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Friday, October 28, 2016


I was guided by the FaceBook page of my son, Professor Tobias Barrington Wolff, to this lengthy article about the large, well-funded and quite sophisticated political operation being built by the small cadre of alt-right people around Trump.  I urge you to read it.  It is quite troubling and very important.  In essence, this group of people are attempting to build the American equivalent of the right-wing nationalist parties that are a growing component of the European political scene – the Front National in France, the UK Independence Party [UKIP] in England, and so forth.  If the authors of the essay are correct [and I see no reason to doubt them], this new movement will target the leaders of the Republican Party in an effort at a hostile take-over.  My son wisely counsels against reacting with schadenfreude

What will be the reaction of a Clinton White House?  I think the answer is obvious.  The rational response, guided by a desire to secure Clinton’s 2020 reelection, will be to move to the right in an effort to scarf up the non-Alt-Right Republicans horrified by the likes of Steve Bannon and his neo-Nazis.  Those of us on the left will of course respond by increased pressure on Clinton to move left, or at least not right.  But such pressure is likely to be ineffective, especially on a sitting President.

We are in for a very difficult time.


s. wallerstein said...

That would leave space to build a mass left alternative third party, so it might turn out for the best in the long run.

David Palmeter said...

I don't think an alt-left party would amount to much in this country. Viscerally, the right can get people into a frenzy in a way the left has not been able to do. Today's left, like the alt-right, is opposed to globalization, but not for rabidly nationalistic reasons. The right captures patriotic fervor with slogans in a way the left has never done. Facts and reason have nothing to do with it.

True story: I was walking past the Marriott Wardman hotel in DC in the Fall of 2010, and ran into scores of people carrying signs of one sort or another, headed for the Metro and a demonstration on the national mall. I later learned that this was the Tea Party, having its first convention. One of the signs read: "Government Keep Your Hands of My Medicare."

s. wallerstein said...

David Palmeter,

Sanders did very well for himself. A few years ago no one could have imagined that a self-proclaimed socialist could get so many votes in primary elections.

By alternative-left party, I don't mean one based on the little red book of Chairman Mao, but one that picks up where Sanders left off, with basically the same platform as he had or has. I don't see why if the democrats move to the right with Clinton, as Dr. Wolff post suggests that they will, such a party could not elect some congress people, maybe a mayor or two, perhaps a senator to keep Bernie company, etc., and once you're in congress, you appear in the media, you begin to look "normal", etc., and you're a player in the game.

David Auerbach said...

The biggest threat of the alt-right group is that they provide a bogey-man for the Democrats to use to scare lefties into going along with the current Democrat machine. Absent that threat it would be easier for the Sanders/Warren wing to take over.

David Palmeter said...

S. Wallerstein,

You have a good point about the Sanders left, but I don't see it as a left counterpart to the alt right. For one thing, it was disproportionately young--and young people notoriously loose enthusiasm quickly. They can get excited about a charismatic figure in a presidential year (e.g., Obama, Sanders) but then largely fade away, and in non-presidential years do all but guarantee that the Republicans will gain congressional seats. The alt right includes many who are my old fogie contemporaries.

It will be interesting to see if Bernie is able to keep the young people interested, particularly in state and local elections as well as 2018--a crucial year. I was encouraged to read that Obama's political activities,once he's out of office, will be concentrated on supporting an organization Eric Holder has started that is devoted to getting Democrats elected at the state level in 2018. Those elected at the state level that year will have control over congressional re-districting following the 2020 census.

David E said...

The Bloomberg story really described a right-wing variant of the Pew Trust's polling, or Salsa, to be rolled out (for $$$ to the alt-Right). I didn't read anything in the piece to suggest this would become another Front Nacional or Alternative fuer Deutschland. If anything, it will be another failed Trump venture because, after all they've suffered at his hands, the Republicans would be crazy to listen to anything he ever says again.

s. wallerstein said...

David Palmeter,

I make a couple of assumptions.

1. That without a successful mass anti-neoliberal left party, income and wealth inequality will stay as bad as it is or continue to grow in the United States and other advanced or even semi-advanced capitalist societies.

2. That post 2008 crisis the U.S. (and European) economy will take a very long time to integrate young people into traditional middle class socio-economic status. I'm not claiming that it will never happen, but it's not around the corner.

So the young people who got enthused with Bernie this year will have good motives for staying on the left: they're going to need single-payer healthcare, they're going to need free public university education if they're going to go to graduate school or medical school, etc., they'll need government help to pay off their undergraduate loans, etc., they're going to need low cost public transportation and probably low-cost public housing, etc., etc.

There's nothing in the laws given on Mount Sinai stipulating that the U.S. must have a two party system. Successful new parties emerge in many countries (we have the example of Podemos in Spain) and I don't see why there isn't room for an anti-neoliberal third party in the U.S.

chrismealy said...

I remember the 1990s, and Clintonian triangulation, and how enervating it was for the left (me in particular), but I am no longer worried about HRC moving hard to the right. She's only moved to the left since the primaries ended. Eight years of Bush and eight years of Obama has moved the whole party to the left (hell it's moved the whole generation to the left). This may be just wishful thinking, but HRC seems a lot more natural on left issues (for example, on abortion in the third debate) than when she's in triangulation mode. If there's one good thing about this endless election it's that it's given me enough time to finally get on board with our candidate.

David Palmeter said...

S. Wallerstein,

I agree that nothing requires that the US have a two party system, but the structure of the system we have certainly makes that likely. So far, we have never had a successful third party, although some have had more impact than others, often in a negative way.

Better than a third party, in my view, is the route taken by conservatives in the Republican Party. Beginning with Goldwater in 1964, they have driven any liberal (e.g Jacob Javits, Charles Mathias) or moderate (Hugh Scott) Republicans out of the party. The left should do the same with the Democratic Party. Bernie did more good with one losing campaign as a Democrat that he has done in all of his years in the Senate as an independent. I wish he would stay in the party and continue his efforts internally to move it to the left. If he simply builds a new, more left third party, but one that is not strong enough to win 270 electoral votes, he will be in the position of having to support a centrist Democratic Party of turn the government over to the Republicans.

Of course, we could always change the system--but that isn't a realistic option. Those who benefit from the status quo will see no reason to change it. Better, I think, to work within the system to take it over, i.e., to build on what Bernie has accomplished and move a governing Democratic party to the left.

Tom Cathcart said...

None of us predicted Bernie.

None of us predicted Trump.

What is the proper inference here?

A: Whatever happens in the next few years will be something that none of us seems capable of predicting.

That seems oddly comforting somehow.