the US,  Lawrence F. Katz and Alan B. Krueger, recently published a study of the rise of so-called alternative work arrangements.

Here is what they found:

The percentage of workers engaged in alternative work arrangements – defined as temporary help agency workers, on-call workers, contract workers, and independent contractors or freelancers – rose from 10.1 percent [of all employed workers] in February 2005 to 15.8 percent in late 2015.

That is a huge jump, especially since the percentage of workers with alternative work arrangements barely budged over the period February 1995 to February 2005; it was only 9.3 in 1995.

But their most startling finding is the following:

A striking implication of these estimates is that all of the net employment growth in the U.S. economy from 2005 to 2015 appears to have occurred in alternative work arrangements. Total employment according to the CPS increased by 9.1 million (6.5 percent) over the decade, from 140.4 million in February 2005 to 149.4 in November 2015. The increase in the share of workers in alternative work arrangements from 10.1 percent in 2005 to 15.8 percent in 2015 implies that the number of workers employed in alternative arrangement increased by 9.4 million (66.5 percent), from 14.2 million in February 2005 to 23.6 million in November 2015. Thus, these figures imply that employment in traditional jobs (standard employment arrangements) slightly declined by 0.4 million (0.3 percent) from 126.2 million in February 2005 to 125.8 million in November 2015.

Take a moment to let that sink in—and think about what that tells us about the operation of the US economy and the future for working people. Employment in so-called traditional jobs is actually shrinking. The only types of jobs that have been growing in net terms are ones in which workers have little or no security and minimal social benefits.

Figure 2 from their study shows the percentage of workers in different industries that have alternative employment arrangements. The share has grown substantially over the last ten years in almost all of them. In Construction, Professional and Business Services, and Other Services (excluding Public Services) approximately one quarter of all workers are employed using alternative work arrangements.

The study

Because the Bureau of Labor Statistics has not updated its Contingent Work Survey (CWS), the authors contracted with the RAND institute to do their own study.  Thus, Rand expanded its own American Life Panel (ALP) surveys in October and November 2015 to include questions similar to those asked in the CWS.   They surveys only collected information about the surveyed individual’s main job.  And, to maintain compatibility with the CWS surveys, day laborers were not included in the results.  Finally, the authors only included information from individuals who had worked in the survey reference week.

People were said to be employed under alternative work arrangements if they were “independent contractors,” “on-call workers,” “temporary help agency workers,” or “workers provided by contract firms. The authors defined these terms as follows:

“Independent Contractors” are individuals who report they obtain customers on their own to provide a product or service as an independent contractor, independent consultant, or freelance worker. “On-Call Workers” report having certain days or hours in which they are not at work but are on standby until called to work. “Temporary Help Agency Workers” are paid by a temporary help agency. “Workers Provided by Contract Firms” are individuals who worked for a company that contracted out their services during the reference week.

The results in more detail

All four categories of nonstandard work recorded increases:

Independent contractors continue to be the largest group (8.9 percent in 2015), but the share of workers in the three other categories more than doubled from 3.2 percent in 2005 to 7.3 percent in 2015. The fastest growing category of nonstandard work involves contracted workers. The percentage of workers who report that they worked for a company that contracted out their services in the preceding week rose from 0.6 percent in 2005 to 3.1 percent in 2015.

Table 4 shows the percentage of workers in different categories that are employed for their main job in one of the four nonstandard work arrangements. The relevant comparisons over time are with the two CPS studies and the Alternative Weighted results from the Rand study.

Here are some of the main findings:

There is a clear age gradient that has grown stronger, with older workers more likely to have nonstandard employment than younger workers. In 2015, 6.4 percent of those aged 16 to 24 were employed in an alternative work arrangement, while 14.3 percent of those aged 25-54 and 23.9 percent of those aged 55-74 had nonstandard work arrangements.

The percentage of women with nonstandard work arrangements grew dramatically from 2005 to 2015, from 8.3 percent to 17 percent. Women are now more likely to be employed under these conditions than men.

Workers in all educational levels experienced a jump in nonstandard work, with the increase greatest for those with a bachelor’s degree or higher. “Occupational groups experiencing particularly large increases in the nonstandard work from 2005 to 2015 include computer and mathematical, community and social services, education, health care, legal, protective services, personal care, and transportation jobs.”

The authors also tested to determine “whether alternative work is growing in higher or lower wage sectors of the labor market.” They found that “workers with attributes and jobs that are associated with higher wages are more likely to have their services contracted out than are those with attributes and jobs that are associated with lower wages. Indeed, the lowest predicted quintile-wage group did not experience a rise in contract work.”

The take-away

The take-away is pretty clear. Corporate profits and income inequality have grown in large part because US firms have successfully taken advantage of the weak state of unions and labor organizing more generally, to transform work relations. Increasingly workers, regardless of their educational level, find themselves forced to take jobs with few if any benefits and no long-term or ongoing relationship with their employer. Only a rejuvenated labor movement, one able to build strong democratic unions and press for radically new economic policies will be able to reverse existing trends.

The Devastating Transformation Of Work In The US


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Source: ONTD_Political

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